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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Anti-Semitic PSA on Indian Trains?

This story is just too weird:
A security sign on a train from Goa to Mumbai in India featured a written warning to passengers not to take eatables from strangers because they could be drugged and a drawing illustrating two religious Jews reading the Torah.

"Never accept any eatables from a stranger or co-passenger whom you have never met before. They could be drugged," read security tip number 6, to the left of which appeared a diagram of two religious Jews.
Thoughts? Anyone ever seen a sign like on his/her travels?

Mac & Cheese Musings

My son came home from a friend's house last week asking me to make what his friend's mother had made them for lunch: Wacky Mac. So I checked it out in the supermarket today. Wacky Mac is instant macaroni and cheese - or, as the box puts it "Macaroni and Cheese Dinner!". The package contains a couple ounces of noodles with a packet of powdered imitation cheese sauce included. Powdered. Cheese. The consumer is directed on the back of the box to add the contents of the cheese sauce packet, 1/4 stick of butter and 3 tablespoons of milk to the pot after draining and cooking the noodles. The resulting noodles are (if the photograph on the box is to be believed) colored a bright neon orange quite unlike anything found in nature. In a word: Ugh.

May I be so bold as to ask why in the world this product even exists? Is real mac n' cheese really quite so difficult to make from scratch? One still has to cook and drain the pasta in order to make the fabulous gourmet concoction known as Wacky Mac, so I'm really not seeing the great convenience here. I am going to go out on a limb here, and make an assumption that real, fresh cheese is just so much more nutritionally sound than the stuff in the packet that clearly has been dehydrated, ground to a fine powder, and food-colored to within an inch of its life. Don't take my word for it, just take a look at the way the stuff is described in the ingredients list, and decide for yourself: DEHYDRATED PASTEURIZED PROCESSED CHEESE FOOD. Lest you think that this delectable treat contains actual cheese - let me assure you it is only cheese food. Whatever cheese food may be. Further perusal of the ingredients list informs me of exactly how the unnatural orange color of the fully cooked dish is achieved: FD&C YELLOW #5 AND #6. Lovely.

Somehow, I don't see this item (Macaroni and Cheese Dinner? Macaroni and Cheese Food? Macaroni and Cheese Food Dinner?) becoming a staple in the OrthoFamily diet. Even if the box does promise that Wacky Mac is "great fun to eat!".

Preferential Treatment?

Gotta love these sour grapes:
A group of employees at Montreal's largest French-language school is complaining about extra time off granted to Jewish and Muslim workers who observe religious holidays.

According to a report in la Presse on Tuesday, last year the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) paid for 300 days off taken by Jewish and Muslim employees during holidays such as Yom Kippur and Eid ul-Fitr, in addition to regular statutory holidays.

The policy means Jewish and Muslim employees can take two to three extra days off a year, compared to their colleagues.

The concession has angered several employees who launched a petition denouncing "unjust" and preferential treatment based on religious identity.

Riiiight. Because it somehow shows unjustness and preferential treatment to offer a day off to those who might belong to a religion other than Christianity, on which they can celebrate the religious holidays that might actually matter to them. As opposed to Good Friday or Christmas, which mean next to nothing to most Jews and Muslims. Yet the whole darn country gets a day off. But that's not preferential at all.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

NYT On BP "Minyan Factory"

NYT on Boro Park "minyan factory" Shomrei Shabbos:
At 10 o’clock on a recent Thursday night, the corner of 53rd Street and 13th Avenue in the heart of Borough Park was bustling with traffic. In this neighborhood, an ultra-Orthodox stronghold for the past decade, a sea of religious Jews clad in traditional black and white garb scurried in every direction for late-night prayer, shopping or something to eat. This corner of Brooklyn never sleeps, or so it seems.

The main attraction is Congregation Shomrei Shabbos, a 24-hour synagogue where a service begins every 15 minutes. What started more than three-quarters of a century ago as a tiny congregation has grown into a mainstay of this community: transit hub, soup kitchen, community center, bookstore and prayer hall all in one.

The late-night traffic generated by the synagogue has spilled onto the streets, so much so that over the past few years a neighborhood has literally grown up around it. Restaurants and stores are open long past midnight. Peddlers vie for street space in the wee hours. Religious music streams from a small boombox. Men stop their cars in the middle of darkened streets to announce the birth of a child.

...Thanks to all this activity, the once-inconspicuous synagogue is now a trigger for local nightlife.

“Real estate surrounding the synagogue is in high demand,” said Mendy Handler, owner of Cellular 4 Less, one of several local businesses that stay open past midnight to attract late-night synagogue-goers. His busiest hours are from 6 p.m. to midnight. “People can drop off their phones to be fixed while they are praying next door,” said Sol Oberlander, the store’s manager.

