Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha B'Av in KGH

See Josh at Parshablog, who has a full schedule of programs in Kew Gardens Hills, and different psakim on when the fast ends.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Following up on Part I, Chana's second post on Gender is absolutely fantastic. Excerpt I enjoyed that notes the differences between correlation and causation perfectly:
The fact that the tribes in New Guinea were different in terms of hunter-gatherer/ coquettish roles is immaterial. All that demonstrates is that it is *possible* to change up one's role. That doesn't mean it is natural to do so. The assumption the researcher made is that because she saw the natives in those roles, that meant gender was societally constructed. How does that follow? People rebel against their nature all the time. Some of those tribes were cannabilistic! If I choose to be a cannibal, does that mean that eating food as opposed to people is a social construct? I think not. I believe that humans are born with some innate sense of right and wrong, morals, etc (just as I believe they are born with a gender that is the same as their sex characteristics.) That some choose to rebel against that innate sense of right and wrong and/or to rebel aginst their innate sense of self does not persuade me that the idea of gender as a whole (or right and wrong or morality) is all a societal construct. In the same way that I have no desire to adopt cannabilism, I have no desire to attempt to actively work to change my innate characteristics as a female over for learned supposedly male characteristics. One can learn anything, at that rate. I can crawl on the floor, bark like a dog, and eat raw meat. Does that mean humanity is a societal construct? No, I don't think so, and I will not have become a dog.

Tisha B'Av Schedule at Lander

For those in the Kew Gardens Hills area, if you're interested, here is the schedule for Tisha B'Av at Lander College for Men.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who Decides the Days?

Today, according to numerous websites that claim to be authorities on such thing, is National Chocolate Milk Day. I'm not especially surprised. There's Pi Day, on the 14th day of the 3rd month, and a zillion other such days dedicated to things ranging from hot dogs to running. Who created these days?
Some of the days are obviously created by individuals. International Towel Day, May 25th, is for Douglas Adams fans, while Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th) is mostly known by Dave Barry followers.
So is that all it takes? You choose a date and publicize it via websites and other media? Or is there a national registry somewhere? Does anyone know? How about we start a Blogger Appreciation Day right now?
Unless some website is already listing it somewhere...

Well Waddaya Know XXXI

Last week's question and answer:
Memory starts to get worse in which decade of life?

29 (70%)
7 (17%)
4 (9%)
1 (2%)

Votes so far: 41
Poll closed
I'm starting to think 20's lately... this week's poll is up to the right.

EZ Reads 7/28/09

I was at a business meeting yesterday morning at a (quite fancy) law office with a few other people, all with different interests. We quickly realized that all six of us were Jewish. Near the end of the meeting, we expressed an interest in having the presenter meet with our boss, and while trying to figure out what day, the presenter noted that he would be uncomfortable meeting Thursday: "Though I'm in no way religious, I just don't feel that meeting on Tisha B'av is a good idea." I noted to my friend that our boss also had said no meetings on Thursday, and the others commented "Good for him!"

  • R' Gil with a fantastic post, drawing from his own recent experiences and conversations at a reunion for his Solomon Schechter day school class.
  • I liked this Orthonomics post, culling from this past week's haftorah:
    "Hear the word of Hashem, O chiefs of Sodom; give ear to the Torah of or G-d, O people of Gemorrah. [...] You shall not continue to bring a worthless meal-offering--incense of abomination is it unto Me; [New] Moon and Sabbath, calling of convocation, I cannot abide mendacity with assemblage. Your [New] Moons and your appointed festivals, My soul hates; they have become a burden upon Me [that] I am weary of bearing. And when you spread your hands [in prayer], I will hide My eyes from you; even if you were to increase prayer, I do not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your doings from before My eyes; desist from doing evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the victim, do justice for the orphan, take up the cause of the widow."

    "Your princes are wayward and associates of thieves; the whole of them loves bribery and pursue [illegal] payments; for the orphan they do not do justice, the cause of the widow does not come unto them."
  • Chana blasts the idea of "performing" gender in her Sex & Gender Roles class. Nice.
  • Bad4 notes the silliness of the shidduch world in having someone random "set it up" when two people meet and there's an interest in dating.
  • Finally! Someone bottles tap water and sells it. I love this.
  • The Daas Torah blog notes an interesting piece in the NYTimes on how soldiers' hunches save their lives, and how they're trying to study it.
  • He also has a very interesting piece on informing on others to a just government.
  • WBM on another Times' piece (clearly accepting Peace Now data) on 'settlements'.
  • ProfK laments that "Off the Derech" is the term used by some to denote "switching off my derech".
  • After reading this piece from CBS, I can't help but wonder if people feel more betrayed by an informant or by leaders who do horrible things. (Related)
May this week bear better news...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Past Halfway

Today, I'm (more obviously) closer to 30 than 20, and closer to 50 than to my birth. Geez... :)

Happy 26th Birthday to me!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Health Care Petition

It's not important right now whether you are for nationalized health care or against it. What IS important, is that you sign this petition going around against it.

With each person's signature, you will receive a picture of Ezzie wearing high heels around his home. Apparently, he didn't know a spy was in the hiding in the closet with a camera. Oh well. 

Devarim, Meraglim, and Saying Yes

Another fantastic story and dvar Torah at Adventures in Chinuch. Excerpt:
Sometimes, even thought the "correct" to a request may be no, for the sake of chinuch we have to say yes. [...]

"I realized that if I refused, the boys simply would not understand why I refused. Having grown up in America, they were accustomed to the finest, most respectable citizens flying in from all over the country to view these matches. They considered watching or listening to the radio broadcast of two adults pummeling each other a perfectly normal means of recreation."

"I decided," concludes Rabbi Katz, "that since these boys would not begin to understand why I was refusing their request, it would be better to allow them to daven early and listen to the match."
This reminds me of something a top-notch hedge fund controller I worked with once told me. She said that when her staff approach her with other ways of doing things, she almost always can tell if the idea is good or not, or if it will work or not. She explains this, but often the person really wants to try it out; so long as it won't be detrimental in time wasted, she lets them do it and see for themselves. Sometimes the person comes up with something great; usually, they come back and say "Oh, I see what's missing". But they learn, and grow.

Check Your Own Pulse

Please read this piece by Matt's father, Dr. Dan Schneeweis, which will hopefully be published in the near future. It's a must read for anyone in the medical profession certainly, and the lessons are important for anyone. Excerpt:
In my 19-year anesthesia career, there have been a few cases that have tested my skill and fortitude to the limit. These are situations that deteriorate rapidly and place the patient’s life at risk. Out of the 20,000 patients I have cared, for I have had fewer than a half dozen of these. You never forget the details of such events.

I recently had one of these cases that was rather unique. In this “man-bites-dog” scenario, it was not the patient’s safety that was at risk, but rather my personal safety and the safety of my nursing staff. Briefly, this involved a six foot tall 260-lb. muscular young man who emerged from general anesthesia in an agitated state. Despite massive doses of sedative medications, his agitation rapidly deteriorated into a violent fracas requiring four nurses and myself to restrain a thrashing, punching, kicking, biting behemoth. He snapped his wrist restraints, tried to disconnect three safety belts, and bit through his IV tubing and monitor cables. He threatened to “track me down and f******g kill me” for restraining his arm in a rather painful position so that he would not harm himself or any of us. Eventually - for the first and hopefully the last time in my career - I called 911 for police back-up. I needed a “show of force” that a 62 year-old anesthesiologist and four female nurses (two of them weighing under 110 pounds) could not provide.
Full piece: Check Your Own Pulse.

EZ Reads 7/24/09: Making A Kiddush Hashem

After yesterday's horrendous chillul Hashem, which is surely far from over, it is so important to remember that this is not how we are supposed to act. On that note, this short piece at BeyondBT reminds us well how we should all be acting, and perhaps if we do this, we'll once again elicit reactions like the one of that woman.

