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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Misleading Budget Point of the Day

I received the annual budget mailing (available in full in PDF format here) from the Lawrence School District last week. Nice job. At least from the point of view of manipulation of facts and propagandizing, that is. Many details bothered me about the budget publication. I think I will post them gradually, a few a day, in the days leading up to the election. Enjoy the new series.

  • (p. 2) "support for our nearly 7,000 students." Of course, that figure is correct - if you factor in that the inflated number includes a majority of Private School students that do not attend the public schools, and therefore utilize vastly fewer resources and services.
  • (p. 4) "86% of the 2005 graduates of Lawrence High School went on to higher education." That's a nice statistic, but what about that fact that even with teacher's salaries at among the highest in the district, and an extremely low teacher/student ratio of 1:10 (it also appears from the information available on this site that Lawrence High School has the second-lowest teacher/student ratio for any high school in Nassau County), the actual graduation rate from Lawrence High School is close to the bottom of the pack of all of the 56 Nassau County districts? How in the world are we supposed to feel that this status quo is acceptable? Second-highest teacher/student ratio, and yet one of the lowest graduation rates? Great.
  • I see nothing in the budget whatsoever about per-student spending, and how that spending compares with spending in other districts. That may well be because, as I outlined in the update to this post, SD #15 spending is the highest in Nassau County and among the few highest in NY State.
There is much much more to come.

Exclusive School Board Candidates

In case anyone was wondering what exactly it was about the lawn sign belonging to two of the school board candidates that makes me believe they are not really interested in representing the 60% of the district's children that attend private schools? You know, the very same candidates being endorsed by the Lawrence Teacher's Association? Maybe, just maybe, it's the line in the above sign that touts them as "The Public School Candidates"? Just a guess.

On Jewish and Not-So-Jewish Names

I'm sure everyone has heard that the decidedly non-Jewish celebrities Tom and Katie Cruise inexplicably chose a Jewish name for their newborn daughter, Suri. And not just a biblical name - but a very Yiddish diminutive of the name Sarah. I read about a similar phenomenon over Pesach in the bestselling book Freakonomics. Apparently, when the lists of names given to all newborn babies in the US for any given year were culled, the lists for both boys and girls that were born to parents with the highest levels of education were laden with Jewish names. From the boys' list, out of 20, names, six were Jewish or hebrew, with Dov and Akiva taking the #1 and #2 spots (Elon, Yonah, Tor and Zev round out the group). The girls list included Meira, Aviva, Rotem, Atara and Zofia. I'm not really sure if these lists prove that Jews figure prominently among the most highly educated Americans, or just that Jewish names are very attractive to the most highly educated Americans, but either way, it's a cool little bit of information.

Speaking of Jewish names, I've noticed another amusing phenomenon in my community. I was at the pediatrician's office last week with one of the OrthoKids, and the nurse came out to the waiting room to call some patients into the examination rooms. "Uh...Philip and Natalie?" Silence. "Philip and Natalie Schwartz?" At this, a little boy with a large velvet yarmulka and payos, and his sister, who was wearing a uniform identifiable as being from one of the more religious girls' schools in the area, jumped up just as their mother called out "Nechama and Paysach, our turn!" I mean, come on. We live in America. It is 2006. If the Pakistani child sitting next to me in the waiting room can get called in with the name "Kumar", and the Hispanic child across from me can have the name "Estralita" on her chart, why is it necessary to have Orthodox children addressed as "Philip and Natalie"? What I find even more amazing is the class list from my youngest's playgroup. With names like Gregory, Aidan, William, Samantha, Madison and Grace, it's hard to believe that the playgroup is a decidedly Orthodox one. Interestingly, though, the playgroup is frequented by a more Modern Orthodox crowd, where the names tend to be more Americanized altogether. In my older children's schools, however, which might be considered more right-wing, I can't imagine any children fitting in if they were to go by some of the names of the kids my youngest rolls play-dough with. As a matter of fact, I think to attempt to have your children go by the names "Aidan" or "Samantha" in my older kids' schools would be close to committing social suicide.

Still, one has to wonder why these identifiably Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox parents such as the ones I encountered at the pediatrician's assign their kids such...well, American aliases. Do they expect them to need the names if they go to college or grad school? Who are they kidding? Let's be honest. We are talking Yeshivish city. Their kids aren't going to college. But in all seriousness, there must be a more Jewish permutation of "Paysach" than "Philip", don't you think?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Now I've Seen It All

This is truly unbelievable. Evidently, the Satmar succession squabble has gotten so heated, that one of the warring factions will do anything to win, including invite Chillul Shabbat in exchange for some positive PR. From a press release issued to reporters by the Aronis, inviting reporters to "attend Shabbos worship services led by Grand Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum" (who was not named in his father's will as the successor for Grand Rabbi - but is contesting that):
Grand Rabbi Aron, the oldest son of Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum obm, arrived in Williamsburg, Wednesday (April 26) and, as the new Grand Rabbi, plans to reside there. Grand Rabbi Aaron's highly skilled qualifications and credentials as a speaker and charismatic person and as a dean and a rabbi who served Satmar in many positions for so many years make him well-qualified to serve as Grand Rabbi.
The best line from the release:
SPECIAL NOTE: Please be respectful of the religious observances and practices.

"Stills" and "Prints" Only. Contact if any question. Thank you.

How taking "stills" and "prints" of Chasidim partaking in Shabbos meals is "respectful of religious observances and practices" is beyond me.

Update: Another point that I find hard to grasp is that the Aronis are clearly reaching out to mainstream, non-Jewish press sources for support in the succession war. This makes no sense for a sect that claims to be so disinterested in the outside world that they sequester themselves in an exclusive village in Monroe. What could they be thinking? That if they hire a non-Orthodox PR flack to pitch Reb Ahron as the next Grand Rabbi to all the major news sources, then that will make it so? That the Aronis tactic of reaching out to the outside world for validation will somehow negate the fact that Reb Moshe's will clearly and unequivocally designated Reb Zalman as his successor? I find this all very ironic.

