Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Evil is Alive and Living in Beit Shemesh

There's a film that has been going viral and causing all kinds of excited conversation, a whole lot of it so skewed as to make truth an obsolete idea. It's called "Between the Suns" and deals with the situation taking place in Beit Shemesh in Israel. I'm providing the link below and adding a warning that this film can cause nausea and violent headaches, among the mildest symptoms.

Grown men, daring to call themselves religious, have, among other heinous acts, been spitting on little girls and calling them whores and prostitutes, all because they attend a school for girls that is too modern for these monsters and dares to be across the street from a community they live in (if one can say that such disturbed individuals are actually alive in a human sense).

The whole film is disturbing, but among the worst of the words spoken is the man who insisted "I am a healthy man." Healthy?! It is healthy to attack little girls because they dare go to school--a religious school--in a school that does not meet this man's perverted standards? Healthy to call a 7-year-old a whore? Healthy to declare that their women know their place and keep to it, no matter what God may have decided? Healthy to hurl sexual epithets at a six-year-old?

Someone in Israel, a whole lot of someones, needs to come down hard on the lunatics in Beit Shemesh. Where are the rabbonim of the community they live in, and where are their words of condemnation? Where are the municipal leaders, whose job is to keep all citizens of the city safe from attack? Where are the voices, hundreds and thousands of voices, raised in righteous indignation that disturbed and violent men are allowed to prey on innocent children?

Among other things, we will be judged on how well we protected the weakest and most innocent among us, and when we let such madmen attack our innocent children, then just who are we?!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just Whom Are We Kidding?!

If you get squirmy reading about "those things," you might want to skip this posting.

A lot has been written about the YU club newspaper which published a fictional piece the subject of which was premarital sex. The club has lost the University funding for its newspaper. People are gasping that anyone "frum" could write such a thing. After all, that kind of shmutzy sex doesn't happen in the frum world. For those who believe that, they aren't just wearing blinders--they've gone blind. Nothing like trying to sweep under the rug anything you don't want to have to admit happens--and has been happening for centuries.

Just why is it do you suppose that the old Yiddish of pre-war Europe had a word in it referring specifically to a child clearly conceived before its parents were officially married if premarital sex didn't exist back then? And yes, in chasidishe and yeshivishe and more modern communities. Such a child was called a "zibele," a seven-monther.

And if we are talking about hypocrisy and blindness and things that get published that "shouldn't" be published, how about an offering from one of the KosherKouponz providers. The Davida company advertises itself as purveyors of aprons, dish towels and the like. So imagine the 'fun" to be glancing through their offerings and smack dab in the middle of all those aprons and towels is a "faux fur jock strap," illustrated no less. Going to see any outrage? Not likely. We pick and choose whom we will skewer and what we will admit exists.

Good old Klal, with its "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Life is Like That

It hasn't just been raining and pouring on us these past few weeks--it's been a category 1759 hurricane. But here's a lesson I've had drummed into me during this time--life is like that, so make the best of it. Here's another one of those lessons learned: life doesn't have to be all bleak if you 1) don't let it be and 2) look for the silver lining in those clouds. There have actually been a few times where smiling/laughing took place. Please God, in the months to come there will be more of those light occasions.

Mom's recovery is going as it should, even if not as quickly as she and we would have liked it to go. Along the way I've had to be a mother to my Mother while still remaining as her daughter--not an easy balance but a necessary one. And yes, sometimes I've taken comfort from that old saying "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

For those of you going through your own version of hell, hang in there. It really is true that when today ends, it's over, and tomorrow is a new day with new chances to get things right. And if you get a chance to say Mazal Tov to someone, don't put it off--it could be just the tonic to cure what ails you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Murphy's Law

Yes, everything I ever needed to know I learned in grade school, because that is where I first learned about Murphy's Law. All the rest of my education is just commentary. The Law, briefly stated: If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. We'll never know just when it will go wrong, or quite how it will go wrong, or where it will go wrong. We'll never know if that "wrong" will be short lived or long lived. A correlative to Murphy's Law: Knowing that something can go wrong doesn't mean that we can fix things so they won't go wrong. I'll call that correlative "Man tracht und Gott lacht."

Back in an older posting on preparing services for the elderly who will need them, a whole lot of readers were in agreement that because today's families are larger, thus supplying more "manpower," there will always be someone in the family available to care for an older parent or grandparent, lots of somebodies available. Uh huh. See Murphy's correlative #2: just because something is going wrong for you doesn't mean that it isn't also going wrong for someone else in your family at one and the same time. And it also doesn't mean that something has to be going wrong for that someone else either; something good can be happening which makes it impossible to help you out when that help is needed, something like the birth of a new baby. And let's not forget to mention that close family can be spread out across the country.

Over the last two weeks we have had three different family members hospitalized for acute care, a few "regular" cases of stomache viruses, a sinus infection, a case of bronchitis and a ruptured vessel in the knee area. That's in addition to any regular allergies or conditions. And we have a couple of newborns. And for a lot of the family they are either facing the end of a school term and final exams or the craziness that comes to some businesses at the end of the year. And that's without adding in a few simchas--and yes, those, too, take a lot of effort and time for the baal simcha. We now have our second family member in long-term institutional care. And yes, this is business as usual for families of any size.

Yes, somehow everything that must be taken care of is being taken care of, but not without cost. Until you find yourself in the position my family is in at present you can have no idea of just how much time, effort and money is needed to keep on top of things. It's way too facile an answer to say that today's families are large so there will always be someone available--ready, able and willing--to take care of what may be necessary, all with no problems. And no, the organizations that Klal has available for situations such as we found ourselves in are not sufficient in many cases. One major hospital in Manhattan prides itself on it's bikur cholim activities and services to patients in the hospital, such as a kosher kitchen to provide fresh kosher food and meet special dietary requirements. Uh huh. Perhaps if you happen to find yourself entering that hospital on a Monday thru Thursday. If you come in on a Friday thru Sunday you just may find yourself in trouble if you are counting on that bikur cholim help.

When something moves out of the theoretical into the real you just may find out real life is not all that simple. And yes, Murphy is alive and well and practicing in our area.

Note: B"H the prognosis for my mom is good. The doctors are certain that she will walk again, albeit with a walker or mechanical aid of some sort. We're still some ways away from that point. Keeping her spirits up (and ours too) is a major part of our agenda.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Brief Update

Sorry readers but this is so not going to be a week for "thoughtful" postings. My mother fell and broke her hip--problematic at any age and even more so if you are 90. She will be going from the hospital to a rehab center for some prolonged therapy and, I"H, she will walk again. To say the least, things are hectic here. Thank you all for your kind wishes.

And just a small thought that I wish I had heeded: when things are going well, thank God every few minutes that they are--in a blink things can change. Yes, Murphy's Law is alive, well and functioning to the max.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Request for Tefillos

I'm asking my readers to please say tehillim for my mom, Feiga bas Leah. She had unexpected surgery yesterday and has a long recovery in front of her, and we all hope a successful one.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Enjoying Thanksgiving

Lots of people who want it known that Thanksgiving is "their" holiday, not ours. Baloney. It so happens that we are a part of that "they," and this holiday is ours as well. And for those who can't seem to decipher history too well, this is not a religious holiday; it is a day of remembrance and of being thankful that this is where we live.

Many, many people who have a day off from work today, allowing them that rare mid-week opportunity to get together with family and friends--all part of the process of making memories to last a lifetime and beyond.