  • Alleyways posts about a little bird in his family, and another little bird.
  • In light of R' Aviner's comments favoring separate buses for men and women, WestBankMama asks simply "Are there other 'normal' frum people out there?"
  • A worthwhile clip at The Daily Harangue about food expiration dates and how much time you have to eat or drink the products after they've passed.
  • I was planning on writing more on this, but will pass in the end: 1/3 of Charedi junior high and high school youths are "hidden dropouts" - sharply higher than the rest of the country.
May as well get rid of a few more pieces I've had saved:
Finally, if you have an addictive personality, do not try this site (via Freakonomics). But it's supercool in concept: Swoopo. If you win, it's amazing. If you lose, you feel like it's not such a big deal. And all the way through, they're raking it in.

Warning Others

There's an interesting piece in The Jewish Star about a father of an alleged abuse victim who has decided to publicly warn people that his son's alleged abuser is free on bail. One line that jumped out at me:

Joseph filed a police report, and then contacted the office of Assemblyman Dov Hikind who recently launched a campaign to combat child abuse in the Jewish community. Hikind’s office declined to confirm details about the case but two sources say Hikind placed Joseph in touch with the District Attorney and Joseph’s son then testified before the grand jury. The charges were filed about a week later.

Joseph said that his son is doing well.

The therapist basically said that what we did by believing him and trusting what he said, and not doubting, that was 75% of the cure. Bringing him in to testify and knowing that [the abuser] will get his punishment is a cure for my son.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hiding the Yarmulke

A friend once told me, with some pride, that although her uncle had done his “exploration” thing as a young adult, he never left off the levush.

(Side question: has it become a normal thing for chassidish guys to go off the derech for a few years between their teens and twenties? Like the Amish right of passage?)

My reaction was not exactly what she’d been expecting. I was horrified.

“You’re saying he was in strip clubs with his peyos and yarmulke and tzitzis hanging out?” What a splendid representative of our people. I argued that to the contrary, he should have disguised himself as a non-Jew, so he might recognize that he was not behaving as his garb demanded. And at the same time, he won’t be giving others the wrong impression of what religious Jews are like.

A colleague once tried to wheedle me into trying some non-kosher snack. “You don’t really keep it seriously,” he said knowingly. “I know. There was this guy – with the thing on his head and the strings - who used to come into my uncle’s store and buy this high end Dutch yogurt. It wasn’t kosher. He told my uncle he kept kosher for everything, but he had to have his yogurt. Don’t you ever do that?” I heartily wished the man had taken off his yarmulke and tucked in his tzitzis before buying his yogurt, and kept his mouth shut to boot.

Of course, that technique isn’t always perfect. Some guy got mad about my driving in Boro Park. The details aren’t important, because when it comes to driving, the other guy is always the idiot. Anyway, he pulls up to the red light, gets out of his car, and comes over to harangue me. I gaze at his livid face impassively until he gives up and gets back in his car. That’s when I noticed that his hand, which was behind his back while he delivered his diatribe, was holding his yarmulke. He had enough shame to try to hide his Jewishness while being a jerk. I appreciated the gesture, though it would have been more effective if he could have removed his beard, and maybe changed from his white shirt and black pants.

But that’s the thought process we should be going through whenever we start to do something not completely straight. “Do I need to take off my yarmulke for this?” is a good question to ask when planning a new escapade. And if the answer is “Yes,” then please, do yourself and your nation a favor - drop it.

Update on Rabbis and Money Laundering Scam

This scandal, involving Rabbonim, especially among the Syrian community in Deal, NJ and Brooklyn, money laundering, and bribing political figures, including mayors from New Jersey, is just horrible. As Rea emailed me:
Gotta love when people hold “yea, it’s muttar to steal from goyim”. What idiots.
It's not even just money laundering, either:
... was accused of enticing vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 and then selling the organ for $160,000.
Sick. The FBI has made 30 arrests so far, pictures are on (via Tzvee), and it's just sad - and so, so wrong. Idiots.

Another update, via VIN - look how shtark they were, learning so much Gemora:
On or about February 5, 2009, the CW received an
interstate telephone call in New Jersey from defendant FISH in
New York, during which defendant FISH and the CW discussed
“gemoras”--a code word used by defendant FISH to refer to cash.
Defendant FISH was informed by the CW that “I have some . . .
gemoras or whatever, you know.” The CW further told defendant
FISH that the CW had “[m]aybe 25 or something,” a reference to
$25,000 in cash. Defendant FISH replied “[i]s that all? That’s
all?” In response, the CW stated “[y]eah, I think. Maybe, uh,
more. But so far that’s what I have.” The CW then asked
defendant FISH “get me the, you know, the name for the gemora,
and then I’ll take care of it.” Defendant FISH then asked “when
do you want to learn,” a coded reference to when the money
laundering transaction would occur. The CW replied “Tuesday’s
fine.” At the conclusion of the conversation, the CW asked
defendant FISH to “[l]et me know-–Sunday, Monday, the name of the
gemora,” in order to find out to what organization or individual
the CW should make out the $25,000 bank check. Defendant FISH
agreed to let the CW know.
Nice. Ugh.

Rabbis, Mayors Arrested in Money Laundering Scam


What a chillul Hashem, and so wrong - FBI arrests dozens in corruption scandal:

The mayors of two major New Jersey cities and an assemblyman are under arrest Thursday as part of a major corruption and international money laundering conspiracy probe.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says approximately 30 arrests have occurred in the two-track investigation.

They include Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell.

The federal prosecutor says arrests that are part of the money-laundering investigation include several rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
Why can't people learn to just do things right. Dishonesty/thievery among Rabbonim? What a great example they're setting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

EZ Reads 7/22/09: Learning

You never realize how much you have to learn until you start learning it. You also never realize just how much you can already do from common sense and what you do know until you start trying it. It's quite interesting how even if one implicitly knows this, it's still a bit of a surprise once the person is faced with it. And now, for some good readin':
  • Chana with her guide on how to treat a woman. Interesting.
  • Jewboy has a kollel conundrum.
    If I could do anything I wanted to, perhaps I would stay in yeshiva, at least for half the day. I am often left wondering how people that stay in kollel make it. How does someone who learns full time, has more kids than I do, and whose wife is marginally employed at best make a living? How does such a person afford to own a home in the inflated Jewish neighborhood and send their kids to school? The numbers just don't add up. And yet I personally know multiple people like this. My family was at an event recently. A young mother with at least 4 children emerged from a beautiful, spacious home and apologized that her husband would be late because he was "still in the kollel." How is it possible? I could not afford their house with my wife and I working decent jobs.
  • A sad post at ProfK about a couple divorcing after 44 years... primarily because of pressures from their descendants to keep working hard to support them. Now the (higher-earning) wife is an outcast to all but the self-sufficient child for wanting to wind down her work, against the wishes of the husband and other kids. I hope we're not in for more of these - or grandparents and great-grandparents who feel pressured to continue working to support the lifestyles of their families.
  • NMF#7 with an interesting post on writing, as she finishes reading a novel written by a girl younger than herself. As she notes, it pays to stop waiting and try doing.
  • A very thought-provoking post by the Rebbetzin on the challenges of being non-Orthodox. When there's no Reform school in town, raising kids isn't quite as simple.
  • An important history on the kashrus of Coca-Cola at Hirhurim. Important, yes, because it's Coke! V'hamaven Yavin.
  • The Cavs switch to paperless ticketing, something I think is brilliant. The most interesting aspect: They had 5-6% less no-shows by switching over, as people could more easily transfer tickets to friends or others if they couldn't make it.

R' Kanievsky Refuses Bracha to Traffic Offender

This post on Jameel's is awesome: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was approached by a yeshiva student involved in a traffic violation for a blessing to be successful at trial, and he refused to do so. Excerpt:
R' Kanievsky: What is the trial about?

Student: I was caught driving without a license after I crashed into a wall

R' Kanievsky: So you're actually a murderer! Actually, they should put you in jail. That would be very good.

