Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mourning by SMS

Ezzie: Being from Cleveland sucks.
G: Amen.
DGEsq left early, not wanting to see the end. A true Clevelander, I felt compelled to watch until 0:00. Of course, that meant I got to see the latest montage of horrible moments, which was probably recycled, because they left out the 1989 AFC Championship but more surprisingly the Red Sox comeback from 3-1 to beat the Indians in the 2007 ALCS.

I think this needs to get updated.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Simple Bare Necessities of Life

It's five (two?) minutes to Yom Tov so this will probably sit here for two days with very few people actually seeing it, but I still can't resist putting it up. I absolutely love it.



Joy and fun like that really are part of the simple bare necessities. :)

Chag Sameach, everyone (who won't see this until after yom tov anyway...)!!!

LeBron vs. Kobe Muppets, Part IV: Mrs. Lewis

(Via WFNY) Now this is hilarious. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cheap Places to Date in New York City

Friends of ours are always looking for good, yet not too expensive places to date or even to just go out with their spouses or friends in New York City; via Chana, here's a great list by Josh and Tamar Grun Vogel of places to go: It's mostly Manhattan-centric and not everything is necessarily cheap, and as they note, obviously not everything is on here, but it's a very good listing overall. Check it out.

Eliezer StrongBad calls the list "impressive".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

AAAAUUGGHHHH!!!


V'Hamayvin Yavin.

To Scream God's Many Names

The following is a guest post by an Anonymous Reader.

I have a dream to climb up the side of a mountain. Not just any mountain, mind you - but The Grand Teton in Wyoming. I have made a promise to myself that I will be healthy enough to do so before I die. It is a stunningly beautiful climb. I want to bless God and Scream Its name from the top. From there, I want to be able to hike around the Himalayas. I promised myself that I will. I want to see the top of the world and conquer my fears, my hopes, and my dreams. I know I will be successful.

I weigh about 109 pounds, and I am 5'6. I take up to three medications a day: For Bipolar Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) with Comorbid ADHD - and the crippling anxiety of self-discovery, of reality, of not knowing enough about the world around me. They've lowered my weight, and sped up my metabolism. I'm back in therapy, not for the Bipolar Disorder, but to learn to control and let go of what gave me the anxiety in the first place. I am slowly building myself back to where I should have been in high school.

I'm learning to let go of a lot of the things that bothered me. The anger and anxiety (which trickles down into severe mood swings), of how my parents were: Yelling at each other, at me, about money, about life, about how I could not express my dreams, hopes and fears without pressure to become something else besides myself. I am finally letting go enough to start really studying and learning about the world. I am accepting myself, including the Bipolar Disorder, and the real joys that come with it...

The only reason I can do this, is because I am radical.

I identify in part with a growing body of people who don't buy into the current drug-company-on-TV-sponsored view of what it means to have a Mental Illness, especially one considered "Severe." Although I don't agree with every radical idea espoused, (no drugs? alternative illegal drugs? filter your water and live off the land? radical anarchy as a way of getting medication?) I do identify with parts of Mad Pride, with Kay Redfield Jamison, Liz Spikol, parts of The Icarus Project, parts of The Freedom Center, The Mad Tea Party, etc.

Most people do not know what it means to actually be mad. Nor in treatment.

Bipolar Disorder in Short Form (For me) Mixed Episodes, which lean towards depression, which can keep you up all night. So depressed that you become paranoid - a form of mania. So depressed that you start to see your friends in the distance in the while walking around the neighborhood in tears. So paranoid that you believe you Need to complete your Bachelor's in Two weeks. So paranoid you believe that everyone hates you. I call the feeling the suck out of soul the first time.

Mania - (Really hypomania) Colors are 3D. So 3D that Andy Warhol Posters in the Night are like Drug induced Dreams. That Grass on the Ground has more shades of green than should be possible. That you notice that smooth plastic actually has little bumps to it. So happy and engaged that you are willing to try anything, once, if you were not afraid of your parents. And that you have a tendency to get a little too angry. And the idea of sex sounds amazing. To the point where you can smell people. They smell different. Better. Delicious.

And drugs take most of this away. Not all mind you. Most. I refuse to leave me sensory deprived. I've given up one drug this year. It is better to learn to deal with who I am, and to expect that I am fairly normal, rather than treat everything as an abnormality. I'd rather see myself as getting over the difficult aspects of insanity, the misunderstandings of the limits of reality - and use its joys to my benefits. I would not take medication if I knew that I could trust every one of my feelings and sensory perceptions.

But some days, having too many shades of green grass is too much. But to lose the ability of noticing the first red-breasted robins in the park while the hyacinths bloom, the refraction of water on a tulip blossom in the rain...

I would never give that up. In the end, I rather use it as leverage that I failed at something, and learned from it, to climb the tallest peaks, both the real and proverbial, that I can.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Suit Sale in KGH Today ($50/suit - really)

Figure this is worth posting for those in the NY-NJ area; this is what's left from their pre-Pesach sale, if I'm not mistaken. At that sale I bought a really nice suit for $150, a couple shirts, and a number of nice ties. As Moshe said on Friday night, "Ezzie is finally taking advantage of looking somewhat stylish!" Thanks, Moshe.

A friend (Memphis II) went yesterday and netted 3 suits and a pair of shoes for $180, so check it out:
There will be a MAJOR, BLOW OUT suit sale in the gym of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim (RSA) in KGH. Located at 76-01 147th Street.
The sale will take place:
THIS Sunday - 5/24 from 10am to 10pm AND
THIS Monday - 5/25 from 10am to 10pm

The UPDATED liquidation prices are:
MENS 100% WOOL SUITS - 1 for $60 or 3 for $150! (same size)
MENS 100% WOOL ITALIAN SUITS - 1 for $90 or 3 for $225! (same size)
BOYS HART SCHAFFNER MARX SUITS - $50
ALL MENS SHIRTS - $15
MENS DESIGNER TIES - $10
BOYS SHABBOS SHIRTS - $7
MENS FLORSHEIM LEATHER SHOES - 1 for $35, 2 for $60 (same size)

Come on down and take advantage of these SUPER BLOW OUT prices!!! Tell your family, neighbors and friends!!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wow

I can't decide which of these describes the moment best. The moment, slowed down in blown up high definition; the moment, in real-time; or the moment, as a true Cleveland fan would feel it [in the guise of the Channel 5 Newsteam], from the negativity and despair of hopelessness to the shock, excitement, and joy of redemption.

I'm showing the real-time one, but the others are great, too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

EZ Reads 5/22/09

  • G6 has the video of her son Joey on Who Wants to be a Millionaire - a nice kiddush Hashem, I must say. Seems like a really great guy.
  • While I was reading a piece about the latest "American Girl" doll being a Jewish one, I stumbled on this interesting piece about an Israeli woman who won an Arabic literary prize. Impressive.
  • (via Jack) Apparently, ABC goes to J-bloggers to get opinions on news stories, like this one about the first black female Rabbi in the US. It quotes R' Gil Student and Shlomah Shamos of VIN.
  • BaltimoreJewish discusses ParnasaFest, coming very soon in Baltimore.
  • Google is using an algorithm to figure out which of its employees might quit.
  • New York has the worst drivers. Who knew!?
  • The pic at right of the Milky Way is a tiny version of a beautiful one. Jack has the link to the full thing - wow.
  • An absolutely wonderful piece on Cleveland and the Cavs in this week's Sports Illustrated by Joe Posnanski. Opening line:

    What are two things you will never see in Cleveland?
    A victory parade and the sky.

