Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bitachon or caveat emptor?

While we wait for the final version of the psych report on the Things, I keep mulling over the information I got at the Small Modox Girls School interview.  Or rather, the information I didn't get.
There are two areas that I can claim expertise in, based on sheer experience.  One is moving (25 addresses in as many years on Earth.)  The other is school.  I went to eight brick and mortar schools in four states, six public, two private, before saying "the heck with it" and dropping out to DIY it when I was 16.  I have been to rich schools, poor schools, single-sex, coed, inner-city, suburban, magnet--you name it.  I have, however, never attended a parochial school or an "alternative theory" (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) school.  Now, in my experience, school follows some basic protocols.  Students spend the lion's share of their days sitting in class either listening to a teacher or completing assignments.  Classes are based on the "textbook-worksheet" model, where the assignments center around either filling in a worksheet or answering questions in the back of a textbook chapter.  The only difference is in the teaching staff, and to some degree, in the curriculum.
While I was at the interview, I saw the Hebrew curriculum.  Obviously, the menahel is very proud to use Tal Am and teach Ivrit b'Ivrit.  However, I didn't get any information about the actual scope of the secular curriculum.  Nor is that information on their website.  (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they actually have a curriculum.)  I also could not see a classroom.  I did, however, hear about all the "movies" (I've seen them--they're glorified PowerPoint slideshows), assemblies, and parties.  Great, but that doesn't tell me about what happens in class.  In other words, I have no idea how the Things would spend the majority of their time.  When I pressed for details, I was told to "have bitachon."
Now, we are not only talking about a place where my children will spend the majority of their waking hours ten months out of the year, but we are also talking about a financial commitment equivalent to buying a car.  Every year.  For the next decade.  Now, I have seen that there are cars on the lot.  I have heard about the leather interior, the sound system and the power windows.  I have even seen a picture of the car.  But I have not taken the car for a test-drive.  I have not peeked under the hood.  In fact, I have not even seen the physical car.  If I were to buy the car with that little information, I would be considered foolish and irresponsible.  So, why should I have that much faith and trust in the people who will be caring for and educating my children when I have no idea what they're doing?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

When school doesn't look like school

Earlier this week, Queen Mom came in, bearing gifts.  One was a card game where the players have to pick up cards based on matches or on arithmetic (for instance, if you have an 11 and there are and eight and a three on the table, you can use the 11 to pick up the 8 and the 3.)  So, since the Things played several rounds of this game, I let them skip math that day.  Hey, practicing addition with cards is math.
Or a belated present for my homeschooling comrade in arms N.  N. brought a paper-making kit, so I figured, "hey, it's sort of like science and art.  We're learning how paper is made, decorating it, and having fun."
Now paper-making, lemon batteries, and card games are not on my curriculum or IHIP.  However, they are a means to an end--learning.  Not to mention a great way to keep my kids from watching TV now that winter is here and it's too bloody cold to go outside.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Using a good idea

Last week, Chavie suggested that I have Thing 1 practice her Hebrew reading using perakim from Tehillim.  Just have Thing 1 read the same perek over and over again until she can do it perfectly.
Good idea.
So, we started with the 117th chapter (because it's really short--only two pesukim), and Thing 1 has read it three times a day for the past three days.  Today, she rattled the whole thing off without hesitation.
Good.  Now for step 2.
I decided to use a Charlotte Mason idea for this one.  Now that she can read it all and can sort of recognize the words, I copied the perek and cut all the words apart.  Then, I rearranged them into short sentences.  Thing 1 now has to practice reading the words out of context!  My  hope is that enough words from the siddur and the Chumash are in Tehillim that Thing 1 will have enough of a base of sight words to read without agony.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mental illness or terrorism?

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, I am increasingly bothered by the turn the dialogue has taken.  Specifically the idea that the mentally ill should be locked up.
After the news broke that Adam Lanza may have had Asperger's Syndrome, the conversation turned quickly to the need to lock up the mentally ill for the protection of society.  Many lamented the dearth of mental health services (read: long-term institutional care).  "Drug 'em and let 'em go" is the motto.  And That Has To Change!
Two things bother me about this.
First of all, Asperger's is not normally associated with violence.  When I think of Asperger's, I think of the quirky accountant that obsessively plays World of Warcraft in his off-hours, not of the sort of violence that would allow someone to shoot 27 people, most of them small children.  In fact, the definition of "mental illness" is so broad, that I would venture to guess that we all qualify as mentally ill under the DSM-V.  Should we all be locked up?
Secondly, we only seem to reach for "mental illness" as a reason when the attacker is Caucasian.  Well, why not call it by its proper name--terrorism?  And, for those who think that "terrorists" are scary Arabs who blow up buildings, look no farther than Northern Ireland in the 1980s.  Or Waco.  Or Ruby Ridge.  Or Oklahoma City.  Or the Unabomber.  Or Charles Manson.  Even the recent mass shootings in a movie theater and a shopping mall were committed by Caucasians.  And, let's not forget that the school shootings in Jonesboro, AR and Columbine were committed by white teenagers.  In fact, the most common trait found among random killers seems to be a Y chromosome.  So, why not stereotype violence along gender lines instead of racial ones?  And call terrorists by their right names.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Skills for school

Well, we went to the interview for Small Modox Girls School.  As I suspected, they wanted Thing 2 to get some speech therapy.  (I have heard so many conflicting reports on whether Thing 2 needs it that I've taken a "wait and see" approach.  Her vocabulary and syntax are fine, but she sounds like Elmer Fudd.)  However, she also recommended OT.  Why?  Because Thing 2 can only form a few letters.
We are, of course, talking about a four-year-old.  How many of us could write when we were four?  My own preschool spent time and energy teaching me how to color and cut paper--and I've done the same.  Sure, we play with the Handwriting Without Tears preschool book, but I just don't make a big deal out of it.  Because she's FOUR!
Meanwhile Thing 1, who just turned six--literally, like three weeks ago--was able to read 96 out of 100 sight words, but her sounding out is rough.  (Yeah, she's a VSL--I could have told them that.)  They recommended enrolling her in first grade stat--otherwise she'd fall behind.
And here's where they raise the ire of the Queen.
The Powers That Be determined that Thing 1 functions on the level of the average first grader.  However, there's a jump in ability between first and second grade, and Thing 1 might not be able to bridge the gap if I kept teaching her.  OK, but, what if I put her in your program, and she still falls through the cracks?  "Well, you have to have bitachon."  Sorry, but I save my bitachon for Hashem.  In fact, aren't we NOT supposed to put our trust in people?  Moreover, if she already functions at the level of the average first grader (and we're in the month of December--so, not even the half-way point) then isn't there a good chance that Thing 1 will continue to progress and then be at the level of the average second grader by June?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

I could turn this into a "this is why we homeschool" post, but I won't.
Yesterday, a 20-year-old man broke into an elementary school and shot 26 people, including the principal, a school psychologist, and 20 first-graders.
That's right.  20 children the same age as Thing 1.  20 children who went to school expecting to color, practice their reading and writing, sing about Santa Claus, and hear their beloved teacher read to them.  20 children who wanted to play on the swings and monkey bars at recess and sit with their friends at lunch.  20 children whose parents sent them off with a good breakfast and a kiss good-bye.
20 families whose children will never come home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trimming the workbooks

