Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sukkah Soaking--hope not

My men folk got busy today and put up the sukkah.  My daughter is already planning out how she'll decorate it this year.  I'm busy inviting guests for the yom tov meals in the sukkah.  Everyone seems to have a truly positive attitude about sukkos--except for the weather forecasters.  Haven't found a forecaster anywhere who is saying anything but thunderstorms, heavy rains and cooler weather for the first days of sukkos.

Of course, those forecasters do not have a stellar record of accurate predictions, but darned if they don't somehow manage to be pretty accurate if the time period is a yom tov one.  I'm hoping that they are truly, truly wrong about next week.  After all the work and preparation, it would be nice to actually be able to use the sukkah, not just stare at it through the patio doors.  Regardless, I'm going to have to think of just how all that company will play out if it's pouring outside.  So not something I want on my to do list.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

In the Strange World of Politics

I generally do not do postings of a political nature, but I'm making an exception with this posting.  Yes, the presidential campaign in the US is heating up and is on a lot of people's minds, but this is a report of a different campaign--one for the mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Apparently one of the popular candidates for the mayor's office is a cat named Tuxedo Stan--yes, you read that correctly:  a cat. The candidate is quite popular, already having over 2300 friends on Facebook.  And yes, his handlers are raising funds for his candidacy.  They do state that all funds raised will be used for spaying and neutering cats in Halifax.  Now here is the interesting part--there is a municipal law in Halifax that actually and specifically bans animals from holding office.

Okay, someone please explain to me why any municipality anywhere on earth might need to put into effect a specific law that bans animals from holding political office.  Are there really that many animals that in the past made a decision to run for such offices, and so the law was established?  Go ahead, someone give me one concrete example of an animal that willfully and consciously decided on its own that municipal office holding was what it wanted. 

I know there has been a lot of discussion both in the past and now about whether or not our elected officials are really doing a good job.  Do they truly understand what is important to us or do they spend far too much time bogged down in passing laws that are counter intuitive and don't provide much or any benefit to us.  Obviously some of those elected officials in Halifax had time on their hands and so this strange municipal animal office holder ban law was passed.

Of course, this is not really the strangest part of the story.  It appears that Alaska does not have such a law on its books, and the mayor for the past 15 years of Takeetna, Alaska is a cat known as Mayor Stubbs.  People were not pleased with the candidates for mayor 15 years ago and so voters were encouraged to elect Stubbs as a write-in candidate, and yes, he won.

"Because Talkeetna is a "historical district," the mayoral post is more symbolic than functional, said Andi Manning, president of the Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce."  Right, and I don't care quite how symbolic that job might be--there is a town of 900 residents whose mayor is a cat.

When I passed on this information to a friend, first she laughed and then she said that maybe what we need is just this kind of candidate running in our local elections.  She said she wouldn't choose a cat because politicians are quite "catty" already, and more of that isn't needed.  She did, however, mention that she wouldn't object to a dog's running for office, since so much of politics is already a "dog-eat-dog" undertaking.  Her feeling was that at least a canine would have a legitimate reason for behaving in this manner.

All this just might give you an inkling of why I normally don't write about politics. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

All the Best

With Shabbos and Rosh Hashanah running so close together, let me now first wish you a gutten Shabbos.  May you all also be blessed with a new year of peace and health, of joy and happiness, of contentment and success, a year filled with all the blessings Hashem has to bestow.  And may we all be zocheh to be wishing each other a wonderful new year next year at this time.

Shanah Tovah!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rabbis' Speeches

When I first moved to New York my family lived in Far Rockaway.  Our main shul was the White Shul.  And certainly one of the draws for that shul was its rabbi, Rabbi Rafael Pelcovitz.  One thing that stands out about Rabbi Pelcovitz was his speaking ability.  Congregants actually looked forward to his speeches on Shabbos, and they weren't short ones.   Yes, he had all the personal qualifications that make up an excellent speaker, but it was more then that.  The subject matter he chose for his speeches was such that people really thought about and talked about that subject matter.

Obviously, his speeches were "learned" in their presentation of elements of Tanach and the commentaries.  Obviously he spoke of the parsha of the week or about Shabbos or about elements of a particular yom tov, but he went much further than that.  He related what he was speaking about to the everyday lives of his congregants.  He made a clear connection between then and now.  And yes, he was not afraid to tackle community issues that had come up.  He was not afraid to take a stand on a problem facing our community in particular or the greater community of Klal.  He didn't dance around these issues but clearly put forth an opinion.  He called for change, and not just in a philosophical sense.  He was activist in all the finest senses of that term.

