29 December 2006

Every Great Man Must Fall...

except chas v'shalom, if he is your rav and you put him on the proverbial pedestal.

As I might said before, I was not m'kareved by any particular rabbi or kiruv group. I just chose to be frum and did a TON of studying. In some ways, it has been extra "footwork" for us. We still go to the rabbi from the egalitarian minyan for ethical and family conflict issues because we are close to him. For "other" types of shailahs (kashrut, tahorat ha-mishpachah, etc.), we go to the congregational rabbi. The system has its disadvantages such as not having a "rav" to look up to for guidance in our lives. On the other hand...

I just deleted this long complicated story about someone I know who has started to become disillusioned by the frum lifestyle he chose ten years ago. It was essentially going nowhere. Let me give the kitzur.

I think one of the leading causes of people falling off the derekh are delusions. The idea that life will be "better" by becoming frum? It is more expensive (kosher food/living in the "right" neighborhood because all the shuls are in wealthier areas/day schools/having a good job where you have vacation time banked for chagim) but you have to see the rewards. My children are getting more stability than I did growing up. One parent, Mom, did not let me eat bacon but Dad took us out for it anyway. At least cyp and I are not conflicted about our home.

Where I consider myself blessed is I have always people for what they are and have not (for the most part) put high expectations on those who "seem" more holy than me. I accept rabbis with all their flaws. They are people too. They might not give the best advice for that person (like sending someone off to "their" yeshiva, but that is someone else's story to tell; you know who you are) but it is up to you think through whether this advice would work for you.

When it comes to matters of halakhah, I will defer to my rabbi. If I am in complete agreement with it, I might even have a debate with him to have it made clear. However, I have no intention of putting any of them up on that pedestal, for fear that they might lose their human status, fall and shatter.

24 December 2006

Meme from Chana (aka Jewess with Horns)

Read the ones in purple for commentary. The ones in black are "no".

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink.
02. Swam with wild dolphins.
03. Climbed a mountain. [Like Chana, lots of times in a car. On foot? What is considered the minimum height for a mountain? I've done some small cliffs.]
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive.
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid.
06. Held a tarantula.
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone. [Classified!]
08. Said "I love you" and meant it [I married him.]
09. Hugged a tree. [And proud to say that cool yiddishe maidel hugs a lot of the trees on the walk to shul.]
10. Bungee-jumped.
11. Visited Paris.
12. Watched a lightening storm at sea.
13. Stayed up all night and saw the sun rise [on a lake with cool yiddishe papa]14. Seen the Northern Lights.
15. Gone to a huge sports game. [Name it, I've been there--baseball, basketball, football, hockey.]
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa. [No, but would like to try the Washington Monument the next time I'm in DC.]
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables. [We had a garden in my backyard. Every summer, when I was a kid, we grew something. My mother has kept it going, I have yet to.]
18. Touched an iceberg.
19. Slept under the stars. [The night of a huge black out when I was 16 at my friend's house. Her AC had conked out.]
20. Changed a baby's diaper. [I have two children, babysat, and worked at a day care. What do you think?!]
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon.
22. Watched a meteor shower.
23. Gotten drunk on champagne. [Due to our complusive habit to finish a bottle of wine in one sitting, of course.]
24. Given more than you can afford to charity. [Does day school tuition count?]
25. Looked up at the night sky with a telescope.
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit. [Pick the poison...alcohol (see #23), etc.]
27. Had a food fight.
28. Bet on a winning horse. [My one time I went to the race track and actually walked out with more than I walked in with.]
29. Asked out a stranger. [A teen dance club when I was 16. We traded numbers but never actually went out.]
30. Had a snowball fight. [With sibs and friends as a kid.]
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can. [It was a great tool for letting out frustrations...highly recommend it.]
32. Held a lamb.
33. Seen a total eclipse of the Moon.
34. Ridden a roller coaster. [That was part of cym's life, BC (Before Children). I won't see inside another amusement park until the maidels are old/big enough to go on the coaster with me.]
35. Hit a home run.
36. Danced like a fool. [Actually, I'm pretty coordinated.]
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day. [Would like to try.]
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even just for a moment. [Each time I held my babies, for the first time.]
39. Had two hard drives for your computer. [Not sure, but a good question for cyp, my in-house tech support.]
40. Visited all 50 states.
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk. [Does yourself count?]
42. Had amazing friends. [All my friends are amazing in their own ways.]
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country. [Kabbalat Shabbat at a Carlebach minyan in Tzfat.]
44. Watched wild whales.
45. Stolen a sign.
46. Backpacked in Europe.
47. Taken a road trip. [My buddy, MM, and I used to fashion ourselves "Thelma and Louise" without the guns in my pre-children days.]
48. Gone rock climbing.
49. Midnight walk on the beach. [Same beach where we saw the sun rise.]
50. Gone sky diving.
51. Visited Ireland.
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love.
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them. [Does running into Chana one day in a restaurant count?]
54. Visited Japan.
55. Milked a cow. [At a local FarmPark to show cool yiddishe maidel that cows were not scary.]
56. Alphabetized your CDs. [As a teenager, when I only had 15, it was easy. Not since then.]
57. Pretended to be a Superhero? [I'm with Chana. Every mom is a superhero. That's how we get so much done...]
58. Sung karaoke. [Sister-in-law's wedding reception. Sang D-I-V-O-R-C-E to show my approval of the guy she married. Marriage ended four years later.]
59. Lounged around in bed all day. [Doing it today...told cyp that I am taking a "mental health" day.]
60. Played touch football.
61. Gone scuba diving.
62. Kissed in the rain. [In the car.]
63. Played in the mud.
64. Played in the rain.
65. Gone to a Drive-In Theatre. [Twice, would like to take kids once before all of them around here are gone.]
66. Visited the Great Wall of China.
67. Started a business. [Tried to with a friend. Currently on the "back burner".]
68. Fallen in love. [Married! Remember!]
69. Toured ancient sites. [In Israel: Old City, City of David, some "dig", Beit She'an, etc.]
70. Taken a martial arts class.
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight. [No, but think cyp might have before meeting me.]
72. Gotten married. [Duh!]
73. Been in a movie.
74. Crashed a party.
75. Gotten divorced. [Chas v'shalom!]
76. Gone without food for 5 days.
77. Made cookies from scratch. [All the time, we only use whole wheat products in our house.]
78. Won first prize in a costume contest.
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice.
80. Gotten a tattoo. [Just henna.]
81. Rafted the Snake River.
82. Been on television news programs as an "expert".
83. Got flowers for no reason. [Husband feeling guilty does not count, right?]
84. Performed on stage. [Choir and orchestra in elementary and middle school. Does my Bat Mitzvah count?]
85. Been to Las Vegas.
86. Recorded music.
87. Eaten shark. [Before I started keeping kosher.]
88. Kissed on the first date. [On the first "official" date for cyp and I.]
89. Gone to Thailand.
90. Bought a home. [And now, trying to sell.]
91. Been in a combat zone. [Just when my family gets together...]
92. Buried one/both of your parents. [Father, when I was 25 and he just turned 59. Cool yiddishe maidel was 10 weeks old. He died of colon cancer.]
93. Been on a cruise ship.
94. Spoken more than one language fluently. [Hebrew, I am moderately fluent in, but it has fallen by the wayside because Israelis prefer to speak to me in English.]
95. Performed in Rocky Horror.
96. Raised children. [The maidels keep me busy...]
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour.
What happened to 98?[Cool yiddishe mama adds, "Wrote a book". Answer: In the process of 2-3, both fiction and non-fiction.]
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country.
100. Picked up and moved to another city just to start over. [No, but cyp has threatened it a few times.]
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge.
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking. [All the time!]
103. Had plastic surgery.
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn't have survived.
105. Wrote articles for a large publication. [Won a national Hebrew language essay contest and got published in the organization's magazine.]
106. Lost over 100 pounds. [At once or in my lifetime?]
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback.
108. Piloted an airplane.
109. Touched a stingray.
110. Broken someone’s heart. [Someone who was interested in me when I was engaged, I think I let him down gently.]
111. Helped an animal give birth. [My cat, Maizie, when I was 15 would not give birth to her first litter of kittens until I came home from school.]
112. Won money on a T.V. game show.
113. Broken a bone.
114. Gone on an African photo safari.
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears.
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol.
118. Ridden a horse. [Somewhere in my memory, I know I did.]
119. Had major surgery. [Two c-sections.]
120. Had a snake as a pet.
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours. [I wish...lucky to have 18 hours over six days sometimes.]
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states.
124. Visited all 7 continents.
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days.
126. Eaten kangaroo meat.
127. Eaten sushi. [I stick to vegetarian and California rolls, still counts, Chana.]
128. Had your picture in the newspaper [For winning that essay contest...local Jewish press. Cool yiddishe maidel was in the local papers twice in six months, just for being cute.]
129. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about. [Years ago, a student of mine was ready to drop out of Hebrew school, but I convinced him to go on to Bar Mitzvah. Afterwards, he stayed on to graduate and was a day camp counselor for the synagogue. He remains active Jewishly, according to the last report.]
130. Gone back to school. [Part of my requirements as a teacher to do CEUs every year.]
131. Parasailed.
132. Touched a cockroach.
133. Eaten Fried Green Tomatoes. [Grandma was a Jew from the South. What do you think? I even know how make kosher versions of greens with smoked turkey and cornbread.]
134. Read the Iliad and the Odyssey. [Just excerpts in high school.]
135. Selected one "important author" who you missed in high school and read. [I read Dorothy Parker over the summer and was somewhat impressed more with her life than her work.]
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
137. Skipped all your school reunions.
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language.
139. Been elected to public office.
140. Written your own computer language.
141. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream. [Some parts, yes; others, no.]
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care. [Putting Dad in was his wife's decision.]
143. Built your own PC from parts. [CYP did it several times.]
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you.
145. Had a booth at a street fair. [Helped Mom with her Sears charge booth promos at festivals when I was a teenager. Just had a booth for my weight-loss booth at a recent health fair. Might hook up with Mom again next year for some craft fairs. She wants me to make gift baskets and she will market them.]
146. Dyed your hair. [At least 20 times. The last time was when I was pregnant with "light of my life". I colored my hair even though I was the only one who saw it. A friend of mine and I plan on doing blue or purple soon.]
147. Been a DJ.
148. Shaved your head [Had a "fade" done to the bottom of my hair when I was 17. We were playing Truth or Dare. I wouldn't tell the truth about this guy and me, and I wouldn't kiss the guy in the group, so the alternative was to let them shave the back of my head.]
149. Caused a car accident. [I've had three car accidents that were my fault since I started driving in 1994. The rest were "the other guy's" fault.
150. Saved someone's life. [Just from themselves.]

