Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Real Leadership

Tonight I received an email from someone in the shul I daven in which said the following (edited slightly):

As I'm sure you all know, the Weberman trial has been going on for the past week, and I personally have been following this trial pretty closely, and have gone to court as well as a protest in the name of this victim and all victims whom are suffering in silence due to the pressure and intimidation of our very own community. We all read about these things in the news, and talk about how it is terrible that these things happen, and then we go on with our day.

Well, here is a chance for each and everyone of us to make a difference and show the victims that we will stand by their side, and Yes, we care and will not tolerate the fear and intimidation that is being bred throughout our schools and Shuls. 
At Shalish Shudas this past week I mentioned to the Rabbi that I wanted to go to the trial, and he praised the idea and even mentioned that he should go himself. I called Rebbi today and asked him if he would come with me to court tomorrow, and sure enough, he is is a man of his word and told me he will come to show his support. I know for myself what this has done for me in the past couple hours knowing that the Rabbi is coming to show his support - imagine what it will do for these victims knowing that they have a Rabbi with a complete congregation in their corner! 
I know this is short notice but I ask you all to take out a couple of hours tomorrow morning and come to court with me, Rebbi, and a couple of others (so far) to show our support.
The trial is at Brooklyn Criminal Court 320 Jay St ( there is a parking lot on the block) 20th Floor. Court starts at 9 a.m.

Please respond if you plan on coming and we will work out rides together.
Some have already replied they will come along; others (including myself) noted that they can't take off work on such short notice, but expressed support. If anyone is interested in joining, please feel free to do so - it would mean an incredible amount to those who have been abused and others. The girl in this case was told that a shul would be coming led by their Rav, and was beyond words. R' Yaakov Horowitz has written a number of pieces on the case and why people should come show their support, and has himself been going as well.

As for myself, I'm just honored to be a part of such a shul.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Money and the Ethnic Vote

"C'est vrai, c'est vrai qu'on a été battus, au fond, par quoi? Par l'argent puis des votes ethniques, essentiellement". ("It's true, it's true we were beaten, yes, but by what? By money and ethnic votes, essentially.") - Jacques Parizeau, 1995 (Source: Wikipedia)

I held off on writing this post for a few days to settle my thoughts on the recent election.  Over the past few days it has seemed that everyone has given a reason as to why Mitt Romney lost the election. When discussing with friends, it was almost as if they felt that American Values have gone out the window and the root cause, although not everyone has explicitly stated this, due to immigrants not having the same values as America and eroding our society. When people claim minorities as a contributing reason, it makes me feel very uncomfortable as having belonged the 'ethnic votes' in the election I quoted above. It was not too long ago that Jews were/are considered to be a group which does not share the values of Americans. The same of the Catholics and the Mormons. It smells of Xenophobia and racism and makes me feel uncomfortable voting for a leaders who may hold such beliefs, even if they have the same political values as I do. In Quebec, most Jews actually favor many of the political values held by the separatist party, yet will not vote for them because of their underlying xenophobia.

If the Republicans want to win, it has to be about how their message is relevant and important to all groups and all Americans, whether they be Black, Hispanic, Muslim, or Asian and Whites. They have to show or convey a message of being inclusive and welcoming to all the tired, poor, and hungry masses who yearn to share and give and be free in the the American experience. The message should not be that they should focus only on their base and getting them to turn out. As a recent op-ed in the WSJ points out that this approach will likely also lead to future Republican disappointments.

I think as a society, and the American experience, is taking everything in the world and incorporating the good parts into our society. Or as someone once said 'everywhere has something they are known for, although it usually washes up on our shores'.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Rabbi's Daughter

The Rabbi's Daughter from בית ספר מעלה on Vimeo.

Fascinating video - it's almost a profile of a few daughters of famous Religious Zionist Rabbonim in Israel, who aren't religious/as religious as their parents, and how that impacts their lives. It's very emotional without trying to be, and just very interesting.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


In the previous post, Walking Away from Judaism, many of the commenters took the post to be about Judaism's own standards, and began heated debates on the subject. While interesting, it was not the focal point of the post, nor was it what was being driven at. 

Growing up, I was always told that Jews were honest, good people. I was told this by Jews, but I was also told this by gentiles. They trusted the Jews, because we were trustworthy, and we were honest. We would treat them fairly and treat one another fairly. This was still true as I got older, too - it was the Jews who would tell cashiers if they were given too much change, it was the Jews who would go out of their way to help others - whether the person being helped was Jewish or not.

