Monday, July 30, 2007

Negative experiences

There has been a lot written this week about the New York Times piece by a person who went to a prestigious Modern Orthodox school and has now intermarried. I haven’t read the original article, but apparently he is angry that his school and others have criticized him, and goes on to complain about numerous other items he has a problem with, all in the public forum of the New York Times.

I do not want to add anything to the discussion of his letter. However, I’d like to share a portion of the following anonymous comment posted on I almost feel like this needs no further comment and yet I have much to say on this topic so will add my own thoughts tomorrow.
I've Been There
I write this as a mitzvah observant Jew who was married
previously -twice- to non Jewish husbands....
There are a lot of people out there who do not find a place for
themselves in the Jewish world and do not feel a sense of
belonging. Whether it is an unhappy social experience in day
school or Hebrew school, or a feeling of rejection by other
Jews in one's life, or whether it is a failure to meet a Jewish
person of the opposite sex with whom one can really share his
heart, soul, and life, there are many people out here who
would like to be connected to the Jewish world
but have had more unhappy than happy experiences
in it….I personally felt like a reject in the Jewish world for
many years, something that gave me great emotional pain….
Since the time of my own teshuva, I have continued to struggle
with relationships with fellow Jews in the shuls, Jewish schools
and even with visits to Israel….
If I could make one suggestion, it is that when our children in
Jewish schools or camps act meanly to any of the other
children, we pay attention and stamp out the cruelty
immediately. No child should have to leave a Jewish school
because he or she can't make friends there. We have such a
better chance of raising committed Jews if our children grow up
with happy memories of associating with the other Jewish kids
at school and camp.

Friday, July 27, 2007


In my last post, I mentioned someone who criticized my husband in the comments in another blog. Actually, this person is known on several of the blogs I read for throwing around criticsm of people, making broad statements and then not responding to requests to clarify his point -- and because he states that he is representing the beliefs and interest of a certain group, he makes that whole group look bad too.

This morning I was reading this Dov Bear post, and actually found three comments of this person that were intelligent and expressed in a style appropriate for an exchange of ideas. I even agreed with one of his points which others disagreed with, which was that one should use a respectful term when speaking of a rabbi and not call them "dude." It was such a difference - and would have been more so if not for two things:

1. His other comments were the same nasty stuff as always.

2. Everyone else is so used to how obnoxious he is that they did not respond intelligently to his good points. He has been tuned out by the rest of the group. So the great discussions that could have come from his positive comments won't happen.

"One must communicate and be WILLING to be communicated with." This is a great observation by my friend Jacob. If your goal is to communicate an idea, then you should think about whether the way you say it is actually getting your point across. if you just yell and swear, people just see some idiot yelling and swearing. They are not going to hear your words or be interested in hearing your words. Plus, some people will start to wonder if the beliefs you are trying to communicate are related to your bad attitude. Then they may think negatively about your cause as well.

I also like the second part - you must be open to receiving communication from others. If someone says something you disagree with and you just say "You're a heretic! You're stupid!" then what has been communicated?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How People Lived in the Past

My reason for choosing this topic today is a discussion on Dov Bear about Tisha B'Av. Specifically, my husband mentioned in the comments that he did not go to shul (which was for a specific reason) and someone chose to harshly criticize him. Without getting into this issue, it reminded me of my father telling me that people always worked on Tisha B'Av. There were too many holidays in the year (in the days before paid vacation and where loss of a day's income meant you didn't eat), and you went to work as normal on Tisha B'Av.

My father's parents were born in the "old country" and his experiences growing up were directly with the immigrant generation of his aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Most people my age have parents who are one generation removed from this, so I am fortunate to be able to ask him things that he has personal experience with regarding our family' history.

I recently came to the realization, confirmed by asking my dad, that he was raised Orthodox. I don't know why I never thought about it from that perspective before. My father grew up in a kosher home, family observed the holidays, and he attended cheder as a child.

However, he has told me about the reality for his family that I believe is representative of what a majority of people experienced. First, his father was (to his great sadness) unable to not work on Saturday. This is during the Depression - I know there are stories of people who were able to quit their job every Friday and find another on Sunday, but it is only because the majority of their Jewish brothers weren't doing so. If everyone had done this, not only would there not have been jobs available, but people would have stopped hiring Jews at all. I emphasize that it was not that my grandfather was trying to get out of observing - quite the opposite. There was just a reality at that time that is so beyond any of our understanding. (I can say this even more now after going through extreme financial difficulties - thank G-d we can't even begin to understand the financial difficulties of the Depression.)

In addition, children needed to work. If you are a parent, can you even imagine such a thing? By my father's time this was already less of a reality for many people, but for my grandfather in an immigrant family, that was life. My grandfather was one of the younger of 11 children. His older sisters, as teenagers, never went to high school but were sent to work. His older brother was sent through cheder and yeshiva - and it is this great-uncle's descendents who remained religious. (Some are involved on a high level with, and another was honored at YU as a third-generation graduate.)

However, when it came to my grandfather and the other younger brother, the family needed them to work also. So he was not able to continue his formal education (neither secular nor religious - he did not even go to high school.)

Whenever I hear broad generalizations about people from the immigrant generation and beyond who became less observant or completely uninvolved, I feel that people don't have the awareness of what the reality was. One of the difficulties is that most people of that generation, due to their hard life both in Europe and America, did not ever talk about it. Even basic info like their grandparents names, let alone discussing what life was like. They wanted to forget. It is only now when people like myself are interested in genealogy and Jewish traditional life, that we are sad that we could not hear the stories these hard-working, G-d-fearing people would have been able to tell us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Businesses being stupid

Some of you may be familiar with the disaster of the Big Dig in Boston. Basically the whole city traffic has been chaos for years while they built tunnels that were supposed to relive the traffic chaos. Apparently there have been many issues about waste and so forth throughout this time, but then there was an actual tagedy - the finished tunnel collapesed and killed someone. How does a multi-million dollar tunnel just collapse? They used bad glue. Some of the workers questioned this, bu the higher-ups proceded. They even cancelled laboratory tests which would have shown the problem. Not only that, but the cost to use better glue would have been maybe a few thousand dollars, in a project that cost millions.

