Wednesday, December 31, 2008



Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Depression in the Frum Community

With special thanks to AlanLaz for pointing out the follow-up to the story to me, and to many friends, family, and others for all they've shared over the years.

A young man from Toronto, studying in Ner Israel Rabbinical College (Ner Yisroel) in Baltimore, died yesterday. He was 24 years old; married; and according to all those who knew him, an incredibly wonderful young man.

According to the policeman who witnessed the event, he died when he jumped off the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge on I-95 into the Susquehanna River.

This post is not to talk about his tragic death, but the immediate aftermath. Nearly every Jewish website that reported on the story claimed at the time that the young man had been in a one car crash on the windy bridge and been thrown from his vehicle into the water.*

Phil Jacobs of the Baltimore Jewish Times says it perfectly, and please read his whole piece, as it's so important:
What concerned me the most was the initial public comment that this couldn’t possibly have been a suicide, that it was an accident.
What concerns me is this propensity to cover up.
Because what this does is it discourages others who could be suffering from chronic depression from seeking help. No, not the help that their rav can give them, but the help that a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist could help them with. Or stated differently, the best help the rav could give a troubled soul is a referral to a trained professional.
It is one thing to be sad, but quite another to be depressed. It is one thing to say, “I feel like killing myself,” but it’s quite another to actually find that dark place where a realization that this is “for keeps” still isn’t enough to stop one from ending his life.
There is such a daunting list of reasons why a person living in an insular life wouldn’t seek treatment. I guess going to a “shrink” could end up impacting a relative’s shidduch (dating ability). I guess getting psychological help carries with it a stigma that connects to words such as “weakness” or “instability.”
But then there is the possibility of our old friend arrogance holding power over accountability. If this was, indeed, a suicide, I fear that it was arrogance taking a troubled soul away from us. It’s the same cover, the same hurt that keeps some of us from asking for help we desperately need for ourselves or our loved ones who have been sexually molested, verbally or physically assaulted.
Our rabbis can offer up Rashi or Rambam. But we some need are therapy and yes even medications. That’s not a weakness, that’s a strength that makes sense.
Look around your table this Shabbos. How many people are there? 4? 8? Statistically, slightly over one in four people in this country suffer (about 58 million) from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This rate is not lower in the Orthodox Jewish community. The odds are that around a given Shabbos table, either the person sitting on your right, on your left, across from you, or you yourself, suffer from something like depression**.

I still recall a meal we had once at someone else's house, with a number of others. It might have been a simcha of some sort, I can't recall. The topic of depression came up, and one close friend spoke out against the stigmatizing of it, noting the number just cited of 1 in 4, and then raised their hand stating openly, "Hey, I suffer from depression. I'm also doing what I can to take care of it properly." This was in front of their spouse, family members, and friends. Nobody in the family even blinked - for them, this wasn't a stigma, or "shameful". It was part of life - as with anything, you find someone who can help you and you work at it, whether with therapy, medication, exercise, or something else. I thought this was incredible, and something that is sorely lacking among far too many of us. We stigmatize so much - why? Wouldn't it be better for everyone if all those who needed help felt comfortable seeking it?

A large part of our automatic stigmatizing seems to come from lack of education and fear. We don't understand things like depression, so we're scared of it. Some people think that if someone is depressed they must be somehow "dangerous". Others think that if someone is considered depressed, they must be unhappy, and "who would want to be married to such a person". Sometimes people seem to think that it's "difficult" to deal with someone who suffers from depression. Well, maybe it can be sometimes, and certainly not everyone is equipped to deal with someone who is. Then again, after 4-1/2 years [today!], Serach will tell you that I'm pretty difficult sometimes, and I don't suffer from any mental disorders that I am aware of, and I'm sure that not everyone would be a good match for me, either. (This brings to mind this excellent old post by Pobody's Nerfect - read through the comments.) There's a profound lack of knowledge about depression and an amazing amount of misinformation. I know that I have been corrected many times in the past, and surely I still have much to learn - despite many conversations and having read plenty of material on the subject. The more we know, the easier it is to understand, help, and avoid these stigmas.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I guess it's to repeat what Mr. Jacobs is emphasizing in his article. We need to stop stigmatizing mental illnesses, we need to be encouraging to each other who need it to seek the help they need.
Mental illness needs the same sort of tender loving care. It is not intangible, it hurts. Depression has physical pain in many instances connected to it. It shouldn’t be treated with shame nor embarrassment. Because if it is treated as a stigma, more “amazing, kind, gentle learned men,” could look for bridges to stop their pain instead of seeking our help.

And that cannot be.
* For what it's worth, VIN has since apologized and corrected the story; YeshivaWorld has not.
** I'm picking depression only because it's more common and I'm most familiar with it.

Who Manages YU's Money?

Crain's reported today that YU restated its losses from $110 million to $14.5 million from the Madoff situation, citing incorrect information from Ezra Merkin of Ascot. Reading a bit further, however, shows that YU is still out all the money - merely that the rest of the $110m wasn't originally invested with Merkin/Madoff, but profits they thought they'd gained.

This raises even more questions, not less: Did YU believe it was earning some consistent outrageous percentage every single year, that a $14.5 million investment climbed to $110 million?! Unfortunately, the article doesn't say when the money was invested, but let's put it back as far as 10 years - for the money to have grown that much in that span of time, it would have had to average a 22+% gain every single year! It's hard enough to believe that people didn't catch Madoff's consistent 10%, but at least there he had "audited" financials and (fictional) data that backed up his returns.

If you're managing YU's endowments, and you have money invested through someone (Merkin, in this case), and he tells you that you're earning a huge percentage on your money every year, wouldn't you - even out of curiousity! - ask "Wow, that's amazing, how?!" Wouldn't you wonder if it was too good to be true at some point? Wouldn't you wonder how you're getting that percentage when even the fund it's invested in is only claiming 10-11% each year? And if you don't know that it's invested with Madoff, but think it's with Merkin, wouldn't you be taking a look at their financial statements and trying to figure out how they are up that percentage each year? Was Merkin's Ascot Partners even claiming to return those numbers each year?


Can Digital Media Save Israel?

Our friend Jon (whose job title at Digitas is "Emerging Channels Specialist", so he actually knows this stuff a bit) posits that this is the first digital social war:
In a war, everyone has a story to tell. For the first time ever, we are witnessing the first true digital social war.

The Israeli Government and friends of Israel are working tirelessly to share, inform, converse, gather, socialize, advocate and persuade. While diplomatic channels may be closed, the web is always open.

From a marketers perspective, war is the ultimate PR nightmare.

Israel the brand looks to be gearing up to face this head on.

