08 December 2008

"He Can't Study Torah if He's in the Torah!"

I am ready to admit it. I am raising children who question things their teachers tell them. Cool yiddishe maidel is in kitah alef now, so she brings home her parsha sheet for us to, ideally, discuss at the Shabbat table. What ends up happening, in reality, is she starts to tell me about some midrash involving the principal characters. I will inevitably ask her if this story came from the Torah, and she will say "yes". I open up the Chumash and start reading the parsha to her. When we get to the disputed part, she'll say, "Oh, I guess it's a midrash." 

[From a chinukh perspective, I feel it's important for a child to understand the difference between p'shat and d'rash from the beginning. Starting in kitah bet, she will study each of the parshiyot in Chumash. It'll be a significant disappointment for the students when they realize that some of those "fun" stories their kitah alef teachers told them are not even in the Torah, but were creative stretches done by the Rabbis. It's particularly problematic for the "drier" parshiyot in Vayikra and Bamidbar. A veteran kitah alef teacher I read about revealed the "disservice" she did with her students by teaching midrashim and since then, sticks to p'shat.]

This was particularly fun to do for Toldot (yes, I'm a week late posting it but oh, well!). CYM started to tell me about the part in the parsha when Yaakov left to study Torah with Shem and Eber and that was why G-d selected him for the brakhah. I asked, "How can Yaakov study the Torah if he's already in it?" She answered, "Oh, Morah xxxx never told us that." I continued, "So ask her about it." This past week, for Va'yetzei, I guessed she asked her morah the question. Apparently, her teacher said, "I don't know" and pushed on. (Am Kshe Oref's wife joked that a card is being prepared on my daughter and at some point, she'll get kicked out of school for asking the "wrong" questions. As AKO's wife also pointed out, the morah is not an "educated" da'ati/l'umi, but an Israeli who allegedly borders on being chillunit.) 

Tznius: The "Big Idea" in Bais Yaakov Curricula

A question many teachers ask themselves when they are creating lesson plans or units of study concerns the "big idea" that they want their students to walk away when it's all over and take with them. Of course, there are objectives and standards that need to met as well. During my "first career" years as a Judaics teachers, we were urged to create units of study that encouraged the "big ideas" and the "big questions" which would cause our students to seek out answers. It was important for them to understand that there may not be one "right" answer to these types of questions.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening when I started working in a charedi school! For the first month, per the mother's request, I was at the school from 8:30am-3:30pm, working with the same child. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, some disruption ensued from by being there and I was relegated to General studies only (in the afternoon). [It's a topic for a very long complicated post but suffice to say, there may have been issue with my being "modern". You can fill in the gaps if you wish.]

Concepts are presented in a very black and white/right and wrong/this way or the highway attitude. I had read about this in accounts of people who fell "off the derekh" when they described their school experiences and even saw evidence of this when I lived in the charedi neighborhood, but still found it hard to believe. This particular school recently changed its dress code for the girls, limiting them to long-sleeve powder blue polo shirts or blouses, navy skirts, and navy socks (which allowed for compromise if they wanted to have "decoration" on them). My student happened to be wearing white tights (which the mother had been assured was okay for her age level) and the school interventionist (and self-appointed "uniform police") did a spot check one morning to see my student in these "illegal" white tights. [Keep in mind that my student is classified as "special needs" with high anxiety and emotional problems while the adult in this situation is supposed to be an "expert" in dealing with special needs children.] In front of the other girls, she caused my student to feel bad about the tights, explaining that they HAVE to be the same color as the skirt.]

This ties into a recent rant on Frum Satire and here about the "charedi goth" look we have been seeing recently. I'm sorry, but by definition, tzniut does NOT mean following a fad. As it appears to me, does it make a difference what color her socks were as long as they do the job of covering her legs? [It's easy to file it under "dress code" but I wonder if it has more to do with some "chumrah" that dark stockings are more "tznius" than white ones. I'm honestly not joking about this one.] 