And that is what I find missing in so many of the rabbanim who head up shuls or head up our multitude of Jewish organizations.  They sing a philosophical tune, but they aren't there calling a spade a spade about the issues and problems we face in Klal.  They  give us all kinds of new p'sukim about the parsha to deepen our understanding of the parsha, but they wimp out when it comes to taking a stand on the real life issues.  It seems that so many of them have a "don't rock the boat" attitude, and clearly don't see that the boat is sinking in so many cases.

Our rabbanim are called our leaders, and I wish they would act the part when it comes to the practical issues of Jewish life.  Plenty of people in Klal who can give you a proper "taitch" for what a posuk means.  Shul rabbis and organization heads need to go beyond that.  I certainly hope and pray that in this new year that is coming up for us that our so called "leaders" actually and finally prove that they understand the problems and issues facing us, and that they are willing to publicly raise their voices in calling for change and for repairs to a system that needs them.  I live in hope.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No, It's Not a College Degree

Diploma mills have been around now for a while.  They bill themselves as "alternate" ways to "earn" a college degree without having to go through all the "trouble" that regular colleges put you through to get that degree.  Sure, you get a piece of paper that says you have a degree, but what you have is a piece of paper, not the education that such a degree normally signifies.

Yes, there are some employers for whom that piece of paper will be sufficient for hiring purposes, and a whole lot more for whom that piece of paper will remain just that--a piece of paper with ink on it, not a testimonial to an education received.

Last week someone told me about the latest diploma mill out there.  Apparently a fairly well known and respected rabbi and his wife have started a program that will give you that sought after college degree.  What does it take to get this "degree"?  You need to take one course--all the other so called credits are transfers from seminary/yeshiva and possibly life experience.  Yup, one course and you have a college degree---no, no, no you will not have a college degree!

More than time to come up with some other name for whatever that piece of paper is supposed to represent, because in no way, shape or form does it represent a college degree.  And no, I truly don't like it when people who have purchased that piece of paper believe themselves to be equal to those who went the traditional route and worked and earned that degree.  No, their "degree" is not equal to mine and to yours.

So, any suggestions for what we might rename that piece of paper?  I was toying around with calling it a PBC--payment-based credential.  What might you call it?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Days

The first day of the Fall Term is tomorrow for me.  You would think that after this many years of teaching, the first day would be just another day at work.  Wouldn't that be nice.  One thing I've learned over the years is that every term is different, is unique, and because of this I prepare myself to expect the unexpected. 

What doesn't change from term to term is my hope that the students in my classes will learn well, will become accomplished in the subject matter, will be active participants in their education.  Sometimes, with some students, that hope is fully realized.  Sometimes that hope is only partially realized.  And yes, sigh, sometimes there are the students who are simply passing time in my class and whose only goal, it seems, is to see the semester finally end.

Nonetheless, I can't wait for classes to start tomorrow.  I'm that cockeyed optimist who is sure that this time, everything will go splendidly.  I'm still dreaming about having a "perfect" term, one where both all my students and I are truly sorry to see the end of the semester coming.  Dreams are what fuel changes in reality, and wouldn't it be nice if this dream were to actually come true now.  Here's hoping.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Slay a Vampire and Save Money

I was researching something else when I ran across the term "vampire electronics."  It caught my interest and so I went looking for more information.

One of the things you will commonly hear people discussing is the high cost of utility bills each month, electricity being one of those utilities.  What if someone told you that you could save from $120-200 a year on electricity?

Standby electronics, sometimes referred to as "vampire electronics," individually may only be costing you an extra dollar or two a year, although some will cost considerably more, but add that many homes have at least 40 of these standby electronics and you move the figure into the hundreds of dollars.  For example, computers and monitors that are turned off at the machine still are drawing power in off mode.  The same for all the television systems and gaming systems.  Keep your cell phone charger plugged in even when no phone is being charged and it will draw power.  Keep your air conditioners plugged in when you aren't using them and they will still be drawing power.  Some of our electronics may be too complicated as to location to keep plugging in and then unplugging, such as a stove or microwave with a digital display.  But there are plenty of others that are fairly simple to turn off completely when not in use.  Yes, even your toaster could be an energy vampire.

What would you do if you "suddenly" found yourself with an extra couple of hundred dollars?  I'll bet you could find a better use than letting electronic appliances eat that money.