(Hattip: full text of press release at the Politicker.)

Abramoff's Passover Plans

Why does the NY Times feel that the fact the Jack Abramoff spent Pesach at Turnberry Isles is a news story? Whatever law-breaking the guy is accused of doing, I can't see any reason that his wife and children have to be publicly tormented because they were taken away by their parents for Pesach. When a person is accused of a crime, even a high-profile crime such as Abramoff, does that negate any right that his poor innocent children have to privacy? I'm not saying I think that traveling to a resort with hundreds of people eating meals together in a large dining room is a paticularly low-profile way to spend the holidays. That said, it certainly isn't a crime. Especially when, as the article notes, the trip was financed not by Abramoff himself, but by a member of Abramoff's "extended family".

The fact that the article takes issue with Abramoff's pleas of poverty in court papers while someone else is footing his family's bill to travel to high-end resorts reminds me of an issue that often comes up in Yeshivas, albeit on a decidedly non-felonious scale. I've been told that cash-strapped parents who ask their children's Yeshivas for financial assistance with paying tuition are asked by the tuition board where and how they spend the holidays. If they admit to being taken away to some fancy resort by parents or other family members, some Yeshivas apparently ask them to request that parents instead put the same money toward tuition for their grandchildren. This tactic has always been a hot topic of debate when the shabbos table conversation turns to the ins-and-outs tuition assistance. Do grandparents have the right to choose to spend money and give gifts to their children and grandchildren in any way they see fit? If their children are struggling to pay tuition - or, to force the comparison, if their children are claiming poverty and inability to pay their court fees - are said parents and family members entitled to treat their children to a luxurious vacation? Or are they required to put any extra funds they have lying about toward their children's education (or lawyer's fees, as it were)?

I'm not sure.

I understand that in a perfect world, parents would feel compelled to assist their grown children with debts and costs that they incur, especially if said parents have extra funds lying about. But it isn't usually so simple. Parents often don't have wads of extra money lying around. If they have a choice to spend their hard-earned and saved funds on spending a relaxing holiday together with their children and grandchildren, particularly during a difficult time, are they entitled to do so?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

District 15 Salaries

Note: The links below are temporarily unavailable, due to traffic overload on the host. If anyone has any tips for a free host for PDF's, please suggest in comments. Thanks. Links below are now working again for download of PDF's.

I will admit to hesitating before posting the following links. I worry that people will misconstrue any criticism at all of teachers' receiving high salaries as displaying a lack of support for public education, and a lack of respect for the priceless contribution that teachers make to our children's development on a day-to-day basis. Not so. I am a firm believer that in order to aquire and keep talented and dedicated teachers in both the public and private school systems, paying competitive salaries is a must. That said, the following information, all public, was disturbing enough to me that I felt I had to bring it to the attention of the voters of School District #15. Following you will find links (in PDF format) to lists of teachers' salaries for the district. After careful consideration, I have redacted the names of all those named on the list - although the information is public. The salaries remain listed, without the names, and are downloadable here.

Keep in mind that the listed salaries do not include extracurricular payments, which can total up to $28k on top of their salaries for some teachers. Also, each teacher receives benefits which total an additional about $30k for each employee. What I find disturbing about these lists is not the fact that many of these employees are being paid well into the six figures. It is the SD#15 contract agreement that shocked me. (Full document downloadable here). Particularly interesting was Appendix 1 of the document (pages 51-57), which show the automatic stepped increases received by district teachers. Right now, the teachers' receive an annual automatic increase of 3%, plus an added 1.5-2% in increased benefits and pension costs. That translates into an automatic 4.5% increase yearly. In addition, each employee receives an additional raise as he/she rises in seniority. For example, a BA with a salary step of 5 receives $55,298 under the 2003/2004 scale. In 2004/2005, a BA with salary step of 5 receives $56,957, an increase of 3%. Except for the minor detail that a teacher with a BA and a salary step of five advances a step annually, according to the teacher's contract (p. 7, para. 4). So a teacher with a BA and a salary step of 5 in 2003/2004 becomes a teacher with a BA and a salary step of 6 in 2004/2005. In one year, he goes from $55,298 to $58,634. That's a pay raise of over 6% - not 3%. Double raises, every year, all around. We are talking about an automatic 7.5-8% yearly increase in salary for every single district teacher. There is nothing in the pay scale equation to indicate that there is any weight given to teacher's performance at all.

There is this sentiment I hear expressed throughout the public school community that the private school community (read: the Orthodox community) does not care about educating the district's public school students. Somehow, the fact that there is a movement to vote down budgets until the district can present one that is more fiscally sound is seen as nothing but an attempt by the Orthodox community to cheat students atending the district's schools out of an education. Please. These salary lists hardly show that the district is maximizing their dollars to provide the district's students with the best-performing teachers. If there is an automatic salary increase that far exceeds any cost-of-living increase estimates, with no linkage to teacher performance, then I need proof that this (to my eye) bloated teacher's contract is helping district students as much as it helps the teachers.

I passed a lawn sign today which was put up by the candidates for the "other side". (The candidates which have the support of the public school community, as well as - obviously - the Lawrence Teacher's Association.) The sign indicated that they are "the public school candidates". As if somehow, 60% of the district's children who don't attend public school are not going to be represented by the candidates if they are elected. Nice.

Chernobyl Anniversary

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, the worst nuclear disaster to hit the earth. The effects are still being felt in the region, though whether certain disorders are a direct effect of the radiation exposure is still a point of debate. What is certain, however, is that the spike of thyroid cancer cases in Eastern Europe can be attributed to the high levels of radiation exposure that residents of the area received in the aftermath of the disaster.

This piece in the NY Times last week points out that effects of the disaster can be seen right here in New York City. There has been a sharp rise in thyroid cancer cases in the city, and experts have attributed that spike to the huge numbers of immigrants from Eastern European regions that have settled in New York, many of them Jewish, who were exposed to the highest levels of radiation in the wake of the meltdown.