Have a wonderful Shabbos, everyone!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Internet Explorers - Help?

Apparently SerandEz is not loading properly for people who still use Internet Explorer*. If anyone can think of or knows of any reasons this may be, please let me know - I have no idea what could be causing this, and am not aware of any changes I may have made that could have.

Can anyone pinpoint if it's something specific or at a specific point where it won't load?

Thanks in advance!

UPDATE1: Via Blogger Help:
Some users are seeing an 'Operation Aborted' error message when trying to load their blogs from Internet Explorer. We're looking into this and will update this message when we have a fix.

We apologize for the inconvenience.
That's what I saw when I switched to IE. Hopefully when they figure it out, things will be okay.

UPDATE2: Jameel tried taking off the "Followers" widget, and that seems to have worked; I'm doing the same. Please let me know if it's better (or if it's not). Thanks!

* Princess D'Tiara questions why anyone still uses IE, but we'll be nice. :)

Well Waddaya Know XXVII

Last week's question and answer:
This Israeli city has a street named for Spinoza:
Tel Aviv
9 (39%)
Jerusalem
3 (13%)
Rishon Letzion
2 (8%)
Haifa
7 (30%)
Holon
2 (8%)


Votes so far: 23
This week's question is up to the right.

Program L'iluy Nishmas Aliza Shull (R' Paysach Krohn)

(Cross-posted on LCMAlumni)

This coming Wednesday evening, erev Shavuos, May 27th at 8:00pm there will be a program dedicated in the memory of Aliza Shull, a'h. The speakers will be R' Paysach Krohn and Gabi Shull; the program is sponsored by the LCM Office of Alumni Affairs and Friends of Gabi Shull.

Running a Singles Event

I received an e-mail a couple of nights ago from someone who is considering running a singles event. They were asking a number of friends for advice as to how to go about doing so, and gave permission to pose the question to the audience here; please speak your mind, as they would love for this to be a success.
We are looking into hosting a Saturday night singles event sometime in August. We would love to get input from all of you about dos and don'ts for such an event. We have been told to have a "program" and that stuffing guys and girls and snacks in a room will not yield results. We thought of doing something where you have x guys and equal number of girls at each table with questions/conversation starters in the center. As in speed dating, you get a certain amount of time to talk and then at the sound of the bell, the girls get up and switch (to separate) tables and a new group sits down. By doing it in small groups, you are more likely to meet everyone (we are thinking of capping it at 25 of each gender). If you do speed dating, you probably won't come in contact with everyone. Our concern is that the quieter/introvert will not speak up...

What is a good amount of time to run such a program? 2-1/2 hours?

We are contemplating having it at #####'s house (whose husband is a pulpit Rabbi). On the one hand it is more intimate, on the other will people be weirded out having it at a Rabbi's house? The other choice is hosting it in a shul? Comments? Pros/cons?

What kinds of questions can we ask (not to be shared with participants) and what is considered off limits?

How young is too young to invite to such an event?

We want people to look at it as a "this is a great way to meet people" event and we will market it as such.

Thanks for your insights!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

VocaPeople

(Hat tip: Dini)

I thought this was really impressive; apparently, the group is Israeli. Enjoy!

Credit Cards & Orthodoxy

One of the issues I talked about in my presentation on the Jewish Economics Survey (take it here, if you have not already) was one that is common to many: Credit card debt. Interestingly, credit card debt in the Orthodox community is slightly less of an issue than in the United States in general, but the rather high percentage of people who have personal loans or Gemach loans keeps the percentage of people who have debt approximately the same.

I was looking at some of the responses last night regarding credit card debt for Sephardi Lady (of Orthonomics), and there was one pattern in particular that really struck me as both interesting and sad, depending on how you read the numbers. The question asked is:
Credit Cards *
Do you have credit card debt?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Only monthly expenses but I pay them off in full each month.
When you break out the answers by number of children, you get the following percentages.
(0, 1, 2, 3, 4*, 5+ kids)
  • No: 38.1%, 32.7%, 25.0%, 18.0%, 20.0%, 17.3%
  • Monthly: 36.4%, 38.8%, 51.6%, 38.0%, 42.9%, 28.8%
  • Yes: 25.4%, 28.6%, 23.4%, 44.0%, 37.1%, 53.8%
What seems to happen is that as people get to the stage of life where they have two kids, they start to use credit cards more - but try to be careful to pay them off in full. As they have more kids, however, this becomes increasingly difficult, and they slowly slide into spiraling credit card debt.

As a quick example, people with 0 kids who had credit card debt listed an average of $8,725 in credit card debt. 1 kid, $11,136. 2 kids, $12,302 (we're below average - woo!). When you get to 4 kids, the average credit card debt of people who have it is approximately $31,640 per family.

It's difficult to pinpoint just what drives people into credit card debt in the first place, whether it is extravagant spending or the simply high costs of Jewish life. But certainly, while it is difficult, credit card debt is not unavoidable, and responsible financial control early on is a major key to staying away from debt. About half the people with 4 or more kids do not have revolving credit card debt. Be on (and grow) that side.

* 4 kids is the smallest sample

EZ Reads 5/20/09: Curses

While readers of this blog are well aware of my negative feelings regarding the Obama presidency because of his stances on a variety of issues, some are aware that during the Presidential campaigns I argued that there will be little to no difference between the two parties when it comes to one very important issue (to the Jewish community) - Israel. I think that for the time being, at least, President Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu shows that to be the case.
  • Save money on car insurance by taking a safe driving course - online. Not sure if this is wise or not by the State of New York, but I'll take advantage.
  • G6's son will be on Millionaire today and tomorrow!
  • The Cavs are on the cover of Sports Illustrated. {cringe}
  • A beautiful shot of MOChassid worth well more than 1,000 words. Congratulations!!
  • ProfK sums up what kills me about the kashrus world: Politics. What's sad is that at some point, it's clear that so many people are relying on "what they heard" about an organization, which makes it seem that the kashrus of an item is more dependent on which side got negative word out faster than the other.
  • Adventures in Chinuch with a good post about accusations of psychological abuse in education - and how they're not something that should just be thrown around. There's a difference between a personality clash or ineffective teaching with some students and abuse.
  • I'd rather be dominant than exciting if I'm the Cavs.
  • (Hat tip: JA) Great discussion on LeBron and Kobe.
  • Speaking of them, here's their second muppet commercial.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Duck Banker

Moshe is going to love this story, which will certainly make you smile. A banker noticed a mother duck and her twelve ducklings stuck on a second floor balcony, and knew that the mother duck would call the ducklings to follow her to water - except the ground below was cement, and the jump would not be a good one for them. See how he saved them (and led them to water!).

This also is the perfect excuse to post this picture of Elianna with all of Moshe's ducks.

The Credit Hole

If you read nothing else today, read this piece (hat tip: Orthonomics) at the New York Times, showing how their economics reporter got himself into major debt. As I wrote on Orthonomics, what is so scary about this piece is how easy it is for a rational, thinking person to lose control.

Congress today passed new laws regarding credit. Most of this is probably going to backfire on the American populace as always, but at least they're trying... right? Right?! ...sigh.