Other businesses have followed suit. Copy Corner stays open until midnight, as does Gal Paz, a music store. Sub Express, a kosher fast-food restaurant whose menu includes what is described as a unique “brisket egg roll,” keeps its doors open until 1 a.m.

Another popular outpost is Deli 52, which on Thursday nights serves two variations of cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew of beans, meat and barley, until 4 a.m. The late-night cholent attracts crowds of men, who often stay and schmooze until the morning hours, a somewhat controversial activity among the ultra-Orthodox, who pride themselves on not wasting time with idle chat.
Thursday night chulent makes the big time. Check it out.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

5 Towns Mortgage Scam - Why It Should Matter to You

I have been hearing a lot of buzz from friends in the area regarding a series of schemes where parties interested in selling their homes in the midst of the softening real estate market can unload them quickly for top dollar. This scheme, aside from the obvious illegality being committed on the part of those involved, has been affecting the innocent residents of our community on several fronts.

The deal, as I understand it, works something like this: Buyer offers to purchase seller's home (for at or near asking price), let's say $600,000. The buyer then arranges for an appraisal that values the Seller's home at, say, $750,000, and then mortgages 100% of the artificially inflated "selling" price. The seller gets his $600,000 and the buyer pockets the difference. As it has been explained to me, these borrowers will either flip the properties again at another artificially inflated price, or more likely, default on all the loans, keeping the $150,000 extra they borrowed above the true cost of the home. Of course, you can multiply that figure by the many homes in our area that the perpetrators have bought. That's the gist of the scam.

It might seem that the only people being screwed by these calculated acts of fraud are the banks who are falling for them. But unfortunately, that's an underestimation of the damage this type of scheme can wreak on a neighborhood's home values.

And this is how their illicitly gained windfall can affect you and your neighbors:

Artificially high home sales are now being used as "comparables" to assess your property's value (check your home's comparables here to see if you may have already been a victim). Higher comparables mean higher taxes for all of us. Has it already happened to you?

Another way this type of scam can affect you is by increasing your homeowner's insurance premiums, which are calculated in part based on the value of our home. Your insurance company may assess the value of your home based on these fraudulent, artificially inflated home sales which may in turn artificially inflate their assessment of the value of your home.

I think most residents of the Five Towns (or all of Long Island, for that matter) would agree that we pay enough in the way of property taxes and homeowner's insurance as it is. We certainly don't need unscrupulous people who are just out to make a buck manipulating the market.

I will admit once again to basing this post almost completely on hearsay. That said, the discussion I have heard from friends, neighbors, and acquaintances on the subject of these scams has become too loud to ignore. Does anyone out there have similar concerns? Have you seen these sales on your blocks? Feel free to leave your experiences in the comment section, or email me with any stories or evidence you might have come across.

Some related links that can further explain these types of scams: I, II, III.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Winter Vacation Rant

Just a little point:

I assume that the boys' and girls' Yeshivas give winter vacation on two separate yet consecutive weeks in order to prevent any improper mixing of the sexes over in Miami (or wherever the hot Orthodox vacation spot du jour might be). But I must weigh in on the subject. Having two separate, consecutive weeks of being required to take off from work to somehow find a way to entertain kids of different ages (but the same gender!) makes my life a bit of a living nightmare.

On the one hand, no bickering among siblings over American Girl Store vs. New Roc City. On the other, I manage to have the distinct pleasure of getting to visit both! On (and I might have mentioned this salient point) two separate, consecutive weeks.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Consumer Alert On Car Seats Overstated

Remember last week, when Consumer Reports released the results of their crash tests on infant car seats? And said results reportedly contained alarming data regarding the low safety ratings that most American infant car seats received? Well, never mind.
Consumer Reports was forced on Thursday to retract a damning report on infant car seats after the federal government said test crashes on the seats were conducted at drastically higher speeds than the magazine had claimed.

The revelation amounts to an embarrasment for the trusted consumer guide, and a relief to parents who were frightened about their babies' safety after the original report came out.
Nice. Jewish Blogmeister tells us here that he actually got rid of his car seat after he saw the poor ratings it had received in the Consumer Reports study. I would venture a guess that he isn't the only scared parent of an infant to have done so in the wake of the Consumer Reports article, only to find out the results were grossly misstated.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Data Released On Israel Divorce Rate

The Rabbinic Court Administration in Israel released its 2006 country-wide data on divorce, and there are some very interesting findings.

First, from JPost:
In general, there are fewer divorces among religious Jews than among secular couples. But in Jerusalem, a predominantly religious city, there was a sharp 10.4 percent rise in divorces in 2006 compared to the previous year.