Unfortunately, it seems the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster is only beginning to reveal itself.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Misfired Mailing?

Apparently there was a bit of talk about this flyer that was sent out by David Yassky, Democratic congressional candidate from the Brooklyn district which includes the Lubavitcher neighborhood of Crown Heights. The mailing found its way into the mailboxes of an entirely different demographic than the Chassidic and Orthodox one to which it was clearly designed to reach out. I would have to imagine that the flyer, with a color head shot of a Shmura Matzah and Kiddush cup, a reference to the Four Questions, and a campaign promise of "a nurse in every Yeshiva" might not have impressed the audience, apparently heavily African-American and Carribean, that actually received the mailing.

More here and here.

Schlissel Challah

Hey, everyone. I'm back, from undisclosed locations. Which could be anywhere from Alaska, to my in-laws house, to my very own kitchen. Not telling. But it was great, wherever we spent it. Hope you all enjoyed your Chag as well.

I have already moved on today to the post-Pesach activity of baking "Schlissel Challah". I am no expert on the custom, which was handed down to me by my Mom and her mother, but you take a key, and bake it into a challah. As far as I always heard it, using the challah for Lechem Mishnah at the Shabbos table the week after Pesach is a Segulah for livelihoood. I was told that it does not matter whether the key opens any particular door, though I have heard that some have the custom to use the particular key that opens their own front door.

Another few explanations for the custom that I found here:
1. Based on "Pitchi Li Achoti, Ra'ayati..." ("Open up, my
darling..."--Shir HaShirim 5:2), on which the Medrash states "Pitchu li
petach ke-chudo shel machat...," (cf. Shi HaShirim Rabbah 5, s.v. "Kol
Dodi Dofek") = something like "Open your hearts (in teshuvah) like the
eye of the needle, and I (God) will open the rest like [a very large

2. According to Kabbalah on Pesach the gates to heaven were open, and
following Pesach the lower gates are shut, and it's up to us to open
them again, therefor on the 1st Shabbat we put the key on the challah to
show that through the mitzvah of Shabbat we are opening the locks
[original source?].

3. In the desert the Jewish people ate from the manna until after Pesach
upon entering the land (with the bringing of the Omer, see: Josh. 5:11),
at which point the ate from the produce of the land, and became
dependant on their livelihood for the first time (now they had no
manna). The key in the challah after Pesach is a request the God should
open the Sha'arei Parnasah (gates of livelihood). Alternatively, the
manna began to fall in the month of Iyyar, and this Shabbat is always
Shabbat Mevarchim Iyyar.

See: Sefer Ta'amei HaMinhagim, pp. 249-50.
See: Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, pp. 1419-20 for a photo of a shluss
challah (and other "special" challot). It seems (from both of the above
sources) that the minhag was to bake the key on top of the challah not
inside (a la the old jail break trick).
Anyone else baked Schlissel Challah today? Anyone else have any good sources for the Minhag?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Chag Sameach

I'm sure I don't need to explain to anyone why I've been too busy to blog anything of note. Pesach preparation beckons. Have a Chag Kasher V'Sameach, all!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Creative Ways to Get Rid of Chametz

This is amusing. From NY Magazine:
Security has been tight this week at the Central Park Zoo, with ticket takers, staff, and guards on the lookout for suspicious packages of cookies, pretzels, hot-dog buns, and pound cake. Observant Jews have till Wednesday to clear their houses of hametz (leavened products) before Passover, and every year many of them take their castoffs to the zoo. Baffled zoo staff note that the snow monkeys are the main beneficiaries of the pre-holiday pig-out, apparently because the polar bear’s glass wall is too high and the sea lions would only be interested if offered gefilte fish. “If a big group comes in carrying bags, admission is going to notice,” says zoo spokesperson Kate McIntyre.

The small, pink-faced snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) may not mind the interruption to their grooming routine and carefully prepared diet of fruits, greens, and nuts, but their caretakers sure do. Standard protocol is to politely ask food-throwers to stop. If they persist, security hovers and asks again (last year, one food-flinger said, “I don’t answer to you; I answer to a higher power”), but they are rarely ejected. “They really don’t know why they shouldn’t do it,” says one zoo volunteer. “They think they’re doing a good deed. I can’t say they like it when I tell them to stop. My answer to them is to take it to a shelter.” Other volunteers aren’t so tolerant. “If we see them do it, we should either frisk them for food or throw them out,” insists one.

According to a curator at the zoo, throwing the monkeys your Shabbos leftovers carries similar risks as feeding your families Shabbos leftovers does:
The real risk for the animals in eating too much people food is that they will get fat and lazy.

Sounds right.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ask Rabbi Shmuley

Watch this preview of the new TLC show "Shalom in the Home". It features Rabbi-to-the-stars Shmuley Boteach, and premiers Erev Pesach, April 10. The intro is a bit ridiculous, with an animated version of "Rabbi Shmuley" waving from the window of his SUV, which is pulling a huge trailer behind it with license plates reading SHALOM, all set to a catchy little ditty. I'm not saying that the content of his advice is wrong, but the presentation is certainly not my style. This feature is quite funny, though, where you click on little figurines (all for sale in the TLC online store, of course) acting out "Life's Lessons", for amusing little clips about how NOT to behave.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

School District News

There's an article in the Long Island section of the Sunday New York Times that some Lawrence School District residents might find interesting. The piece discusses the high salaries that some public school administrators on Long Island receive. Lawrence has the distinction of being one of only ten Nassau County school districts that have at least 7 administrators receiving salaries above $104,000 per every 1,000 students (graphic here). Now, let me be clear. It is far from my place to begrudge District #15 the right to hire good administrators by offering some of the most competitive salaries in the county. But the fact that they do so raises two points.

First, the Public Schools have been crying poverty due to the rejection of budgets in the last few elections, which have forced the district into 3 years of austerity budgets. That is somewhat hard to take seriously when they are still managing to find the money to pay their admistrators and teachers at what are among the highest salary rates in Nassau County. Clearly, the "austerity" budget is not forcing SD #15 to be as austere as we are being led to believe.