The WSJ has the highlights of the bill. At least most of these make sense; the bigger question is going to be what the unintended consequences will be. (If anyone thinks credit card companies are just going to accept this loss and yet still approve credit as always, they're simply foolish.) What's likely is as this New York Times piece details, which is to basically charge more to people with good credit, which will negatively impact the ability of small businesses and people with good credit to borrow and invest as they have been able to. They'll also charge fees to retailers - which will in turn pass it on to consumers.

EZ Reads 5/19/09: The Elixir of Life (and Government)

If you know me, you know "elixir of life" is reserved for... Coca-Cola, where the sun will always shine. I figure that might offset the blow brought by mentioning government.

It's interesting that while Pepsi seems to have switched exclusively to sugar from corn syrup, Coca-Cola seems to be selling both in stores. While for most people there's no difference between the two types of Coke, many people (like my brother) prefer the "Pesach" Coke [yellow cap], which has sugar, while many (like me) prefer the regular one [red cap], which has corn syrup.
  • A cool story (audio) about how Coke became Kosher - a tricky proposition, considering how secret the formula is.
  • The Hamodia piece Little Sheep mentioned yesterday is online here (thanks Stam), though the link will probably die soon. It also seems to be a short version of a longer piece.
  • Now, here's one example of where your stimulus money (formerly known as your money, until you paid it to the government in taxes) is going: An airport that serves 20 people a day. Nice.
  • Or, if that isn't enough for you, how about billions to punt on distressed loans to foreign borrowers?
    What the heck is Merrill Lynch doing giving $500 million to some guy, no doubt with a 10% deal, to punt on distressed loans? And not merely distressed loans, distressed loans to foreign borrowers! How does this fit with the goals of the TARP? Wasn't the idea to stabilize the banking system, thereby protecting depositors and other creditors, and making sure credit would continue to be available for US households and corporates. How does it possibly serve a public purpose to have taxpayer money gambled on foreign loans by a guy on a deal?
  • See, taxes used to be bad enough because of this:Now it's (Your Paycheck/(Roads + Wars + Schools + Stupid, Idiotic Investments))^Bureaucracy.
  • One difference between a tax cutting approach and a tax raising approach is that the former is a short-term hit for long-term gains. The latter makes things better for a short time... and then horribly worse in the long run. Note that the estimates below are from the White House and the CBO (non-partisan).
  • Even those might be generous, considering the real cost of health care, especially as the Obama administration pushes to switch everyone over to a system like Medicare - Medicare, the failed attempt of government to help in the health care industry that is projected to be bankrupt within 5 years, or about 10 times as fast as Social Security. It's expected to explode from 5% of GDP to 20%, according to the Obama administration.
At least there's still Coke.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Young Family Frugality

A few weeks ago, Mother in Israel put up an excellent post, Frugal Strategies for Young Families That Pay Off as Your Children Grow, or in essence, invest a little brains and work now and it'll save you a ton of both - and money - later on.

What's particularly good about the list is that it not only helps the parents, but in the long run, the kids themselves will be more independent and capable in addition to simply being more skilled, mature, and responsible.

One of the most fascinating things to me as a parent is simply watching my kids trying to do something, then either figuring it out, coming up with something creative, or the like. Kayla likes to stare out from her pack 'n play when she wakes up, but she's too short to see over it. She always stands on a boppy pillow or something similar to get her head over the edge to see. Today, Elianna took a mini-stroller and rolled it up a slide onto a jungle gym; then later, trying the same on a different (and thinner) slide, was having trouble, since the wheels were too wide. She was in the process of balancing the wheels on the edges of the slide when another kid came along and grabbed the other end of the stroller to ruin it, but it was an impressive transition from one minute and one attempt to the next.

Check out her list, which is a good, simple, easy one to follow. My only quibble is with #6, and we probably mostly agree; it's not that daycare is a problem, it's the assumption that working more while sending kids to daycare or babysitting will make the family more money when it's often not the case (or will have minimal effect for a lot of work).

EZ Reads 5/18/09: Mental Illness

  • An interesting piece in the Forward on the battle against eating disorders and the like in the Orthodox Jewish community, talking a little about Renfrew and the OU-sponsored upcoming day-long conference featuring their documentary "Hungry to be Heard".
  • A father calls for his son's suicide to be an appeal for awareness regarding mental illnesses.
  • An xckd titled "Helping" that serves as a good reminder to help people find professional help:

"Just Tax The Rich

...that'll work." - Economists.

...or not:

Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.

Did the greater prosperity in low-tax states happen by chance? Is it coincidence that the two highest tax-rate states in the nation, California and New York, have the biggest fiscal holes to repair? No. Dozens of academic studies -- old and new -- have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.

Gotta love it. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Commencement 2009

As President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Larry Bird and various others take the stage to pass on their wisdom to this year's graduates, I thought I would offer my own piece of advice.

It's good, I wouldn't pass it on if it weren't.

Romantic Sparks

(Hat tip: RK) There is a very interesting piece in The Jewish Star this week titled Romantic Sparks, and it is written by Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D.*

Some excerpts:
...Some have suggested that, in the Orthodox world, we simply do not believe in romance, as real love supposedly happens only after marriage. While in many ways this is true, we are often left without defining just what that means. [...] Unfortunately, there have been some changes to the system in recent years that have led to rising stress in a process that should contain both fun and excitement despite the seriousness of the goal.

Increasingly, in virtually all shades of orthodoxy, both men and women are segregated from one another even when it is unwarranted. This separation has led to a fear of socializing, a form of stage fright or anticipatory anxiety that causes young daters to not know how to act in a socially acceptable fashion with one another. I hear them talking about the “magic” of the opposite sex as if it were a truism, a fact that in order to understand how to even talk with one another they must unravel a secret magical code. While there should be magic, it is not of this type.

Even after marriage there is often a dearth of appropriate communication between the spouses. [...] more and more young marrieds are divorcing with the primary complaint that they simply did not know each other at the time of marriage and do not understand one another once married. [...]

When we add to this mix the volatility that comes from being overindulged and overprotected well into the late teens and early twenties, we are left with young men and women who feel no need to even try to get to know anyone else. Many of our young men and women have placed themselves on a pedestal and want to marry someone who can keep them there, even in financially troubling times. The goal then is not a warm, affectionate, supportive relationship but a selfish, egocentric one. Who needs a romantic relationship with a spouse or even friendship with a spouse, as long as you get what you want?

There actually is somewhat of a scientific formula for the magic that causes the spark of romance. [...]

He then goes on to talk about just how it all works, and emphasizes that The natural process of romance develops in stages beginning with learning how to socialize and proceeding from there. Let us allow young adults to find one another so they might develop the friendship so necessary to a successful marriage.

When I was in WITS, during one of our STAMPs (Senior Torah And Mussar Perspectives) where we discuss issues that can come up in life, I recall the primary drawback of a non-coeducational school system being almost exactly this. The Rosh Yeshiva who was giving the STAMP emphasized strongly that this is not something to be underestimated: A complete lack of interaction with the opposite sex can lead to serious problems down the road.

What seemed especially interesting was that near the end of the piece, Dr. Salamon specifically states that "young adults" should be the ones finding one another to develop the friendships necessary to a successful marriage. While I've yet to see much that shows a significant academic advantage to a co-educational school growing up (in fact some public schools are switching to a separate education), and I question why frum people would send their teenagers to coed sleepaway camps, somehow this extreme "separate" mindset continues on even into adulthood.