The jump in the number of Jewish divorces in Jerusalem to 1,471 exceeded the nationwide rise of 3.8% to 9,963, according to data released by the Rabbinic Court Administration Monday.

In an attempt to explain the surprising divorce data, Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag, Jerusalem's marriage registrar, said that more religious couples were getting divorced.

"I see it even among haredim when they come to register for marriage," said Ralbag. "More and more requests to marry are being made by haredi divorcees. Once it was an embarrassment. But things are gradually changing. It is no longer a stigma for a haredi person to be divorced."

Secular Tel Aviv's divorce numbers also rose but at a more moderate rate. Some 3,007 Jews chose to end their marriages in 2006, a 4.4% rise from 2005.
The rising rate of divorce in Charedi and Orthodox circles is a trend I have personally seen at least anecdotal evidence of here in the US, and certainly a much-discussed topic among my contemporaries. Interesting to see actual figures to support a similar trend existing in Israel.

Another interesting trend:
The recent war in Lebanon seemed to have a positive effect on the institution of marriage, according to the Rabbinic Court data. The number of filings for divorce in August and September dropped a dramatic 18% compared to the same period in 2005. Also, the number of divorce filings in Haifa, the hardest hit by the war of the nation's three major cities, fell by 18%.
The bomb shelter theory of marriage counseling: closer quarters make for closer marriages?

This suggestion, that there are as many women who refuse to accept a get as there are men who refuse to grant them, might raise some eyebrows:
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, head of the Rabbinic Court's administrative body..provided preliminary data on divorces that had dragged on for more than two years. He said there were about 1,000 such cases, 20% of which could be defined as situations in which either the husband or the wife refused to acquiesce to the giving of a get, or divorce certificate. Ben-Dahan said that men and women suffered equally from the intransigence of their spouses.
I find that surprising, and I'm not the only one:
However, Sharon Shenhav, a veteran divorce lawyer and women's rights activist, said in response that the number of women who were refused a get by their husbands was much higher.
More on the data here and here.

More on Google Earth

I posted on the misinformation contained on the Google Earth site last week, and received some comments arguing with my characterization of the story as an outrageous one. I do agree with some of my commenters that the misinformation, as entered by the interactive site's users are upsetting but fair game. However, this aspect of the story is far more troubling:
While Jerusalem serves as Israel's capital, and the Temple Mount is located within Israeli sovereignty, the popular satellite map program Google Earth divides the city and places the Mount – Judaism's holiest site – within Palestinian territory.

Interactive Google Earth maps mark eastern sections of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as "occupied territory," set to become part of a future Palestinian state.

Google Earth states it demarcates its maps according to international standards, but no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – even the failed Camp David final-status negotiations in 2000 – ever placed the Temple Mount within Palestinian territory.

The United Nations considers eastern sections of Jerusalem, recaptured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, to be "disputed." The Israeli Knesset officially annexed the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital in 1980.
In my opinion, borders drawn in such an egregiously incorrect manner, on the part of the siteowners, are nothing short of outrageous.

Google's response:
Referring to Google erroneously labeling the Gaza Strip as occupied, the spokeswoman said, "Borders and place names are not always updated straightaway. Occasionally there are discrepancies. We are happy to receive feedback and will pass it on to the Google Earth team and take the necessary steps."
Let's see how long it takes for Google to take the "necessary steps". I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NYT on Neturei Karta

The NY Times on the Neturei Karta members who took that recent infamous trip to take part in Iran's conference on Holocaust denial.
Rabbi Weiss and four other members of his group, Neturei Karta, received a warm reception in Iran, he said, dining with state officials and posing for photographs with Mr. Ahmadinejad, whom Rabbi Weiss had met at least twice before.

Back home, Rabbi Weiss and the others were met with anger and scorn. Since their return, they have been ostracized by synagogues, denied service at kosher stores and vilified in Jewish discussion boards on the Web. Posters have surfaced in the Satmar Hasidic enclaves of Brooklyn, calling the members of Neturei Karta “rebels” and “outcasts” and asking Orthodox Jews to “totally cut off ties with this gang.”
Hopefully, they've finally gone far enough to ostracize themselves from the community entirely.

Jerry Seinfeld Forced to Pay Big Over Shabbat Observance

I was just speaking with a Shomer Shabbat friend the other day, about some issues she was having with some less than understanding clients of hers, over the fact that she is unavailable by phone over the weekends. Looks like the problem is going around:
Jerry Seinfeld must pay a Manhattan Realtor at least $98,000 after trying to beat her out of her fee because she wasn't available at his beck and call, a judge has ruled.

