Friday, May 25, 2012

Shabbos and Yom Tov Greetings

May you all have a gutten Shabbos and a gutten yom tov.  May there be happiness and joy in abundance, and may you make wonderful memories for you and your family.

And for Yechezkel ben Yitzchok a"h, may his neshomah have an aliyah, and may he continue to be for us a guide in following the path of mentschlichkite and ehrlichkite.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In the "Under" World

NOTE: Any reader who gets squeamish at the mention of undergarments or body parts might want to skip this posting.

Has Klal totally and completely lost its mind?!  It is hardly a secret (and I've commented on this phenomenon before) that members of the press are not all that objective.  Let a scandal erupt, and, short of its actually being a church-based scandal, we will have no idea about the religious affiliation of those involved.  Except, of course, if Jews, particularly religious Jews, are part of the scandal.  Given that this approach by the press is common knowledge, it behooves us, as members of Klal, to watch our behavior. And of course, let's not forget that we are told to behave ourselves in our own code of laws.

I was standing in line at the supermarket yesterday, and a headline caught my eye on the NY Post.  It was a long wait in line so I opened the paper to read the story.  There went my day.  In a nutshell, a woman was fired from a company that is a purveyor of woman's lingerie and undergarments.  Why was she fired?  According to the article (and to comments printed in other news outlets), and as seen in the accompanying photos, she was quite buxom, looked "hot," dressed in figure-presenting clothing, and was a distraction, therefore, to the other workers.  Her supervisor, a woman, wanted her to, among other things, tape down her busom so it would be less pronounced.

Why am I reporting this?  Sigh.  The opening lines of the article state that the company the woman worked for is owned by orthodox Jews.  That information is repeated more than once in the article.  There are also a number of orthodox Jews who work for this company, both men and women.  What is also mentioned in the article are descriptions of some of the merchandise that this company sells, and that this merchandise is displayed on mannequins in the workplace.  To be blunt, some of the products the company sells are what I would call just plain "prost" or in poor taste.

Then there is this excerpt from the Post article:  "A male worker, who refused to give his name, said of Odes’ choice of clothes, 'It’s not appropriate.  The women here, they dress nicely but covered up. Most are Orthodox. There are a lot of married men here, and it’s not OK to have a woman dress like that.'  When it was pointed out to the man that there is lingerie displayed throughout the workplace, he said, 'It’s what we sell, but it’s not the work environment.'” 

There is a rather earthy Yiddish saying that answers this last statement: "Ahz muh handelt mit tinuv, shmekt min fun drek."  Translated this means that if you deal business-wise with excrement you are going to smell like manure.  The company sells undergarments which are sensual, bawdy, obscene, lust-inducing, raunchy, smutty and suggestive, but that's not part of the work environment?!  These garments are on display where the people are working, but that is not part of the work environment?!

The woman who was fired has filed a suit for an EEOC violation  This is not just going to be a few moments of talk and then no one will remember it. 

There has been a lot of talk about how some men of Klal are not working for a living, but are sitting and learning instead.  Given the nature of the business described in the article, perhaps we had better redefine what we mean by working when we tell our men to go out and get a job or start a business.  Is this the type of business that men of Klal should be involved in?  Is this what we want to the world to see us as?

Frankly, this whole thing disgusts me.  Unfortunately, for some in Klal, this is just business as usual.  Anything to make a buck.  And I couldn't help but wonder if the owners of this business, and those who work there, are also the ones who tsk-tsk when a frum girl walks by wearing a piece of clothing that is not black or doesn't follow exactly the "rules" for what is tsniusdik.  So much a case of do as I say, not as I do.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rain, Rain Don't Go Away

My students, both past and present, seem convinced that I have either supernatural powers or that I've made some special arrangement with God, referring directly to the fact that if I have to be in school, it is going to rain.  This is not limited to the students in my present college either.  Students in the other colleges I have taught at believed the same thing, although they also added in snow and thunder and lightening to the mix. 

