Thursday, April 28, 2011

Da Kirsch's NFL Mock Draft 2011

Ezzie: For a few years, our good friend DaKirsch has been sending us his NFL Mock Draft Picks, and he's had a couple really impressive sets of predictions - often far surpassing the "experts". Of course, DaKirsch probably spends more time on this than any of them, so perhaps it's unfair...
This year, our SerandEz draft expert DaKirsch has sent in his picks from a special place - fresh off his first season as a running back for the Tel Aviv Pioneers in the IFL, the Israel Football League which is the first organized tackle football league in the Holy Land.
[click on any image to enlarge]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

People With Questions

R' Yitzchok Adlerstein has a fantastic response to the Ami piece discussed below, with the rather straightforward title People With Questions Are Not Sick. While it's possible to nitpick a couple lines, the basic thrust and points of the piece are right on target. Excerpts: (emphasis mine)
The first is that until recently, we had major talmidei chachamim well versed in the intellectual challenges of the day who devoted much time and energy battling the mockers and skeptics on their own turf. Think R Saadia Gaon, the Rambam, R Yehuda HaLevi hundreds of years ago. Think R Samson Raphael Hirsch, R Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, R Yitzchok Isaac Halevi, and the Malbim in more recent times, battling Higher Criticism or the platform of Reform, or the extremes of Jewish Wissenschaft. These figures studied and mastered the challenges from the inside, offering real counterpunches, rather than glib bromides. They did not, and could not, “prove” their case, but they could show that alternatives existed that were as attractive as any other. We do not have such figures today.

The second factor is the appearance of wrong answers. Sending serious seekers to vaunted “experts” is worse than allowing them to struggle on their own. Once a person meets the acclaimed “answer people,” the people everyone around him tells him or her are the greatest and deepest minds and finds their answers inadequate, he no longer has any reason to wait. He has gone to the top, and knows he cannot live with their approach – often with good reason.

The world of kiruv is populated with many wonderful people. Some of them are deep thinkers, and have taken the time to read and understand the genuine questions and doubts. Others, however, have swallowed the Kool-Aid. They are so convinced that answers are there, they imagine that they have found them, despite the fact that they are remarkably similar to the orthoprax subjects of the article, who are described as ignorant of both Torah and the secular challenges. Often, they are hopelessly ignorant of the literature and of the complexity of the challenges. (The embrace of the Bible Codes, the often shallow way in which the serious body of evolutionary evidence is dealt with, the use of oddball minority approaches to science, and the complete unawareness of issues relating to biblical studies are examples that come to mind. A good way to tell if you are dealing with one of them is if he tells you he has spoken to “the biggest scientists” – whatever that means.)
Even better:
It is vital to understand that there are many others whose questions are sincere, and whose situation is worsened by putting them in contact with purveyors of superficial and simplistic “answers.” There are far more of them than we think. [...] Rather than to meet well-meaning people who provide simplistic, facile and unsatisfactory approaches, it would be better to have them meet frum people of deep intellectual ability who also struggle, without detracting from their shemiras hamitzvos. There are many, many of them. They will provide some answers, but more importantly, will be models of how to live with questions.

Amen. For a bit of a Pesach vort, one aspect of the Hagaddah I've always found intriguing is that while we ask four questions at the beginning of the seder, and are encouraged to continue asking throughout, the discussion we have doesn't exactly answer those specific questions - and certainly not in the most straightforward fashion. There's a much higher level of complexity involved, and while certainly there are explanations given, there's always the aspect of a person needing to understand and determine for themselves what exactly is meant by it all and what to take away from the night.

We here at SerandEz would like to wish a wonderful Chag Sameach to all our family, friends, supporters, and readers. May we all merit to have our questions answered, and may we celebrate next year in Yerushalayim Habenuya.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


R' Eliyahu Fink has an article up about Ami Magazine's recent piece, "The Impostors Among Us". (As I was writing this, Chana penned a piece as well which is quite good.)

In essence, the Ami piece is about Orthoprax individuals within the Orthodox Jewish community - people who don't believe in various integral aspects of Orthodox belief, but essentially go through the motions to stay within the community for various reasons. Orthopraxy (which seems important to differentiate from people merely struggling with aspects of frumkeit) is according to the article a growing phenomenon, boosted to a large extent by information, questions, and discussion which are available on the internet.

