Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Critique of Pure-Unreason

Ezzie asked me to repost this from my blog

Many people on the internet write about financial responsibility, especially in the orthodox world. One just has to ask Ezzie for some of the more interesting statistics results from the Jewish Economic Survey to understand that a large number of young people do not know their finances. For a few people websites such as help people keep track of their multiple bank-accounts, credit-cards, and other loans in one place. For others they rely on their own book-keeping skills or rely on a family member who has a better grasp to handle everything.

Addressing some of these shortfalls is an organization like Mesila which provide seminars to people who would like more knowledge of financial responsibility. They have branches in many cities in Israel as well as America helping people understand their finances.

I once spoke to someone who is involved in the Yeshivish community, and his chilling comment was "the problem isn't people living in Kollel. The problem is people in Kollel earning $25,000 a year, while living a $70,000 lifestyle." This leads to massive debt, and with a bit of education how to organize your money, this debt can be controlled, eliminated, or preempted.

A few people seeing the benefits of educating Kollel couples, asked a few Yeshivos to run seminars for Kollel couples, to which the answer was NO. The reasoning was that if you educate them, they will look at what it costs to live, look at whats coming in, and leave Kollel. Many people do not want to have that burden of debt for the rest of their lives, or at least they want to be unaware of it. Part of this feeling comes from it being OPM (Other Peoples Money), and therefore do not feel the same responsibility to be responsible.

I can understand why the powers-to-be feel its necessary to withhold such information: that learning in Kollel does require Bitachon-trust that G-d will take care of you. But I don't think, and I may be wrong, that this Bitachon should be at the expense of the general public. The general public is now beholden to pick up the slack at many different levels; from helping them put food on the table, to the tuition deficit at the schools.
(On a side note: little has been explored as to the affect bringing in a Kollel has on tuition in a small out of town community. Even if the Kollel does have a sugar-daddy paying for all of its expenses, rarely does this beneficiary extend it to paying tuition for all of the Kollel families children.More on that another post.)

The fact that we can withhold knowledge from people that require it, I believe is wrong. Its wrong to keep them in the dark about things that will hurt them later. About the fact that they may saddle themselves or their parents/in-laws with debt supporting them while they live carefree lives in Kollel. And if you educate them about what it costs and they don't stay in learning full-time, they may be doing society a favor (as a whole). Personally, I would love to learn in Kollel a few years after marriage, but if its not possible I made myself responsible to put food on the table when I signed the dotted-line on the Kesubah.

And yes, while I do believe that learning Torah makes the world-go-round, and I want people to devote their lives to Torah, but I find it hypocritical to say "Look at other segments of society; their people don't work, they live off welfare, they are crippling the economy" while we cannot and will not look at ourselves and say the same things. I do believe that G-d shows us things in society that if we have our eyes open the Hashgacha is obvious. Looking at American Society, the feeling of entitlement, of what the country can do for me, not I for it, is clear. I think this feeling is prevalent in Jewish Society, and if we change our ways society will follow as well.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Actions which are difficult if you've been smashed in the ribs by a 6'3/275 guy named Bomo while jumping to block a pass:
  • Move
  • Lie down
  • Have little kids sit on you while lying down
  • Get up after lying down
  • Breathe
  • Pick up little kids
  • Worst of all: SNEEZE!

Pain & Inches

As I sit here barely able to move (or breathe) with a very painful left ribcage, I can't help but think back to Moshe's postgame comments about our devastating loss about how we were a few inches from winning the game - which we lost 31-6. When we were in Los Angeles recently, Serach and I watched the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (not as bad as people say it is), and there was a particularly good scene where Brad Pitt is describing a sequence of events. He shows how if not for numerous individual incidents occurring in perfect sequence, then the penultimate car accident could not have happened as it did.