Seinfeld's broker, Tamara Cohen, a Sabbath-observing Jew, had her phone turned off on a Saturday in February 2005 when the comic and his wife wanted to see a luxurious West 82nd Street town house.

So the Seinfelds went without her and negotiated the $3.95 million sale directly with the owner.

Cohen had previously shown the house to Seinfeld's wife, Jessica, and his estate manager, but the comedian refused to pay Cohen's commission because "she was not available to show him the premises when he wanted to see it," according to court papers.
Anyone have any stories about being penalized at work for being Shomer Shabbat? Consider this a good place to rant.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sanitation Garbage

I posted a few times in the past about the alleged corruption that exists in our local sanitation department, and a scathing report has just been released that backs up those claims:
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice is investigating a Hempstead sanitation district that, according to a new state comptroller's audit, paid health insurance premiums for dead employees and issued no-bid contracts, Rice's spokesman said.

The audit released yesterday found $462,000 in excess costs over a 40-month period ending in April last year. Among the findings: the district was paying for health care premiums for dead former employees and retirees, overpaying for purchases that could have been done more cheaply through state contracts, and double-paying its attorney and accountant by giving them salaries on top of an additional hourly rate.

...Auditor's report

According to the state comptroller's office, Hempstead Sanitary District #1 "operates in an uneconomical and inefficient manner." Auditors found the district:

Provided health, dental and vision insurance for life to commissioners who served as little as a single five-year term. Life insurance policies for top managers and commissioners ranged from $75,000 to $300,000.

Overpaid by more than $46,000 for a diesel fuel contract, when the fuel was cheaper through a state contract.

Paid $16,000 in health care premiums over three years for an employee who had died. Continued to pay health, dental and optical insurance premiums for employees and dependent spouses after they died.

Paid its attorney as an employee with a salary, health insurance and retirement benefits - while also paying the attorney $200 per hour as an independent contractor for much of the legal work he performed.
I had to call the sanitation department earlier this year regarding a garbage pickup. I cannot tell you the obnoxious, dismissive treatment I received from the person who answered the phone. That type of behavior by government employees toward the taxpayers who essentially pay their salaries should never be acceptable - but how much more so, in a district such as this, where we are paying among the highest per/property taxes ($579 in 2006) for the same exact level of service that other communities get for less. We don't have to look far to figure out where all of our extra taxes are going, and it isn't toward customer service.

At the very least, one would think that the extra taxes I'm paying toward some dead guy's health insurance should ensure that I don't have to come home from work to find that the sanitation collectors have strewn my garbage pails in the middle of the street.

Full report can be downloaded here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


TTC points us to this outrageous story regarding Google Earth:
Google Earth, which claims to provide “local facts” and “critical tools for understanding a story” about the world, also contains factually incorrect data and biased images relating to Israel and the Middle East.

One Israeli settlement is displayed alongside comments implying citizens are stealing water from neighbouring Palestinians, while other images purport to show copies of land confiscation orders as well as plans to extend the security fence into Bethlehem.

And while Google claims that it defines its state borders according to UN regulations, the Gaza Strip is still listed as being under Israeli occupation. However, Israel pulled out of Gaza and handed it to the Palestinian Authority two years ago.

Meanwhile, a posting next to the town of Kiryat Arba says: “Note the well-tended lawns in a region deprived of water.” Clicking on a weblink in the posting brings the user to a site which says “the principal reason for the water shortage is an unfair distribution of water resources shared by Israel and the Palestinians.” It goes on to decry Israel’s policy as both illegal and racist.

Elsewhere, visitors to Google Earth who click on the settlement of Kibbutz Revivim are shown an image of a wrecked C-47 plane. And just outside Jerusalem, a computer generated image, believed to have been taken from a computer game, claims to depict an Israeli missile factory.

SD 15 News

I am well aware of the dissatisfaction that some (especially teachers) have expressed with the high-stakes testing that determine a school's academic status under the No Child Left Behind act. That being said, I am certain that no one can attempt to claim that poor scores are an indication of students' academic excellence. This year, Lawrence Senior High School once again was on the list of schools not achieving status. Joy.

In other SD15 updates, an article in the Jewish Star had a few interesting tidbits about public school enrollment in the district. This, regarding enrollment in the Middle School:
Only 740 students, 6th, 7th and 8th- graders, are enrolled in the middle school this year. Rows of unused lockers line the hallways. In 1967 the building teemed with nearly 1800 students.
Also this quote:
Public school enrollment was down 8% in the last ten years. A preliminary budget projection released by Fitzsimons for the 2007-2008 school year contained an estimate that enrollment will fall an additional one to two percent.
With the numbers quoted here, I'm not sure where the hysteria about the possibility of closing more schools can come from. If enrollment is down to such a degree, as even reported by the school superintendent,what choice does a district have aside from consolidating and closing half-empty schools?