I tag...outoftown and sephardi lady.

On Hair Care and Peeking Rabbis...

A couple weeks ago, I was sheitel-shopping with "Dina", a friend of mine who, several months ago, completed her Orthodox conversion. We've known each other since my days in the egalitarian minyan that we have since both outgrown.

We had discussed the topic of hair-covering on several occasions. I have always relied comfortably on my "tefach" rule, even when wearing a fall, hat or tichel. She informed me that the rabbi with whom she was completing the conversion under told her that it was only a "leniency" and to not fall into our "community" standards (meaning the school that our mutual children attend as opposed to the Orthodox community as a whole). In fact, she was "not permitted" to follow that leniency. She had not completed the conversion yet and I suggested that she refer the issue to the rabbi of the congregation that they plan on joining since that will be "their community".

Back to the sheitel...she's had difficulty with the idea of covering hair with more hair. She understands hats and even scarves. They show that hair is covered. She was also put off by the high cost of this "preferred" hair covering of Rabbi N. (Hats are problematic because some hair can still show by the earlobes.) She admired the fall that I was wearing to her house on a recent Shabbat and asked where I bought it. When I admitted to skipping the sheitel machers in favor of wig stores, she was interested. I got this idea from my friend "Shoshana". She never pays than $40 for a sheitel. She figures that she can wash most synthetics in her sink and when the hair falls out, just buy a new one. [If enough would do this, it would collaspe the sheitel macher trade...]

We went to the store that I like to go to and she selected a few to try on. She found one that had an interesting coloring, in fact the "roots" matched her own hair, which showed a little bit on the other side of the hairband. She said the Rabbi N would not approve of it because 1) her hair is showing and 2) it's longer than shoulder length, by 2 inches. It was not, by any definition, a "Hot Chanie" look. She's over 40 and quite comfortable about it. [Happy note...she bought it anyway.]

I left the store very bothered. First of all, why is this rabbi spending so much time worrying about her "tefach"? Should he be paying attention to another woman's hair? I felt that he should only concern himself with his wife's tefach. CYP and I have taken to calling him "Rabbi Tapemeasure". It's creepy to think that someone would be looking at me trying to decide how much is my own hair and how much is the sheitel.

Tznuit is not the root of our problems today. However, this is not what is taught in charedi schools. A tour of the yeshivish school that has not (yet) banned TV and Internet as a "rule" two years ago showed a large display of paper-cut silouettes of girls. Inside each one, there was some snippets about being a good "bas yisroel". These "gems" included requirements about black knee socks, no pants, and long sleeves. What about good middot?

Actually, I think our problem today is worrying too much about tznuit and fearing that hair falling from the sheitel could only mean that cleavage is not so far behind.

16 December 2006

A New Take on Chanukah

I am a Hebrew school teacher cursed with "not enough time" to give my talmidim some Yiddishkeit to even out the other aspects of their lives. Chanukah takes on a larger significance than it should due to this situation.

Is it because, to many of these kids, this is one of the most well-known (if not most observed) of our holidays by both Jews and non-Jews?

Is it because my "half and halfs" (their word, not mine) feel conflicted and guilty about loyalties more so at this time of year? [The Easter/Passover quandry does not seem so common, perhaps due to the lack of gifts, with Easter seeming to only offer chocolate bunnies.]

Let's face facts, it's about the presents, gelt, etc, right?

This year, I had made the decision to return to school in order to pursue my Master's. One of the required courses is a survey of Jewish history that is spread out over two semesters. Last spring, our professor assigned sections of the Books of the Maccabees, which are not in TaNaKh. I had to seek out the text on-line, which is only available on certain websites. I started to see some differences between the "kiddie" version that we were all taught (and I still teach) and what was in the text. First of all, the battle to reclaim Beit ha-Mikdash was one of many battles (and it didn't end with this one). Second, and this was a point that didn't totally connect until we were discussing the rabbi's drasha today at the Shabbat table, but...how much was this a battle against assimilation? Can an obvious (and perhaps not so obvious) parallel be drawn to what is happening to us today?

If the Chanukah story is put into a historical perspective (which is okay since it is NOT in the TaNaKh), you see that we (the Jews) got along great with the Y'vanim for 160 years (the time between Alexander the Great and Antiochus). We happily assimilated into Greek culture, giving up many of our traditions. It was only when we were ORDERED to not keep Shabbat or study Torah that we rebelled. The rabbi told a story about Alan Dershowitz, who grew up frum. Over the years, he kept fewer and fewer of the mitzvot, but continued to keep a kosher home. One day, someone made the observation to Dershowitz that since he gave up so much of it, why was he bothering to even keep kosher any longer? B'kitzur, he kept kosher for one year longer than he intended to just to contradict the observation.

It seems that when something is forbidden (even when you willingly gave it up before), suddenly there seems to be a fight to keep it. According to the rabbi, that is what made the Maccabim get up and fight. In the text, Antiochus came back from a failed battle in Egypt (to win land that kept being traded back and forth by the descendants of Alexander the Great's successors) and took out his frustration on the residents of Yerushalayim.

Are modern Jews made of the same stuff as our forebears over 2100 years ago? Among us there are yidden who will associate with a bagel and cream cheese and celebrate "Chrismukkah" (complete with the ham baking in the oven while the menorah is burning in the window). What were to happen if they were told that all vestiges of Jewish observance was being stripped away, to no longer exist? Would they care or would a lot of them just accept it and move on?

I tell my students there's a reason why we have out-lasted most of the ancient civilizations that had conquered us. Who hears about Babylon or Persia anymore? As for the Greeks and Romans, they are small parts of Europe.