You know how a joke may be funny the first few times that you hear it, but starts to get really old and not funny around the 458,925th time that you hear it? 

I've tried to get this particular joke to go away, but it keeps showing up.  Desperate for a way to get rid of it, I spent a bit of time this morning developing a "quiz" that the next class that brings up rain and me in the same sentence will get.  Only about 57 questions asking students to list and discuss the benefits of rain for NY.  They will need to give acceptable sources for their answers, and at least 10 of the answers must come from Tanach.  And when they ask, yes I will count the quiz.

Sure, rain can get messy and it may not be a lot of fun to take a shower with your clothes on as you try to get to wherever you need to go.  But that rain we've been having has done wonders for the levels in our reservoirs, so if you can take a nice long hot shower without being under water restrictions, thank the rain.  And the sidewalks in NY are nice and clean for a change, again thanks to the rain.  And the birds are thrilled with their bonanza of plump and juicy worms, thanks to the rain.  And no one has to worry that their lawn is turning brown or that their plants and trees look scrawny, all thanks to the rain.  And this rain just could turn out to be a bit of a money saver as well.  If the NY and NJ farms get plenty of rain then their crops will grow well and be plentiful, and just maybe prices will be lower this summer.

So no, I'm not causing it to rain this week or any week for that matter.  But we should all be thankful that we are getting the rain instead of the alternatives.  Is there anyone who really, truly prefers shoveling snow and getting frost bitten to getting a little wet?

And we might also keep in mind that there are plenty of places on earth that are suffering from lack of rain and which would welcome our rain with open joy and pleasure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Irony of It All

The Asifa that was held yesterday is really a study in irony.  It is being reported that 50,000 people attended the asifa, both in person and remotely.  Purveyors from here and from Israel were present to sell their wares--kosher phones and Internet filters.  Those who spoke made it clear that such filters and phones HAD to be used if you are using a cellphone or the Internet and that attendees and listeners had better buy them. 

So what is the irony?  Had the Internet not existed, the Asifa would not have been possible.  Short of certain parades many years ago, the Asifa is being touted as the largest gathering ever of Jews in one place in the NY area.  Did they gather together to address any of the truly pressing issues that Klal faces, issues like yeshiva tuition and the fact that Klal is beggaring itself through its insistence that young men not work but sit and learn forever instead?  Nope, they gathered because a "truly evil" force is in our midst.  They would much rather have banned Internet usage altogether--and there are many rabbonim who do just that--but they used that old axiom "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Ironic that those who could not attend in person could do so through their cellphones and through the Internet.  And let's not forget the money made yesterday.  Those purveyors had a captive audience, and they bought and bought and bought.  I'm not sure how much mind expanding was done yesterday, but some people's pockets were stretched wide as the money poured into them.

If the Internet did not exist, what issue of importance would have possibly brought together this many people?  The answer is no issue would have brought them together like this.  It would seem that no other issue could get so many rabbonim and their followers to come together in one place and in seeming unity, rabbonim and followers who otherwise "don't play nicely together" and would rather chew nails than have anything to do with each other.  And yes, that is ironic. 

What's in a Name

What to name the baby has caused more problems in more families than a whole lot of other things. People spend what seems like a gazillion hours in trying to find just the perfect name for a child. But it's not first names that fascinate me--it's last names.

Although today surnames/family names/last names--take your pick--are pretty much the rule around the world, it didn't always used to be this way. Different countries and cultures adopted the idea of a surname at different times. Generally the surnames were given to show that someone was the child of a particular father, to show a region that person came from, to show what occupation that person had, to show a personal characteristic of that person, to show a religious or cultural affiliation, or to show some quirk about the person. In addition, some last names don't have direct affiliation with a person but were seemingly chosen because someone liked what was associated with that name.

I've been active in many organizations and have taught for many years, so I've come across a lot of names that are carried by those of us in Klal. Some of those surnames are common not only to the Jews, names like Stern, meaning star, and some are common only to the Jews, like Cohen/Kahan/Kohn/Katz, meaning of the Kohanim. And some truly catch the imagination as I wonder what could have been the story behind the original surname.