I also found this section from the article a bit perplexing, where schoo board member Pamela Greenbaum responds to an interesting suggestion presented by school Board president Dr. Mandsorf that might help in getting the district to pass a budget:
So, how to get enough of the people who voted against the last four budgets to vote for the next one, which comes before voters in mid-May? Mansdorf pointed out the Middle School’s expansive band practice hall, the elaborately appointed library and the large woodworking shop, and suggested making them available to private school students after public school hours. The idea would be to give families that feel they have nothing invested in the public schools a reason to care about them anyway. Of the families he knows with a child receiving special ed from the school district, Mansdorf said, “not one voted against the budget.”

Making the facilities available to non-public school students is not necessarily a new idea, said Ralph Isaacs, who’s been teaching shop at the Middle School for 16 years. “Years ago we taught [what was known as] the zero period before school started,” he recalled. “and some yeshiva kids were there and they loved it.” He estimates about a dozen yeshiva students participated in that program.

Does Greenbaum, who has criticized numerous proposals by Mansdorf in the past, like the idea? “Why not?” she asked. ”They could do it now,” so long as public school teachers are not being paid public funds to teach non-public school students.
Um...what? Unless I'm mistaken, there is no law against district private school students being taught on public school property by public school teachers. The reason such an arrangement generally does not occur is a matter of the choice private school parents make to send their children elsewhere to be educated. In this case, we are discussing the prospect of private school students receiving extracurricular education from public school teachers on public school property. There is no connection whatsoever to the religious education these students may receive in another venue during the school day. I just don't see how Greenbaum can object on principle to the concept of district children being taught by district teachers on district property. Anyone remember Super Sunday, the (now-defunct) program where district teachers were paid to provide extracurricular activities to private school students on public school property? That was legal. And if she's discussing her personal preference as opposed to some legal issue with Dr. Mansdorf's suggestion, then...wow. Way to make it clear that you have no interest in helping the private school community in any fashion.

Another choice Pam Greenbaum comment, from the same article:
I think Asher Mansdorf has the best interests of the kids at heart, but I think he has too many factions pulling at him. And I think he's getting screwed. He should stop listening to everyone else and start listening to his heart and he would be a much better president.
He should stop listening to everyone? In my estimation, a school board president who tries to listen to everyone, and tries to meet everyone in the district's needs, seems like a worthy president indeed.

The Five Towns Jewish Times on Blogs (and Orthomom)

Check out Krum's take on the Five Towns Jewish Times' cover feature on Jewish blogs here.

Ariella's take is here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Biblical Rubber Ducks

Cute article about religion-themed games and toys:
The "crazy, crazy Jewish fun" of KosherLand looks a lot like the board game Candy Land, except gefilte fishing substitutes for visits to the Ice Cream Sea.

...And playtime can get pretty realistic with the Biblical Action Figure of Job, which comes complete with boils.

The market for religious board games and toys like these is tiny and a bit quirky. But sales numbers indicate that demand is growing as families seek wholesome entertainment, selections expand and the Internet gives greater access to retailers.

Abe Blumberger of Jewish Educational Toys says people are much more willing to buy religious toys since he helped create KosherLand in 1985. His game is now offered on UrbanOutfitters.com.
I guess the explanation behind the game being carried by such a mainstream yet edgy(ish) purveyor is that it falls into the category of some of the other kitschy religious items that the store stocks. These seemingly niche playthings are apparently all the rage among the hipster denizens of Urban Outfitters - like the Moses Rubber Duckie at left (also comes in Buddha, Jesus, and Mother Superior versions!), or the Buddha Piggy Bank.

As amusing as I find this trend, I don't see myself buying my kids the Job Biblical Action Figure any time soon.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Extremely Poor Taste

I posted last week about an advertisement for Machane Mitgalgel, based on a fellow blogger's description of the ad. This week, I actually saw a copy of the ad (left) for myself. And it's in far worse taste than I could have imagined. From the copy:
1. The trip begins August 2007 in Israel.
2. After a few days of orientation, we will leave on small yachts to Cyprus, where the British held detention camps for the Jews.
3. Once there, we will spend a few days reliving the experience.
4. We will then backtrack on the yachts to Israel the way the Ma'apilim did 60 years ago, experiencing first hand what it felt like coming to the Promised Land.

