Sunday, July 31, 2005

The new Qumran community

In case you can’t guess by looking at the dates of these posts, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while. (Please note that many of these quotes are excerpts, shortened in the interest of keeping my readers from falling asleep.) I must admit, though, that all this was brought to a head recently by two things. One was this discussion,, concerning, among other things, "feel-good Judaism" and the belief in the "commandedness" of the commandments , on Golda Leah's blog, "Go West, Young Jew." This probably tracks back not only to a post concerning the authorship of the Zohar on DovBear's blog, but, also, to his Monday, June 20, 2005 post, "How was the kiddush?"( about Miriam Shaviv's Sunday, June 19, 2005 post, "In which I get hagba," (at a Women's Tefillah/prayer group) (, and all the responses to both her post and his. (What goes around comes around. :) ) One of the many questions raised was not only whether one must "believe" in order to "do" (perform mitzvot/commandments), but whether doing a mitzvah because it's commanded necessarily precludes doing a mitzvah because one gets enjoyment or meaning from doing it. The other thing was my current dispute with my Conservative synagogue's Orthodox rabbi. I recently told him that I thought that his approach to Judaism could be summarized in five words: "They're out to get us." "Can't you ever talk about the beauty of Judaism? Can't you ever talk about anything Jewish that's fun?"

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

One down, five to go

My oldest son moved out of the house last week.

Although I didn't realize it until after he was gone.

He moved into Yeshiva. People living in New York or Chicago don't really understand what it's like to live someplace like Milwaukee. We have only one Orthodox (or Jewish, for that matter) High School, and it's a Chofetz Chaim dorming school. If your kid doesn't get in, or if you don't feel comfortable with the school, you have a choice of sending him to Public School or out of town. We were fortunate enough to have him accepted here. But he still has to dorm, and he's allowed out (?Furlough) once every 3 weeks.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Trip Up

Traveling for Yomtov to the Rebbe is another one of those Chassid things I just don’t understand. Did the old tzaddikim never envisage what the effect would be on a girl growing up in a family where the father is never home Yomtov?

Not every chassidus (Chassidic sect) is equally notorious for being family Yomtov poopers it has to be said. Some chassidi no longer encourage the very long Yomtov trips, invariably undertaken by young heralds on their own. The damsels are left at home to fend for the hearth- and that should be read literally, with the hearth holding a fair few toddlers too. Only one notable exception still has young men coming for three even four weeks to immerse themselves totally in the loving embrace of the group, yet I believe most still encourage their adherents at least to prove it over Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.

I have to steel myself not to cringe when I see some of those Rebbe-widows forlornly standing there outside shul after davening, waiting for a nebbich of a thirteen-year-old boy whose job it is to be the Man in the house for Yomtov. As a thirteen-year-old girl once told me “We never have a Yomtov meal except when we are invited out. My mother does not bother when my father is not there ¶ 9/7/2004

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Yom Kippur is a Family Holiday

I remember days gone by when the family was the crown jewel of Judaism…

Here in Israel the educational dogma of the religious education establishment is that a son's (not a daughter's of course) religious experiences are too important to be left of the parents. This is most clear during the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) where boys in yeshivot are forced to stay in their yeshivot for Yom Kippur and often for Rosh Hashanah, too.

Yom Kippur is too important to a boys' life, the thinking goes, to be left to his father and his community – he must experience the true Judaism, the one of the Beit Midrash. The Judaism of the kehilla and the families that make it up, well, that Judaism it seems is not genuine, not authentic enough.

[Note: It's important that those of you who are not acquainted with the Out of Step Jew from K'far Saba, quoted above, be aware that he's a Modern Orthodox Jew who's in favor of Women's Tefilla (prayer) Groups and has complained bitterly about how difficult it is to get his daughter a Jewish education equal to the one being provided by the school system to her twin brother. So, when he said, "not a daughter's of course," he was both being sarcastic and making a statement against sexist attitudes in the Orthodox community.]

Sunday, October 17, 2004
Ai du

The Torah is all for the marriage unit. The classical English translation of one of the first mentions of man reads; “…therefore a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be as one flesh”. Apart from the fact that ‘cleave’ is hardly the word I would have chosen as the translation for ‘Vedubak’, there is no word in Hebrew for spouse so the question as to whether that works both ways remains open.

What interests me more is the cleaving part. It seems that the Torah expects the couple to love and cherish each other in a way that is hardly possible within the rules and regulations we put out as law. The male of the species typically sits in kollel or goes to work for most of the day while the other half either works or looks after the king-size brood. In the evenings, most males will go back to shul after supper for Mincha Maariv (evening services) and are encouraged to learn some Torah then. When you remember that maariv in the summer can be as late as 11pm. it is clear that there is not much time left for cleaving.With Yomtovs at the Rebbe taking a further bite out of any quality time and the separation of the sexes at weddings and functions now starting at the car park I sometimes wonder whether some of these couples would recognize their ‘other’ in a crowd.. . .

In my opinion it is some of the elders’ obsession with visual temptation that is stifling the cleaving of many young families. I do not believe that the generations before us, where couples walked home from shul together, went together to sheva brachot and barmitzvas, that were celebrated at home and in rooms with no mechitza (partition wall between men and women), were more likely to cleave with the wrong mate than we who are so well insulated from any potential pitfalls. Nor do I believe that the reason five year old girls are no longer allowed to enter the men’s shul even on Simchat Torah is because there is a real problem of anyone being led astray by their good looks. I have never noticed any risk of cleavage with a five-year-old girl and if the strict segregation we practice leads to impure thoughts about kids then it might be high time we abolished either the rules or the kids ¶ 10/17/2004

So let me summarize:

In some Orthodox circles—both Yeshivish and Chassidic—being home with your family for the Yamim Yoraim (High Holidays) is considered not to be a good thing (assuming that you're male, as OOSJ was saying).

In some locations, teenage Orthodox boys who live within easy commuting distance of a boarding-school yeshiva are, nevertheless, not only not allowed to live at home, they’re also actually forbidden to spend Shabbos (Sabbath) with their families, except for once every three weeks. (Mark, please correct me if I’ve misunderstood.) In my head, I can hear the Yeshivah Diapora Band singing "Shabbat Shalom, it's nice to be at home." Are those days gone forever?

In some Orthodox circles, it’s a wonder that husbands and wives even have enough time alone together to, well, act like husbands and wives.

Over approximately the past year and a half, I’ve read, mostly on other Jewish blogs, that the following items have been declared either treif (not kosher, forbidden to eat or drink) or in need of much closer inspection for bugs: broccoli, New York City tap water, onions, strawberries, asparagus, and corn on the cob.

Is Orthodox Judaism turning into a religion of semi-monastic asceticism? Are Orthodox parents fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and multiply only to have their children taken away from them at the most important points of the Jewish calendar, namely, Shabbatot (Sabbaths) and holidays? Are Orthodox married couples who obey all the strictures against illicit contact between the sexes being placed in such a position that even permissible contact is, shall we say, hard to come by? In ten years, will the Chareidi community be living on bread and (bottled) water?

Recently heard: An Orthodox college student, on hearing the opening guitar segment of a Jewish rock song, stated categorically, “That’s not kosher” without even waiting to hear the lyrics.

“How can it not be kosher? He’s singing from Yishayah (Isaiah)!

Isn't there a midrash (rabbinical interpretative story) saying that HaShem's going to ask whether a new arrival in Olam Habah (the World to Come) took advantage of all permissible pleasures? For heaven's sake—literally—Psalm 100, verse 2, says "Ivdu et HaShem b'simcha, serve G-d in gladness!!!" Are the words of David HaMelech (King David) himself not good enough for us anymore?

Asher Yatzar. Stop snickering—I’m serious.

Yes, I know that this blessing is sometimes described as the "bathroom brachah." But my husband and son both have kidney stones (my husband just had surgery), and our son also has Crohn’s Discease (—Asacol prescription $215 per month, not covered by student health insurance). Under the circumstances, I don’t really have much choice but to be serious when I recite this prayer.

I’m trying to do some semblance of a literal translation with my limited knowledge of Hebrew:

Praised are You, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, Sovereign of the Universe, Who fashioned the human (ha-adam) in wisdom, and created in him openings and openings, cavities and cavities (Artscroll siddur [prayerbook]: “many openings and many cavities;" Birnbaum siddur: “a system of ducts and tubes”). It is obvious and known before the Throne of Your Glory that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. Praised are You, Who heals all flesh and acts wonderously.

It gets worse, folks. One of our part-time employees, a young college student, recently landed herself in the hospital with gall stones.

Will someone please explain to me why it is that my husband had his first kidney stone attack when he was in his late fifties, whereas our son had his first kidney stone attack when he was one day short of 22? And what’s with twenty-somethings getting gall stones?

Some of the staff were talking about this. Their theory is that pollution is affecting the health of our young folk.

Comments, please. I’m particularly interested in hearing from colitis sufferer Another meshugannah mommy at (see her Wednesday, June 22, 2005 post, “Body,” at (I'd e-mail her if I knew her address) and from the blogosphere’s resident healthcare professionals of my acquaintance (and any others whose acquaintance I’ve not yet made), physicians Dr. Mark, of ; Dr. Dilbert, of ; Dr. Bean, of (no e-mail address -- drat!) and nurse Mrs. Balabusta, of As soon as this gets published, I'll be e-mailing all of the above whose addresses I have.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

On the plus side—fond memories of my family: "Resistance is futile" :)—the Salamone-Punster clan gathers 'round the TV

The Salamone-Punster family would like to express its eternal gratitude to the friends who recommended a television show called "Star Trek: The Next Generation." We've been hooked on science fiction ever since.