In my last post, I asked the question why school can't be like kindergarten.  I think I know the answer.  And I'm working to remedy it.
Schools can't be like kindergarten because kindergarten teaches simple skills.  Letters, numbers, shapes, colors, how to hold a crayon, how to resolve differences without clocking the kid who was your best friend up until five minutes ago--stuff like that.  However, grade schools and high schools teach Complicated Skills.  Important things, like the Principal Exports of Brazil.  Or the History of the Peloponnesian Wars.  Or Chemical Bonds.  Or the Proper Way to Diagram a Sentence (seriously, does anyone even do that after middle school?)  Or even (wait for it) Quadratic Equations.  And, not only must you teach it, you must prove that it was learned.  But, if you're a history major teaching an algebra class, how do you do that when your own experience with math is limited to having suffered through it in tenth grade? 
Such is my problem.
Now, I can teach reading, math, history and science.  When we read about the Greek gods today, I decided to show who they were with some of the Things' Mitzvah Kinder dolls.  (I'm sure that was not their intended purpose, but I reeeeally don't care.  Queen Esther as Hera!  Bride doll as Aphrodite, with little Upsherin Boy as Eros!  King Achashveirosh as Zeus!  Black-coated Chassidic guy as Hades!  Kohen Gadol as Apollo!  Rebbetzin as Athena!)  I can do that.  I know this stuff.  However, when it comes to Hebrew, I'm lost.  I have to rely on the old "textbook-worksheet" method to cover the basics because I don't know what I'm doing!  Problem is, Thing 1 would rather hear stories about the Eskimo Twins than do a workbook page.  And I'd rather read her a story about Eskimo Twins than prod her through a workbook page.
So, bit by bit, we're paring away at the more "textbook" elements.  Thing 1 has finished her dikduk workbook, and has almost no objections to the Chumash book, so we're safe there.  I was going to introduce a vocab workbook, but decided to use it as a reference instead.  As for Hebrew reading, I scrapped our Behrman House book with its traditional exercises in favor of an immersion program which Thing 1 is taking to like a duck to water.  She'd much rather read stories about a llama in class, or a kid helping his baby brother stand while leaning on something not hinged, than have to plow through some long lesson and then do some exercise in the the back (fortunately, we've been doing the exercises orally--spare my kid's motor skills).
Which brings me to another issue.
As it is, Thing 1's writing is limited to answering math questions, copywork in English and Hebrew, dikduk translations, and labeling cities on maps or parts of a seed.  She's six!  Her motor skills are developed enough that she can write, but they're not as strong as an adult's.  So, why add to the fire by piling on more worksheets?  Why have her fill in the blank or do multiple choice?  It doesn't prove anything.  Not when I could just, I don't know, TALK to my kid. The only time she commits a summary to paper is in the form of a drawing.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preschool--the ultimate bait and switch

Once again, Builder managed to almost wear me down on the side of at least considering a school.  So, today, I went to an open house for Small Modox Girls' School, determined to answer the two basic questions--what are you offering, and how much does it cost.  (Small Modox Girls' School does have a website--but neither curriculum nor hard tuition numbers are addressed.)  Since the orientation assumed that the parents are enrolling for preschool, most of the focus was on the preschool--meeting teachers, touring classrooms,  and discussing curriculum.  It Turns out that SMGS has dedicated preschool teachers, and a curriculum that even my happy creative self could envy--all for a price that, with extras, approached 10 grand.  Per kid.  A little too rich for even Builder's blood.
And then I got annoyed.  What an unfair rip-off.
These poor kids!  Here they are, given a beautiful classroom full of picture books, toys, hammers, nails, blocks, paints, glue, yarn and needles--and then, it's all taken away.  No more carpet.  No more little tables.  Few manipulatives, if any.  Instead of the hive of activity that is preschool and kindergarten, they have to sit in a desk, listen to the teacher, read the chapter, answer the questions, and fill in the worksheet.
Why can't all of school be like kindergarten?  Can't children of seven and eight benefit from the creative, kinesthetic curriculum of kindergarten?  Couldn't subjects like fractions and history be brought to life with cooking and crafts?  (For the record, there were a few slides showing classrooms for the older grades--and they were basically girls siting at desks either listening to the teacher or passively watching a demonstration.).  Why not teach geography through story?    Why not give older children open access to a science lab and make their own discoveries?  Pitch out the worksheets and make it fun!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On the subject of weddings

Last night, I went to the wedding of my niece's daughter.  (Did I mention that I have a "May-December" marriage?)  What made this wedding sort of unique was that it was at the same hall Builder and I used for our wedding, Ateres Gashmius (again, all names have been changed to protect the guilty.)  The wedding was...a wedding.  No big surprise.  Take standard wedding formula, plug in bride and groom, and there you are.  Same halls, same snowbeast dress, tiara from Claire's Accessories and pancake makeup, same flowers, same food, same music.  Same circle dancing to "Od Yeshama" played about 100 decibels over the tolerance of the human ear.
However, since the wedding was at Ateres Gashmius, it got me thinking about my own wedding.
Builder and I got engaged Erev Rosh Hashanah.  The vort was Motzai Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos.  The event itself was the fourth night of Chanukah.  That means I had ten weeks to prepare.  Normally, a bride given only ten weeks would be in panic mode.  How do I deal with all the details?  However, when it became clear that my input was not required nor even particularly wanted, I ceased caring about the details.  Moreover, it became clear that this wedding was more for Builder's benefit than mine (it didn't help that only five people showed up from my side.)  So, my job was literally put on the dress and show up.  And, even the dress was "something borrowed."  As a result, I remember very little about my own wedding, except the sea of faces, most of them I didn't know and would never see again.
Had I been able to work my will, several things would have been different.  For one, the wedding would have been much smaller--I would have only invited family and a few close friends.  It would have been outdoors--say Prospect Park or maybe even Central Park.  Set up a nicely decorated chuppah, maybe made with appliques or painted fabric in a clearing, and let the trees act as a natural mechitza.  My gown would have been my own creation--maybe an Empire waist with an overskirt of lace, Regency puffed sleeves ending in a wide flare.  And it certainly would not have been in December--both the dead of winter and the height of tourist season in NYC.  As for the music, I would have gone more romantic and less raucous--say "Strangers In The Night," "The Way You Look Tonight," or some other romantic standard (Although, since no bandleader sings anything remotely secular, it was kind of a blessing that I didn't get those.  Sinatra standards as instrumentals sound too much like elevator music.  Besides, what makes the song is that famous Sinatra voice.  Le sigh.)  Even something classical would have been nicer.
However, I did have some say in some matters.  I got to order purple yarmulkes for those guests who didn't have any.  I did get to make my own veil (flower wreath, not glitzy tiara).  I walked down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon.  And I did get to order the flowers--although the florist looked at me as though I was speaking ancient Sanskrit when I said I wanted something between Court of King Arthur and Lord of the Rings.
Well, one down, two more to go this winter.  Now to order some fabric so my girls have something to wear besides their fundie jumpers to the next one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mapping and dissections and art, oh my!