Another point that the article brings up is in reference to the high salaries received by administrators in another Nassau County school district, Commack. The district defends the high salaries by noting the high performance of its students on standardized tests:
Dr. Hunderfund, the Commack superintendent, said he has received 7-percent raises in each of his 12 years on the job, but only because he met the expectations of the school board. The share of Commack graduates earning Regents diplomas rose to 94 percent in 2004, from 49 percent in 1989. Most districts in the state improved their Regents diploma rates over that time, but only a few others showed the jump that Commack did.
In contrast, a criticism that has frequently been leveled SD #15 is district students' poor scoring on standardized tests. Many district residents feel that continuing to throw money at poor performance is simply not as strong an incentive as the system practiced in districts such as Commack which reward administrators and teachers for their students' good performance. I have heard voters here say that would like to see test scores rise in step with salaries before they approve another budget. I think they have a point.

Update: A reader e-mails me some links that give some more background on teachers' and administrators' salaries in the Lawrence School District, and how they compare to salaries in other districts: I, II, III, IV (NYS annual report comparing all districts), V (NYS school administrators' salaries by district).

Update II: Here are three tables (1, 2, 3) that outline per student spending in every Nassau County school district. Lawrence is #1 in Nassau County in the overall expenditures per student, and among the few highest in the state.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Parking Etiquette

Here's a scenario:

I was circling and circling today, looking for a parking spot so I could take care of some errands. The main drag out here, Central Ave., was absolutely hopping, and I was not having much success. Finally, I used the tactic of following a woman laden with packages, hoping she was heading to her car, and lucked out. As she loaded her packages into the trunk, I motioned to her in universal body language for: "Are you pulling out?". She nodded. She got into the car, turned it on, hit her blinker to indicate she was pulling out. Then, I saw her suddenly wave out her window. She had apparently spotted her friend. She then proceeded to motion to her friend in what is obviously universal body language for: "Come over and stand by my car window to chat with me while cars furiously honk the woman who is double parked, waiting for the spot I told her I was pulling out of".

I know that it's her spot until she sees fit to give it up. I know that she owes me nothing. I know that she has every right to abort relinquishing her parking spot on a whim. But somehow, the fact that she decided to chat for five minutes when someone was clearly waiting for her spot just irked me. (In all fairness, it didn't irk me quite as much as the cars behind me who were putting their horns into heavy rotation.)

I ended up circling a few more times, just to get the ringing of the car horns out of my ears. The first two times I went around the block, she was still chatting with her buddy. The third time, a ginormous silver SUV was just pulling in to the spot that she had obviously finally vacated.

I see both sides here. I understand that she owed me nothing, least of all her parking space. But does anyone agree with me that she was just the teeny-tiniest bit inconsiderate?

Pesach Prep

I have to say, this may well be the most stressful time of the year for Orthodox parents. My thoughts on some of the reasons:

1. The exorbitant amount of money that goes into keeping the holiday. It isn't just people who go away to fancy hotels that spend, staying home is no bargain either. Food shopping is obscenely expensive, and during the year, one rarely has the need to stock up on all kitchen necessities at the very same time as is necessary for Pesach. Can't ignore the expenses of new shoes and clothes for the kids, haircuts, lost wages due to Pesach cleaning or packing to go away - and I think you get my point.

2. April 15. It's usually either right before or right after Pesach. That's a boatload of stress right there.

3. Every year, the kids' Pesach vacation seems to start earlier and earlier. Can someone please give me some advice on how to keep the kids from tracking Chametz into the newly cleaned rooms when they are home for almost the entire week before Pesach? I didn't think so. I was in the supermarket today, and I must say I have never heard so much snapping going on between parents and their children. "Mom, can I get-" "Yaakov, we are NOT here for you to GET things! Don't you know it's Erev Pesach?" and "Mom-" "Chani, don't bother me now, I am trying to follow my list!" The shrill tone of voice the mothers in question used is impossible to impart in a blog post - but trust me. I winced. And I really can't blame them a bit. This week is an especially hard one to have all the kids home - and it's not like Pesach prep is exactly conducive to family togetherness. I know, I know, I'm going to get lots of comments telling me that it's a GREAT opportunity for togetherness, and I have to try harder to include my kids in the preparations. I didn't say I don't include them, I just said that pre-Pesach isn't particularly conducive to idyllic family bonding time. Sue me.

Can't wait to sit down for that first Seder.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tax Credit Support

The NY Daily News comes out squarely in favor of Education Tax Credits today, with both a pro-ETC editorial and op-ed. From the editorial:
Second on the agenda is an education tax credit. Pataki proposed a landmark credit of up to $500 per child to help working poor and middle-class parents pay for private tuition or educational help if they live in a district with a failing school. It's an idea the Legislature should embrace wholeheartedly, but purely to circumvent school choice, lawmakers proposed instead a tax credit of $330 for every kid age 4 to 17 - including people making up to $170,000 a year.

On the opposite page, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and the Rev. A.R. Bernard lay out the arguments for supporting the governor's tax-credit plan. They make perfect sense. May the prayers of these men of faith be answered.

The op-ed, which is actually written by the clergymen mentioned in the editorial above, (Bishop DeMarzio, Rabbi Weinreb, and Rev. Bernard), expresses many of the same points I brought up yesterday (sorry for pasting the whole thing, but it bears reading in full):
Seeing that each child, whether rich or poor, has access to the best education available is more than good public policy. For us, it is a moral imperative. Helping a neighbor struggling financially isn't just nice, it's a Divine command.

With one policy - Education Tax Credits - our state's elected leaders could do both: secure a better education for students while relieving financial stress from lower income and middle class families.

Yet, because these credits would be available to all children in New York, including those attending nonpublic schools, the policy has drawn fierce special interest opposition.