Today... this is simply not the view. When numerous people were defending criminals in the Orthodox community in a situation I was directly impacted by, it was the gentiles who had lost tens of thousands of dollars from those criminals who were the biggest menschen about it. Others have told us similar stories of Jews acting horribly, while the non-Jews involved performed well beyond the call of duty. The gentiles in the first story not only were incredibly kind and pleasant, meeting up with some of us afterward and being genuinely great people, but they even went beyond and tried to help a couple people who were struggling to find something to get a job. Meanwhile, in the community, people told those struggling that they should be thankful a criminal gave them a job for a year. Another friend was upended from a teaching job in a Jewish day school where he was performing wonderfully, because an administrator was rubbed the wrong way. Another administrator said it wasn't right, that he would fight for him... so the school held his own job over his head. He kept quiet. The only one to speak up? The non-Jewish general studies teacher who worked with him, who wrote a glowing recommendation, noting that what was being done was just wrong.

What happened? When did our community become so... horrible? We used to have standards of decency; expectations of how people act, a dedication to honesty and integrity, and an understanding of what the best way of doing things was. Now, we have nothing - no standards, no expectations, no honesty, and certainly no good approach of how to do things. We cannot continue in the direction we are going, or there will be nothing left worth salvaging. When, indeed, did we become so horrible? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

I don't have a solution. But it certainly needs to start from within - we need to care about our standards. We need to care when people don't live up to them. People can't simply ignore the negative issues that surround them constantly. The more people speak up about the little things, the more it may begin to have an impact on all issues. It's time to start living up to our own standards.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Walking Away From Judaism

The last few months - perhaps years, but in particular the recent months - have been very trying for the average Orthodox Jew. Depending on one's views, a person may have spent the recent months justifying the massive expense for a gathering about an undoubtedly serious issue, defending the views expressed at said gathering and/or reconciling them with other serious conflicts, commenting on the sad article by a divorced man and his ex-wife whose dedication to his learning over working ultimately led to their divorce, and perhaps defending the stance of a major Jewish organization regarding how they feel molestation accusations should be handled - or criticizing all of the above. Or, perhaps some balance of both. No matter what one's opinions, there is no way to get around that these are the major topics of discussion in today's Orthodox world, and to argue any of these points is difficult, tiring, and perhaps most of all, depressing.

My mother was in a few months ago to visit my grandparents, and we discussed briefly how some Rabbonim feel that molestation cases should first be reported to Rabbonim before seeking out the secular authorities. My mother (who is a ba'alas teshuva from the 60's) was moderately aghast, and said something along the lines of "If a Rabbi would get up and say to me that I should report my kid being molested to him instead of the police, I'd hang my hat on the whole religion and walk away." I didn't have the heart to note that it was the spokesperson of one of the largest Orthodox organizations, the Agudah, which made this statement as an official Agudah edict, though she will upon reading this piece.

Her comment, however, makes a person wonder: Why, indeed, are we still clinging to Judaism?

A friend commented recently that she hates it when people say not to judge Judaism by the Jews: "A huge part of Orthodox life is the society we create around ourselves. We are meant to be part of the community." As such, it is impossible to just ignore everything that goes on and pretend as if it doesn't exist, as if it doesn't affect our day-to-day lives. Our children's schools are shaped by these issues, our home lives are shaped by them, and each of these issues ultimately shape how our communities are structured and how we interact with one another and with the world at large. Molestation is not merely an issue of children being horribly abused; it is an issue of what our priorities are as a community vis-a-vis interaction with secular authorities, how to balance protection of children from a suspected molester with the protection of adults from false accusations, how we weigh status, how we interact with our own communities, how we view someone who has committed horrible acts in the past moving forward, and how we view safety in general.

It is not enough to say that we should concentrate on worrying about ourselves while ignoring the actions of others. While understandable as an individual viewpoint, this passive approach has been a quiet failure for the Jewish community as a whole, as the actions of others do affect us. When a molester is protected for whatever sake, what does that show about how we value life, innocence, and our children? When dishonesty and theft are ignored, their actors praised - even at supposedly 'insignificant' levels - what message does that send to the hard-working majority, or to the next generation? When people hear about the latest wrong and simply shrug their shoulders, resigned to the idea that "well that's how it goes", without making a conscious effort to avoid patronizing, socializing, and rewarding those who act contrary to what is right, what does it say about us as a community?