I don't understand the extreme measures young adults sometimes take to avoid talking to the opposite sex, from not wishing to have meals with them (ever) or similar practices simply because they view it as improper in some way. One would think that by the time people are looking to get married, they would be mature enough to have meals with and converse with the opposite sex and gain from those experiences, which will only help them later on (if not offering them the chance to meet someone who may be good for them), rather than view them as unapproachable, incomprehensible, and "wrong" to talk to.

At the same time, I don't understand why people take this to the opposite extreme either, constantly trying to force people into coed situations. Yes, sometimes people could use a little encouragement, but there is no need for every meal to have numerous members of each sex, nor for someone to spend every available moment of free time with a crowd of each.

What's so hard about balance, anyway?

* According to the
Star, Dr. Salamon, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center in Hewlett, NY. He is the author of numerous articles and several psychological tests. His most recent book, “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” is published by Urim Publications.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

Hat tip: Eliezer Strongbad, this is from a piece in Commentary Magazine:
One day the U.N. Secretary General proposes that, in the interest of global peace and harmony, the world’s soccer players should come together and form one United Nations global soccer team.

“Great idea,” says his deputy. “Er, but who would we play?”

“Israel, of course.”
Sure, that's funny, but the rest isn't. Excerpt: (Note: I've watched this video. It's amazing in its brashness and straight-forwardness, and because of that, one of the scariest things I've seen. Hit expand to watch it.)
One Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, a group wearing “BOYCOTT ISRAEL” T-shirts entered a French branch of Carrefour, the world’s largest supermarket chain, and announced themselves. They then systematically advanced down every aisle examining every product, seizing all the items made in Israel and piling them into carts to take away and destroy. Judging from the video they made, the protesters were mostly Muslim immigrants and a few French leftists. But more relevant was the passivity of everyone else in the store, both staff and shoppers, all of whom stood idly by as private property was ransacked and smashed, and many of whom when invited to comment expressed support for the destruction. “South Africa started to shake once all countries started to boycott their products,” one elderly lady customer said. “So what you’re doing, I find it good.”

Post-Graduation Thoughts

More than any other schooling experience, my time at Stern has been a real journey. Through the teachers, the classes, and friends both in and out of school, I have been molded, and perhaps molded myself, into a richer, more mature, more self-assured person.

One of the first things I've had to learn was not to compare myself to anyone else. Someone else's success is not my failure. In fact, it has nothing at all to do with me, even if I did not "get" whatever the other person "got." Regardless of what any other person gets or how far any other person goes in any pursuit, I can only get as far and do as well as my efforts and talents allow.

The more you look at what other people are doing in comparison to what you are doing, the more negative feelings you will conjure up towards that other person. Trust me, it's not at all worth it. Feeling those things won't change anything. All it will do is make you frustrated and annoyed at both the other person and yourself. You'll resent the other person for doing well and you'll resent yourself for not performing to your potential and for feeling resentful towards your friend.

Yeah, it's frustrating not to get as good a grade as you want, especially if a friend does better than you in school. It's disappointing, and even somewhat depressing, to wish to get chosen for something and get passed over in favor of your friend. Such things bring competition into places where there should be none. But when such things happen, instead of looking at yourself and feeling resentful about all you're lacking, it's good to realize that you do have talents and that you have a lot more to go in order to reach your potential.

On that note, you always have the chance to grow more in your talents and stretch out your hand farther towards your potential. A grade is not a brand marking you forever as the limit of your abilities. There is always room and opportunity to strive for higher accomplishments. So you don't succeed today. That's okay. There's always tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Or even the next decade. Today might be someone else's moment, but one day it will be yours, too.

Something else I learned is to stand behind my own words. After all, if I don't stand by myself, who will? If I don't feel confident in what I'm saying, why should anyone take me seriously? Or believe in my ability to get anywhere or accomplish anything? If I write disclaimers before all my stories, it means I don't believe in my own writing! Am I going to be afraid of showing myself to the world forever? Or am I going to stand up and be confident that my opinions count, too, and that they're just as valid as anyone else's?

Sometimes people say things about you that aren't necessarily true or super accurate. Sometimes you even say things about yourself that aren't exactly accurate just to please or pacify someone else. But why should you? Why shouldn't you stand true to who you are?

I'm pretty intimidated about leaving the safety of school and stepping out into the "real" world. No matter what anyone says about the difference between the different stages of schooling (elementary, high school, college) or how on your own you are throughout school, there is always, always, always a difference between being in school and not being in school anymore. School is a place we all know by heart. We are all experts on The System. We can hold that system in our hands and mold it like clay to fit our needs. It's a system we've run around in, tripped over, and learned to balance just right. We know where all the lines are and just how far to push them. We know where we stand when we're in school - any school.

But I don't know the system outside of school. I don't know what is expected of me, where the lines are, or if I can even push them a centimeter. School is like a maze that we can feel our way through instinctively until, suddenly, it is not a maze any longer but a series of passages - some that are well known and some that are secret only to ourselves.

The outside world, to me, does not seem like a series of passages at all. From afar, it looks like a vast, seamless ocean of...a lot going on. There are new rules, new lines. It's a totally new game. I feel like I'm being pushed into the middle of a game of capture the flag and I haven't even been told who's on what team.

But the thing is, when you don't know the rules, if you know yourself then that's at least a start. If you don't know yourself or what you're getting into, that's tricky. Then you could be completely molded by whatever choices you make. Of course, you're always going to be somewhat colored by the environment you're in, but having a strong idea of who you are, what you like, what you believe in, what you approve of, what you wish to stay away from...that can help bring some direction, probably. At least - then you won't lose yourself in the vastness of possibilities that are out there. Or, it makes me feel better about it, anyway.

One last thing I'd like to write about here is facing the world with a positive attitude. I have so many friends who either always seem to be in a good mood or who don't let bad things bring them down. I admire them so much for this. Something I'm really working on is not letting things get to me, or get to me enough that it ruins my whole positive perspective on life. I really believe that if you face the world with a smile, the world will smile back. It's just something I have to learn how to do better.

Anyway, I don't mean for this post to hit anyone over the head with lessons. These are merely things that I have found valuable, but of course each person is different and each will find different kinds of inspiration and different ways to bring meaning and purpose into their lives.

And no, that was not a disclaimer. :P

(Originally posted here.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kollel & "God Haters"

I was completely disgusted by this article on Cross-Currents by R' Doron Beckerman of my alma mater OJ, and I suggest reading it through in context before reading my commentary, to which I'm adding a little bit at the end from the Jewish Economics presentation.
Is the motive of those who currently oppose Kollel, utilizing the Rambam as their model, that they just can’t bear that people are taking money for its study? Such an attitude can, virtually by definition, only come from someone who is exceedingly meticulous not to waste a spare moment available for Torah study. I think it safe to surmise that the percentage of people in this category, who did not spend at least a portion of their married life learning in Kollel, is infinitesimal.

?! More likely, those who oppose Kollel oppose it on the grounds that many of the people who are taking the money are NOT reluctant to "take the money". Moreover, they likely oppose Kollel on the grounds that it IS an imposition on the public.

To create a false choice of "opposition must come from someone meticulous not to waste a spare moment" to learn and then make another gross assumption that such people are few and far between is disgusting.

The undercurrent of the ideological gripe against Kollel is invariably the placing of the burden on the community to support it - and yet the Rambam writes that if the multitudes were asked at the time of the Tannaim to support Torah they would have gladly showered the Talmidei Chachamim with the greatest wealth!