However and where ever you are celebrating the day, I wish you joy and the pleasure of good company. And yes, please take a moment to thank the country we are living in for being here, offering its citizens a freedom not seen anywhere else. That freedom was hard-won, and thanks to those who had the vision to come here to our shores and to persevere in the face of multiple hardships.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

No, What's on Second

Yes, a dreary, rainy day; yet, my mood is quite sunny. I've just spent a few moments reviewing class notes for a lesson for tonight, and I'm smiling all the way. We are studying the effect that words can have when they go forth. Yes, some of the items we'll be looking at are quite serious and had incredible effects on those who heard the words spoken or who read the words written. But I also point out that words can add a bit of lightness to our lives as well. To illustrate, I am using a comedic routine that originated back in the late 40s, early 50s, first presented by the comedy team of Abbot and Costello. This routine had everyone in stitches back then, and still causes laughter today.

To brighten your day--and to answer the question of "Who's on First?"-- head on over to the link below.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Speech and Action: The Perfect Marriage of Mind and Body

So many, many conversations in Klal that spew forth words in abundance about what we are doing wrong, about what needs changing. But let someone pen the words "Then we need to say these words strongly to those perpetrating the wrongs, we need to tell them in no uncertain words that change is needed" and suddenly different words come forth. "It will be bad for shidduchim so people won't get up and protest." "Group actions aren't going to work; maybe individual actions might help someone individually."

True, first a problem needs to be articulated before we can begin to see a solution. But once we see the problem clearly, then what? Will our words die unspoken, unfulfilled because we lack the gumption to back up those words with actions? It is the marriage of thoughts, words and actions that will bring about change

Just what deeply hidden fears are truly the cause of our failure to speak and our failure to act? When we neither speak nor act are we not our own worst enemies? And if all we ever do is speak but never follow that speech with action, what have we actually accomplished?

Others have written about speech and action before us; perhaps it is time to listen closely and heed the lessons. But it must be speech that is married to action that we will practice. Otherwise, when History writes the epitaph for our time period, we will be characterized as "Full of the sound and fury, signifying nothing." What is it that we truly fear about taking definite actions? We need to remind ourselves that "It is better to try and fail than never to have tried at all." Klal's problems are not going to be solved solely through a form of "verbal chair aerobics."

Words are plentiful; deeds are precious.-- Lech Walesa

After all is said and done, more is said than done. --Unknown

We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them. --Abigail Adams

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.--Harriet Beecher Stowe

Friday, November 18, 2011

Women are Equal Beings in Judaism? Really?

Thanks to Primum non Nocere for a bit of sunshine in what was starting out to look like a grey day--a column by an Israeli Chareidi rabbi coming out against the horrible behavior towards women that has been justified as being the "true" Jewish way.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

And a Word About Jewish Cultural Literacy

Lest we think that it is only secular cultural literacy that many have spotty knowledge of, let's ask ourselves about what is being taught in our own schools about our heritage. Yup, ask what "Tanach" refers to and you will get Torah, Nevi'im and Kesuvim. So, I went one step further and asked "Can you name the Nevi'im Rishonim and the Nevi'im Achronim?" Only one male who could name them all from memory(educated way OOT), although quite a few females could. Then I framed the question differently to a different group: "Which of the following are NOT one of the Nevi'im--Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shmuel, Malachim, Hosea, Yoel, Amos, Ovadia, Yonah, Michah, Nachum, Havakuk, Tzefania, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi?" When asked this way, every single male either said "I don't know/I'm not sure" or eliminated at least one name from the list.

Just what is it that our boys are getting in all those hours/years spent in yeshiva? Not a full dose of Jewish cultural literacy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Cultural Literacy

Included under the rubric of cultural literacy is having a basic knowledge of the history of the country you are living in. There is an assumption, particularly in my generation and the generation immediately following mine, that such history is being taught well. Sigh--not.

In introducing a how-to-do-research unit I am teaching, I pointed out that some of the questions the students were being asked to find the answers for were not straightforward. A student asked for an example of such a question. The example was: "Who was the Vice President under Millard Fillmore?" And then a different question came back at me, more than once: "We had a President named Millard Fillmore? Really?"

Yes, a boy's yeshiva high school problem, in that American History is being reduced to a few facts compacted into a highly foreshortened course. But our boys are not alone in being ignorant about President Fillmore. Apparently the Web abounds with listings of our lesser known, less famous or completely unknown Presidents. Among those most frequently cited as lesser known/not known are: Martin van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison. I'm not saying that we all should know every detail of every President's life, but not recognizing the name? The Presidents on the list I just gave represent approximately 1/4 of all of our Presidents. That's an awful lot of missing name recognition.

President Fillmore, however, seems to win the contest for the most famous forgotten President. So, a few facts about President Fillmore, if he, too, is on your forgotten list. He was the thirteenth President of the United States, serving from 1850--1853. He was not elected to the presidency but became president, as he was the Vice President, when President Zachary Taylor died of cholera while in office. During his term in office he shepherded the Compromise of 1850 through Congress to passage. California was admitted as a free state in the Union. Fillmore also sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan in order to convince the empire to open up to free trade.

See? Getting that little bit of cultural literacy history didn't hurt a bit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

One Way to Cut Wedding Costs

There are a number of reasons as to why getting married if you are frum costs as much as it does. One of those reasons is the sheer number of people who are invited to both engagement parties and the wedding itself. 300-400 people at a wedding is not considered as being "large," and a lot of weddings have far more people. When you are dealing with this many people at a simcha, all the other costs are multiplied by the number attending, and they become huge.

We attended a simcha given by someone looking to control costs while still having all those "nearest and dearest and whomever" be part of the simcha. An engagement party was given on a motzoai Shabbos at a very nice hall. Refreshments were of the fleishig smorgasbord type. There was a DJ playing recorded music. There was one photographer--a friend of the family--taking photographs. The hall had available very small silk flower arrangements of the type suitable for small cocktail tables, which they included as part of the cost for the hall. There were a few waiters to set up the food stations, but it was serve yourself throughout the evening. People came and stayed for as long as they wanted to stay. They sat where they wanted and with whom they wanted, hopping from table to table to visit with friends if that is what they wanted. Choson and kallah and their parents actually got to meet and greet all the guests who came.

The wedding itself is going to be a destination wedding in Florida. The estimate is that the number of guests won't exceed 40 people, if it goes that high. It will be held in a Miami hotel small meeting room and will be a "restaurant-type" dinner after the chupah. A photographer will be there for photos during the chupah. Only the immediate family and perhaps one or two close friends of the choson and kallah will be attending.

Estimates are that making the pre-wedding and wedding festivities will cost both sets of parents, who are splitting the expenses, about 1/5 to 1/4 of what it would have cost if all the "rules" in place in NY were followed, and that includes airfare for tickets to Miami.

Everyone at the motzoai Shabbos affair had a good time and got to celebrate with the choson and kallah and their families. They felt like they were "part" of the wedding celebration.

Certainly one way to curtail costs while having everyone wanted be part of the festivities.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Elevens Anyone?

Just in case you're looking to take a small break as you adjust to having to get everything ready on the first short Friday, a glance at a clock and at a calendar should put a smile on your face. As I am typing this it is 11/11/'11, 11:11am. And if you're still up, you can smile again tonight when it's 11/11/'11,11:11pm. Even a small moment of smiling can brighten a busy day.

For Veterans Day

I wish I had some extra time to be able to write a more personal posting about Veterans Day, but it's not going to happen, so let me reprint below the words of our President about Veterans Day. Yes, truly, the President is right that we, citizens of the US, owe our veterans a whole lot.