The most troubling aspect of Orthopraxy which is touched on in the article is the dishonesty involved. Regardless of one's own feelings about Judaism, is it fair to subject one's family and friends to one's own lying life? One Orthoprax individual in the article, "Eli", wishes to marry an Orthodox girl despite his beliefs, because that's all he can relate to; another serves as a posek despite not believing in his own judgments. This dishonest approach to life seems incredibly wrong, and unfair to all those whom it impacts.

But on the other side, the article is absolutely horrendous. It falsely portrays issues people have as idiotic and "so-called scientific questions"; proclaims itself as intellectual while presuming that those who fall off are not intellectual and instead are justifying "chasing after taavos"; describes those who have these struggles as having a "sickness" or emotional problems; and is otherwise absurd in its approach and how people could/used to avoid the issue, which is essentially never come across any questions via lack of access to them, especially via the internet. On top of everything else, the smug interviewer caps the article with a note that "steps have been taken to protect the public" from the posek mentioned above. This is a real sticky move, depending a lot on what actions were taken; obviously it's important to remove someone from a position where they are obviously not fit, but it's a real lack of journalistic integrity to act on a source like that.

If people truly wish to combat Orthopraxy in Judaism, then it will come not from sticking our head in the sand but by truly confronting the questions which we face and understanding both the questions and reasonable, logical approaches to them. If we believe in what we say, then we should have no issue saying what we believe and why. To dismiss those who question and struggle with a wave of the hand or by denouncing them as heretical, declaring them ill, or claiming they are simply out for taava is foolish at best, and most likely incredibly destructive. In fact, it would be reasonable to say that it is 'journalism' such as this which contributes heavily to people turning away from the fold through its disdain for those who dare think about their beliefs.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

EZ Reads 4/13/11

  • Via Yourish, the city that outsourced everything. This is absolutely brilliant. Sandy Springs, Georgia, broke off from Fulton County in 2005, and decided that rather than create their own services at a large expense, they would outsource it. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a huge cost savings, as they pay a fraction to private industries to take care of their municipal needs, and are able to invest that savings into capital projects to create an efficient infrastructure. They have no long-term liabilities, have not had to raise taxes, and they have plenty of money still available. It's incredibly impressive, and is a perfect example as to how government should not only not take over services, but should outsource these services as much as possible to private companies. Since Sandy Springs started, a few other communities have incorporated similarly and are following their lead.
  • Tonight is Joe Tait's last night behind the microphone at Cleveland Cavalier games. He's the best there ever was. A couple good articles here and here.
  • Chana posts the transcripts from the very important symposium The Cycle of Violence: Power and Control in Relationships. An important read for anyone married, engaged, or dating.
  • The Atlantic with an interesting insight into the minds of geniuses in How Genius Works, by asking a number of creative minds how they work.
  • Daled Amos with a great quote on why the Palestinians may not be ready for statehood:
    Not to put too fine a point on it: if you can’t finish drafting your constitution; if your “president” is in the seventh year of his four-year term; if you have no functioning legislature and cannot hold parliamentary elections; if half your putative state is occupied by terrorists; if your education system is a cesspool of anti-Semitism; if you insist upon dedicating public squares to those who massacred civilians; if your ruling party is corroded by corruption; if you have no free press or independent judiciary; if you cannot implement anything in negotiations that you refuse to conduct in any event; and if you haven’t finished Phase I of the Roadmap . . . well, you might not be ready for a state.
    Rick Richman, All Set to Be a Failed State
    Unless you are talking about the state of Palestine. Well, at least the state will be financially viable--what with 60% of the GNP for the West Bank coming from the US, EU, UN and World Bank.

Honesty and The Jewish Community V: Well Intentioned

(continued as part of this series)

A friend sent over a video a few minutes ago, asking what I thought about it. The video is of two children at the seder, with them looking over to their father's empty seat while they say the Mah Nishtana. Where is their father? Well, an image of him standing by his chair appears, wearing the orange jumpsuit of convicted criminals. He speaks to the camera, saying "No matter if I was right - or wrong - I will make peace with my situation. (pause) But I cannot speak for them, my children." The information for a charity then comes up, detailing its services, which include basic charity work such as food and babysitting, but also includes visitation to the incarcerated and Jewish resources for prisoners.