It is inconceivable to us that anyone opposes a tax credit specifically designed to help struggling parents hire a tutor, enroll their child in test or SAT prep courses, or get special needs services because perhaps one in 10 of those using the credit would use it on private - or Heaven forbid - parochial school tuition. Every analysis shows 90% of those benefiting will be public school students.

Perhaps that is why even United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently stated she was "very open" to helping all schools and all students, including private ones.

Yet opponents led by the state teachers union, convinced that children who don't go to public school don't deserve a place at the table, have trotted out flimsy rationale after flimsy rationale to sink the proposal, putting forward an alternative "child tax credit" having nothing to do with education.

They've tried calling the education tax credit unconstitutional, but a quarter century of Supreme Court precedent stood in their way. They've tried calling it unaffordable, but their own alternative is more expensive. They've tried saying they are protecting education spending - but the credit they propose never mentions the word "education." Some even offered an excuse that they worried tuition might rise by the amount of the credit. By that logic, then:

New York shouldn't cut the sales tax on clothing because merchants might raise prices by the tax savings. And there shouldn't be any tax credits for higher education, because universities might raise tuition.

Without reason on their side, they resorted to hardball politics. And in Albany, that just might work. We are saddened, outraged and shocked that to date, the state Legislature has abdicated their responsibilities.

Public schools deserve our support. They have, by all accounts, done well this budget season - getting billions of dollars in new funding. Many days and many issues see us side by side with the unions representing New York's public school teachers. Not this time. Their union pressed hard until the Legislature caved.

With the budget ink still wet, Jewish New Yorkers will soon sit down to the Passover seder. Christian New Yorkers will celebrate Easter Sunday. Both holidays center around how we can best impart crucial teachings to our children. We can only hope as our Legislative leaders, including two upstanding members of our respective faiths, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, sit with their own families, they will have stood up to special interests, standing with and for each and every family with a school-age child throughout New York.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Well Said

From an e-mail sent out by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, on the topic of the Boro Park riots :
Dear Readers:

This email list is used each week to spread Hashem’s Torah and thoughts on parenting Jewish children to readers around the world. With a heavy heart and firm resolve, I would like to use this forum this evening to publicly repudiate the actions of those in the Boro Park community who shamed Jews worldwide yesterday with their lawless and violent actions.

As a Torah Jew, I am obligated to judge people l’kaf zechus (favorably). With that in mind, and considering the fact that I was not there to witness these protests firsthand, perhaps I should listen to those in our community who defend or excuse the actions of the protesters by pointing out that there were allegations of police brutality that sparked the protests.

However, there is no set of circumstances that permit the torching of a police car and the setting of fires in this malcus shel chesed (benevolent country). These criminal acts are a dark stain on our community and constitute a disgrace of Hashem’s Torah. And I firmly believe that those who perpetrate these actions are ‘rodfim’ who are putting all of us in danger.

L’man Hashem; haven’t we learned anything at all from history? Aren’t we afraid of creating needless animosity among our neighbors? We have been given a privilege that was denied our grandparents for two thousand years. It is one that we should accept as the gift that it is, not endanger it with acts of hooliganism.

Instead of reactive comments from people defending the protestors, or suggesting that these are the actions of a few individuals, I would like to see universal and broad-based condemnation of these actions from responsible community leaders, rabbonim and heads of schools. I plan on speaking about this matter in my Friday dvar Torah to my talmidim. I hope that many others will do the same.

I strongly believe that all parents should speak to their children about this matter at their dinner and Shabbos tables. Our children are watching our response to this very public chilul Hashem. Very carefully.

There are hundreds of amazing acts of selflessness and Kiddush Hashem in our community on a daily basis. However, these beautiful messages are being snuffed out by the negative actions of a few. In this 24-hour news cycle and Internet blog world we cannot allow the misguided youth who commit violence to speak for us.

May Hashem grant us wisdom in these troubling times.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Menahel, Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey
Director, Project Y.E.S.

Speaker Silver Speaks

Shelly Silver has said some truly inflammatory comments in this week's Jewish Week regarding both Yeshivas and the Education Tax Credit lobby. A taste:
But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver insisted on Tuesday he is not considering any plan other than the $330-per-child credit announced in last week’s budget agreement. That credit, which would cost the state $600 million, would apply to all children between the ages of 4 and 17, and is not linked to education spending.

If such a stipend were to be granted, Silver said, it would be “almost like parents being used as a vehicle to get around the Constitution and provide the money to [private] schools.”

...The speaker has increasingly voiced suspicion that private schools would hijack an education tax credit by raising tuition, and on Tuesday he blasted TeachNYS, the tax-credit lobbying group founded by Catholic and Jewish leaders, as a front for such schools.

“Clearly the [private] schools are so invested in the governor’s tuition tax proposal that it was ‘their money’ directed to them in the schools, that’s how they looked at it,” said Silver in an interview. “In various communities, school organizations spent a significant amount of money lobbying. Check TeachNYS and see who their who contributors are. … Many of the schools they represent have parents who make over the income limit. That means if they raise the tuition they raise it so people aren’t getting any benefit under either bill.”

So basically, Silver is accusing Yeshivas of using parents as a front to get around the Constitution and grab government funds all for themselves. Wow. Those are pretty much fighting words. Silver, an experienced trial lawyer, should know that both the US Supreme Court and his pal NY Attorney General Eliott Spitzer disagree with his assessment of tax credits as unconstitutional. Not to mention that Silver's comments don't even hold much water. He is concerned that Yeshivas have their eye on the tax credits that parents will be receiving - yet that is just as much a possibilty with the tax credit he himself is offering. If Yeshivas are as evil and money-grubbing as he is suggesting, why put ANY money in the hands of parents? Also, he is so proud of the fact that he is putting the credit into the hands of all parents, as opposed to the Education Tax Credits which help only parents in failing school districts. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that if Yeshivas are going to raise tuition to reflect a tax credit, they are more likely to do so if every one of their parents are receiving an across-the-board credit - as they would with his proposal. He is contradicting himself within the very same statement.