Today, our Nation comes together to honor our veterans and commemorate the legacy of profound service and sacrifice they have upheld in pursuit of a more perfect Union. Through their steadfast defense of America’s ideals, our service members have ensured our country still stands strong, our founding principles still shine, and nations around the world know the blessings of freedom. As we offer our sincere appreciation and respect to our veterans, to their families, to those who are still in harm’s way, and to those we have laid to rest, let us rededicate ourselves to serving them as well as they have served the United States of America.

Our men and women in uniform are bearers of a proud military tradition that has been dutifully passed forward—from generation to generation—for more than two centuries. In times of war and peace alike, our veterans have served with courage and distinction in the face of tremendous adversity, demonstrating an unfaltering commitment to America and our people. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the country they loved. The selflessness of our service members is unmatched, and they remind us that there are few things more fundamentally American than doing our utmost to make a difference in the lives of others.

Just as our veterans stood watch on freedom’s frontier, so have they safeguarded the prosperity of our Nation in our neighborhoods, our businesses, and our homes. As teachers and engineers, doctors and parents, these patriots have made contributions to civilian life that serve as a testament to their dedication to the welfare of our country. We owe them a debt of honor, and it is our moral obligation to ensure they receive our support for as long as they live as proud veterans of the United States Armed Forces. This year, as our troops in Iraq complete their mission, we will honor them and all who serve by working tirelessly to give them the care, the benefits, and the opportunities they have earned.

On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to our veterans, to the fallen, and to their families. To honor their contributions to our Nation, let us strive with renewed determination to keep the promises we have made to all who have answered our country’s call. As we fulfill our obligations to them, we keep faith with the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve our Union, and with the ideals of service and sacrifice upon which our Republic was founded.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service members have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2011, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Interviewing, not Dating

I was helping a student prepare for a job interview. Obviously I looked over the "official" paperwork needed, such as the resume. We checked that all the keywords necessary for this type of job were present on the resume and that the requisite references were actually going to be of benefit to him.

After that we did a practice run for the interview itself. Again, obviously, we worked on how to answer the "What is your biggest weakness?" question that interviewers all ask, as well as all the other strange questions that are now part of the interview process.

I had checked out the company the student was interviewing with, and it basically uses a three-interview process. After interview three you are either in or you aren't getting hired. Some companies may only use a two-interview process; a few require more, with a number of people within the company.

After the student left it came to me that shidduch dating today definitely resembles the job interview process, in the "paperwork" that has to be filled out in excrutiating detail, in the strange questions that can be asked during the dating "interviews," in the required references, and in the shortness of the whole process. Many people advise those in the dating parshah to avoid raising any personal issues or giving personal family information until the initial interviewing is completed and you are pretty much guaranteed the "job." And shidduch dating is like job interviewing in this aspect also: at the end of X number of dates you are either getting engaged or you're ending the connection.

Sorry, but I believe that equating marriage with getting a job is part of the problem with the shidduch process today. Maybe many years ago people who applied for a job were hoping to stay with the same company for their whole working lifetime. Today such an expectation won't be met. The estimate is, for someone entering the work world today, that they can expect to have anywhere from 13 to 24 jobs during their working lifetime. Longevity in the workplace is not a given.

There is also this: should a company be unhappy with someone they have just hired, should the fit be wrong, there is no problem in letting that employee go. Ditto should the employee find that he/she doesn't like working in that particular company. "Business employment divorce" is so common that it raises nobody's eyebrows.

When we treat shidduch dating as if it were a job interview, we shouldn't be surprised at the quickness of the process; after all, should the employee not work out it's simple to get rid of them. It's no coincidence that the divorce rate in the frum population has gone up, nor that broken engagements are far more common today than ever before. Nor is it a surprise that many "employees" and "employers" are not happy within their relationship.

If we insist on a business metaphor for dating, then we need to pick a more useful metaphor. Getting married is not becoming someone's "employee." Getting married is about establishing a "business" and needing a partner to do so. Getting married is about believing that the business may start out small but will grow over time and develop strength. Getting married is about learning how to compromise and learning when you can't compromise, all for the good of the business. Getting married is about expending a lot of time and effort in keeping a relationship working so the business won't fail.

Maybe instead of shadchanim and the whole ridiculous dating rigamarole that we put our singles through today, we should hand over the whole thing to some experts in the field of independent business establishment. They couldn't do a worse job than is already being done using the employee/employer job interview process in place now.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Yes, Sometimes It's the Little Things That Count

We are frequently told by all sorts of people that we need to stop agonizing about the little things and look at the big picture. We won't ever solve our big problems if we continue to nitpick at minutiae. We need to admit that something large is wrong and go after it. Sure, sometimes.

If water is dripping down from your ceiling onto your floor then no, putting a pail to catch the drip won't solve the big picture problem: somewhere up above you have a water leak that needs to be fixed and pronto. Of course, putting a pail to catch the dripping water does have its use: it prevents that dripping water from damaging the floor in addition to the ceiling. You know you need a plumber or a carpenter/roofer or both, but they can't arrive at your home until 8 hours from now, and the water continues to drip. Do you refuse to put the pail under the drip because you know that help is coming in the foreseeable future? The weather is not cooperating and there is heavy rain outside, predicted to last all week. Roofers don't work up on the roof in rainy weather. Yes, he promises he will be there just as soon as it stops raining. So now you know that help is going to be on its way at some point--the big picture will improve--but you're going to have to deal with the issue of that dripping water now.

In many areas the members of Klal are like those homeowners who won't put a bucket under a leak because they just know for "sure" that the cause of the leak is going to be fixed--why bother expending energy on small fixes when it's a big fix that is needed? Unfortunately for us, our big picture fixes are not as obvious as the cause of that leak in the ceiling. Not only that, but even where we are fairly sure we know what is causing a problem, there is no specialist dealing with that problem available to us, or the specialists available have limited skills/knowledge to fix our unique problem. And then there is where we effect a repair and discover that what we thought was causing our leak was not the cause, because water is still dripping down from the ceiling.

Yes, we need to view the big picture and try to get to the root cause of any problems that are affecting us. However, in the meantime, we would benefit from taking some small actions that can help us to keep the problem from spreading, that can alleviate some of the difficulties that the big problem is causing us.

One example: yeshiva tuition cost is a major problem. What to do about the high cost of tuition is one of those big picture discussions. But there is a small fix that is available--it won't solve the problem but it could keep it from growing larger. The fix? All parents in a school, whether able to pay full tuition or not, all members of a community, all community leaders, letting the schools know in clear, concrete language that no school will be allowed to raise tuition for the next X number of years, whether 1,2 or 3. The "bucket" would be there for the parents, giving everyone a chance to fix the leak. Or maybe you could plug a smaller leak that is affecting only some parents, and push the schools to make the mandatory lunch program an optional one. Or maybe you could push that no school will be allowed to do any "cosmetic surgery" on or in their buildings for the next X number of years--things like fancy floors in the entry halls, or remodeling auditoriums, or redecorating anything in the school. Unless it falls in the actual "leak" category, the schools should not expect that parents will be paying for decor.

So no, we still need to look at the big picture as regards our problems in Klal, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that unless we also take some of the small steps, unless we put a bucket under those leaks, the problem is going to spread.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Some Reminders: Time Change and the NYC Marathon

Daylight Savings Time is leaving us at 2:00am Sunday morning. If you will be going to sleep before that hour, change your clocks before you go to sleep. Keep in mind the large number of clocks that might need changing, including Shabbos clocks, clocks on appliances, watches and clocks in cars. Note to Teachers: some of you can expect that the clocks in your classrooms will not have had the time changed. Check when you arrive in the classroom. And just in case anyone is still a bit confused as to what time it will actually be when the clock changes, we go back an hour, so 2:00am will become 1:00am.