A few people have already defended the video, saying that we must separate the children from the parent in terms of how they are viewed: They are children who are essentially orphans, and need our help, and that to not support them would be "punishing them for their parents' sins".

I find the video appalling. To separate out convicted criminals as a class of people who deserve our assistance is mind-boggling to me. I see no reason at all why there should be added sympathy for someone who has committed a crime, and I strongly feel that the knowledge of the existence of such a safety net that is specific to criminals will only placate the concerns of those who are considering committing crimes, allowing them to feel safe in the knowledge that should they be unsuccessful in or caught committing criminal activity that there is an organization to take care of their children. There is absolutely no reason to separate these families from other families who need assistance, and there are certainly better ways to allocate our charitable donations than to make up for the activities of criminals.

This well-intentioned approach to Jewish criminals is not exclusive to this charity; it strikes as a familiar mantra whenever criminal acts are committed by members of the community. The varied comments one hears when someone commits a crime are almost always dedicated to judging the criminal favorably, or even mitigating if not denying the impact of the criminal acts that were committed:
  • "But he's so nice - he gave so much charity, he helped so many people out."
  • "He created jobs for people, including people who were unemployed."
  • "He's not the first nor will he be the last... sometimes these things happen/Come on, everyone does it."
  • "Was anyone really hurt by what she did? She helped so many people through what she did. Those people/companies/governments won't miss a penny, they'd have just wasted it anyway."
  • "They probably felt pressure to succeed from their families and the success they saw their neighbors having."
  • "Living in the frum world is really, really expensive - sometimes the only way to 'make it' is to try something a little more... questionable."
  • "It's muttar to take from the government/their rules are ridiculous anyway/he didn't really do exactly what they said he did."
  • "That's just the way it is."
Some of these are worse than others, but the general theme is clear. People have well-intentioned approaches to how they view those who have committed criminal activity, often for very different reasons.

On top of these well-intentioned approaches, we have the rare individuals or groups who try to expose problems in the community, but almost never seem to manage to do so appropriately. Even when the intentions are positive, so often the methods cross all lines of human decency or harassment and worse, honesty. These methods only end up backfiring, allowing people to twist stories into discussions about the accuser(s) and/or their methods rather than the issues at hand, and the backlash they face discourages those who may be open to help solving the issues that plague our community, and they retreat for fear of the consequences they may face.

It is not enough for us as a community to be honest ourselves - though if we all did so, it would be an excellent start. While we must be sure not to allow our positive intentions in one way to let ourselves get carried away and act inappropriately, we should also not allow our other positive intentions to judge people favorably to mask the disgust we must feel at those who are dishonest and commit crimes, both within the community and outside of it. We should never be acting in a way which even implies a defense of those who commit dishonest acts - it is not just insensitive to those who have been hurt, but it's just plain wrong.

(to be continued)

EZ Reads 4/12/11

Today was a good, busy day, with some exciting possibilities. This is opposed to my fantasy baseball team, which currently has a 1 in every hitting category, 5 guys on the DL (and another couple hurt), and is barely above the Mendoza line. Ugh.
  • Scott Adams has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal on how to get a real education, with some fantastic, funny stories. Excerpt: (not the stories, read the whole article for those)
    Attract Luck. You can't manage luck directly, but you can manage your career in a way that makes it easier for luck to find you. To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn't work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else. Luck finds the doers. Readers of the Journal will find this point obvious. It's not obvious to a teenager.
    Conquer Fear. I took classes in public speaking in college and a few more during my corporate days. That training was marginally useful for learning how to mask nervousness in public. Then I took the Dale Carnegie course. It was life-changing. The Dale Carnegie method ignores speaking technique entirely and trains you instead to enjoy the experience of speaking to a crowd. Once you become relaxed in front of people, technique comes automatically. Over the years, I've given speeches to hundreds of audiences and enjoyed every minute on stage. But this isn't a plug for Dale Carnegie. The point is that people can be trained to replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm. Every entrepreneur can use that skill.
    Write Simply. I took a two-day class in business writing that taught me how to write direct sentences and to avoid extra words. Simplicity makes ideas powerful.
  • On a related note, Lifehacker's piece on what lucky people do differently is entertaining and spot on. Ironically, despite being a rather large proponent of themes in both pieces, I've been rather unlucky in many ways, but I think those can be attributed to some really bad flukes (and people).
  • Bad4Shidduchim on singles events dynamics.
  • Interesting piece on Freakonomics discussing how fixing the typos and errors in online reviews boosts sales.
  • A funny, clever video on Cross Currents called "Kiruv with Sechel" but which also is a great Pesach kashering primer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

EZ Reads 4/11/11

I will be at the OU's offices tomorrow for all those who work there - email me and I'll try to stop by to say hi.