Student (yelling): Why? G-d forbid, I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't even hurt anyone. I just had a small car accident between myself and a wall.

R' Kanievsky: But you were driving without a driver's license, were you not?

Student: Yes

R' Kanievsky: So are you called a real killer. You could have had an accident involving people.

Student: But I know how to drive well. Besides this could hurt [my chances] for a shidduch and yeshiva [study]

R' Kanievsky: There is no such thing as "know" [how to drive]. Without a license you don't know how to drive. Regarding shidduchim, its smart not to want you, you're dangerous.
If I might add: *That* is gadlus.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Abuse Letters

There is an important new blog that was recently created called Abuse Letters. These are letters written by victims of abuse in the frum community to the Orthodox public. Please take a few minutes to bookmark the blog, add it to your RSS feed, and most importantly, read the letters that have been posted so far. The first letter was published (albeit very edited - please read the original) in the Yated; the second in The Jewish Star. I'm posting parts of the third letter here as an example.
Dear Mommy and Tatty,
You've probably been unable to escape the grim reality that's been darkening the pages of the various frum publications recently. You probably read the editorials, interviews and letters about the heart wrenching issue of abuse in our communities with a mixture of shock and horror. Then you turn the page and say "Baruch Hashem this isn't MY problem."

Dear Mommy and Tatty,
What would you say if I would tell you that these things are more your problem than you can imagine. What would you say if I would tell you that these things happen in your very own family? What would you say if I would tell you that my cousin, your nephew, had abused me....your daughter?

It probably hurts you to hear that your daughter is suffering, that your daughter is going through this nisayon, and she doesn't feel safe enough to tell you. Believe me Mommy and Tatty, it hurts me so much more. You think the two of us are close mommy? Believe me, the distance between us is far greater than you could ever imagine.

Dear Mommy and Tatty,
I am the model daughter, the catch in shidduchim. I'm sure it doesn't occur to you where I go each week, does it? Mommy, Tatty, I go to therapy. Yes, me, your perfect daughter. I have ten years of abuse, ten years of suffering and pain to work through. Isn't it a tragedy that I can't come to you, my parents, for help, care, love and understanding? Isn't it tragic that I endured inhumane abuse rather than face my parents and deal with their possibly negative reaction? Mommy, Tatty, the abuse went on for 10 years! Imagine if I would have felt comfortable enough to approach you years ago...perhaps it would have stopped sooner.

Imagine if we could recreate society's attitude towards abuse victims. Imagine if we would be made to understand, from an early age, that nobody will ever think we are at fault, and we would be assured acceptance regardless of our circumstances.

Imagine if instead of suffering in painful silence, I could, at long last fall into your outstretched arms....

Your Daughter
As the site notes:
this blog is letters from people who were abused and their friends, that were sent in to various publications. some people did have help with their writing, but thoughts and feelings are all of the people who signed the letters.

if you have any letters (published as is, edited and published, or things that the papers wouldn't publish) please email them to me, at

don't forget to leave your comments! survivors are checking this blog and waiting for your support!

Positive Reinforcement

R' Doron Beckerman has a very good piece on Cross-Currents regarding education that I'd like to throw out a couple excerpts from:
There is an educational approach known as “The Nurtured Heart Initiative,” or “The Inner Wealth Initiative,” developed by Dr. Howard Glasser, that takes the above to the next level, inverting the equation altogether. The concept is that “difficult children seek intense relationships, and they quickly learn that they can readily engage and control others through negative behavior. These children can become almost addicted to the rush of this kind of relationship” (The Inner Wealth Initiative, pg. 165).

What this approach does is intentionally pour on huge amounts of positive energy when the student is doing something positive... [...]

On the negative side of things, problems and poor choices should not be given much attention and energy, and they thus become unnecessary as a way to gain relationships. To be sure, rules are strictly enforced, but not with high intensity interactions, long-winded lectures and the like. These reactions are perceived by the relationship-seeking child as an energetic reward, and encourage more of the same. The “action” happens when good things take place, and that is where the student naturally wants to be.
I don't think this is limited to difficult students, either; I think it's as applicable to little kids, young adults, and grown men and women. One of the most difficult parts of parenting or teaching is striking the balance of not taking good actions for granted, which allows kids to think that only negative actions will get them attention, and making clear that those actions are to some extent expected to encourage kids to strive to improve even further.

May we all be blessed with the wisdom to approach such situations with the proper balance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'd rather be texting

After years of having to drive into town to place calls, a farmer finally got a phone line installed in his home. A friend was visiting and in the middle of the conversation, the phone rang. The visitor assumed the farmer would answer the phone but he just let it ring. "Why didn't you answer the phone?" The visitor asked. The farmer responded, "I got this phone as a convenience. Right now I'm talking to you and answering the phone would not be convenient."

As an GenXer, I grew up without the internet and a cell phone. They both became popular while I was in college, so I'm very comfortable with it, but remember life without it. (Really, there was!) In the beginning... the cell phone was for emergencies only. (You only had 100 minutes a month anyway.) There was no such thing as texting. People would never answer their phone in the middle of a conversation with a live human being in front of them. And if it was a really urgent call, they would still feel terribly rude if they took it.

If the conversation you are currently having is important and you value the person with whom you are speaking, then that is what you are doing right now. You can call back, the text won't disappear, learn the art of delayed gratification. For the 1% who don't realize this: By answering the call or text, what you are saying is that the person to whom you are speaking is not really that important to you. You have other things to do.

one sec... i just got a text...

EZ Reads 7/20/09: Science vs. Torah

  • R' Aviner on dinosaurs, the age of the world, etc. etc. Very interesting. Excerpt:
    The Torah does not mention dinosaurs. This question is interesting from a scientific perspective but not a Torah perspective. In the book "Netivot Olam" (Netiv Ha-Toraah, netiv 14), the Maharal says that the purpose of science is to describe reality, while the Torah describes what reality should be, i.e. what is good and what is bad. What exists is interesting, but it is not Torah, which discusses halachic questions.

    When people ask how old is the world, if we came from apes, what happened in the distance past, I generally answer: I don't know. I wasn't born and I didn't see. But in the case of dinosaurs, I saw the skeleton of the largest dinosaur in Europe – 20 meters, so you can't tell me stories.

    [...] Nonetheless, there is no difference whether there were dinosaurs or not. Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that our subject is not if man came from an animal, our subject is how not to be an animal. The Torah’s purpose is to teach us how to have a gentle soul, and to be a holy and righteous person.
  • An interesting guest post at BeyondBT: Lakewood vs. Lakewood. Using minor league baseball (!) as a guide, it makes an interesting argument for us all.
  • R' Fink blasts Gizmodo for their anti-religious headline (since changed) - “Orthodox Couple Imprisoned By Superstitious Blame Motion Sensing Light Instead”.
  • This is nice: Modesty codes adopted by members of a Charedi minister's staff out of sensitivity - not requirement. It speaks well of them and perhaps of him in not asking or ordering such actions.
  • A really interesting piece by Orthonomics on the Jewish community in general. Excerpt:
    Years ago, I think I viewed Orthodox Jews from left to right as part of a continuum, the speed of media and the images make it rather clear that much of the affinity is perceived. It might be a terrible thing to state during the three weeks, but I don't feel as there is much in common between my community, or most other American Orthodox communities for that matter, and the Mea Shearim community.

    But, saying that wouldn't be fair either. It is clear when you read comments on any VIN article (or YWN article, although that "new source" basically steers clear of most articles that put the Yeshivish/Chassidish community in a bad light) that the concept of dan l'chaf zechut, an important concept indeed, can be used to excuse nearly any behavior. And, not just excuse it, but even glorify it. Sometimes I think to myself, do you have to be accused of abuse to be labeled a selfless tzadekes or be accused of money laundering or fraud to be labeled a true tzadik, someone with a great helech in olam haba? And lest you think that it is only VIN or YWN commentators that can twist themselves into a pretzel, have a bochur over and you might be surprised just how a neighborhood boy can take a behavior that a simpleton like me views as unquestionable wrong and it becomes not only permissible, but even a kiddush Hashem.
More on that later.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kiki, Riki - $10-12

Just a reminder: Our friend's sale of shells, etc. is today, and Serach will be there in the middle for a bit with her tichels and headbands.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Beis Yaakov Dilemma

The following is a guest post by a Beis Yaakov graduate, watching her sister struggle through the same school where she thrived. This post is meant to explore how schools should approach education.