The NYC Marathon is scheduled for Sunday. Because of the marathon, the Verrazano Bridge will be out of commission from 7:00am until 3:00 pm. Those needing to go from Brooklyn to New Jersey or from New Jersey to the City will need to find alternate routes to travel on as Staten Island won't be an option.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2 of my Favorite Topics: Writing and Shidduchim

If anyone still believes that Business Writing as a college-level course shouldn't be given, because, after all, we learned everything we ever will need to know about writing for business in 6th grade, please go on over to the Orthonomics blog for a prime example of why those with only a sixth grade education in business writing should NOT be allowed to put pen to paper.

As to shidduchim, don't you just love it when someone supposedly representing an organization under the auspices of a lot of choshuv rabbanim (whose names nobody will give us) says that it is perfectly okay to "beg, borrow and steal" to come up with the money to pay for the shadchanim being discussed, because, after all, this is shidduchim we are talking about. Clearly this group's organizers are fans of the NY State lottery; their theme seems to be "You've got to be in it to win it" and "You've got to pay to play."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weather Woes

Those living in the Northeast were "treated" yesterday to a change of weather that left many with their mouths hanging open. Firmly still in October, we got a snow storm. This wasn't a few flakes that came and went before anyone could decide if they were really there. News reporters are saying that about two million people in our area are without power thanks to the snow, ice and heavy winds. In some places the power loss was on a house by house basis; in other places entire communities are without power. Teaneck is one of those communities. One of our kids lives in Teaneck and moved home last night temporarily because the local electrical utility is estimating that it may be until Wednesday before power is restored.

I awoke this morning to a blanket of snow still covering the yard completely, covering the sidewalks, covering the cars. A large bed of impatiens was still blooming strongly yesterday morning. This morning those blossoms are icy caricatures of themselves, wearing snow bonnets. Many of our friends still have their sukkahs up, and those sukkahs are also bearing new snow crystal decorations.

The last time I remember snow coming this early was on the last day of sukkos 34 years ago, and then there were only a few flakes that fell, were almost missed, and disappeared.

Obviously the snowstorm was being discussed on a local newpaper's discussion board. One commenter on that board made a spelling error but his/her comment was actually quite important. The commenter spoke about "global warning" being the cause of the storm.

Global warning? Yes, quite correct. We humans have gotten quite pleased with ourselves and our ability to manipulate the world around us. We believe that human ingenuity can solve any problems we face and can allow us to control the world around us. And along comes a snowstorm in October to "warn" us that we aren't in complete control of the world, that nature isn't under our dominion. We may effect small changes in our environment, but controlling the weather is not under our purview. I do believe that a lot of people got the point of that warning yesterday as they blindly manouvered around in the dark, as the "sounds of silence" of hundreds of mankind's electronic inventions were all that were heard.

So thank You Hashem for reminding us that we are only one of Your creations and that world control still rests in Your hands. And thank You for having brought us safely through the storm, even if some of our inventions didn't weather that storm. We take note of Your warning and will hopefully heed it as our lives continue.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Unity or Conformity?

An interesting article by Rabbi Berel Wein in today's JWR.

"The Danger of confusing unity with conformity"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On Business Writing

Thanks to JS whose comment on another posting spawned this posting. He wrote: "Also, why are students learning how to write an email/business letter in college? Is this an ESL course?"

Let's keep our focus on now, not on the past. Today there is virtually no college or university that does not give at least one course in Business Writing; many of these schools give multiple courses on the subject (UNLV has an entire department of business writing). It is no longer considered sufficient to "merely" provide education in a student's major. What is of importance to prospective employers is not so much what you majored in--after all, there is an assumption that if you majored in accounting you can add 2+2--but how effectively you can communicate what you know when in a business environment. And no, merely being a native American educated here in the US and a primary speaker of English will not give you the specific skills necessary to produce all the types of business writing/communication required when on the job.

Let's look at e-mail for a moment. Is there anyone reading this who has not already sent thousands of e-mails during his/her lifetime? Of course we all have done so. However, a whole lot of those e-mails have been to friends. E-mails sent for business reasons require a different approach than those sent to friends. It might be perfectly fine to write "Hiya Ari boy" on an e-mail to a friend, but that's a no-no in a business environment. The etiquette of business e-mail writing is quite different from our usual e-mails.

Now business letters. Business letters is a general category with many different types under that rubric, types that can differ greatly one from the other. Are you writing with an inquiry? With a request? Are you sending a sales letter? An appeal for charitable purposes? Are you applying for a job? Are you responding after an interview? Are you making a complaint? Are you writing what is called an adjustment letter? Is your content neutral, positive or negative? Are you giving good news or bad news? Each of these different types of business letters requires a different approach, both as to formatting and to content.

Most high school students who have held part-time or summer jobs have not had the type of job that requires them to write in a business environment. In point of fact, most college students, certainly in their first few years, don't hold jobs that require business writing as part of their jobs either. Just where is it that we expect that our young people will have learned the rules of how to write in a business environment? That is one reason why colleges have responded by giving business writing courses. (Note: for frum students there may be almost no work experience or none. Being a camp counselor doesn't give you writing skills, nor does tutoring someone in gemorah or chumash.) A second reason is that academic writing, the type required in college, differs greatly from business-required writing, in formatting, style, tone, use of vocabulary etc..

A word about content of these business writing courses; they aren't at all limited to only e-mails and letters. Covered in most curricula are e-mails, memos, a variety of letter types, short reports, long reports, instruction writing, the use of appropriate visuals (tables, graphs etc.) to accompany text, resumes, the job interview process, writing to an overseas reader or one known to be ESL, the collaborative writing process, the ethics of writing in the workplace, executive summaries, informative abstracts, descriptive abstracts, how to do proper research, documenting sources, and, of course, grammar and appropriate vocabulary.

So, to summarize, no my students aren't ESL (although a few are), but it's insufficient in the workplace to "merely" be a native English speaker. And let me end with this. All law schools in the first year require students to take Legal Writing courses. Why? Because there are formatting and citation and content rules in the legal field that lawyers need to abide by. The same is true of other business fields, and courses in Business Writing address the specifics that need to be known.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's A Frum Thing

Frum young men are not the same as their counterparts in the secular world in some very fundamental ways. A homework assignment I was marking yesterday underscored that in a very real way for me, just in case I hadn't noticed.

The assignment was to write an email to either your boss or your instructor explaining why you were absent from work or school and what you would be doing to make up for the lost time. Obviously the point of the homework was to see if the students had grasped the basic format/content rules for writing a business email.

97% of the students who chose to write an email to their boss used as an excuse for their absence that their wife had gone into labor and delivered, necessitating their absence that day. 64% of the students who chose to write an email to their instructor used the wife went into labor excuse. Keep in mind that my students are mostly young and mostly unmarried.

This exact same assignment used when I was teaching at two other colleges not under frum auspices got exactly zero responses using a wife in labor as an excuse for absence; yet, the students were the same age group as my students now.

Clearly our frum young men seem to consider marriage and family establishment as relevant to and a basic part of their lives at this age, even those who are not yet married.

I called an ex-colleague who teaches at a CUNY branch and asked her to do me a favor and just ask her classes at what age they either plan on thinking about marriage or at what age they believe that marriage is appropriate. I got her answer back this morning and it clearly showed a difference from my present students' answers. In her classes the females answered that the mid-20s were a good time to get married. The males answered that the mid to late 20s were a time to start looking. She went a step further and asked why they chose those age ranges. Virtually every student answered that they would be finished with college and/or graduate school and would already be working so they could afford to start thinking about marriage.