Some more general stuff for today...

Santa Monica Bombing Suspect Arrested

According to YWN, the suspect in the bombing of a Santa Monica synagogue (a Chabad shul) was arrested in the Agudah shul in Cleveland Heights (I'm assuming they mean Torah U'Tefillah, across the street from the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland on Taylor Road).
Sources tell YWN that the suspect arrived at the home of the Rov on Sunday evening, asking for a place to sleep. Community activists involved in assisting people, questioned the man asking him for his name, and where he was from. All his answers were very vague, and the man refused to answer many questions – even brushing their questions off using perfect Yiddish. Instead of allowing him to sleep in the local “Hachnosas Orchim” room, they placed the man in a motel for the night, and brought him Kosher food to eat.

This afternoon, the man once again requested to stay in the Hachnosas Orchim room, but once again refused to reveal his name. Instead he said his name was “Ron Jay”.

A short while later, the community activist who had been dealing with him all day, was at home and using a computer, and suddenly came a cross a photo of the suspect while reading the news. The resemblance was shocking. The facial features were exactly as this homeless man was, just that he was missing his beard.

The man called the FBI, who in turn instructed him to call the local police department, who arrived to where the man was – which was inside the Agudah Shul. The suspect was sitting in front of an open Sefer, when he was politely asked by police to exit the Shul. He followed instructions, and after getting outside, he confirmed that his name was in fact “Ron Hirsch”.

He was arrested without further incident.
Interesting. I wonder why he picked Cleveland, unless he was simply looking for a place with an Orthodox community large enough to help him out but hoping not to come across anyone who may recognize him.

Obscured by Clouds

Chana recently had a status on G-chat which pointed to a new blog, Obscured by Clouds, by "Cymbaline", a 20-year old self-described questioning tri-state Jewish girl mostly "off the derech", living at home again, Pink Floyd fan who has tried drugs, alcohol, and poor relationships. Curious, I decided to check it out, and started reading. And reading. After a few minutes I chatted Chana with a simple "That's a crazy interesting blog."

Since then, I've continued to read the blog, and have been looking for an excuse to post about it. It's always tricky with more personal blogs, where you don't want to feel invasive by opening it up to the public, but I asked for and was given permission to do so, so it's just been a wait for the right catch that would resonate with readers. This morning, I read Cymbaline's latest post, and thought that the woman in the story nailed her assessment of Cymbaline, while simultaneously understanding what she needed for her own daughter.
And I feel it growing inside me.  A twisted gut full of anger and annoyance.  Here it comes, my brain is saying.  She's going to ask you where you went wrong.  Tell me all the mistakes you made so my daughter won't repeat them.  Though more artfully asked - how can i make sure my daughter doesn't make all the dumb decisions you did?

Except none of this comes.

Instead she askes me to talk to her daughter.  To let her know there's someone who she can turn to who maybe went through some of the same things she is going through.  Someone other than a friend (who doesn't know anything), a parent (who she is rebelling against) or a rabbi (who she seems to have lost interest in).
Perhaps best of all is how she seems to have read Cymbaline perfectly:
She gives me the sweetest smile ANYONE has ever given me in my life.
I see you around Cymbaline, she tells me.  I see you shopping for your mother or running your errands.  I see how you interact with people.  I see you smile at everyone and have nice words for everyone.  I've asked about you too.  Not from the yentas who would say bad things about you, but from people who would know you better.  No one has a bad word to say about you.
Obscured by Clouds is excellent not only because of the content and ride Cymbaline seems to be on, but the self-honesty that's sprinkled (if not poured) throughout. While surely to many Cymbaline is obscured by clouds, it doesn't take a lot to see her for who she really is, and that's far more impressive.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

I'm Crazy, But Only For A Day

Guest post by YH

When I got back into shidduchim last year, there was one rule first and foremost in my mind: I’m looking to get married not to play games. One of my goals in marriage is to find the happiness that comes from stability, and it’s hard to be happy when you have this huge gaping hole in your life. It’s hard to look at the positives when you see such a big negative. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when all you want to do is lie down and indulge in self-pity. We’ve all had something which makes us feel incredibly lousy. It’s the essence of the shidduch crisis. The crisis isn’t that there are thousands of unmarried men and women who desire strongly to have kids and raise a family. The crisis is you and me. It’s a personal crisis shared by thousands.