And his implication that the Yeshivas are in cahoots with Teach NYS only to get their hands on the tax credits is just nasty. What does Shelly have to say then about his own allegiance with the Teacher's Union? In addition, I have personally heard a Yeshiva principal discussing the tax credit proposal, and all he talked about was the fact that this credit would help many of his parents put food on the table. For Shelly to allege that Yeshivas simply want to rob all parents blind is really beyond the pale.


There's a lot of very scary sentiment being spewed in the aftermath of the Boro Park riots over at NYPD Rant, which seems to be a message board for NYPD officers to..well, rant. Some choice bits from one poster:
Mayhem erupts, Riot in Brooklyn, Jewman collared sparks riot. Damn. Who gives a flying f***? They are animals. Pure savages. They should be on some island picking food from each others beards. Let them riot. Stinky bastards. "Die In Jail, Rot In Hell."
They stink and they all look the same..am I profiling? you bet!!!! Ever see a Hasid locked up for rape? never happen...half the community shares the same DNA...ever see a handicapped Hasid? They lock them up...treat them like the plague...what a joke..don't get me started...
And another:
I did not think I would ever really be able to say I "hated" people simply because of their religion (sect or cult).

So I'll say I REALLY dislike these people.

In an attempt to speak to a hasidic "man" (animal) he screamed at me not to touch him, that I can't put my hands on him, etc. etc. And, not that it is a pleasant thought, but it's ok for the skank hooker to b!@w him? Which is why he needed to be "spoken" to.

Now I have to take a shower just thinking about them.
I am well aware that it is likely that only a very small minority of NYPD members are posting here, and that the Hasidim involved in the riot surely acted poorly toward some NYPD'ers last night, but still. The vitriol and anti-Semitism which was clearly well in place before yesterday is more than a bit jarring.
Via: Ben Smith, formerly of the Politicker blog, now at his new gig right here.

Update: This from NY1:
Chief of Department Joseph Esposito now admits he made inappropriate comments during the chaos. He does not however admit to singling out Jews in his words as some city council members say he did.

Brooklyn City Councilor Simcha Felder accused the chief of saying, "get the F Jews out of here. Get the F Jews out of here. That is something that is inexcusable, intolerable," Felder says.
I don't know. The profanity is what it is (I can't imagine it was the first or the last profane term to be used by NYPD members), but I would have to imagine that a police chief would certainly want to get all the Jews who were rioting inside his district and committing vandalism, arson, and assaulting his officers, "out of there". Unless someone can prove that he meant "Get the Jews out of my district forever", I don't see the drama with this one. It isn't like he said "Go and beat those F'ing Jews up", right? Anyone want to explain why what he said was so awful?

Great Post on Boro Park Riots

Chaim has a great great post up about the riots last night in Boro Park. The point he makes that most hits home with me is that many Hasidim who were interviewed by news outlets claimed that even though the flashpoint for these riots was the alleged mistreatment by police of an elderly driver, they were most upset because "the cops give too many tickets".


Kosher Dunkin Donuts?

This is weird:
When is a restaurant that serves bacon considered kosher? To most Orthodox rabbis, the answer is easy: never. But Staten Island rabbi Dov Hazdan has been granting his own kosher certification to city Dunkin’ Donuts franchises that have served bacon, ham, and sausage, the trayf trifecta. “The meats all come prepackaged,” says Hazdan. “The employees have to wear gloves. I do not condone mixing kosher with nonkosher.” In Manhattan, Hazdan has also given his ner tamid K stamp to Pongal Vegetarian, an Indian restaurant that operates during the Jewish Sabbath, another no-no among the pork police. Hazdan was recently fired as the kosher supervisor at a Dunkin’ franchise on 34th Street after it received complaints from the Yeshiva University community about the rabbi and the pork. Spokesmen for the four top kosher-certifying agencies said they would never approve a restaurant that served nonkosher meats or operated on the Sabbath. “Who knows what goes on behind the counter?” says one Staten Island rabbi of Hazdan-approved shops. Hazdan insists his methods are 100 percent kosher. “I know a lot of people with beards who go into my stores,” he says.

Especially with completely kosher Dunkin Donuts around, one has to wonder why ones that serve bacon would be under any kosher certification at all. I would have to imagine that at the very least, it might cause those who are relying on the certification to become confused and possibly err on the side of eating non-kosher.

You also have to wonder how Yeshiva University managed to get Dunkin Donuts to pull Hazdan's certification. Did they threaten to boycott? That would seem to be pretty toothless since in saying Hazdan's certification was unreliable, they were de facto boycotting the store anyhow. The article doesn't mention whether the Dunkin Donuts on 34th St. is now under new, more reliable supervision. If not, I can't imagine how Yeshiva University convinced them to drop it at all.

I wonder who YU is going to "boycott" next? Ben's Kosher Deli? Was YU behind the closing of the 2nd Ave. Deli? Inquiring minds want to know.

Appalling Behavior in Boro Park

The Boro Park rioting has been covered quite thoroughly in the J-blogs already, as well as in the local papers. I would like to add, though: Ugh. This is a huge Chillul Hashem. I'm told by a Boro Park resident that a large majority of the mob seemed to be older teenagers, likely home from Yeshiva on Bein Hazmanim. The worst parts of the coverage:
(NY Daily News)
As rumors spread through the crowd that Schick had been beaten, tensions escalated and hundreds of people in traditional black garb poured onto 16th Ave. from 46th to 50th Sts. They set fire to old magazines, fruit boxes and other trash up and down the avenue.

Firefighters raced to put out at least seven blazes and water down the streets.

Demonstrators smashed the windows of one police cruiser and torched another by throwing a gasoline-soaked rag into its backseat. A helicopter searchlight swept the street, and riot police formed lines along 16th Ave., hollering, "Back on the sidewalk!"

But protesters didn't heed the warnings and ran through the streets, some yelling, "Nazi Germany!" at the officers.
The question is, somehow most of these teenaged boys can be prevented from going online, going to movies, or talking to girls, yet why does no one seem to have any control over them when they decide to go on a destructive rampage?