In the outside world marriage is seen as something that takes place when a person has gotten some life skills and is working. Inherent in the answers my friend got is the idea that marriage is something you do when you are finished with school and are independent financially. (Yes, yes, I know that there are some in the outside world who get married at fairly early ages--the exceptions rather than the rule.) In the frum veldt work skills and financial independence are not deciding factors as to when marriage is appropriate. Girls graduate high school and within the year are "in the parshah." Boys may finish a year in yeshiva post-high school and are "in the parshah."

I'll leave you to ruminate on the differences as regards to when to get married and under what circumstances. And you might want to think about how the differing attitudes between our frum young people and those in the secular world affect the lifestyles of married couples.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gone and Not Forgotten

It's very strange, given the last few weeks, to be spending a Monday morning somewhat at leisure. There's no need for figuring out menus for yom tov/Shabbos meals any longer. There's no exhausting mega-trips to grocery stores on the horizon. Pots and pans are safely tucked away where they belong and will stay there for a good few days yet. The mountain of laundry has reduced itself to a climbable hill. My refrigerators are finally getting to the point where I can see the shelves, and opening the door isn't taking a chance on an avalanche pouring forth.

And yet.... Now that yom tov is over I find myself missing the idea that all of us will be in the same place at the same time, that all of us will sit down to leisurely meals together, meals that encourage family conversation. After three weeks of intensive family time, the curtain has come down on yom tov, and it's back to business as usual.

Oh well, I can console myself with the knowledge that Chanukah is not all that far down the road, and there will be family hustle and bustle yet again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One for Now, any Number for Later

I'm certainly not the only woman who has been spending a lot of time in the kitchen thanks to yom tov and Shabbos coming out connected. In addition, like many others, I have been preparing some items that I don't cook all that often during the year, mostly because of time constraints or the amount of work involved. And then there are the items that I do use a lot of during the year as well as for yom tov but that can take hours of prep time and can be messy as well. And once again my freezer comes to the rescue.

If you're still not sure that frozen food tastes as good as fresh, it may be time to get over that idea. With some items there is simply no way to tell the difference, and in some cases the frozen food actually tastes better.

For one thing, plain chicken broth, to be used as a basis for any type of soup desired, has zero noticeable difference from the fresh broth. I made up about 30 quarts of the concentrated broth, about half of which were frozen plain, a few weeks before yom tov. The others I made up into three kinds of soup--traditional vegetable chicken, split pea and barley and winter squash and vegetable soups. I purposefully make them thicker so they take up less space in the freezer and can have liquid added after defrosting. No boredom over yom tov as I have three different soups for variety. And there's plenty of broth ready prepared which will cut down on prep time for soups after yom tov, when the Friday's are shorter.

Now lasagnas. Here I actually prefer the frozen variety. I don't freeze the lasagnas already cooked, just ready to bake. I find that the frozen variety gives a slightly softer noodle when baked, with no dry spots at all. And for those who don't freeze lasagna because those lasagna-size pans may work for a holiday crowd but give you too much for regular meals, here's some ideas. If your family is only 2-4, try using the 8x4 small aluminum loaf pans available. One lasagna noodle fits in just perfectly lengthwise. Keep layering and you have a lasagna loaf that will give you the amount you need without leftovers that might go to waste. If you need a bit more, then try an 8x8 square aluminum pan, which will hold two noodles side by side. If some in your family like only the traditional-type of lasagna and some like variations such as vegetable lasagna, making them in the loaf tins allows you to please everyone's taste.

I made kokosh for yom tov, and any bakers out there know that making yeast dough can be a pain in the neck and mess up the kitchen. As long as the kitchen was going to get messy anyway, I made double the amount of dough needed and froze away packages of the dough in one-cake portions. Way easier to defrost one piece of dough, roll and fill and bake then to have to handle all the dough at once. And no, no one is going to be able to tell from the taste or texture that the dough was frozen. I also froze away readymade cakes and I got zero complaints when they came out to be served. If you bake any type of milchig cakes, such as cheese cakes, making extra and freezing them saves a lot of time as well. I have only one oven, so cleaning and turning it so I can use it for milchigs and then cleaning it and turning it back for fleishigs is time intensive.

No matter how careful you are, you are liable to see leftovers that you just aren't going to be able to use up immediately. If those leftovers are chicken or meat, remove the skin and bones, tear the meat into small bite-size pieces, put into a baggie or container with a few spoons of the cooking juices and freeze away. With cold weather coming, a paprikash or stew makes for a welcoming dinner. Just pop the contents of one of those baggies into a pot with your starch of choice and with some veggies and spices, and cook up an appetizing dish in less than half the time.

There are lots of other dishes that freeze well and which are appreciated when time is short and people are hungry. You're doing all that work now anyway, so why not let that work and your freezer save you some time later on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Being "Half"

Rabbi T here had up an interesting posting about "half Jews." A comment at the time didn't seem to want to form itself, but I've been thinking about points that were raised. So, better late than never, my thoughts follow.

I'm not disagreeing with the basic premise, that children observe the adults around them, and if they see them only "half-heartedly" following the rules--or outright breaking them--then they, too, may adopt a "half" lifestyle.

However, there needs to be a clear distinction made that children are not adults, and that some of adult behavior is not necessarily wrong--being practiced by an adult with full reasoning powers and maturity to see--but would not be appropriate for a child, whose knowledge and reasoning power are not yet fully developed.

Criticising something or someone, when done by an adult, is not necessarily being "half-observant," nor is it being only "half-respectful." (What is tochechah after all?) Sometimes that public voicing is necessary to point out that "the Emperor is naked." Human beings, no matter their training or studying, are still human beings, making them imperfect and not 100% right 100% of the time. We are taught to respect our leaders, not worship them--"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

Just what picture do you think children get when leaders of different groups within Klal disagree with each other, criticize each other, declare the "other" to be wrong? When the language gets heated among rabbanim and between such groupings? When Rabbi A paskens X, Rabbi B paskens Y and Rabbi C paskens Z, all referring to the same exact thing, based on the same holy writings? When groups A to Z within frum Klal feel free to criticize and publicly denigrate each other and claim that only their way of practicing and believing is the correct way and all the others are only "half-frum"?

It is not only those who are wilfully going against our laws who are bad examples for our children, who show them that "half-observance" is okay to do. When sinah and chinah are rampant among the various frum groups of Klal, when Jews of one stripe feel free to stone and attack Jews of another stripe and rabbinic leadership does nothing, then what do you suppose our kids are being taught by example?

In short, yes, we adults need to be cognizant of the examples we are setting for our children, but that includes all adults in Klal, regardless of group belonged to, and regardless of where in the hierarchy of Klal we fall.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sigh, those suckers born every minute are still with us

I once did a posting on bottled salt water available for use at the Pesach seder.

Now Jameel has up a posting about a ready prepared eruv tavshilin, for "only" $2.89 a pack, available here in the States.

Okay, okay, gourmet cooking may be out of reach for a lot of people, but boiling an egg?!

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Would a Smart School Do #2

Many services that are available in the public schools are also available to yeshivas on site if certain procedures are followed. Among these services are a number of different types of special ed and therapy programs. The main procedure that must be followed is that the personnel provided by the public school system cannot be in rooms that are clearly for religious use as well. This means that regular classrooms, with both their limudei kodesh and secular studies bulletin boards and in-class paraphernalia, are off limits.