This is also a horrible argument. There's a far cry from a poor man clearly dedicated to his learning not asking for anything, who, if he did ask, people would have no qualms giving versus a lifestyle which asks for the money upfront to live a rather comfortable lifestyle. Moreover, those same people back then - despite their complete trust that the poor man was in fact learning seriously - did NOT give the money anyway!

Based on the Rambam himself, in light of the consensus among the Halachic decisors from the time of Rambam and on, one would expect that there would be a communal sigh of relief, that we are able to fulfill our most fervent wish which is to increase Torah study and need not be concerned about the problem of the Kollel learners accepting funds, since Kollel has become universally accepted as legitimate.

This is just silly.

Has any one of those saying it is a burden recommended pro bono investment on behalf of the learners (they do often have wedding money!), which the Rambam (Avos ibid.) considers meritorious? Have they agreed to pay taxes on their behalf, which is obligatory for people engaged in full time Torah study?

Why don't they use that wedding money to cover their bills? Wedding money is not worth risking on short-term investments usually. What taxes, exactly?

It is meant to underscore the idea that we must sometimes examine what lies at the root of opposition to a particular system of widespread Torah study, and be certain that it does not stem from begrudging accomplishments of others.

...and we must be extremely careful when doing so to not only understand that not only does it serve nobody to make up or focus on negative arguments which serve no purpose, but to address the primary issues which are legitimate reasons to oppose. Nowhere does R' Beckerman address any of the legitimate reasons people are opposed to kollel, merely dismissing it as something people can place in the comments. He only not-so-subtly hints that those who are against kollel are "begrudging accomplishments", should "breathe a communal sigh of relief" that nobody looks twice at people taking money for being in Kollel, or should be coming up with more ways of handling their financial responsibilities.

Perhaps it is not "begrudging accomplishments" which upsets those who are against kollel, but the actual facts on the ground. What does not help, however, is the seeming attitude of those who are for kollel that implies that not only is what exists now wonderful - while ignoring and dismissing its drawbacks - but that everyone else should be doing even more to make it easier on them.
Let me add to that something I touched on during my presentation: The problem is not kollel. My brother is 34 years old and still learning - married, 4th kid on the way iyH. He also has zero dollars in debt, and doesn't take any tzedakah. One of the most interesting comments both people I spoke to from Mesila said was that as they discussed opening up in Lakewood, someone argued that they can't come into Lakewood and tell guys who are making $30k between their wives' jobs and their kollel checks that they aren't making enough to support their lifestyles: You'd be basically telling them to leave kollel and get a job, and that simply wouldn't fly there. They responded simply that those people are missing the point: The problem isn't learning, it's people who earn $30,000 spending $70,000 - and it's the exact same problem as someone who makes $150,000 and spends $300,000. If you show people that they simply need to understand their finances and live within their means, those who truly wish to learn will find a way to do so on less money - much like my brother has done. Those who are there merely to live an easy life will likely leave and start working, which is better for everyone.

One of the primary arguments against kollel is the financial burden it creates on the community at large. R' Beckerman does absolutely nothing to lessen that argument, instead choosing to imply that those who are against kollel must be jealous God-haters. He is in essence fostering the hate he's claiming to wish to diffuse. A better approach to the subject would be helping to determine what can be done to alleviate the burden perceived by those who are not in or who are against kollel, by minimizing waste within the kollel community and by ensuring that those who are there wish to be there and are willing to sacrifice to do so. By doing this, it would remove the primary qualms people have with kollel and will both reduce the amount needed while increasing the likelihood that people can - and are willing to - support it.

Be (A Better) Yourself

(Hat tip: Mom) I really liked this clip from Good Morning America, interviewing the author of the bestselling book Noticer, which is a book about the author's journey up from homelessness by paying attention to the little things in life.

I thought the part in the middle was especially interesting - kind of the flip side of the header here of "Be Yourself". While we love that line, it has a balance, too, and he notes the other side perfectly.

EZ Reads 5/14/09: Stern Gang

A huge congratulations is due to all "the Sternies" we know who had their graduation today. Y'all have matured quite a bit these last few years, and are an amazing group, both collectively and individually, and we're happy to have hosted you and had you "join our family" and to have been afforded the opportunity to see you all grow as you have. And we hope to see you all here soon! :)

Some good stuff:
  • A mostly great memo from the RCA on Hirhurim discussing some things that must change within the Orthodox community, from institutional transparency (finally!) to cutting down on spending on the one side to actively opposing charter schools and calling on people to give more money, even if their kids are not in school.
  • A Soldier's Mother with a moving piece on the gift of life the family of a soldier accidentally killed gave to the soldier whose gun went off, and with an added story that is also beautiful in its own way.
  • via Freakonomics, a Boston Globe piece on the science and valuation of happiness. Personally, the idea that people can adapt to horrible situations and be happy does not devalue the loss they've suffered but merely shows us the ability of people to overcome struggles. That people show more irritation with small things seems to be more simply because we don't look at them as things we need to overcome.
  • Mystical Paths with a funny/sad comic and a cute/sad video that make you go Hmmm.
Enjoy!

The Jewish Channel's Coverage of the JES Presentation


While the $100,000 number is overstated (I didn't mean it for everyone), the point itself is a good (and scary) one. The Jewish Channel picked out pretty good excerpts for this shorter clip for their online Week in Review. A huge thanks to Rebecca Honig Friedman and her crew at TJC for coming out, filming, and interviewing myself and others, and doing a very good job at presenting everything well. And again, thanks to Pazit and Mt. Sinai for sponsoring and hosting the event.

I'll have to see if I can get the full version somehow.

Notes to self: Presentations during sfira will look scruffy and shaggy. And get new glasses. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Balancing Act

A great post on my favorite subject, balance, at Hirhurim. (Bonus R' Salanter quote, too!)

Not a Hypocrite

One of the best things about having a blog is that it typically forces you to hold yourself to a higher standard. It's hard to write about something you perceive to be an issue without at least trying to overcome the same issue yourself.

One of the major themes I've found while carrying out the Jewish Economics Survey is the troubling trend among frum Jews to not have life insurance (over 40%). My father is a financial planner who of course sells insurance himself, and when I mentioned the numbers to him he was appalled, though not surprised. At the same time, however, we didn't have ourselves. Both times we started the process before this year we never ended up actually completing it. Around the same time as the survey began and the responses started coming in, we decided we couldn't continue to go without something so important, even if the hope is that we're just "wasting" the money.

A couple of weeks ago we were told our policies were active; today our agent came by with the actual policies themselves and we handed over the first checks. While we can always add more later or get other kinds of insurance, for now we have basic term insurance ($1m on each) and we're paying $1,310 a year in total from a well-known company (and just in time - rates are about to rise, apparently). In retrospect, I don't think that what holds people back from getting life insurance is the money; it's just not on people's radar. I'm not an expert on life insurance, but it's a rather cheap investment for something you'll hopefully never need; a great primer on life insurance was posted by a guest on Orthonomics here. Just as a quick note for those who should be getting it: You may not need $1 million in coverage at this point in life, especially if you're a young couple like us. The rates are level on term, so had we gotten $500,000 on each of us we'd be paying $655/year combined. Talk to a financial advisor you trust.

Finally, Pazit.org now has a blog as well - Pazit's Money $marts - including some of the basic tips it handed out at last week's presentation. The tips are good for anyone, and women will gain tremendously by joining Pazit and especially by taking part in its Money Club.