Many of our best conversations have taken place around, or about, the TV. We discuss plots and characters. The Young Scientist got all of Babylon 5 on videotape just to ensure that his dear olde dad could watch the whole series after tax season. We've even been known to replay entire scenes at the dining room table. We have serious conversations on the subject of shows that we're watching, and a lot of good laughs, too. We—well, mostly I, but at least the Young Scientist recognizes and acknowledges it when he sees it—complain about the wardrobe department's penchant for putting "eye candy" into what should be serious shows.

I even give lectures on nutrition—the Young Scientist has heard them all a thousand times by now—based on commercials. These are my personal favorites: 1) "I don't care what they call it—if it has chocolate and marshmallows in it, it's candy, not cereal!"; 2) "Kashrut aside, any meal that consists of "two all-beef patties, special sauce," cheese, and bacon, you should pardon the expression, has enough cholesterol in it to last a normal human an entire week. And they wonder why Americans are getting fat!"

Of late, the Young Scientist has developed a real fondness for the History Channel. (And you wonder why I refuse to give up Basic Cable, no matter how broke we are.) Since that one is colloquially known as "The World War Two Channel," we've watched a lot of "war" shows together. The Young Scientist's reaction to any appearance by Hitler, y'mach sh'mo (may his name be blotted out), is to give him "the finger"—on both hands. We also see a lot of interesting shows about modern technology on that channel. So we get to discuss all sorts of crazy things.

Okay, so we don't take fancy vacations, and, since I stupidly insisted that we stay on the subway lines—for an easy commute—and in an apartment—where the staff maintains the plumbing and the lawn and shovels the snow—and, therefore, we have no basement in which to store camping equipment, we've never done all the traveling via campsite that I did as a kid. Until he went to a midwest university this summer for a research project, the Young Scientist complained that he'd never been out of the Eastern Time Zone. But at least we get to discuss the latest plot twist on "Battlestar Galactica."

On the plus side—fond memories of my family: A few good laughs with my sister and brothers

Apparently, my older sister, at least, was old enough to play babysitter for the rest of us, because I remember quite clearly that we were home alone. All four of us were sitting in the middle bedroom, goofing off, joking around, laughing, and having a rollicking good time together. Too much of one, apparently—the neighbors called the cops, 'cause we were making so much noise! :)

The last time all six of us (parents included) were together must have been right before our wedding, after my youngest brother had moved to California, shortly before my brother and his then-wife made aliyah (we rescheduled our wedding to take place six months earlier than planned, so that my brother and sister-in-law could be there) and about six years before my parents made aliyah. We were sitting around the dining room table, punning our fool heads off. (Yeah, my Punster fits right in. :) ) What a riot! I still remember that last time together fondly, especially since, given our geographic dispersion and our parents' health, it's not likely ever to happen again.

On the plus side—fond memories of my family: Midnights in the Kitchen with Mom

Okay, so it was much later than midnight. Once, when I couldn't sleep, I went downstairs to the kitchen, figuring I could talk to Mom. She was often in the kitchen until some ridiculous hour of the morning, preparing food for the freezer so that whoever was available could get dinner started before she got home from work. This time, I decided to be a wise guy: I said "Boo," very quietly. She still jumped ten feet. :)

In her day, my mother was an excellent cook and baker, a wonderful host, an excellent navigator and map reader when my father was the one driving, and, of course, as a bookkeeper by profession, great with numbers. (Having gone from my mother the bookkeeper to my husband the CPA, I've never in my life done my own tax return.) As luck would have it, I'm the only one of the four of us who didn't inherit her kitchen skills, much to my husband's misfortune. As a matter of fact, I'm sorry to say that I didn't inherit any of my mother's many talents, much to my dismay. All I inherited was her quick temper and her difficulty in listening to music while doing other things at the same time.

Mother was one of the women who took care of the little ones on the High Holidays so that their parents could davven (pray). How well I remember her playing the Pied Piper, a line of kids trailing behind her as she walked them around the block on which the shul (synagogue) building stood. I'm sure it broke her heart when she was let go by the nursery school in which she'd been teaching because she didn't have a college degree. My grandparents had only enough money to send one of their two children to college, and I guess that, in those days, sending a daughter instead of a son was unheard of. I can't blame my uncle—it wasn't his decision. But it's a shame that my mother never had a chance to do what she really wanted to do, which was to teach. I think that she would have been really good at it.

Still, Mom was an expert at taking whatever lemons life headed her and turning them into lemonade. In the days before the World Trade Center terrorist attack was a gleam in Osama Bin Ladin's eye, my Israeli brother once said of my mother that you could drop her by parachute into Afghanistan and, somehow, she'd figure out how to get where she wanted to go. She’s always coped with whatever life threw her way. That's the mom I cherish.

On the plus side—fond memories of my family: Sundays in the Car with Dad

A few months ago, reading Z's tales of woe in trying to get her autistic son a decent education, I was inspired to respond with a post on raising a child with disabilities, to which Z responded with her own series on the same subject, to which I responded with a few more posts that ended up being yet another series on the subject. I guess I'm still "riffing" off of Z, because I noticed her post showing the other side of her relationship with M (see her Friday, July 22, 2005 post, "The Story of M," at
Friday July 22nd 2005, and thought, "Hmm, maybe it's time I showed the other side of my relationship with my family."

And so, without further ado:

Sundays in the Car with Dad

In his day, my father was a very hard-working man. He often held two, and even three, jobs to try to make ends meet.

One of the jobs that he had when we were teens was delivering newspapers on weekends. And, since the job was much easier to do when there was a second person helping him, one of us always rode in the "suicide seat," rolling the newspapers and stuffing them into the roadside newspaper boxes so that Dad wouldn't have to get out of the car, which made the job go much faster. I have fond memories of the Sundays we spent riding around together.

In his day, my father was a song and dance man. He loved to listen to his records whenever he had an opportunity, and could often be seen breaking into a quick soft-shoe routine near the record player. Though I didn't inherit his ability to listen to music and do other things at the same time—I'm working on it—I, along with my two brothers, did inherit his musical ear. (My sister was not so lucky—she inherited Mom's ear, and poor Mom can barely sing on key.) There's even a rumor that he was offered an opportunity to sing in the Fred Waring Choir and turned it down, presumably either because he felt he needed to stay put to keep an eye on his widowed mother or because he felt he couldn't make a sufficient living as a singer.

I also inherited his dancing feet, though not necessarily his style. In his day, Dad was an excellent ballroom dancer. Unfortunately, Mom was not. But put Dad on the dance floor with his sister B., and boy, could the two of them cut a rug together! I've never quite mastered ballroom dancing, but I enjoyed my ballet lessons as a child and teenager, and I'm sure that I can attribute whatever skill I have as a folk dancer to my dear olde Dad.

I do regret that Dad never took us girls into his workshop—he was pretty handy, a trait that I did not inherit. (Ours was a relatively non-sexist household for its time, but still, it was the fifties and sixties.) He hung suspended acoustic-tile ceilings, blocked off some free space with sliding doors to create large clothes closets in the two bedrooms than were large enough to accommodate them, and—his masterpiece—enclosed the stairs leading to the second floor in wood paneling backed by bookshelves. Though the wall did put the kabosh on my sister and me making dramatic entrances down the stairs when our dates arrived, I will always cherish my memories of the hours I spent sitting on the stairs reading.

Here's a letter that he wrote to us kids some twenty years ago. The minute we got our first computer, I typed it in, for fear that something might happen to it in the bank vault. Now, I'm putting it on the Internet. It's part of my yerushah, my inheritance from my father, and I'll cherish it as long as I live.

Handwritten letter from my father to all four kids, with P.S. for [the Punster] and [the Young Scientist], herein quoted in its entirety, as this is irreplaceable in case of fire in the bank vault:

To My Children

Erev Father's Day and I am thinking, reminiscing and smiling.

Just like skipping rope, my memories are jumping thru 'salt, vinegar, mustard, pepper' topped off with strawberry short cake.

This 'dad' is well aware that raising our four kids wasn't easy and was sometimes very trying, yet, I recall instead, their constant curiosity, their need (even demand) for answers. Their noses in books and a variety of music floating thru the rooms of our small home.

Four different personalities under one roof.

Four different brands of humor which allowed little room for morbidity and made each mealtime so light and so very digestible.

I fondly recall the many discussions around the dining room table plus some pretty heavy arguments and to this day I'm not sure I ever came out a winner.

Would I ever do it again? Would I care and dare to once again raise four kids like you? You Bet Your Sweet Bippi I would!!

To you, my children, I thank you for the privilege of parenthood and with deep gratitude in my heart I say 'Shehecheyanu' for allowing those wonderful years and bringing me, with health to reach this day so I may say,
I Love You Dearly

To you, my son and grandson,
I want you to know, you have brought much joy and pride into our lives and have added a dimension of love I am unable to express with words.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

"We have six."

Warning—extremely long post. I truly hope that it doesn't also prove to be offensive.

This is a thoroughly inappropriate joke with which to open the topic at hand, I know. But, as we say in the world of science fiction fans, “Resistance is futile.” :)

Here’s Vir, assistant to the ambassador from the Centauri Republic, trying to explain to the Babylon 5 space station’s second in command, Commander Susan Ivanova, what the difference is between human and Centauri sexuality:

“We have six.”