Where, oh where, do I even begin? Perhaps with this line:
we will leave on small yachts to Cyprus, where the British held detention camps for the Jews...Once there, we will spend a few days reliving the experience.
Which experience, exactly, will the campers be reliving? This one, from a description of the appalling conditions that these refugees had to endure in the Cyprus detention camps?
Conditions in the camps were quite harsh, especially for mothers of children and babies. The tents and barracks were overcrowded, there was no privacy and families had to share accommodations with single persons. The insufficient supply of water, particularly in the hot summer months, caused sanitary conditions to deteriorate and led to skin diseases and infections
(photo of Jewish Holocaust refugees in a Cyprus refugee camp at right).
Something tells me the only skin ailment these yachting campers will be suffering is a little sunburn.

Or perhaps the line about "backtrack[ing] on the yachts to Israel the way the Ma'apilim did 60 years ago" is what irked me about this ad copy. Just for comparison's sake, here's a description of the conditions the Ma'apilim actually faced on the boats to Israel:
Picture the scene [of those Jewish war refugees seeking entrance to the Holy Land]. This journey extends to 14 days. Fourteen days and nights in vessels which are hardly seaworthy, lying on what amounts to little more than wooden planks. These planks are layered narrowly, placed one on top of the other, so that those lying on them are absolutely unable to reach the sitting position. They are forced to lie flat, looking upwards at the next wooden plank. And here they lie for two full weeks, with little enough food or water, scarcely venturing up on deck, no medical help, and barely enough air to breathe.
"Just the way the Ma'apilim did"? Huh. And in case the differences between the two journeys aren't quite clear enough, the camp provides a picture of a rusting, hulking ship with scores of immigrants amassed, waiting to board, and helpfully contrasts it with an image of a luxury yacht, complete with backdrop of azure sky and cerulean sea. To be perfectly explicit, the images are captioned "then" and "now" (because otherwise, of course, we might not have been clear as to which boat was being advertised as the camp's conveyance of choice).

So does this ad show extremely bad taste in the way it is suggesting that a luxury yacht trip will somehow give these campers a taste of what the journey of these holocaust survivors must have been like? In my opinion, it is. If this is a luxury sightseeing tour, just say so. But don't profess to be allowing these campers to "relive" the experiences of a group of holocaust survivors, fenced into a detention camp with horrible living conditions, barred from their homeland, forced to endure far more suffering and hardship than a yachting trip can ever recapture.

Feel free to put your own take in comments.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why Choose Anonymity?

This anonymous Orthodox blogger discusses some of the reasons behind his choice to remain anonymous:
1. In a society which all too clearly punishes children for the sins of fathers, I want my children to have the best chance I can give them. I certainly don't want them to zip through that all-to-small window of time without doing a shidduch because thir father is so imprudent as to have a respectful, though differing, opinion.
2. In a society where conformity is so prized that we entirely forget that the father of our religion and of us all earned his stripes alone, and by being different, I refuse to subject my wife to social ostracism and/or pity by conformists by me being publicly more different than I already am.
3. In a society where we are expected to jettison chazal and even Torah Shebeksav in favor of following the pronouncement du jour from the dais du jour I refuse to abandon my minyon, my chevrusas, and my chevra by publicizing nonconformist views. Indeed, these are the only means to exposing the error of my ways if indeed my ways are in error.
4. I can take the heat if necessary, and perhaps do so (even now) more than necessary. But I always try to reckon the collateral damage before speaking out what I view as the truth in person. If any of the 'courageous and conforming' will take the responsibility for preventing damage to my significant others, I'll come out.
Check him out.

Super Shabbos Weather

How awesome was the weather on the East Coast today? Literally felt like it was May. Nothing like a mid-winter day of blue skies, bright sunshine and 70-degree temperatures to banish any symptoms of SAD. It was almost like taking a one-day vacation to warmer climes - without having to pack anyone up.

Global warming or not, I truly enjoyed.

Sleep-Deprived Musings

Is it just me that has to deal with the following conundrum:

I have to drag my kids out of bed every weekday morning after turning on the room light and waking them countless times, poke my head in their respective rooms to remind them to get dressed (as they catatonically sit on the floor next to their closets and stare at the blank wall), and then practically pour breakfast down their throats, all in order to get them off to their buses on time.

Yet somehow, they all manage to get themselves up and running at the crack of dawn on Shabbos morning, loudly clamoring for attention (and breakfast), hours earlier than they seem to regain their ability to lucidly communicate, get dressed efficiently, or eat some semblance of a breakfast on a school morning.

One of those things that make you go hmmm.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Infant Car Seat Consumer Alert

This is a bit scary:

Most of the infant car seats tested by Consumer Reports "failed disastrously" in crashes at speeds as low as 35 mph, the magazine reported Thursday.

The seats came off their bases or twisted in place, the report said. In one case, a test dummy was hurled 30 feet.