My friends in real life has heard me rant about this before. I'm convinced it's revisionist history, at best. Somewhere, there's a picture of Beis Yaakov girls in Poland from the 1920s-1930s wearing dark stockings. [There are several practical reasons for this: 1) It's essentially winter in Poland ten months of the year; 2) Dark stockings are lower maintainance than white ones. If they rip, the mending will not be as obvious. 3) Along the same point, they don't show the dirt as badly. Remember that people did not wash their clothes after one wearing, nor have ready access to hot water and washing machines.] I understand there are chassidishe sects who require the women and girls to wear dark stockings. This seems to me to be yet another example of charedim borrowing the strictest thing they can find and turning it into halakhah. 

The "big idea" that charedi schools want their children to take with them is that there's only one "right" way. Anything that does not quite measure up is just not frum, no matter what you may think. This could lead to thinking that talking to a boy is just a step away from sex. (I was young once but I can't recall any occasions when that was all it took.) There is even a comprehensive curriculum for Beis Yaakov schools to use for their 1-12 girls on the evolving theme of tzniut. It even includes a study of collarlines, sleeves, hemlines, and slits to determine what would be kosher. I have a basic question to ask. Why can't the morot and the mothers simply model tznua dress with their children like I do with my girls? Cool yiddishe maidel is almost seven years old and we have already started looking at clothes and she analyzes whether it's tznua. I gave her some simple guidelines (about covering the belly even with arms up, for example) and she has been somewhat successful on her own. How about giving the children the tools to understand and moving on from there?

Aren't Manners Part of Good Middot?

Last Monday, I walked into class and did my daily ritual of asking the head teacher the plans for the day. (I work with a special needs child and I am often required to make on-the-spot modifications to her activities.) The teacher told me that another General Studies teacher wanted to come in and speak to the girls. A minute later, the teacher walked in. She works with the older girls on Reading. She opened by telling the girls that Rabbi K (the General Studies principal) was due to visit them soon. "Do any of you remember what you are supposed to do when a rabbi walks into the room?", she asked. "Say 'hi', one girl replied. "Ask 'how are you?" was another response. The teacher finally told the girls they had to stand when he came in, etc. The reason she wanted to come and talk to them was because she noticed some of the older girls she worked with (sometimes for two years) would ignore her when she said "Hi, Plonit". This spoke volumes to her about their manners. She then spent another ten minutes having the girls role play "basic" scenarios involving "manners": introductions, etc. My student asked about a couple extremely hypothetical situations and her teacher deemed them "inappropriate" so I was asked to escort her out of the room. 

I don't know the end result (whether the rabbi walked in and the girls "passed"), but I found the experience odd. I commented to the other personal aide (a Beis Yaakov graduate) that I thought this was the job of the "morning morot" (since having good manners are a part of having good middot). One of the observations I have made about this school is the major compartmentalization going on. It almost seems like there are FOUR different schools using the same school building: Girls Judaics, Boys Judaics, Girls General Studies, and Boys General Studies. The priority is easily placed on the Judaics teachers and whatever requirements they have. [One of the teachers, a kollel wife, seems quite happy with the balance of power she has based on her (by marriage) yichus. To detail some of what I have witnessed would definitely be telling lashon ha-ra, so I will not.] 

Come to think of it, though, good manners is something that is best modeled by parents and teachers. The morning morot will cluster onto one end of the playground at recess and start gossiping about who's getting engaged, or about to have a baby. They will demand that the child will stand there at attention until they are acknowledged (good for teaching not to interrupt an adult), but will interrupt a child asking a question in class with a flippant response. The students have also witnessed the morning morot act disrespectful towards their afternoon teachers. For example, one of the afternoon teachers wanted to place a string in the back of the room to hang projects (and the morah said it was fine). The following day, the string was cut and the morah claimed that the girls were playing with it "too much". After further questioning, it turned out that the morah just cut the string even though "no one" was playing with it. [I realize that young children tend to see things one-sided but since I have seen this morah in action, I have to believe the students more.]

When I wonder about the rudeness I see in frum Jews, I was told that it's justifiable since they study Torah, there is no need to demonstrate good middot. However, since girls are technically exempt from Torah study, more time in school should be focused on good middot rather than studying hemlines and shirt collars. 

Why We Need "Stam Kosher"

Last Thursday, I was pressed for time and bought my Shabbat needs at the local grocery store which stocks Meal Mart and Empire products in tray packs. I purchased a package of "fresh" stew meat (at $10.59/lb) and on the bottom, there was a sticker stating product origin: "Product of USA, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay." 