Can you hear Ivanova’s jaw hit the floor?

Alright, enough of that foolishness. It’s time for me to get serious.

All my life, I’ve harbored a bitter resentment against my parents for having had, quite clearly, more children than they could afford.

My brothers, being, respectively, two and four years younger than I, don’t remember this, but I do, and I’m sure my older sister does, too: There was a time when my parents were so broke that they rationed orange juice. We were allowed to drink only one glass per day, because they couldn’t afford any more.

And Chanukah presents? We got underwear as Chanukah presents. That’s right. Underwear. Because we needed it anyway, and so, they could just wrap it up in wrapping paper and pass it off as a present. And we had to thank them for it, too. I have no doubt that they were saving what little money they had to buy presents to give to the cousins (and us) at our annual family Chanukah party so that they wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of the entire extended family. I wonder whether that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t stayed in touch with my cousins. It’s certainly the reason why, when the Punster said that it wasn’t his own family’s minhag (custom) to give presents every night of Chanukah, I readily acquiesced to giving only one present. Better to save our money for one reasonably decent present than ever to put my son through what I went through on Chanukah.

Years ago, when I was honored by my former synagogue for being a member of the Board of Trustees, Ritual Committee, choir, and other committees, this is what I wrote about growing up:

“Imagine my surprise when I moved to New York, the alleged U.S. capital of Jewish cuisine, and discovered that I couldn't find a rice knish in any of its boroughs. "How did you learn to make rice knishes?" I asked my grandmother. She shrugged off the question. "We had no money, and rice was cheaper than potatoes."

No money‑‑that was just a simple fact of life when I was growing up.

Shabbat in my family was a study in contrasts between the ideal and the reality. On Friday night, my mother lit the Shabbat candles and recited the b'rachah, my father chanted kiddush over kosher wine, and we all said motzi collectively over challah before eating. But my parents had four children to support. With the dawn came the end of Shabbat for my father, as he left for work. And, in those days, when the supermarkets' business hours coincided almost exactly with my mother's work hours, Mom had little choice but to drop us kids off at shul on the way to do her week's worth of grocery shopping for six.”

“No money.” That’s what being a member of what was considered a large family in the neighborhood in which I grew up meant. Rationed orange juice. Hand-me-down clothing. Undies as Chanukah presents. Parents who worked and/or shopped on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and couldn’t afford a lulav and etrog. And worst of all, the year in which my parents were so flat broke that not only did I have to give up my belovèd ballet lessons, I also had to ask for, and receive, permission to sit in the front row in school, because, by the time my parents could finally afford to buy me a new pair of glasses, I could no longer see the chalkboard from any farther back in the classroom.

Okay, so we weren’t exactly destitute. We were lower middle class. With the emphasis on the “lower.” Our poverty was relatively genteel. Still our relative lack of money was obvious enough to me to make me forever self-conscious about differences between my own financial status and that of others, to make me feel, always, like the “poor relation,” to make me feel uncomfortable visiting people who aren’t even the least bit pretentious, just because they happen to live on Central Park West.

The upshot, in the long run, is that, all my life, I’ve harbored a virulent prejudice against the parents of large families.

Why would any parents want to put their children through that?

How could they do such a thing? How could they be so thoughtless as to bring into the world more children than they could reasonably expect to be able to support? What were they thinking? Were they thinking, at all? Or were they just being selfish, with no concern for the consequences of their actions?

My bias got worse in the seventies, with the advent of the Zero Population Growth movement. How could they be so thoughtless as to have more children than the planet could afford?

And the eighties and nineties added further icing to this bitter cake, as I turned against my people—forgive me for speaking in the singular, but this really is about me, alone—and protested: How can they play off one mitzvah, one commandment, against another? Just because the Torah says “P’ru u-r’vu, Be fruitful and multiply,” does that mean that it doesn’t also say “Lo tignov, You must not steal”? I’m not heartless. If you become ill or disabled, if you have an accident or find yourself between jobs, of course I’ll help you take care of your children. But to go out of your way to have 10 kids knowing in advance that there’s no way that you could ever possibly support them yourself, and just nonchalantly assume that it’s my responsibility, as Charlie Taxpayer, to do it for you?!!! The chutzpah! The nerve! I don’t care who else is doing that. You’re my people, and what you’re doing is g’névah, theft, pure and simple. It’s against halachah, Jewish religious law. It’s unethical, on general principles. And, to boot, it makes our community look bad in the eyes of others, or, as we say in Yiddish, it’s “a shanda fir di goyim.”

And that’s why one of the most unexpected changes that I’ve undergone in becoming a member in reasonably good standing of Olam HaBlog, the Jewish blogosphere, is that, gradually, I’ve found the parents of large families in our community becoming, for lacking of a better term, “rehumanized” in my own eyes.

One of the most beautiful passages in all the haftarot, and the only one that invariably brings tears to my eyes, is this one, from the haftarah for the second day of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), from Jeremiah/Yirmiyahu, chapter 31, starting at verse 15:

“Ko amar HaShem, ‘Kol b’Ramah nishma, n’hiy b’chiy tam’rurim, Rachel m’vacah al banehah, méanah l’hinachem al banehah, ki énenu.’”

“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not [do not exist].”

The photo still throws me—a mother, a father, and ten kids, the oldest one old enough for college (or maybe older), the youngest literally a babe in his mother’s arms.

But the description, written by a friend of the family, herself a mother of six, silences me. Sisters, weeping, holding one another, passing a younger sister from lap to lap, from sister to sister, from one relative to another relative, from family friend to family friend. Like Rachel in reverse, they refuse to be comforted because their mother is not, because she no longer exists. Because she died all too young, tragically killed in a truck-car collision.

This ”mother and father in Israel” made their choice years ago. And some of the “results” of that “election” are now “in.”

Sisters supporting sisters. Families supporting families. And the larger family—the community—supporting a family in need.

The larger community. A family of families. Ten kids. Five kids. Nine kids. Six kids. Eight kids. Seven kids.

Auf simchas,” said a friend of the family, himself a father of six. “Only joyous occasions”—we should be blessed never to have such sad times.

And this, from a friend of one of the newly-motherless sisters, herself one of six siblings:

“i keep trying to write a song for a friend of mine, whose mother passed away recently in a car accident...but i can't work on it for more than forty-five minutes at a time without bottoming out. i'm beginning to wonder if it's even worth the attempt...i want to write something comforting, that will help her, not depress her even more. but i don't know how.”

They have a term for that in the Torah community. They call it midot, “attributes,” character traits. I see two. Midat chesed, the character trait of kindness. U-midat rachamim, and the character trait of compassion.

And what about the rest of the time?

Three brothers in a kosher pizzeria keeping their youngest sister out of trouble by having one brother hold her in his arms. “You’re a crazy kid,” he says, grinning. “Crazy kid” grins back.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Absolutely nothing.

And that’s what’s so surprising to me.

I’ve always resented bitterly the fact that my parents had two kids more than they could support. Or maybe even three. Heck, maybe I shouldn’t be here, either. I’ve always been convinced that the reason why my sister never wanted kids, and never had any, was that she got so sick and tired of sharing everything with the other three of us that she decided she’d never share anything with anyone again.

No, it isn’t easy, being responsible for younger siblings. It was no picnic for my older sister.

No, it isn’t easy scrounging up the money, either. After my father broke his leg and was disabled for several months and my mother went back to work, she decided that she would never be a stay-at-home mother again, because, heaven forbid anything should happen to our father, she wouldn’t have enough work experience to be able to support us.

But the truth of the matter is that I do love my brothers. I even love my sister, occasionally, when she’s not being a condescending know-it-all noodge. Sigh.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the patently obvious fact that the number of children that a person chooses to have (or not to have) and the reasons for that choice are none of anyone else’s bleeping business. I include myself in that criticism. I remember all too well—and not particularly fondly—how my fellow and sister congregants nagged me half to death, and my mother nagged me more gently, to have a second child despite the fact that I was barely managing to be something remotely resembling a passable mother to the one borderline-hyperactive heck-raiser whom I already had.

Leaving that fact aside, the truth is that, a year ago, I would have said that anyone who had more than three children was out of his and/or her mind, inconsiderate of the larger community, and not terribly concerned about the earth’s ecology, either.

Well, I’m hardly paragon of virtue, but I would hope that my current state of ambivalence is at least a small improvement over my former state of flat-out condemnation.

“We have six.”

Can I get back to you on that?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Want my job? Come and get it. Here’s the ad for someone to replace me.

Published in a local paper on July 22, 2005:

___________ seeks a bright, Reliable, Experienced Secretary for a busy department. Candidate must have strong word processing (Microsoft Word, Excel), Telephone and Interpersonal Skills. Excellent Benefits.
Fax Resume to Director of Human Resources
_ _ _-_ _ _ -_ _ _ _

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with the head of Human Resources about getting a permanent position as a “floater” (someone who works wherever s/he is needed within an organization) for special projects, since my boss has made it quite clear that he doesn’t consider me a suitable candidate to become his secretary on a permanent basis. She said she’d hire me in a minute flat if Boss #1 would put me on his budget.

Later, I spoke with Boss #1 about being hired as a permanent “floater.” He said that he’d like to hire me, but that he’d have to speak to the Budget Committee concerning whose budget would cover my pay.

Just how stupid does he think I am? I walked out of that discussion knowing that the chances of me ever being hired on permanent basis were pretty much non-existent because the cheap s.o.b. doesn’t want to put me on his own budget line.