"I hate that place I am never going back there again. EVER!" With that proclamation, my sister slammed the door. She ran to her bedroom, but not before I noticed the tears streaming down her face. "Poor girl," I thought to myself. "Every day it is something else. She is so miserable in that school." Unfortunately, I am not shocked.

When my sister was in 8th grade, I was a kid fresh out of school. I barely knew a thing about the world, yet I begged my parents to listen to my opinion, to take me seriously. "Rivky does not belong in that school." My parents couldn't understand it. "But the school was great for you and your sisters. Why shouldn't Rivky do well there too?" I tried so hard to explain. I told them about the differences between Rivky and her older sisters. I told them about the difference in the student body, the difference in the school's policies, and mostly, the difference in my sister''s style of learning. But they simply didn't understand. So Rivky landed in Bais Yaakov.

One year later, as Rivky finishes a terribly unsuccessful, and life-altering year as a freshman in Bais Yaakov, my parents see that I was right. Now they see that Rivky should have gone to a different school. Now they see that the structure of the school was completely different from what she needed. Now they see that the rules, rather than mold her into the girl they were hoping she'd become, have destroyed her inner self. They have destroyed the self confidence she had been working to build up. Now my parents are left to wonder how a kid who doesn't have any life experience, who doesn't have any chinuch experience, can be so dead right about something like this.

This begs a question. How could I, my sisters, and countless others have gone to BY, and turned out splendidly, when Rivky, and so many of her peers have been hurt by the very same school? Where does the difference lie?


I believe there are two approaches to running a school. You can come at it with an approach of: "Well, we have policies, we have rules, and we don't make any attempt to hide them. If you have a problem with the way we run our school, or with the chinuch we give, you are welcome to send your child elsewhere. If you do chose to send your child to our school, she must adhere to our rules and accept our lessons."

Alternatively, the school can say, "we wish the student body would consist of only students who belong here, but if a girl is in our school and has a hard time with the rules, we will nonetheless try to make her feel comfortable and to thrive, and provide an environment where she is able to reach her personal peak of avodas Hashem."

The first method works to an extent. Let's explore this phenomenon, with me, someone who would be considered a BY success story. I wouldn't say I loved Bais Yaakov. I'm fact, I would say that there were a number of times when I cried and told my mother I refuse to go back. But today, looking back at my high school education, I'd say it was good.

I remember my first day of ninth grade, when the Principal got up to speak at our freshman orientation. She started out with praise for her teaching staff. "Every member of our staff, both limudei kodesh and limudei chol, are extraordinary woman. It is commonly said that the Bais Yaakov office is like a shteible." I must admit...I was impressed. Perhaps that was the earliest sign that I belonged in the school.

As I got to know the teachers, I realized that she was right. Each member of the teaching staff was an unbelievable role model, someone we knew we should strive to be like. Their level seemed high, and quite unattainable, but I saw them as people who were so real, so sincere, I wanted to be like them. I knew with some degree of certainty that even if I would stay on the bottom rung, I wanted to climb their ladder.

I remember one particular incident which made an impression on me. One of our teachers related a story. "I was at a simcha, and someone asked me my name. So I told her it's Rabinowitz. She asked if my husband is the diamond dealer." At this point, Mrs. Rabinowitz paused. Her eyes lit up and she became more animated. "So I answered her, NO! My husband is not that diamond dealer! He polishes diamonds of a different sort." I looked up at the sparkle in her eyes, and I realized that this is her essence. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Rabinowitz have made the polishing of us, their diamonds, their entire life. I was awed. I was inspired. I wanted to be just like her. No, I couldn't relate to Rebbetzin Rabinowitz, the wife of the Rosh Yeshivah, the experienced mechaneches. But I could feel her love and warmth, and I wanted to climb her ladder of avodas Hashem.

It was with aspirations like those that I was able to accept the rigidity of the school. At some point during my four years there, the princepal came to the conclusion that it wasn't enough to have a rule stating that girls should cultivate a look that is in accordance with a Bas Yisroel. She saw loopholes being utilized in every way possible. The definition of the "look of a bas yisroel" leaves a lot of room for discussion. She closed the loopholes with strict rules. First, she instituted a no drinking straight from the bottle policy. Then she made a rule limiting the length of earrings. It wasn't too long before we even had rules about the color shoes we could wear. Yet we took it in stride. We were Bais Yaakov girls, it was a distinction to be proud of, even if we did have mandatory tests on very lengthy student guides. We were learning and growing, despite, or perhaps because of, strict rules about lengths of skirts, measured with a ruler.

But again, to repeat, I belonged there. I can't pin-point the reason. Perhaps it's because I was heading in that direction. Perhaps it's because I have an easy time subjugating myself to authority. Perhaps it's because of decisions I made. Perhaps it's because of my academic success there. But just as I am unable to pinpoint the reason that I fit in, I can't pinpoint the reason that Rivky doesn't. Perhaps if I had been able to provide my parents with a better reason, she would have wound up in another school. Perhaps it's because of Rivky's rebellious nature, of the way she rejects authority. Perhaps it's because Rivky has a hard time academically, and BY is a high pressured, mark oriented school. But whatever the case is, Rivky had four older sisters who went to Bais Yaakov, she appears to be the type of girl they are looking for, and so she got accepted.

Here is where we reach the second way of being mechanech students. While my parents have absolutely no right to expect the school to adopt the second policy, they should adopt it of their own accord. Let's face it. My parents made a mistake in sending Rivky to Bais Yaakov. But now Bais Yaakov has a girl who is sitting in their classes, listening to the very lessons I was so inspired by, and scoffing. She sees the rules as restrictive, she views the lessons as extreme. And the school continues. They have every right to say "well if you don't like it, leave." And she very well might. But as long as she is in their school, listening to their classes, taking their tests, following their rules, they have a responsibility towards her. They have a responsibility to try to do the best they can with her. And if rules and regulations are not reaching her, it's time to try another method.

The school has recently instituted some new, very extreme rules. While perhaps my reaction may have been: "I don't understand it, nor do I like it, but I will accept it," her reaction, as well as so many of her classmates, many of whom do not belong there either, is quite the opposite. Rather than panting to keep up, the girls are giving up. Girl's reactions range from, "This school is restrictive, they represent authority, so all authority is restrictive." to "There is no way I will ever meet the school's expectations." Students also think to themselves "well, I will be considered a bum here, no matter what I do, so I might as well live up to that." Student's reactions may even go as far as "school represents religion, so if the school is so restrictive, then religion must be that restrictive also. I hate religion."

This might sound extreme, but it's not far fetched at all. These are the sentiments I keep hearing from today's high school girls. Isn't it a shame? Shouldn't they be made to see the beauty of Yidishkeit? If the way they taught it to me isn't working, shouldn't they be looking for alternate routes? If those very same Rebbetzins that were so inspiring to me, are now turning the girls off, shouldn't the school get some younger teachers who can relate to the challenges of a new generation?

These teachers may be amazing, smart, and dedicated women who love to teach, but if they can't even figure out how to turn a cell phone on, how do we think they will be able to understand the lure of texting someone inappropriately? If they don't know what "email" means, how will they understand social networking, chatting, and other online time wasting devices? If they haven't bought any new clothes in years, how are they supposed to really understand the pull of styles that they put under a blanket category of "untzniusdik"? While it's nice to have teachers like that, to provide a role model, a visual illustration of what they expect us to strive towards, is it fair and realistic to expect today's teens to be able to relate to these teachers? Is of fair and realistic to expect these teachers to be able to relate to today's teens?

