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.

On Shidduch Dating...

Sephardi lady, on her blog, orthonomics, ended up talking about my next issue, shidduch dating. She wrote about the misguided idea of relying on segulot to help find a bashert instead of the "crazy" idea of picking up the phone and asking people out for dates.

I agree with her totally. However, not too many people in the frum world are about to do that. I think that extreme male/female segregation is causing a good portion of this situation (read brooklyn wolf about the tzius women-only mall in Israel as well as emes ve-emunah about the Gerrer Rebbe/Rav Aharon Leib Steinman's male-only first class flight to America).

I heard stories from an older friend who grew up frum (and left for a while). He came back because he married a BT girl. She showed him how much everything "changed" over the years. He told me that only a select few had separate seating/dancing at weddings. In fact, weddings were an opportunity for young people to meet other singles, hang out, etc. The chattan and kallah's families arranged for the young people to sit together at a mixed table. Now, you will be hard pressed to find casual events where single frums can interact with the opposite sex. We are at a point where we seem to be limited by internet sites, speed dating, and recommendations based on a resume.

I have been working with this girl (21) who was so embarassed when a boy approached her at shul, just to talk to her, that she pulled me aside and asked my help in getting rid of him. I told her that she has to talk to boys at some point if she plans on getting married. Her response was that she'll talk to them on the shidduch dates, but can't handle strange boys talking to her out of the blue.

What kind of future will the Jewish people have if the young people are afraid to even approach each other? There is not a segula in the world that can help if girls are running from a kiddush and boys feel like they can't even talk to a girl they like. Why do they have to jump through so many hoops to simply go on a date? It's situations like this that make me so happy that I met cool yiddish papa before there was ever an inkling that we would eventually become frum.

I strongly encourage any single person to approach that person that you like about a possible date. So what if it doesn't work...think about it as a learning experience for the next date. In my community, the local Aish Ha Torah minyan seems to be one of the places that the non-frum singles like to go to on Shabbat. There was one woman, 34 years old and still single. She looks pretty enough, seems smart enough, etc. I asked her what she was looking for in a husband. She gave me a laundry list that even included his profession (lawyer or successful business man). It made me feel sad for all the nice men she passed over for dates because they did not make (enough) money or the way she wanted them to make it. It's totally ok to require that your future spouse be a mentsch but it's not to ignore the teacher with the gorgeous smile because his investment portfolio is not big enough.
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