While certainly every war translates into PR battles all over, and Israel has always had its difficulty fighting this battle with a world seemingly bent on being against Israel, new media may be allowing Israel to show its side of the story - unfiltered by major media outlets or foreign governments. While it was Hezbollah who took better of advantage of devices such as YouTube a couple years ago to quickly put up videos of wounded from an Israeli airstrike, Israel is now doing the same (if not better) to put those airstrikes into context - whether by showing rockets being loaded on a truck in a residential neighborhood or the secondary explosions from an ammunition depot in the heart of a Gazan town. Israel has long been ahead of the Palestinians in power and with its moral standards; if they can stay ahead in public relations, perhaps they can actually win a war.

YouTube Pulls IDF Videos

(Hat tip: Jameel) That didn't take long. YouTube has pulled some of the IDF videos from its site, though there are countless other videos of the same type. Of course they pulled the ones that best showed how Hamas keeps its weaponry smack in the middle of civilian populations, and that Israel does anything but bomb indiscriminately.


Tweet With Israel? & NFL > Congress

Via WBM, this is interesting. The Israeli Consulate is holding a Twitter Press Conference:
[Today], 30 December, from 1-3PM EST, David Saranga, Consul of Media and Public Affairs in New York, will answer your questions about the situation in Israel and Gaza in a “Citizens’ Press Conference.”

You can submit your question by directing it to our Twitter account at . We will do our best to answer through Twitter. If an answer requires more than the 140 character limit, we will respond on Twitter with a link to an answer posted in this blog.

We hope you will be able to join us–tell your friends!!
Elsewhere, in case you didn't know it, the NFL is far superior to Congress in so many ways, not least among them accountability. If only Congress could learn from the NFL how to manage, how to hire and fire, how to hold people accountable, how to utilize resources effectively, and of course, even giving everyone the same assets to start with doesn't mean that everyone will end up the same. In fact, some people manage their assets and operations so badly they lose every last dime time.

As The War Rages

Sorry for no posts considering all that's happening, been a bit under the weather here.

My in-laws, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew are heading to Israel for another nephew's Bar Mitzvah this week. (Mazel Tov to the OurBS, Eh?/Eema2Four family!) Even if they weren't, and even if almost all my living relatives and way too many friends and family friends didn't, it would still be important to know what's going on in Israel this week, as the war with Hamas in Gaza rages on, SO:
  • Jameel and Dave are (as usual) live-blogging as much as possible. They're the best sources of straight up "what's happening" that you'll find, certainly here in the States.
  • Jack has a pair of roundups of some of the better posts about what's happening, so check those out. He's putting together a third one now.
  • If you only have time for a couple people, Treppenwitz has had a few great posts this week that really get to the heart of it all; he also notes what anyone can do to help.
  • ADDeRabbi has probably the shortest, sweetest post that nails the media coverage perfectly. (Eliezer StrongBad also liked this one and pointed it out as well.) On the flip side, Daled Amos notes that this time around is a little better, with Al-Aqsa even showing a Palestinian girl blaming Hamas for all wars. We'll see.
  • I thought this DryBones comic was telling. Read his post, too, but here's the comic:
    Note that this was not written today, but 33 years ago. Some things just have not changed...
  • Finally, one thing the IDF and Israel seem to have realized is that PR is extremely important. To that end, the Israel Defense Force seems to have created a YouTube account - IDFNADESK - and they have been putting up videos of operations being carried out. The videos are very telling, showing just how Hamas situates itself among civilian populations - from ammunition depots to carrying missiles to trucks for transport in the middle of the cities - before showing them being blown off the face of the earth. It's actually mind-boggling that Israel has managed to be as precise as they have been in avoiding civilian casualties. (Trep has a good post on this, actually.) Here's one of the videos:
Please have everyone in Israel and serving in the military in your prayers.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The War Has Started in Israel

Shabbat Morning in Israel -- IAF jets attacked Gaza and the operation has begun.

Jameel is war-blogging again; get the latest up-to-date news at The Muqata.

Shavua Tov, Chodesh Tov, Chanuka Sameach.


PS: let's hope we win this time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

95 Years of Grandma

(Note: I better not be getting the night wrong.)

Tonight my dear grandmother in Cleveland turns 95, as the 5th light of Chanukah is her (Hebrew) birthday. She may not usually remember who I am anymore, but Reb Abe sent me something last night that puts that into perspective, albeit differently, from R' Aviner:
My friend told me a children's story about an 80 year old man who came to a doctor's office for a treatment. He requested that they perform the treatment as quickly as possible because he is in a hurry.

During the treatment the nurse asked: "Where are you hurrying off to? Do you have an important doctor's appointment?"

"No, I am eating with my wife in the hospital?"

"What is wrong with her?"

"She has had Alzheimer's for a few years already."

"And if you are a little late, will she worry?"

"No, she does not understand what is happening to her. For the last five years she does not recognize anyone, not even me."

"And you visit her every morning even though she does not know who you are?" – the nurse said surprisingly.

"She does not know who I am," the man said smiling, "But I know who she is and who she was."
We love you Grandma, and Happy Birthday!! May you have many more years of smiles! :)

And now, the best song of the season, which is worth reposting every year:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Appreciating Miracles, Indeed

JACP has a beautiful post on Chanukah, miracles, and appreciating why things happen. Excerpt:
I walked into the dining room to close the shades now that the Menorah had finished burning, and realized that it was the third night of Chanukah- exactly five years to the day that I met my husband. Seems like ages ago that I met him in pajamas with a huge mask covering my face, but it wasn't, it was only five years ago.

Five years ago it seemed like I was at my worst- like things were never going to get better. Like I was never going to have hair again, never going to finish treatments, never going to get out of the dark.

But then, at a most unexpected time, my miracle began. I met my husband. None of us knew at the time where that meeting would being us five years later, but looking back, I can definitely say that was the start of my miracle.

Or maybe it wasn't.

Chanukah Video #4 - Kids Time

This is from the Shalom School in Sacramento, CA.

I Hate NYC: Part 480,000,001

Firstly, please daven for a couple of people who really need it at this time. I rarely post such things as it can be never ending, but please help out here: My cousin (who I was very close with when I was in Israel) is having (or had?) gall bladder surgery in Israel - Miriam Necha bas Mindel Devorah. Also, an old Rebbe of mine from OJ's son had leukemia 9 years ago and came through with flying colors BH. Last Thursday he was diagnosed with cancer in his stomach and things do not look good for him. His name is Yaakov Yitzchak ben Rut Nechama.

On a slightly different note, it bothers me tremendously that someone can skid, smash three cars, destroying one bumper, and have no problem driving away without leaving a note or anything. It's just disgusting. (So are street parking, horrible city plowing, expensive rent, and heat you can't control, to varying levels.)

Meanwhile, the New York Yankees now have the four highest-paid players in baseball. This bothers me - not because the Yankees are taking advantage of the system that is in place, which is their right to do, but because the system is horrible. Capitalism is amazing for an economy in general - but nobody wants capitalism like that within sports! We want each team to have a reasonable chance, at least at the outset, and those who run their teams better and play better should win. It's why football is the best sport by a large margin.