What does it say about us as a people, as a religion, when we seem to spend more time justifying all we do that is wrong than being able to point to anything we do that is right?

It is easy to say that it is Elul, and a perfect time for a plea for action. But we shouldn't need Elul to wake up to what we're doing, to see where this is heading! We shouldn't need a special reason or push to do what we're supposed to be doing already. It's appalling that we don't speak out against all the issues that plague us as a community. It's despicable that we shrug off dishonesty like it's common, even if it is - especially if it is! - and it's pathetic that we still have sizable groups in the community who defend molesters; who don't care how they get something so long as it's a good deal for them, or who don't care about how a store acts or how a person made their money; and though we're decades into discussing the subject, who don't understand why so many kids are running off the derech. Maybe if we turned our backs on the people doing wrong, instead of on those trying to do what's right, we'll find that our community returns to one of happiness, of greatness, and of Godliness. Let's get it together for the simple reason that that's what we're supposed to do.

Otherwise, what are we clinging to?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Two Wheelchair Wedding

This is absolutely beautiful. Read it, watch it - just be warned, you will suddenly find the room very, very dusty. (Hat tip: Serach)

Baseball at 90% of the speed of light

A lot of readers of this blog may also know about the webcomic called

[If you have never read their comics go there now and don't stop until you have read them all. Make sure you read the mouse-over (place your mouse over the comic and a small text box will come up) It is usually funnier and compliments the comic strip.]

Anyhow, for those xkcd lovers and those who love sports will appreciate their second post on the new what-if blog. The question is What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? For the long answer go there. For the short answer, the batter would advance to first and be considered "hit by pitch".

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Plea For Help

Received via e-mail from a young woman who endured horrible sexual abuse, and has been working incredibly hard (and been reasonably successful) at overcoming the demons of her past while creating a successful life and future for herself. But successful therapy requires a lot of hard work - and paying the therapists and all the others who work so hard alongside the person.

What is it about psychotherapy that makes people turn their backs? Yes, I know there's no money for anything. And sure, I can throw myself to the mercy of a sliding scale fee clinic with no experience dealing with DID, just as I'm starting to make progress.

But seriously, we have a community organization for everything. Cancer? We have you covered-kids of courage, chai lifeline, RCCS. In prison? Nationwide campaigns to help you out. No money for food? Masbia, tomchei shabbos, oneg shabbos. Developmental delays? Hasc, Bais Ezra, otzar. Physical illness? Bikur cholim from every group, and then they take care of you with all the equipment you need-I'm losing track of names of organizations, but people will bring you hospital beds, commodes, rolling bedside tables, crutches, wheelchairs. You name it.

Have an out of the ordinary mental illness? They won't even return emails. I am nearly at the point of embarrassing myself and my family and standing on a street corner begging. At least beggars on the street get your loose change.

Please, if you're reading this, it means I trust you completely. Spread my story without my name. I can't deal with the guilt anymore. My father is writing out checks on pay checks he hasn't gotten yet for some of my treatment, part of my treatment team hasn't been paid since before my first hospitalization this year.

The address where people can send money (the story includes a wonderful, anonymous person who has agreed to have the therapy fund money mailed to his house so it can be funneled in the right direction):
Keren Zichron Gedalyahu
C/O M. Keller
566 East 8th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11218

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Loshon Hara About Gedolim

A recent post by my cousin R' Ally was very interesting, discussing his thoughts regarding ruminating about various Rabbonim and Gedolim and their shortcomings. It's a worthwhile read, and as he asked for feedback at the end, this is what I e-mailed him (very slightly edited). Please note that this was a quick middle of the night e-mail and therefore not fully fleshed out, particularly the last paragraph which ends abruptly.

For whatever it's worth from a non-Halachic mind...

I've long felt that using sechel is important. Obviously what the Chazon Ish says about it needing to be accurate is of utmost importance (as it always should be), but once that's established, I see no issue in reporting the truth and informing people about Rabbonim/Gedolim/et al. By definition a gadol needs to be someone whom a person can respect, and if knowing a piece of information will change a person's mindset as to how they view a Rav/Gadol and what they are saying I would think that is critical.