It would seem simple to me, that a school that is constantly battling their student body to adhere to rules more, to dress differently, to behave more appropriately, should realize that their method is no longer working. So why is the school's administration blind to all of this? Why is a young girl, with no teaching experience, see something that these experienced educators can not? I believe that the answer lies in the school's success over the course of the past 40-something years. If the school and their accompanying policies have been successfully educating the last couple of generations of the community's women, shouldn't the same policies continue to work today?

Sadly, the answer, I believe, is no. Don't ask me to figure out the reason why. Don't ask me what is different about the students now, as opposed to the students of a mere five years ago. All I know, is that the sentiments are different. While the common complaint in my day was "they keep making so many rules it's hard to keep up!", the common complaint seems to have migrated over the course of the few years since my graduation. Today's students are complaining more along the lines of "there are too many rules. There is no way I can follow all of them." Doesn't that call for a change in policies?

No, the school doesn't have to change their policies. But for the sake of even one girl's happiness, for the sake of even one girl's yiddishkeit, don't you think they should?

Bare Necessities: Shells and Tichels

Serach will be taking part in a sale this Sunday, July 19th from 1:00-4:00pm at 137-86 70th Avenue 2nd Floor, selling her SerachScarves tichels (scarves) and A Goldish Touch headbands. Our friend runs Bare Necessities, which is hosting the sale; they sell shells for much cheaper than stores.


Now selling in Kew Gardens Hills!

shells for 20-30% less than any other store

¾ sleeve lycra shirts ~ $12
¾ cropped shells ~ $12
sleeveless cropped shells ~ $10

Coming soon…sleeveless lycra shells and more colors!!!

Evening hours available
or call (917) 841-0814

Sunday, July 19th, 2009
1:00-4:00 PM
137-86 70th Avenue, 2nd Floor
Flushing, NY 11367

EZ Reads 7/16/09: Religious Security

Some really good posts today...
  • Erachet tackles Honestly Frum's rant (mentioned yesterday) on Modern Orthodoxy by discussing Religious Security. Excerpt:
    It is a call for you to start wondering where you fall. And not to look at other people so much. Just because someone seems to be of a different camp does not mean that person is any more or less frum than you, and therefore you have no business judging anyone but yourself. If you work on your own religious observance, you will feel more religiously secure. And the more religiously secure you feel, the less you'll care about anyone "looking down" on you or "trying to change you." You'll just laugh at that because you'll have a feeling of shleimus that cannot be breached. Not by something so silly as someone else being too judgmental of you.
  • Great analogy by Treppenwitz in weighing the question of who is responsible when someone gets hurt in a "dangerous area".
  • Interesting post by R' Gil on papal infallibility and Da'as Torah.
    When did papal infallibility become a binding dogma? While it had been discussed and invoked for centuries, it became official Catholic dogma in 1870. Similarly, while ideas similar to Da'as Torah had been discussed prior, the main establishment of Da'as Torah as a binding dogma -- at least in those groups that accept it -- was in the mid- to late nineteenth century.
  • RafiG points out the homepage of the 18th Maccabiah Games.
  • Mark Frankel with a very good introduction to learning Gemara at BeyondBT.
  • Seen in a few places, links to this piece about a Madoff victim who is giving $5 million to cover the employees' 401(k)s. What a kiddush Hashem.
  • Cool ad for HP (and it didn't even win!).
  • Mayam Bialik (Blossom) asks Jew in the City about how Orthodox women are regarded. Interesting.
  • Trailer for No Impact Man on A Negative Benefit, about a guy who has his family have absolutely no carbon footprint for a year. Strange but cute and funny, sort of. Definitely thought-provoking.
  • On a similar note (via Freakonomics), you can sell (or give) your old cells to CycledCells, which either reuses parts or gives away phones to people in third world countries.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Visit With Grandma Goldish

by Aviva (Goldish) Spotts

When I received a call from my parents that Grandma was in the ICU, I was very upset. Though I know that Grandma is “old,” I guess I somehow assumed she would always be around. This call made me realize that it’s just not the case. As the days went on and the reports came in from my parents, Shua and I decided that I needed to go as soon as possible. So I booked a one way ticket to Cleveland, not knowing at the time what would happen and when I’d return. Tamar (my one year old) and I flew out of BWI Wednesday morning and by Wednesday afternoon, my father and I were in the ICU with Grandma.

My father warned me about how painful it was to see her in the state she was in, but I don’t think you fully fathom what you are going to see, until you see it for yourself. I stood there looking at my beloved Grandma and just couldn’t believe it. Here a woman who was always full of life and spunk, was lying in this hospital bed, very thin and frail, with tubes flying in and out of her and a huge mask covering half of her face. Her arms and hands were more black and blue then skin color and they were tied down at her side, for her protection. Part of me wanted to cry, but something inside of me took me back to when Grandpa was in the hospital at the end of his life. I remember asking my mother if he can hear me and she had told me then that we don’t know what they can hear but that we should act as if he hears everything. Well, that’s exactly what I did with Grandma. I told myself that I was going to be happy and positive throughout my visits with her. As she moaned and winced in pain, I took her hand and I rubbed it, I brushed back her hair and I kept talking to her as if I were the Grandma and she was the granddaughter – telling her she’s going to be fine and that the doctors and nurses are taking such good care of her. When she wasn’t upset – I would tell her that I came all the way to Baltimore to see her and her to open her eyes already. I would remind her who I was, “David’s daughter” and her “favorite granddaughter” (sorry Esther and Mindel, that’s what I always told her!)

The nurse took off her oxygen mask briefly to give her some children’s Tylenol (she is 80 pounds after all) and she tried talking to us and told us they were poisoning her…we told her they were trying to help her pain. As my father said later and it resonated with me, that’s why halacha is so complicated, on the one hand you see this foreign body laying there with her organs shutting down but that she says something that sure seems like a sign of someone who wants to live. My father and I sat there and watched her as she slowly calmed down; the Tylenol seemed to be helping. We were comforted by the mere fact that she was in less pain. We never could have anticipated what would come next. After about a half hour of a calmer state and about 7 minutes of a cat nap, Grandma opened her eyes – wide. I ran over to her and looked into those small gray eyes of hers and said, “Grandma, it’s me, Aviva, David’s daughter.” And she smiled at me through the mask. I went on to tell her I came from Baltimore just to see her and I was here with David etc etc. I kept talking and she kept responding. Sometimes we could understand her, sometimes it was difficult. But she was most definitely hearing and understanding us and I was going to take advantage of this visit. So I pulled out my digital camera and started showing her pictures of my kids, Shua and I on our vacation a few weeks ago, of Ezzie and Elianna on my recent trip to NY. I talked to her about Marilyn’s recent visit. And I just kept going – talking and talking (as we all I do quite well) about anything and everything meaningful to Grandma. She was so animated and so excited. I tested her – Who is this? What are your kids names? Where does this one live? What was your address? It was unbelievable! She looked down at her ring finger and noticed her wedding band was gone. I explained to her that the hospital gave it David for safe keeping because she dropped it (it flew off her hand when she was upset and trying to pull out her IV). I showed it to her and she kept asking me to put it on her. I explained to her again why I can’t give it to her (my father signed off that he took it). I showed it to her and she said “I’d feel more comfortable if it was on.” I apologized and changed the subject to other memories of her. I went back to my parents feeling like Grandma was back…but was she?

