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Monday, October 31, 2005

Multimedia Addiction

A while back, I posted about the apparent collective sweet tooth that Israeli society seems to have, and wondered whether Israelis are fighting the same battles against childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes that Americans are notoriously fighting. Some commenters, reporting from Israel, posited that Israeli kids get out and move around more, and that this exercise is what distinguishes their slimmer figures from those of their American counterparts, who the phrase "couch potato" seems to have been coined to describe. Interesting theory, except that the results of a recent study show that Israeli youth face the same scourge of addiction to television and computer use as youngsters on this side of the ocean.
Israeli youngsters spend almost seven hours a day sitting in front of the computer and watching television, a new survey shows.
Only 10 percent of youngsters said they do not watch television, and 12 percent do not use the computer. According to the survey, only 8 percent of youths aged 12-17 do not use the computer.
...The survey also revealed that the addiction to computers increases with age, and that youths use the computer more than children.
I wonder if the percentage of youths polled who were found not to use the computer or watch television is over and above the presumable almost 100% of Charedi Israeli youths who do not partake in such multimedia hobbies.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sour Grapes

This is just too, too much. Read and weep:
A Plaza-hotel-loving couple from New Jersey says the romantic landmark broke their hearts when it canceled their daughter's bas mitzvah, never telling them about a massive renovation that began in the spring.

Dr. D. Scott Alenick and his wife, Suzanne — who were married at The Plaza — sued the storied hotel this week, claiming they were victims of fraud and deceptive business practices.
"We approached this bas mitzvah as an opportunity to share with our daughter a great tradition," said Suzanne Alenick, a Manhattan attorney who had her own bas mitzvah at The Plaza in 1975 and planned to hold Ashley's 12th-birthday celebration there.

Alenick said she was "sickened" when told the ceremony, scheduled for May 22 of this year, would have to be scrapped — after she had paid $12,000 of the $20,000 bill and sent out invitations to 100 guests.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime event," she said. "Everything was ready to go."
Apparently, the family has a long history of celebrating milestones at the luxury New York City institution. All well and good. Except that they were informed of the cancellation of the event due to the planned construction project six months in advance. I think that should have been plenty of time to source a new location for the Bat Mitzvah party. Especially since according to the couple's own admission, the hotel "accepted a deposit from her just days before canceling the event Nov. 29, 2004". The hotel refunded the full deposit as soon as they informed the Alenick's of the cancellation, which was only a few days after the event had been booked. The couple claimed to have already sent out invitations, and the Plaza reimbursed them in full for the cost of the invitations.

That should have been the end of the story. Instead, the couple is looking to make this into a windfall:
The suit seeks unspecified damages for "humiliation, indignity, distress of mind and mental suffering."

"They made no effort to compensate for the uniqueness of The Plaza," said Suzanne.
Now if the Plaza was unavailable for the Bat Mitzvah, it was unavailable, right? Lets posit that the Alenicks had called the Plaza a few days later, after the renovations were set in stone, and had been turned down for the event at the pass. Would they still have looked for the Plaza to compensate them for denying them the "uniqueness of the Plaza"? Sometimes this absurd a level of litigiousness is just due to a mammoth case of sour grapes. I hope the judge that gets this case doesn't entertain what I see as a colossal temper tantrum by the Alenicks.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Usual from the U.N.

Anyone not living on Mars knows by now about the statement last week by the president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying that "Israel must be wiped off the map." A statement which he reaffirmed on Friday.
What I find to be indefensible, if not at all surprising, is the tepid reaction to these atrocious remarks on the part of the United Nations.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned a call by Iran's president to "wipe Israel off the map" and said all U.N. members should refrain from threatening or using force against another country.

But the condemnation, endorsed by all 15 council members, was delivered in the form of a press statement -- rather than at a formal council meeting, which would give it more weight. Algeria, the only Arab council member, objected to the open meeting.

...China had brokered a compromise with Algeria and the word "strongly" was deleted before the word "condemned," diplomats said.
How in the world can they justify removing the word "strongly" from the condemnation when Ahmadinejad's statement was so inflammatory and threatening? Typical of them, but crappy nonetheless.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Absurdity or Anti-Semitism?

This is riotously funny, or really scary, I'm not sure which. (Turn your sound down before you click if you're at work). One of the candidates in the upcoming NYC mayoral election is being run by the "Rent Is Too Damn High" party. Really. Now, I'm sure many NYC dwellers would be happy to support a candidate who is running on the platform of reducing rent - no one needs reminding of the skyrocketing costs of NYC housing. But that's not all the party's candidate, James McMillan has to say. The reason for these rising rent prices in NYC? The Jews. That's right, folks. Choice goodies from the Rent Is Too Damn High website:
I no who were behind the attack on the world Trade Center, and I can prove it, and so can the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. "I stumble onto their ring of terror in 1993 when they were building there strong whole, and they came after me. (See the article below) " I can say what you can't say. This Jewish Group don't want you here, and "I can prove it."