Rubashkin's shutdown has majorly impacted everyone. It's a reminder of the negative side of "big business kashrut". The advantages may include a "universal" definition of kashrut but this can also be a problem. A big "turn-off" to keeping kosher has been the complaints of the costs. On most kosher-certified processed foods, it is "the same" since many processed foods are things people buy anyway. The "deal-breakers" seem to be meat and dairy products. I accept the halakhah against "g'vinat akum" but why can't companies make DECENT cheese from chalav stam AND get reliable certification? Glatt kosher, though, is not a halakhah. It's a CHUMRAH! It is an extra stringency people have had put upon them, since the average person may not know/care about the difference. In the shtetl, if there were a handful of cows that had to be made to work to feed everyone, it happened.

It's yet another example of putting up too many fences. I have several friends who are in dire financial straits. Keeping kosher to the standard of our community is yet another "frum" expense which keeps them in the hole. None of them buy chalav yisrael, but if they want meat (even if only for Shabbat), they are forced to pay these outrageous sums of money for inferior product. (The local butchers are also high-cost considering that a great deal of their meat also comes in pre-cut from the SAME local distributor.) We are all keeping to standards for these "people" who may not otherwise eat in our homes. I have an idea if the rabbis "allowed" stam kosher meat again, it would drive the costs back down. As it stands down, some of the "big business" meat packagers are tossing "stam kosher" meat and only selling glatt. If they packaged that and sold it as "stam kosher" (under a reliable hashgachah, of course), it would make glatt accessible to the people who truly demand it.

Disappointing News for the anti-Chumra Frum Jew

For some time now, I have been advocating a "lower tier" kashrut level for people who either can not afford (or no longer want to bother with) mehadrin prices/standards. This is already being done in homes and "modern" schools who use chalav stam dairy products. Now, more than ever, there needs to be a call for the return of "stam kosher" meat. There used to be "stam kosher" meat. (The word "glatt" means "smooth". There are no adhesions/punctures in the lungs. A lung with a removable adhesion is then filled with water. If there are no leaks, the animal is still kosher, but not "glatt". For more details, click here.)

At some point (before I became frum), glatt became the standard. Now, even poultry is marked "glatt" (when there is NO distinction in the halakhah for poultry). Major rabbinic organizations tell people only glatt is "recommended". The major source of "stam kosher" meat had been Best's/Sinai Kosher (owned by Sara Lee), Hebrew National (owned by ConAgra), and David's (a line of stam kosher meat produced by AgriProcessors under the UMK hechsher and previously available at my local Trader Joe's). In recent months, Sara Lee has announced they are shutting down their Best's/Sinai Kosher line and we all know the situation with AgriProcessors. A few years ago, Hebrew National launched a huge campaign in the Jewish community promoting their certification by the "triangle-K", instead of the ambiguous "KOSHER" which had been prominently displayed on their packages for years.

This certification has continued to put into question the "reliability" of the triangle-K. We hear different disclaimers: "On fruit or juice it's fine but not on products using oil." Another friend of mine used deductive reasoning to determine if the O-U is certifying certain products for a company (such as Lay's) but others are under triangle-K, then there must be some issue.

Saying all that, I am disappointed to report that we will not see "stam kosher" meat anytime soon. The sole producer now is Hebrew National and my husband received word from a family friend (who has little credibility as a rav, but has s'mikhah) that he is now a mashgiach for Hebrew National. (We had no intentions of buying Hebrew National but it throws a wrench into triangle-K's "vetting" process. This family friend is not on my list of "reliable poskim" because he has tried to give me p'sakei halakhah that even I know are not correct.)

06 December 2008


How to know if you are a fleish-a-phobe:

* You avoid french fries or falafel at the meat restaurant since the chicken is fried in the same fryer.

* You panic upon discovering the "pareve" cholent ACTUALLY had some meat hidden in there (but not much).

* You have to justify becoming "fleishig".

* You count down the number of minutes before you are "pareve" again.

* You get depressed when you have to settle for soy milk at Starbucks.

* Your meal decisions center around the choice of dessert. 

That should, essentially, define a fleish-a-phobe. 