The next day, my father and I went back again. When we arrived she looked similar to our first meeting, lying there moaning and tied down. But I knew that it was just temporary, or so I told I myself. And I came armed with a CD that my mother quickly put together with lots of pictures for her to look at. Well, once again, she “woke up” as I like to say it, but this time she wasn’t quite as chipper and her numbers weren’t quite as good…as much as we’ve been told not to obsess with numbers, it’s hard not to. But I was determined. I don’t know how we got to this point but my father and I were both sitting up next to her trying to get her “back” again. I threw out all the phrases and names I could that would make her speak. We “kibitzed” about how my baby is a “doll baby” and how I am always on time like her and not late like my father. I don’t know what inclined me to start singing to her, but I did and my father joined in. We sang all those melodies (with no words) that she loved…and she hummed along with us through her mask! We sang Shalom Aleichema and others we knew she liked. I talked to her about Grandpa and how he was a lawyer, to which she said, “right, he was an attorney.” I said and “he never charged anybody, right?” to which she laughed. I asked her if she watched jeapordy to which she responded that it’s on at 7:00. We talked again about how Marilyn visited from Israel and how she has all these grandchildren and great children. After a few minutes of talking about Grandmpa and her 3 kids and grandchildren and great grandchildren, she paused and had the look she had when she used to, as she called it, “have a spell.” It lasted about 3 minutes and my father and I didn’t know what to make of it. She then said something to me about having not thought about all these things for a long time…and she had tears in her eyes. She seemed quieter and more withdrawn and definitely more tired. Over the past couple days she told my father a number of times, “I love you, David.” I said jokingly, “what about me?” to which she shrugged. We always kissed her when we left and I silently prayed that I’d see her again the next day.

We were told that the oxygen mask was a short term solution and couldn’t be left on indefinitely. The problem was when she didn’t have it on, she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The other methods of giving oxygen, we were told, may not be as effective. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I arrived with Shua (who drove with my three other kids, on a fast day, almost 8 hours to (hopefully) see Grandma and be there for moral support – G-d bless him!) to find Grandma with a small oxygen mask which Shua pointed out wasn’t even covering her mouth and nose. The nurse said she must have pulled it off but that she was doing pretty good maintaining a comfortable oxygen level with it. Since she was pulling it off, they switched to the kind that goes in her nose…this was on top of the feeding tube that was already in there…not fun. Once again, the initial visit was watching her numbers on the screen and a strange woman in bed, who was not the grandmother I knew and loved. While she was resting, Shua and I just looked at her and each other, we didn’t have to say a word, we were both pretty worried about her… But once again, she “woke” up. I prayed each time it would happen, but I didn’t take for granted that it would. This time I had old pictures. She knew Ben was “my husband” and that David was David, Rena was Rena, Larry Frankel was “what’s his name” and next to him was “his mother.” She knew Alyssa was “my best girl friend” and that Helen “is my sister.” She knew Tuda is her sister too…what was strange to us was that for days during her moaning she seemed to call Tuda’s name over and over again. We had a wonderful visit with her. Though she didn’t remember Shua, she thought we made a “good looking couple” so she liked him. She said “you must find me really boring” since she had nothing more to say. So we told her all about our life in Baltimore and our kids. She really wanted to see them but we explained that the hospital won’t let kids in. I showed her the pictures of them again from my camera, and she loved them, again. We left the hospital amazed at how well she was doing and I was amazed at how much better she looked. She wanted to sit up. She told me she was starving. And she was just acting so “normal.” A little while before Shabbos my father received a call from the hospital that they had some concerns and were running a test. Of course this made us all nervous, but when 2 minutes before Shabbos, the test results came out normal, coupled with the experiences we witnessed the past few days, I went into Shabbos cautiously optimistic.

Thank G-d, we got a positive report from the nurse about Grandma’s Shabbos, they had tried to give her applesauce (since she pulled out her feeding tube) and she took it. Her oxygen level was good, but to be honest, I just wanted to see her again for myself. For a variety of reasons, I wound up going by myself to see Grandma before we left for Baltimore on Sunday. I WISH that others had been there with me to witness what I witnessed. A Grandma I have not seen in many years was sitting there. Her hearing is better then it has been in years (and this is without hearing aids), her color is good, her humor is there, the twinkle in her eye is back, she kept looking at the time and asking me if I ate something yet (it was lunch time). There was thick liquid food sitting next to her. I asked the nurse if I can feed her and she wished me luck. She couldn’t get her to eat more than 2 bites of anything. I told Grandma I was going to feed her. I gave her some fruit, she didn’t love it, but ate a bit, two, three, four. Then I tried her apple juice. She liked that better. She must have had half of it. I asked her if she’d like ice cream, knowing she always loved it, and she said, “I used to eat it every night.” I told her I’d ask the nurse. The nurse got me some chocolate ice cream, her favorite. Grandma was thrilled! She kept eating more and more and more. She told me that she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in days. When I asked her why, she said, “ I just couldn’t.” She thanked me over and over for everything..I said “for what?” She just couldn’t explain. She just thanked me. She asked if she could give me a kiss (as she always used to). Of course I obliged and then she looked at me and said “I hope I see you again.”

These visits with Grandma were awe inspiring, miraculous, special, momentous and eye opening to me. I believe fully that she is alive by some miracle from Hashem. In my heart, I didn’t think I would actually “see Grandma,” not the one I knew anyway, but I forced myself not to give up and to try anything and everything. I am grateful to have had these very special visits with her. I am only sorry that she did not get to see my kids and meet my baby, Tamar. Life is a gift. Family is precious. Miracles happen every day. I just witnessed a big one. I hope and pray that Grandma continues to have these moments and awakenings with no further pain and suffering.

I want to thank Ezzie for telling me to write this all down while it’s fresh. My little brother was right. I hope you’ll all get some chizuk reading this. May Chaya bat Pessel have a refuah shelaymah.


EZ Reads, 7/15/09

  • Honestly Frum with an interesting rant to the Modern Orthodox world.
  • Ariella at Kallah Magazine asks what you'd do different if you could redo your wedding.
  • Gil writes about whether one is obligated to give charity to someone who does not work (and can). Conclusion: No.
  • I enjoyed this list of classic insults from classic people. A couple fun examples:
    "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

    "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

    "A modest little person, with much to be modest about." – Winston Churchill
  • Fantastic piece by Mortimer Zuckerman on unemployment in today's Wall Street Journal. Basically, this is much worse than the numbers say, and we've just blown a trillion dollars.
  • A really good piece on judges and umpires in the New York Times. Interesting and well-written.
  • RafiG notes that new Cav Anthony Parker is wearing #18 to harken back to his positive times as part of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Cool.
  • He also has a hilarious "Jewish Sports" video that is so classically Jewish. "Come on, let him move up 6 meters... his mother came so far to watch him... Why can't you do a little favor!? Everyone is against the Jews!"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Just Go Out and See

Good, interesting posts out there worth pondering, following up from this post:

The Apple is frustrated:
But you know what else is true in dating? People don’t want the really outgoing ones either. People don’t want intensity. They don’t want passion. They want “reasonably outgoing.” Not too shy, but not too loud either. Definitely not someone with opinions, who doesn’t have qualms about putting them out there. [...]

...I know that those are qualities that need to be worked on and can sometimes be unpleasant to others. But I just wish people would look past that and see that I’m like that because I care about things, because I’m passionate about the world, because I feel deeply about justice and honesty, instead of just seeing it as “insulting” and “relentless” and “high standards.”
Meanwhile, YD addresses another aspect of flipping out and how it touches on dating:
This has created a "list" phenomenon in the dating scene: How many times a day does she daven? How many hours a day does he learn? How does he or she dress? Does he watch movies? Does she watch TV?

Why has this happened? Well if your you have one major criteria, and that major criteria is easy to apply to every scenario, then all you need is a piece of paper and and a pen, and you can make many of your life decisions based on straight-forward factual information. [...]

There has also been a spill-over effect to non-religious factors: Is she loud? Is he friendly? Is she smart? Is he funny? What does he do? What does she do? Where did he go to school? Where is she in college?

Although these are all factors that can affect a relationship, they have little to do with what makes a relationship. What makes a person right for you is that they are right for you, and you'll never know unless you give them a chance. I think that very often, those who have the practice to investigate shidduchim and then say no because of certain factors, are making a huge mistake. They are looking for someone that peaks their interest or at least keeps them in their comfort zone, but they may be passing on a tremendous opportunity.