This is an attitude that is so often the cause of disaster in business. There is no attention to the small details that can actually affect the bottom line, and too much attention to picking on tiny amounts of money that can be "saved". And ignoring employees who are hands-on in the business and therefore may have suggestions on improving efficiency or who may be aware of potential problems.

And, of course, in this case it was the taxpayers money that was wasted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Birthday parties

Orthonomics writes about the lack of thank you notes being sent, especially for kids' birthday presents. Though I admit that I was too slow in writing our wedding and birthday thank you notes, that was my own issue and I definitely agree that they need to be written. My son has gotten some very cute notes from parties he has attended (though at this age they are written by the parents.)

However, I have an even more pressing concern - what about at least having the kid say thank you in person! It seems that most of the kids in my son's school are not opening their presents at the party. On one hand, it prevents jealousy over who gave what, avoids present overload (they can open one a day afterwards), and maybe there are other reasons. On the other hand, the kids don't get the pleasure of seeing their friend open the gift, and the kid does not end up saying thank you. And unfortunately at many of these parties, the birthday kid doesn't do anything to acknowledge the guests. I have my son say thank you on the way out to both the kid and mother, and often he gets a blank stare from the kid. Few other parents prompt their child to say thank you, and in one case my son walked in the door and the kid grabbed the present out of his hand without even saying hello. (This is one of the problem kids I have discussed in a previous post.)

These parties are generally pretty fancy, sometimes at a gym or ice cream store, the whole class (sometimes both classes) are invited, and my son brings home lots of expensive party favors. BUT there is little in the way of friendly and polite behavior. I much prefer the at-home parties with a few kids where my son knows he was specifically invited as a friend, and where the kid actually acts happy to see him.

Here's my question (for anyone reading): Son is invited to a party for one of the rude kids (since he invited the whole class). It's at a nice gym and I know he'll enjoy the activities and seeing his other friends from school. But the kid is definitely not his friend and will probably ignore him. I am probably going to let him go but I would be interested in how others would handle this.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Great story about Nefesh B'Nefesh

The first Nefesh B'Nefesh flight of the summer arrived in Israel and this is a really moving photo-essay about the new arrivals. And, fifth from the bottom, is a family from our community! (The mom with a little boy and baby. Dina Kessler was a teacher at our school and the little boy in the picture was in Dovid's class last year. And the baby Nili was born one day before my daughter and was in the hospital nursery with her.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Selena tagged me for this interesting book meme. The instructions are a bit complicated: Bold the ones you’ve read. Mark in blue the ones you want to read. Cross out the ones that you wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole (or use red coloring). Finally, italicize the ones you've never heard of. First I have to look up how to do text color - it has been way too long since I've worked with the HTML codes. (Note a few hours later: I just found out that if I switch screens in Blogger I can do this automatically...)

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) - Not 100% sure I read this...
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) 
34. 1984 (Orwell) 
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) 
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) 
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) 
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) 
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) 
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) 
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen) 
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding) 
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) 
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) 
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

OK, that was really long.  I have a few comments about some of the books which I will save for another post.  Cool Yiddishe Mama, I'm sure you realize that this is on to you now....

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cooking - Not Just for Women

My mother doesn't like to cook. It's not that she cooks badly, but she doesn't get pleasure out of the process of cooking. So food preparation in my house was always just that - preparing the food. I was not raised with any feel for being in the kitchen. So although I can prepare basics like grilled cheese sandwiches and follow a basic recipe for cookies, I would have no idea how to go about cooking like a real Jewish mother.

Fortunately, my husband does. We have a family joke that when someone asked my brother whether his mother made a good brisket, he should have said, "No but my brother=in-law does." DH learned from his own mother, a kibbutznik who worked in a restaurant at one time. DH actually enjoys experimenting with recipes, and is really good at it. He usually can make meals and desserts better than most kosher restaurants. in fact, his successful entry into the world of making pies and pastries started when we paid a lot of money for a really awful chocolate mousse pie from a major kosher bakery. The next week, DH got on the internet to find a recipe, and the result was one of my favorite desserts.

So from the time we got married, DH has been the primary cook in the family. When we first got married and moved to a yeshiva community in New York, we would often be invited to meals at the homes of other newly married couples. Invariably this topic would come up and the wife would say (in a not-so-polite voice, usually), "Your husband cooks? Don't you want to cook?"

I really never understood the question. I have someone who enjoys cooking, and does it well, where I don't know much about it. So I could cook and make ok food, but why? Also, many of these women also went into marriage not knowing how to cook. I have heard that people just learn over time from older married women, but in the meantime their family has to eat the results. One of the skeptics actually served pink chicken. (She was very embarrassed and I felt badly for her, but the fact is that she didn't even check her cooking before serving it to her family and guests.) I believe that whoever is great at the cooking should do that job in the home. If the wife is an amazing cook, great! if it is both spouses, they can take turns or spend time in the kitchen together. (OK, this is where one would make a joke about getting something cooking...) Why should the gender of the cook matter?

DH and Rebel With A Cause have started a new blog, Why Don't More Jewish Men Cook?. DH will be sharing his thoughts on the subject and both will be contributing recipes.