A friend of mine runs a shomer Shabbat Boy Scout troop. To make it easy on camping trips, he decided to have only meat keilim. At least one can have pareves for breakfasts and it's not like one will run across a Snickers bar on the hike. On a recent trip, a mother of two of the boys made a point of shlepping an entire set of dairy keilim since her sons are "terrified" of being "fleishig" in the middle of the day. (It turned out all for the best this time since they were selling ice cream at a concession stand.)

After this, I asked a couple more frummy friends of mine about this. There seems to be an out and out terror of becoming "fleishig" at the wrong time. (It might have something to do with this whole "six hour waiting period" thing, but nonetheless, it can put a crimp in your meal plans.) A hamburger and fries at 1pm for lunch delays that pizza until after 7pm (at the earliest).

02 December 2008

"Guest Post" from "Dutch" on the State of the Economy

"Dutch" is an American ex-patriate living in the Netherlands for the past seven and a half years. He is well-read on many topics, boasts an IQ of 151 (and just as proud that MENSA rejected him, since they require a 161 IQ), and is a keen observer of his surroundings. "Dutch" was blogging before it became "cool" (he paid out of pocket for the name rights to a URL back in 2002) but is quite selective of which writings end up in cyberspace. The American obsession with consumerism (despite impending depression) fascinates him as well. 

Background Info: In the Netherlands, the "big gift day" is
Sinterklaas. It's regarded as a "secular" day and it is my understanding that some very assimilated Jews will observe it since it's "not actually Christmas". December 25, on the other hand, is reserved for religious observances. 

Sinter Klaas Goes to Wall Street

Sinter Klaas visited New York City this year.
This rhyme is about his visit.

As his birthday approached in 2008,

Sinter Klaas visited the Empire State,

in order to witness America's fate,

and how it affects the low and the great.


He sailed up the East River in his sloop,

and was welcomed by an enormous troupe

of Santa Clauses working the strip.

They approached him as he alit from his ship.


"Who is that guy, some kind of Santa?"

shouted one Saint Nick, just in from Atlanta.

"No," cried another. "He's like our brother.

I heard about him once from my Dutch Grandmother."


Old Sint looked for a place to make his speech,

from where the most people could be reached.

He chose the steps of the City Hall

Where a crowd gathered to hear his call,

his warning of a Great Moral Fall.


"I am Sinter Klaas. I come from old Spain.

I am not Santa. Please let me explain.

Santa Claus showers kids with candy canes,

lives up north, and summers with the Danes.

But I know what the hearts of people contain!


"I'm no Ricardo or John Maynard Keynes,

I've never had short-term capital gains.

But I have come here today to explain

what has happened on Wall Street, and on Main.

And hopefully soothe your emotional pain. "


"At the root of the problem lies a monstrous greed.

Unscrupulous lenders have taken the lead,

promising people their home values would double,

blowing up a giant housing bubble."


"And after so many workers have gotten the axe

Here comes this guy from Soldman Gax,

saying all is well and just to relax,

But is he one of those financial quacks?

Who doesn't really know all the facts?

Such as that inflation is a hidden tax? "


"All around me I see real need.

More people should subscribe to a higher creed.

The ancients taught us lessons we should heed

about the spiritual dangers of so much greed."


"Although Sinter Klaas knows just who to blame

We cannot abuse our powers and name names

And subject even loathsome persons to ill-fame.

I come in peace; to instruct is my aim. "


"For some CEOs I've brought lumps of coal,

and warned them to keep off the dole.

Greedy bankers get cash smeared with fake poop

And vats of loose change and gunky green goop."


"And others get old T-Bills shredded to bits,

and old army scrip mixed together with grits.

And junk-bonds wrapped with small meaty bits.

If you love money, that is all you will get!

But this love of money you will learn to regret!"


"Because we've suffered some unfair shocks.

I shall leave such gifts in shoes and in socks,

I'd always thought of Wall Street as a rock.

But mortgage-based assets became a crock,

just a Great Pyramid of worthless stock,

so I knew that Chance had come to knock. "


"Not to make cash, but to turn back the clock.

to give people a chance to take stock.

Americans want change; they voted for Barack.

More investors to the dollar have flocked,

despite the billions spent fighting in Iraq,

and the houses for sale on every block. "


"(But Our house is in order, truth be told.