For some further information, go to

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

Yes, I can think of a few instances in which a person might need/want to buy a bottle of drinking water. For one, the regulations in place at airports means you can no longer bring a thermos of water with you when traveling.  However, for everyday use there seems to be no logical reason to be buying those bottles of water. 

Here in NYC we have highly ranked and rated tap water.  In fact it's so highly rated that a smart young man began bottling and selling NYC tap water a few years ago, and yes, it sells well.

NYC residents are already paying for that water through water and sewer taxes, so why not take advantage of what is being paid for?  Even an expensive thermos or specialized "water bottle" pays for itself within a few weeks, and then it's yours for decades of use.  Like your water icy cold?  Err, anyone reading this who doesn't have a refridgerator available?  Spend another couple of dollars for a 1/2 gallon or gallon container, fill with tap water and keep in the fridge--instant cold water to fill the thermos with.

I've heard many people say that it is a pain to have to shlep that thermos around, and that it is more convenient to just buy a bottle and throw out the bottle after it's empty.  After all, we're only talking about pennies here.  Sigh.  As if pennies don't add up to dollars, lots of dollars, rather quickly.

Let's say you are a commuter who doesn't carry bottles with you, but you do buy a bottle at a convenience store on the way to the office.  On average that is going to be $1 per bottle you buy.  Five days a week of work, and you are spending $5 a week for those bottles.  Drink more and you are obviously going to be spending more.  The vending machine at school sells the small bottles of water for "only" 75 cents each.  Again, you do the math.  This could amount to $260 per year, per drinker.

Even if you buy those bottles in the 24-packs on sale you are not likely to be getting them for less than $3-4  per pack.  You might be averaging about 15-20 cents per bottle.  And check the amount in those bottles--a whole lot of bottlers are putting in less than 8 ounces to a bottle.  So now you are only going to be spending 30 to 40 cents per day for those two bottles of water.  But hold on, that's 30-40 cents per person who takes water with them in your household.  Let there be only 3 people who take that water and you are now spending 90 to $1.20 per day for that water.  Carry this out to a yearly expense and what you have is about $300  per year, if not more.  If you have more water drinkers or drink more water the cost obviously goes up.

Given the cost, a thermos or water bottle would pay for itself in from 2-4 weeks.  Why not decide that this is the year that you aren't going to "water down" your available spending money and are going to start putting that money back into your pocket.  Just another example where the pennies add up to serious dollars.

Note: if you buy those water bottles in a supermarket, check your register tape.  Those cases of water that are on sale at 4 for $12?  Sorry, but that isn't the final cost.  Check the tape and you will see that you are also being charged 5 cents per bottle for the State bottle deposit charge.  At 24 bottles per case, that's an additional $1.20 you are being charged per case.  And if you throw away those bottles instead of recycling them yourself, that's $1.20 you are willfully and knowingly throwing in the garbage.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Back to Labor Day

Today marks Labor Day, a day observed as a holiday here in the US (although you might ask all those who have to work today how they feel about that).  However, for those in the various fields of education, today might better be referred to as Back to Labor Day--the last "free" day before schools begin. Some schools have already begun, but those that haven't will all be up and running this week.

And if schools are starting, can yom tov be far behind?  Time to put away those lazy, hazy days of summer and start planning for the weeks ahead.  Time not only to have school supplies handy but also all those items you might need for yom tov meals and observance.  Time to be thinking about menus and cooking and who will be invited to various meals.  The supermarket chains in our area already last week had Rosh Hashanah items advertised and on sale.

The weather in our area is making it easier to sit at a desk and plan--rainy, mega humid and so not bbq weather.  However you are going to be spending today, I hope it will be an enjoyable end to summer.  And to really get ahead of things, please note that next year Rosh Hashanah will be on Labor Day.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Milestone Birthday

Among those things we ask God for is arechas yomim.  And sometimes we see this gift being given.  Today the family is gathering to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday.  And yes, we do so in wonder and amazement and in a super thankful mode.  Four generations will be together celebrating this milestone birthday.  And yes, we will also be celebrating that we are in a time and place where the four generations exist and can come together.

We will celebrate my mom's birthday, but we will also celebrate and be thankful that we have all been allowed to share in this time and occasion.  We know how lucky we are, how fortunate to have been blessed in this way.

Ima, we wish you all the blessings that God has to confer and that we all may be zocheh to celebrate together many, many times in the years to come.