Most yeshivas would have no trouble finding a neutral nook that could be easily and inexpensively converted for the use of the personnel providing the free services. Some yeshivas have on staff specialists in just the service areas that Board of Ed would provide for free. Let's say that a yeshiva only spends in the $100-200K range on the salaries for this special ed/therapy staff (and yes, these specialists are pricey in salary requirements). In a school with 400 students, the savings would be a $500 reduction in tuition per child. If the school spends more than the 100-200K (and some do) then obviously the tuition reduction would be greater. If the school has less than 400 students the tuition reduction would also be greater.

Okay, some are looking at the low figure of $500 and sneering--not much of a reduction. Here's the thing: this is one of many deductions that could be made, and they all add up. Are you really going to turn down a reduction of $2500 for your 5 kids?

Note: Yes, I am well aware of what this might do to some of our frum college students--females in particular--since a large number of them major in the various special ed and therapy fields precisely because they know/believe they will find employment within the yeshiva circle. They might--gasp!--have to work for the Board of Education and take their chances that perhaps, maybe they might be assigned to a frum school.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shanah Tovah

With hopes and prayers that this will indeed be a sweet new year, filled with blessings of every kind. For all of you and your families, may you truly enjoy this time together: I hope that you will be able to make wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. And may we all be zocheh to be wishing each other a shanah tovah next year at this time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Reminder

The way that yom tov falls out this year, please don't forget to make an eruv tavshilin so that you can prepare for Shabbos on yom tov.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's Not Just Shopping

I asked my classes if there was anyone present who had never purchased something online--not a single student who hadn't. Shopping online has become routine. That shopping online applies to almost every age group, perhaps excepting toddlers and infants. And the online shopping experience is providing yet another area where parents and adults need to be vigilant in monitoring what their children are doing online. In fact, adults need to be taking more care as well.

The Jewish World Review had a rather frightening article up about dangerous synthetic drugs that are available online. Some of those mentioned in the article were added to other consumer products such as bath salts. In over 50% of the products mentioned the ingredients list was not given or the synthetic drugs were purposefully left off of the list. The amount of the drugs in the products varies from about 25% to 100%, many at toxic levels.

Don't kid yourself by saying the DEA will take care of this problem. From the article: "U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Rusty Payne said it is a felony to buy 4-Meo-PCP and possibly some of the other substances. But he said it is "ridiculous" to expect the federal government to stop trafficking of all synthetic drugs.
"There are thousands and thousands of websites who market these products, and it is extremely difficult to police and enforce every single one of them," Payne said."

Online shopping is indeed a convenience, but let's not close our eyes to the fact that it can be darn dangerous as well. Yet something else to add to the job of parenting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Would a Smart School Do #1

Okay, there's been lots of complaining about the present yeshiva system, particularly about the amount of tuition being charged. Instead of another complaint, I'd like to offer a series of small changes that could be made that could reduce tuition cost and parental complaining, at least a little bit.

My first suggestion is about the school week. There are many yeshivas out there for whom the school week runs Sunday to Friday, particularly boys yeshivas. I understand that Fridays in the winter months are foreshortened school days and yeshivas want to make up the "missing" time, so Sunday is what they chose. Those Sunday classes are a luxury that yeshivas just can't afford to host any longer. When tuition is so high that a significant number of parents can't begin to pay full tuition for their children, and so apply for scholarships or pull their kids out, yeshivas need to find real ways to scale back on expenses, and one less day of school is one of those real ways.

Rebbes today are making "real" salaries in most yeshivas, salaries that the gentlemen involved might not be able to make were they working in the secular world. And in addition to salary there are other benefits given, as well as some perks such as free or highly reduced tuition for their own kids. Many an administrator has justified those salaries by pointing out that Rebbes work 6 days a week. Time to get real. First, those Rebbes aren't working 6 full days a week, since Friday is shorter and so is Sunday. So yes, to begin with salaries are not in concert with the days worked. Now, take away Sunday classes and the Judaic studies staff is only working 4-1/3 days a week. Salaries could definitely be cut to reflect the shorter working hours, anywhere from 15 to 25% less. Add in that the administrative staff and office staff and maintenance staff would also be working less hours and that utilities and insurance costs would go down.

Tuition would still be pricey relatively speaking but there is a huge difference between paying $12-16K per child and paying $9-12 per child. Multiply that by three children in school and a real savings can be seen. Make that 4 or 5 kids and the difference is huge.

And this is only one price cut--there are plenty of other places to cut that I'll mention in later postings.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sincerety in Tefilla

I think we have proof that a whole lot of Klal last year on Shemini Atzeret were being sincere and were concentrating when they davened--at least when it came to Tefillas Geshem. Here in the New York area (and yes, in other places as well), our prayers for rain have been good and truly answered. In fact, I believe we could say without contradiction that we even got more than what we asked for.

I'm looking out the window at yet another overcast rainy day. It's only the mid-part of September, but it feels like Autumn has truly arrived and means to stay. My eyes see what the weather is like and telegraph to my brain "Yes! Apple, book and couch day!" but my commonsense says "Out you go--errands that must be run!"

I was rummaging in the closet to find my fall jacket and my hands touched my winter parka and jerked away quickly. Okay, I'll take all the rain coming our way and be thankful, but please, let any snow be far, far in the distant future.

And then it hit me--we're only a short time from Tefillas Geshem once again. As I sit here, still a bit soggy and shivery from the outside rain, I do hope that we will be sincere in our tefillos once again. And yet, the soggy part of me suddenly remembers that old saying: "Be careful of what you wish for--you just might get it." I guess there is just no pleasing us.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking at Washington Heights for a Saner Way

It's a fact that many people here in the NY area do not have a personal sukkah where they are living. For some it's a matter of physical setting: they live in an apartment building and there is nowhere to put up a sukkah. For some it may be that they no longer can physically cope with putting up a sukkah. No matter what the reason, there will be people who will not have a sukkah available to them for the yom tov of Sukkos.

Yes, there are many shuls around the city which put up communal sukkahs. But how those sukkahs can be utilized by shul members is widely various. In some shuls only kiddush can be made in the shul sukkah. Some shul sukkahs will only accomodate men who wish to eat there rather than whole families. In many shuls around the area shul families can eat their meals in the shul sukkah, but those meals will be provided by the shul caterer, at a cost of $20-30 per person--you do the math for a family of 5 for a three-day yom tov repeated twice. (Note: many of those caterers will only provide meals on the first and last days of yom tov; for chol hamoed the sukkah is "closed").

Last year G6 had up a posting about how she was preparing to bring over her food to the shul kitchen in Washington Heights because her meals would be in the shul sukkah. This is one method I applaud whole heartedly. Yes, I know there are some other shuls who allow this as well, but relatively few of them. Yeah, yeah, I've heard all the comments about the kashrut concerns if everyone could bring in home-cooked food to this shul sukkah, and use the shul's refrigerators for storage. Frankly these are empty excuses because they are so easy to work around. I'd like to see more shuls follow the example of the Washington Heights Kehillah in providing a sukkah for member use without strings attached that cost an arm and a leg.

How does your community handle the shul sukkah issue? Does it work well for all?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hachnosos Orchim and Yom Tov

Once again yom tov is approaching, something to be looked forward to with happiness and joy. Aside from the obvious religious elements of the holidays themselves, there is the chance to spend time with family and friends, time to sit down together and share a meal and conversation. And once again there will be those in our various communities for whom this joy and happiness will be missing.

There are any number of people in our communities who don't have anyone to share yom tov with. They may be elderly with little or no family living close by. They may be singles without family in the area. Some are students from out of town with few, if any, places to go for yom tov. They may be new young couples who have only recently moved into an area and who don't know many people as yet. There are many reasons for why these people will be alone for yom tov, but one reason that should not be there is that no one in the community took the time and effort to invite them for a meal.