Take the name Morgenbesser for instance. Translated this name would be tomorrow is better or tomorrow will be better. Surely a tale hangs on that designation. Or take the name Lebenswohl--life is good. And then there is Kopfstein--either head rock or the head is standing or standing on the head.  Kleinman and Grossman are pretty self explanatory, but what should we make of Mittleman or Middleman? 

All the names mentioned so far have a German and/or Yiddish/Hebrew origin.  Add in all the other languages that have contributed to our surnames, and you get an even greater variety of things that people were named for.

What are some of the interesting or unusual surnames you've run across?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chizuk is Where You Find It

Sometimes inspiration can be found in unexpected places.  Sometimes the push we need to go on and do what seems impossible but is wanted will come not from our family and friends, but from words penned by a stranger, who yet seems to know just what we are feeling or want to feel.  Yes indeed, chizuk is where you find it, and you can find it just about everywhere, if you are only open to seeing its presence.  Mention Joe Darion, and most people will look quite puzzled--who is Joe Darion?  However, mention the words "To Dream the Impossible Dream," with some appropriate humming, and almost everyone's face lights up.

If you are looking for some inspiration, read on, and thank you Joe!

Musical "Man of La Mancha"

The Impossible Dream Lyrics

[ from Best of Broadway - American Musical Soundtrack ]
Lyrics by Joe Darion

In this song, Quixote explains his quest and the reasons behind it ... in doing so,

he captures the essence of the play and its philosophical underpinnings.

(For me, it is absolutely magical.)

To dream ... the impossible dream ...

To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...

To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...

To run ... where the brave dare not go ...

To right ... the unrightable wrong ...

To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...

To try ... when your arms are too weary ...

To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...

To fight for the right, without question or pause ...

To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,

That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,

when I'm laid to my rest ...

And the world will be better for this:

That one man, scorned and covered with scars,

Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,

To reach ... the unreachable star ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It isn't all Alzheimer's

I have yet to speak with anyone who seriously has decided that they want to die at 40 or so to avoid the trials and tribulations of older age.  That being so, there are some things we should know about so we can avoid some of those trials and tribulations.  Whether you are yourself already a bit older or are in the position of having family members who are, the following link has some information that is useful.  We've long known that good eating habits and good general habits can benefit us.  The article tells you why and more.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Securing your Phone

Once upon a time saying "secure phone" brought to mind government agencies and black ops.  Today, however, we are all in need of that secure phone.  Identity theft is all too real and all too common, as is cyber theft and phone theft.  For some good tips go to

English and Angst

I will grant you that in most situations where someone says something that upsets you or makes you anxious, it is the specific words that bring on the negative feelings.  But generally we are reacting to nouns and adjectives and the occasional verb.  I had an experience last week where the anxiety producing words had to do with the idea of tense and number agreement.

We are sometimes very casual when we speak to others, and there are some singular versus plural areas where this is fairly common.  For the most part any confusion of the singular and the plural doesn't really cause negative feelings.  Last week, however, a cop's not watching out for correct English usage gave me a lot of anxiety and a whopper of a headache.

I drove from SI to Long Island to visit my mother.  About a mile from her house I noticed a police car with flashing lights in my rearview mirror.  At first I thought he wanted to pass me, so I pulled over to the side to give him the room to do so.  Then he pulled in right behind me.  I couldn't figure out what I had done, as I wasn't speeding and I hadn't run a red light.  I rolled down the window and turned off the car.  One officer went to stand by the passenger side of the car and one came over to the open window.  I asked what the problem was.  The answer was "Your brake lights aren't working." He asked me to turn the car on again, he went to the back of the car to check, and then came back to the window.  "Yup, you've got a brake light problem.  You need to get them fixed."  Luckily I did not get a ticket.