Though there are times in life, or in football, where one can point to a particular event and call it a turning point, there are often so many other small differences that truly led to that event happening in the first place. (I touched on this in regards to football a number of years ago.) One of the interceptions we threw today in the endzone was caused by a sequence of events including me chipping their defensive lineman, stumbling slightly in the mud before taking one step too many forward before turning to look for the ball, not hearing the QB calling me, seeing the ball a half-second or so too late, slipping again slightly as I tried to pull it out of the air, that slight beat off from my extra step before messing me up, causing me to bobble the ball rather than catch it smoothly, resulting ultimately in it tipping off my hands, off a teammate's diving attempt in the endzone, and being snatched by an opposing safety at the goal line before I could recover. In short: "My bad", and instinctively to those who play the game, understood as to exactly what went wrong; but to a passive observer, impossible to understand unless it were slowed down enough for them to grasp all the details. If one were to call that play a turning point, it would be true in the broader sense; it would be true as well, however, to point to that extra step as the real turning point.

What football players do in practice each week, and what we did for a few minutes before today's game, is brilliance: Working on those little aspects of a game, of a play, of a block, of a route, of a coverage. By understanding the nuances and perfecting those as well as one can, it automatically results in better performance in real situations. It is not that there is anything new necessarily in practice (though sometimes there is), or that they are learning something new or doing something better (though sometimes they are). It is about turning learned reactions into instinctive ones; turning concepts into reality by repetition. "Knowing something" is not the same as doing something, and even doing something many times does not mean you can't do it better the next time.

Those who know me know that I like to say that it is the little things in life that matter. This is not to minimize the big things in life, which are called so with good reason, but because it is the little things that are what eventually push those big things. The difference between a touchdown and an interception may be just a single extra step; the difference between someone viewing you positively or negatively may be as simple as whether you were smiling brightly the first time you met one another. Focusing on the details of life (without getting caught up in the details, as balance is always key) can assist a person as much as it creates a difference in a football team. We may have lost 31-6 this week, but we were all aware of how few inches we were from winning this football game - and more importantly, we know what aspects we need to work on to be better next time, and we're confident we can succeed. Understanding those little things in life - just as in football - can make all the difference.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kindness Really Does Happen

Yesterday Erachet and I were the recipients of a truly overwhelming act of kindness, an example of the Jewish community at its best.

As new Heights-dwellers, we set out yesterday on our first expedition to the nearby Target (easily accessible by subway!) in search of apartment essentials and cereal at a decent price. Once in the store, of course, we discovered that we 'needed' a lot more than we previously thought we did. Erachet and I currently share a not-so-large room, and we're still figuring out how to maximize our space, so I was excited to find a piece of furniture on sale that looked like it would suit our needs. However, the box itself was too heavy to lift, and certainly not transportable by subway. I asked a Target employee about delivery, but it isn't a service they offer (and I ask: whyever not? This is New York City, people! You know we don't have cars!). The employee suggested that I order the item online, but acknowledged that in-store sales often don't apply to online orders. I racked my brain for friends with cars, and though I have a few, I didn't feel it would be appropriate or considerate to ask them for that kind of favour. Frustrated, I declared emphatically, "I wish we had a car!"

"Do you need a ride somewhere?" A young frum woman pushing her cart down the aisle had overheard my comment.

Surprised, I responded, ", yes, actually. We came by subway, but this piece of furniture is too heavy to carry."

"Where do you live?"

"The Heights." I told her our address.

"I can take you. I have a minivan, and I have some free time now."

Erachet and I were almost too overwhelmed to speak. When she initially offered the ride, I assumed that, like us, she lived in the Heights--but I soon found out that, in actuality, she lives in Riverdale, so the stop was completely inconvenient. Not only did this woman--an intelligent, accomplished mother of three children under five years old--offer a ride to two girls whom she had never met before, but she went far out of her way to do so, gladly taking time out of her busy schedule to help total strangers.

In the car (during stop and go traffic--for which she apologized to us, of all things), we chatted and played the obligatory game of Jewish geography. Passing a homeless man on the side of the road, our benefactress took out her wallet, rolled down her window, and dropped a bill into his cup. Clearly, we had stumbled upon someone who makes chesed her highest priority.