I know what it means to hold a baby in your arms, to teach a child to read, to show little ones right from wrong. Boruch Hashem, I’ve been blessed with several ridiculously cute nephews and nieces (kn’ayin harah) whom I treasure more than anything and who love me back unconditionally. Boruch Hashem I have a close relationship with my married siblings, and I have a glimpse on the world “inside”.

It’s the hardest thing for me in the world.

How can you maintain a balance, an equilibrium, when every day you’re constantly reminded that you’re still alone, that you’re still single - especially in our culture which is centered around family life? How can you maintain yourself with rejection after rejection; to see your optimism and self-confidence crumble into dust?

Take some time off. Indulge a little in your self-pity. Don’t feel guilty; just let it wash over yourself. Watch a movie, hang out with a friend. Do something that will let you just relax. Then think it through – remember what your life is about. The life I want has a wife and a family. Children of my own. But that’s not the life Hashem gave me, not yet, and I have no business wallowing when there is so much out there for me. Grab life by the horns. Kick yourself back into high-gear, make a goal for yourself, and then follow the steps necessary to accomplish it. Start exercising, drop a few pounds, ditch the raggedy sweater with the nacho stains and get a nice shirt or a new tie. Make yourself feel better about being you, and start being proactive. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. It’s ok to be crazy.

But only for a day.

Friday, April 08, 2011

EZ Reads & Commentary 4/8/11

There's something in here for everyone - enjoy! (HT: Diana for a few of these)

On the more serious side:
  • Mother in Israel, who sadly lost her father, writes about what was helpful (and what was not) during her shiva. A good series of advice for people on how to help... and how not to. (MiI)
  • Russian billionaire to fund Jewish "Al-Jazeera", except with less propaganda. (JPost)
  • A CNN sports legend is leaving birthday messages for his little daughter as he fights a losing battle with cancer. (CNN)
  • Eli Clark on "Who is Modern Orthodox?" (Hirhurim)
  • Josh Waxman asks if believing a pomegranate has 613 seeds is a fundamental belief (no) and explains why some truly think so.(Parshablog)
  • On a What Would You Do show (Israeli version, not ABC's), it's impressive that just about every Israeli not just didn't support an (acting) anti-Arab store owner, but criticized, offered to pay for the (acting) Arab lady trying to buy coffee, and many got extremely emotional (angry or sad) about it. (Cross Currents)
Elsewhere, some fun/cool stuff:
  • New sport that looks cool/fun, if a bit confusing (Why do they have 4 goals if it's two teams? Do they have to defend two each?) - Kronum.
  • Unorthodox Orthodox guitarist. I just like that he was playing at an IFL game. (RafiG)
  • Israel winery wins international award - I always liked Golan. (EoZ)
  • Israeli tots win international ice hockey tournament... despite never having played on ice before. (EoZ)
  • Fun video from the Governor press conference when the famous YouTube kid who cried he couldn't be Governor is made Governor for a day in New Jersey. If Christie does run for President, this video will do him well; also, he comes off well on TV.
  • Cool time lapse video of a flight from San Francisco to Paris. Best part: Aurora Borealis in middle.
  • Via A Soldier's Mother, Dov Hoschander (a genuinely nice guy who I've met a few times through a friend) has made a really nice music video of a song dedicated to the IDF, based on the Mi Shebeirach for soldiers in the army.