EZ Reads 5/13/09: Oh Fine

A few good reads I've been gathering up for a while: (Hat tips to many)
  • Adventures in Chinuch discusses how the year in Israel can often severely damage a person's future, due to the encouragement of Rebbeim to take certain (worse) paths.
  • On a similar note, ADDeRabbi discusses having a conversation with his former self (or at least a young KBY guy who reminds him of himself at that age). Very interesting to ponder.
  • A New York Times piece on black hats. (Really.)
  • ...and a NYPost piece on a Brooklyn gas station that serves food at its Heimishe Coffee Shop. Like... chulent. [Too easy to make that joke.]
  • Cool piece in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Blink) on how Davids beat Goliaths - by changing the game being played. Personally I think it has serious limits: At some point, Goliaths will simply either play the same game right back (and better) or they will use their power to assert their style. (Think of how the surge in Iraq broke down terror.)
  • Another cool piece in the Wall Street Journal on how entourages are now much more business than lazy punks. Fascinating, really.
  • Interesting NBC piece on the "Jewish Jordan", Tamir Goodman, 10 years later. Nice kiddush Hashem.
  • Hirhurim links to a candid interview with R' Dr. Norman Lamm, where he (almost) says kaddish on Conservative and Reform Jewry. (On the flip side, when I saw that I immediately thought of Rabbeim who have done the same on what they see as the failure of Modern Orthodoxy.)
  • And in case you've never seen this (you're probably female), girls are in fact evil. {Insert women and math joke here.}
Enjoy!

Erev Pesach in Cleveland Collage

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chase is Brilliant

Hat tip: Special Ed, via Consumerist

JPMorganChase is currently carrying out one of the most brilliant bank strategies I've seen in a long time. On their customers' credit card bills this month, they decided to set the minimum payment at a good old $0.
Chase is being awfully nice to their customers in tough economic times. Many of their customers received statements this month with a minimum payment of $0, even though they have balances. How nice! Customers take a month off, Chase will just let finance charges accrue for them.
Now, what would you do if you got a bill that said you owed $0 this month? Odds are, you'd say "Great!" and throw it in the trash, not paying a cent. You'd be happy, and Chase would be even happier: You'd accrue finance charges on the money you still owe. If you owed $2,000 at 18%, you'd accrue about $30 in finance charges.

One of the reasons it's advisable to not just pay the minimums on credit cards in general is that banks calculate what they think is a good level to keep you paying as much interest for as long as possible without pushing it to a level where you'll stop paying them. Chase is taking that one step further with this, by putting in a one-time break to let everyone accrue more interest for them. When paying down debt, figure out what you can reasonably pay down based on what you have available, and pay that amount, which should be well above the minimum. (Personally I find it useful to pay down to a round number, such as a -00 or -50. Not only does it give me a clear picture of how much I owe without rounding and being off, but it makes me more aware of whatever finance charges I'm getting hit with each month when the bill says I owe $-18.36 or whatever, and I immediately understand that I was just charged $18.36 in finance charges. That added awareness gives me an extra push to pay down the debt faster.

Jewish Economics Survey Presentation #2

In another exciting turn for the Jewish Economics Survey (take it here), I will iy"H be speaking Shabbos, August 8th at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills as part of their summer series of speakers.

While I haven't officially decided on a topic, it will almost assuredly be at least partially focused on the survey and "Orthonomics" (the subject, not the [great] blog) in general. It will obviously be a little different without a Powerpoint presentation to show some of the numbers and other fun stuff on, but I'm really looking forward to the opportunity, and I hope that all those of you who will be in Kew Gardens Hills that Shabbos will feel welcome to attend!

Monday, May 11, 2009

8 Down, 8 To Go

As the Cavs keep rolling, a few good and fun pieces and videos to watch courtesy of a few, especially Mom. First, muppets LeBron and Kobe:

Good thing he decided against football, at least for now. Finally, I wish they had one of these from the entire series, but then again, considering this isn't even all his highlights just from Game 3, I guess it would be too long:

Quotes from the Weekend

Memphis II's status: Sometimes there's just too much month left at the end of the money.
Me: You should have come to my presentation. :)
MII: I knew you'd like that one. :)
Cleaning lady: {looking around} I can't remember what I'm looking for...!
Me: Oh yeah, happens all the time. Then you see the thing and are like "Oh, that's what I was looking for!"
CL: {looks up, sees it, shakes her head}
Me: Found it?
CL: Yup. [pause] I stopped drinking because I thought it was affecting my memory, but it's still just as bad. I'm going to start drinking again.
Elianna (3): Can I have lipstick?
Serach: Sorry, it's Shabbos, and it's muktzah. You can't have any.
Elianna: Who made it muktzah?
Serach: Hashem.
Elianna {looks skyward}: Hashem, can I have lipstick? I really want lipstick...!

Friday, May 08, 2009

For The Unemployed

I've been sent this a couple of times, and it seems like a wonderful initiative. It's a joint product of the Orthodox Union, Agudah, and National Council of Young Israel.
I wanted to make you all aware of a wonderful organization that is working diligently to place professionals who have recently been laid off, and are looking for work. “Emergency Parnossa Initiative” is a non-profit organization that was created to address the needs of our local community in these difficult times. In the past two weeks alone they have been successful in placing a number of professionals in six figure jobs.I took the liberty to attach a brief description of their services. Please take a minute to read it.Most importantly, if you know of any job openings available, or if you are looking to hire, please contact them either via email at jobs@epinetworking.org or call them at 212.612.0202. (They are offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who refers a job that leads to permanent employment).

If you or someone you know has recently been laid off and is looking for work, please contact EPI today.Please forward this email to all your contacts.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

JES: Post-Presentation Musings

It's 2:00am and I'm exhausted, but post-presentation first thoughts before they fade:
  • Huge thanks to: Tamar Snyder and Pazit, which women should join up forces with, Mt. Sinai for hosting and Shlomo B. for helping set up.
  • Crowd was really great. The room was full (50-60 people someone said), the people were really interested, and they asked numerous good questions in the Q&A following the presentation. A couple people knew more about certain subjects/aspects than I did, such as Canadian information (in response to a question about international responses).
  • As my own not-so-harshest critic, I'd give myself a B+ as a presenter; really a B, but as a first-time presenter it would be A-, so B+ works. :) One of the most interesting things when you're speaking in front of an audience is the intense awareness you have of all the things you're doing wrong: "Um"s, "okay"s, long pauses as you find yourself (which are better than trying to babble your way out of a hole), trying to babble your way out of a hole anyway, standing with your back toward part of the audience for too long when showing a slide, etc. That said, none of those were too horrible, certainly for a first time, and as it got going it calmed down. [continued this morning] Lessons learned (including that I need a printer so I can practice while viewing the slides, since I prefer speaking more off-the-cuff; over-preparing hurts, in that you end up being more rote for parts you've essentially memorized and try to "get back" to what's on the paper instead of just telling what you want to tell; etc.).
  • Being interviewed (by TJC) was oddly comfortable.
I'll write more about the actual presentation later or next week, once I have a chance to go through some of the audio and video.

I hope everyone enjoyed as much as I did (and it seemed people did), and if you were there, feel free to leave any comments or critiques on the presentation, delivery, content, Q&A, the handouts at the end, etc. Thanks so much for coming!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Speak With Conviction

In the spirit of Speaking Day here at SerandEz (see the post below), I figured I'd share this with y'all:



Good luck today, Ezzie! Speak with conviction. :)

JES Presentation - Tonight!