Old Sinter Klaas has saved his gold!

So We've never had capital losses to compute

and an ounce has always bought a new suit,

despite the ravages of hyper-inflation,

taxes, world wars, or debt monetization.)"


"The wheel of life turns on, endlessly.

And while we are tossed about like ships at sea,

by the ups and downs of the S&P,


Some years there’s just no growth in GDP. "


"Perhaps this crisis is heaven-sent,

showing our moral values have been bent,

by the desire to see every last cent,

yield returns of more than eight percent."


"Laying waste to nature is no guarantee

of endless growth of  the economy.

But if you have life and limb and are free,

If you treat all persons with dignity,

you can become who you were meant to be. "


Another Shiddukh Test...

Hattip: Frum Satire (This post was inspired by him and a recent conversation with Barak about hamische, aka "frummy" brands and their poor quality.)

A shiddukh "test" also apparently making the rounds involves pantry inspection. It's one thing to judge someone by the hechsherim they use, but something almost surreal to put emphasis on how much poor-quality food people will purchase.

How this works... 

[Buying Israeli like Osem or Elite does not count as "hamische", by the way.]

Choose the brand you would more likely purchase in the store (if given a choice)

Food Column A Column B
Ketchup Heinz/Hunt's Gefen
Mayonnaise Hellman's/Best Foods Unger's
Sandwich Cookies Oreo's Bloomy's
Salad Dressing Ken's Steak House Haddar
Microwave Popcorn Orville Redenbacher Mishpachah
Soy Sauce Kikkoman's Season
Cheddar Cheese Tillamook Miller's
Butter Land o' Lakes Morning Select
Pasta Sauce Barilla Mrs. Adler's
Potato Chips Lay's/Ruffles Lieber's


If you selected Column A, you are not "frum enough" since you give money to goyishe companies. (You should be ashamed of yourselves for daring to buy better quality food.) [However, if you have sons the same age as my daughters, let's talk shiddukh in 20 years! They are beauties, b'li ayin ha-ra and both want to be doctors, so they're smart as well.]

If you selected Column B, you feel you have something to prove to your neighbors. Even if a lot of these companies are goyishe, they cared enough about the kosher consumer to make tasty food accessible to us.

01 December 2008

The December Dilemma, Part 1: The Celebration of Chanukah as a Jewish Subsitute for Christmas or as our D-day?

A sad statistic bouncing around in Jewish education circles concerns the contact hours the average American Jewish child is given towards chinukh. [Day school grads and parents, this refers to "supplementary schools", most commonly known as Hebrew school.] From consecration until confirmation*, the typical American Jewish child (at best) will have a third grader's understanding of Judaism.  No parent in their right mind would think to send a child into the world with such a rudimentary grasp in secular studies (aside from some charedim, but that's a topic for another post), yet it's commonplace in many parts of American Jewish society. The synagogue (and by extension, its Hebrew school) are the key connections these children will have to any sort of yiddishkeit.

Now, meh Chanukah?

When American Jewry assimilated into "regular" society, one of the first things noticed was the big deal made about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is a big deal. It commemorates the "virgin birth" of their humanized form of their god. [Ironically, the selection of December 25 had more to do with early Christians desire to hide their beliefs than actual knowledge of the day of his birth. Until the Romanization of the Early Church, December 25 was known as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Invincible Sun) since the sun conquered the dark of the solstice.]

This child-like understanding of Judaism has added significance when one sees the recent statistics in the non-frum world. The rate of inter-marriage has exceeded 50% and is not showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, within the Reform setting of my Hebrew teaching job, it's more rare to have students with two Jewish parents than inter-married combinations. These couples have one type of "December dilemma" involving the celebration of Christmas and Chanukah (one, the other, or both) and to what extent will they be observed. Each inter-married couple makes their own decisions on the matter.

With this in mind...

Secular Jews have taken Chanukah and made it into a "Jewish Christmas". They are both in the winter, and somehow, Chanukah has morphed into some gift frenzy. However, even for "completely" Jewish families there is another type of December dilemma: how much to play up Chanukah. Should we (pardon the expression) "pimp out" our houses with lighted dreidels and over-elaborate displays to equalize the holidays? Twenty years ago, many a Jewish child in public school would go home and ask their parents for a Christmas tree. Some said, absolutely not and others would compromise with a "Chanukah bush", which is an evergreen covered in dreidels, lights, etc. The other option would be to keep Chanukah in its original position as a rather minor holiday commemorating a military victory in our history.