Seeing is Believing in Politics, Too

It's why President Obama started his 2012 campaign before a government shutdown potentially occurs (to change the visual) even though it seemingly hurts him (to run against his own record with no clear opponent), while the NRSC wisely spoofed it quickly (and reasonably well; via SIL) and how Paul Ryan is doing far more damage to Obama with the great visual accompaniments to his own budget proposal than by simply proposing an alternate budget to the President's. (Video via YwL)

While most people won't even spend the time to watch this, it's actually a) pretty interesting and well done and b) far more likely to be watched by people than the budget proposal being read in any way, and c) gives a much more clear picture of what we're talking about.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Honesty and the Jewish Community IV: Seeing is Believing (and Ignorance is Bliss)

(continued from here - whole series is here)

Friends of ours once made a comment literally in passing, as we stopped to say hi to one another walking down the street, that has always stuck out. It was shortly after the Jewish Economics Survey was started the first time around, and was quite honest. Our friends commented that they had seen the survey, but they decided after starting it that they didn't really want to take it. When we asked why not, they responded that "We know that right now and for the foreseeable future, we are living way beyond our means. We'd rather not know exactly how bad it is or think about it too much, and just enjoy life and worry about it later when we can do something about it." To be fair, these friends are not blinding themselves - one is now a doctor, the spouse a professional as well - nor living fancily, and they simply wouldn't have had the ability to do too much about their finances for a while. But the attitude is a real one, albeit differing in scope from person to person.

Often in life, we tend to unconsciously (if not consciously) convince ourselves that things are better than they really are. Sometimes, this is a good trait: It allows us to be more optimistic about life, stay sane when times are rough, continue to function well on a daily basis until things really do get better, or maybe even just allow us to continue enjoying watching sports (last one may apply only to people from Cleveland). But it can also get us into trouble, by not letting us recognize problems quickly enough and allowing them to fester and grow until it's too late. People (usually) innately understand this to be true, which is why so much of life seems to be full of advice columns and tips and tricks which essentially are supposed to 'trick' us into thinking about things properly and doing what we're supposed to be doing.

The easiest way to avoid issues in life is to not see them - and the way to solve them, while difficult, is to open one's eyes and honestly assess what is happening. It's why, the free personal finance site and (as many friends and readers know) a personal favorite, sold itself to Intuit for $170 million within a few years of its creation - its visual appeal made its popularity take off and they picked up millions of users in almost no time. One of its PR liaisons once explained the site was delaying putting out a Blackberry application due to its lack of visual appeal on the Blackberries out at that time, and how important the visual representations of spending were to the impact the site had on its users. A favorite story are couples who have stopped fighting about their expenses once they could see it all in front of them clearly, and started working to fix their budget. Without that "in front of your face" simple-to-understand representation, all the data in the world couldn't impact a user the same way.

We have so many issues in the Orthodox community, and yet we turn a blind eye so often to the wrongs the occur within it - from white collar criminals to shady business practices, from excusing horrible behavior and commentary to racism and the like, to the way people are treated as ba'alei teshuva/geirim or in the shidduchim process, to the (finally being discussed somewhat) cases of abuse, we let so much slide. Worse yet, we justify so much of it in the name of "the community" or as "necessary evils" to be put up with. As a simple example, this past week a suit needed to get dry-cleaned prior to an event, and Serach brought it to a nearby dry cleaner we have never used before that said they could get it done that day for a reasonable price. When I went to pick up the suit and pay via debit card, they said they couldn't take it for under $25 - and that since they don't advertise that they accept credit cards, they can refuse to take it. I pointed out that this was false, as per their cardmember agreement, and they said to report them but they will not give me the suit, and literally grabbed it away and took it to the back. (Ezzie: I actually did report them, but apparently in NY you can't report a dry cleaner - they have a specific exemption for dry cleaners that they won't take complaints. Odd.) What disgusted me the most was their argument: The owner said to me,
"I don't care what the rule is, I know I'm not supposed to, but (waving his arm motioning to the other stores nearby) every other store here does it, go ask them. They all won't take cards for under whatever, and I won't either accept credit cards for under $25."

Sadly, the thought that goes through the head of listeners to stories like this not automatically that this is a dishonest store not to be visited, but all too often instead that "I have to remember to bring cash when I go to that dry cleaner."

Until we as a community show that we will absolutely not accept dishonesty at any level, we are simply feeding its continuance and growth. Blissful ignorance may sometimes work for one's self, but it translates into and contributes to countless people being hurt, seeing their lives damaged if not destroyed, and placing many of them into truly dangerous situations. These are not merely the people we pass by on the street but don't really know, so we can pretend that it's "not so bad", but these are our colleagues and people in our shul, our neighbors and friends - people like us.