The Budget Committee meeting took place last week. I haven’t heard a word. Apparently, no one else wants to pick up my salary, either.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, the only thing I can do is look at that advertisement and laugh. When I described the problem with the ad to the folks at shul (synagogue), one person commented that all the ad proves is that whoever wrote it—probably not any of my bosses—needs a secretary! :)

Either all of the adjectives and nouns should be capitalized, or none of them should be.

The ad should say either “Bright, Reliable, Experienced Secretary” or “bright, reliable, experienced secretary.”

The ad should say either “Word Processing (Microsoft Word, Excel), Telephone and Interpersonal Skills” or word processing (Microsoft Word, Excel), telephone and interpersonal skills.

So I’ve decided that I have absolutely nothing to lose by going to Boss #1 on Monday and expressing my concern that the ad for my replacement is written in such a manner as to reflect poorly on our organization. I will, of course, just happen to mention that my boss on one of my most recent projects told me that I was the best proofreader she’d ever worked with.

It’s my sincere hope that he’ll have the good grace to be embarrassed, but, frankly, I doubt it. If he gave a rat’s @$$ in the first place, he would have hired me already.

I’ve always been of the firm belief that my job as an administrative assistant is to make my employer look good. I don’t appreciate it when we’re made to look like fools in public, even if I’m not the one responsible.

I consider it pretty ironic that I could have written a better ad for my replacement myself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The "Look, Rav, No Hands" rumba. :) : Fifty-six-year-old woman tries her hand—er, feet—at choreography for the first time

From the comments to my Sunday, June 12, 2005 post, “Anniversary Waltz”:

“"May you have many more years to step on each other's feet." Another wise guy heard from. :) [The "wise guy" was Psycho Toddler, of course. Who else? :) ]

The Punster and I split the dancing skills similarly to the way we split the computer skills--he takes care of the technical details, and I make it look good . . .

It's the same when we dance. He's much better at fancy footwork (the "technical" stuff). But I'm more graceful. I joke with him that, between the *two* of us, we make *one* darn good dancer. :)

As for our *non*-folk dancing, the first time I heard your "Ki V'Simcha," I dragged him out of his office/the Young Scientist's bedroom and started jitterbugging, which *he's* really good at. You probably would have gotten a kick out of seeing that. Er, um, on second thought, I guess there's not much mixed dancing going on in your community. I suppose we could try something remotely resembling a cha-cha--we could call it the "Look, Rav, No Hands" rumba. :)”

Okay, so it’s not a rumba. But it’s "Look, Rav, No Hands," all right. A line dance. I choose that type of dance specifically because I wanted to choreograph for the shomer negiah crowd. (For an explanation of the term "shomer negiah," see here: With any luck, it’ll turn out to be a good “simcha” dance.

Just rock out for the first eight beats.

(Update: Eek! I forgot to give you the link! Go here and scroll up or down in the radio blog until you come to "Ki V'Simcha." Click on it and listen. Then you can count the beats below with me. :) And, if you listen to the whole thing—that's half the fun, of course—you can hear that "break" that I'm complaining about, too.)

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and
Charleston 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 feet together hold

And that’s just the intro!

Holy Moses, this is a kick!

It was a lot of hard work. A little in the apartment. Then embarrassing the dear Punster by spending an hour in public—on the line waiting to get tickets to Shakepeare in the Park (we were too late and didn’t get in)—trying to remember the music in my head and work out some more steps in full view of several dozen total strangers. And then more work at home. Yes, that’s right. At home. In our apartment. Choreographing a dance in a “postage stamp.” Talk about having to turn on a dime . . .And do two series of “mayim” steps in between the paper piles and the dining room table’s chairs. (Probably drives the downstairs neighbors nuts, all that literal dancing over their heads. Not to mention the poor woman next door, who has to put up with hearing the same song over and over and over . . . I’ve decided to have mercy on her and keep the music as low as I can keep it and still hear it well enough to dance to it.)

And working on the dance at the shul in the sanctuary—biggest room in the building, and besides, we’re in there for minyan and breakfast anyway, Monday and Thursday mornings. Got a smile out of one of our seniors when she came in to work in the Thrift Shop—she got a kick out of what I did in bars seven and eight. (So do I—that’s why I “wrote” it that way.)

Finally started teaching it to the Punster last Thursday in the shul after morning minyan. Holy Moses, there’s a change of pace! He’s been teaching me dances for years! And I almost always get behind him—I’ve rarely had the nerve to lead a dance, even when I know it in my sleep. This is the first time I’ve ever taught him a dance.

Only one major problem. There I am, dancing away in the living room, thinking I’ve finally got the whole thing down pat after a week’s hard work, when oliver sudden, I stop dead in my tracks. That’s five beats?!!! Not four? Five?!!!!!! *&^%$#!!!!!! Okay, which one of you is the wise guy? Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of writing a five-beat “break” in the middle of this song is gonna get taken out at sunrise and shot. (Don’t worry—I promise to set my phaser on “stun.” :) ) Sure, it sounds great, but how the frack am I supposed to choreograph a five-beat dance sequence? With the last two beats out of rhythm. Followed, noch besser (even better, quoth she sarcastically) by three beats, three beats, and seven beats!!! *&^%$#!!!!!! It’s a good thing I was already planning on doing air guitar for those last seven beats, or I would have shot all three of you! :) The “break” alone took me at least half an hour to choreograph. Pity the poor Punster. He’s trying to get some tax returns done, and I keep standing there next to his/the Young Scientist’s desk trying out steps. “Is this okay? Does this work? Hey, how do you like that thumbs-over-the-shoulder thingie? I wasn’t even thinking about it. I just kinda fell into it. Does that work? I think it’s neat. I’ll keep it.”

I’m still working out some minor refinements. And I’m still working with the Punster on learning the dance. Even I can’t do the whole thing yet without missing a step or two, and I’m the choreographer, for Pete’s sake! Once I get all the kinks out and both of us get the steps down pat, we’ll draft some poor soul with a video camera to do the deed. And then it’s “Hello, Milwaukee!” :)

Squeezed out: Life in a typical New York City apartment, also known as a “postage stamp”

Or, as the Young Scientist would describe it, a “tuna can.”

It’s just a typical New York City apartment—too much stuff, not enough apartment. No matter which borough one lives in. (Pick a borough, any borough, any one of the five. No, I’m not going to tell you which one!)

It all started when the Punster retired from his job of 30 years and decided to try to take his private tax and accounting business full-time. First, my recliner went to our synagogue thrift shop. Then, our piano became the proud possession of our shul. I gave both away voluntarily, to make room for two lateral file cabinets in the living room. (You were thinking maybe there was anywhere else to put them?!) It seemed the right thing to do at the time. I wanted to help my husband get his business organized. And, by way of ulterior motives, I was hoping to keep his business papers from taking over the apartment.

To make a long story short, my hopes were in vain. There are piles of papers on the floor along almost the entire length of one wall. Under the chairs. On the couch. In front of the couch, while we’re at it. Sometimes it’s all I can do to find a few clear spots on the dining room table to serve dinner. I’ve given up vaccuuming the living room carpet because there’s scarcely enough bare carpet to run a vaccuum cleaner. When the Punster gets to the vaccuum cleaning, he gets to the vaccuum cleaning. I’m afraid to move anything to do the job myself.

I’ve told him that sometimes I feel that maybe I should just pack up and leave. But it’s my fault, so who I am to talk? If I hadn’t been such a lousy money manager when I was younger, he could have afforded to rent an office years ago. So I have only myself to blame.

Sigh. If he hasn’t kicked me out in 28 years, I guess I can manage to put up with him, too. (Can’t live with him, can’t live without him. :) )

‘Scuse me while I step over a stack of tax returns in progress and some hand-outs for his college students. Just because the living room’s a national disaster area doesn’t mean I have an excuse for not cleaning the bathroom.

And when I’m done, I think I’ll peel off the rubber gloves and give my hubby a hug.

When you say “literally,” do you really mean “literally?”—on p’shat and drash

(I swiped this from a comment that I posted on to DovBear’s Friday, July 15, 2005 post, “Lies My Rebbe Told Me #019385103”)

I've read complaints somewhere in the Jewish blogosphere about a certain recent version of the ArtScroll Shir HaShirim/Song of Songs having been published with absolutely *no* translation, just the rabbinical interpretation. Presumably not to put a michshol/stumbling block before the blind/"ignorant". Chas v'chalilah/heaven forbid that people should be able to *choose* whether they prefer the p'shat/literal meaning or the drash/rabbinic interpretation. Or both--*must* one choose? When I told my rabbi about this, he looked at me as if I had two heads, and told me that the rabbinic interpretation *was* p'shat. Sigh. And he can't understand why I don't want to study with him. We don't speak the same language, even when we're both speaking English.

Monday, July 18, 2005

V’la-boker rina? A lament for the daughter of one of my dearest friends, whose life lies in ruins

It was supposed to be a file for my “Memoirs” folder. That’s where I write things that I have to say, things that I can say to family and/or friends and things that I can’t say. This was one of those things that I was putting in writing because I couldn’t say it.

It was supposed to be about a little girl. But when I went back and read it, I suddenly found myself in tears.

I cried when I realized what I’d written:

“May she be spared.”

Because I suddenly realized that it wasn’t about her alone.

And that that was why I was afraid.

Her father assures me that she will be spared.

And I breath again, relieved.

Her father assures me that she will be spared.

Would that the same were true of my oldest friend’s daughter.

Who was not spared.

And is not likely ever to be spared again.