Go to: Flushing Ave @ Bedford Ave - Nostrand @ Flushing Ave in Brooklyn. NY. (Don't take my word for it, go there yourself). There are over (25) Twenty Five Thousand Newly Rented Apartments Just for the Jewish people, in other words if you're not Jewish "You Can't Live There".

"Learn What JEWISH Groups are Behind it"

"If You're Not Jewish"
You Will Be Run Out of New York

The Union of Orthodox Rabbis tried to warn you in 1997, you wouldn't listen to them, but maybe you'll listen to me. READ, the article below (Political Attack) "I no who is behind it, and "I no what there intentions are:
"To Run You Out of New York, If You're Not JEWISH.

RENT Is Too Damn High - There Is Nothing Else To Talk About.
It really is a must-see, if just for the entertainment value. Oh yeah, and this guy is actually on the ballot. Don't vote for him.

(Thanks for sending the link, Krum.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

More Youthful Anti-Semitism

On the heels of this story about the Nazi twin singers, I am appalled by this story:
A poem that praises the murder of Jews by the Nazis has been included in a book of children’s poetry to be distributed to schools in the U.K.

The publication, entitled "Great Minds," features the work of schoolchildren aged 11-18 who won a nationwide literary competition.

But one poem has generated outrage amongst Jewish groups, politicians and Holocaust charities for its anti-Semitic content.

The entry by the 14-year-old Gideon Taylor is apparently written from the viewpoint of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The publisher of the book praises the youth's ability to write a "poem from the perspective of Adolf Hitler,” and states that they are "not willing to censor" his work.

The poem includes the lines:
Jews are here, Jews are there, Jews are almost everywhere, filling up the darkest places, evil looks upon their faces.
Make them take many paces for being one of the worst races, on their way to a gas chamber, where they will sleep in their manger… I'll be happy Jews have died.
Now, I'm all for not suppressing the creativity of our youth, but I do feel there are limits. And presenting these anti-Semitic verses as an acceptable source of cultural edification for young, impressionable students, is over that line, in my estimation.

Miers Withdraws

So Harriet Miers has withdrawn as the nominee for Supreme Court Justice.
In her letter to the president, Miers said she was "concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and its staff and it is not in the best interest of the country."

The White House said Miers had to withdraw over concerns that senators wanted documents of privileged discussions between the president and his top lawyer.

...But Democratic and Republican senators told CNN's Ed Henry that they hadn't asked for privileged documents.
Most posit that she stepped down due to the maelstrom of criticism regarding her competency for the job, that came from the both the left and the right of the political divide.

I didn't like this pick from the first hour.

Fun With The Jewish Week

Krum is playing one of my favorite pastimes today- the weekly reading and trashing of the new articles posted on The Jewish Week's website. This time, it's an article on a story the paper has been following for a while. It's not that easy to get the gist of the story from the article - but when I finally did get the point, I thought I was missing something. Gary Rosenblatt would like us to believe someone is guilty of something, and as evidence, he gives us a copy of an e-mail - written by the accuser! The article is based entirely on allegations in an e-mail supposedly sent to (yes, you read that right) Israel Singer, then-Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, saying that Singer had claimed to have a "slush fund" of $2 million. Except that the WJC has no record of the e-mail, denies the existence of a slush fund, and the writer of the e-mail has seemingly produced no proof that the e-mail was ever sent - like, perhaps, a reply from the recipient??? Um...is that a joke? Not in Rosenblatt's world, I guess.

In addition, we get a little window into why The Jewish Week has been beating this story like a dead horse - the letter writer, Larry Cohler-Esses, who is making the accusations here? He is the editor-at-large for The Jewish Week. I'm not joking. The mind boggles. Check out the article, and Krum's post. It's a must-read, especially for anyone who is still reading The Jewish Week for the "news" it provides.

Related: I, II, III, IV, V, VI

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Satmar Meltdown

I always disagreed with the Satmar Chasidim when it came to their views on Israel, but never really had an opinion on them otherwise. News items I've read over the past few days have changed that.

First, I read about a visit by Mayor Bloomberg to a Satmar Sukkah. The Mayor apparently gave his usual Jewish speech, and then started to talk about his record on supporting Israel - apparently a line he uses for all his Jewish campaign stops. Except that the Satmar Chasidim are rabidly against the existence of the State of Israel. Would have been a funny story, except for the fact that the group booed the mayor. Not exactly a very mature response during a visit from the City's top elected official. And not exactly a Kiddush Hashem. All of the news outlets were gleefully reporting the Mayor's gaffe as leaving him with egg on his face. Maybe, but what about the egg on the face of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who can't show a basic modicum of respect in the presence of an elected official? And one whose administration the community famously relies upon for a huge amount of services and housing subsidies, I might add.

Then, a story today about a fracas in Williamsburg between followers of the rival Satmar sects.
A brawl broke out in a Brooklyn synagogue yesterday morning, forcing dozens of cops in riot gear to pull worshippers from their house of prayer, in the latest eruption of a Hasidic holy war.

