Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Minefield of Shailoh Asking

It seems inevitable that during the 3 weeks/9 days someone in my house is going to have a shailoh to ask a Rav about what is or isn't permissible during this time period. This year it was my turn, and I admit it took me almost three days to work out exactly how to word the questions I needed to ask so that there could be no chance of an error of interpretation on the part of the Rav being asked due to a poor English construction. I did a bit of research before asking the shailoh to see if the answer appeared anywhere on the various sites that have posted the "laws" of the 3 weeks/9 days.

My particular questions did not appear on these sites, but I was pleased to see that at least some of the points that people were complaining about just one year ago have been addressed. Last year there were a number of Rabbanim/sites that said it was forbidden to put on freshly laundered underwear during the 9 days--so far every site I've gone to has exempted underwear and socks from the "no laundered clothes" ban. Last year, in a line that still reverberates with me, a number of rabbanim/sites banned showering during the nine days outright except for a shower before Shabbos, and basically told those "who are accustomed to showering regularly" to speak to a Rav. This year a number of those rabbanim and sites are not outright banning showering but are giving reasons for when a shower could be acceptable--to remove sweat and dirt--and explaining how to make that shower different so that it doesn't fall into the category of "pleasure and joy" --using cooler water, for instance.

Where I think there needs to be some more thought given, perhaps for next year's announcements, is to the whole idea of "freshly laundered clothing." Every site I've gone to has said that you may not wear such clothing. HOWEVER, all the sites also present a way around this "dilemma." Prior to the 9 days it was suggested that you put on for a moment or two any and all clothing that you might wear during the 9 days. In this way the clothing would not qualify for "freshly laundered" since it had already been worn. Don't know about any other women out there, but I've no idea what I might want to or have to wear during these 9 days, so basically I'd had to have put on just about every single summer piece of clothing I own--and rehang and refold all of it. Now multiply this action times every person living in your household and you are talking about a seriously time and effort intensive activity.

Then there is this: what constitutes "freshly laundered"? If I washed a skirt 3-4 weeks ago and it has been hanging around in the closet until now, is that really "freshly laundered"? What about tops that may have spent a week or two or three or four in a dresser? I can logically understand the ban on wearing new clothing during this time period, but clean clothing (aka "freshly laundered") has me puzzled. It's not, here in the US, a luxury item and it isn't limited to a few people either. As a society we expect clean clothing on those around us, certainly if we are in a work environment. And no, most people are NOT in the habit of wearing the same items of clothing for an entire week, certainly not the women and probably not the men either.

Here's hoping that by next year someone has figured out a more helpful way of getting us into clean clothing during this time period.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What in the World

As constituted now, we are an information-hungry world. Thanks to the advances in technology we now have virtually instant access to information from around the globe. We know more (or should know more) about every place on earth and what is happening (or not happening) there. Discoveries in every field of endeavor are easily shared with others almost instantaneously.

With all that knowledge now available it would seem to be logical that the twelve years of education that we consider required would be overflowing with important information that students should know before graduating. And yet....

Some would posit that there is now just too much information and it's impossible to cram learning it all into 12 years. Okay, a bit of that is true. But that statement assumes that all schools are actually attempting to teach everything; unfortunately, that is not the case.

I'm leaving the public schools out of this discussion for now. Let's instead look at the yeshivas. Here in the general New York/New Jersey area a phenomenon has been seen for quite some time now. Boys yeshivas, particularly the ones that qualify as "yeshivish" or more to the right, have stopped teaching secular subjects in the senior year. To be even more accurate, some of those yeshivas aren't teaching all that much by way of secular studies in the first three years of high school either, but at least something is being taught. (Note: this is not so much a philosophical decision as one one based on meeting at least some of the minimum requirements for the city and state and federal monies available to these schools and which they gladly take.) There are also some of the very right wing girls high schools which also do not have a senior year of secular studies.

What are the implications of having this type of policy in place for the future of the students enrolled in these schools and for Klal in general? The most obvious is that the students graduating from these schools are under-educated, lacking a whole lot of the basic essentials for navigating the outside world. Outside of the chinuch world for employment, these students are unable to compete for jobs in the outside world because they lack what others have.

For many of the students attending these types of high schools, high school is the end of the road as regards secular education. And as can be seen from their curricula, it would be more factual to say that 8th or 9th grade is really the end of their secular education. Thus, willfully, and yes, with malice aforethought, students in these schools are being held back from being able to fully participate in the outside world, from being able to compete with others for jobs available and for resources available.

Generally progress goes in a forward direction, not a backward one, but as regards the secular education available to far too many in Klal, going backward to a time when schools obeyed government dictates as regards education would actually be going forward.

