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.