Now that Queen Mom has returned, we're trying to get some semblance of order back.  It didn't help that Queen Mom's visit coincided with both Thanksgiving and a pre-Thanksgiving Gone With The Wind marathon, so we ended up behind in our studies.  Very behind.
So, today, we played catch-up.  And, catching up included not only reading missed history and literature chapters from last week, it also included an art project (line drawing for Thing 1, and a direct observation drawing of a panda for Thing 2) and a page in the Sefer Ha-Mitzvos (this ongoing scrapbook with projects about various mitzvot that we've been doing as a year-long project.  Usually I try to squeeze in about one project a week.)
We started our grand adventure in catching-up with a chapter on the Near Eastern nations in Mesopotamia, which included a map.  Thing 1 actually remembered that Mesopotamia is the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and that Mt. Ararat is the spot where Noah's Ark rested.  Then we read the second half of Chapter 6 and the first half of Chapter 7 in Winnie-the-Pooh.  After lunch, I learned that almonds should not be dissected with the scalpel (and have the cuts on my fingers to prove it.)  Thing 1 learned why Mommy does not let her use the scalpel (again, cut fingers).  After labeling the parts of an almond, I helped Thing 1 map out Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Chaldea, and Assyria.  Then we switched to art--a favorite subject for both kids.  While Thing 2 drew a stuffed panda bear with crayons (an exercise in observation), Thing 1 learned about the role of lines in art.
And, we continue our quest to catch-up.  Thing 1 still needs to label Princeton on her US map, and we're still a chapter behind in Jewish history.  But, as Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler said, " another day!"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Toldos--I thought G-d liked BT's

Well, here we are in Parshas Toldos.  This is where we meet our third "father," Yaakov (who, despite our tradition that his greatest trait was "emes" seemed to spend the better part of his life trying to pull something on someone.)  But, we'll get to him another time.  I'd like to talk about Rivka.  In this week's parsha, we see Rivka and Yitzhak praying for children.  The question is, why did Yitzhak pray for his wife to have a child?  It's not precedented.  Avraham impregnated the help, and Yaakov got mad when Rachel brought it up.  Yitzhak was the only one to pray.   A loving act by a loving husband.  After all, Yitzhak was the only one of our avos not to take multiple wives.
But was love the only motive?
According to one midrash, Yitzhak had to do the praying.  As we've established, Rivka's family was EEEEVIIIILLLL.  Therefore, Hashem would not listen to her tefillos.
Glad they missed this midrash when they handed me my kosher Kool-Aid.
Seriously, Hashem ignored her tefillos because of--her family?  Because we have so much control over our families?  Talk about a mean Midrash!  The G-d of this story gives a righteous girl to an EEEEVIIIILLLL family, then holds her family against her?  That's just wrong!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

He seemed like such a nice guy...

Yes, I know that we are past Chaye Sara and into Toldos, but since we will be seeing Rivka's relatives again in Vayetze, I thought this would be a good time to talk about Besuel.
Besuel was Rivka's father and Avraham's cousin.  When Eliezer was sent to look for a wife, he met Rivka who not only gave him a drink, but quenched the thirst of his ten camels (no eay task even for ONE camel.)  Since she seemed like a nice girl, and was related to Avraham's family, Eliezer went to her house to finalize the marraige.
And here's where the Midrash gets in the way.
According to the p'shat, Besuel's family gives Rivka up without a fight, simply saying, "OK, if that's what G-d wants, we have no argument.  But let's get Rivka's permission, since, it is, after all, her life."  (Pretty enlightened for Mesopotamia circa 3,000 years BCE).  However, they do want a few days to say goodbye, which, again, does not seem unreasonable since she's going to be moving from Mesopotamia to Israel and the invention of Skype is still several millenia off.  However, according to Rav Becahye and the Baal HaTurim, Besuel is not the kindly father who permits  his daughter's marriage to his cousin's only legitimate son.  He's EEEEVIIIILLLL!  We're talking murderer-evil!  We're talking trying to poison Eliezer so Besuel could rob him evil.  However, the good fairies angels turned the tables on Besuel--literally.  They turned the tray so that Besuel was poisoned by his own tainted meal.  Why?  Because Besuel doesn't say anything after giving permission for the marriage to proceed.  Therefore, he must be dead!  Why was he dead?  Poisoning comes to mind.  And, since no servant of Avraham would carry a poison ring, he must have been poisoned by his own family.  Guess Yishmael wasn't the only rotten apple on the family tree.  But if they're so EEEEVIIIILLLL, why would any man, in this right mind, want the daughter of a murderous family to marry his son?
Wow.  Here we have a family that has a daughter nice enough to water ten thirsty camels--without being asked--and she's the spawn of murderers!  And they seemed like such nice people!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-election wrap-up--immigration, moderates, and rape babies

With the exception of Floridum (and since I used to live there, I can call it that), all the votes are counted.  Barack Obama is president.  The Senate is majority-Democrat.  Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are not Senators.  Gay marriage and medical marijuana are now the law in several states.  And the MSM just got caught up with the rest of the world in discovering that the GOP--particularly the Tea Party--is very out of touch.
Mitt Romney was very popular--with older, white males.  However, with younger voters, women, and minorities, he had little support.  And there are now more of us than the older Americans.  (It didn't help that he teamed up with Paul Ryan, who wanted to gut Medicare for everyone under 55.)  Our family was proof of that divide.  Builder voted for Romney, but I voted for Obama.
Herein lies the problem.  The GOP has ostensibly been taken over by a bat-guano crazy group known as the Tea Party.  Ostensibly started as a revolt against higher taxes and a "spread of socialism," the agenda has been co-opted by religious fundamentalists, Quiverfull X-tians, and the John Birch Society.  Now, their platform is as follows--Abortion: Bad, under all circumstances, including rape and incest.  Contraception: Bad--too similar to abortion.  Immigration: Bad--they steal jobs.  Separation of church and state: Bad--must fight for "Jaee-sus!"  Gay marriage: Bad--"cause the Bible tells me so!"  Social safety net: Bad--everyone must be self-sufficient, and I'll be DAMNED if you raise MY taxes to pay for these parasites!
Herein lies the problem--thanks to the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments, women and minorities have the vote.  Women don't like having the government cutting social programs while worrying about what's in their uterus--whether it be a baby or an IUD (and don't kid yourself--most of the women using contraceptives are married).  People whose skin isn't lily-white (particularly Hispanics) worry about discrimination and false arrest from those who can't be bothered to differentiate between illegals (who can be as white as Romney) and people of Hispanic origin (who may have lived here longer than Washington).
And then there's the pro-life crowd.
As divided as the rest of the GOP, the pro-life crowd has gone from "abortion is wrong" to "anything that MIGHT prevent a fertilized zygote from growing into a baby is wrong under all circumstances."  In other words, they went into what was once sacred territory--rape babies and contraception.  There are those who are personally opposed to abortion but they are pro-birth-control (can't have an abortion if you're not pregnant).  And as for rape babies, there is a certain level of sociopathy in demanding that a rape victim carry a reminder of the assault to term.  However, both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (as well as Paul Ryan) wanted to outlaw abortion in cases of rape.  And we don't need to look that far back in this campaign to remember Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke for lobbying to have her insurance cover her contraceptives.
Meanwhile, GOP candidates have another problem--campaign positions have a longer life span.  Remember John Kerry?  Within the span of 2004, he went from Vietnam War Hero to "Flip-Flop Kerry."  His inconsistencies lost him the election.  Similarly, Mitt Romney decided to be as pro-self-sufficiency, pro-rich-people, and pro-life as possible to get the Tea Party nutcase Republican nomination.  Then, he had to backpedal to appeal to the nation, which is far more moderate.  However, since soundbytes live forever as social network memes (and travel faster than the speed of sound), he came off as meaning nothing he said.  His choice of running mate did not help.  Thus was the Massachusetts Moderate turned into the Tea Party Talking Head.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hail to the Chief!