As we neared our destination, she exclaimed, "Oh! Do you want anything to eat? I'm sorry I didn't offer!" I was practically dumbstruck, and laughed as I thankfully declined. It wasn't enough for her to do us the favour of driving us to our apartment, but she also had to welcome us into her van as if it were her home.

As she dropped us off right in front of our building and even helped us carry our things to the door, all I could think was: wow.

So LL, thank you so much--you are an unbelievable baalas chesed, and truly inspiring. You made our day!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Excellent NY Times Op-Ed

Robert Bernstein, the founder of the Human Rights Watch, pens an excellent op-ed in the New York Times today:

AS the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state. [...]

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
His honesty and willingness to criticize an institution he founded -- which must be a wrench -- is quite heartening. Hopefully he will set a precedent for other so-called human rights organizations to come out and admit their biases (although I'm not holding my breath). Read the entire thing.

Hattip: ND

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pentatonic Scales

Hat tip: Xvi

From the description there:
Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event "Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus", from the 2009 World Science Festival, June 12, 2009.

For related content, please view the full "Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus" program at our website.
My description: Just flat out cool.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NY Times Article on Abuse in Frum Communities

(Hat tip: Harry-er) Good piece in the New York Times on sexual abuse (particularly of children) in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Of some 700 child sexual abuse cases brought in an average year, few involved members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — about 180,000 followers of Hasidic and other sects who make up the largest such cluster outside Israel. Some years, there were one or two arrests, or none.

But in the past year, there have been 26. District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has brought charges against a variety of men — yeshiva teachers, rabbis, camp counselors, merchants and relatives of children. Eight have been convicted; 18 await trial.

If the sudden spike in prosecutions is startling, even more surprising is the apparent reason: ultra-Orthodox Jews, long forbidden to inform on one another without permission from the rabbis who lead them, are going to the police and prosecutors on their own.

[...] Now, a growing number of haredi Jews in Brooklyn say they do not think they can get justice from the rabbinical courts, which in several high-profile cases have exonerated people who were later criminally convicted of child abuse.
One of the best aspects of this is that it forces Batei Dinin to shape up their own approach to handling issues - if they aren't handling things properly, then people will simply go to the local or federal authorities who will. Hopefully, this will encourage Batei Dinin to take a more responsible approach to various issues within the community.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stray Thoughts

  • Funny lines heard over yom tov:
    Little boy to his father: "We're luckier than the goyim. They only have one day of nosh, and we have two - Purim and Simchas Torah."