Yesterday's melee, which included punches, slaps and beard-pulling, broke out between clashing factions of the Satmar Hasidic sect in Williamsburg and ended with cops in helmets closing down streets to restore order on a Jewish holiday, Shmini Atzeret.

"There was chaos," said worshipper Joel Klein, 29, who said he was pulled from the Yetev Lev Bikur Cholim synagogue on Rodney Street by cops. "It was like a war zone."

Cops and witnesses said thousands were involved in the fight.
Read the article for more gory details and some background on the feuding factions. Really unimpressive that this is considered by Satmar Chasidim to be proper behavior on a Chag, in a Shul no less, in the middle of Tefila. Apparently, the "combatants" didn't even take the seconds to take off their Taleisim (prayer shawls) before the clash. Truly an embarassment.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Nazi Twins

This little item is a bit unsettling. 13-year-old twin girl singers who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Olsen twins, except for one minor difference. They sing all about white supremacy. The girls, Lynx and Lamb Gaede, have been raised by their parents with racist beliefs, and would like to bring those beliefs to the masses through their art, apparently.
Known as "Prussian Blue" — a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes — the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.
"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

Lynx and Lamb have been nurtured on racist beliefs since birth by their mother April. "They need to have the background to understand why certain things are happening," said April, a stay-at-home mom who no longer lives with the twins' father. "I'm going to give them, give them my opinion just like any, any parent would."

April home-schools the girls, teaching them her own unique perspective on everything from current to historical events. In addition, April's father surrounds the family with symbols of his beliefs — specifically the Nazi swastika. It appears on his belt buckle, on the side of his pick-up truck and he's even registered it as his cattle brand with the Bureau of Livestock Identification.
One of the girls' songs is titled "Sacrifice". It is a tribute to Hitler's #1 deputy, Rudolf Hess, and describes him as "a man of peace who wouldn't give up". And according to the article, the girls fundraised for victims of Hurricane Katrina like many of their fellow musicians - except that Prussian Blue gave the donations only to white victims. One of their resume items is the privilege of having opened for a great celebrity - famous former Klu Klux Klan wizard David Duke.

The article takes pains to point out that these girls are far from the only musicians with a white supremacist bent, but they certainly seem to be the youngest. Sick stuff.


Women's "Impure" Motivations?

An article in this week's Forward discusses the halachic issues of women celebrating with the torah, as relevant to the upcoming Chag of Simchat Torah. The piece has quotes from two differing Orthodox viewpoints. One, from an authority who obviously has a more progressive opinion on the subject:
With the increased demand in recent years for greater ritual opportunity for Orthodox women, rabbinic authorities have been pressed to examine the tradition barring women from dancing with the Torah. Their findings showed that "from a purely halachic point of view, there is no prohibition at all preventing a woman from touching a Sefer Torah or even from reading from it — even while she is menstruating," according to Shlomo Riskin, founding rabbi of New York's Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue and chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat. This position opened the way for women's hakafot in many synagogues.
It came as no surprise that the Forward was able to find an Orthodox Halachic authority willing to disagree with that viewpoint. Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, has a storied career of limiting womens' involvement in Orthodox Jewish ritual and mitzvot - and usually in a particulary insensitive manner. On this topic, he does not disappoint:
Those opposed to women's hakafot — like Rabbi Herschel Schachter, professor at the Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary — argue that the movement to allow women to dance with the Torah springs from the "impure motivations" of rebelliousness and self-aggrandizement rather than a pure desire to connect with God. Another issue of contention is the fact that according to rabbinic tradition, a long-held Jewish custom attains the status of a halachic ruling.
Rabbi Schachter, some of you might recall, came under fire a while back for his answer to a question regarding the new Modern Orthodox "trend" of allowing women to read the ketubah under the chuppah at a wedding. His answer, as follows, enraged many women across the Jewish denominational spectrum (emphasis mine):
A new trend is emerging among certain "modern Orthodox" circles. A scholarly woman is called upon at a wedding ceremony to read the kesuba. They say that "halachically there is nothing wrong with this!" In a certain sense this statement is correct. If one only judges the issue from the perspective of the laws of "siddur kiddushin" there's nothing wrong. Yes, even if a parrot or a monkey would read the kesuba, the marriage would be one hundred percent valid.
Now, is it just me, or does Rabbi Schachter seem to suffer from the plague of particularly poor choices of phrase? In that case, as in his comments on the question of women dancing with the Torah, Rabbi Schachter does not display much sensitivity toward the women who wish to have a higher level of involvement. I was willing to accept that he did not intend to compare women to parrots and monkeys in his unfortunate comparison last year. I did find that his comments displayed a shocking lack of sensitivity, but was willing to accept that it was unintentional. I am not even taking issue with his halachic opinion, it is his right to have a more restricitive view on the subject of women's involvement than others across the Orthodox spectrum.