If you aren't a parent in one of those schools, then what possible input could you have that would change the mess the education is in in these schools? That's a fairly easy answer--money. There are a whole slew of these schools that send out mailings for donations or have people calling for donations. Our family sends zero donations to these institutions, regardless of how "high" their limudei kodesh education is supposed to be, because they don't offer what they are also supposed to be offering--a solid secular education.

And just as a personal note, just how high can that limudei kodesh education be--you know, the one that is supposed to teach "Thou shalt not lie, Thou shalt not cheat, Thou shalt not steal"--when those thou shalt nots are regularly being practiced on the secular education side?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Shared Summer #5

The Web is chock full of information, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it indifferent. This is the case when it comes to medical information. Some sites out there have medical information so "out there" that they make science fiction writing look positively tame by comparison. Some sites are written by experts in the field, and some are written by those who think they are experts but aren't. Some don't give the whole story about whatever you are trying to find out about, and some give you so much information that you drown.

So, what sites have you found that generally are factual rather than fantasy and are written so that "real" people can understand what is being said? My first stop when I'm looking for factual information is This is a listing of all the US Government agencies. There are a number of them which deal with health matters, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Center for Nutritional Policy etc.. Once you find the agency you think will have the information you want, click on it. All the agencies are searchable by topic so type in what you are looking for and any articles appearing in the database will pop up.

Let us know what sites you have found useful for health information.

Note: a good place to start is at which tells you how to evaluate a health information site. There are also links to other evaluation pages.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bird Brained? We Wish

There are a couple of sayings which negatively portray our bird population. If you want to insult someone's intelligence, call them bird brained. If you want to say that something is not worthwhile or is a poor choice, say it's for the birds. Frankly, I think our birds are getting a bum rap with these sayings.

I've been observing the bird population in my yard rather closely. Forthwith some observations about bird behavior that we in Klal should consider emulating, rather than denigrating.

First, territoriality and exclusivity. A whole slew of different types of birds all share our yard. Granted, many of them fly down in groups and may congregate in those groups as they eat. However, the boundaries are highly flexible. Not all members of each group rigidly stick to only their own kind as neighbors. Right now there is a mix of about 6 different types of birds out there enjoying a snack. There are blackbirds mixed in with starlings, robins, quails, bluebirds, and a couple of wrens. No one is pushing or shoving, trying to get the "other" to leave the area; there's plenty for everyone. Further, the squirrels and chipmunks are also on the lawn, and clearly so different from the birds there. And yet, they, too, aren't acting all territorial and exclusive. Live and let live seems to be the motto.

Second, survival for all. A few neighbors on the block have cats that they let roam freely. I admit it: I'm not a cat person. I am even less a cat person when I know that I have lots of feathered visitors in the yard. A few of the birds sitting on the fence noticed one of the cats slinking around the side of the house, clearly intent on attacking the birds on the lawn. Those bird sentinels raised the alarm so that EVERYONE could escape safely. They could have sat there without making a sound or giving a warning; after all, the birds on the lawn were not of their particular type. But clearly they understood an important fact: what threatens one type of bird threatens them all.

Third, birdlichkeit (think mentchlichkeit in humans). One of the quails who formed a group of three that has basically been spending their days in my yard had a mortal accident. Somehow it flew into the house side and broke its neck, falling to the patio dead. I would have expected that its two other mates might have come to investigate, to help out, and yes, they did. But what was so heartening, given what had happened, was that other birds of different types also came over to see if they might help, to investigate what was going on. One for all, and all for one.

So yes, the next time that you are tempted to call someone birdbrained, make sure that it's a compliment you want to pay that person. We could do a lot worse than to emulate the bird behavior seen in the wild.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Working on Overload

I once put up a posting in which I set forth the idea that we all go not by one name or even two names but by many names. Each of the names we bear delineates some kind of person-to-person relationship and/or responsibility. The more complex the world that we live in becomes, the more names that we are likely to bear. And the more names that we bear, the more likely that someone will be calling out those names on a regular basis.

Some of those names come with fairly clearly defined parameters of responsibility; others are hazier as to what is "owed" to those names and those who call us by them at any given time. Some of the responsibilities attached to those names may conflict with other responsibilities attached to other of our names, particularly if we try to respond to the multiple callers at the same time.

There are times (and they are becoming more and more frequent as our lives become more and more complex) when we all might qualify for the psychiatric designation of "split personality." What is required of us in answering to all those names that we are juggling in the air can sometimes get overwhelming, and we drop a ball or some of the balls or all of the balls.

