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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review

A friend handed me Naomi Ragen's latest, The Saturday Wife, last week, and I figured it would be worth a read - as her other efforts have proven in the past. I was wrong. I am an avid reader, and I read quickly enough that I rarely find a book to be a complete and utter waste of time. This book, however, fits that bill. I finished reading it only because I was so fascinated by how unlikeable and caricatured the characters were and how ridiculously predictable and uncompelling the story line, that it was akin to rubbernecking at a train wreck. The weak ending didn't disappoint either. All in all, highly NOT recommended. Don't let anyone anyone convince you that this book is worth reading, if only because it's set in the Orthodox Jewish world. It isn't worth reading.

I'd have been better off keeping up with my delinquent blogging that reading this book, that much is certain.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NYT on Lakewood, NJ

This article in yesterday's NYT raises some interesting issues regarding the changing demographics of Lakewood, NJ. The township has witnessed exponential growth in its Orthodox population, and with that growth, an increase in tensions between town residents. In some ways, the tensions described are similar to the resentment that seems to occur whenever a locale goes through a significant demographic change, in other ways the situation is unique to those areas that have seen themselves being increasingly populated by Orthodox Jews. Few other demographic groups move into communities en masse with the intent to create and patronize their own schools, places of worship, eateries and stores. Even if such de facto self-segregation is not the intention, but just the byproduct of practices that are intended to preserve traditional and religious standards, articles such as this one, that highlight the negative sentiment that can arise in such situations (much like the situation here in the Five Towns), should serve as a reminder that the Orthodox populations in such areas should make every attempt to assuage the negative sentiment that seems to arise wherever they create communities that give the impression of isolationism. Making inroads and exploring ways to get along with those who are different can certainly only help cool simmering tensions - whether here in the Five Towns, in Lakewood, or in any other community staring down the barrel of a sudden demographic shift.

One paragraph from the NYT article that particularly piqued my interest with it's relevance to the battles over the school board here in District 15:
There have been fights about the administration of the school system. Orthodox Jewish students attend private schools, but are eligible for millions of dollars of public money for busing, according to the town’s current mayor, Ray Coles. Black residents have complained that decisions about public schools attended largely by black and Hispanic students are made by a school board where 5 of the 9 members are Orthodox Jews.

Warren A. Sherard, the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. branch, said he had tried to get black residents more invested in the politics of the town.

“I went to churches and told people, ‘We need to vote in school board elections,’ ” he said. “I know people want to throw stones, but everyone’s got to vote.”
One point I feel I must make is that there is absolutely nothing wrong, or sinister, or untoward about the fact that, as the Times puts it, "Orthodox Jewish students attend private schools, but are eligible for millions of dollars of public money for busing". Busing is absolutely the right of every district resident, no matter where that child attend school. The implication on the part of the NYT that this complaint against the private school residents somehow actually holds water is irresponsible.

Another interesting point that is directly relevant to tensions in my district is the issue of the local school board holding a majority of non-public school parents. In Lakewood, as in the Five Towns, it may be difficult for some district residents to see a school board controlled by members who largely do not send their children to district public schools, but as Mr. Sherard noted in the quote above, the best way to fight that is to get out the vote for the candidate you support.