I managed to get to my mom's without a meltdown, but on the way home I needed to stop at school for a bit.  I was nervous the entire way to Brooklyn.  What if I got stopped by a cop again?  What if I had to stop suddenly and the car behind me couldn't  see that I was stopping and rammed into me?  Traffic on the Belt Parkway heading towards SI was heavy, with lots of cars weaving in and out of the lanes, and I was not a happy camper.

SI was even worse.  Due to massive construction on the SI Expressway, lanes went from 4 to 1 to 2 to 1 to 3 lanes open the entire way to my exit.  When I got off the Expressway I was truly frazzled.  I made my careful way down to my mechanic and told him that I had no brake lights.  Two minutes later he called me over to take a look.  He had turned on my car and this is what I saw--the car has a brake light on both the right side and the left side above the bumper and also has a rectangular brake light located at the bottom of the rear window.  The left light and the window light were fine--only the right light was not lit.  Frazzled got replaced by angry. 

When the policeman used the plural terms "lights" and "them," I understood that to mean that more than one light was not working.  In fact, because he did not specify that one light was not working, I was correct in assuming that NO lights were working.

Had correct English been used, I could have been saved the frustration and anxiety of that trip home.  So yes, English counts, and correct English counts even more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Physics Doesn't Apply

Sorry about the hit or miss nature of the postings recently, but I am going to blame it all on Physics.  A basic tenet of Physics is that two items cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Extrapolating from that certainly five items cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Now technically you should be able to reverse this tenet and have it hold true--one item cannot occupy two spaces at the same time.  Certainly one object cannot occupy 5 spaces at the same time. Sigh, right.

Real life doesn't apparently work according to the tenets of Physics.  I'm not alone in this, but I am frequently required to do the impossible--be in more than one place at the same time, doing two or more things at the same time.  It's been one of those weeks where no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I'm supposed to be somewhere else as well, doing something else.

We've got that modern term--multi-tasking--and it definitely defies the tenets of Physics.  Weeks like this one I find myself dreaming of a lot simpler world.  Ah well, no more time alloted for complaining or contemplation--I've got 3 places to be right now, and here is not one of them.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cleaning and History

My first cousin made an announcement to me yesterday that really shook me up.  Our fathers did almost no talking about their experiences during the war nor about what happened to the rest of their family. Outside of the names of all of their siblings and the names of their parents (kind of obvious since some of us are named for them) we had very little information about the family.

Both my father and her father are no longer living, and her mother is also not living.  In cleaning out her parents' apartment, my cousin found a document, written in Yiddish, which gave the full names of our grandparents, the full names of their parents and, amazingly, the place and Hebrew date of their petirah.  All these years we kids had no idea of when the yahrtzeit was for these grandparents, thus having no idea of when to have kaddish said.  Many have the custom of giving kiddush on a yahrtzeit in memory and honor of the departed, something we could never do before.

The yahrtzeit is this upcoming Friday in the Jewish calendar and strange as it may sound, I'm excited that I can now honor these grandparents in a traditional way.  A yahrtzeit candle lit for the actual day of death, the saying of kadish, a shalosh seudos sponsored in their memory, so that people can say "May the neshomos have an aliyah."

All this family connection because someone decided to do some cleaning up. Let's hear it for cleaning!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Some Inspiration to get Up and get Doing

It seems like a lot of people have good ideas about how to solve some of Klal's problems, but those good ideas get buried and never are acted upon.  Forthwith some advice about success written by no less than Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin was a man of action. Over his lifetime, his curiosity and passion fueled a diverse range of interests. He was a writer (often using a pseudonym), publisher, diplomat, inventor and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

His inventions included the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove. Franklin was responsible for establishing the first public library, organizing fire fighters in Philadelphia, was one of the early supporters of mutual insurance and crossed the Atlantic eight times. Self-development was a constant endeavor throughout his incredible life.

Benjamin Franklin was clearly a man who knew how to get things done.