Some people are complaining about the Yankees spending so much when the NY economy is so bad, and there are record numbers of unemployed or homeless people in the city - which sounds stupid on the face of it. What does one have to do with the other? They should destroy their business because other people lost their jobs and money? That doesn't make sense. But that said, it does bother me anyway, and this post (via Deadspin) sums it up perfectly:
As of 4pm today, the Yankees have spent $423 million dollars on free agents this offseason. New York now has a record number of homeless families. Six months ago, the Yankees asked the city of New York for an additional $480 million dollars to fund that new piece of crap stadium. They bulldozed parks that used to be playgrounds for the children of the South Bronx. There were plenty of shady backroom deals involving the market value of Yankee stadum.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, NYC taxpayers. Get angry, because you should be.

How much is too much? Personally, I'm done with baseball, until they implement a salary cap. It's officially out of control.

3rd Day of Chanukah

Some good stuff to start the day:
  • PsychoToddler took part once again in an online holiday concert, and I thought it was really good.
  • BeyondBT with a good post on how Judaism should be fun.
  • They also had a good post yesterday on what can be done to avoid the feeling of being "judged" on the part of non-religious people when discussing religion.
  • Stam sent me this hilarious post on latkes. Just enjoy the language. :) [Clean!]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chanukah Video #3 - I Am A Good Boy

Elianna keeps informing me that I am a "good boy", whether it is for blowing on my soup as ordered or responding to her "Boker Tov" (though it's dark out) as ordered. And "that's better" when I let her help me make a line on a piece of paper as opposed to trying it myself.

Tonight's videos for your enjoyment on this third night of Chanukah:
  • RafiG has three videos, but I like the first one best;
  • Dave has a somewhat funny clip on the second candle;
  • and I get sent things sometimes in the hopes that I'll write about them. I was sent "Songs in the Key of Hanukkah", which looks pretty interesting and far better than most of what I get, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. From what I have heard of it, I'm betting that people who like the styles of music in general will love it, while others simply won't be interested except for a song or two. It was certainly put together really well (by Ali G/Sasha Baron Cohen's brother Erran Baron Cohen, interestingly, who is in the video below), and includes people like Idan Raichel (remember "Bo-i"?), Y-Love, Jules Brookes, and Yasmin Levy. Now, if someone can explain why every video uses Chassidim, I'd love to hear it - meanwhile, this is pretty entertaining:


First Suicide From Madoff

This is sad, and it's easy to imagine it won't be the only one:
A founder of a hedge fund that lost as much as $1.4 billion in the alleged Bernard Madoff scheme committed suicide in his New York City office, according to several media reports.

Rene-Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet of Access International Advisors was found dead early Tuesday morning, reported French business paper La Tribune, Bloomberg News and The New York Times.

The 65-year-old Villehuchet had lost as much as $1.4 billion invested with Madoff, the Tribune reported.
Via Dealbreaker and FoxNews.

2nd Day of Chanukah

There's so much inspiration in life if people simply wish to see it.

It's amazing how much we have going on this Chanukah, when we were thinking it would be a rather quiet one. After Ed's vort on Sunday, we had a party last night at my grandparents with my brother, SIL, and Ben, Hen, and Shen; on our way out, my grandmother happens to slide in that "Oh, we're moving to a retirement community in Philadelphia*". Oh, really? When? "Oh, we're starting to pack now, it'll be 2-3 months." I call my mother, and did she know? No, of course not. Ahh, family. Meanwhile, I loved how this photo came out - it's one of my great-grandfather's paintings behind my grandfather's menorah.
This morning, I attended a bris of the son of friends of ours. What's especially nice is that the family of the mother was one which I am particularly close to, and as they live out in the Milwaukee tundra, we only see each other when they have a family simcha here. Tonight, Serach is eating out with a friend while I may go to the Lander chagiga; and we're invited to/part of six more chagigot, birthday and graduation parties, a kiddush, and a bar mitzvah before Chanukah is over. A couple weeks ago, we had nothing in mind but the visit to my grandparents. Life can change fast...

There are some really nice pieces out there today, so enjoy them, and again, Happy Chanukah:
  • The Jewish Week has a great piece on R' Horowitz: The Teen Whisperer.
  • David Linn has a nice story about his grampa's menorah.
  • Erachet writes a fascinating story about a (non-religious) woman who wanted to celebrate Chanukah with her daughter, and got it wrong - but so right.
  • Northern Light notes some interesting details and sensitivities from her recent trip to the White House. I think it shows how attention to details can matter, even if nobody would really care, and it's really nice.
  • Great quote:
    Chance favors those in motion. ~ James H. Austin
  • Jewlicious hosts Haveil Havalim #197!
  • Gil discusses what mussar should and shouldn't be learned by/about YU from the Madoff story (quoting the NYT piece).
* One interesting twist on why we care a bit: My grandparents are Conservative, with my grandfather leaning more to the Orthodox side and my grandmother more to the Reform. They'd been looking at two communities - one in Cleveland, which is for everyone but the shul is Orthodox; the one in Philly has a woman rabbi and is less religious, and my grandfather would probably be less comfortable there. But available is available, and they really shouldn't be living completely on their own in icy Queens.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chanukah Video #2 & Fantasy Football Finish

For tonight's present, I enjoyed this video entitled Pass The Candle:
It's cute, with mostly self-submitted videos that people gave in response to a YouTube request for the video; I recognize a couple of bloggers in there, actually.

This year was a fascinating year for fantasy football, where the drafts meant nothing and the pickups were everything. And now, this year's results:
  • My brother-in-law and I run a team together each year, and each year, we seem to start slow, make a run, and fall short. And he's not even from Cleveland! This year was no different, with a horrible team that still was in the race after a one-point win in Week 9 to improve to 5-4 - followed by a two-point loss in Week 10, and one-point losses in both Week 13 AND Week 14 to finish 6-8.
  • More importantly, we also run a league for a bunch of friends; in Season Two, my good friend BeardedMan beat SerandEz' own Squooshball in the Super Bowl this week for the championship trophy (and its accompanying winnings).
  • Finally, in the J-blogger league NoyG put together, G defeated Squooshball in the semifinals before destroying Eliezer StrongBad this weekend in the Super Bowl. (Sorry, but that was destruction.)
All that's left for me now is my old office pool, where I will be in fourth, four points back of the leader, going into Week 17. Top six win something, with first place worth a little more than a month of KGH rent... Week 1's last place finish may come back to bite me hard, as I've had the most points from Week 2 onward.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 1st Day of Chanukah

I got sent an email pitching a book by some website today, and the pitch had a link which included some great quotes. One of the best:
It’s our attitude in life that determines life’s attitude toward us. ~ Earl Nightingale
I've posted many Chanukah videos and links in past years, some which are really fun and entertaining, so feel free to peruse the archives... I'm always partial to this candles "choir". :) Meanwhile, people like R' Gil at Hirhurim have great stuff from the past years, from halacha to history to other interesting posts. Elsewhere...
  • President Bush over the last number of years has written a personal letter to every family of every soldier who has been killed while serving in the Middle East (about 4,000). That's truly an amazing, heartfelt gesture by a President.
  • Great post on SoccerDad noting that the question (upon the death of Mark Felt, the Watergate "Deep Throat") is not whether the media could uncover such a scandal now, but if they would.
  • This blog recorded hit #350,000 this morning. Thanks to all the SerandEz writers, readers, commenters, lurkers, and of course, friends!!