That’s why my husband thought that that prayer was about someone else.

He was wrong.

And he was right.

I’ve known her mother for longer than I’ve known my husband. She was one of the first friends I made after moving here over 30 years ago. (Am I really that old?) So I’ve known her daughters since before they were born.

The older one takes after her mother—she’s a brilliant young woman, and articulate.

The younger one draws like an angel, and paints like Michelangelo.

The older one went away to Hebrew University, hoping to study there, and, eventually, make aliyah and create a life for herself in Israel.

She came home sick.

They treated her and sent her back.

This time, her mother had to go and get her. This time, she did not bounce back. This time . . . seems to be her future.

Struck by an uncurable, and not very treatable, heritary illness, she is too ill even to understand how ill she is.

She refuses to apply for a group home because she thinks she’s going to get better. That’s one of her many delusions.

Who can blame her? How can one stare such a truth in the face? How can a person who’s only in her early twenties face the fact that this is her life, for the rest of her life? Endless rounds of therapy. Endless rounds of medications, and adjustments of medications. Endless hours of staring at the walls because she can neither go back to school nor get a job.

No college. No career. No husband. No children.

No future.

This is her life? You call that a life?!!!!!!

I got out of social work school because I couldn’t deal with this population. My girlfriend has to serve dinner to this population every night.

So I sit by and watch one of my best friends live through water torture.

All she can do is watch her daughter’s life slip away into a shadow of a life, a parody of a life, a nightmare of a life, a living hell. For both of them.

(And I pray that her sister will have the good sense to adopt. Three generations is enough!!!)

I can’t remember how long she’s been on my mi-she-berach list, how long I’ve prayed for her health.

I can’t remember how long I’ve thought of her every time I recited the brachah/blessing praising G-d for being rofeh cholim, healer of the sick.

Is it a brachah l’vatalah—do I take G-d’s name in vain when I pray for the health of someone who will probably never be well again?

And that’s why, when I was finished stupidly crying for myself and all my petty problems, I couldn’t stop crying. Because I was crying for her, too, and for her mother.

“V’la-boker rina”? This is what You call “joy in the morning?”

How can I sing, when one of Your children is drowning in the sea?

Answer me!



Sunday, July 17, 2005

V’la-boker rina? A prayer for the music that I’ve lost

“In the morning, joy?”

HaShem, forgive me. I could not pray yesterday morning. At all.

I made a mistake. I should have done this yesterday afternoon, instead. But, fool that I was, I opened Sefer Tehillim/the Book of Psalms before davvening (praying)—a mistake, as I said—and spent who knows how long scanning the English of the entire book, searching for the words to a song. I did not find them. Perhaps I did not look carefully enough. Or perhaps I looked in the wrong book.

But I did find this, from Psalm 42:

K’ayil taarog al afikei mayim, kein nafshi taarog elocha, Elokim . . .
“As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, L-rd . . .” (verse 2).

Over 20 years ago, we heard that quote sung by a member of our then-shul at a Shabbaton (Sabbath retreat).

Yesterday morning, I couldn’t remember the melody.

It all started about 20 years ago, when now-well-known Cantor Aaron Ben Soussan was still a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School and served our current congregation for two years or so. He had a beautiful tune for L’dor va-Dor at the end of the Kedushah prayer.

That was the first song I ever loved that I forgot. I haven’t been able to remember it for at least a decade.

Several days this past week, I listened to Shlock Rock’s Mizmor Shir. Every time, I thought I’d learned it. And yet, the next day, when I tried to remember it, I got part of Debbie Friedman’s version playing in my head instead. Only part of it. Why? Why can’t I remember the whole song? And Lenny Solomon’s Shlock Rock version? And every other version that I’ve ever known?

Once upon a time, I had a musical memory like the memory of Eliezer Hyrcanus, whom the rabbis of Pirkei Avot (Verses/Ethics of the Fathers) described as " . . . a cemented cistern that loses not a drop . . ." (chapter 2, verse 11). Once upon a time, I could hear a piece of music once, maybe twice, and it was mine for life. Or so I thought. Now, my memory is like a sieve—like water, like fine sand, the music passes through without a stop.

Finally, I picked up my siddur and started to pray. But when I got to Ashrei, I couldn’t go on. How could I say “Ashrei, Happy,” when I was not? How could I say Ashrei when I was weeping for my lost music, for the song from Psalms that I could no longer remember, for the Shlock Rock tune that wouldn’t stay in my head, for the other part of Debbie Friedman’s song, for Cantor Ben Soussan’s missing L’dor va-Dor?

How could I say Ashrei when I haven’t been able to sing loudly enough to lead my Junior Congregation kids for over a month, when my top range is only now coming back, when I just got the diagnosis on Friday afternoon that my throat has been ravaged by acid reflux disease and the problems that I’ve been having singing may never again disappear completely?

Hashem, Your psalmist says, “Ivdu et HaShem b’simchah, bo-u l’fanav bi-r’nanah, Serve the L-rd with gladness, come before him with singing.” But how can I serve you with gladness when my music is gone? How can I come before you with singing if I cannot sing?

Perhaps, HaShem, I’m being self-centered. It won’t be the first time that I’ve been called egocentric, and I have no choice but to plead “Guilty as charged.” What is this infinistesimal tragedy in the grand scheme of things? Poverty and hunger, starvation and war. Children without hope because they can’t get a decent education. Adults struggling to find or keep a job. People of all ages handicapped by illness or disability. Innocents dead because they had the nerve to take the subway/underground or bus, or to go to the mall. Newlyweds from Brooklyn killed in an auto accident by a traumatized truck driver who’d tried desperately to stop. A rabbi in Milwaukee bereft of his rebbitzen, their ten children left without a mother, after a fatal truck-car collision.

And yet, I cannot deny that I wept, and could not pray.

“'atheist schmathiest,” quoth the Balabusta in Blue Jeans from California.

'atheist schmathiest, that's no reason not to go to shul and daven."

And so, I come before You, I, an apikorus (heretic) who’s not even sure she believes in You, and pray.

HaBocher b’shirei zimrah, the One Who chooses song,” restore the music to my memory and the voice to my throat, and I will sing Your praises until the daughters of music are brought low and my dust returns to the earth.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

“Someone Else’s Place”

“Have you ever left a thought unsaid? Have you ever left a word unspoken?”

I’m worried. Maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe it’s just one of those phases. I keep telling myself that she’ll outgrow it. But it’s hard for me to convince myself. Been there, done that. I saw what the Young Scientist went through with his delayed maturation and social skills. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Directly or indirectly. Kid or parent.

The Young Scientist was lucky, in the long run. He grew out of his problems. One friend’s daughter and another friend’s son weren’t so lucky—they grew into theirs. I think the young man will be alright. But the young woman . . .

This little pre-schooler scares me. She’s—I guess the word is obsessive. Or compulsive. Or both. And she has such a constant craving for attention. “High maintenance,” her father calls her. She’s even worse than the Young Scientist was at that age.

But what am I supposed to say? You would think that, being older and having raised a kid with delayed development, I would know a thing or two. But I have only one kid. So who has more experience, here? If I say anything, will they find it condescending? Or, worse yet, insulting?

I wish there were a good way to say something. Just to wish them chazak (strength), and tell them that I hope all goes well in the long run. Just to tell them to keep laughing, because sometimes that’s the only thing that saves one’s sanity as a parent.

So I’m adding them to my “Sh’ma Kolenu (Hear our voices)” prayer list.

That’s what I usually use when I want to wish someone chazak.

And here’s a prayer, right here and now (why wait?):

Yihi ratzon milfanecha, Hashem Elokeinu v’Elokei avoteinu v’imoteinu, May it be Your will, our G-d and G-d of our Fathers and Mothers, that she grow to be a healthy, happy, and, as the frum (Orthodox) say, “G-d willing”—or perhaps “b’ezrat Hashem (with G-d’s help)” works better here—a normal person. That she be spared. That she be blessed with the ability to learn Torah u’madah (Jewish and secular knowledge), Torah im derech eretz (the Law and the proper way to treat others). That she grow up to a life of Torah u-maasim tovim (Jewish observance and good deeds). And, if that’s what she wants, chuppah (the marriage canopy), too. Yihi ratzon milfanecha l’varech et ha-yaldah ha-zot, May it be Your will to bless this girl, Yonina bat Channe u’Moshe.

What a coincidence. I’ve just finished writing this prayer, and here I am, with the radio blog on, suddenly finding myself listening to “Haazina.” “Give ear, G-d, to my prayer, and do not hide Yourself from my supplication. “ Please.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Vive la difference!

Once upon a time, the Punster and I were hard-core folk dancers, going to one-three dance sessions almost every week. Then parenthood struck, and babysitting and scheduling became issues. We were out of the scene for about 20 years.

Finally, the Punster having decided that folk dancing was a more enjoyable way to exercise than going to the gym, we started dancing again about a year ago. We found the folk dance scene much changed. For one thing, the newer Israeli dances are much more complicated than the older ones. (My theory is that the older dances were choreographed by just about anyone with a smidge of aptitude, whereas the newer dances are being choreographed by [former] professional dancers). In many cases, the newer dances are far more interesting to watch, but also considerably more difficult to learn. In addition, for reasons unkown, the newer dances have far more turns in them, which is unfortunate for me, since I’m prone to dizziness, and this restricts severely my ability to learn and dance the newer dances.