Update: Another point that comes to mind is that it seems strange that this mob thought it would be advisable to trash and set fires in their own neighborhood. Who's gaining here? They still have to live there.

Great Post

I like this post a lot. Very well put. The behavior Shtender addresses in his post really needs to be worked on.

NYT on Satmar Squabble

The NYT puts up an article on the feuding Satmar sects, and how the fact that the Rebbe is in a critical state of health plays into the dynamic. Wishing him a Refuah Sheleima.

With word of unrelated rioting going on in Boro Park tonight, one can't help but hope that things will remain peaceful among the Satmar community, however events play out in the future. They have certainly fought enough this year already.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Family Dinners?

Tomorrow's NY Times has a piece up about how families are increasingly working their schedules around making time to eat dinner together:
After decades of decline in the simple ritual of family dinners, there is evidence that many families are making the effort to gather at the dinner table. A random nationwide survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found a recent rise in the number of children ages 12 to 17 who said they ate dinner with their families at least five times a week, to 58 percent last year from 47 percent in 1998.

Getting everyone around the table can be a huge juggling exercise for overworked parents and overscheduled children. But many parents are marshaling their best organizational skills to arrange dinners at least once a week.

"There's definitely an awareness that was not there a few years ago," said Miriam Weinstein, author of "The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier and Happier" (Steer Forth Press, 2005). "All the factors that have been working against family dinners are still in full force, but it's very much a subject on people's minds."

Not to underestimate how valuable it is, but I really don't know anyone who manages to eat together with the whole family on a nightly basis. Every Shabbos, sure, and almost every Sunday. But I just don't see how it's possible to make that happen with the work schedules most men (and some women) I know keep. There is no way I can see myself making my kids wait until 7 or 8 (if OrthoDad, by some miracle, gets home very early), to feed them.

I actually will take some points from the article under advisement, though, when it comes time to feed the kids. Generally, when I am trying to get supper on the table for them, I haven't yet fully disengaged from work, and I rarely - if ever - am ready to sit down and eat dinner at 5, when the kids eat. But I will certainly try to make more of an effort in the future to sit down with them instead of standing up and washing dishes, opening mail, checking knapsacks, etc. It certainly can't hurt to make that effort.


Jameel has a great post up. My favorite part is the "frosty voice" Jameel recounts Mrs. Muqata using when she hears about the business trip he is taking the week before Pesach. Love it.

Shifra Is Right, As Always

AskShifra has a very interesting post up. As always, Shifra nails it. She's just so reasonable, that Shifra. Check it out.

Urgent Prayers Needed

Please say Tehillim or keep in mind in your tefillot the following name:
She is in extremely serious condition, and needs every bit of help she can get.


Guess what? My blogversary snuck up on me. I started blogging one year ago today. I was hoping to hit 100k visits by the end of my first year, but alas, I am about 830 visits and a day-and-a-half's worth of visits short. Close, but almost doesn't count. Too bad. Well, 99,169 visitors, 172,985 page views, and 477 posts later, here we are. Not sure if I will last another year, but I'm enjoying this while it lasts. Keep reading and commenting, guys!


Might I suggest trying to avoid stepping on metal plates while walking in the street?
A 30-year-old man was jolted by an electrical shock as he walked past a Tribeca cafe last night, and Con Edison is investigating whether stray voltage was to blame once again.

The victim, whose name was not released, was taken to NYU Downtown Hospital with minor injuries, authorities said.

A metal cable box outside the WOW Cafe on Broadway and White St. appeared to be the culprit. Con Ed tested it and found no stray voltage, but said it could have dissipated.

And Con Ed's explanation for not finding the source of the current is not exactly reassuring:
"Could the current be there one moment and not the next?" asked Joe Petta, a spokesman for the utility. "That's a possibility."

Spiced-Up Synagogue Offerings

Interesting piece in today's NY Times about how synagogues are fighting dwindling attendance by trying to spice up their programming. I had heard about this hapening at Reform and Conservative temples, and had even read before about this specific program:
Some 50 synagogues across the country have been experimenting with "Synaplex Shabbat," a national program that began in 2003 that encourages congregations to enhance their Sabbath services by offering an array of nontraditional extras.

The Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist and Conservative synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for instance, has organized Sabbath programs around tai chi and nature walks. Others have tried yoga classes and stand-up comedy as a means of Sabbath observance.

I don't expect to see yoga used "as a means of Sabbath observance" in my shul any time soon, though this trend has spread to some Orthodox shuls:
Dovi and Esty Scheiner, a young Lubavitch couple who moved from Crown Heights to TriBeCa several years ago, are trying to bring Judaism to the cool and hip in Lower Manhattan.

In order to reach the downtown audience, it was necessary to rethink the traditional synagogue approach, said Rabbi Scheiner. "This is a very anti-establishment, anti-organized-religion type of community."

Instead of holding religious services, they gave fancy cocktail parties in art galleries and lofts. In the middle of the events, Rabbi Scheiner would offer a few words of Jewish teaching.

The parties have now given way to the SoHo Synagogue, which they believe is the first Jewish house of worship in the neighborhood. About 250 people attended a dedication party last month for the synagogue's first home, on Varick Street near Canal Street. It is a stylishly decorated 5,000-square-foot space, complete with chic couches, a lacy flora-and-fauna-patterned curtain that functions as the mechitza separating the sexes and an avant-garde sheet-metal ark to store the Torah.

Cool. Also check out the cute little video of the Soho Synagogue.

Pesach Cleaning

I was thinking about a ranting post about the special kind of Pesach cleaning hell I am currently in, but this is so much funnier than that would have been. Trust me.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Frist Flounders

I always get a kick out of stories that prove that many politicians get poorly briefed by their staffers. Bill Frist's team proved particularly adept at their job last night from reports of Frist's speech at the OU dinner. From Eve Kessler:
Bill Frist's speech was monumentally bad. He delivered it in this enervating sing-song, in remarks that showed bad staff work on top of the awful delivery. How? Frist gave full-throated praise to Ariel Sharon and Kadima, to a roomful of people who support parties to the right of Kadima and who clashed full-on with Sharon when he evacuated their friends and relatives from Gaza last year. The remarks garnered stony silence.
Sorry I missed it.