Dr. Seuss' Hanukkah...

...I am G

G I am...

That Rabbi Flax!
That Rabbi Flax!
I do not like
that Rabbi Flax!

Do you light candles of wax?

I do not light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

Would you light them here or there?

I would not light them here or there.
I would not light them anywhere.
I do not like light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

Would you light them in your house?
Would you light them for your spouse?

I do not light them in my house.
I do not light them for my spouse.
I do not light them here or there.
I do not light them anywhere.
I do not light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

Would you light Telzies* from that box?
Would you light them in your sox?

Not from that box.
Not in my sox.
Not in my house.
Not for my spouse.
I would not light them here or there.
I would not light them anywhere.
I would not light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

Would you? Could you?
In a car?
Light them! Light them!
Here they are.

I would not, could not, in a car.

You may like them.
You will see.
You may light them in a tree!

I would not, could not in a tree.
Not in a car! You let me be.
I do not light them from that box.
I do not light them in my sox.
I do not light them in my house.
I do not light them for my spouse.
I do not light them here or there.
I do not light them anywhere.
I do not light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

A train! A train!
A train! A train!
Could you, would you, on a train?

Not on a train! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! Flax! Let me be!
I would not, could not, from that box.
I could not, would not, in my sox.
I will not light them for my spouse.
I will not light them in my house.
I will not light them here or there.
I will not light them anywhere.
I do not light candles of wax.
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

In the dark? Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?

I would not, could not, in the dark.

Would you, could you, in the rain?

I would not, could not, in the rain.
Not in the dark. Not on a train.
Not in a car. Not in a tree.
I do not light them, Flax, you see.
Not in my house. Not from that box.
Not for my spouse. Not in my sox.
I will not light them here or there.
I do not light them anywhere!

You do not light candles of wax?

I do not light them, Rabbi Flax.

Could you, would you, with a goat?

I would not, could not, with a goat!

Would you, could you, on a boat?

I could not, would not, on a boat.
I will not, will not, with a goat.
I will not light them in the rain.
I will not light them on a train.
Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! You let me be!
I do not like them from that box.
I do not light them in my sox.
I will not light them in my house.
I do not light them for my spouse.
I do not light them here or there.
I do not light them ANYWHERE!
I do not light candles of wax!
I do not like them, Rabbi Flax.

You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.

If you will let me be, I will try them.
You will see.

I like candles of wax!
I do! I like them, Rabbi Flax!
And I would light them in a boat.
And I would light them with a goat...
And I will light them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good, so good, you see!
So I will light them from that box.
Yet still not light them in my sox.
And I will light them in my house.
And I will light them for my spouse.
And I will light them here and there.
Say! I will light them ANYWHERE!

I do so like
candles of wax!
Thank you!
Thank you,
Rabbi Flax!

*v'hamevin yavin ;)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Special Chanukah Video

If you have not yet done so, please read Stam's post below. It's a beautiful story.

Today we had the opportunity to attend Special Ed's very special engagement party. Besides Special Ed and his lucky girl (see, I can be nice, too!), we only knew one person there, C2. Elianna - after a second delay - quickly did her "symbol" and proceeded to have a grand old time parading around. A couple quick funnies from the party:
Ezzie: We actually only met (SpEd's fiancee, Ed2B) once, and we probably scared her.
C2: Yeah, she's way too normal for you guys.

Ed2B: Ed, come here! {snaps, smiling}
SpEd: [dutifully comes over]
Ezzie: (cracks up)
All in all, it was really nice, SpEd & Ed2B are great together, Elianna already seems to love her more than she loves Ed, and we had a great time. We then came home, stopping quickly to get some more Chanukah supplies before lighting. For Kayla, it was her first ever Chanukah, and she was fascinated by the lights. For Elianna, it was her first Chanukah where she really understood anything about what was going on, she had her very own menorah, and she got to "light" it! ("Only Daddy and Imma can touch fire, right?") And of course, good parents (and children) that we are... we videoed it, complete with a glimpse of the best menorah ever:
Happy Chanukah to all!!

A Small Taste of Home

My husband, M, lived in Israel for two years while attending Yeshiva. It's been about two years since he got back and he misses it more than ever. Every time we go to the mall we get a little taste of what he misses so much. Our local mall has 7 kiosks run by Israelis, most of them positioned near each other. The calls of "Shalom, achi!" and sales pitches flood us as we pass by. While I understand a lot of Ivrit, I am still pretty shy and most definitely not comfortable to converse b'Ivrit. M on the other hand can speak an almost flawless Ivrit. So we always stop to chat with them as we pass by, invite them for a Shabbos meal, and offer help with anything they might need.

One of the guys, R, actually called M up a few weeks ago to inquire about mezuzot for his new apartment. M collected a few and went over one night to help R hang the mezuzot.

A few weeks ago, M decided he wanted to do something for the Israelis to bring them a taste of home. They are all in America without their families and no Jewishness around them. Our original plan to bake sufganiot didn't work out as planned, but luckily a local business brought in a shipment from Beigel's in NY. We ordered tin chanukiot and colored chanukah candles from NY, photocopied the brachot, and wrote out cards out that said "Chanukah Sameach!" with our names and phone number.

We were expecting snow storms starting on Friday and lasting through the weekend, so Thursday night we packed up all the goodies and drove our reindeer to the mall. Our first stop was R, since he was familiar with us. He couldn't believe it. We stopped by each kiosk passing out the gifts. The last thing we pulled out at each stop were the sufganiot.

The Israeli kiosk neighbors pulled in closer to watch the show. The people in the stores nearby watched with interest. As we handed out the goodies the Israelis were shrieking with excitement. Chanukiya! Aizeh chamud!

They started singing Chanukah songs, the men shook M's hand and the girls hugged me. One group insisted on taking a picture with us. Many of them hadn't even thought about Chanukah. Almost every single Israeli said they had to call their parents to tell them they would be lighting a chanukiya this year. And almost every single Israeli asked us if we were Chabad.