However, his most recent comments are not as easily explained away as based simply on a poor choice of words. His assertion that women, as a group, only wish to have a closeness to the Torah out of "impure motivations", is not just mean spirited, but in my opinion, violates the commandment to "judge each man favorably". Unless, of course, Rabbi Schachter doesn't feel that that commandment applies to "judging each woman favorably".

Update: Lkwdguy points out in comments that "Judging people favorably would, in my humble opinion, include not concluding that a very learned man is insensitive to women based on a (very possibly out of context) quote in the Forward." Absolutely fair. So I would like to point out that I am not judging as huge a Talmid Chacham as Rav Schachter as insensitive in his attitude. I know of a few cases where Rav Schachter has shown tremendous sensitivity to women in his rulings. And simply ruling on this topic that women are not allowed to participate in certain activities, regardless of the fact that it may make certain groups unhappy does not necessarily make him insensitive - just principled in his beliefs.However, I maintain that Rav Schachter's choice of phraseology leaves something to be desired. When he uses words that risk so offending the very groups that would be most disappointed by his rulings, he risks (and succeeds) in muddying the debate. It created a situation where his rulings are no longer the discussion, but the way in which he presents them is.

Update II: Also, the last paragraph of my original post, especially since commenters have pointed out that the Forward deviously used a quote that Rav Schachter used in an article dated 1985, was truly unecessarily harsh, and more than a little mean-spirited. I am leaving it there, but attributing the anger displayed within it to exhaustion from my indentured servitude in the kitchen this holiday season. I, myself, am apparently not a liberated woman in the least.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Interesting little item in Haaretz about certain cereals that are no longer available for purchase in Israeli supermarkets:
Cheerios, the cereal that has long been a staple of American breakfasts, will no longer be distributed in Israel. It is being replaced by a sugary alternative that, according to the importer, is more suited to the Israeli palate.

Original Cheerios, easily identified by its trademark bright yellow box, does not have enough of a demand here, Anglo File has learned. A new, multi-grain version of the cereal - which has nearly five times as much sugar per serving as the original oat-based product - is now being sold here instead.

...In another blow to American cereal eaters, Kellogg's Rice Krispies will also no longer be available in Israel.
I find it interesting that Israeli palates are so suited to foods with a high sugar content that there is not enough demand for unsweetened cereals to keep them on the shelves. Coupled with the obscenely high-fat and high-sodium snacks that are so popular in Israel, such as Bissli and Bamba, this doesn't speak highly of Israeli snacking and eating habits. With all of the public warnings from medical and health experts that high-sugar and high-fat foods are one of the causes of the mushrooming obesity and diabetes epidemics in America, I wonder whether this preference for sweet foods that seems to exist in Israel translates into a society-wide health risk. I'd love to see some data on the rates of childhood diabetes and obesity in Israeli vs. American youth.

Friday, October 14, 2005


This week's edition of the Forward has an article about a couple who is suing their wedding caterer for breach of contract. Apparently, they made a request that the caterer not serve any shellfish at the sushi bar, use only kosher meats, and keep all the food nondairy to avoid mixing meat and dairy.
The Siegels are suing their caterer, beltway institution Ridgewells Inc., for breach of contract, fraud, battery and infliction of severe emotional distress.

According to the Siegels' attorney, Alyza Lewin, the couple had specifically requested a sushi bar that included only tuna, salmon and vegetables.

...After the ceremony, the mother of the groom "came over to the bride's mother and told her, 'There's shrimp on the sushi bar,'" Lewin said in an interview with the Forward. The offending sushi was then removed but was replaced with sushi containing eel and octopus, which also are not kosher. The suit alleges that Mark Siegel, who served as the White House liaison to the Jewish community during the Carter administration, went to the kitchen to complain — only to find a tray of salmon toast prepared with cream cheese, even though the event was supposed to be nondairy to avoid violation of the religious prohibition against mixing milk and meat.
I think this story trumps the one of my mother-in-law coming over to my mother in the middle of my wedding to complain that the flowers weren't exactly as she ordered them.

The only problem with the Siegel's complaint of the caterer's bait-and-switch move, is that the article seems to paint the Siegels as guilty of their own version of bait-and-switch:
One guest at the wedding, who did not want to be named for fear of offending the Siegels, told the Forward that she keeps kosher and had originally believed that all the food at the wedding was prepared according to the laws of kashrut.

Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, who officiated at the ceremony and serves as religious leader of Washington's Conservative congregation Adas Israel, said he ate dinner at the party with the understanding that the food was kosher. He also said that he doesn't eat at weddings that are not kosher.
Ignorance is bliss, I guess. Well, I hope the Rabbi enjoyed the eel and octopus at least.

And as the Siegel's lawyer put it, they were just trying to impress the in-laws.
Lewin said that by ordering kosher meat and insisting that no explicitly trayf food be served, the Siegels were trying to make a "goodwill gesture towards the groom's family."

