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.

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