M was friendly with one of the men that sold Dead Sea products ("Seacret"), Y. Every time M would pass the kiosk A would try to reel him in to buy something for his wife. M got away with it by saying I was very picky about smells, etc. In the middle of all the excitement last night, Y pulled M aside to ask which scent I liked better. M said he didn't know so A shoved a few tubes of lotion under my nose. He went into his whole sales pitch about supporting Israel by purchasing their products. We were laughing that even at a time like this Y could be so determined. We asked if he had read the NYT article on Israeli mall workers and he laughed. The next thing we knew, Y put a set of products into a bag and said "Happy Chanukah!". He threw in some manly mud soap for M too.

We distributed 15 chanukiot and about 2 dozen sufganiot, but the reactions were priceless. Everyone was so excited and happy to have that small taste of home, it felt nice to be the ones to cause that happiness. A few even promised to come for a Shabbat meal too.

Chanukah Sameach!

post script: After we left the mall some friends of ours went. Each kiosk stopped them to ask if they knew Stam & M. The couple decided we must go to the mall waaaay too often, until the found out what had happened earlier in the evening.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Lines From A Snow Shabbos

SJ to Elianna: Do you eat clothes?
Elianna to SJ: Nooo... I eat SJs!
Chana: I think people are pretty miserable most of the time.
Elianna (holding out her hands to SJ): Come here SJ baby squoosh!

Friday, December 19, 2008

This is GOOD :D

From all of us here at SerandEz, we'd like to wish a huge [no pun intended!] Mazel Tov to Special Ed on his engagement!! We love you Ed, and to his dear fiance, as Serach said: You will definitely be getting Olam Haba for this one.

For everyone else - she's a really nice girl, we met her and we think we scared her pretty bad, and to show her greatness... well, she said Yes to Ed!

All kidding aside, a hearty mazel tov, you guys are really great, and we'll see you really soon. :)

This is bad.

Whatever your position is on the Rubashkins, guilty or not, the fact that they are denying Shlomo Rubashkin bail because he is Jewish is a HUGE problem.

From the WSJ:
The Justice Department is contending that a Jewish defendant in Iowa should be denied bail in part because he, like all Jews, is entitled to Israeli citizenship if he seeks to immigrate to the Jewish state.

The argument against the defendant, Sholom Rubashkin, could in theory apply to all Jewish criminal suspects. Mr. Rubashkin faces multiple charges related to the alleged hiring of illegal immigrants at a kosher meatpacking plant he formerly headed in Postville, Iowa.

So no Jewish defendant is ever going to be able to be released on bail, because the Law of Return in Israel makes him or her too much of a flight risk? What happened to surrendering a passport? And the U.S. and Israel do have an extradition treaty in place.

This is worrisome.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/17: Humbling, Hilarious, and Horrible

Before the other links... that documentary series in Britian on SkyNews about Jews in the Manchester community mentioned earlier is truly riveting. I watched Episodes I and II earlier, and they were rather well done, mostly letting the people speak and describe in their view what they're doing. I is mostly about Kashrus and kind of sets a tone; II is about Shabbos, Pesach, niddah/sex, shidduchim, and more.
  • Interesting article about a video on eating disorders in the Orthodox community.
  • Imagine being told you've been accepted to graduate school... then finding out the acceptance letter was a mistake. Ouch.
  • Wolf's posting good stuff as always, but check out the first comment on this post. It's freaking amazing.
  • Sephardi Lady reprints a great comment from her blog.
  • Scraps has the mark of an out-of-towner. I love it.

Madoff, Regulations, & Jews

The Wall Street Journal today seems to be dedicated to discussing Bernie Madoff's $50 billion scheme, and a few pieces are particularly interesting and worth reading by readers here:
  • To Catch A Thief details how regulation upon regulation missed Madoff (and the confidence in regulation let many investors assume they were safe), while the only ones who were wary were investors who did their own digging. We see over and over that it is not regulation which stops frauds but investors who don't rely on regulations to catch it.
  • Madoff exploited the Jews discusses how he took advantage of trust within the community to avoid hard scrutiny. Sad but important to recognize.
  • The Madoff Inheritance utilizes the play The Voysey Inheritance to note that the past year, from the housing mess to Madoff, teaches us a lesson:
    A big lesson of the past year is that we all should be talking more about money. One reason we don't talk about money is we are afraid of what we might learn. Mr. Madoff's contented investors are hardly different from the apparently uncountable number of people who put down 5% for a large mortgage without wondering, How does this work?
    I love this last line:
    "It's strange the number of people who believe you can do right by means which they know to be wrong."
Check them out.

Series on Orthodox Jewry in Britian (Video)

Hat tip: Raggedy Dad.

This is fascinating. It seems Sky News in Great Britain did a piece on the Manchester Jewish Community, trying to explain and show the lives of British Orthodox Jews to the public. Here's Episode I Part I; there should be links to the rest at the end of each video or on YouTube. I'm in the middle of the first part, and it's interesting to see how they're portraying it, mostly letting the Rabbonim talk and explain things clearly. I'm not sure about all of it, but a quick glance suggests they're mostly covering the more yeshivish community there... It is very nice to see that the members of the Manchester Beth Din are so willing to take part in the piece.

(Just to add... it seems a large portion of it is focused on Kosher but utilized to explain how life in general is viewed and practiced.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Modern Orthodox Meshulachim...

...don't laugh, they may be coming to a community near you sooner than you think.

I know that my brain works in a funny way most of the time - but this may be pushing the envelope for taking things too far and twisting them even for me...NEVERTHELESS, we push on (yeah, I ditched that umbrella wielding, top-hat wearing nuisance of a cricket a looooooong time ago)

Okay, so we all have heard about the current economic downturn, the impact that it has already had on the jewish community at large and forecasts for what may be coming in the near future. Given this new reality my ever sarcastic and negatively spinning brain came up with the following scenario and attached question:

It is not beyond possible that institutions from within the Modern Orthodox world (schools, programs, whatever etc.) that to this point had been able to support themselves based solely on donations and standard forms of fund raising may no longer be able to do so. I don't think it would shock anybody if we assume that much of that money came from affluent businessmen/proffesionals or companies - people and entities that may no longer be able to give as much as they once did in the not too distant past. This could, in theory, lead said institutions to consider entry into a field that to this point (as far as I know and have seen) has been used only by the more yeshivish/charedi community...that of sending meshulachim out around the country to raise money.

Here comes the you think that the members of the yeshivish/chareidi community, who are always quick to say that everyone needs to support the mosdos that they are collecting for even if you may not associate yourself with them or use them or even support their ideals because after all it's a yiddishe tzeddakah and we are all yidden after all - these same people who do not hesitate to come collecting in the neighborhoods of people who they under normal circumstances would never WANT to interact with or deign to associate themselves with - will they sing the same tune and come across with THEIR hard earned (or otherwise obtained) money when it's the guy with the srugi or suade yarmulka sitting across the table trying to raise money for a school with Rambam in its name, a shul with Young Israel in its title, any institution that aligns itself with YU or any other of the various mosdos that fall with the Modern Orthodox community.