The other problem was that we couldn’t find any international folk dancing sessions that were easy to get to and fit our schedule. So we had a great time at Alex’s50%-Israeli/50%-international session, doing dances from the Balkans (Serbia, Macedonia, etc.), Greece, and Armenia that we hadn’t done in twenty years. Half the time, I was on autopilot—apparently, my feet have a better memory than my brain has. :)

There was another reason why I had a grand old time. Since I haven’t found a jeans skirt that fit me in several years, I’ve been going folk dancing in jeans. Just recently, I was rescued by Land’s End, who put out the first full skirt I’ve seen in their catalog in years. So I went to a folk dance session in a skirt for the first time in ages. Wearing a skirt when dancing can be fun. Skirts can be grabbed in the hands and swung, or, if you move in just the right way, you can make them swirl without putting a pinky on them. In point of fact, there’s a Hungarian women’s dance that I remember from 20 years ago in which, at one point, the dancers all sway in such a way as to make their skirts swing forward. When one does that dance in pants, it definitely loses something in the translation.

Years ago, we had a friend who used to dance in an amateur Yugoslavian folk dance troupe. She explained to us that, since the native clothing of the women of many of the regions of the area included long and heavy skirts, the women had developed a totally different dancing style. Whereas the guys would pick a foot clear up off the floor so that the heel was at least above the opposite foot’s ankle, then give the foot one or two very small kicks—giving new meaning to the old saying, “shake a leg”—the women would just bend the knee enough to raise the heel, leaving the toe still on the floor, and do a little hip-wiggle in the same rhythm as the men’s kick. So, in honor of the occasion of a) our return to international folk dancing, and b) my return to wearing a skirt for folk dance sessions, I decided to do all of the Balkan dances in the manner of the women. That was fun. Perhaps too much fun, in truth—I never did get the “little” part of that hip-wiggle thing quite right. But, in any case, I had a great time. As the old song goes, “I enjoy being a girl.”

Baruch she-asani isha—Praised is (the One) Who made me a woman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sagal case [re a conversion the validity of which was questioned]: the Chief Rabbi’s Statement

See Paul Shaviv’s Friday, July 8, 2005 post, “Sagal case: the Chief Rabbi's Statement,” at I’ll let the gentleman speak for himself—but I strongly advise you to read the comments.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Aftermath of a tragedy that struck the Jewish community of Milwaukee

A co-worker's husband went in for bypass surgery a few months ago. The surgery was successful. But, apparently, there were things going on elsewhere in the patient's body. Within two weeks, he'd undergone two more rounds of emergency surgery. She almost lost him. Baruch Hashem (Praised is G-d), he's now home, though it will be months before he recuperates completely.

On July 6, I wrote about my parents. My father's memory is fading rapidly. And my mother is physically frail. They're both in their eighties. To make matters even more unpredictable, they're living in what my son so delicately describes as "a war zone" (Jerusalem).

Do we ever know when the Mal'ach HaMavet—the Angel of Death—is going to come for those whom we care about?

Every time one of us leaves the apartment, I say something nice to my husband (even if it's only "Enjoy your day.") and/or give him a peck on the check. I don't ever want to feel guilty, should it happen, heaven forbid . . .

A few weeks ago, I met the Skier family. About a week later, they lost a friend of 18 years.

I e-mailed them my condolences. Not that I had any words. Nor do I have any now. What can I possibly say?

Just go here.

No more late-Sat.-early-Sun. blogging this summer: I have a steady date to go folk dancing with the Punster in Central Park on Sundays at 1 PM :)

For those in the New York City area, Alex is running an international folk dancing session, heavy on the Israeli (probably because he’s Israeli), Sunday afternoons this summer from 1-3:30 PM. It'll take place at the traditional folk dancing spot, directly opposite the Delacorte (Shakespeare in the Park) Theater at the other end of Belvedere Lake, er Turtle Pond (or whatever they’re calling it these days), in front of what’s known to the folk dance crowd as “the Polish statue” (to a king whose name none of us can remember). Come join us! (It’s free, by the way.) I recommend that you wear comfortable, thick soled shoes, such as athletic shoes, since the “dance surface” is flagstones (uneven and literally hard as rocks).

Here are the only rules you have to know about folk dancing (swiped from a previous post of mine):
1. Never get in front of the leader (in a dance that has one) unless you know the dance well enough to be the leader!
2. Don’t join the circle unless you know the dance well enough not to trip over your own two feet, or anyone else’s. If you don’t know it yet, just stand outside of/behind the circle, preferably behind someone who knows the dance very well and whose footwork is easy to follow, until you pick up the steps. Then, feel free to break into the circle.

Also swiped from a previous post:
And don't forget that, if you're not into holding hands with a member of the opposite sex, for religious reasons (see, you don't have to! Just dance behind the circle. Kippah-clad men, and women wearing skirts covering the knees, do that all the time.

Come and enjoy!

Update: Oops—I forgot to give you travel directions! The best way to get there is to take the C (subway/underground) train to 81st Street and Central Park West. Upon crossing CPW and entering the park, just walk as straight up the path as the path goes, pass the Delacorte Theater, and continue along Turtle Pond. Toward the end of the pond, there’s a fork in the path. Take the right fork. From there, it’ll be only a few minutes before you see the “Polish statue” on your left—and the folk dancers on your right. See you next Sunday!

Friday, July 08, 2005

. . . and the doubter prays "To Whom It May Concern"

I just discovered a blog,, that's been up and running for about a month. Here's the prizewinning quote, from her Monday, June 20, 2005 post, "So, Nu, Are There Jews in El Cerrito?" "The Balabusta [in Blue Jeans] is definately a humanist, and has no problem with secular or nontheistic, she just subscribes to the theory that 'atheist schmathiest, that's no reason not to go to shul and daven."
My sentiments precisely.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sacks's bad decision: Failure to recognize British convert weakens Jewish life

The following article was e-mailed to me as a subscriber of the Sephardic Heritage Update (a publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage) by David Shasha, editor thereof. To subscribe, e-mail him at

Sacks's bad decision: Failure to recognize British convert weakens Jewish life
By: Leslie Bunder

For a man who has just been knighted, you would think that British Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks would be worthy of the honor - but sadly this man is not.

While he may be seen as connecting communities, within his own Jewish community, he is far from a uniter.

Rather he divides it further and turns off people embracing the Jewish faith. Sadly, this is one Chief Rabbi who has failed to deliver.

The background: When is an orthodox Jewish conversion not quite an orthodox Jewish conversion? Well, it seems for the London Bet Din and the chief rabbi, if you get converted under an orthodox procedure don't expect them to recognize it as being kosher.

Converted in 1990

Recently, a family revealed that plans to send their son to the _Jewish Free School_ (,7340,L-3109307,00.html#n) have been stopped on the grounds that the London Bet Din does not recognize the orthodox Israeli conversion.

Under the auspices of the Sephardi Bet Din, Helen Sagal was converted in 1990, having spent 15 months on her conversion and married her husband, Raoul, in an orthodox service in Tel Aviv.

But despite embracing the Jewish faith and indeed also making sure her son Guy was circumcised by a United Synagogue mohel, it seems that this is not good enough for the Bet Din.

In what can only be described as an insulting and offensive letter, JFS wrote to Sagal with a letter it had received from the Bet Din's Rabbi Julian Schindler saying her conversion would not be recognized, and the only way her son could get a place would be if the school were "unable to fill its standard admissions number with children who are recognized as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.”

So what is up with the Chief Rabbi and indeed the people who make up his office? Here, we are now getting into the dangerous "Who is a Jew?" debate. Here we have someone who has converted to Judaism in Israel under an orthodox conversion, yet the London Beth Din denies that the child of this convert is Jewish.

Sephardi v. Ashkenazi?

Quite simply, this is sheer and utter madness. An orthodox conversion is Israel - indeed what is deemed to be the Holy Land - should be recognized by all. Maybe for the United Synagogue Bet Din this is not good enough? Maybe they are looking to see what they can get out of this in terms of wanting Sagal to pay for their "approved" orthodox courses?

Maybe they have an issue with a Sephardi conversion? Are not Sephardi orthodox conversions good enough for an Ashkenazi organization?

Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, needs to step in and bring some sanity to this matter. He needs to show that he himself is not a hypocrite. After all, he is the man who time and time again lends his support to Israel and calls for unity in the Jewish community. If he and his Bet Din cannot recognize an orthodox Jewish conversion, then it is time he and his organization consider their own positions.

While Sagal and her family may not be totally religious in their nature, they are still Jewish. Allowing the son to attend the school would enhance his own Jewish identity; not allowing him will alienate the child and confuse him.

Another implication for this is would be converts may even be put off in becoming Jewish, if certain Bet Dins feel they can pick and choose who is Jewish and should be allowed into a Jewish school.

We need to embrace converts, who make a valuable contribution and wish to embrace a Jewish life. Not kick them down which is what has happened with the Bet Din.

Leslie Bunder is editor of Something Jewish, A UK-based website

From Ynet News, July 7, 2005

Update: This just in from Miriam Shaviv, of Bloghead (

Friday, July 08, 2005 (according to the British time zone, I presume)

Decision in the Sagal case
British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has made a decision in the case of Helen Sagal, whose Israeli Orthodox conversion was questioned after she applied for a place in JFS, a Jewish High School, for her son Guy. The decision was entirely predictable: Rabbi Sacks will not accept her conversion, and Guy, therefore, will be forced to go against his will to a non-Jewish school come September. . . .

. . . There are now two classes of Jews in London, born Jews, and converted Jews who can never be entirely sure that their lives will not be turned upside down one day, and their status reversed, by an excessively enthusiastic Beth Din.