Now, not five minutes before yom tov starts, is the time to give a thought to those who will be alone for yom tov. Now is the time to pick up the phone or go over in person and extend an invitation. Now is the time to show that you understand hachnosos orchim and what it can mean to the person facing a bleak, lonely yom tov. Just because you don't know someone is no reason to hesitate over inviting them; after all, a stranger is only a friend whom you haven't met yet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ideal Teacher

We have all of us had much experience with teachers at all levels of education. Some recent discussions with friends centered around teachers and what would be the qualities that the ideal teacher should possess. Strangely enough, or not so strangely, none of those who were part of the discussions presented the same list of qualities that an ideal teacher should have. In fact, there was only one quality that everyone agreed was necessary, although the definition of that quality varied: consistency. Yup, no consistency in defining consistency.

So let me open this up to my readers. What would be the top qualities you would consider necessary for one to be considered the ideal teacher? Why? Don't be shy--let's hear your comments.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Online Treasure Trove for Jewish Music Fans

Hat tip to my offspring who sent me the following link. It's a free archive of 100 Jewish music albums out of Florida Atlantic University. Lots of chazanus and plenty of classic other Jewish albums.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Was it the Boy's Schools or the Girl's Schools?

Back in August of 2009 I wrote this posting about education for males and females. It involved some rumors that the Bais Yaakov of Boro Park was going to be closing down.

One of the questions I asked in that posting was about "equal treatment" of boys and girls yeshivas. If there is only X amount of money to pay in tuition, will that X amount get divided equally between boys and girls yeshivas, or will boys yeshivas get more of the money?

I'm asking that question again because of some recent happenings. I know that the Bat Torah yeshiva for girls closed down. Fairly certain that Shulamith in Midwood isn't open. It seems to me that all the rumors that have been flying lately--some confirmed and some not--have been about girls yeshivas that are closing. Anyone know as a fact of a boys yeshiva that closed down for this year?

If, as I'm coming to suspect, it's the girls yeshivas that are being allowed to close down while money is being funneled into the boys yeshivas, I believe we have a real problem brewing. Some of the commenters on the original posting alluded to that problem as well. What's the problem? We're going to be creating a two-classed system whereby some of our children will be Jewishly educated and some will not. If girls yeshiva education is what loses when push comes to shove, what are we teaching our children about their value to us and to Klal?

Please, please don't bring me examples from pre-war Europe to support this type of attitude--that was then, and this is now. Educating our girls has long been inculcated into us as a requirement.

So, someone who knows the information as a fact, what schools have closed down, and were they a girls school or a boys school? Also, did any coed school fail to open?

9/11 In Memoriam

On December 7, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered words that have become part of the fabric of American history. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, and in his speech FDR stated that "this is a date that will live in infamy." He couldn't have imagined at that time that there would be another date to join his, a date that also lives in infamy--9/11.

On that fateful date I was teaching on the Staten Island campus of St. John's University. The campus sits atop Grymes Hill, with a clear view of the harbor and of lower Manhattan. A student came running into the classroom I was in, screaming in horror, and we poured out onto the campus in time to view the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. None of us could fully take in what we had just seen, but on every face there was a terrified look. The first reaction was that a commercial plane had somehow gotten off course and crashed into the towers. But as news began to filter in to phones the truth came out: this was the second plane to hit the towers, and two planes was not an accident but an attack.

I remember being torn between needing/wanting to find out about my children working in Manhattan, about friends and other family in the Trade Center area, and needing to get my students safely on their way home. I watched as students from off the Island were gathered up by those from the Island, offering a haven until it could be determined just what had happened and what was happening. I made it home in record time and then began the frustrating time of trying to contact those in Manhattan. Eventually all family members would be accounted for but the tears refused to stop as the news filtered in about what had happened that day. So many lives lost that day, so many people who may have lived through the experience but who would never be the same again. So much pain and so much sorrow.

There was a flash in my memory of another day, another school, another time that the country would cry out in horror. I was in high school when the Principal's voice suddenly came over the PA system, instructing us to quickly and quietly pack our books and go home: our country had suffered a tragedy in that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Everywhere on the walk home you saw people in shock with tears streaming. And on 9/11, dozens of years later, assassins would once again come to our shores, and the tears would stream once again.

A few years after the attacks on 9/11, a survivor of the World Trade Center attack would answer, when asked what those trying to escape were doing, "There are no atheists in foxholes. We were all praying like crazy." I know he was right because that's what a whole lot of us who weren't at the site were doing as well. To Whom else but God could we possibly turn when faced with a tragedy of this magnitude?

As we go through the day today it would be appropriate to think of those whose lives were taken, who were murdered for no other reason than they were Americans. And I hope that our resolve, and the resolve of our leaders, will be hardened so that such a tragedy does not come to us again. And yes, it would be a good time for prayers to God, for asking that He guide us in our thoughts and actions so that such bloodshed should not happen again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No More, Please!!!

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that I spent many years as a volunteer shadchan--read no charge--and about a year ago I got out of the business. I could not deal with the "new and improved" methods that have come into existence, particularly the questionnaires and what they ask.

Yesterday someone called me about a shidduch for one of my kids. I was happy to listen to the call until we got to the Grand Inquisition. The person calling got to the "What type of frum is your daughter" question, and having 4 wisdom teeth extracted without benefit of anesthesia started to look really good to me. To give this person at least some credit, she didn't just read off a list of all the different terms we are cursed with for establishing frumkeit, type and degree. Instead, she gave me certain scenarios and asked how my daughter would react to those scenarios. The one where I finally called a halt to the inquisition was the following: What would be your daughter's reaction if someone gave her comic books as a gift? Would she allow such a gift for her children?

Hashem Yerachem if such questions are integral to making a shidduch today or in any way, shape or form can help to define a person's frumkeit. When I called a halt to the questioning the shadchan sounded truly surprised. When I told her that such questions couldn't possibly have any bearing on a shidduch--certainly not on a shidduch date--she told me that the boy in question had put the answer to this question as a high priority. I politely ended the call and breathed a sigh of relief.

I've been married going on 40 years. Not once, not ever did my views on comic books become an issue in our marriage. No, my husband and I have not always agreed 100% on everything we have faced in our marriage, but that is what marriage is about: learning how and when to compromise, learning how to find alternatives when there is disagreement, learning that "winning" and always getting your way is not the object of marriage. Granted, I haven't read all that many comic books lately, but more because of lack of opportunity rather than a decision to stop reading them. Our pediatrician used to have copies of comic books in his office. I admit I was and still am a fan of the Archie comics. However, the kids long ago graduated to an "adult" doctor so I'm not around those comics much any more.

Attitude on comic books as an indicator of frumkeit and shidduch compatibility is just too much for me. Just when I think I've heard it all, along comes something like this.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Surely They Were Jesting

Thanks to Lisa Hoffman in the Jewish World Review for the following tidbit. Apparently when the frum community gets bogged down in downright ridiculous minutae it's following the lead of our federal government. With all the important issues facing us it's comforting--not--to know our government has what's truly important right in its sights. And to the frum community--this is not the example to be following. You think we appear any less ridiculous when we argue about the color, size, brand, shape and decoration of a hat? Think again!

"It was the vision of the Federal Highway Administration that, by 2018, no sign ever again would use only upper-case letters to spell out a street name. Only the first letters would be capitals, standing precisely 6 inches high.

Furthermore, the lower-case letters would have to be exactly 4.5 inches high. And every street sign in America would be in the Clearview typeface font, and no other.