Well, looks like we're in for four more years!

Congratulations Mr. President Barack Obama!
We knew the general breakdown, but when states like Wisconsin (Paul Ryan's home state) and Nevada were projected for Obama, I knew it might happen.  California and New York went blue, the South went red.  No big surprise.  Florida might go blue--which would mean that every single state I lived in (California, Nevada, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York) went blue.  Also, it speaks volumes that Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin (Romney and Ryan's home states) went blue.
Watched the returns with AriSparkles.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Parshas Vayera--Pesach before Pesach

In this week's parsha, we see a group of three angels being treated to two different feasts.  At one, Sara baked cakes, but they might not have been set out.  At another, the guests were given matza.  Why, one might ask?  Because it was Pesach.
Really.  According to Rav Bechaye, the commemoration of the Exodus accounts for both the unserved cakes (Sara let the dough sit too long and it became chametz) and Lot's matzas.  Never mind that the specific incident that would trigger the celebration of Pesach, and the commandment to avoid all things chametz during that time were A COUPLE OF CENTURIES AWAY!
And here we come to the biggest problem I have with Midrash--the Torah existed before it was written.
Really, if we had enough foresight to know that we would have to eat matza for a week in the spring to commemorate our freedom from Egyptian slavery, then why didn't we have the foresight to get out of Dodge before it became an issue?  Why did we stay after Joseph died?  Why go to Egypt in the first place?  Why not stay in Canaan and keep our freedom, thus avoiding the need to commemorate a Biblical feast hundreds of years before it was necessary?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Slow recovery--but what else is new?

I'm going to take a break from the hurricane to focus on a criticism labeled at our President--that the recovery is our slowest ever.
And then I will assume that the person making this assertion means "since the 1950s."
One of the advantages of attending high schools based in three different states is that one never studies US history the same way.  When I was homeschooling through a program based out of Nebraska, I learned about the other side of FDR and the New Deal.  Now, the version of history most people learn is, "Stock market crashed in 1929, FDR became President in 1932, instituted the New Deal, and 'Happy Days Are Here Again'..."
Not quite.
If you look at Roosevelt's legacy at the end of his first term, you'll find that by 1936, he hadn't been that effective.  Most of his New Deal programs had been ruled unconstitutional by a reactionary and pro-business Supreme Court.  Roosevelt was so disgusted that he began referring to the Court as the "nine Old men," and vowed to add six Supreme Court justices that would be more sympathetic to his Keynesian ideals.  This almost cost him the election.
The fact is, we cannot get out of a deep economic hole overnight.  This has been the product of decades--not years, but decades--of bad decisions.  Even before the 2007 crash, the economy wasn't doing that well.  A housing bubble and concomitant job shortage meant that people in their twenties were shut out of the housing market--and this was in 2003.  Easy credit in the 90s and early 2000s meant that the baby boomlet--the people now in their thirties, who should be the backbone of the economy--are in debt over their heads.  When I finished college, there were people with BA degrees working at Target and Starbucks--and that was over a decade ago.  Cuts in education funding mean that a high school diploma is no guarantee of functional literacy.
What has Obama done?
His stimulus programs in 2009 floated money to the middle classes--which stimulated some growth in an economy that was flatlining.  His GM bailout was structured so that the funds would go to reopening plants rather than CEO bonuses--unlike the 2008 TARP bailouts, which he had nothing to do with (he had not taken the office of President when it was signed, and he had already resigned his Senate seat).  His policies on helping former students get out from under their student loans have helped lower the amount of personal debt that many now carry.
Are we back to normal?  No.  Is it a start?  Yes.  Could we have expected more?  Possibly.  Can Romney do better?  I doubt it.
Tifrosh Min Hatzibur endorses Obama for President in 2012.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hunkered down

Hurricane Sandy has come and (mostly) gone, although the damage will be felt for a while.
There are two downed trees on my block, one blocking off an adjacent street.
The MTA is still shut down, and no one is sure when trains and buses will resume.
The Things are getting a bit stir-crazy.
Downed trees and power lines are blocking off some streets.
The bridges and tunnels are closed, so everyone is stuck.
Public schools are closed, as are all Catholic schools and some yeshivas (although there were some yeshiva buses running--crazy.)
Meanwhile, here at the AztecPalace, we still have power, cable, and our phone.  Homeschooling will continue.  We're stocked up on candles and low-tech activities, so we'll be fine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Social programs for the job creators

During the debates, I heard a lot about "job creators."  According to Former Governor Romney (I refuse to address anyone by an honorific they no longer hold), the job creators are the small businesses, since these employ the most people.  (For the record, the three biggest private-sector employers in America are Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Burger King--hardly small businesses.  But I digress.)  We need to give these "job creators" tax cuts.
Let me say this.
Builder is, by Romney's definition, a "job creator."  However, our taxes are low enough.  What we need is an incentive to stay open--and it does not come in the form of a tax break.  It comes in the form of those evil social programs.  For example, here in NY State, there is a program called Healthy NY that provides relatively low-cost health insurance to small businesses and the self-employed.  People like us.  If Builder had to buy private health insurance (since it doesn't come from a job), he'd have a hard time.  He's 62.  He's had five hernia surgeries.  He has tracheal stenosis, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and a torn meniscus.  Even if we could find a company that would insure him, we'd have to pay about $5,000 a month.  That buys us about seven months of coverage under Healthy NY. 
This is what our job creators truly need.  We need ways of staying profitable and competitive.  We need to ensure that our bills are low enough that we don't have to pillage our customers to stay open.  And we need it now.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homeschool report cards

According to my planning sheet, Thing 1 is on Week 9 of our curriculum.  This means that it's time for me to write my first quarterly. 
For those of you not familiar with NY State Homeschool Law, I have to write up four quarterly reports, and then an annual evaluation.  And then send them to the Department of Redundancy Department NYC Central Office of Homeschooling (and I bet you didn't even know we had one.)  Each quarterly has to show the dates started and ended, number of absences (every parent marks it as zero), hours of instruction (225+ for grades K-6, 247.5+ for grades 7-12), a record showing 80% of the planned work for the quarter was covered, and a grade.
You're kidding, right?
I mean, one COULD use a narrative approach.  But a grade?  As in A, B, C, D or F?  Or Excellent, Good, Satisfactory or Needs Improvement?  Seriously, I'm evaluating my own kid!  I know her strengths and weaknesses.  I don't need some cutesy little form showing straight A's.  I don't even grade her work!  The only grades I ever give are "100%" and "Fix it."  More to the point, why does the city even NEED report cards?  We have to have an evaluation done at the end of the year, in either standardized test or portfolio evaluation form.  Doesn't that prove we did what we were supposed to?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What did I sign up for--Yeshiva snobbery.