Please offer up your suggestions and have a chag ha-urim sameach...
cool yiddishe mama

14 November 2006

On Being a "Frumpy Frummie"

These are my long-delayed comments on the phenom known as a "hot Chanie", which is a young frum woman that "skirts" tznuit rules in the way she dresses, etc.

One of the most basic concepts every ba'al(at) teshuvah encounters is tzniut (modesty). When I was presented with the idea by some of my more frum acquaintances, it was defined as lengths of hemlines, shirt sleeves, and coverage of "sexy" body parts such as collarbones, elbows, and knees. It was, at best, over-simplified. After some consultation with a dear friend of mine, who is a rabbi, I was given his definition of tzniut. Words that he gave me included "modest in behavior and attitude", "dressing in an appropriate manner", and "not drawing attention to oneself with clothes". To me, this definition a more appropriate one of modesty.

At cool yiddishe maidel's school, there is a mother who identifies herself as frum who wears jeans, t-shirts (sometimes short-sleeved), and does not cover her hair. She is a humble person who does not dress in an overly-distinct manner. Contrast this to another mother who wears tight, high-end designer clothing that covers all the necessary body parts but is rude and crude in her manners and speech (her children are not at cym's school, I just have to encounter her at the kosher grocery store).

Tzniut is...
* wearing clothing that is appropriate to the setting
* conducting oneself in a way that does not draw attention
* conforming to dress code rules of your child's school at least when at the school
* looking polished and put-together without looking "sexy"

Tzniut is not...
* spending hundreds of dollars on a single outfit (when there are too many people who are living paycheck to paycheck without health insurance)
* being a show-off with your appearance (there's a fine line between self-pride and narcissism; Judaism is against avodah zarah, remember that!)
* turning parent-related school functions into a "hot mama" contest (it's just as embarassing to your child as it should be to you)
* (for married women, specifically) trying to snag a man with alluring looks and fancy clothes. Young women on the shidduch search should be given lessons for being attractive and tznua at the same time. It will be helpful for these young ladies to see the distinction between dowdy, baggy clothes, hair tied back into a pony tail, no make-up, etc and someone who can put themselves together without trying to be a frum version of Britney Spears. [A side note, a sheitel is worn to cover hair on a married woman without feeling "weird" in a hat or a scarf. It should not be more attractive than the hair that only your husband sees; since he's the one you should look sexy for, not other men.]

For more guidance about the hair covering issue, I recommend Hide and Seek by Lynn Schreiber. It is an essay anthology featuring both sides of the debate.

Do not hesitate to add more definitions to my Tznuit is/is not... I greatly appreciate any additional input.

13 November 2006

(Blog Round-up) I Have NOTHING Interesting to Say...

so I won't say it.

I have not dropped out of the blog world, just that there has not been anything interesting to report lately. I'm going to work, attending grad school, and raising my children. Everywhere I go, I am looking for worthwhile topics; I just seem to be suffering from writer's block.

My fellow blogger,
Esther, was very fascinated by the topic of "hot chanies" on Ask Shifra. This seems to be a topic that has taken off...to the point that someone has created a "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" response.

Outoftown has also chimed in on the topic of cliques and their evils. For a more up to date report, please read about her son's school's quest to bring more middot to the world.

Chana has arrived at an important point in her journey and we are all proud of her. (Im yirtzeh Hashem, we can celebrate in person soon.)

Hila has overcome the significant hurdle of telling her beloved father about her decision to convert to Judaism. His response was a reassuring one.

I didn't forget about you, Sephardi Lady. MAZAL TOV on the birth of your new little one.

20 September 2006

Teaching Your Children about Boundaries

Monday night as I gathered with other cool yiddishe mamas to talk about our kids and our weight loss goals, one of the ladies told us about something rather discomforting that happened to one of her children on Friday. Please use this incident to guide yourself and your children in what to do should, chas v'shalom, something like this should happen to you:

Tova lives up in the other neighborhood. Her 6 year old son, Naftali, is in kindergarten at cool yiddishe maidel's school. Last Friday, he was riding the bus home and the driver told Naftali to get off the bus (at the wrong stop). He had this little boy leave the bus on the other side of a rather busy street. While he was at the end of his own street, there was no way to be able to cross as the closest crosswalk was by a main intersection (besides, he's six years old and not sure what to do in a situation like this).

Little Naftali was sitting there crying. Suddenly a car pulls up next to him. The man gets out of the car and shows the boy that he's wearing a kipa and tells him that he's knows Naftali's abba (not even true because he didn't even know Naftali). Naftali gets into the car with the man he doesn't even know. [This is usually where the story gets frightening in other situations.] The unidentified man takes Naftali home and finds his family name inside his lunchbox. Using a community directory, he is able to find out where the boy lives. It turns out to be a few houses away from where they are. [Since all the man's kids are older, they never "ran in the same circles", so to speak.] The man takes Naftali home to a relieved Tova and her husband. Tova wrote a letter to the school district to complain about this driver. He was a sub for the week and knew Naftali's stop.

Barukh Hashem, the story ended on a positive note. He was returned to his family. However, how many of our children would just go off with a complete stranger, frum or not, just because they say and do the right things? I know that I was frightened, especially after Rivki told us about the rash of frum kidnappings in NY over the summer. Cool yiddishe maidel is an extremely friendly child and would probably go off with just about anyone. While I may be telling her that if she's lost, find a "police officer" (if we are at the mall), how useful would that information be if she was left off at the wrong bus stop?

The downside is that, in some places, we do not know our neighbors or even people who live in the same neighborhood as us. There needs to be at least one "safe house" on every street that children know they can run to if something were to happen.

My friend, Rivki, opens her home to all the kids in the neighborhood. One girl over Shabbat (whose 11 or 12 years old) demonstrated that she was never taught to have good middot by commenting on my larger physique and my seemingly "shleppy" clothes. [I have small children. If I'm with them there's no point in putting on my "good stuff" because it'll get dirty. In addition, how fresh do any of us look by mincha time on Shabbat?] While some of the kids leave much to be desired with their fine display of "derekh eretz", it is still clear that they are safe there. This particular girl comes from a large family and none of the ladies from the neighborhood have spoken to or seen the mother since they moved in. To be continued...

If I don't get a chance to do another blog, K'TIVAH V'CHATIMAH TOVAH to everybody.

07 September 2006

Break down the niches

I want to open this post by saying something controversial: niches are safe. The easiest and most comfortable thing to do when confronted with something or someone new, perhaps different is to put the concept or the person into an already familiar category.

I started down the path of frumkeit ten years ago and I "crossed the line" officially seven years ago. I chose that date because that was when cool yiddish papa and I fully committed to kashrut, Shabbat observance, laws of niddah, and I covered my hair. (Tznua clothing was never an issue because I was never a tank top and hot pants type of gal.)

I can safely say that I became frum mostly for intellectual reasons. Observing the mitzvot just "made sense" and it was always about my personal relationship with G-d, not whether I was "frum" enough for the person next to me. During my journey on the derekh, I have seen people attracted to observance for social reasons and a deep desire to "fit in" with someone. I have also seen people who were very influenced by a charismatic figure and fell under their spell. Even in my own kiruv work, I have seen great potential in truly ehrlich people fizzle out because of childishness.

As I said, niches are safe, but are also binding. Cool yiddish papa and I are currently attending one of the few shuls in town where two men, one wearing a kipa s'ruga and one wearing a shtreimel just daaven as two Jews. The late rabbi, a'h, never closed the door on a Jew who wanted to come and daaven. If a woman showed up in non-tznua clothing, she would be welcomed, with the possibility that eventually SHE would decide to dress differently.

What is a niche supposed to do anyway? Is it to protect ourselves from the unknown or it is a simplified way to put people in their place? I, myself, though, find it a bit amusing that according to some people connected to me via my job, I am comparable to a black-hat Jew (even with my short sleeves and hair showing from my hats and tichels). In the community, on the other hand, I am perceived as "not frum enough" (with the same dress code). The truth is that people don't know what to make of others. It is easier to reject those who are a little different than it is to push a little to see the similarities that we are have.

14 August 2006

People in Glass Houses...

shouldn't throw stones.

As all of us go through life, each of us is thrown our share of tsurris. As I focus on my own problems with my family situation, being a wife, mother, student, teacher, friend, and daughter; I try and keep focus by realizing that G-d doesn't give us more than we can't handle (although it may not seem like that at the time!).