Of the 12 car seats tested, Consumer Reports said it could recommend only two, and it urged a federal recall of the poorest performing seat, the Evenflo Discovery.

I'm not trying to cause a panic here among parents using infant car seats, but I just wanted to share this information with my readership.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

R' Billet Speaks Out on the GG Affair

I have two minutes between meetings, so I don't have time to comment, but here is the Jewish Weeks' latest dispatch on the Gourmet Glatt affair. The key quote is from Vaad member R' Billet, who speaks quite frankly about the course of events:
Rabbi Billet said the “Vaad was under instructions from its lawyer not to talk because of a possible lawsuit” by the Bolenders. But Matathias, the college professor from Woodmere, said in an open letter that the “Vaad should come out of its shadowy existence to confront regular, and insistent, public scrutiny of its operations.” And he said it should welcome other kashrut agencies.

“Competition is good, not only in the political arena but also, especially, in the marketplace,” he said. “In taking this last step, the Vaad would be seen not blackballing a store, but courageously making an effort to restore its good name while removing the black mark.”

Rabbi Billet agreed that the “Vaad has a lot to learn and missteps were made. The whole organization has to take stock in how we did, and we have to be in touch with our lawyer because we are dealing with issues of libel and restraint of trade. We’re walking a fine line, but there are better ways of doing things like this where the community would feel less in the dark. … You learn from your experiences.”

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Calling It Like It Is

Ariella posts:
Yachting to the Promised Land

This week’s local Jewish tabloid features an ad for Machane Mitgalgel. For just $3600 (not including airfaire to Israel) teens ages 14-17 will get to travel “on small yachts to Cyprus” from where they will “backtrack on the yachts to Israel the way the Ma’apillim did” This is supposed to offer them a way to “re-live history first hand” by following the path of those who came to Israel just over half a century ago. I find dressing up such luxurious indulgence as a valuable experience for building Jewish identity in poor taste.
Spot on.

Trying To Have it Both Ways

I absolutely cannot believe this new ruling:
A committee of rabbis formulating the education policy in the ultra-Orthodox community has prohibited women's continuing education programs and severely restricted other study courses, thus blocking the advancement and development of haredi women's careers.

This is a devastating economic and professional blow to thousands of women teachers, who are the primary breadwinners in the ultra-Orthodox community. It is also a drastic regression in haredi women's ongoing process of moving ahead in their studies and career and in improving their economic situation.

The repercussions on the teachers and the ultra-Orthodox education system are tantamount to an earthquake, as the haredi newspaper Yated Neeman called it. The issues at the heart of the ultra-Orthodox society are at stake - the limits of education, the norm requiring women to be the breadwinners while their husbands study and, above all, the authority of the rabbis and functionaries to foist restrictions on the increasingly frustrated public.

...Since the beginning of the year, all the teaching instructors and women in continuing education programs stayed home, waiting for the decision of the rabbi education panel, which only came in December. The decision banned women's studies for academic degrees and imposed severe restrictions on other women's studies.

...The education revolution in the ultra-Orthodox community has gathered enormous momentum in the past decade. Academic institutions and centers for professional training have opened in many fields, for both men and women. At first, the revolution was approved by the rabbis, headed by haredi leader Rabbi Yehuda Leib Steinman. But Steinman revoked his approval when the conservative groups expressed outrage at this development.

In recent years, the reforms in the continuing education programs have not pleased the rabbis, who object to women's "academic" studies. The conservatives warned of women's "career ambitions," fearing they would now be able to break out of the "teaching ghetto" and find other jobs than teaching. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was quoted in Yated Neeman objecting to teachers' enrolling in "all kinds of other education programs without any supervision of rabbis on every detail".

He warned that without close supervision and determining the content, "all manner of heresy can creep into those programs."

The rabbis were mostly infuriated by the psychological subjects in the teaching programs. Freud and Western psychology had always been a red rag to them.

The absence of ultra-Orthodox lecturers with academic degrees in diagnostics and consulting required bringing in lecturers from "outside" the community. Yated Neeman's women's supplement, Bayit Neeman, blasted the trend of bringing in lecturers from the "Sephardi faction" and even "completely secular" ones, warning of the women students' defilement.

...The new decrees issued by the rabbis are most injurious to women teachers and seminar students, who have spent years studying and have invested thousands of shekels to obtain the equivalent of a B.A. Those who have graduated already have not only wasted their efforts, they may even be harmed by their education. Elyashiv has ordered not to give them priority in high school positions, where there is already a surplus of teachers. The decrees have also put several lecturers in the training centers out of a job.
I'm not even sure what to say. The Charedi leadership seems to want to have it both ways. They want to encourage every young married man in the community to spend the rest of his life learning full time in Kollel, thus taking a pass on financially supporting their usually very large families, and yet they are putting up roadblocks that will prevent the wives of these men, usually the sole breadwinners in their households, from adequately supporting their families. How in the world are these women supposed to keep their heads above water when their earning capabilities are so severely curtailed?