Normally, I don't buy women's service magazines, whether secular or frum.  I'd rather curl up with a good book, or a sefer.  However, when I'd heard that Mishpacha's Family First had an article about a little girl  that had been rejected from six different nursery schools, my curiosity got the better of me.  The author had supposedly done everything right.  Both she and her husband had grown up frum, and the little girl had gone to playgroup.  However, the schools were rejecting her over things like the school the author had attended, or her driver's license, or the way she looked, or other outright snobbery.  (Reminded me of my Bais Yaakov of Doom experience.)
Then I got to thinking.
The child in question is two years old.  TWO!  She has no academic record or test scores.  I doubt she could spell her own name yet.  And yet, because of lifestyle choices that had nothing to do with her, she was rejected six times, sight unseen.  Now, of course, most parents think their kids are the greatest.  However, a nursery school should only be thinking of admitting kids until they are full.  (In all fairness, one class was already full between siblings and legacies before enrollment opened--but that's one out of 6.  That's 16.6 percent!)  Have we finally come to the point where we dance attendance on a school's whims?  Where they are in control?    Where details about a person's childhood or lifestyle are more important than educating our children?
Why do we have yeshivas?  I always thought it was to impart Torah values to our children.  Builder insists that it's the best environment for our kids to learn good middos.  However, unless we change our attitude, the only benefit to a yeshiva education will be a notch in the belt--and that won't really play out too well with Hashem.
(BTW--the magazine included an article about homeschooling--for parents who want to avoid this craziness.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Breadwinners and caregivers--one and the same

Recently, Rabbi Zev Farber posted a controversial blog post about expanding a woman's role in the synagogue.  I'm not really sure where I stand on this.  On the one hand, I came into Orthodoxy knowing that I would never lead any part of davening or be called to the Torah.  On the other hand, what are the two main arguments for this position?
1. Women have the G-d given role of caring for children, and synagogue honors and obligations would interfere with that.
2. Kol kevuda bas melech p'nima--the glory of a princess is within.  Women should stay on their side because they should not cheapen themselves by drawing attention to themselves.
Now, I am a stay-at-home mom, a housewife, or whatever term is currently in vogue.  Builder and I have structured our lives around it.  (In fact, I joke that because we save the cost of two tuitions, I'm sort of contributing $20,000 a year to the family budget.)  So, this argument sort of works.  But what if I weren't?  Like it or not, the default position has become the working mother.  Women serve in every position from secretary of an office to Secretary of State.  And frum women are not exempt.  In fact, because of the rise of the "kollel wife," it's not uncommon for women to be sole breadwinners in their families.  Or to possess more education than their husbands.  There are frum women who are doctors, lawyers, and college professors.  And then, they go home.  After supporting their families, they're told "kol kevuda bas melech pnima."  Really, if you're so concerned by my kavod, then ensure that I can stay in, stop reading books, and get a job!  And, if you want me to do my job of being a caregiver, then stop forcing my toddlers into institutions!
If we want to keep using these apologetics and have them mean something, we need to structure our society around keeping women home.  We can't have women serving as breadwinners when it's convenient, and then shut them up at home the rest of the time.  Whether it means lower tuitions, an end to the playgroup system that takes children younger and younger (some as early as 18 months), widespread homeschooling to save tuition (many frum working women are part of two-income families partly to pay tuition), pushing for community schools so that costs can be spread over more students (and drop), or a blanket rule that forbids yeshiva students from marrying until they get a job, it is crucial that we change our society.  Otherwise we're lying to ourselves.  And enabling a generation of man-cubs who demand that women become both breadwinners or caregivers based on the man-cub's convenience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The second debate--oil

Enough people have made fun of the "binders full of women" comment in the second Presidential debate that I don't see the need to join in.  (Personally, my favorite moment was when the moderators backed up Obama's version of history surrounding the reporting of the Libya embassy bombing--but no one else noticed.)
I'd like to talk about oil.
Former Gov. Romney (why address him by an honorific he no longer holds?) mentioned that Obama has decreased the amount of domestic drilling for oil.  He then blames rising gas prices on this shortfall.
OK, any first-semester, (or even high school) economics student knows that a decrease in supply causes a rise in prices.  However, let's look at the "why" for a moment.
Oil drilling is not good for the environment.  Yes, going after oil domestically would solve a lot of problems (including decreasing the funding currently going to countries like Iran).  However, drilling can cause runoff, which destroys arable land.  Pipelines can leak.  And, let's not forget about the tanker explosion a couple of years ago that killed off wildlife and nearly destroyed the local economy of the Gulf Coast.  Oil is not something to fool around with.  And the "drill, baby, drill" philosophy may be good for our economy in the short-term, but has the potential to create more problems than it solves.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sukkah magic

Sukkos has come and gone, and with it, our sukkah.
Like Sara Crewe planning a party in the attic, I know that our sukkah is nothing more than a few boards, some plastic chairs and tables, laminated posters, and foil chains.  But, when you put them all together, there's something beautiful about it.  And, when you take it all down, there's the feeling that Miss Minchin crashed the party (did I mention that A Little Princess was one of my favorite books as a kid?  It was.)  Walk into our sukkah.  The tables are covered with white cloths and drinks of all descriptions.  Posters of Jerusalem, and of various flower-decorated brachos hang over the walls.  A large tarp stretches across the back wall, hiding the plywood underneath.  Two cloth pictures, one of the Temple, another if King David's palace, cover the other wall.  Lights glisten off the chains that hang from the schach, and off our silver becher, saltcellar and honey dish.  Candles glow from a corner.  And, when I was taking it down and packing it away, there was a bittersweet feeling.  The magic was gone, and our beautiful sukkah was back to bare boards and plastic tables.
See you next year!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vouchers--a solution that causes problems

In Brooklyn, a major issue is vouchers.  "We pay property taxes, but that money goes to public schools we don't use!  Why can't we get it for our yeshivas?" is the rallying cry.  As someone who attended six public and two private schools in four different states between the ages of four and sixteen, I wouldn't push too hard for it.
1. Yes, private prep schools invariably show better test results than public schools.  But why?  Is it because they have resources provided by wealthy donors?  Is it because they can cherry-pick students based upon test scores, grades, and recommendations?  How many private schools can exclude learning-disabled, developmentally-delayed, or autistic students who don't test well?  Public schools have to take anyone who walks in the door.  No exceptions.  Even if the school is full to bursting, they must take every child.
2. The per-student funding cited by the pro-voucher crowd not only goes for textbooks and teacher's salaries, but for library books, physical plant, school nurses, administrators, office equipment and maintenance (someone's got to keep the Xerox machine running for all those lovely forms), security, resource room instructors, gym equipment, art supplies and other miscellaneous expenses.  Each child given a voucher represents a loss of funding to the school as a whole, and will result in an even more unequal distribution of resources than already exists.  Those parents most likely to obtain vouchers are those who are more aggressive, wealthier, or more politically connected--and whose children are groomed to be successful in school.  Meanwhile, everyone else is left in decaying buildings with broken windows, inexperienced teachers and out-of-date textbooks because of a perpetual lack of funds.  (I went to a school like this--it was the tail end of inter-district busing to enforce Brown v. Board of Education in Tampa, FL.)
3. IN NYC, a city that regulates the size of a soda, no government official is going to hand over money to a school without a lot of regulations.  If money for private schools come from the same kitty as public school funding, why would anyone think that the same rules wouldn't apply?  Particularly for yeshivas where teachers are not certified and secular subjects are disdained or outright ignored, this regulation could lead to a Hobson's choice--intense restructuring including replacing the entire teaching staff with certified non-Jews, or giving up badly needed funds.
In my life, I have attended schools that ran the gamut from beautiful, loaded with amenities and well-funded (Las Vegas--your gambling dollars go to public schools and libraries), to schools which had broken windows, geography textbooks that were a decade old (and this was in 1993--think recent breakup of the Soviet Union), a music program without instruments or songbooks (we had to provide our own), and more students than desks in some classes.  I attended a private prep school that had the same read-the-chapter-answer-the-questions-none-of-your-lip teaching style that I thought I'd left in public school.  There is no guarantee that an expensive education is necessarily better.  However, there is a near certainty that pulling out both money and successful students from public school cannot be good for education as a whole.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Capitalism and healthcare--a match NOT made in Heaven