Or us, too.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

EZ Reads 4/5/11

Clearing out all the posts I've been meaning to put up in the last week...
  • How Israel could become an energy giant (WSJ)
  • R' Herschel Schachter on What Is Orthodox? (Matzav - HT: YS)
  • Nice piece on Mimulo flower shop in Brooklyn by The New York Times, which also has some interesting insights into the Chabad/Orthodox world surrounding it. (HT: Hirhurim)
  • Great news piece by WBAL about a teacher in Ner Israel - Baltimore who has been teaching for 75 years, including 51 at NIRC. (Aish)
  • Full transcript of Netanyahu's YouTube interview (DaledAmos). Really interesting.
  • An interesting collection of thoughts on James Kugel's recent book (Fink or Swim)
  • What adopting a white girl taught one black family (Newsweek). I don't know that the biases are so much more true for black parents of a white child than the reverse - I think it's natural to suspect an adult tending to a child that looks nothing like them, and distinctly recall having similar concerns on a whitewater rafting trip where my friend and I were on a raft with a black child with white adoptive parents. (Their continuous negativity didn't help much.) That said, I think there's a reasonable case to be made for taking race into some kind of consideration in adoption - if in a specific case the race of the child or parents could become a troubling factor for the child as they try to grow up it may not be a good situation. Similarly, I think there's a preference (or should be) to keep children with people of the same general religion and the like - I know OHEL tries to move Jewish children into Jewish foster homes, for example.

The Power of Words

(Hat tip: Shoshana K) A brilliant ad on the power of words.

From A Small Child

A really moving video by Sinai Schools, which provide a "uniquely special education" to special needs kids, talking about how they built and progressed over the decade, including integrating into regular education classrooms at Kushner schools in New Jersey, and the success of some alumni of the program as they've moved on in life. One of the feature students is the brother of a friend of ours, and another alumnus shown is a good friend of Serach's from college.

"The SINAI Schools encompass two elementary schools, three high schools and two transitional group residences for young adults. Since we operate within "host" schools, many of our children are mainstreamed for portions of the day, both academically and socially, into regular school classes and extra-curricular activities --- a powerful process whose results richly reward both student populations."

One Heart Global

Over the last few weeks, our close friend (whom I wrote about here) who lives in Israel was staying at our home while on vacation. While she was on a short road trip with a friend during her vacation, and we were taking Kayla for surgery to have a second round of tubes put in her ears, there was a bus bombing in Jerusalem. After the surgery I tried calling her to let her know about the attack, and she asked if I had spoken to her mother - apparently her mother had tried calling her a few times. The fear in her voice was palpable, and while thank God nobody from her family was near the attack, it brought back the memories of my own years in Israel and all the times since when there have been terror attacks and the frantic calls back and forth to let everyone know everyone was okay (or c'v not).

During my time in Israel in 2001-2003, I would often go to this friend's first cousin, also a great family friend who we had grown up with in Cleveland. She had kindly offered to let me come and often bring friends to watch NFL (particularly Browns) games late Sunday nights in her apartment, along with having me for meals if I was in the area. I was near her Katamon apartment, on the way back from her cousin's family in Efrat, when bombers blew up Ben Yehuda street killing about 25 and injuring over a hundred, including a cousin's brother-in-law, narrowly missing friends of mine from school. I recall hearing a large boom, then... mostly silence, from where I was. I recall wondering why no buses came, no traffic at all in fact, for about 45 minutes - only to hear the news when cousins started calling me to see if I had been nearby.

While in Katamon on occasion, I also became friends with her roommate at the time, Sarri Singer, who was very active in numerous ways. She was dedicated to helping victims of terror and working (if I'm recalling correctly) for Gift of Life, which is a massive bone marrow registry, actually setting up a swabbing at Ohr Yerushalayim where I was in school one day where the whole yeshiva took part. Her roommate's father, who was my own father's best friend for fifty years, had died of leukemia, which made her work that much more meaningful. Sarri had come to Israel dedicated to helping victims of terror after a missed alarm clock led to her not being in her office just two buildings away from Ground Zero on 9/11. I recall thinking that what she did was really just impressive - she was truly dedicated to working hard on the various projects and causes she was involved with.