&^%$#!!!!!!!!!!!: Kol Isha, or one of the disadvantages of working for an Orthodox organization

A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a portable CD player so that I could listen to music at the office. I bought one with built-in speakers, since I can't use headphones when I'm answering phone calls. Therein lies the problem—when I’m using the speakers, I can’t listen to everything I want to listen to. It’s bad enough that I forgot about Sephirah, when many traditional Jews don’t listen to music, and played Mark’s radio blog (see—or, rather, hear— at the office. Now I have to refrain from listening to my Neshama Carlebach and Debbie Friedman CDs at the office because of the right-wing Orthodox belief that a man is not permitted to listen to a woman sing. (For my opinion on that subject, see my Thursday, October 14, 2004 post, “Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities,” at ) Sigh.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Long time no see: In which I confess to being a very bad daughter

My brother was in from Jerusalem last week. I hadn’t seen him in so long that I told him I actually recognized his voice better than I recognized his face.

So there we were, me, him, our sister, and my husband, yacking away, and passing around the phone so that we could all talk to our brother in California. We talked about the withdrawal from Gaza ( . . . sigh . . . I’m embarrassed to say that I still haven’t figured out how to pronounce it—hitnatkut, hitnakdut?) and about our kids, and traded tips on how best to edit documents for our respective employers.

Then we got down to “tachlis” (brass tacks, basics). Speaking of “long time no see,” not only hadn’t I seen my brother in several years, I haven’t seen my parents in several years, either. I’ve been promising to go to Israel as soon as the Young Scientist graduates and relieves us of tuition payments. But my brother disabused me of the delusion that I had that much time to wait. He told me that, given the speed at which my father’s memory is deteriorating, he won’t even remember me by then.

I’ve been trying to forget that major detail. Going to Israel hasn’t been an option, financial, and my parents have been living in Israel for so long that it’s been easier for me to try not to think about them.

Which is why this upset me so much.

This is just what I’ve been trying not to think about.

So it’s settled—the Punster and I have decided to use the insurance settlement from our little “incendiary incident” of a few weeks ago ( to help pay for a trip to Israel for all three of us. The Young Scientist being not a Zionist in the least—did I mention that I’m a bad Jewish mother, too?—isn’t terribly enthused about going to what he describes as “a war zone,” but that’s the only way he’ll be able see his grandparents.

Possibly for the last time.

As I was saying, this is just what I’ve been trying not to think about.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Holy Moses (you should pardon the expression), I made the big time! My blog was mentioned in a news article!

Thanks to the Renegade Rebbitzen for posting a link to this news article and, especially, to Sarah Bronson (of Chayyei Sarah) for writing it. I'm tinkled pink not only to have had my blog mentioned, but to have had it mentioned in the company of so many other fine Jewish blogs (such as that of the aforementioned RenReb). Now, please excuse me while I rush over to to post my thanks.

Son diagnoses mom: "You have a mild case of ADD."

He's probably right—I probably do have Attention Deficit Disorder.

That would explain why:
1. It always took me an inordinate amount of time to do my homework—I was always drifting off into daydreaming.
2. I still have to force myself to focus on my work and not to daydream.
3. I'm constantly losing my place in the siddur (prayer book), even when I'm davvening prayers that I know in my sleep.
4. It's so much easier for me to davven (pray) at home than in shul (synagogue)—if anyone is davvening loudly enough that I can hear him/her, it distracts me. (I wouldn't last 30 seconds in a traditional bet midrash [study hall], in which study partners study aloud. If I ever took a chevrusa [study partner], it would be strictly "Your place or mine?.")

What's ironic about this is that my son was talking about a different problem that I have: I can't remember spoken instructions, especially if they're more than about two steps long—I have to write them down. One of my best friends, who's in special ed., tells me that this may be a symptom of an Executive Function Deficit rather than ADD. (Executive Function, judging by the way she described it, is the ability to prioritize, organize, and track.) It might also be a symptom of being 56 and menopausal and having no short-term memory left to speak of. (Oy, don't ask. I'm at that "What was it that I was looking for?" stage. By the time I go from one room to the other, I've forgotten why I did so.) The only way to figure out whether what I have is Executive Function Deficit or short-term memory loss would be to compare my ability to retain spoken instructions 20 years ago to my ability to do so now. Unfortunately, I'm unable to make such a comparison, because—vu den (what else)?—I can't remember! [Insert roll-eyes emoticon here.]

Compensatory strategies are very handy. I'm petrified of driving, not because I'm that bad at it, but because I can't read maps (ADD—information-overload problem?), have no sense of direction, and wouldn't be able to follow instructions if—make that "when"—I got lost. So my girlfriend suggested that, if I ever have to rent a car without the Punster, I make sure to rent one with a GPS (global positioning satellite) device that will talk me through the travel instructions turn by turn. Great idea!

Interestingly enough, compensatory strategies sometimes benefit other persons in addition to the user. People with memories like that of Eliezer Hyrcanus (" . . . a cemented cistern that loses not a drop . . ." [Pirkei Avot (Verses/Ethics of the Fathers), chapter 2, verse 11]) tend to keep years worth of information in their heads—and to take all of that info with them when they leave a job, retire, or, unfortunately, pass away. People like me, on the other hand, keep tons of written records. I have records of just about every document I've ever typed, and "Office Manuals" (how-to files) for just about every temp. employer for whom I've worked for more than a few days.

But my pride and joy is the killer database of contacts that I've been working on since I first came to my current employer in December 2001. It's now up to over 400 entries! 'scuse me while I polish my medals. :)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

CD Reviews in the manner of Hillel (standing on one foot)

After the Young Scientist was born, I stopped listening to music and started listening to news and talk radio. I really felt a need to hear an adult speaking voice in my home when my husband wasn’t there. I also found that multitasking—in this case, listening to music and doing anything else that required thought—was difficult. But I’ve decided, of late, to give it another try. So, the last time I was in a Judaica store, I cleaned out the CD racks. Here are my impressions of my purchases.

The Best of Shlomo Carlebach
The arrangements of many of the earlier songs on this album are way too heavily orchestrated and too “Miami Men’s Choir” for my personal taste. If you want to hear the real Shlomo, check out the live performances of "Od Yishama," "Adir Hu," "Ki Mitzion," and "U-vau HaOvdim" recorded here, with just him and a band and the audience clapping along—Shlomo even stops smack in the middle of "Adir Hu" to help the audience learn the "response" part of the call-and-response portion (“kel b’nei). Now that’s the Shlomo Carlebach that I want always to remember.

Shlock Rock 4: Lenny and the Shlockers
This wasn’t “Songs of the Morning,” the Shlock Rock album that Mark, er, PT, er, Moshe Skier (Man oh Manishevitz, that man has almost as many names as I have :) ) had said that I would probably appreciate—I’ll have to get that one here But it was the only Shlock Rock album in the store that had Mark’s photo on it. Unfortunately, the only song of Mark’s that’s included, "Baruch Hashem/Blessed is G-d," was recorded here in an arrangement that he, himself, doesn’t care for. Bummer. Bottom line on the album as a whole, in my opinion: Too much “schtick” (comic bits), too much kiruv (kiruv [roughly translated, ‘cause my Hebrew’s rough, “bringing near”] = an attempt to encourage Jews to become more religiously observant), not enough music.

On the plus side, "Mizmor Shir" and "Am Yisroel Chai" are good songs, so it’s not a total loss.

Neshama: Journey (singer: Neshama Carlebach)
I would describe the music on this album as jazz-influenced rock versions of Neshama’s father Shlomo Carlebach’s music. The music is quite good, though Neshama's voice is a bit more breathy and nasal than I would prefer. (I keep wishing she’d literally open her mouth more when she sings. In that respect, she reminds me of my hard-of-hearing son, who has the same problem, even after sixteen years or so of speech therapy. For years, I’ve been joking with him that, if he keeps speaking with his mouth shut, I’m going to crank open his jaw with a crowbar. Naturally, he ignores me. Sigh.) To be fair, Neshama Carlebach comes by her close-mouthed nasality honestly—this sound is quite typical of chazzanim (cantors) of Eastern European Ashkenazi origin (my own ancestors' neighborhood, so I think know of what I speak).

My favorite song is "Min Hametzar," which is a real beauty.

I think this music would be more readily appreciated by adults than by children.

The Water in the Well (singer: Debbie Friedman)
Debbie Friedman’s is the kind of straightforward singing style that I, myself, try to use when I’m leading my Junior Congregation kids in Ein Kelokeinu, Aleinu, and Adon Olam, though, obviously, I’d give my left arm—and I’m left-handed—to have a voice even half that good. Her musical style is folk-rock and/or adult-pop-rock. She’s a bit heavy on the “let us now praise Jewish women,” which won’t kill anyone—I thoroughly enjoy "Devorah’s Song." (Caveat: She uses Ado_ _ _ _, rather than HaShem or Adoshem, and doesn’t use a k in Elokeinu.) The music is really good, and the fast songs are fun to sing along with.

"Bishivah shel Mala" is certainly out of the ordinary. It isn't every day that one hears (a variation of) the prayer before Kol Nidre on a popular-music album.

I think this album would be enjoyed equally by kids, parents, and grandparents.