The Siegels, she said, wanted to "make this good impression and that's [what is] hard."
Sadly, I don't think they succeeded.

Different Takes

The Crier points out, very correctly, that the Nassau Herald had a much more productive take on Hillary's meeting last week with local leaders in the Five Towns than the Five Towns Jewish Times came up with. The Herald focused on the fact that the case of Zachary Baumel, the Israeli MIA missing since 1982, was brought up at the meeting, and that Hillary was very supportive, and agreed to do everything in her power to press the issue in White House and State Department circles. Her comment on John Roberts was still a dumb one, but only a partisan rag like the 5TJT would virtually ignore her promise to help on the Zachary Baumel issue in order to take a dig at Hillary.


Off I go to the supermarket. To shop for yet another Shabbos in the Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos(YomTov)-YomTov-Shabbos cycle. Don't get me wrong, I love Shabbos and YomTov, because the kids (and their mom) actually get to spend a substantial amount of time with their dad, but I have already grated one too many potato, cracked one too many egg, and measured one too many cup of flour - and we're just halfway through the cycle.

Yellow Pages Judaism

This story, from today's NY Times, is a good one. Apparently, a man who does public relations for a Reform temple was looking into buying ad space in the yellow Pages. Upon his perusal of the phone book, he found some entries for "Temples - Jewish - Messianic". His reaction:
Mr. Lubetkin said he was appalled. Like many non-Messianic Jews, he believes that one cannot worship Jesus - or Yeshua, as the Messianic Jews call him - and still be a Jew.

"It's like if I went to Verizon and said I wanted to be listed as a neurosurgeon, or a Roman Catholic church," said Mr. Lubetkin, 48, who is neither. "I suspect they'd have a problem with that."

Mr. Lubetkin complained to the phone company. And so it came to pass that Verizon's 2006 Camden County SuperPages will sort its listings into "Synagogues" and "Synagogues - Messianic."
Predictably, the spiritual leader of the messianic temple is not pleased with their demotion by the Yellow Pages.
The rabbi of one of the Messianic synagogues listed in the Camden County book, Jan Rosenberg, who learned about the change only on Tuesday from a reporter, was upset that he had not been consulted.

"I don't like the idea of somebody outside our congregation trying to define me," said Rabbi Rosenberg, who heads Congregation Beth Zion Messianic Synagogue in Jackson, N.J. "You self-define."
...Rabbi Rosenberg said it would be only fair for him to call Verizon and say, "The Methodist Church - I don't want them listed under churches. Put them under 'Synagogue of Satan.' " He hastened to add that he had no intention of making such a call.
Further, a representative from the Yellow Pages makes it clear that contrary to Mr. Lubetkin's assertion about not being able to define oneself in the Yellow Pages if one doesn't fit that category, the directory has no such policy:
In fact, Ms. De La Garza said, in the SuperPages, self-definition is the rule. Given the impossibility - and inappropriateness, she said - of Verizon investigating all of its advertisers, the company allows them to choose the heading they are listed under.

What's more, she added, "If the laundry list of headings doesn't fit, and it makes sense that the best way that our users can find that client is to create a new heading, we'd try to accommodate that."

This means that Rabbi Rosenberg could elect to be listed under "Synagogues," rather than "Synagogues - Messianic." Or he could request that Verizon reinstate the "Synagogues - Jewish - Messianic" heading.
I have to say, maybe I'm wrong, but I am perfectly willing to let the messianic temple define themselves as whatever they wish in the Yellow Pages, of all places. What's important to me is how I define them. It's not as if they were listed under the broader term "Temples - Jewish", with no further classification. It was very clearly labeled as a messianic temple. I don't think Mr. Lubetkin would be very happy were the tables turned on him, and extreme Ultra-Orthodox Jews would start calling the Yellow Pages to have Reform temples taken out of the "Temples - Jewish" section as well, because a Reform temple doesn't fit their standards of a Jewish Temple. Not a very likely scenario, but one that defines how idiotic Mr. Lubetkin's quest is. The real question is why the Yellow Pages company ceded to his request.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The 7 Meme

Steg tagged me with the 7 meme. I said I would go through with it, and it's before Yom Kippur, so I'd like to keep my word. Here goes:

7 Things I Can Do:
  • Walk miles in 5-inch heels
  • Get a whole Shabbos worth of (really delicious) food in the oven in less than an hour
  • Paint a room
  • Help 3 kids with their homework without raising my voice (most of the time)
  • Estimate fever levels to within a degree by touching my kids' foreheads
  • Put off until tomorrow what I could have done today.
  • Read a 300-page book in less than two hours - every word
7 Things I Can't Do:
  • Tinker with my template (thanks Krum, it looks great!)
  • Skip breakfast
  • Brew decent coffee
  • Keep up with old friends often enough
  • Wear anything wool, or anything I didn't cut the tags out of
  • Sit still for more than 5 minutes
  • Deal with work issues when I'm with my kids
7 Things I Hope To Do In My Life
  • Raise happy, well-adjusted children
  • Go on a fabulous vacation, with OrthoDad, without the kids
  • Succeed in never raising my voice
  • Learn to just let things go
  • Never forget to show those closest to me how much they mean to me, all the time
  • Make more time to volunteer in the community helping those less fortunate
  • Live in Israel
7 Things I Say Often:
  • Uh, (usually to make a sarcastic point)
  • It is what it is
  • A bit much (That's a bit much, she's a bit much, that outfit is a bit much, etc.)
  • Flipping (Are you flipping kidding me, no flipping way, you're too flipping much, etc.)
  • Fantastic
  • Let me be clear
  • I don't think so
People I'd like to infect with this meme:
  • Krum (one good turn deserves another, pal!)
  • DB (c'mon, you can spare one post in your jam-packed line-up)
  • RenReb (sorry hon. Feel free to chop and fry peppers with stickers on them instead)
  • GH (if you can drag yourself away from trashing kanoim and older singles long enough)
  • JPT (we haven't heard from you in a while)

Lulav Shortage

Even New York Magazine is covering the Lulav shortage. Funny quote:
“I have a big lulav shortage, and I’m having conniptions here,” says Levi Zagelbaum, president of lulav importer Esrog Headquarters in Midwood.
Another good quote:
Queens congressman Gary Ackerman says the crisis stems from a recent decision by Egypt—the Saudi Arabia of lulavs—to export only 100,000 branches, instead of the usual million. “Unless [President] Mubarak wants to be known as the Grinch who stole Sukkoth, he’s going to have to do a heck of a lot better than that,” says Ackerman, who’s been lobbying Egypt for more...“Let my palm fronds go!” says Ackerman.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bad News Day

What a distressing and depressing news day, natural disaster-wise.

20,000 to 30,000 estimated dead in a catastrophic earthquake in Southeast Asia.

10 dead in flooding on the U.S. East Coast.

652 killed and buried in massive mudslides in Guatemala.

Sick stuff. Kinda puts me in a non-blogging kind of mood. Sorry no new posts today. Check in tomorrow.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lawrence District Dishonesty

Anyone who has been following this blog is probably aware of the acrimonious battle going on in my school district, School District #15, between the private school and public school communities. The trouble began when the private school community began to object to skyrocketing school taxes in inverse proportion to the plummeting public school enrollment. More background can be found in this round-up of my posts on the subject: I, II, III, IV, V, VI.

Basically, after rejecting the proposed budget twice, the district went automatically to an "austerity budget". This led the public school community to level accusations that those who voted against the budget do not care about the educational interests of any children but their own, and that they have no interest in promoting public education. They clamed that they were unable to educate the students of District #15 properly under the stringent mandates of the "austerity" or "contingency budget".

So imagine my surprise upon finding out that the selfsame school district that has been claiming to be unable to properly educate their children on the current budget, has a $9 million surplus of funds from last year's contingency budget, according to financial officials who report to the school board. Huh??? So they really don't need all that money that they were trying to get the district to approve? They came to us with a proposal for taxes to be raised to a point that most district residents obviously found unacceptable, leading to the rejection of the budget twice, when they should have presented a budget to the voters that would have lowered taxes, or at least left them at status quo. Instead, district officials chose to run a doomed budget, which left the district's hands tied in terms of spending. The question is, why they would do that, when they could have run a budget that the whole community would have embraced,and passed, thus bringing the district out of austerity? The $9 million surplus seems to be something district officials were hoping no one would find out about, when they seemingly could have used it to fill in the shortfall that would have been created by presenting a budget that did not raise taxes.

Now the district remains on an austerity budget, the public school community cries foul at those who rejected the budget because they claim that the budget constraints under austerity leave the district unable to meet the educational needs of its children. It seems, however, that district leaders themselves are as much to blame for the economic hardships the district is facing.

Talk about not having the best educational interests of the children of District #15 at heart.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hillary's Idiocy

According to an article in the local rag, the Five Town Jewish Times, Hillary Clinton came out to the Five Towns for a meeting with the "veritable who's who of Jewish leaders that call the Five Towns home". She addressed many issues in the meeting, including vouchers (she opposes them), and the Gaza disengagement. But the part of the article that blew me away was this one:
Lester Henner, a lawrence resident and former president of Congregation Beth Sholom, asked Clinton why she voted against the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of the United States, the position for which he was confirmed by the Senate last week.