The week I left the country after my second year in Israel, I was horrified to learn that she herself had been on a bus which was blown up by a terrorist, killing a little girl seated next to her along with 15 others, wounding over 100, and leaving her hospitalized for two weeks.

Today, I see that her hard work and dedication is paying numerous dividends. Sarri has co-founded and grown an amazing organization called OneHeartGlobal, dedicated to helping victims of terror from all over the world. This past Friday she and an Irish member who has lost eight family members in attacks were interviewed by Gayle King, and you can listen to the full interview there.

You can donate to OneHeartGlobal here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Queens Israel Solidarity Concert

Queens Israel Solidarity Concert 2011
Israel Solidarity Fund of America
3502 Quentin Road Brooklyn, NY 11234
(917) 751-1237

April 4, 2011

Dear Friend,

In the last few weeks a young family in Itamar, Israel was brutally murdered and the following week a bus was bombed in Jerusalem. Americans read about these horrible events and now many are looking for a way to help.  We live here in New York without such fears of attack and bombings. We must stand together in support of those who risk their lives each day by living in Israel. Their presence in Israel ensures that Jewish people will always have a homeland.

We will be holding a benefit concert to bring people in the Queens community and beyond together in support of Israel and to raise money for victims of terror.

By aiding victims of terror we will help ourselves and our people to live better lives. We need your help. As a grassroots effort, being launched by members of the community, we need to raise money to make money. At this time we are looking to raise $40-50,000 by April 10, 2011 in order to get this event off the ground. Once we have sponsorships for the event, all profits from the concert will go directly to the victims and their families. Israel Solidarity Fund is run by volunteers and has no over head costs. We hope we can count on your support.

Queens Israel Solidarity Concert
June 19, 2011 at CUNY Queens College – Colden Theatre
Top Jewish music talent (TBD based on monies raised)

Sponsorship Levels:
  • Platinum - $25,000
    • Name/Logo on all ads – concert sponsored by…, 20 VIP tickets, ad on inside-cover of playbill
  • Gold - $15,000
    • 15 VIP tickets, banner on stage, ad on inside-cover of playbill
  • Silver - $10,000
    • 10 VIP tickets, banner on stage, ad on inside-cover of playbill
  • Bronze - $5,000
    • 8 VIP tickets, banner on stage, full-page ad in playbill
  • Supporter - $2,500
    • 6 VIP tickets, banner on stage, full-page ad in playbill
  • Corporate - $1,000
    • 6 VIP tickets, full-page ad in playbill
  • Family - $500
    • 4 VIP tickets, half-page ad in playbill
  • Friend - $250
    • 2 VIP tickets, quarter-page ad in playbill

Thank you in advance for your generosity and support. Please call with any questions or for more information.


Samantha Kramer
Co-Chair Queens Israel Solidarity Concert

Saturday, April 02, 2011

EZ Reads 4/2/11

  • Austin Kleon: How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 other things nobody told me). There are some really good points within.
  • Hirhurim on R' Gedalia Dov Schwartz's pamphlet on converts to Judaism. Very interesting.
  • More parents are at least considering public and charter schools in New Jersey.
  • IsraellyCool analyzes the ridiculous Times op-ed by a Jewish couple about checkpoints in Israel, noting the history of attacks of soldiers at checkpoints including that very checkpoint, and showing that the time spent going through isn't much different than what a person may go through at airport security.
  • Goldstone backs away from his now infamous Goldstone Report, which condemned Israel. Thanks, only two years too late to use common sense. Whatever, it's better than nothing.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Phantom Charges From Aron's - Call Aron's or Your Bank


They have had an issue with their credit card processing machines, and you may have been charged randomly! We noticed a $100+ charge hitting our bank yesterday from Aron's Kissena Farms in Kew Gardens Hills, despite not having shopped there in a week. We called them last night, and were told they would look into it and we'd be called back (we were not). We called again today, they looked into it, and they said it was their error and have issued a refund (after transposing the refund amount and charging us again to make up the difference). Check your account and make sure any charges from Aron's were actually incurred, and if not, call them up and complain and/or call your bank to dispute the charge.

And yes, I think it's odd. It's not as if it was the same amount we spent and it accidentally resent the charge - it's a completely random (yet realistic) amount, which means many people may just think "Aron's, looks about right", and let it go. 

Please be aware!