Someone I know has children with all sorts of emotional and learning difficulties, minor financial problems, and battles yearly depression. Through all this, though, she still has the time to make wild speculations about other people that are baseless, but from her, they have just enough credibility to do some serious damage.

She is worried about a single man in our community who walked the nine year old daughter of a mutual friend to her house one Shabbat afternoon. He came over to visit her husband (they share a hobby) and the girl tagged along to play with the kids at the house. When it was established that the husband was not home, the man had been invited in "to wait" and he proceeded to play some board games with the kids. This mother felt a strong need to "watch" her children with this man the entire time because she has a "feeling" that he needs to be watched.

Now, the mother of the nine year old had no problems allowing the man to walk her daughter over to the other woman's house. I happen to know the man and know FOR A FACT that he is not "into children". In fact, there have been some events in his personal history that indicate his hatred for anyone who would abuse a child in any way. He also makes it a point to NEVER BE ALONE with a child. In his defence, this mother is battling her own demons and has been too preoccupied with them to deal with her children.

While I respect her right as a mother to be cautious of someone she is not completely sure about, I don't respect that she would ask me, a friend of this person, about his sexual history. I also don't understand why she would pass on to other mothers in the community to "watch out" for him, people he doesn't see on a regular basis. He doesn't take a significant interest in children and never pushes to be alone with them. At shul, he says "Good Shabbos" and might sit and play a board game during daavening. In truth, he is a "big kid" and is someone who could be classified as "weird", but who isn't in some way?

Just recently, I have learned about her problems from another friend. While her own life is falling apart, she is expending too much energy on this other person. While I admit to having my own problems, I do protect my family but I honestly don't have the time to worry about every weird person who crosses my path. If they are too strange, then I just stay away and avoid wasting my time "warning" others about them. Usually by the time I meet one of these "strangers", almost everyone else knows about them anyway.

Assignment as we are getting closer to Elul: Focus on filtering out useless information. If it doesn't immediately pertain to you or your situation, tell the perpetrator of the lashon ha-ra that you are not interested.

05 August 2006

Where Do Some Traditions Come From...

And How Do We Get Rid of Them?

[From now until Rosh Hashanah, I intend to make many of my posts about how to use the time during Elul to make us stronger people and better Jews. If we work on one aspect, the other will grow as well.]

Stop me if you heard this one... When I was a child, I saw my mother making the brisket for the seder and noticed that she cut the tip off of it. I asked her why, she said, "I don't know. Your grandmother always did it this way." At the seder later on, she asked my grandmother why she always cut the tip off the brisket. Grandma's response was, "I don't know. My mother always did it this way." If my great-grandmother had not already been in shamayim, she might have said, "Because my Pesadik pot was too small for the brisket, so I made it fit." (Yeah, I know, it's a classic, but will illustrate my point.)

Esther brought up in her blog recently how one may come about some of their minhagim. If not fully understood, it could blow up into entire chumras when its' origin came about as something practical, like cutting the tip off the meat. [In this case, her husband's towels covering the pots on Shabbat. We ended up joking about the thickness of the towels or even the color, white of course. If you use the wrong color, you could effect the chances of your children making good shiddukhim.]

One of the first major differences cool yiddish papa and I had to overcome involved the matter of housekeeping. While neither of our mothers could honestly be called balebustas, the approach that was taken with this in each of our childhood homes was different. My father hated messes and made it a point to make sure the house was not a mess at anytime. Mom, on the other hand, could not have cared less. In my house, things had to be put away IN THEIR PLACE when we were done using it. If we neglected to do so, we ran the risk of losing it forever.

This contrasted significantly with cool yiddish papa's parents. His father didn't seem to mind if the house was untidy and only when company was coming would his mother flurry around, stuffing things into drawers. So when we got married, I was shocked when cool yiddish papa offered to help me clean before Shabbat one week...until two days later, I tried to open a drawer which was crammed full of stuff.

I will tell you that we have struck a happy compromise with our house. He gets one drawer per room to stuff things into, but the rest have to have a definite purpose. That, I would say, was a easier resolution than some in my parents' marriage. After it ended, my mother has since become a major pack-rat and I believe that she is asserting her independence in the gesture of accumulating so much stuff.

As part of a recommendation to bring closure on some issues involving my father, a'h, someone suggested that I do some reflection on "family traditions", in a more universal sense than what food is served at each chag (a common argument with my in-laws since my mother's family are yekkish and my husband's family are litvish). Many families have problems that are "traditions", such as substance abuse, phyiscal/emotional abuse, or psychological issues. It is, in fact, more common to have a dysfunctional family of some sort than it is to not have one.

A "mesorah" which has not been properly passed down from many a father to his son is how to handle marriage, not the physical part but rather, being a good husband. Many of us have our parents as our best role models for how to be in a marriage. We are the ones responsible for seeing what we like and didn't and trying hard to have our own marriages be different (in whatever way) from that of our parents.

The first personal struggle cool yiddish papa and I had, after the drawer stuff, was how to handle personal space and independence from each other. I wanted it and he didn't. My father was an extreme of this type as well. He wanted the space for himself but not my mother. He kept track of all her friends and tried to curtail her social events that did not involve him. When some of my mother's friends would call the house for her, Dad made sure to not give their messages. [I wonder if this were happening today would he also go into her e-mail or check her cell phone messages.]

Eventually, she started to add it up when some people she genuinely liked (but Dad didn't) weren't calling her anymore. She was able to talk to them and discovered that my father, for whatever reason, wanted to isolate her from the "outside" world. It started to seem like she could only talk to "pre-approved" friends (one of whom eventually became his paramour, but that's another story) and my grandmother, who he apparently adored.

We discovered later on that my father was doing all of this to gain "control" that he felt he was continually losing in any situation. My father was someone who struggled with substance abuse, depression, and a weight problem for most of his adult life. The fight was finally lost to cancer when he was 59. He honestly felt that if he could "control" the people close to him in life, then they would be around to help him through. However, if he wanted the space, we all had to give it to him.

My mother's favorite story was about how Dad "kept" her from going to a PTA with pleas it takes too much time away from the family after she had been at work all day. Mom, always the martyr in the marriage, gave up her plans. How did they spend this "romantic" evening? Dad sat and watched TV, barely speaking to her. He didn't even notice when she went to bed. (This, I found out, was a frequent game played by my in-laws.)

My husband has tried a similar argument since I started going to grad school at night. After a long talk, he realized that I need my space in order to be a better wife and mother. His mother may have not minded staying home most nights and my mother may have been too weak-willed to stand up to my father, but that will not be me. I am working harder at coming to understandings in my own marriage. Cool yiddish papa's mother was just comfortable with status quo and my mother was too afraid that shaking things up would take Dad over the edge. We are finding the best ways for us to define our relationship to each other.

I am suggesting that each of us find a "mesorah" in our own lives, that just doesn't quite make sense anymore. It could be due to the fact that your children just can't handle the time frame or even your nerves. Look into yourself and see how you can "improve" on it, so it will eventually make you a better person.

26 July 2006


We've all questioned its existence yet are totally convinced of it. I have been stuck for blog posts lately due to summer laziness. Most days, I just want to take the maidels out and enjoy this wonderful weather we've been having (B'H). Recently, I've had an opportunity to get together with a good friend who I haven't seen for a while. Her life is taking her in a different direction (I'Y'H, it's all good), but we were able to take the time to reconnect. A few months ago, a blog friend, Outoftown, had suggested a blog book club. Her first offering was a book called Off the Derech. I haven't had a chance to read it, but wouldn't you know that the book club I go to in real time has also suggested that book (so I guess now I have to read it).

So, the book club offering has also brought back a favorite topic of mine: the fabled "chumra of the month" club. I had spoken about it for several years, even using that name, only to find that there are so many others who know about it. Unfortunately, no one will admit to their membership in the club. I'm sure we all know people who are "closet members". Tonight, I was stuck with an idea for a blog post and it came to me. I should set out to see if any members of this fabled club do exist. (I know that we might not find most of them on J-blogs. After all, blogging is not connected to parnasah).

Chumra of the Week application

Forward the application on to anyone you know that might want to join.

18 July 2006

"Al ha devash v'al ha oketz..."