This is also why I hate having to describe a person for shidduch purposes. I know that the person I'm talking to is waiting for some fact or some description that's gonna make them say "Wow! I really want to date this person!" And if I can't provide that tidbit, the potential just becomes a name on a list for emergency purposes. Again, what makes a person good for you is that they are good for you, period. The only way to find out is to give someone a chance.

Once again, I cannot overemphasize that I strongly feel people would be much better off skipping all the questions and just going out on a date. I have yet to see anyone make the argument (and prove) that asking questions and rejecting people in advance has led to an overall better dating experience by somehow weeding out "bad" dates and leaving them with predominantly "good" ones. If anything, questions only lead people to reject people (who may or may not be good for them) and form either an overly high expectation of the date or given them a list of things to be wary of. Friends and shadchanim don't help this much, either (and I'm sure I'm just as guilty of this).

Just go out and see for yourself. What's so wrong with that?!

Is Texting Unethical?

My mom sent me an interesting piece from the New York Times about texting; I found it especially relevant after telling a friend yesterday that I'd crack his Blackberry if he didn't stop spacing out. Note that I like texting for quick questions or comments, but despise it for conversation.
You’re having dinner with your teenage kids, and they text throughout: you hate it; they’re fine with it. At the office, managers are uncertain about texting during business meetings: many younger workers accept it; some older workers resist. Those who defend texting regard such encounters as the clash of two legitimate cultures, a conflict of manners not morals. If a community — teenagers, young workers — consents to conduct that does no harm, does that make it O.K., ethically speaking? [...]

So it is with incessant texting, a noxious practice that does not merely alter our in-person interactions but damages them. Even a routine conversation demands continuity and the focus of attention: it cannot, without detriment, be disrupted every few moments while someone deals with a text message. More intimate encounters suffer greater harm. In romantic comedy, when someone breaks a tender embrace to take a phone call, that’s a sure sign of love gone bad. After any interruption, it takes a while to regain concentration, one reason few of us want our surgeon to text while she’s performing a delicate neurological procedure upon us. Here’s a sentence you do not want to hear in the operating room or the bedroom: “Now, where was I?”

Various experiments have shown the deleterious effects of interruption, including this study that, unsurprisingly, demonstrates that an interrupted task takes longer to complete and seems more difficult, and that the person doing it feels increased annoyance and anxiety.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Carlos & Gabby's Review

Carlos & Gabby's opened up in Kew Gardens Hills in Queens*, and since a countless number of friends had been hyping the one in the Five Towns, we decided to do takeout. We split the Honey BBQ Zingers, Serach got The Texas Wrangler, Elianna got a hot dog, and I got the Boneless BBQ Rib Platter.

The hot dog was good (I took a bite), Serach said the Wrangler was great, which many friends had said, the Zingers were excellent, and the BBQ ribs weren't amazing, but they were pretty good. Others have suggested the regular Zinger and the Cedarhurst sub as excellent choices.

Shortly afterward, iPay tells me she's picking up food from there (after saying how amazing it is), and then GS calls and asks if I could pick up for him and bring it over, since I'm watching the HR Derby at his apartment. We're going to count how many HRs go over the SpongeTech sign in right-center field for Rea, who loves that they're in just about every Major League stadium. Elianna is obsessed with the SpongeBob sponge, which makes baths a whole lot easier. Meanwhile, I'll snack on more C&G's. :)

* UPDATE: It's located on Main Street past Supersol, at 67-11 Main Street. The phone number is (718) 575-8226.

Unfocused Study?

UPDATE: Just tuned in for a few minutes of the live conference, and it's far better than the release would have indicated in terms of what is being discussed, though with the caveat that 72 Board Presidents may not be a great sample as it is spread over all types of Jews.

At 12:00 noon today, July 13th, YU will be hosting a live interactive conference on a study they conducted regarding the high costs of Jewish education, allowing viewers to submit questions in real time to the presenters. Having received the press release and after reading through it a few times to ensure that I was in fact reading it carefully and correctly, I am terribly saddened and dismayed at the approach they seem to be taking and in particular at the misleading headline they used to pitch it. The press release is here: 1, 2, 3. However, there is a bright side, as you'll see below.

The (mis)leading headline states the following:

Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University:
‘Day Schools Could Gain $100 Million Through Better Management’

While this sounds wonderful, implying that a focus on elimination of wasteful spending would severely cut down on the cost of Jewish education and reducing the burden on families and supporters, the rest of the press release offers barely a mention of this. Instead, the focus throughout the memo is on fundraising, fundraising, and fundraising:
{Note: all quotes from the release}
  • Only about one-third of presidents strongly agree that board members give their schools their top personal philanthropic gifts or that they generate financial support for school events.
  • Only about one-quarter of presidents feel that board members are actively engaged in identifying and cultivating potential major donors for their institutions.
  • ...presidents overwhelmingly say that fundraising/advocacy and strategic planning, the two areas in which their boards are underperforming, are the two areas that impact most on overall school performance and affordability.
  • “While schools must find ways to cut spending, this survey suggests that we can help preserve the educational core of the school and maintain school quality by maximizing fundraising and strategic financial planning.”
  • support of communal fundraising, advocating for increased government funding and promoting inter-school collaboration. At the same time, we are also focusing on helping day school boards learn to increase their engagement in financial planning, fundraising, and expense management.
  • " is incumbent upon the board members to serve as leaders both in planning as well as fundraising and their own personal giving.”
Meanwhile, there was very little focus on cutting costs, no mention of transparency, no real mention of keeping costs in line with revenues, and no discussion of looking at alternatives to the current structure in any way to make tuition more affordable.

This is very much in line with the overall feeling I got when I was interviewed by YU's Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) a number of weeks ago regarding the Jewish Economics Survey. They filmed me as part of a documentary they are showing at their ChampionsGate conference taking place this weekend in Orlando, and the impression I was left with from the questions being asked and the reaction to the answers I was giving left me disappointed. I came out of that interview with the impression (and hopefully this is incorrect) that they were looking to hear from me how dire circumstances were, how awful of a state we were in... and that the solution required a huge influx of donations to organizations and schools who can help manage the situation and make everything better. Seeing this press release was equally disheartening, further reinforcing the implication that problems will be best solved by throwing money, rather than starting from the bottom to create a base understanding of the communal economic state and how schools function

On the flip side, perhaps this is a misreading and just a poorly presented release. Harry Bloom of YU's Azrieli Graduate School, quoted throughout the release and presenting at the press conference today, is chairing a discussion at ChampionsGate called "Re-Envision and Re-Engineer Our Day Schools - Evaluate, and Craft New Community and School Economic Models". Hopefully, today's press conference will be positive and forward-thinking, looking for ways to understand that we need to start from the bottom up, not the top down, if we are to fully understand what are and how we can approach the problems that are facing us.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the Quieter Side

If there is one single trait that almost all people believe daters want in a prospective spouse, including especially the daters themselves, it is that the other person be "reasonably outgoing".

I have never heard anyone - quiet or outgoing - who did not say that they "need someone on the outgoing side because I am (shy) {outgoing} and it would be too uncomfortable if the other person was (, too,) {quieter} because I'd have to carry the whole conversation."

In my opinion*, people are usually quite wrong about this (although this is never evident until they are in a serious relationship). Moreover, because by the time it is evident they understand the other person and communicate quite well, they do not think of their significant other as "on the quiet side", and never quite realize that it was not what they said they were looking for. This results in married people never breaking this misconception and informing their single friend that a "quieter" person may actually be a better fit for them.