Clinton responded that while Roberts is a very intelligent man, she was nevertheless uncomfortable with the "privileged life" that he has led, citing the fact that he had been in private schools his entire life, going from private school to Harvard and then on to his professional life. She said that she thought that Roberts lacked a certain sensitivity because he "never had to live with hard knocks".
Are you flipping kidding me? Hillary Clinton opposed Roberts's confirmation because he grew up "too privileged"??? Because he attended private schools his whole life???? Because life didn't throw him enough of what Hillary Clinton considers "hard knocks"???? Who the hell is Hillary Clinton to judge whether John Roberts had enough hard knocks thrown at him?? Infertility that led him and his wife to have to adopt their children doesn't qualify as a "hard knock"? And last I checked, Chelsea Clinton went to private school - I can't believe that her mother would limit her political future like that!!! In addition, whoever briefed Hillary before her meeting obviously neglected to mention to her that just about the whole group she was meeting with, along with the community they were representing, sends their kids to private school. So she basically risked the perception of tarring the whole room as "having a lack of sensitivity".

I guess this means that Hillary will confirm Harriet Miers - she, at least, went to public school!

More School Discrimination

A while back, I posted about an outrageous allegation in Haaretz that ultra-Orthodox Lakewood schools had begun to deny admission to students based on their Sephardi lineage. Now comes this. Apparently, ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi schools in Israel (evidently separating students by ethnicity is already the accepted norm over there), have been rejecting students of newly Orthodox parents.
In recent years, a new type of discrimination has emerged in Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox educational institutions. In addition to their discrimination against girls from Sephardi backgrounds, children whose parents found religion in adulthood are also being sidelined.
This discussion was broached by writer Avigail Meizlik, herself a Baalat Teshuva, in the Charedi weekly that she writes for, Mishpacha. She relates her personal experience, and questions the message that this practice sends to these newly religious families. She even goes so far as to suggest that these Charedi communities might be better off curtailing their efforts at bringing nonobservant people into the fold, as they then do not make enough of an effort to find a place for them.
"There are so many organizations and people devoting their lives to attracting people to a religious lifestyle," wrote Meizlik, "Why bother? Why convince them to make such a difficult, painful change? Why call upon them to come and live a Torah lifestyle if no one has any intention of giving them the opportunity to live such a lifestyle? Perhaps the time has come to stop investing in outreach and to redirect the immense energies of these organizations to the existing newly religious families."
Some of the responses she got were surprising in their exclusivity:
The following week's article was written by Yael Berg, who came out in defense of the discrimination. The newly observant, explained Berg, tend to meet with their non-religious relatives and the children are exposed to their relatives' culture, "their speech patterns, music, body language and concepts," she wrote.

Yael feels that this encounter with secular culture sometimes causes the children to backslide, and they are liable to negatively affect youths who have been ultra-Orthodox from birth.

"I feel that the pain of the girl who has not been accepted is preferable to the anguish of families whose daughters are affected by a girl who was erroneously accepted," wrote Berg.
I'm glad she feels that way, but who is she to rate one Jew's anguish against anothers? The editor of Mishpacha, Moshe Grylak, has a similar reaction to Berg's comments:
He also agrees that "the rejection unfortunately also stems from elitist arrogance - an evil sickness the causes apathy and hardheartedness toward the suffering of those we reject."
Another, similar opinion to Berg's, worded even less tactfully, was wriiten in a letter to the magazine:
Zippora Beit Levi, a teacher at the Beit Yaakov school system, wrote to Mishpacha that she feels the ultra-Orthodox community is having enough trouble with its own rebellious youth "without importing `trouble' from outside."
If the "trouble" already exists, who's to say that the solution is discriminating against a group of people who are giving up so much to try to be a part of her community?

One suggested solution to the impasse that seems to have gained traction in both camps, is the proposal for separate schools for the newly observant. However, as Meizlick states, the Ultra-orthodox offer this option from "on top of their high horses."

It is much easier for the "Frum From Birth" types to create a system where they don't have to worry about their children coming into contact with anyone not exactly like them, but does that really make their children stronger in their faith, or take into account their resposibilities to those in the community who may not be as "blessed" as their children were to be born into the right cradle?

(hat tip)


Article over at YNet about a letter that the Yesha Council plans to distribute to West Bank residents before Yom Kippur. The letter discusses mistakes that the settler group feels they made during the disengagement.
One of the "mistakes" they address is the lack of communication between protesters and their leaders, particularly in Kfar Maimon. The settler leaders are also critical of the widely photographed and circulated hugs between the soldiers doing the evacuating, and the settlers being evacuated, as an error:
With all the high emotions surrounding Gush Katif, a few minutes before the last Jews were removed from the synagogue at Neve Dekalim, Yesha Council officials on site felt a need to demonstrate and to include the eviction forces in our pain.