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about how each candidate will handle healthcare.  Mitt Romney's plan is to let the market dictate healthcare costs.  This is not a good idea.
1. Unlike cars, timeshares, or even the Adam Smith standby of eggs, people do not buy increasing amounts of healthcare simply because there's a drop in price.  When was the last time a hospital offered a sale on casts and splints?  Or penicillin?  No facility would do it because IT DOESN'T WORK!  No one will line up to take advantage of such a discount.  People only buy healthcare as needed.  The only time affordability becomes an issue is when consumers delay or avoid buying necessary treatments because they can't afford it.  These non-consumers then face either a reduced quality of life, or they die.
2. Unlike food, clothing or housing, substituting cheaper forms of healthcare doesn't always work.  Can't afford a house?  Rent a smaller apartment.  It serves the same purpose.  Same thing with groceries.  If chicken is on sale this week, you'll buy it instead of beef.  Or, you'll buy eggs or beans.  However, there are few alternatives to open-heart surgery.  Even certain medications must be given in their brand-name form, as patients can be sensitive or allergic to an additive in the generic.
3. Market forces dictate that companies produce that which is the most profitable, not always the most necessary.  This explains why there are constantly new medications for acid-reflux disease, while cancer (less common but far more deadly) is still being treated with the same radiation and chemotherapy which have been used for decades despite their horrific and well-documented side effects.
4. Any market that exists outside of an economics textbook has a fair amount of collusion.  This can take many forms when it comes to healthcare, such as all health insurance companies fixing premiums while denying care for pre-existing conditions, to pharmaceutical companies paying their competitors to keep generic versions of newly off-patent medications off the market.  It's reprehensible, but it's all legal.
For a long time, we've let the market dictate healthcare, and the results are a mess.  It's time to investigate alternatives.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The legacy of debates in a Facebook world

According to the newspapers, Romney won the debates.  According to my Facebook wall, Romney lied 27 times and declared war on Big Bird.
Which is it?  Both?
But which will be remembered on Election Day?
We live in a world dominated by social media, and this has skewed the news more than either Fox or MSNBC could ever do.  Don't like the headlines?  Find the ones you do like, either on a blog or someone's websites.  Also, because of social media, we now know about a Missouri Senate candidate's thoughts on rape and pregnancy (even if we don't live in Missouri).  This also means that within 24 hours of the debates, everyone went straight to and Snopes to debunk both sides.  And, while the televised debate will be forgotten, the spin will live on right up until Election Day.
In a way, we've created our own Orwellian hell.  With Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, actual events are long forgotten.  As Squealer said, "Have you any record of such a resolution?  It is written down anywhere?"  And, like the changing text of the Seven Commandments, actual events go down the memory hole while the Ministry of Our Truth creates new history before our eyes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yentl vs. Yentl

