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."