I have been called a koferet (?) for preferring to place higher significance on the narrative of the Books of the Maccabees (originally written in Greek, not part of our TaNaKh, but available in some Christian Bibles) than on the explanation the rabbis give in Masechet Shabbat 21b about the miracle of the oil. (This story is a key contributor to the Sunday school myth many of these secularized Jews carry with them, as part of their third grade education.) The battle which awarded the Maccabees Beit ha-Mikdash was significant, but it didn't end the war with the Syrian Greeks. According to the narrative, the re-dedication of Beit ha-Mikdash was eight days long to echo Sukkot. Sukkot was the most recent holiday missed due to the battles and the desecration. When Beit ha-Mikdash had initially been dedicated, it lasted eight days and was during Sukkot. The Hasmoneans (who ultimately ruled Judea) were not extremely religious (and in fact turned out to be relatively similar to the Greeks when they force converted various groups to Judaism) and would have downplayed any possible miracles. Why, then, did the Rabbis link a "miracle" to the celebration? By the time of CHaZaL, the Romans had completely destroyed Beit ha-Mikdash and the Rabbis felt the necessity to downplay military valor after Bar Kokhba. So, a re-interpretation of a holiday observance was put into place to continue its relevance to new generations.

When comparing Chanukah to non-Jews, I liken it to D-day. Both are commemorations of key events in wars and their actions resulted in ultimate victory. This is especially important to me as cool yiddish papa and I are it when it comes to observance. All of our siblings are married to non-Jews and do literally NOTHING when it comes to Chanukah. Therefore, the grandparents (also secular) like to play up the gift aspect of this season and it's an equalizer for the religious diversity we have. It's hard year after year to get it into our parents' heads that we prefer to keep the holiday low-key. We light the menorah nightly and I like to get creative about what gets fried in oil (this is the one time of year we eat this much fried food), including new types of latkes, onion rings, eggrolls, cheese sticks, etc. (From a financial standpoint it is to allow CYP's cousin, who is barely making ends meet, able to participate without feeling bad about giving cheap gifts.)

Do any of you have similar dilemmas about Chanukah? Please comment and share.

* The Reform (and later on, the Conservative) movements created these additional life-cycle events to mark a child's entry (and graduation) from Jewish education. Consecration is typically held in first or second grade, usually on Simchat Torah, and commemorates a child's start of their Jewish education. At some synagogues, the girls will wear white frilly dresses (similar to First Communion dresses). If the child did not stop at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they continue for another couple years and commemorate their "graduation" on Shavuot in a ceremony called Confirmation. Some of it models the Catholic church which "confirms" a child's baptism at the age of thirteen. The confirmands will often wear robes and take roles in leading the service. One innovation that a local temple started doing was to do away with the robes and grant the confirmands with full membership in the temple in their own right (including representation on the board), thereby solidifying a spot for the teenager in the Jewish community.

26 November 2008

Is Thanksgiving a Jewish Holiday?

Yes and No.

Yes: Many cultures have a harvest festival. One of the holidays attributed to the Thanksgiving model is Sukkot (or so the Hebrew school myth goes).

No:It's an American holiday. While the early presidents had days of Thanksgiving proclaimed, it did not remain permanent until 1863 when Lincoln established it during the dark days of the War Between the States. We should be thankful to G-d everyday. It takes away from honoring Shabbat if we have to make such a large feast for a secular occasion.

Maybe: For many Jewish-American "melting pot" families, Thanksgiving is the one holiday without hang-ups. As long as the food is kosher, there are no battles about ritual observance like what one may encounter at a seder with frum/non-frum relatives. People with non-Jewish relatives (which is more common than many of us want to realize) enjoy a day absent of religion that can still be about family.

Saying all this, unless I get a real inspiration for a blog post, I may not be online tomorrow. I will be cooking my Thanksgiving meal, spending time with my family, and reflecting.