Tax Credit Response

There's a piece in the NY Sun today (subscription required) that quotes from a letter blasting Shelly Silver for his lack of support on the tax credits. The open letter, put out by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the spiritual leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn, spares nothing in his harsh asessment of the way Shelly handled the proposal:
In a strongly worded letter sent to lawmakers on Friday, Nicholas DiMarzio, the spiritual leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn, accused Sheldon Silver of weakening the Democratic process in the state by opposing tuition tax credits.

He also said Mr. Silver personally insulted him when the lawmaker suggested last week that part of the reason he opposes tuition tax credits is because he suspects that parochial schools will raise tuition to take advantage of the tax break to parents of schoolchildren.

"I write to express my profound disappointment in the decision of the Senate and the Assembly to not include Education Tax Credits in this year's budget," Bishop DiMarzio wrote in a letter addressed to all of the state's Assembly members and senators.

Responding to an article in The New York Sun quoting Mr. Silver as saying that he doesn't trust that religious schools would freeze their tuition if the state handed out tuition tax credits, Bishop DiMarzio wrote, "I take personal umbrage at Speaker Silver's remarks. ... The Speaker is well aware, from a meeting held on February 14 with Cardinal Egan and I, along with Jewish and Independent School leaders," that they "pledged precisely not to raise tuition in our schools in response to passage of Education Tax Credits."

Bishop DiMarzio's letter articulates the Catholic Church's position on the issue of tuition tax credits in much starker terms than previous public statements. After the Assembly last month put out its own proposal for an unrestricted tax credit, Cardinal Egan and Bishop DiMarzio refrained from making any critical comments about the plan.

In his letter, the bishop cites the support that the governor's plan has received from the heads of the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic organizations and from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and other lawmakers. "How then is it possible that you will allow your leadership to undermine our democratic process?" he wrote.

...In the letter, the bishop argues instead that a tax plan that helps parents pay private school tuition would "recognize the many sacrifices of immigrant families that send their children to non-public schools in the hope for a safe and better future for their children."

The bishop's letter arrives on the desks of lawmakers during a critical point in the budget process. Mr. Pataki has indicated that he will demand from lawmakers that they change the Legislature's tax credit plan so that it requires parents to use the money on educational expenses.

The letter puts additional pressure on both the Assembly and the Senate to address the governor's concerns. The governor's plan has support from New York City lawmakers in both houses, many of whom come from districts with a high percentage of Catholic, Jewish, and low-income voters.

I am personally a supporter of the Tax Credit proposal, and thought it was a very reasonable and well thought out way to get the topic of education choice on the table (and into the budget). I was disappointed by Mr. Silver's lack of support for the proposal, and his siding with the Teacher's Union on this issue. Contrast Bishop DiMarzio wording to that in a letter the Orthodox Union distributed at its annual dinner last night (click image to enlarge):

As we would like to see the final product closer to being tied specifically to family spending on educational services, the OU will be continuing our advocacy efforts this week and we ask YOU to join us by taking action. Please call your State Senator (Senate Operator: 518-455-2800) and Assemblymember (Assembly Operator: 518-455-4100) on Monday, April 3, to ask them to support tax credits specifically tied to family spending on education. Please call Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as well .

It remains to be seen whether asking nicely will get the OU, and us, anywhere. But I give Bishop DiMarzio a lot of credit for saying it like it is.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Nice Reminder

Just wanted to share a lovely letter that a local boys' Yeshiva sent out in anticipation of the mad rush of preparations that usually precede Pesach (click image to enlarge):

A nice reminder to include our children during the busy times that we might be more inclined to send them out to play.

Hattip: e-mail from "Dan the Man"

9/11 Flashbacks

Knowing that this story was coming today, we took the newspaper into the house this morning, even though we usually try not to on Shabbos. (That particular halachic discussion can be saved for another time). It was as sad to read as I expected. The stories of people trapped on the highest floors on 9/11, and their attempts to call for help (unsuccessfully), were heartbreaking, even after all this time. The most painful to read was this account, of an Orthodox man (that my husband actually knew), who spent the last minutes of his life in prayer with friends, as well as calling emergency dispatchers for direction:
Just before the south tower collapsed at 9:59, a spate of calls reached the 911 operators.

Shimmy D. Biegeleisen, who worked on computer systems for Fiduciary Trust in the south tower, was on the 97th floor, where, by chance, an emergency drill had been scheduled for that day.

He called his home in Brooklyn, spoke with his wife and prayed with a friend, Jack Edelman, who said Mr. Biegeleisen recited the 24th Psalm in Hebrew: "Of David. A Psalm. The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those that live in it."

At 9:52, Mr. Biegeleisen called 911. The building would stand for seven more minutes. He spent those minutes telling first the police operator, then the fire dispatcher, that he was on the 97th floor with six people, that the smoke had gotten heavy.

The police operator tried to encourage Mr. Biegeleisen.

"Heavy smoke. O.K. Sir, please try to keep calm. We'll send somebody up there immediately. Hold on. Stay on the line. I'm contacting E.M.S. Hold on. I'm connecting you to the ambulance service now."

As his call was transferred to the ambulance service, once again the information about the smoke and the 97th floor was sought and delivered.

"Sir, any smoke over there?" asked the ambulance dispatcher. "O.K., the best thing to do is to keep — keep down on the ground. All right? O.K.?"

The ambulance dispatcher hung up, but the original operator stayed on the line with Mr. Biegeleisen. She could be heard speaking briefly with someone else in the room, and then turned her attention back to him.

"We'll disengage, O.K.?" the operator asked. "There were notifications made. We made the notifications. If there's any further, you let us know. You can call back."

Seconds later, the building collapsed.
Unfortunately, he did not make it out, reminding me all over again how lucky we were that day.