We (now) feel we could have done without the hugs, we could have held a more wide-ranging dialogue, even if this would not have stopped the destruction machine.
The letter ends with the following, which seems to me to be a blatant threat of violence if and when the next stage of disengagement takes place:
the State of Israel wants to return to everyday life and forget this crime. But we say tens of thousands of times each day 'Never forgive, never forget.' We will say it to anyone who wants to forget.
...the coming danger is already here, and despite trying to learn the lessons from the current struggle – no one has all the answers. There is no secret way to attain victory over a government and an army without resorting to violence.
Wow. This message of a lack of forgiveness and a threat of violence is really not in the spirit of the day of repentance, Yom Kippur. I also find it difficult to believe that the hugs between soldier and settler, which were so emblematic of the struggle over the disengagement, and gave faith in our nation of Am Yisrael to so many of us who were watching events from afar, could be characterized as a "mistake".
I'm not sure what the benefits of putting this letter out so close to Yom Kippur are. To me, it just seems a distraction from the order of one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Confessions of a Self-Titled SuperMom

As I shopped for food for Shabbos today, in the short time I have between work and the kids coming home from school, I had an epiphany. Am I really a liberated woman? Yes, I'm as educated as any man. Yes, I have the successful career that I set my sights on. But have I given up any of the traditional "women's" roles in exchange? Decidedly not.

I am the sole person in charge of feeding everyone in my household - from shopping to cooking to packing snacks and lunch every day. Dinners every night, meals every Shabbos and Yom Tov.

I am the one who makes and keeps my kids' appointment schedules, from check-ups to haircuts, to gymnastics and hockey.

I am the one who drops whatever I might be doing at work to pick up the child complaining of a sore throat and ferry said child to the Doctor's office.

I am the one who rushes home to do homework with the kids, who rushes home to spend precious time with my baby.

Don't get me wrong. I love what I do, soup to nuts. Every bit of it. I wouldn't want to give up any of it. But part of me yearns for the women in my world to make a choice when it comes to our gender roles. Are we equals? Are we more than equals? Are we less than equals?

Someone we ate a meal together with over Yom Tov commented on the fact that I managed to put a whole meal together while getting all the kids dressed and even make it to shul to hear every one of the shofar blasts. He commented that in his mother's day, women were never expected to go to shul. They were never expected to do anything but take care of the children and keep the house. That job is a monumental task in itself, but what of all the additional expectations that we "liberated" women have heaped upon ourselves?

I really feel that I do "have it all", but sometimes I wonder if "having it all" has to include "doing it all".

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rosh Hashana Thoughts

I just got an automated call from my shul that a member's father passed away and the funeral is today. That, coupled with the death of a young father that many in my community had a connection to, has left me pondering mortality, especially on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the yearly Day of Judgement. I wonder about the pain the family members must go through when a holiday falls so soon after their loss, especially when reading the words of Unetaneh Tokef, a beautiful poem which concerns the yearly judgement. A passage from the prayer:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Who shall perish by water and who by fire,

Who by sword and who by wild beast,

Who by famine and who by thirst,

Who by earthquake and who by plague,

Who by strangulation and who by stoning,

Who shall have rest and who shall wander,

Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,

Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,

Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,

Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

I know that we are supposed to interpret this poem metaphorically, and not ascribe every death to that individual's lack of righteousness. That kind of theodicy has no real place in Jewish thought, and those who have tried it in the wake of recent natural disasters have gotten skewered. But it must be very difiicult to read the words, knowing that one's near and dear had been "inscribed" the year before for death. I remember feeling the same way four years ago, when Rosh Hashana fell so soon after 9/11. I remember saying this tefilla, wondering why some had been smitten and others, like my husband (Baruch Hashem) had been spared.

Which makes me prefer another interpretation of this poem. Instead of taking it to mean that one's level of righteousness directly relates to one's length of days - which we know conflicts with most teachings on the subject, I prefer to use the meaning that I heard in a Shabbat Shuva lecture, many years ago. The poem is reminding us of the preciousness of life, and how important it is to appreciate every single day we have on this earth. One of the best ways to do that is to be reminded of our mortality, whether by actual events that take place, as is the case in my community this week, and was the case for so many the year of 9/11, or by the words of this prayer. Which reminds me of an anomymous piece I have gotten forwarded by various friends many times in the past few years:

To realize the value of one year

Ask a student who has failed his final exam.

To realize the value of one month

Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of one week

Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of one day

Ask a daily wage laborer who has ten kids to feed.

To realize the value of one hour

Ask a couple waiting for the wedding ceremony.

To realize the value of one minute

Ask a person who has missed the train.

To realize the value of one second

Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of one millisecond

Ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.

Use every moment wisely, it is a divine gift.

Wishing all a Shana Tovah U'Metukah. A year of health, happiness, peace, and using every minute wisely, for all of you and all of yours.

Supreme Court Pick

So Bush has chosen Harriet Miers as his Supreme Court nominee. She has no judicial experience at all, and therefore no judicial record at all. Her only qualification seems to be her close relationship with GWB, and with all the negative attention lately on accusations of cronyism in the White House - especially after the Michael Brown debacle - I can't understand why this would seem a well-advised pick.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Jewish Education Discussion

The Fall issue of Jewish Action has a large section about Jewish school tuition. It includes an article by Jonathan Isler and Kenny Gluck, the architects of the new Lawrence School District Jewish education proposal discussed on this blog in great detail (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII). There is also some discussion on vouchers, a defense of tuition, and more. Check it out.

Hat tip