When It's No Longer Platonic

A thought-provoking post by JS on DovBear has prompted a long discussion about platonic relationships and their connection to Judaism. "Modern" Jews see no problem with male-female friendships. I accept that all of us are born with a yetzer ha-ra and it is up to us to learn how to control ourselves. The part I found most interesting in these recent posts (the point had been made by Tikun Olam) was that the Bais Yaakov girls (who hid it from their schools that they even attended these camps) were often the primary culprits of the activities in the bushes.

The charedim seem to have an awful lot to say about how "moderns" conduct their lives contrary to halakhah while "moderns" make a thing about charedim need to get "with it". I view charedim as taking strigencies and dressing it up as a part of the law. The "rules" were created when understandings were different. For example, it was relatively rare for men and women to interact on an intellectual level during the time of the Talmud. We live in a different world today!

With that being said, it's funny (in a sad way) when the ones pointing the fingers are doing the "crime". CBS2 ran a report today about inappropriate sexual relations occuring between married chassidic Jews. Many of them are escaping unhappy marriages, meeting up with random people on the Internet, and hooking up for sex. This is not occurring in that "orgy palace" of the UWS but in places like Williamsburgh. Generally, I respect chassidic Jews for their ability to keep their noses out of other people's business and conduct their own lives. VosIzNeias meanwhile is not sure how to handle a response to this report.

To be honest, it is a shame that the non-Jewish media exposed this "dirty" bit of information about religious Jews blatantly violating a mitzvah d'oraita (against marital relations with someone else's wife). On the other hand, perhaps this will allow people to focus within their communities and open up the gates of communication in marriage.

24 November 2008

Book Review...When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

Like most people, I am constantly on the search for the next "big thing" that will fix my problems, to which I have no problem admitting. For years and years, it would be diets (a topic for another blog post). Another area I have felt a strong need to work on has been my organizational/time management skills. I have read literally dozens of books on the subject. I would take their suggestions, work with some of them for a while, and it would fall by the wayside in short order.

Last week, I attended a Ladies' Night sponsored by CYM/LOML's school Parent Council . There was a speaker discussing how we can bring balance back into our lives followed by a yoga session. One of the books the speaker recommended had the above title. It intrigued me because I had read other books by this author (Julie Morgenstern) and loved her idea in Organizing from the Inside Out that the best organized space we should aspire to creating would be like a kindergarten classroom. There are "zones" for various activities. Morgenstern has tackled similiar issues in subsequent books: Time Management from the Inside Out and Never Check E-Mail in the Morning (which is next on my book pile and focuses on those habits which drain our time).

This current book admits that NO organizational/time management system is successful without addressing what needs to be accomplished. A lot of us make space/time in our lives only to fill it with "more". Until we can address our goals, we will go through a constant cycle of decluttering. Our lives center around a theme, which can change whether we choose it to or not (new job, divorce, moving, children). If we look at the process as SHEDing, it allows us to create our space and time around that theme and move on from there.

To illustrate her point about SHEDing, Morgenstern tells the story about her decision to become a professional organizer. It was shortly after her divorce and she had to raise her daughter on her own. Until this point, she had worked in the theatre and realized the need for something more reliable. When she started her business, it was reasonably well for several years, until it plateaued. Meanwhile, she had stored under the dining room table of her Brooklyn apartment, 6 boxes of theatre production books (from every show she had ever done). She truly no longer needed them and they were taking up space. One day, she had enough of the wasted space (the books were "organized" and "safely containered" but were still anchoring her somehow) and she tossed all but the books from her two best productions. After this happened, her business stagnation left.

Separate the Treasures
Heave the Trash
Embrace your Identity
Drive Yourself Forward

This book inspired me to finally accept some facts about myself I've been wrestling with for a while. For example, I've been holding on to a bunch of boxes in my basement from my many years as an afternoon Hebrew teacher. When I packed up my classroom at the Talmud Torah, I simply threw the boxes in the basement. I figured when I have a classroom again, I would use some of this stuff. Needless to say, in the meantime, I opted to downgrade Jewish education as a "sideline" while I work on my credentials to become a "general studies" teacher. In reality, I may never use a lot of this stuff again. A step in the right direction for me has been to stop blaming the "majority" of the mess on the kids' toys in that basement area.

I am still working out a theme for the next chapter of my life, but at least I'm starting to face facts.
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