Will we all still be yidden then? Will they all be yiddishe tzeddakos then? Will everyone be responsible for helping another yid regardless of whether or not you agree with their stance then? - this is the type of stuff that rattles around inside my head at times like these...yeah, I know, I need help.

YU Letter About Madoff ($110 Million Lost)

The following is the letter President Richard Joel of YU sent out regarding the investments YU had with disgraced ex-Sy Syms School of Business chairman Bernard Madoff as placed there by YU trustee and investment chairman J. Ezra Menkin. The basic summary: 8% of the YU endowment was with Ascot Partners (Menkin), which invested that all with Madoff. The net loss from that is $110 million, which added to previous losses amounts this year comes out as a 28% loss this year, from $1.7 billion to $1.2 billion. YU has hired a law firm to help investigate and set a higher standard of conflict policies and procedures and governance structures.

Full letter on expand.

Dear Yeshiva University Community,

I would like to speak with you, members of the Yeshiva University Community, about recent events in the news. As a result of the last week's revelations regarding Bernard Madoff, much concern and speculation has arisen regarding Yeshiva University. I write to you to make our situation clear.

Before going further let me reassure you:
  • 1. The University is financially strong.
  • 2. Be assured that our levels of scholarships and financial aid will not diminish.
  • 3. Yeshiva University staff pensions are not impacted by this revelation.
  • 4. Our leadership, faculty and students are engaged and advancing.
  • 5. We will learn all appropriate lessons from this experience.
  • 6. We have been engaged over the last two months in reviewing our budgets to seek ways to cut our operating costs due to global economic realities. We will continue to do so and remain committed to advancing our crucial mission of providing an education that ennobles and enables our students
Bernard Madoff is no longer associated with our institution in any way. The University had no investments directly with Madoff. Last Thursday night, we were informed by Ascot Partners, a vehicle in which we had invested a small part of our endowment funds for 15 years, that substantially all its assets are invested with Madoff. The Ascot fund was managed by J. Ezra Merkin who has served as a University trustee and chairman of the investment committee. Mr. Merkin has resigned from all University positions.

In the most recent statement from Ascot, Yeshiva's investment was valued at about $110 million, which represents about 8% of our endowment. While these facts are disappointing, we need to remain focused on the larger picture. We are but one of many institutions and individuals that have been impacted.

Let me be clear regarding our financial position: the University's endowment, taking into account the Ascot loss, is currently estimated to be approximately $1.2 billion, down from approximately $1.7 billion on January 1, 2008. That loss of 28%, calendar year-to-date, compares with an S&P loss of 38% and Dow Jones loss of 32%. While certainly this represents a painful decline, we are in the same or better position as many universities. Although this decreased endowment must factor into our long term fiscal plans, it will have minimal impact on day-to-day operations. Total income from endowment last year represented 13% of the University's operating income. Much more critical to our future health is the continued level of financial support from the YU family, philanthropists, and friends. So, while we are in a healthy and strong position to move forward, we must use the moment to address all concerns that this situation has illuminated.

In light of recent developments, we have decided to examine our existing conflicts policies and procedures, and governance structures. To assist us in this process, we have engaged Sullivan & Cromwell and Cambridge Associates, internationally renowned and respected institutions with recognized expertise in corporate and institutional governance, to ensure that our policies, procedures and structure reflect not only best practices, but the gold standard -- the standard to which we aspire for all our endeavors. We will be working closely with our advisors over the coming weeks and months and I'm confident that we'll emerge stronger than ever.

I must add a more personal thought. We all should use these times to reflect on our blessings but also to reflect on our responsibilities. We should constantly be communally introspective and focus on advancing our ideals. The times are appropriate for us to focus on our core values, to practice and refine them and to share them with the world. We can and should always advance. Yeshiva University is committed to engaging in that conversation with other people of good will. I thank you for your interest, commitment and support.


Richard M. Joel

President, Yeshiva University

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Molestation Targets

R' Horowitz sent the following information to me, in light of recent news and posts:
Which age group is most often targeted by child molesters?

In the interviews I conducted, the majority of molesters cited a preference for children on the brink of puberty. This is the age of sexual awakening, making it easy for molesters to prey on the sexual curiosity and ignorance of youngsters. To quote one of the predators I interviewed, "Give me a kid who knows nothing about sex, and you've given me my next victim."

While we as parents are inclined to give pre-teen children more freedom and less supervision, this age group is actually the most vulnerable to abuse and abduction. We must talk frankly and often to our children about "the birds and the bees" and not allow child molesters to educate our children for us.

How To Reach R' Horowitz

R' Yaakov Horowitz, director of Project YES and Darchei Noam, oft-mentioned on this blog, has decided to set aside specific hours to make it easier for people to reach him (in addition to whatever normal ways there are to leave messages for him at any time). He also asks anyone to give whatever suggestions they have to make it easier, while already asking that people try to follow some guidelines to make it more streamlined. Please read the whole post. Excerpt:
In order to allow you to contact me directly, I am designating an hour each evening to taking calls such as yours – from 10-11 p.m. EST Sunday-Thursday (and for our readers in Eretz Yisroel and Europe, from 6:45-7:30 am Tuesdays and Fridays) on a dedicated cell phone – 845-825-6600. I will be the only one answering that phone and everything you discuss with me will, of course, be treated in the strictest confidence. This phone does not accept voice mail messages and there is no call waiting so we can speak without the interruption of the ‘beeping’ sound that generates. (I will do my best to keep the phone on one hour before and one hour after Shabbos EST. Please only call then if it is urgent.) ...

As I note in that column; I find it most helpful when I know from the get-go what it is that you wish me to help you with. So, I ask that you begin our conversation by informing me that you have read the Answers about Questions column and what your question is. Something like, “I need some advice on deciding whether or not to send our son to Eretz Yisroel,” is perfect.
He also discusses advice about schooling and who to contact for that and more. Again, please read this and pass it along.

Gedolim Or Bust... interesting interview with Rabbi Yaakov Haber of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY and Torah Lab about the state of jewish education today, how we got here and were he thinks we need to go:

H: So it’s we, the parents and teachers, who are responsible for “kids at risk”?

RH: I don’t think the issue is “kids at risk.” That expression is used because it makes us feel good. It implies that it’s the kids’ fault, that something is wrong with them. The underlying assumption is that the system is okay, just something went wrong with this or that kid who “fell through the cracks.” Really, the opposite is true. They are being pushed through, not cracks, but gaping ditches and huge holes. We have to decide if we’re willing to lose them.

H: You make it sound as if we were making a conscious decision of some kind to send them away…

RH: That’s right. They are lost by design. Our educational system is elitist. It caters to the brightest students. Most teachers do not pay much attention to the average and below-average students. Those who do not excel academically are offered no option. Everything is stigmatized. To tell a kid to get vocational training is tantamount to calling him mentally retarded. Or in Israel to serve in the army, is like telling him he’s a failure. The kids understand this and feel rejected. They say to themselves, “I don’t see myself in this system, so I’ll find my own way.” They find their way on the streetcorners of Har Nof and Ben Yehuda.