FHA regulators gave localities until Jan. 22, 2012, to come up with a plan for replacing signs to be in conformance with the rules. If they didn't, their federal funds would be in jeopardy.
What resulted after the FHA posted the proposed rules in the Federal Register last November was a hue and cry from cities and states, which hollered that the idea was a waste of scarce money. New York City said it would cost $27.5 million to comply and Milwaukee pinned a $1.4 million price tag on its compliance.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration relented, announcing the regulations and deadlines would be eliminated, leaving localities free to replace signs when they're worn out and without the stylistic micromanaging that critics portrayed as a metaphor for overreaching by the federal government.

Monday, September 5, 2011

You Know It Isn't Like It Used to Be When......

A friend got involved with her grandchildren this summer in a way she and her husband wish they hadn't have been. Her daughter was going to be out of town during camp visiting day so this friend did all the requisite nosh purchasing and shlepped up to camp to spend the day. While they were visiting with their grandsons, said grandsons had the usual complaints about camp--you know, too rainy, the food sucks etc.. This friends husband laughed and said it reminded him of a song we all knew and loved back in the olden days. So he sang it for his grandsons and they loved it. They insisted that zaydie write down the words for them and help them learn it, which he promptly did.

Now fast forward a couple of days and these grandparents got a very upset telephone call from the camp. It seems that the grandsons taught the song to their friends in camp. One night at dinner, one the campers apparently weren't enjoying, during the umpteenth day of rain, the grandsons and their friends broke into their new song. The campers loved it; the administration didn't. They felt it wasn't the type of song that a frum young boy should be singing, that it was disrespectful. And, the administrator continued, the grandsons had the gaul to say that their grandfather had taught them the song, adding lying to inappropriate singing.

My friend's husband could have handled this in a number of ways but decided that straight out talking was best. First he told the camp that yes, he had taught the boys the song. Second, if he found out in any way that his grandsons had been disciplined for singing the song the camp director would find himself in court post haste. Third, he told the director to get a sense of humor. Fourth, he told the director that singing "non-Jewish" music was not an aveiroh.

Anyway, the director backed down and the storm passed. However, the children's parents, when informed of what had happened, made the decision that their kids were never going to this camp again.

No kinderlach, this is not the world I grew up in. Certainly not when Allan Sherman is looked at as a frumkeit issue. The song in question was written and performed by Mr. Sherman in 1963 and is entitled "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!" The lyrics are below. I leave it to you to decide just how and why this song is not appropriate.

Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh,
Here I am at Camp Grenada
Camp is very entertaining
and they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining.

I went hiking with Joe Spivy
He developed poison ivy
You remember Leonard Skinner
He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner.

All the counselors hate the waiters
And the lake has alligators
And the head coach wants no sissies
So he reads to us from something called Ulysses.

Now I don't want this should scare ya
But my bunkmate has malaria
You remember Jeffrey Hardy
They're about to organize a searching party.

Take me home, oh muddah fadduh,
take me home, I hate Grenada
Don't leave me out in the forest where I might get eaten by a bear.
Take me home, I promise I will not make noise or mess the house with
other boys, oh please don't make me stay, I've been here one whole day.

Dearest fadduh, darling muddah,
How's my precious little bruddah?
Let me come home if ya miss meI
will even let Aunt Bertha hug and kiss me.

Wait a minute, it stopped hailing,
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing,
Playing baseball, gee that's better,
Muddah Fadduh kindly disregard this letter.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

School is Starting and.......?

The new school year begins in a few days. What, if anything, is going to be different this year from last year? Other than two yeshivas not opening this year (and we are not talking about uber large yeshivas that closed but very small ones), the answer is "nothing." Despite a whole lot of complaints that the present system cannot continue as it is, there it is, continuing. And I'd bet any amount of money--and win--that the complaints will be coming fast and furious this year, just as in the past. Why?

The first and most obvious reason is that, despite legitimate complaints, no one really wants to be the first one to say "Enough! I'm pulling my kids out!" Here and there we all may know or know of someone who is experimenting with a different way of educating their kids, be it home schooling or a combination of public school and talmud torah or some other way. But the vast majority of parents have a wait and see attitude. First, they want to see what the reaction will be by the community to those parents who have opted for a different education format--and that reaction could take years to happen. And then they are waiting for someone else to provide an already organized in-place alternative.

The reaction is like any other shopping expedition. First, you decide on a class of product you want to buy--let's say cottage cheese. You head for the market and look at all the cottage cheese products available in that store. You may or may not like the taste and flavor of any of those products available, or the price that is being charged, but if you feel you need cottage cheese then you are choosing one of the products available and paying what is asked for that product. Now it's possible that you may complain to the manager about the price, and maybe, on occasion, that price may drop a bit. But as long as the products move off the shelves, the stores have really very little incentive to drop the prices or bring in another brand.

Now sometimes a new brand of that cottage cheese comes on the market. Do you run out and buy it? Maybe, and maybe not. Many people want to see what the general public reaction will be to the product before they opt to buy it themselves. They want to read reviews of how consumers who did buy the product feel about it. They are more than willing to let others be the experimental guinea pigs. It just could be that the new product has nothing to recommend it, to differentiate it from all the other cottage cheeses that are apparently just like it. It could be that the new product is going to require going a bit out of your convenient geographic area to buy--your local market doesn't carry it but a market a few miles out does. And it could be that the new cottage cheese has a very different flavor from the one you are used to (even if you aren't necessarily thrilled with the flavor/price). You've gotten used to the old cottage cheese brand--it may be pricey, but it's convenient to buy, and you know how it's going taste.

In short, we seem to be treating yeshiva education as if it were any other consumer product on the shelf. We eat what the stores have decided to sell, and we pay what they ask. We may complain to each other that "groceries" are costing an arm and a leg, but we are still shopping in those same stores and buying those same groceries.

So yes, the way I see it, this year is going to be just like last year as regards the high price of a yeshiva education. Consumers are going to continue to buy the old products, complaining to each other all the while. Unless someone is willing to take the chance on producing a new product and putting it out on the market for purchase, it's going to be the same-old same-old. It takes a whole lot of investment of time, effort and money to bring a new product to market. No one, it seems, is willing to take the chance that a new product might succeed, might bring in customers.

One final note. Many look at yeshiva education as being something more than just another product we purchase. There are any number of people, with a vested interest, who have endorsed the present yeshiva system as being a necessity as it is presently structured, who have made the system "holy." If you want to be considered as "frum" then you have to send your kids to yeshiva. Guess what? Those who endorse products have a vested interest in having you buy those products, and the interest is usually a monetary one. Movie star X is not endorsing product Y because he/she 100% believes in that product and uses only that product because they believe it to be the best. They are getting paid for endorsing that product. And if they weren't being paid by the producers of product Y, do you really believe that they would go on record saying product Y is the only one for them? Those who go on record saying the present yeshiva system is the only one that works and the only one we should be buying are not different from those movie stars. They, too, have personal reasons for endorsing the yeshiva product, and yes, money is part of it. Do you really believe that a rosh yeshiva is going to bite the hand that feeds him?

Right now a whole lot of "choshuv" people are pushing us to buy an Edsel. And lo and behold we are doing so. A whole lot of people are pushing us to buy gas guzzling overly large sedans when what we really should be shopping for are those wallet-friendly, fuel efficient models. Nope, those wallet-friendly vehicles aren't visually dazzling with all the latest over-the-top techno gizmos. They don't cause our friends and neighbors to go green with envy. They don't necessarily impress anyone--unless you are the practical type who believes that if you can get to point B from point A in comfort and for less money then why would you opt for paying more.