Here are 14 action-inducing lessons from him: 
    • Less Talk, More Action

      “Well done is better than well said.”
      Talk is cheap. Talking about a project won't get it completed. We all know people who constantly talk about the things they are going to do but rarely ever take that first step. Eventually people begin to question their credibility. Taking action and seeing the task through to completion is the only way to get the job done.
    • Don’t Procrastinate

      “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”
      This is probably one of the first quotes I remember hearing as a teenager. With an impressive list of achievements to his credit, Benjamin Franklin was not a man hung up on procrastination. He was a man with clear measurable goals who worked hard to turn his vision into reality. What are you putting off till tomorrow that could make a difference in your life today?
    • Be Prepared

      “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
      You need a plan to accomplish your goals. Charging in without giving any thought to the end result and how to achieve it, is a sure way to fall flat on your face. Think like a boy scout. Have a realistic plan of attack and a systematic approach for getting where you need to be.
    • Don’t Fight Change

      “When you're finished changing, you're finished.”
      Whilst many of us don’t like change, others thrive on it. Either way change is inevitable. The stronger we fight against it, the more time and energy it consumes. Give up the fight. Focus on proactively making positive changes, instead of having change merely thrust upon you. Wherever possible, try to view change as a positive instead of a negative.
    • Get Moving

      “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.”
      There’s a reason we use the expression, movers and shakers. Movers are the ones who take action, the people who get things done, while the immovable are sitting around scratching their heads wondering how others could possibly be so successful. Which group do you want to belong to?
    • Avoid Busywork

      “Never confuse motion with action.”
      We are always running around doing things. We rush from one meeting or event to the next, sometimes without achieving a
      great deal. At the end of the day, how much of our busywork are we proud of? How much of that running around improves anyone’s life (including ours) for the better? Make your motion mean something.
    • Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes

      “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”
      If we fear making mistakes, we become scared to try new things. Fear leaves us nestled in our comfort zone. Staying in your comfort zone rarely leads to greatness. Taking risks and giving yourself permission to make mistakes, will ultimately lead you to whatever your version of success may be.
    • Act Quickly on Opportunities

      “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”
      Opportunities are everywhere. The trick is being quick enough and smart enough to seize them when they arise. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that something won’t work or can’t be done, allow yourself the freedom to ask what if?
    • Continue to Grow

      “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
      We all have vices of some description. The key is to keep them under control or preferably eradicate them entirely. Be kind to those around you, whether they are neighbors, family, co-workers or friends. Never accept that you have finished growing as a person.
    • Keep Going

      “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
      Have you ever looked at a successful entrepreneur or
      business person and thought how lucky they are? Most of the time, luck has nothing to do with it. Hard work and sacrifice on the other hand have everything to do with it. Successful people deal with failure. They tackle their demons head on. They pick themselves up and keep going.
    • Know Yourself

      “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self.”
      Understanding ourselves is not easy. Sometimes we just don’t want to see ourselves for who we really are. It’s much easier to hold onto a romanticized version of ourselves or to simply view ourselves through other people’s eyes. Start by being brutally honest with yourself. Follow through with understanding, compassion and acceptance.
    • Don’t Self-Sabotage

      “Who had deceived thee so often as thyself?”
      We spend so much time worrying about other people hurting us, yet fail to comprehend the damage we inflict on ourselves. If you are using negative self-talk, lying to yourself or indulging in addictive behavior you are self-sabotaging. Life can dish up enough challenges without us adding to the mix. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would a best friend.
    • Don’t Give Up

      “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
      Achieving our goals can be downright exhausting. There will be days when you want to give up. There will be times when your energy levels flatline and you wonder why you bother getting out of bed. Yet you push forward, day after day because you believe in yourself and you have the determination and strength to back up that belief.
    • Wise Up

      “Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”
      Benjamin was definitely onto something with this one. Who hasn’t had the thought - I wish I could know then, what I know now? Unfortunately there is no time machine; there is no going back. The key is to wise up as early as you can to start forging a life of purpose, achievement and happiness.