H: How did this elitism come about?

RH: There was a decision made after the Holocaust that Yiddishkeit in the U.S. and Israel has to be rebuilt. And that meant producing gedolim, the next Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the next Brisker Rav. And I’ve heard it said that it was understood, perhaps even stated at the time, that since not everybody is going to be a gadol b’Torah, “we are going to have to lose a few.”

What took place over the next forty years was the rise of an elitist system. When I was growing up and went to school, the teachers would speak to the average student, trying to involve and reach everyone in the class. But in an educational system geared to the elite, the teacher cares primarily about the geniuses, certainly not the slower students.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 12/16

  • R' Enkin at Hirhurim discusses whether one should make the blessings when lighting for a public Chanukah menorah lighting. I found it especially interesting after watching the White House Chanukah event, where you should listen closely to Ben-Gurion's grandson making the bracha. President Bush spoke very nicely, and I think that it's interesting to see him making comments about Truman which would in theory somewhat apply to him sometime in the future as well. Kol Zimra sang after the grandsons of Truman and Ben-Gurion lit the menorah.
    (Thanks Greg for this video link.)
  • Jewlicious totals the losses to Jewish organizations from Madoff at at least $600 million, with possibly as much as $1.5 billion.
  • JoshWaxman linked to this interesting piece about getting images directly from people's brains. Could be cool if true... also could be scary.
  • Cool photo on SoccerDad.
  • Forgot this one I saw yesterday which is excellent: Bas~Melech has some really specific points and suggestions regarding the education system that seem quite wise to me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

God Hates Clevelanders (Somewhat)

The world is a cruel, cruel place. Especially if you're from Cleveland.
Some people think that God's cruelty is felt by the homeless; the poor; the horribly injured. This is certainly true, to an extent... but it seems that in a way, far worse cruelties are felt by those who, like Charlie Brown, constantly have that football whisked away right as they're about to kick it. "This time will be different!", they cry. But this time is no different... This time is just as bad as every other time until now has been.

And now on to the serious part of this post: Cleveland sports fans' luck (also known as nonexistent). Earlier in the year, in the NFL spread pool I've run for over a decade, a friend from Cleveland who is in the pool noted that he had placed within 3 points of the weekly leader five times. He had won a total of $5, tying for second place once. He is currently third overall in the pool... a spot that would win a total of $30, not the $300 or $100 that the first two spots win. Even there, he is barely clinging to the spot.

Meanwhile, I have won the pool twice this season. Of course, two deadbeats decided not to pay (yet continue to put picks in each week) - so as the manager, I'm only covering those losses. One of those wins of mine was last week - I went back to how I used to pick, going a bit higher on close-but-I-know-they'll-still-win games and lower on the others. I did the same this week, and early on, it looked like I had the week locked up and by a large margin, so long as some crazy things didn't happen.

But they did. St. Louis blew a huge lead and lost in OT to Seattle. Kansas City blew a 21-3 lead and went down 22-21, then still had a chance to pull it out, but missed a game-winning FG. The Bills had the lead and the ball, the Jets couldn't stop the run, so... the Bills tried to throw, fumbled, and it was run back for a TD. Then they threw an interception. Tennessee was down 1 with two minutes left, and rather than taking a field goal to take the lead, inexplicably went for it on fourth down and missed, never getting the ball back. Washington fumbled on the 2-inch line when they were down a TD against Cincinatti. And perhaps worst of all, as a Clevelander, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a call very questionably overturned, winning them not only the game but the division. Had almost any two of these games had different outcomes, I'd be in far better shape.

To top it off, I'm also in my old office's pool. The Ravens-Steelers overturned call not only hurt me in my own pool, it cost me a clear-cut win in the office pool. But wait! I could still win! All I needed was the Browns-Eagles game to be low-scoring, as the tiebreaker is total points on Monday Night Football. I had 27 (just to be on the low end), while the person who I was tied with had 44. With 10 minutes remaining, and the Eagles up 30-3, they stopped the Browns and put in backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to finish up the game. They weren't trying to score, just trying to run out the clock. They could hand it off every play.

But noooo... they passed... and it was intercepted.. and run back for a touchdown... to make it 30-10. Not only had I lost the tiebreaker, but I had lost it on a BROWNS' touchdown - a low probability, pointless, defensive touchdown by my own favorite team.

I still have saved on my phone a message, left for me on the day the Indians were eliminated from a shot at a division title thanks to a fly ball lost in the sun, by a good friend of mine (and G's). Howie, who is a complete pessimist about all Cleveland teams, said simply: "Hi - you don't need to call me back. I just called to say I told you so."

The world is a cruel, cruel place. Especially if you're from Cleveland.

Just Keep Quiet and Nobody Will Notice

A friend sent me this poem by Ogden Nash, and I enjoyed immensely. Feel free to say what you think!

There is one thing that ought to be taught in all the colleges,
Which is that people ought to be taught not to go around always making apologies.
I don't mean the kind of apologies people make when they run over you or borrow five dollars or step on your feet,
Because I think that is sort of sweet;
No, I object to one kind of apology alone,
Which is when people spend their time and yours apologizing for everything they own.
You go to their house for a meal,
And they apologize because the anchovies aren't caviar or the partridge is veal;
They apologize privately for the crudeness of the other guests,
And they apologize publicly for their wife's housekeeping or their husband's jests;
If they give you a book by Dickens they apologize because it isn't by Scott,
And if they take you to the theater, they apologize for the acting and the dialogue and the plot;
They contain more milk of human kindness than the most capacious diary can,
But if you are from out of town they apologize for everything local and if you are a foreigner they apologize for everything American.
I dread these apologizers even as I am depicting them,
I shudder as I think of the hours that must be spend in contradicting them,
Because you are very rude if you let them emerge from an argument victorious,
And when they say something of theirs is awful, it is your duty to convince them politely that it is magnificent and glorious,
And what particularly bores me with them,
Is that half the time you have to politely contradict them when you rudely agree with them,
So I think there is one rule every host and hostess ought to keep with the comb and nail file and bicarbonate and aromatic spirits on a handy shelf,
Which is don't spoil the denouement by telling the guests everything is terrible, but let them have the thrill of finding it out for themselves.