Just as a reminder, tonight I'll be giving the first presentation about the Jewish Economics Survey: [take it here]
Playing - and Praying - in the Black, But Living in the RED
...just how much does being an Orthodox Jew cost?
The presentation will be at the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights, 135 Bennett Avenue, New York, NY, 10040. It's called for 8:00pm, but there's a mincha/ma'ariv minyan there [7:40] so it probably will actually start closer to 8:20 or so.

The Jewish Channel will also be there recording the event, and Tamar Snyder of the Jewish Week will be talking briefly about her new organization, Pazit.org.

After Tamar speaks for a few minutes, I'll give my presentation, followed by an open question-and-answer session.

I'd love to see all of you there!

JES: Video Cutout

This is the video I wish I could play at some point during the presentation. It's hilarious. Thanks to my good friend AppleJuiceGuys for reminding me of its existence; we were talking about all the problems people have been listing as the largest problems facing the Orthodox community, and he said "Forget all the other ones, there's really just one: STOP BUYING STUFF YOU CAN'T AFFORD. It's like that old SNL skit..." So, I hope you enjoy it as much as we have:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

JES: Ready

:::Whew!::: (If you haven't taken the survey yet, please do so here.)

Bas~Melech put it well when she asked me a couple of hours ago:
"You're ready with more than a day left? What's that like?!
Honestly, it's odd. While it's nice that that pressure of preparing is off, and I don't have to worry about that, I'm the type that actually thrives off the pressure. I enjoy being given more difficult or time-impossible tasks, then coming up with ways to pull them off anyway. That said, I now have over a day to drive myself crazy about it. Ah well.

The responses have been flying in the last couple of days. Rather than analyze more numbers (I think my head is about ready to explode, and I like this stuff), I'll just note a few interesting comments left on some of the questions near the end:
  • Great idea. The current system is broken. There are years when my wife and my take-home pay is less than our combined tuitions for just 4 children. Yeshivas and girls schools are teaching the children that it is wrong for a young married man to earn any money at all until several years into the marriage, yet yeshiva and girls' school tuitions are astronomical. This paradigm cannot survive for another generation given the recent economic meltdown.
  • Go to public college, not private!!
  • Move to Eretz Yisroel before having children or when they are very young, where all types of Jewish education is MUCH more affordable than in the U.S.A. (I would not recommend moving with adolescent children.)
  • do not buy what you can't pay for right now. practice delayed gratification
  • save, save, save. forget what everyone else is doing or what you did when you were single. stop spending money.
I thought these were especially interesting. The first one is one heard many times, but the number is scary: Take-home pay less than tuition alone? But it's pretty understandable: Even a couple earning $100,000 is only taking home about half that if they work in Manhattan. Sadly, $50,000 might not cover tuition for more than 3 kids.

Public college vs. private: While people take for granted that private college is somehow better, I've yet to find a frum person I know who chose public over private who later suffered for it. Or for that matter, someone who chose a "name" school over a non-name school. Interestingly, there was a study (either UCLA or Harvard) years ago that tracked similar students - one who would pick an Ivy school and the other who would pick a decent state school. The students years down the road were doing equally well. It's definitely something worth at least thinking about.

I thought the Israel approach (while mentioned by nearly anyone who moved to Israel) was interesting, and I thought it nice that the person balanced a non-economic consideration. Whenever people discuss finances there's typically a weight of economics over everything else, and not without reason; but it's important to find a good balance there. That exists on the other side, too, as noted well by the next comment: An overwhelming number of comments feel that delayed gratification is something that simply does not exist among their peers, whether due to pressure to "keep up" or something else.

Finally, I especially enjoyed the last comment. While many people are able to ignore what everyone else is doing in terms of their expenses, they aren't necessarily able to do the same when it comes to their own self from before. People get married and can't seem to let go of some of the things they "always" spent money on, whether entertainment (baseball games), clothing (shoes), food (eating out), or the like. Marriage is a whole new financial ballgame compared to being single.

"Your Views are not welcome in UK"

Sigh.

The UK is publicly announcing those that will no longer be welcome there due to speech that they are against.

Money quote:

Coming to this country is a privilege. If you can't live by the rules that we live by, the standards and the values that we live by, we should exclude you from this country and, what's more, now we will make public those people that we have excluded.
Don't get me wrong. I understand entering a country is a privilege. I agree to that. I also believe any country has a RIGHT to keep anyone it wants out. The issue I have is not about rights, but about the moral slippery slope that this brings. Is the UK gov't going to start screening people on what their ideologies and values are before they can enter the country? Who gets to determine which speech and "values" will be allowed? There is a difference between letting terrorist in and people you disagree with their views. 

Digging for Gold

Monday, May 04, 2009

JES: Cutouts

Here's some good stuff that I'm cutting from the Jewish Economics Survey presentation that I found interesting, just not important enough to discuss during the presentation itself... First, a few little factoids:
  • Over 75% of those who have a car own it outright. That's pretty good, I think.
  • About half the respondents have two cars. About 10% don't own a car.
  • About 34% have 4 bedrooms or more.
  • 19.7% of the respondents are 40 and up. 34.8% are in their thirties.
  • Over 15% are single.
  • While 87% of married couples outside of NY/NJ (which includes West Hempstead, Monsey, and Highland Park for the sake of characterization) are members of a shul, just 72% of those within NY/NJ (which does not include those areas) are members.
  • On the flip side, singles within NY/NJ are more likely to be members of a shul by a 63-56% margin.
I thought the average utility costs per month by residence size was interesting:
  • 1-bedroom apt.: $95
  • 2-bedroom apt.: $126
  • 3-bedroom apt.: $255
  • 3-bedroom house: $371
  • 4-bedroom house: $475
  • 5-bedroom house: $561
  • 6-bedroom house: $626
While certainly, all else being equal, people are better off in houses, it's imperative that people who are looking to own instead of rent be well aware of the uptick in their other expenses, from property taxes and home repairs to utilities. For example, a family in Queens who rents a 2-bedroom apartment pays about $121/month in utilities; if they want to buy a 3-bedroom house* in Queens, their utilities almost quadruple to $475/month.

* smallish sample, but the numbers are mostly consistent
Actually, as I was writing that I decided to include it. I thought the next comment was interesting, as it was somewhat opposed to earlier comments by many suggesting people shoot for higher education due to the higher salaries they bring in in the long run; this respondent felt advice to young people should include the following:
Improper preparation of young people to be productive wage earners. Tell people about CLEPs, self study, industry certifications, etc. College degrees can be had in 2 years, not 4. One can earn a living as a CFA, MSCE, A+, Actuary, etc. with minimal college.
Finally, a really cool idea from a family in Lakewood:
Something we do it put all our coins into a big pretzel container at the end of the day (we don't spend coins) and that usually gives us $1,200 - $1,500 a year (no pennies). This way we can afford to go on a one or two vacation, overnight with the kids in the summer
That's a pretty clever way of doing things, and really lets you appreciate just how much small coins add up to - let alone putting aside a couple hundred dollars a month or so. On the flip side, this makes me nervous just to read, in response to the questions about debt:
We usually get "off the book" jobs here and there and are able to cover the credit card debt around August-September each year. Our credit card debt is only on credit cards with 0% interest and no fees.
While the 0% interest/no fees is great, this family (of five) is essentially living on a wing and a prayer. Not only are their jobs "off the books", which [forgetting that issue in and of itself] means that they could easily not get paid or something could go wrong. It also means the income is not steady, cannot be relied upon (especially in a year like this), and if they suddenly can't make a payment on those credit cards, they'll get nailed with fees and their interest rates will shoot up.