A few years ago, I was criticized by some for allowing to be published on my blog a [public] letter of a Rebbe where he spoke out in a very nasty way about a certain institution. Nobody disputes the accuracy of what was written, yet I received threats from some of his talmidim for 'saying badly' about a 'Gadol b'Torah'. I believe all of those people were wrong - there are many parents who would be hesitant at best to send their child to a Rebbe with those views, feeling that he will not teach their children appropriately, and it is important to show those parents what he thinks in his own words. I don't think this constitutes lashon hara whatsoever.*

Perhaps more importantly, a friend once went around to a number of Rabbonim/Rabbeim and Gedolim asking them to explain the concept of Da'as Torah clearly. He felt the best answer he received was from a Rebbe of ours who said that while he can't define the term, he can advise that a person find a Rebbe who "cares most about what's best for him [the Talmid] than anyone/anything else [i.e. the Rebbe, the Yeshiva, perceptions, etc.]". Based on that, which I think rings very much as Emes, I would further state that it's important that people understand which Rabbeim and Rabbonim and Gedolim are most capable of doing so. Therefore, I think it not just permissible but perhaps important to be clear about what a person's strengths and weaknesses might be particularly as it relates to being a Rav/Rebbe/Gadol.

I should add that it has often struck me that many Rabbeim I've met or even had are not capable from a Middos perspective of doing so, and that has always bothered me (perhaps particularly coming from a Mussar perspective, having grown up down the block from R' Dessler in Cleveland and learning in a Chofetz Chaim branch in a small town) - how can these people lead others, serve as their Rebbeim, etc.? (To varying degrees, and some people with poor middos can still accomplish a great deal in other areas of chinuch or Rabbonus etc., I don't mean to paint a broad brush at all.)

*A Rosh Yeshiva I respect who was directly negatively impacted by the incident expressed very nicely to me a couple of years later that my posting about the letter had hurt, and he felt I should not have done so, though he said he was fully mochel regardless. I disagree (and didn't ask for said mechila, though it's nice to have in case I'm wrong) for the reasons stated above.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A New Paradigm for Note-Passing

Imagine the following scenario: You work in a company where you get evaluated on your performance. You either work hard as you  can, have your personal struggles, and there are weaknesses in your performance. Then about 3 to 4 times a year, your manager sends your performance appraisal to another manager and they meet without you to discuss your performance. Afterwards both managers tell you how your performance has been, impose goals on you, and how you better improve your performance or else. Sounds crazy, right?

I was recently at a conference where someone who works in the People Analytics department at Google was talking about how they introduced an instantaneous feedback system. As an introduction, he talked about how in grade school you would get a report card in the mail, your parents would read it, and you would cover in fear after PTA. Then he described how note passing between classmates is a form of more instantaneous feedback and how they developed an internal platform to give employees instant feedback from their coworkers to help improve their performance.

From a performance management division it was kind of cool and it got me thinking about how we do performance reviews - in the classroom.

Well that's not even close to the way  teachers try to enhance performance of students in the classroom. They work hard (or not), get a report card, then the teacher and parents sit down and discuss the way that the child's performance is going to improve, what interventions or punishments to use, etc - all of this without the child's buy-in for the improvement or his/her input! There has been an effort by some to institute a character based report card as well, however there is opposition to it (from what I've heard, especially from Preparatory schools). I have also heard that some schools are starting to invite children to come to PTA meetings. I think that these are important steps to improving education.

In performance management, there are best practices to achieve higher levels of performance: The person being evaluated should rate themselves on a series of behaviors, skills, and knowledge. (Not just one performance dimension, but rather let's say 10 dimensions of their skills e.g.- motivation, knowledge, teamwork) Then the manager should rate them and they should sit down to discuss where the employee is doing well, where they are meeting expectations, and where they need improvement. The employee has the ability to explain their performance and then together they set goals and an action plan to achieve those goals. I am not an educator nor a child/school psychologist; I do however have knowledge of how performance management works. It works well to improve performance especially when the goal of the review is to develop the employee rather than decide whether they are getting a raise or promotion. I am not saying to do away completely with grades for subjects. I am saying that performance for subjects should be broken down by dimension; composition, vocabulary, grammar, etc. This will not only help students understand their weaknesses but their strengths as well.