In the last couple weeks, I have not been blogging much because I have been job hunting. I have not lost my current position, simply doing a few interviews to check how marketable are my skills. The position in question was as a teacher in an afternoon school; one of the new directors being a former colleague from my training program.

For the most part I felt that the interview went well until the topic turned to references. While there are several people who are willing to vouch for my character, teaching ability, connection with students, they specifically want to speak to the directors at the last two schools (my current one and one that I left five years ago, due to personal reasons). I do not want the director of my current school to know that I did this interview because she has been known to a) bad mouth the teacher to make him/her seem less marketable (especially if she wants to keep the teacher) and/or b) suddenly make the teacher's position at the school unavailable.

The other school was at "Congregation Sinat Hinam". I left, officially, due to many personal demands (expecting cool yiddishe maidel, my father's illness, finishing college, etc.). Unofficially, I was having some major issues with the person who had became the Hebrew coordinator "Oketz" in my second year, and is now the director. Suffice to say, Oketz is one of these people who likes to beat you over the head with her ideas about how to teach in a class. She is not happy to have teachers work through their own individual style.

Our last "real" conversation was 5 years ago when we met for my end-of-the-year review. I initially postponed the meeting when my father, a'h, had called me to take him (at the last minute) to chemotherapy. I left Oketz a message, explaining the reason and said that I can reschedule for later in the week. Later that afternoon, I go to get some coffee before going to work and she calls me over to "sit and talk" for a "minute". It turned into 45 minutes where she psycho-analyzed me (attributing my inability to work with some students to a dysfunctional childhood and my "revenge" on "the cool kids" who wouldn't let me "hang" with them), considered my participation in the community-funded training program a "waste of resources", and my "over-compensation" as "desparation" on their part, not "quality" on mine. Through all this, she also mentions by name a teacher she was not allowing back. However, I can come back as long as I play by her "rules". I was to take the teaching assignment she was to give me, meet with her whenever she requested a meeting, and give her a month's worth of lesson plans in advance. I told her that I would need sometime to think about it. The next day, I learned I was pregnant and used that as the excuse for not accepting her "generous" offer.

I had put all this into the file of the past until this interview last week and new information had also come to light about how Oketz had spread lashon ha-ra and motzi shem ra about me to several "heavy-hitters" in the education community. I had not discovered it sooner because once I divorced myself from Sinat Hinam and finished my degree work, I retired to semi-obscurity. I went over to our bureau for yearly continuing ed classes, but stayed in complete ignorance of the venom that this person tried to shoot through my reputation.

The problem is, I can't for the world of me, figure out why she had gone to such lengths to ruin my good name. Even with what she did, I never had anything personal against Oketz. She was just a person who managed to rise through the ranks quickly (perhaps another blog topic). Later, I learned how Oketz managed to get one of her daughter's teachers fired because this teacher showed concern when the girl was not doing well in class. It had been revealed that Oketz and her husband were having marital difficulties and the teacher was being sympathetic. The story Oketz told the school was that SHE was the victim of the teacher's lashon ha-ra about her being told to the entire community.

As I said, though, I never challenged her, even when her ideas ran against my teaching philosophy and she expressed desire to squelch our uniqueness only to make clones of her. Well, I'll hear back from the interviewers tomorrow. I'll keep you posted...

09 July 2006

"Kosher" means "clean"...

[Text included here for those who can't read the tiny print.]
Bernie: Hi, I'd like to open a kosher franchise of your restaurant. What's involved?
Subway rep: Your kosher restaurant must use our menu.
Bernie: Menu, check!
Subway rep: Your kosher restaurant must use our logo.
Bernie: Logo, got it!
Subway rep: Your kosher restaurant must be clean.
Bernie: Thanks, anyway.

and other misinformation.

Growing up in a non-frum environment, my understanding of kashrut ranged from some archaic laws that no longer serve a purpose to "the food is cleaner." The second definition seemingly comes from one who has never set foot into a kosher restaurant.

In my community, we have several restaurants, at least three of each "gender" (our family's code for "fleishig" and "milchig"). Of these, like shuls, I classify them under the following guidelines: those I would never set foot into (the ambience/food leaves too much to be desired), those that I will bring out food for entertainment or sit with just my own family and like-minded friends, and those that I can entertain my non-kosher observant family and friends (because they seemingly live up to the "clean" definition of "kosher").

The above cartoon was sent to me by a friend who feels the same way about this situation. Look at it, enjoy, and feel free to leave comments. I'm sure all of us have had similar experiences in kosher restaurants. Some of us may feel obligated to patronize these places, despite the poor service and substandard food, because we may feel we have no other choice. On the other hand, if these places operated in the "real world", they would have been shut down years ago, because the restaurant public is fickle.

When I was serving time back in high school in fast food hell (a few years before I became frum), my 40 year old manager had us operate under this mantra: "One happy person brings us one return customer, but one unhappy person loses us five customers." Kosher restaurants do not necessarily get return business because of the excellent service by the wait staff or the food is tasty (there are some exceptions). They get it because people who keep kosher are limited to a few dining experiences. FFBs do not know anything else and many BTs seem to operate under a paralysis that good restaurant food went out with the beef tenderloin and lobster.

Of course, there are those who for whatever reason, personal chumra, economics, or just a natural cooking ability, who just don't happen to frequent restaurants. I happen to enjoy creating at home all those specialities that I sometimes "miss", but in a kosher version. For example, I found this pareve "cheese" that is not made from soy and melts wonderfully. I saw it at the local natural food store and it had recommended by a vegan acquaintance of mine, who happens to not be Jewish. I used it to make "real" French onion soup this past Shabbat. [Onion soup, slices of toasted baguette rubbed with olive oil and garlic, and shredded cheese melted on the top while in the oven; it was so-o-o-o good.] I made a meal that would rival any three star restaurant but I would be hard pressed to find, even in our local "fancy" place (that has white tableclothes, herbed olive oil, a wine list, and a lot of food cooked in a "demi-glace", which a reduced stock for you non-foodies).

03 July 2006

Alive and Well (blog roundup)

I have been bad about posting the past few weeks. I had an opportunity to go with cool yiddish papa and the maidelehs on his business trip. It was a good time to connect with old and new friends (you know who you are) and see some family. I can give some updates on old issues that I've mentioned in previous blogs.

bibnis (see "Kol Yisrael" , "Everyone Talks about It", "Rabbanim") got a job! We suspect that a recent visit to his brother's grave gave him a bracha (for those who are more pragmatic, it just all fell into place). The current employer knows about the back situation and has made accomodations. It is also a WELL-PAYING JOB as well as FULL TIME. What an odd combination in this day and age!

It seems that I was one of the last to know about Dr. Feelgood (see "TMI" post). I simply mentioned his name and... This could also say something about the hypocrisy of those who refuse to talk about something because it's lashon hara. People were quick to fill in details, each story more outrageous than the next.

Upcoming Attractions or What I Want to Discuss Next on My Blog

* Corruption of Halakhah for Self-Serving Purposes
* Kosher Food Politics (How do we know the real reasons why a hekhsher is not reliable? Does it have to do with halakhah or is it all a political game? Who can we rely upon for honesty?)
* The Importance of Kids Having Good Middot
* The Chumrah of the Month Club (We've talked about its existence. We will actually seek out the members so we are all up to date on their plans.)

Hope to post more soon. Ha-baby is waking up. Despite your feelings about the situation in Iraq, show your patriotism tomorrow. We should celebrate a country that allows us the freedom to be Jewish and a citizen.

14 June 2006

How Much Information is TMI?

In this case, not enough!

A few weeks ago, Sephardi Lady wrote in her blog about protecting our children and ourselves from sexual predators. My post today, though, is about whether to accept that a person has made teshuvah or not, but what steps should happen if we are still leary. Every Elul, we evaluate our deeds (or misdeeds) and set upon a path for self-improvement which includes making sure that we act differently in the similar solution.