    Sis-in-law to nephew, balancing on a chair he placed on a couch, who already lost a couple teeth in a fall recently: "Don't do that, if you lose any more teeth you won't be able to eat anything anymore!"
    Nephew (5): "It's okay, we can turn everything into slush and I can drink it."
  • Fun meetup: ~Sarah~, Holy Hyrax, and myself at Le Sushi (which is excellent) in North Hollywood, CA. Talk about bringing a big world together and making it tiny.
  • Elianna & Kayla are super cute. Too many stories to tell, but a good one just now - Serach moved Elianna's head, which was off her pillow, back onto it, and gave her a kiss. In her sleep, she says "Princess kiss!"
  • At a family we ate at, the mother commented how she found Koheles so uplifting (which started off a whole series of interesting discussions). Ironically, I had noticed myself feeling something along those lines, albeit a mix of uplifting and despondence, when reading through it during the kriah. In really short, I think its acknowledgement of what is or can be so frustrating/depressing in life is comforting, and its subtle refocusing of one's approach to life is fantastic and therefore incredibly uplifting.
  • Pobody's Nerfect's baby is super cute - and so big, it barely fits into a 9x13. :)
  • Cleveland is pretty gray. LA is pretty sunny. The Empire State Building doesn't let me notice the weather in NYC.
  • Great friends are the best. To be able to crash at midnight at friends after driving 7 hours from Cleveland to Akron to Teaneck is nice - B & JB, y'all rock.
  • AirTran, its employees, and its passengers all get huge thanks. After spending first days in Cleveland, Serach flew to LA with the girls from Akron, via Atlanta, while I drove back to work for a couple of days. The pilot held Kayla while Serach folded/set up the stroller coming on and off the plane. A nice man insisted on assisting Serach while she walked to the gate even though she had a good system going with the girls and stroller and carry-ons. The man next to them on the plane objected to the idea that he should remove Elianna's sleeping head from him, noting that children are a huge blessing, and who prayed when the plane took off noting it's a manmade object under God's control. There's apparently a law barring more than two people in a bathroom (parent/child), since there are only two masks in case of an emergency. When Serach needed to take Elianna to the bathroom, the steward volunteered and carried Kayla with him as he made his rounds. The stewardess offered to get hot water so she could clean Kayla's bottle. A woman getting off the plane ended up being the last person off because she insisted on holding Kayla while Serach got their stuff together.
  • I flew JetBlue direct from JFK to Burbank with a lulav as my carry-on. I got a few stares. I'm sure it was just as hard as what Serach went through. :)
  • A month ago, I drove 19 hours and 1,200+ miles in one weekend when my grandmother passed away. Then came Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Over Sukkos, I'm driving about 1,000, flying about 6,000, worked until midnight both erev yom tov before driving to Cleveland at 630am the next morning on 3 hours sleep and over Chol Hamoed for two nights before packing up and driving to JFK at 6am on two hours sleep, then spending most day hours e-mailing and calling the office. It will be amazing to finally have a normal rhythm starting sometime this week... after our red-eye flight back, followed by a full day of work, and a wedding in Lakewood that night. ZZZZZZ....
  • Finally, a postscript of sorts: Unfortunately, there's a ton of crap that goes on in various frum communities or in the frum community at large. We are in the unfortunate position of knowing all too many of these stories on a personal level, and the sickening approaches people take to them, whether covering them up, denying them, fighting those who try to effect positive change, and the like. At the same time, however, it is wonderful to know that despite all the politics, all the pressure, all the dirty games, that many, or most, of the people who are stuck in those games at least have a sense of what is and is not right - even if sadly, they still feel they cannot "fight the system". More importantly, it is heartwarming to know of those who do do whatever they can to battle on behalf of those who are placed into horrible situations, who themselves are horrified at what does and does not happen. And it is incumbent on the rest of us to consistently pressure our leadership to always do what is right, and not to get caught in the traps of politics and messy relationships. While changes will not happen overnight, the more pressure that is placed on people to own up to doing what is right the faster we can untangle the mess that is Jewish community leadership and re-establish it as the respected force it should be to help the community.
Hope everyone had a wonderful chag!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Judge Tells Off Community

...and rightfully so, it seems: (Hat tip: Vervel)
At the sentencing last week of a bar mitzvah tutor and social worker convicted of sexually molesting two boys in Brooklyn, a New York State Supreme Court judge lashed out at the offender’s Orthodox community for “a communal attitude that seems to impose greater opprobrium on the victims than the perpetrator.”

With his stinging critique, Judge Gustin Reichbach placed himself at the center of a fierce debate in the Orthodox community over how best to police the problem of pedophilia.

Speaking from the bench the day after Yom Kippur at the sentencing of Yona Weinberg, who received a 13-month jail term, Reichbach said he found it “troubling” that the community “seeks to blame, indeed punish victims who seek justice from the ... civil society,” according to a court transcript. He went on to add that the Orthodox community’s religious courts are “inappropriate” and “incapable” of dealing with criminal matters.

Making his comments before a courtroom packed with supporters of the 31-year-old Weinberg — among them, according to his defense attorney, school principals, two rabbis and civic leaders — the judge spoke of receiving more than 90 letters attesting to Weinberg’s character and innocence. None of the letters, the judge noted, “displays any concern or any sympathy or even any acknowledgement for these young victims which, frankly, I find shameful.”
Good for him. It's mind boggling - and disgusting - that none of the letters bothered to show any sympathy for the victims.