How much sacrifice is just too much to abide? For many Charedi women (and I have heard this first hand) it breaks their heart to leave their children every day to go out into the workplace. But that is part and parcel of the constant financial battle that having a husband who is not a significant contributor to the family finances means. Now the expectation is that these women will continue to wrench themselves away from the care of their young children every day, in order to feed their families - but with all avenues for reaching a higher pay scale cut off?

How can that be?

Important Side point:
This emetic phrase from the article makes me ill on an entirely different level:
The absence of ultra-Orthodox lecturers with academic degrees in diagnostics and consulting required bringing in lecturers from "outside" the community. Yated Neeman's women's supplement, Bayit Neeman, blasted the trend of bringing in lecturers from the "Sephardi faction" and even "completely secular" ones, warning of the women students' defilement.
The trend of allowing Sephardi lecturers may add to the "defilement" of these women? Good God, what has the Charedi world come to that something like that can actually make into one of their most popular publications?

Hat tip: Krum, with his own satire on the subject here.

Is This The Next Frontier in Five Towns Kosher Certification?

YNet describes a new sort of Kosher certification in the Bnei Brak neighborhood:
Posters of a 'White List' of clothing stores deemed Kosher by ultra-Orthodox standards popped up everywhere on Monday in the Bnei Brak haredi town.

The posters call for women to only purchase clothes from the 30 approved stores as these establishments comply with the strict laws and regulations of haredi religion.

Women are requested to cooperate with the initiative (dreamt up by the men of the 'Guard of the House of Jacob', the organization which oversees all the rabbinical courts in Bnei Brak) and only shop at the aforementioned 30 stores so as to empower the pious stores.
Still, somehow I don't see that happening on this side of the world.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Disengagement Update

Check out Jameel's blog for an upsetting update on some of the Gaza evacuees.

Shaliach Vs. Shaliach

From Ny Mag:
Just in time for the Atlantic Yards project to break ground, a turf war has erupted between two Lubavitch rabbis claiming dibs on the rapidly gentrifying brownstone neighborhoods that surround it. In one corner is Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum, who showed up in Prospect Heights three years ago to revive a decrepit Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood, and recently opened what he has dubbed the Brooklyn Jewish Community Center in a donated space over a former laundromat. His rival is Rabbi Tali Frankel, who is backed by his wife’s powerful uncle, Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Park Slope. After arriving eighteen months ago, he began holding events advertised as being sponsored by “Chabad of Prospect Heights”—though Kirschenbaum is the neighborhood’s sole officially recognized shaliach, or emissary, of the Hasidic sect, which sends married couples all over the world to spread the faith to less-observant Jews. Lubavitchers usually do not invade each other’s area, but now both Kirschenbaum and Frankel are hosting Torah study sessions, holiday parties in bars, and low-key services in people’s homes trying to connect the nabe’s mostly young Jewish population with traditional texts and observance. Frankel seems to be trying to appeal to singles especially, with event listings in Hecht’s Brownstone Jewish Review touting “stories, food and booze!”

Hecht has controlled the Park Slope fiefdom for twenty years, and has helped seed Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Cobble Hill, and Williamsburg with colleagues. Tensions flared over Hanukkah, when Hecht commandeered Kirschenbaum’s nine-foot-tall menorah in the Atlantic Terminal Mall. Kirschenbaum dealt with the mall and set up the menorah, holding a party (paid for by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner) on the Sunday of Hanukkah that attracted a few hundred people. But Hecht’s group sponsored festivities at Kirschenbaum’s menorah on Saturday. (Hecht declined to comment on Prospect Heights.)

The Lubavitch powers that be have had enough. Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, who supervises the New York–area Lubavitch emissaries, filed a lawsuit against Hecht in rabbinical court alleging that he has overstepped his boundaries by bringing his nephew into an area where another Lubavitch rabbi was already holding officially sanctioned activities. Kastel says the problem is that there aren’t enough up-and-coming areas to go around. “There are maybe 100 or 200 guys who trained their whole lives, and are looking for an opportunity to go. Smaller communities which would never be considered before are getting people,” and conflicts between rabbis are increasing, he says. “It comes with growth and gentrification.”
Wow, this story has all the intrigue - the commandeering of 9-foot-tall menorahs, dueling holiday parties, even "stories, food and booze!".