There's someone in my community who is not "officially" recognized as a sex offender but everyone knows about it. Depending on who is telling a story about him, it has rarely been positive. [I say "rarely" because an old Family "Friend" of cool yiddish papa befriended "Dr. Feelgood" after moving back to town and "FF" has been telling us sob stories about how no one understands Dr. Feelgood's pain.] Without solicitation, I have had it confirmed by many people who know him that in addition to having interest in children (his own), he abuses alcohol and heavy drugs, as well as pharms. A few years ago, he was investigated by the state medical license board but they did not see just cause in revoking his credentials. I found out that he is also serving as a distributer for pharms in the frum community. B'H, the families around his block have banned their children from even going into his yard. However, there are still those who know about him but are turning a blind eye to him because they do not want their children to participate in "loshon hora". [Two different sources confirmed that he gave his teenage son steroids so that he may gain weight.]

I am telling you all this because supposedly, he has "done teshuvah" for the child "problem" (separate from the drugs). Some rabbi (I doubt it!) has said that he is "cured" and okay to be around children. You see, my issue with that is first, being a predator is not like having a disease. Second, I don't think that a person who is feeling "repentant" would still engage in such behaviour.

Our Family "Friend" has been pushing for us to receive him into our home. When I cited my reasons (but did not discourage their friendship), he got into a major tirade that I know better than to listen to lies about people. In his version, nothing happened and his ex-wife "made the whole thing up" to make him look bad.) As it escalated, he told us a "story" about a friend of ours, seemingly set up to discredit him as well.

So, now I am asking you in the blog community, how much information should be put out there about people we believe to be predators? I am afraid of publishing his name here since there are those in my community who will approach me with accusations of spreading loshon hora. I choose to not identify my community but would be willing to write a blog detailing the info I do know about him so that parents can use their common sense to figure out if anyone they know should be kept away from their children. While the stories seem outrageous, I can't imagine people would be cruel as to make up such wild stories about this man.

09 June 2006

Sitting on a Picket Fence...

and boy does my tuchus hurt!

Because of the things that I might be talking about in this blog (even without giving names and identifying details) could put me into serious trouble, I am trying my best to withhold actually identifying my name and location on this blog.

I have found it necessary, though, to tell my readers where I fall on the "frum spectrum" as a result of a "conversation" on another blog about how to decide if you trust someone's kitchen as kosher. It is true that there needs to be a unifying standard of what is kosher. This is difficult in a country that supports over 200 hekhsherim! Each of us knows of at least 20-25 that "everyone" can rely upon, and 50 that have been branded "not recommended". The reasons aren't always given, at least once I did find out that it was "political" (the local va'ad was upset that someone "dared" to go out on their own to certify a place so the va'ad declared said place "not recommended").

Back to that fence...we live in what could best be described as a "charedi" area of the community. (However, they will say that the truly "yeshivish" people live out by, where else, the yeshiva.) Within a ten minute walk from my house is both the cheder school (which requires parents to sign a no TV/no Internet [except for parnasah use] pledge) and the "not so charedi" school (which does not make families sign a similar agreement but it is clear that the factions do not mix on many occasions). I can imagine that the fence for these families can also be a rough one to sit upon... but not my problem.

In the more affluent area resides the MOs and some of cool yiddishe maidel's classmates. They live in the 3000 square feet houses and some are movers and shakers in the community at large, such as developers, doctors, attorneys, etc. The "other" Orthodox affiliated school is a religious Zionist one. Truthfully, while one of the main goals of the school appears to encourage any and everyone to make aliyah, the school's bread and butter comes from some of these families who "know" that aliyah will never be an option.

Okay, so what is the problem I am having with this school? In addition to the machers of the community, there is a faction that seem to emphasize the "MODERN" more than the "Orthodox" (my mother pointed out to me one day). These are the people who wanted the Orthdox school option because of its "higher standard" but were put off by the other Orthodox schools for whatever reason. No, I do not peek into their cupboards (or even their bedrooms), but I was a little leary when my daughter attended a birthday party of a classmate (whose mother worked in the school) and I discovered that the cake came from a local grocery store's bakery (which does NOT have a hashgachah). The rabbi's wife who was at this party was discreet enough to ask, "Where did you get such a beautiful cake?" [Side note, I could tell that it did not come from one of our kosher bakeries, since it did look so "good".] Cool yiddishe maidel is not that into dessert (especially after 3 slices of pizza that I could verify came from the kosher pizza store), so it was not a problem. Back to the question of whether or not to accept some of these families' kashrut (it seems extremely hypocritical of me, but you have to "read" me out).

The school does have a kashrut policy that they expect the families to uphold, even to the extent of what is brought in the school lunches. NO ONE is permitted to use their own kitchen for preparing anything that is to be served at the school. [The nursery director had assured me that "70% of the families do keep kosher".] I found out from the daughter of friends of ours (whose in the middle school) that out of 20-some kids in her grade, only 4 do not eat out "vegetarian" (herself included). Some of the kids treat her like she is "too frum", etc.

For the record, neither cool yiddish papa nor myself eat "vegetarian" in non-kosher restaurants. However, he has had to have a salad in some places for a business lunch when the restaurant was not okay with him eating his own food. We do not live in a city that has a kosher option downtown. Most of the time, though, he will eat his lunch before "lunch" and then settle for coffee or soda at the "lunch". The few occasions that he did have a salad, he went short of doing a complete inspection, and deemed the whole process "too much trouble" for future occasions.

In this community, we are not being judged on any "real" evidence except for cyp's lack of a "full-time" kipa, my elbow exposure, and cool yiddishe maidel's interest in shorts. [I stick to all the "respected" hekhsherim.] Oh, I did admit to a seminary girl I was driving from Hebrew school that we don't "keep" chalav yisrael. Now, mind you, I was not denying her the right, nor was I teasing her with Godiva chocolates. In her naive way, she told me that I don't really "keep kosher" if I don't buy chalav yisrael. Oh, did I mention that I live somewhere that does not have a local source for chalav yisrael (we used to). For those who take it on here, it is a financial hardship. The milk costs almost twice as much and goes sour quickly.

So, if you are still reading, kol ha kavod! So here's the fence part. I am worried that we will be "too frum" in the upcoming years at my daughter's school, but not frum enough to fit in at the other schools. We are sending our children to this school because it is the only Orthodox one in town that teaches Hebrew as a language (better to prepare them for seminary in Israel) and offers text study for girls. I am an "intellectual" BT and hope that my girls will develop the same love of rabbinic texts and study of halakhah that I have. The way that I am rationalizing it right now is that these families are at a different place on the derekh and will reach each step at their own pace. So, for the purpose of klal yisrael, we are accepting meal invitations by these families, and just accepting that they have a different level of understanding than I do.

For example, in my kitchen, we have separate counters for meat, dairy, and pareve; along with placemats/tablecloths. I have been in houses where the same tablecloth is used for meat and dairy. Since this is not something that I do, should I say that I don't accept their kashrut? Maybe what we should do is go to the sources and figure out what is halakhah and what is only a minhag. [About the counters, the contractor who worked on our kitchen is Sephardi, and called our separate counters "a vus-vus thing". He said, "You Ashkenazim and your silly chumras!"]

06 June 2006

From the Wolf..."What Judaism Is About"

Brooklyn Wolf got a lot of buzz about a recent post. To read, click http://http://wolfishmusings.blogspot.com/2006/05/what-judaism-is-about.html.

There are those who feel that the wolf and others like us are speaking lashon hara (or motzi shem ra) about our communities by blogging. Before I started this whole thing, I thought that I was the only one who feels the way that I do.

Wolf needed to say this to all of us, especially those of us BTs who sometimes question why we stay frum. There are some mornings I have to remind myself that this is for me (and my relationship to Hashem) not my neighbors. While I respect everyone's right to have whatever relationship with Hashem that they wish to have, I do not like these same people judging my own. I still do not see how cool yiddish papa's decision to not wear a kipa full time RIGHT NOW is connected to my ability to keep a kosher house. Yet, there are people who refuse to pay their employees (and falsify charges to prevent their ability to make a parnasah) who can have "full endorsement" from the local va'ad to open a new restaurant because he's "reliable with his kashrus." (I wouldn't trust his kitchen based on his conduct.) If an inability to conform to "frum dress" is considered being "lax" in other areas, what about being morally corrupt? What is not stopping them from serving Tyson chicken but telling people that it's, for example, KAJ-shechita? I will keep asking people why aren't people just taking the time to get to know each other before judging their frumness. As I said, if you are yeshivish and send your children to a cheder (then again, you might not be reading this anyway), it is your choice to have that lifestyle and raise your children that way. On the other hand, I am being the best Jew that I know how to be and every day, I am growing in this understanding. This doesn't make me more or less frum than you.

Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with me. I want to know if it's better to assume that someone is lax on their frumkeit based on external appearances or if you feel that trusting each other (unless the hard evidence proves otherwise) is the better way.

01 June 2006

"Charity Begins at Home"

As with many other areas in the non-profit arena, Jewish educators suffer from lack of funding. Everything seems to be rejected on one simple word: "budget". All year, I have heard this word bantered about, especially when the topic of promoting me has come up.

Our Jewish Federation is well-funded, yet seem to have their priorities skewed. They talk a great deal about their Federation missions to their "sister city" in Russia and all the money that has been raised to help the citizens there. As an employee of a Federation agency, I seem to be hit up awfully early to "give back."

We have the money to build a fancy new building for our school, but not the funding to adequately staff it to teach the students. Use of materials is curtailed and I need to justify every invoice sent in for my cooking projects. At the same time, I am encouraged to "continue" utilizing all our resources in this building (the computer lab, the kitchen, etc).

Two weeks before school ended, I heard directly from my boss that she was told by our "menachelet" to let one of the teachers go, due to cuts in the upcoming year. Originally, she was going to tell this teacher right after graduation since our regulations require informing a teacher that his/her "contract will not be renewed" (aka "being fired") by the end of May (the end of the school year). However, once my boss thought about it a little bit, she decided that it was more fitting for the menachelet to do the dirty deed. After all, the menachelet hired her in the first place. Instead of being all professional and calling her over to the main building for a meeting to tell her in person, she sends her an e-mail telling her that her services will not be needed in the coming year.

This person's "contract non-renewal" surprised me because if it was merely a "budget cut" then it would reason to release the most recent hire. It seems that there was more to it than that. She was not someone who rocked the boat or even questioned authority. She did her job of teaching the kids Hebrew. However, she was not the most patient with the students and many of the kids complained about her to their parents. I have also learned that those values our parents taught us about jobs can sometimes hurt us. If I have an issue with the curriculum or a procedure, I approach the menachelet directly and tell her. She does sit down with me and we discuss the situation. I have been instrumental in several book changes they have implemented since I started on the faculty seven years ago. I am also willing to try new things with teaching the children, none of which involves standing in the front of the class, lecturing them.

Okay, now let me get back to the original point of my post today. Our well-funded Federation has the money to help all these people abroad, but it doesn't seem to phase them when yidden are forced to sleep in their car or need help finding well-paying jobs to support their family. They have the money to build large buildings out in the suburbs, drawing even more Jews away from the heart of the city. There is no motivation to save inner-ring suburbs (such as the one I live in) when all the services are 20 minutes away. However, when we need to keep qualified staff in these buildings (my boss has the title of principal but only gets paid contact hours as well as coordinates events in the building, on her own time) and encourage parents to send their children to our school on the strength of its teachers, suddenly, they are broke.

To all my Jewish readers, have a chag semeach! Lactaid-users...don't forget to take it before indulging in the blintzes and cheesecake.

29 May 2006

Rabbanim Don't Have All the Answers

An update on bibnis...he has been following up on the job leads he has been given, but unfortunately, still nowhere to sleep at night. Cool yiddish papa and bibnis were on the phone with more local rabbanim who frankly told them that they had "no idea" what to do about the situation.

Aside from a strong job lead (person who can get him a job with his company, no questions asked, but manager won't be back in until Tuesday), no one has suggestions for where to turn for help except the same Federation funded social services agency that kept from being accepted into the local shelter home (by claiming that he turned down all other "options"). [The story behind that I will not get into here and now since I do not have bibnis' permission.]

It seems that this is a recurring theme. Someone in the community is desparate for some stability (a decent job, safe place to live) and so many turn their backs on the whole thing because it is not their problem. Where is the idea, "kol yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh"? I guess the way that it works is that "we" only care about you as long as you are rich enough to give us piles of money for tzedakah causes. If you are in actual need of said tzedakah (and you are not a kollel guy), then we have no answers for you.

I am finding it hard to remind myself why I chose to become frum. I had been entranced by the ideals of our religion, not the reality. Cool yiddish papa and I (as his m'kravim) have been taking inordinate amounts of time from our schedules to help bibnis and are only asking that these same rabbanim (who sat on his conversion beit din) take responsibility and help one of their own. Upon converting, he agreed to never violate Shabbat, keep kosher at all times, and daaven three times a day. He has kept his end of the bargain, despite almost starving and being forced to sleep in a car most nights. It seems that some people will have a heart when it comes to Shabbat and they let him stay "for one night." By motza'ei Shabbat, it's back to the car.

24 May 2006

Matchmaker, matchmaker...make me a match!

One area where sh'mirat ha-lashon seems to have its own rules is on the battlegrounds of shiddukhim. I have never been able to understand the concept of "frum dating", but at the same time, I don't (totally) discredit it for those who hold by it. As my regular readers may know, I think that the only reason that I am married is because I met cool yiddish papa before the idea of a frum life was not even a glimmer. I am too much of a "rebel" to have been able to fall into this system of sitting by the phone waiting for your beshert to call. [I initiated phone contact with cool yiddish papa and even asked him out for our first "official" date when it was noted by our friends that he liked me, but was too shy to do anything about it.]

Back to sh'mirat ha-lashon and dating. While I feel that a person detached from the situation can sometimes be the best judge, extreme caution must be exercised in order to prevent airing someone's dirty laundry in public. If you have a "bad" date with someone (defined as "lack of chemistry"), feel free to set him up with a friend that you feel might work out better. On the other hand, if the person turned to be a potential ax murderer, feel free to warn the shadchan about your lack of comfort without embarassing him. Please, don't tell the entire community about your date.

Running out of steam tonight and I need to talk to cool yiddish papa, so good night y'all.

23 May 2006

"Everyone Talks About It...

but no one wants to do anything about it."

This is a comment that usually refers to the weather. Sadly, though, this time, I am talking about how people will turn their backs on their fellow yidden, yet at the same time, gossip about their tzarot (tzurris, for those who prefer Yiddish).

Sh'mirat ha-Lashon (guarding the tongue) is a much-neglected mitzvah in our communities. Perhaps some think that kashrut observance or Shabbat is more important. There are even those who call you on the "carpet" for your "non-tziusdik behavior" if more than a tefach of hair is showing through your tichel, yet they have a bad case of what cool yiddishe maidel calls "bathroom words".

Violation of sh'mirat ha-lashon falls into the following categories: lashon ha-ra (which we are all familiar with), rechilut, motzi shem ra, and l'vanat ha-panim.
I am going to post my definitions of these terms and I want my readers to add their 2 shekalim on the topic.

Lashon ha-ra (literally "evil tongue") is talking about someone's tzarot to someone to whom it is not relevant or not helpful. However, it is perfectly acceptable to warn others of a sexual predator in your community. [I know you agree, Sephardi Lady.] It is also not lashon ha-ra for two professionals (teachers, psychologists) to talk about a case, as long as identifying details are not given. A third acceptable case of warning is when one had been taken advantage of in a business transaction and you want to prevent the same from happening to others.

Rechilut is "innocent" gossip, the type of talking about people that is done "to make conversation". One source said that this could be positive or negative speech. It could be considered rechilut to report to your friends that you saw "Rebbetzin X" at Macy's buying a $150 suit. It's wrong to discuss her business without her permission.

Motzi shem ra is slander, creating lies about a person to totally discredit him. A woman who has since been ostracized from her community for her verbal crimes had claimed that a rabbi's child was not his because "he doesn't look like the rabbi." (She claimed that the rebbetzin had an affair so the boy was a mamzer to boot!) The m'shugah did not know (or care to realize) that his son was adopted.

L'vanat ha-panim (literally "whitening of the face") is embarassing someone with your words or actions. Even making a "harmless joke" about someone's abilities (or lack thereof) with something can cause embarassment.

The homeless situation with bibnis (see Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba-Zeh) is being discussed throughout the community but no one is willing to help him out with a place to stay or help finding a job. I only know about this because I am asked, "Is it true that XXX is sleeping in his car? Oh, he needs to get help." "No kidding." I want to say to them.