When I was about eight years old, my grandmother gave me her copy of Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy."  Being a prolific little reader, I read it with interest, although many of the references to Judaism, and all the references to "the marital relationship" flew right over my little head.  I also saw part of the movie, but fell asleep before the ending.  For some reason, I liked the short story, but could not stand the movie.  So, a little comparison.  For the record, the categories are for analytic purposes only, no score will be attached.
Yentl/Anshel:  Singer describes Yentl as having the "soul of a woman in the body of a man."  She has a prodigious talent for learning Talmud, but cannot handle basic domestic duties.  Even her appearance is masculine, such that she looks like a handsome young man in her father's clothes.  She is "tall, thin, bony, with small breasts and narrow hips."  Yentl wants as much as possible to be a man.  After her father's death, she cuts off her hair, dons her father's clothes, and leaves town secretly, going to the next town to find a yeshiva.  She (now styling herself as the male Anshel), meets Avigdor at the inn, and travels with him to the yeshiva at Bechev.
Yentl's inner conflict stems from her own quest for self-actualization.  Her father taught her in secret, and now she must disguise herself as a man to continue learning.  However, the deception takes its toll.  She has nightmares about being in both a man's body and a woman's body at the same time.  As she tells Avigdor, "I'm neither one nor the other."  She is in love with Avigdor, but married to his former fiancee, Hadass (the book implies that she finds other means to perform her duties as a husband.)  Although she is a woman, she finds Hadass desirable, at one point, thinking, "A pity I'm not a man."
Singer plays up Yentl's gender ambiguity, often using the feminine "she" when referring to the identity of Anshel.  Additionally, her behaviors towards Avigdor are described in very feminine terms before she reveals her identity (she buys him buckwheat cakes and sews buttons back on his coat), but very masculine afterwards (she uses the hand gestures associated with male yeshiva students, plucks at her missing beard, and even "seized Avigdor by the lapel and called him stupid")
Streisand's Yentl, however, is an active feminist.  Her conflict is not "Why was I born in a woman's body when I have the soul of a man?" but rather, "Why can't women learn the way men do?"  Unlike Singer's character, she is far less secretive with her activities.  She buys seforim from a vendor, and recites a passuk in the Mishnah while her father studies with a young boy.  After she's married, she teaches Hadass the Talmud, but avoids her advances.  At no time does Streisand feel any inner conflict over her identity.  In fact she sings about how she is a woman just before she reveals herself to Avigdor.  While Singer's Yentl is very masculine physically, the buxom Babs must work harder to downplay her femininity. 
Avigdor: Anshel's chavrusa and love interest, he was a promising Torah scholar with a melancholy streak.  He was engaged to Hadass before the news came out that his brother had committed suicide.  Afterwards, he was married off to the wealthy but mean-spirited widow Peshe.
Singer wrote Avigdor as Anshel's friend and mentor.  He respects Anshel's scholastic abilities, and the two begin spending all their time together.  At one point, Avigdor states that "my life is bound up in your life."    Avigdor compares favorably with the other men in yeshiva, to the point that after he left to get married, Anshel did not find a new chavrusa.  Avigdor is also the only person to whom Anshel revealed his (her) true identity.  However Avigdor's life is an unhappy one.  Peshe, his wife, was unattractive and neglected him.  She wanted him to give up his studies and go to work with her.  She would not feed him or give him clean clothing.
Mandy Patinkin's Avigdor came off as a chauvinist pig.  He frequently made comments about women's lack of ability to think, and, when the engagement was broken, cared more about not having sons than he did about losing Hadass.  While Singer's Avigdor truly loved Hadass, and would press Anshel for information about how she was doing, Patinkin's Avigdor really only thought of her in terms of function.  (Patinkin's character did not marry in the movie.)  Also, Singer's Avigdor reacted to Anshel's reveal with shock and disbelief, but continued to learn with him even afterwards.  Patinkin reacted with undisguised rage, then proposed marriage.  However, he made it clear that Yentl would have to give up learning to be with him.  (As he said, "I'll do the thinking for both of us!")
Hadass: A foil to Yentl, Hadass is the perfect woman--wealthy and beautiful.  Singer reports that she "ordered the servant girl around, was forever engrossed in storybooks, and changed her hairdo every week."  She is also in love with Avigdor, despite the broken engagement.  However, once she marries Anshel, she transfers all her affection to him.  Throughout the book, she only speaks twice--both times to Anshel.  Both times, she discusses Avigdor.  However, after the marriage, she clearly loves Anshel, and weeps when he divorces her.
Amy Irving's character of Hadass is far more involved.  She actively pursues a physical relationship with Anshel once they're married, despite Anshel trying to put her off.  She also studies Talmud under Anshel's guidance; although she chews him out for trying to teach her after she slaved over Shabbos preparations.  However, when it comes to romance, she seems content with either husband--at least we are not presented with her reaction to Anshel's departure and their subsequent divorce.
Themes: Each book approaches a different theme.  For Singer, the main theme seems to be the need for truth.  Yentl told a seemingly small lie for a noble purpose--to learn the Torah she loved.  As a result, she ended up losing Avigdor, and eventually losing herself.  Once she revealed herself to Avigdor, she sent Hadass a divorce and vanished.  Additionally, because of her subterfuge, she had to resort to some pretty conspicuous behavior (avoiding the mikveh and the river, leaving town and divorcing Hadass) which generated gossip about Anshel.  Some of the townspeople said that Anshel was a demon, or that he had gambled Hadass away to Avigdor on a spin of the dreidel.  Singer writes "when the grain of truth cannot be found, people will swallow great heaps of falsehood."  Singer also explores the effects of Yentl's lie on both Avigdor and Hadass.  True, after their respective divorces were finalized, they married each other.  However, Avigdor looked despondent at the wedding, and Hadass wept.  Anshel was never seen or heard from again.
In the Streisand movie, the theme was feminism and the woman's role in society.  Streisand's Yentl chafed at a world where she had to study in secret.  She was contemptuous of Hadass (the song "No Wonder He Loves Her" describes her obsequious fluttering to fulfill Avigdor's every whim), then taught her Talmud after they were married.  Although Singer mentions Yentl's study with her father behind closed curtains, he only does so once.  The Streisand movie mentions it three times--when Yentl studies with her father, when Anshel studies with Hadass, and when Avigdor proposes marriage (Anshel sarcastically asks if Avigdor will allow them to study with the curtains closed.)  In the movie, Hadass uses her Talmud study as a means to lure the recalcitrant Anshel to her bed, while the Singer book really avoids the subject of their marital relationship other than saying that the sheet was bloody.  Finally, Streisand's Yentl leaves for America, and corresponds with the happily married Avigdor and Hadass.  Her leaving is seen as a means to open every door which has previously been closed to her.
Final Thoughts: So, how do you turn a 58-page novella into a movie that runs over two hours long?  The same way Disney expands fairy tales--add music.  However, with the exception of "Papa Can You Hear Me," most of the songs are forgettable and do nothing to advance the plot.
I have to agree with Singer that the movie failed to capture the true spirit of Yentl.  I"ll close with Singer's own words from an interview about the movie:
"Was going to America Miss Streisand's idea of a happy ending for Yentl? What would Yentl have done in America? Worked in a sweatshop 12 hours a day where there is no time for learning? Would she try to marry a salesman in New York, move to the Bronx or to Brooklyn and rent an apartment with an ice box and a dumbwaiter? This kitsch ending summarizes all the faults of the adaptation. It was done without any kinship to Yentl's character, her ideals, her sacrifice, her great passion for spiritual achievement."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I hated being poor

Recently, I read a link to an old blog post about "Being Poor."  Having been poor throughout several points in my infancy, childhood, and adulthood, I'd like to add to the list.  (Note, any that apply to childcare issues were in infancy and childhood.  I've never been that level of poor since I married, thank G-d.)
Being poor is not getting your own room–or your own bed–until the age of 9. And you’re an only child.
Being poor is having your bedroom and kitchen in the same small room.
Being poor is considering taking the bus to work because your car is about to die–and payday is three days away.
Being poor is putting diapers on the bottom rack of the cart and hoping the clerk won’t notice.
Being poor is buying formula for the baby, and using the leftover money to buy food for yourself.
Being poor is living in illegal, substandard housing, and renting from strange people, because the utilities are included.
Being poor is not having furniture.
Being poor is going for years on the “please, G-d, don’t let me get sick” health insurance plan. (Translation: no health insurance)
Being poor is repairing a stranger’s backpack in exchange for a meal–and praying he doesn’t think it’s a date.
Being poor is driving very, very carefully because you don’t want a ticket or an accident–because you have no insurance.
Being poor is thinking that second bedrooms, washers, dryers, working vehicles, telephones, and televisions are luxuries that only the wealthy have.
Being poor is cutting the pictures out of a toy catalog and playing with them. You already know without asking that your parents can’t afford what you want.
Being poor is convincing yourself that wearing outdated clothing (including Mom’s hand-me-downs) is evidence of a strong character.
Being poor is taking the bus home from late-night classes through the seediest parts of town.
Being poor is sleeping on the floor.
Being poor is having to get up at 5: 30 so you can take your kid to daycare before work.  But since the daycare and the office are at opposite ends of town, you spend hours running around on buses with a half-asleep toddler in tow.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stormtroopers or cleaning ladies

Recently, I had one of those discussions with Builder that make me wonder why I signed up in the first place.  I wanted to put Thing 1 in a Girl Scout troop.  Builder refused to allow it, since none of the kids were frum.  In fact, I think there was only one other Jewish family in the troop.  Now, this doesn't bother me in the slightest.  However, Builder doesn't want our children socializing with and learning values from "Goyim."
This breaks my heart.
There is a mindset that seems steeped less in Torah and more in paranoia, that the Gentile world should be avoided at all costs.  There is no "taking the fruit and leaving the rind" because there is no fruit.  At least, no kosher fruit.  So, what happens?  Children of survivors (and that would be about 90% of Hasidic Brooklyn) treat all Gentiles as potential Nazi stormtroopers.  (In fact, my initial mental reaction to Builder's refusal was, "It's the Girl Scouts, not the Hitler Youth!")  Other than the cleaning lady that comes once a week, few of my neighbors see Gentiles at all.
So, what is the outcome?  Children who grow up with this mindset have a mentality that all Gentiles are either rabid anti-Semites, or only fit to clean their houses.  Ethnic jokes and slurs abound.  Families even refer to their housekeepers as "the goyta," as though she has no name.  My friend CeCe, a Jewish woman of color, used to work at the Bronx WIC office.  Those Jewish families that came in for benefits would avoid her and her coworkers of color like the plague.  (Even though these African American and Latino Americans were working and not on benefits). 
My sincerest hope is that my daughters will grow up to see all people, whether Jewish or Gentile, as human beings.  Some are good, some are flawed.  But neither side is perfect.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Focus on the physical