* I am unsure as to why this misconception exists, although certainly it is possible that people concentrate too much on what makes for a "fun" date at the very beginning, and the more gregarious someone is, the more "fun" they seem if you otherwise don't know them well.**

** As I finished writing this, a friend suggested that people not be described as quiet, as it essentially prejudices the date to look for that and find them to be too quiet. I would tweak that slightly and just say "don't describe personalities" [at least in regards to how talkative they are if not other ways], as it does not matter one iota how other people describe someone but rather how they find each other to be. Daters often tend (consciously or unconsciously) to look for the negatives on early dates as it is, why prejudice their mind before they've even gone out? Let them see how they enjoy one another's company without having something in the back of their mind to look out for.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Oh Boy(s...)

This is... interesting:
Renowned Rabbi David Batzri comes up with creative solution for thousands of single women participating in prayer assembly in Jerusalem on 'respectable mating.' Rabbi appeals to women not to put off pregnancy once married, says 'using birth control damages household income'

Have at least 12 children, do not use birth control, and continue having children after 40. This is the formula for overcoming sterility and long-term bachelorhood in the Religious Zionism movement put forth by renowned Rabbi David Batzri. In a women's assembly in Jerusalem held Thursday in Jerusalem, the rabbi asserted that "a girl who wishes to marry must take upon herself already on the first date an obligation to have no less than 12 children." In addition, he encouraged women to put pressure on one another not to delay pregnancy after getting married and not to wait long in between births.

The rabbi claimed that using birth control damages household income. He said, "When you use control methods, you stop abundance. When you see a woman whose youngest child is three, this means that she has been using control methods for three years. Convince her not to do this."

Rabbi Batzri added, "Even at the age of 40 and up, it is possible to give birth, and it isn't dangerous."

Yeah... consult your OWN Rav and Doctors, please.

EZ Reads 7/10/09: Pinchas

Ezzie: Please have in mind Chaya bas Pesel. Thank you.

With thanks to Reb Abe, YSF, Justine, and others who sent some interesting pieces in... and yes, Stam is correct: I have a ton of pieces that I post randomly when they occur to me or when I get around to them. :)
  • The Jewish Press has an important piece this week by R' Yakov Horowitz and Eliot Pasik called Let The System Work, showing how going to and using the courts provide for proper outcomes in cases of abuse. Please pass this piece around.
  • An interesting piece in the Forward on gays in the military, citing Israel's acceptance and lack of issues because of it. Thought that comes to mind: Better to accept it than risk "Don't ask, Don't tell", where a high ranking member can be blackmailed for their relationship because of concern over losing their job.
  • ProfK discusses whether breast exam signs should be placed in a mikvah. Personally, what caught my eye was the NY/OOT line in the beginning... which happened when a NYer came to town. Interesting.
  • More OTML cool finds: How they kept Shabbos in the 1800s (rounding to the nearest 1/2 hour or so - even though they cared about zmanim).
A great story and message on Parshas Pinchas and the Jewish community, reminiscent of my favorite R' Salanter quote:
Parashat Pinchas: Fix Yourself and Then Fix Others

[Tal Chermon, p. 448 based on the book "Nivi Zahav" of Ha-Rav Zev Gold]

When Maran Ha-Rav Kook visited America to raise money for the yeshivot in Eretz Yisrael and Europe, one of the Rabbis asked during a reception: Why doesn't Ha-Rav follow the path of zealousness? Maran Ha-Rav Kook answered at length and told a story about a great Torah scholar and ethical person: "He once came to his Rabbi and said to him that he wants to perfect the world through the Almighty's kingdom. His Rabbi said to him: Go, my son and may Hashem help you. He went and tried, but was unsuccessful. The world remained as it was. He came to his Rabbi a second time to lament the lack of blessing in his actions. His Rabbi asked him: My son, have you already spiritually repaired your country and homeland that you are concerning about repairing the entire world? He took the hint and attempted to fix his country. But he also failed; no one listened to his voice. He returned to his Rabbi and related his new failure. His Rabbi said to him: My son, have you spiritually repaired your city? Why should you begin with a whole country? This wise man listened to him and turned to repairing his city, but the residents of his city also do not obey him. His Rabbi said to him: My son, have you already fixed your household? He realized that he was correct, and so he attempted to repair the members of his household. But they also did not listen to him. When he returned to lament before his Rabbi, the Rabbi said: My son, perhaps you did not fix yourself. Go and worry – first and foremost – about your soul, and after you are certain that you repaired everything that you could and you have no blemish – then the members of your household will see and learn from your ways, and they will be an example for the city, and the city for the country and the country for the entire world. This needs to be the path of a person who desires to spiritually repair others."
Finally, for fun:
  • Microsoft Office 2010 has its own movie trailer - surprisingly good, actually; someone asks Microsoft if the files they've added is causing their computer to get fat - real or not, hilarious thread; while I'm not a Borat/Bruno fan, this Letterman clip of Sasha Baron Cohen (as himself for once) discussing interviewing a terrorist is quite funny; and in the most confusing finish I've seen, the winning pitcher in a baseball game no longer plays with the team who won and the winning run was scored by a guy who wasn't on the team when the game started. Now *that* is Major League Baseball.
Have a great Shabbos!

The Back of the Room

With thanks to Erachet for the mashal

In many classrooms, you'll often find that somewhere in the back of the room there's a troublemaker. At every opening, this troublemaker will take a shot - with a snide comment, a rude response, or just in general acting out - and while sometimes one might argue that the target is a real one, the purpose behind this troublemaker's actions has little to do with constructive critique and much more to do with stirring the pot.

By and large, the best response other people in the classroom can have is to simply ignore. There's little use in getting into a debate, as that just plays into the attention-seeking he wants, and actively decrying his actions will do nothing but make others wonder just what's so bad about what he says in the first place that he needs to be shouted down.

How should you react, however, when this troublemaker decides to actually say something useful? When he makes a real critique without the usual snark, or if he starts talking about something positive or about something that's actually interesting and not negative? Do you write off any action or comment by him, no matter how positive, because of all the other times, to avoid giving him any credibility? Or is it more effective to do the reverse: Engage him in discussion about what he just said, encouraging future discussions of the sort, while demonstrating that when he approaches subjects with respect and has something genuine to add he is far more likely to be taken seriously and have his opinion valued?

There are those who will argue that the former approach is best because of perception. If someone were to walk by or walk into the classroom while such a discussion were ongoing, seeing the troublemaker's views being accepted or discussed seriously might lead the observer to believe that he is someone who should be listened to and respected. When they later discover that this person is a troublemaker, it will taint not only he himself but also those who were engaging him seriously - after all, how can you take such a person seriously? Why would you actively discuss anything with such a person?

However, this does not seem to be the correct approach. It seems much wiser to engage the troublemaker when the discussion has a positive tone and is being done with respect, when there is some positive that can actually come out of such a discussion. To write off someone in all situations is something reserved for special people, and to be concerned that someone walking by may get the wrong idea and perceive either the troublemaker as positive or lump the good people with him in general seems to be wrong. It is the responsibility of the person walking by or walking in to not assume so quickly or judge without understanding, not the person in the room to be concerned that someone walking by will misunderstand.

In case the nimshal (analogy) is not obvious, I think this sums up the discussion between myself and R' Doron Beckerman in the comments to Inflammatory Discussion below. {Please note that he issued a clarification later on in the comments; while I still disagree, it's certainly much more clear as to intent.} R' Beckerman is concerned that by occasionally noting positively or by not actively disassociating with the ideas of certain bloggers, good blogs create a perception that they are united with the negativity and ideals of those bloggers. While appreciating that being associated with such bloggers does a disservice, I don't think the responsibility for this lies with the people who post and act appropriately. It is unfair to lump all blogs together; the majority of blogs are respectful, engage in serious discussion of important issues, and their intentions are to help the Jewish community while expressing their frustrations with or decrying what they see as improper within the community. There is no need on their part to spend their time actively disassociating with the negativity for the sake of others to understand; those who wish to truly understand need only to take a closer look or ask.

Finally, those in a position to bridge the gap between the observers and the writers need only to point them in the right direction, to the right people, to do so - while erecting walls is far easier than building bridges, ultimately the bridges are far more useful.