Madoff's Victims

The impact of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme on the Jewish community is going to be huge. Collecting from a bunch of different sources... (Bloomberg's link has some of the numbers for the hedge funds who were invested with Madoff - insane.) And the New York Times has a piece from Palm Beach which is just sad.
  • Two charities have shut their doors:
    The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass., announced Dec. 12 that it would close after losing $8 million -- all of its money -- through investments with Madoff. And the Chais Family Foundation, which gives out some $12.5 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, announced Dec. 14 that it had closed after losing all of its money through investments with Madoff.
  • Yeshiva University has lost "tens of millions, if not more", which it had invested with Madoff - who was the Chairman at Sy Syms School of Business. Rumor has it that it's around $150 million, on top of the $400 million they'd announced they'd lost recently due to the market.
  • Lots of individual Jews around the country were invested with him:
    The investor was close to a number of prominent Jewish donors, both on Wall Street and elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal reported that members of the Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton and the Palm Beach Country Club in Palm Beach were heavily invested with Madoff's firm. Both clubs are heavily Jewish.
  • During golf-course and cocktail-party banter, Mr. Madoff's name frequently surfaced as a money manager who could consistently deliver high returns. Older, Jewish investors called Mr. Madoff " 'the Jewish bond,' " says Ken Phillips, head of a Boulder, Colo., investment firm. "It paid 8% to 12%, every year, no matter what."
  • Merkin, who last week told investors in his hedge fund, Ascot Partners, that all of their money had been defrauded by Madoff, is of particular interest to the Jewish community. He has philanthropic ties to a number of Jewish organizations and institutions, serving as an investment adviser for many of them, including Y.U. Among other causes that he is said to be connected to are the SAR Academy -- a Jewish day school in the Bronx -- as well as State of Israel Bonds, The Jewish Campus Life Fund, Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, The Ramaz School, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.
  • North Shore - LIJ Health System lost $5 million.
  • There is no evidence that either Mr. Shapiro, who is 95 and joined the club in 1974, or his son-in-law, Mr. Jaffe, who is 64 and joined in 1992, knew of the fraud. Both men, who give millions every year to countless charities, are also said to have been duped of hundreds of millions of their own money, according to friends of their families.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Light Up The World

No, no, nothing too deep. That just happens to be the title of PsychoToddler's latest CD, out in time for Chanukah - check it out and buy one!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fire at Nageela, donations needed

Last Thursday, the Suri Schwartz Experience Center located in Fallsburg, NY, suffered a devastating fire. The Center is owned by JEP of Long Island and houses Camp Nageela during the summer. During the winter months, it is either rented out to other Orthodox groups for weekend retreats or is used for JEP's own kiruv Shabbatons. An electrical fire in the building destroyed the dining room and part of the kitchen. Thank God, no guests were on the site at the time of the fire and all the workers made it out unharmed. The damage, however, is extraordinary, and the cost to repair it is well beyond the means of JEP's tiny budget.

JEP is a non-profit organization which provides educational and recreational activities for irreligious Jewish children and families. Their programs include Shabbatons, family weekend retreats, Yom Tov (holiday) programs and Hebrew schools throughout Long Island, NYC, and New Jersey. Camp Nageela boasts more than 100 campers during both girls half and boys half of the summer who come from as far away as Florida, Texas, and even Alaska . I have personally volunteered for JEP for over 6 years and have witnessed the countless people affected by their warmth and enthusiasm toward Judaism. Children who never heard of a Sukkah are now making posters at their weekly Hebrew school parties. Families who have never experienced Shabbos now enjoy inspirational lectures over weekend retreats while their children listen to stories of the Parsha and play games with the counselors they all love. I have former campers who are now learning in Orthodox high schools and even in seminaries in Israel, and I can name many families who have become observant through the influence of JEP. The success stories abound.

Anyone who is able to send a donation will surely be appreciated. The Gemara says that anyone who helps save a Jewish soul is likened to saving an entire world. May Hashem help JEP to get through this challenge and continue to touch Jewish lives around the world.

JEP's website:

More pictures of the fire:

Oh My Goodness ($50 Billion)

UPDATE: Madoff is also the chairman at YU's Sy Syms School of Business. I'd assume that will now be a was.

That's what Elianna would say if she understood securities fraud and Ponzi schemes... this could impact the Jewish community in a very big, bad way:
Bernard L. Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and a force in Wall Street trading for nearly 50 years, was arrested by federal agents Thursday, a day after his sons turned him in for running what they said their father called "a giant Ponzi scheme."

The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil complaint, said it was an ongoing $50 billion swindle, and asked a judge to seize the firm and its assets. "Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions," said Andrew M. Calamari, associate director of enforcement in the SEC's New York office.
Bernie Madoff was not only viewed as a very respected, trusted guy on Wall Street, but almost everybody was invested with him. CNBC has a good clip on this article explaining what happened and what Madoff is about. More importantly for the Jewish community, a very large number of Jewish people were invested with him. He was viewed as a guy who got steady positive returns, as the firm would announce profits of about 11% consistently each year for fifteen years, and that enticed large numbers of fund of funds (hedge funds which invest in other hedge funds) and high-net-worth individuals to invest with him.

Madoff apparently realized that it was going down recently, as large numbers of people withdrew funds due to the market, and called in his sons. They called the FBI, who came in. DealBreaker has an excerpt from the FBI memo about it, which is kind of sad... at least Madoff was honest about his dishonesty and expects to go to jail. CNBC and a commenter on DB both note that the supposed auditor was a small office in Monsey/Rockland County.

Just as an idea of how much of an effect we're talking about... a commenter noted that a family he knows had $50 million with Madoff. Families in New York and Florida had millions. The Mets' owner is rumored to have had a billion dollars with him. DB (which can be VERY sarcastic) lists the "victims", ending with JEWS. And the Post started its piece with "Suicide hotlines in Greenwich, Conn., could be lit up today as investors in the posh suburb begin to realize how much they've lost in the rip-off scheme perpetrated by Wall Street legend Bernard Madoff."

This is going from bad to OMG... really, really fast.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Abuse Progress?

Another abuse case in Brooklyn, this time in broad daylight, is at least making things happen, though with troubling side aspects. A young Chassidic girl was molested by a Chassidic man after he got her into his house by asking for help with something, in the middle of the day, in Borough Park.
According to State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has championed the cause of abuse victims in recent months, the family first reported the incident to his office. They then contacted four community rabbonim to ask whether they were halachically permitted to report the perpetrator to the authorities. Three rabbonim allegedly said they didn't want to get involved. The fourth, in contrast, permitted them, and apparently strongly urged them to proceed.
Wolf discusses the rabbonim who allegedly said they didn't want to get involved, wondering how they could do such a thing. After the fourth Rav's proper guidance, the family contacted the police and the man was arrested and charged by the Kings County DA, Charles Hynes. In an interview, Hynes argues that he's finding the Orthodox community is cooperating, which seems odd in light of this case, where it took four Rabbonim before one said to go to the police. Perhaps he means they don't actively hide things once the police are involved - which is all fine and well - but there seems to be much room for progress within the Orthodox Jewish community. R' Horowitz has a great piece in this week's Jewish Press on why he writes about abuse; please read the whole thing. In addition, the following news clips (hit expand) from WPIX are interesting if only because of some of the reasons people don't report abuse, such as a girl who was molested by her father for years who simply didn't know any better.