If you're still wondering where I'm going with this, let me set out some of those names that are causing overload for many a person. We have our given birth names. We have the nicknames we are called by those who love us and those who don't. We may have different school names. We are daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons, and we are parents and grandparents. We are oldest child or middle child or youngest child and we are brothers and sisters. We are nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews and we are aunts and uncles. We are cousins. We are neighbors, best friends, close friends, friends and acquaintances. We are employees and bosses, coordinators and supervisors and managers. We are students and we are teachers, in many different situations in addition to formalized schooling. We are clients and customers. We are correspondents and commentators. We are initiators and leaders as well as being followers. We are congregants and believers in a religious sense. We are citizens. We are members of diverse groups, each with its own set of obligations. And somewhere in all of this we are also individuals, uniquely constituted beings with sometimes idiosyncratic expectations of what we should be doing or not doing, what we want to be doing or not doing, what we can be doing or not doing.

Anyone who is married can attest to the sometimes conflicts that can arise when we carry the name spouse at the same time that we carry the name parent. Your child/children need/want something at the same time that your spouse wants/needs something else--to which name do you answer first, and to what extent? And when you are a son/daughter and a parent wants/needs something at the same time that your children/spouse want/need something--to which name do you answer and to what extent? Now add in that all those other people who call you different names want/need something also at this same moment. And just where do you figure in what you, as an individual, need/want when that need/want is in a long line of needs/wants by other people?

I'm not offering any easy answers to the questions I raised, because I don't believe there are any easy answers. The longer we live, the more we add to the litany of names we are called, not subtract. I'm having one of those summers where it seems like every name I've ever acquired is being called out, with the expectation that I will respond and respond immediately. Yeah, I've dropped a few of the balls I'm juggling, and I've paid for that. But what choices do we really have? We keep going, full of the hope that all the balls will stay in the air until we can finally say "juggling time is over for now."

And I wonder if I will ever again in the near and foreseeable future find myself able to sing the words of a favorite Simon and Garfunkle tune: "Hello silence my old friend, I've come to talk to you again."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Shared Summer #4

There are a lot of sources "out there" which deal with economic matters of all types. Many deal with budgeting--the how and why. Many deal with investing--how, when, where and why. Many deal with savings--how much, when, where and why. However, not all sources are up to date, taking into account the many factors which can and have changed. Many are opinions that may or may not work as a general rule for the majority of people. Yes, a whole lot of the advice out there is good, bad or or unintelligible to the general public.

So, what sources have you found that are reliable as to facts given, are practical as to advice given and are fairly easily decipherable for an audience not comprised of PhDs in finance? Please leave your choices in the comments section.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Better Safe Than Sorry

Any number of items will be mentioned if you go to a site that talks about necessary items to be included when you are considering home repair or remodeling. Certainly safety is at the forefront on the lists, items such as smoke and gas detectors, adequate lighting over stairways, updated gas and electricity delivery systems in older homes, etc.. What I'm recommending is an item that is not so frequently mentioned but that should be: a home safe.

Squirreled away in hidey-holes all over our houses are any number of items having importance to us but that need to be kept safely put away when not in use. Good jewelry comes to mind, as does "emergency" cash. So do passports and birth certificates and copies of wills. So do lists of passwords and pin numbers and ID numbers for any number and type of account we might have, online as well as in the physical world. I'm sure you can fill in with other items you view in this way. The longer you live, the more of these hidey-holes that may be present.

Instead of those hidey-holes I'm recommending the purchase of a home safe--not a free-standing one, but one that is securely fastened into a wall or floor. Obviously, the safe should be someplace that is not openly visible but that is accessible to those who are supposed to know where it is. Let's face it--we are all of us collectors, although what we collect and need to keep safe may differ. Between the mattresses just doesn't cut it any longer--it's the first place someone breaking into your home would look. I'm sure you can think of all the other places people use to stash things--and so can thieves.

The cost of these safes is not prohibitive and will allow you to truly be safe, not just feel unjustifiably safe, such as when you use those hidey-holes. If you are considering a home purchase now, make it one that will pay for itself in real peace of mind--better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reason 43,569,843,507,662,198

Despite the gray hairs and the denigration that sometimes comes our way, English teachers plod on, knowing that somewhere, some time, some how we will break through and influence our students. And why should we need to do so? Because when we get messages such as the one that follows here, we rise to save the world from mis/dis-information.

Received this morning from a company whose technician is scheduled to come to my house:

"Your technician will arrive today at 5:00 pm, between 11:00 and 2:00."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Shared Summer #3

When I think shopping, I think books. The price of books, both hardcovers and softcovers, can get quite expensive. So, let's share some sources we've found for getting those books, and perhaps getting those books cheaper than suggested retail price. Please leave your suggestions--both for online and for "real"--in the comments section.

Let me start off with a suggestion to look at I've been using this site for many years and have yet to have a problem with any merchandise ordered. The site is easy to navigate and it sometimes offers some really incredible bargains. Use it once and the site will also send you notices good for further discounts/reduced-free shipping etc..

So readers, your suggestions?