Feel free to add any comments, and if you haven't taken the survey yet, what are you waiting for?! If you have, please send it out to friends and family - thanks!

Cleverness

I'm a bit busy preparing for this week's presentation (just about done!), so here's something to smile about today. :)

My sister Verv told me a couple great stories from my nieces and nephew.
Smassi (6) : Am I going to get a mitzvah note for what I did?
Verv: No, you're expected to do that. You don't get a mitzvah note for that.
Smassi: Well, did I add another brick to the Bais HaMikdash?
Verv: Of course you did!

[a minute later] {Perfect (8) does something wrong}
Smassi: ...and now one just got taken out.
And another one from last week, after our grandmother fell (she's doing well now in rehab):
Verv: We're going to go visit (Great-)Grandma in the hospital.
Big E (almost 4) : Why!? Did she have a baby!?

Totally Inappropriate

Its not every day that someone sends me something so totally inappropriate, that I refuse to publish it on my blog. However, despite the totally insanity of this anonymously sent video, I felt it needed to be published somewhere.

Since Ezzie's a die hard CAVS fan, his blog is the only possible venue I could think of.

This youtube video was sent to me anonymously this morning, and depicts a shul (supposedly in Raanana) and it's electronic message board with Shabbat information on it.

Around 17 seconds into it, is when the Mazal Tov announcement appears that would probably cause Ezzie to get up and cheer.



Sheesh.

JES: Wordle of Problems

These are the comments people made in assessing what they think are the greatest financial problems facing today's Orthodox Jewish economy. Wordle picks out all the words people mention and sizes them accordingly in a word cloud.
Wordle: Jewish Economics
See a theme? [Click to enlarge.]

Friday, May 01, 2009

Parshas Kedoshim: The Burden and Freedom of "Kedoshim T'hiyu"

I absolutely loved this D'var Torah at Adventures in Chinuch by YD, and am reposting in full (with permission).

Parshas Kedoshim: The Burden and Freedom of "Kedoshim T'hiyu"

Being holy, that's what it's all about. So why does G-d feel the need to command us specifically to be holy?

The is a highly popularized explanation of the Ramban which basically goes like this:

Yeah, mitzvos are to make us holy, but not all of life is so clear-cut. There are many details in life that are not covered by specific "do this, do that" guidelines (how much to eat, how much to spend on a car etc...) and our job is to sanctify ourselves in those areas using our own boundaries. And on the other hand, it's possible that a person can earn the dubious title naval b'rshus haTorah: someone who follows all the specific guidelines mentioned in the Torah, but is a completely unrestrained in the non-controlled areas.

Maybe you are thinking: well, maybe Ramban only meant this as a drash. However, I have seen (albeit in only one context) that R' Moshe Feinstein uses this Ramban as one of the reasons that smoking marijuana (or hashish, as he refers to it) is assur; it is an indulgent activity which flies in the face of Jewish values.

To me most interesting part of this concept is that it allows for subjective areas in halacha. So many of us were taught that "the beauty of halacha is that it touches all aspects of our lives: how we eat, get dressed, talk etc... and it tells us the proper way to serve G-d in every way possible," or something to that effect. But apparently, this isn't completely true; although the mitzvah of kedoshim t'hiyu does tell us that we should be aware of Jewish values in everything that we do, it does not always tell us what is right and wrong.

How can the Torah leave it up to us? Why should we have to ask ourselves what G-d would want us to do? What is gained?

I have two approaches, and I think both are correct:

1) G-d, better than anyone, understands the fact that we need to feel like individuals and we need to enjoy life. He also knows that every person finds meaning differently. So, in order to strike a balance between the control of the Torah and necessity of individuality, G-d allowed certain aspects of our lives to be regulated by us.

2) There are the commandments of Torah and there are Torah values. In order to impress upon us the significance of Torah values, certain areas omitted from the list of "do's and dont's." By leaving thing out the Torah forces us to to make our own decisions, decisions that are meaningful to us and based on Torah values.

There's the d'var Torah. Now, let's get political, liberally and conservatively:

Liberally:

Unfortunately, the significance of subjectivity and the beauty of individuality has been lost on much of our generation. How many people out there think that there is a specific way for a "Ben Torah" to dress and spend his free time? Lots. How many people out there think that a "Bas Yisroel"(I purposely replaced the 'a' of yisrael with an 'o') has to stay away from certain professions and has to to look for specific characteristics in a shidduch? And unfortunately, this close-mindedness has reached the point of masquerading as Halacha Moshe MiSinai.

This doesn't mean that people shouldn't strive for growth. However, every person is on a different level, and to impose your way of life on others is, I believe, contrary to the message of Kedoshim T'hiyu.

Conservatively:

The other side of this message is that we must govern our lives within the confines of the Torah, even in areas not discussed by halacha. It is often difficult to decide what is right and wrong in these areas and even harder to follows those decisions, but that doesn't remove our responsibility. However, for many Jews, this concept isn't even on the radar. Torah values include modesty and humility, two values that many in our generation ignore. Affluence and immodesty are pretty common in many of our communities, perhaps, due to the absence of the message of kedoshim t'hiyu.

As always, we must be honest with ourselves and find our own balance...

Charges in AIPAC case dropped

While the situation itself is interesting, I'm actually more interested in the charge that was used. Via Yourish:
The case stank to high heaven from the get-go, and now the charges have been dropped.

The Justice Department has informed two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that it will be dropping charges against them for mishandling classified information.

What exactly were they charged with? Well, nothing.

The indictment indicates the FBI asked for and received a special warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the AIPAC lobbyists. While they were charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, the counts against them specifically did not allege they were agents of a foreign power.

These were bogus charges to begin with, and the suspicion is that there is someone in the FBI who has a serious problem with Jews. The two AIPAC reps were charged under a WWI-era law that no one really uses anymore:

Despite the suggestive tenor of the indictment, prosecutors have not accused either man of spying. Rather, the government has charged them under an old and vaguely worded law that prohibits people in possession of such information from disclosing it further.

The reach of this law, which dates from the World War I era, has never been clear. By its terms, it would seem to require every person to protect the government’s secrets — a principle hardly in keeping with the American system of robust public debate. While it is reasonable for the government to demand that its employees and contractors protect the information it entrusts to them, it’s not okay to criminalize discussions among people who do not work, directly or indirectly, for the government. Traditionally, the government has treaded carefully with this law, using it sparingly even against government employees.

And this is how the law was used:

Prosecutors also would make it a crime for private citizens to receive improper leaks — though their brief denies it. In one count, the government charges the AIPAC officials with conspiring with their source, former Pentagon official Lawrence A. Franklin, to have him disclose information to them — and then to disclose it further. In a separate count, Mr. Rosen is charged with aiding and abetting Mr. Franklin’s leak to him by providing a fax number to which to send the material. If this is a crime, then journalists and congressional staffers could be as vulnerable as people who wrongly provide information to a foreign power.

All seriousness, if the law allowed for this, one could easily arrest the NYTimes editorial board for their disclosure of information last year, or other journalists for numerous other things. My personal opinion is that while journalists should be more careful about what they disclose in general by being more responsible (and less about 'breaking stories' or scoring political shots), this would be horrible - and the government typically agrees by not enforcing this law. But for the government to suddenly enforce it here smacks of either anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment.

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