The Diaspora Collection (Diaspora Yeshivah Band—a two-CD set)
Mark recommended this set, for which I can only say, “Rav todot (Many thanks)!!!” These CDs are, far and away, the best of the CDs that I bought that day. Founded in 1975 and long since disbanded, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band consisted of five baalei teshuva (returnees to Orthodox Judaism) who brought their country-and-folk-rock music with them when they came back into the fold. I don’t think there’s a single song on either CD that I don’t like. Most striking are probably the hard-core country pieces “L’oro,” "T'ka B'shofar Gadol"—it isn't every day that one hears a song with both a shofar and a banjo in it—and the half-English, half Hebrew “Zion Mountain is Real/VaHavieinu L’Tzion” on the first CD and the combination Renaissance-sounding/rock song “Sukat Shalom” and combination Middle Eastern (Sefardi?)/Renaissance-sounding “Ki Lo Naeh” on the second CD.

This band had the major advantage of having at least five guys in it—apparently, there were as many as eight guys at times—most of whom played more than one instrument and, evidently, sang, as well. And sang well. And when you get, say, three-five of them singing multi-part harmony—check out the opening and closing vocal chords to “Ki Lo Naeh”—well, yours truly the harmony freak just gobbles it up.

And now, for a little surprise: Guess what Mark brought with him?!

Moshe Skier Band, live (in rehearsal and in performance, March 2005)
The first thing I noticed was that the CD had 21 songs. That’s a lot of songs. (Not that I'm complaining. :) ) The minute I started the CD, I realized why: This is the Speedy Gonzalez album. :) The faster pace works great for all the songs except “Haazina” and “Lecha Ezbach,” which are too pretty to rush, in my opinion, though I do think that “Lecha Ezbach” benefits from having been trimmed a bit. The slightly different arrangements and harmonies are certainly interesting—you never know what’s coming next. (On the other hand, some of the vocal harmonies are missing in action. Boo hoo.)

I must admit that this version of “Ashrei” was a reality check, the first time I heard it. I’d never given much thought to the financial aspects of running a band. Oy. Well, duh, of course you have to have alternate musical arrangements available for those gigs for which the folks shelling out the bread won’t pay for a fourth musician. Sigh. I really do miss the keyboard, but that’s the way it goes, sometimes.

On the other hand, here’s a real treat: It’s an English-language song called "Eishes Chayil," to the tune of—get this—“Pretty Woman.” (Bass players rule!!!) The minute I heard it, I schlepped the Punster out of his office/the Young Scientist’s room and insisted that he join me with an ear to the speakers. The lyrics—about Devorah, Yael, Channah, and Rachav—are really neat. The only quibble I have with this song is the ear-to-the-speakers part: Mark, the next time you record this, please do your fans a huge favor and turn up your MICROPHONE!!! We know you love your bass, bro, but these lyrics are too much fun to drown out. You rock! :)


"Ani ma'amin, be'emunah sheleimah... sort of": RenReb struggles with her belief in life after death & the coming of the messiah

"I believe with perfect faith . . . "

Apparently, she wishes that she did.

Truth to tell, it's nice for an apikorus (heretic) like me to know that even a committed Orthodox Jew has moments of doubt. Check out this post, and the (currently) 44 comments, at:

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Check out Orthomom's series on great Jewish women, "Heroine of the Day"

Thus far, Orthomom has profiled, in reverse chronological order, Dona Gracia Nasi, Bertha Pappenheim, Nechama Leibowitz, Rebecca Gratz, and Recha Sternbuch. Kol hakavod (literally, "all honor") to Orthomom.

Recommended (and free) subscription: "Sephardic Heritage Update"

The "Sephardic Heritage Update" is described as "A collection of current Essays, Articles, Events and Information Impacting our community and our culture" and is a publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage. As an Ashkenazi Jew trying to understand "how the other half lives," I've found this very informative. To subscribe, write to David Shasha at David Shasha also sends some articles separately, so it's worth getting on his mailing list even if you don't have time to read all the Update newsletters.

From the NY Jewish Week: "Find A Place For Special-Needs Children" [in day schools]

See this article by Rabbi Allen Selis, father of a boy with autism. It's a pity that the Jewish community has so much difficulty raising adequate funds to provide a decent Jewish education for kids with disabilities. I speak from experience, unfortunately: Our son was refused admission to our local Solomon Schechter (Conservative) Day School.

My newer readers are cordially invited and encouraged to read (at least part of) my series, "On raising a child with disabilities," which starts here:

I also encourage you to read Z's series, "When Something's Wrong," about raising a child with autism. We wrote our posts pretty much concurrently, and bounced our thoughts off of one another. Her series can be found here: Being a more technologically-adept blogger, Z has links to the entire series in her sidebar. (I haven't even figured out how to set up a sidebar yet.) While you're there, read her most recent posts--she and her husband are currently going through "special-ed. hell" trying to get their son the help that he needs. They could use a few words of encouragement.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Leave 'em laughing: The funniest family in Olam HaBlog

. . . and my nominee for the Jewish and Israeli Blog (JIB) Award in the category of "funniest new blog of 2005" is . . .

(". . . The envelope please.")


Joining her husband,, in banishing boredom from blogville. (See the name of his blog? Hey, I didn't say his humor was always in good taste. :) )

Picture three boys standing around a kosher pizzeria, one of them holding Youngest Sister. Holder smiles affectionately at holdee and says, "You're crazy." (Like father, like son. :) ) Youngest Sister, apparently accustomed to this type of "abuse," smiles back.

Check out the latest contribution to the fun and games, the Wednesday, June 29, 2005 post, "please explain! please explain!" (, a description of the joys of walking home from the park with Youngest Daughter, written by Oldest Daughter. I'm still grinning. :) And I hope she gets that melted popsicle out of her hair, eventually. :)

Defending Both Sides from the Middle: Western Jew GoldaLeah debates both DovBear & a local Reform Jew

See GoldaLeah's Tuesday, June 28, 2005 post here:

She's having quite a time of it trying to present a defense of her haskafah (viewpoint, approach) to both Orthodox Jews such as DovBear and Reform Jews from her own community.

Discussing the unusual Orthodox synagogue, Shira Chadasha:

"DB: I think that a married woman, and her children, are represented at tefillah by their husband/father.

Me: That's not much of an incentive to get married. When you're single, you get aliyot and full participation, but when you get married you get subsumed into the man and he performs for you? Yuck. Sounds like "Fiddler on the Roof" Judaism to me -- straight out of 1905."

I strongly recommend that you follow her link to DovBear's Monday, June 27, 2005 post, "Blogging Shira Chadasha I." That, too, is well worth a read.

"DB: There's something, I don't know, inauthentic, imho, about choosing leyning and not taharat mishpacha. It's feel good Judaism. Not a position that's intellectually satisfying. "

Now that's something for me to think about: Is the Judaism that I practice "feel-good Judaism"?

On Dealing With the Problem of non-Learners, by Da'as Hedyot--concerning a difficult situation that could be avoided, if people cared

What happens to the male who doesn't have a natural aptitude for Talmud studies and/or who has a learning disability in a right-wing Orthodox community that values nothing other than learning for its boys and men? Here's a guy who might have become a fine, upstanding member of the Orthodox community if his teachers hadn't tried to force him into a mold that he didn't fit. Maybe I'm being extreme in my reaction, but I think this kind of treatment borders on child neglect: Some right-wingers are giving their children an education that's not appropriate for every child, and they don't seem to care.

See this Wednesday, June 22, 2005 post at

"explain to me, how it is possible for a person to go through his entire high school, through multiple yeshivas, endless chavrusos, countless tutors, and still not have a single person point out that he doesn't know alef bais?

"in the yeshivas that I was in, I know that the blame for a failing student invariably fell on the students own shoulders.

"When I was in yeshiva, my rabbeim weren't indifferent to my difficulties. They also expressed sympathy for my challenging situation. But they didn't deal with the problem properly! They just told me to try harder. To daven for hatzlacha. To get a tutor. To switch chavrusos. To take notes better. To pay more attention. Your (and the "gedolim's") concern means diddly to me. It's no different than the heartfelt concern my dedicated (yet misguided) rabbeim had for me those years ago. They professed concern, and I believe they really did feel bad, but they were so dedicated to the system, to the concept that "everyone can be a learner" (nay, everyone must be a learner!), that they kept me chained to my hardship rather than offer me the simple and self-evident remedy to my suffering: to tell me that I didn't have to be a learner!

All that's needed is for the schools to stop pushing everyone to be learners! Everyone knows that this is all that needs to be done. However, it is true, that's not an easy thing to achieve. But you know why not? Because the yeshivas have already created a society where everyone thinks that's the only way to be a proper Jew! And they're still doing it! They're still pushing the view that the ideal Jew is the learner. The kollel guy. The rebbe. The rosh yeshiva. The mechaber sefer. Whatever. That a proper Jew is supposed to be learning 24/7. That nothing in life is worth doing except limud torah. That any person that tries to be anything else is throwing his life away. That any departure from being a learner has to be excused and justified and explained with a trillion and one rationalizations. You'll claim that such things aren't explicitly spelled out (they definitely are in some places), but even if not, the message comes through loud and clear and every good yeshiva kid knows that if he wants to do right in that world, to the learners he must go. Anything else is just a very distant second.

"what I want is that they should admit that they care more about perpetuating the system than about the well being of their constituents. They can't have it both ways. If, as they claim, they truly cared about the damage being done to their students (and society), they have to admit that a sea change is neccessary in their educational system. And if they don't want to do that, then they should stop lying to their students about caring about what's best for them and just come out and say that they're interested in producing gedolim and anyone who gets burned in the process, too bad on them."
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