A note to the Chumra of the Month club...Can your members start focusing on sh'mirat ha-lashon instead of worrying about exposed elbows? A tzius mind creates tzius dress, my m'karev rabbi once told me. Just something to keep in mind.

18 May 2006

Lag Ba'Omer meme...I'm IT!

I had requested Matisyahu's new CD from the library weeks ago and it arrived the week before lag ba'omer. I resisted temptation for the week, and listened to it in the car while in transit. Here's my quick review...

Although I am not a fan of reggae, I felt it worth my time to give one of our own his "props" (as the kids say). Some of the songs were quite good (my favorite is his redition of "Jerusalem"), but others could have been better.

I tag...darkhairhermy.

17 May 2006

On Business Ethics and Halakhah... (b'kitzur)

While getting acquainted with the blog experience, I have realized that I need to shorten some of my rants if I want people to actually read them. This is a shortened, improved version of an earlier blog. I got into a tangent about FFB vs. BT/gerim, which I will save for another time. In addition, I will also spare my readers the infighting between kipa s'ruga and charedi.

One of my disillusions about becoming frum started when I realized that there are those that feel ritual observance of the mitzvot takes precedence over ethical mitzvot. However, we only have to go to Chazal who tell us that the religiously devout need to be particularly scruplous with the laws of damages. One destroys other property (or by extension, their livelihood) as acted with the same disregard as someone who is chillul Shabbat or chillul kashrut.

In this community, there is a “businessman” who used to operate a “kosher” food establishment. We had a friend who worked for him. Our friend, who is a ger, took it upon himself to be extremely knowledgeable about kashrut. He noticed that the business owner was violating kashrut standards in the restaurant with food he was selling as kosher. Since the business owner is perceived to be a “frum yid”, he does not need a mashgiach t’midi (according to the rules of our va’ad). When our friend talked to one of the rabbanim on his five minute visit, the rabbi seemed to shake it off. A few days later, our friend was suddenly fired for “stealing” money. He was urged to not go to the local beit din (for owner's inability to pay his workers) since the rosh was the rav of the restaurant owner and would decide favorably for the owner. (By the way, in addition to kashrut violations and questionable business ethics, he was cited by the health department, an "achievement" that was noted on the news several times.) BTW, he never paid the friend his back wages (which exceeded the alleged stolen amount).

There was a similar incident with another restaurant here years ago. The va'ad ordered the restaurant owner (a kipa sruga) to have mashgiach t'midi and he complied. Eventually, he sold to a charedi and the va'ad decided that there wasn't a need for a t'midi and allowed him to get away with daily 5 minute visits by one of the rabbanim. The charedi ended up being shut down when it was discovered AFTER SOME TIME that the order sheets from the meat suppliers did not match the physical inventory. Traife meat was eventually discovered in the restaurant and the man left town.

Finally, there's a place that had to change hashgacha because the new owner is not shomer Shabbat. The new rav ha-makhshir (not connected to the va'ad ha-kashrut) made it a condition that he have a mashgiach t'midi, so the place is completely kosher. What does the va'ad do? They sent out the standard notice saying that they are no longer certifying the place. Of course, this got twisted around into saying that the place was now traife. Basically, there are people who have said that they can't trust the place now because "he has a key and can go in on Shabbat to 'traif' it up." Where are we that we are becoming so paranoid of everyone who is not frum but ignore the "frummies" who clearly commit chillul Hashem with their behavior?

There is a call to patronize frum-owned businesses in order to help our fellow Jew. Al yad sheni, if we know that person does not practice favorable business ethics, then we are equally bound to not give them our business. Stand up for Torah principles now and boycott those businesses that you know give their workers the short end of the stick in favor of profits. This is a particular issue with our kosher food establishments. Think about it this way, if they find lying about their practices so easy, what is not stopping them from committing chillul kashrut as well?

16 May 2006

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba-Zeh...

but do we act like it?

More on the saga of the down-on-his-luck fellow yid that the community doesn't seem to care about. Quick recap... eight months ago, he broke his back. He has been out of work for nine months and recently kicked out of his apartment. Some nights, he resorted to sleeping in his car. Others, he has been depending on the couches of strangers and friends.

Well, cool yiddish papa (cyp) came through with his own appeal letter. He made his own contacts in our community. Tomorrow, "broke"-in-back-not-"broke"-in-spirit (bibnis) has lined up a potential interview with a local kosher caterer, an appointment with a social worker from a chesed organization, and at some point, he may be getting space in the Jewish shelter. Before all this, people avoided bibnis due to his inability to "fit in" (we live in a generally black-hat neighborhood and he is a kipa-s'ruga wearing, rock music-listening MO type). bibnis is not seeking handouts, he wants a steady job and a clean, reasonable place to live. cyp made a point to not mention specific names, not even his own.

It reminds me of RaMBaM's levels of tzedakah: the highest being that one should help one so that they are able to help themselves. (For the flip side of "give a man a fish/teach him to fish", go to Esther's blog, Life and Debt in Ohio.) Eventually, I will learn how to insert links with the space-saving "click here" I see on other people's blogs.

15 May 2006

Weather permitting...

enjoy your bonfires tomorrow.


Feel free to comment about your celebrations.

14 May 2006

Jewish Parent/Jewish Educator

When I am not being an attentive eema to 2 cool yiddishe maidels, I teach Hebrew and Judaics in a community afternoon school as well as working on my Master's degree in Jewish Education. I look at part of my job as keiruv work because our school is a prominent place for the kids to experience Judaism. In order to pay the operational expenses, we rent our shul space to a small Reform congregation. This has not been a great arrangement.

To start with, they make negative comments about our entire curriculum and our programming. However, as part of their rental agreement, we have exclusive school rights (unless they are enrolled in a day school). As long as they are renting our shul space, they cannot use our building for their own school. With me so far? Well, they have done nothing in the past two school years except throw accusations at us about being "too religious" (aside from myself and one other teacher, who was new this year, none of our staff is remotely frum). Our position in the community is that we teach Jewish concepts which are universal (holidays, stories from the Tanakh, Hebrew language and prayer, ahavat Yisrael). We do not require synagogue membership (in fact, a majority of our families are unaffiliated) and we have congregations, both Reform and Conservative, who use our school in place of setting up their own religious school.

I happen to know that their issues with the school have nothing to with polarization of the movements (even though they tirade about me "brainwashing" the students with my Orthodox "lifestyle"). [I wonder if they realize that this is the same logic that has been used to have gay teachers taken from the classroom.] The latest in this saga? They pulled their congregation's children out of a Shabbat program that all of my students essentially spent the year working on, as well as a lovely Mother's Day activity that their morot spent several weeks preparing for. They kept all the students in a classroom, segregated from the school.

When my boss confronted them about pulling out the students, the rabbi's response was that "they already do Mother's Day at school. It would be more appropriate to discuss the Holocaust with them." These are 5-7 year olds we are talking about here. The president of the congregation, who happens to be a teacher in the secular sector, agreed with the rabbi's comment and added that her own second grader is well aware of the Holocaust.

I find myself sitting on a narrow wall between being a Jewish parent and being a Jewish educator. Both elements involve giving proper chinukh to young children as well as a charge to passing on the mesorah (in whatever form). I do not think that it is at all appropriate to discuss the Holocaust with children that are under a certain age. However, if an individual parent wants his/her child to know about Bubbe's numbers on her arm, then it is okay for THAT PARENT to exercise discretion about the situation.I also do understand that there is no halakhic basis for a set day to honor your mother since it is in aseret ha-dibrot that we are to practice the mitzvah of kibbud av v'em daily. (Even cool yiddishe maidel's pre-school, MO with a religious Zionist slant, observed Mother's Day. She painted a flower pot, planted some flowers in it, the class made a book, and she made a card.)

It is my position, though, that parents need to understand that what is appropriate for child A is not necessarily for child B. For example, cool yiddishe maidel knows all the names for ALL the body parts and we discuss them quite openly. Al yad sheni, I have a friend that rather not use "clinical" words to discuss certain body parts, choosing instead to use "pee-pee", etc. [Friend, I know you read this blog and I hope I didn't make you mad for disclosing this. You can comment anon if I offended you. If I did so, I apologize.] Parents should make it their job to get to know their own children and learn what they can handle instead of demanding a school teach developmentally inappropriate topics to prove a point.
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