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.

Ahead of the Game

In case you haven't looked at a Jewish calendar lately, let me be the one to give you the good news--Yom Tov is pretty much around the corner. And this year the calendar is chock full of three-day yom tov/Shabbos combinations.

Now, with most people off for the Labor Day extended weekend, is a good time to sit down with your personal calendar and make some plans. Have clothing that is going to need a trip to the cleaners? Make it this week and take some of the pressure off of yourself erev yom tov. Now is also a good time to shop ahead for those items that will stay fine between now and yom tov. But if you are going to be shopping ahead then save yourself a real headache and make up your menus now so you know just what it is that you have to purchase.

Now is the time to figure out just when you are going to be able to put up your sukkah. Now is the time to figure out when you are going to squeeze in haircuts for everyone. Now is the time to shop for any clothing necessities. Even with planning ahead, time is going to be at a premium for those who work. Give yourself some breathing room and figure out your schedule for the next weeks now.

If you have the freezer space now is also a good time to bake or cook some items ahead so that there is less to have to squeeze in before yom tov.

In short, it's no use to pretend that yom tov isn't coming as soon as it is. Want to have an enjoyable yom tov? Start now!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Getting Back in the Saddle

Nope, it wasn't last week's hurricane that kept this blog from publishing. Hubby and I missed all the "fun" and excitement by being out of town. While the East Coast dealt with a deluge of water we were under a heat advisory, with average daily temperatures of 112-113--to each their own.

Anyhooo, I'm back and trying to get back on a normal schedule. That is both one of the blessings and one of the curses of going on vacation. For a short period of time you get to do only what you want to do, and do it when you want to do it. And then you come home and a whole lot of something elses are pulling the reins and dictating what to do, when and where and how.

I hope that all of you came through the storm okay and that you enjoy this last bit of summer before we are all back in the saddle again of "real life." Talk to you soon.