Rosh Hashanah has come and gone.  We are now officially in 5773.
Why is it easy to forget that?
When I was single, Rosh Hashanah was all about the New Year, making a new start, saying "sorry" to G-d and my fellow humans, hearing the shofar as the annual wake up call.  I figured that once I became religious, Rosh Hashanah would be the same, only more so.
This is why kiruv works best on the single.  Now that I'm married, Rosh Hashanah is about making sure the Things have new clothes and shoes, checking to see which dresses fit and which don't, running around to obtain dresses, sneakers, dress shoes, fall jackets and warm pajamas, making sure their everyday clothing arrives on time from French Toast, sewing up their jumpers, buying groceries for the meals, preparing four seudahs, making sure I have all the simanim foods, frantically calling Builder to remind him to pick up the challahs, taking inventory on meats and produce, wondering if four jars of honey is enough, making my honey cakes that require ten minutes of beating eggs, cooking a roast, cleaning the house, mopping the floors, boiling up fish heads, and, oh yeah, in the middle of all this, did I forget Shabbos?
After the first seudah was over, I told Builder that with so much focus on physical preparations, it's easy to forget WHY we're doing all this.  That Rosh Hashanah is not about new dresses and lavish meals, but about teshuvah.  Builder agreed. 
Fortunately, we only have five more days of lessons.  Then I take a break from teaching until after Simchat Torah.  This year, well after.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's in your head?

Builder is concerned about the effect I'm having on Thing 1 and Thing 2.  He's afraid that I want them to be "modern" (whatever that even means anymore).  Last week, he asked me, "How would you feel if one of our daughters married a boy who wears a shtreimel?"
As long as he's a decent human being, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.  I would give the same answer for every type of cover, from a shtreimel to a sruga.  I care more about what's in the head than what's on it.
I'm going to be every shadchan's nightmare when my girls grow up.  I care nothing about externals or how many blatt Gemara my potential son-in-law can parrot back.  I care about the inside.  What kind of person is he?  Is he considerate?  Does he work hard?  Will he respect independent-minded women?  Will he be a good father?  Does he respond well to setbacks?  Is he open-minded?  Is the Torah he studies in him as a way to live?  Does he love and respect his family?  Does he have a good, caring heart?  None of these questions can be answered by looking at shirts, hats, or tablecloths.  They can only come with time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On the road again

I just got back from a whirlwind road trip to Cleveland.  Builder's parents are buried there, and his brother still lives out there.  We set out with enough food to last the two days, enough Blue Ice to keep said food fresh until we could get to a refrigerator, school in a bag (namely, the Things workbooks, readers, and my Kindle), and enough yarn to keep me happy for at least twelve hours.  Unfortunately, we forgot to bring toys.  Two kids, eight hour car ride, and no toys. 
"Mommeee!  Thing 2 said I'm not going to have a birthday ever again!"
"Maamaa! Thing 1 pulled my hair!"
"Stop fighting!  I'm trying to drive!"  (That last line was repeated endlessly by Builder.)
However, the kids did manage to finish up their lessons.  They actually pulled the books out of my backpack on their OWN, and started practicing their math, writing, and dikduk.
A whirlwind trip through Cleveland.  We saw my brother-in-law (whose wife thought my kids were so mature, she thought that Thing 1 was seven instead of five.  We haven't even been married seven years yet.)  We also saw Builder's parents' graves, and the campus at Telshe Yeshiva.  The Things even got to play at a little park in Wickliffe.
Builder kept waxing rhapsodic about how great it would be to live in Cleveland.  I was quick to throw water on his dreams.  Sure, Cleveland has a nice little community.  But, Builder is absolutely spoiled by the infrastructure in Boro Park.  All the minyan factory shuls, kosher restaurants, grocery stores, fruit stands, synagogues every block, and the eruvs.  As for me, I would cry.  I'm thoroughly spoiled by having the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Intrepid, the NY Aquarium, Broadway (Annie is coming back--soon to be the Things' first musical), Shakespeare in the Park, three libraries nearby, the botanical gardens, Prospect Park, Central Park...the city as a whole.  Besides, I benefit from the Boro Park infrastructure myself.  For me, Boro Park is a nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there.
On the way back, Builder was so exhausted, he did the unthinkable.  He had me drive.  For 130 miles on I-80 East, I dodged semis and navigated through construction based lane closures on a curvy mountain road.  However, it was not really new to me.  As I told Builder, "It's like Hudson with hills."  (Hudson, FL, where I learned to drive, had these narrow two-lane highways with no shoulder and a double yellow line as a divider that snaked around more than a concertina.)
We had such a great time, Builder's up for another road trip.  He's even willing to split the driving.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Getting the city back

Labor Day has come and gone.  The once empty houses are now full again, and most of Thing 1's local playmates have traded their civvies for plaid jumpers and oxford shirts.  School is back in session.
I couldn't be more thrilled. 
Once again, everything empties out.  Once again, I can take my kids shopping for shoes and clothes without competing with half of Brooklyn.  Once again, I can take my kids to zoos and museums without waiting in line.  And, soon, all those fun homeschooler activities will be starting.
Only, this year, we get to enjoy them.  Even with our crazy High Holiday schedule (Monday-Tuesday--yuck!), we have more freedom.  I don't have to go to PT three times a week.  We get our lessons done in the morning, and then the city is ours!  And, who could ask for a better classroom than NYC?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The penis and the germ

Recently, here in New York, there has been a great deal of discussion about circumcision.  Specifically, the need to regulate and/or ban metzitzah b'peh.
For the uninitiated, metzitzh b'peh is a procedure that dates at least as far back as the Gemara.  After the infant is cut, the mohel uses his mouth to stop the bleeding and draw out any stray blood.  Yeah.  Ick.  Gross-out factors aside, there are those who would argue that a bris performed without metztzah b'peh is invalid.  And the Board of Health is concerned about this little procedure because infants have been coming down with herpes--which the Board has linked to metztzah b'peh.  Of course, those on the side of metztzah b'peh argue that the chances of catching herpes from a mohel are impossible or at least very small.
Pardon me while I get all post-modern, but I don't think so.  OK, in the Gemara nothing was understood about germ theory.  Nowadays, we stop the bleeding with sterile sutures, not saliva.
Consider, if you will, the penis.
The human penis is rich with blood vessels.  Blood flow is what causes the physical effects of arousal, colloquially known as an erection, woody, or hard-on.  And these blood vessels, like all others, flow to and from the heart.  Should anything get into those blood vessels, they have a one-way ticket to a mean infection.
Now consider the germ.
Herpes simplex is caused by a virus.  Viruses, unlike bacteria, are not true cells.  They are simply bundles of DNA.  Scientists are not even sure how to classify them.  And they cannot be destroyed by antibiotics.  Herpes simplex is a particularly vicious little bug that has, at this time, no known cure.  Now, in an adult, it manifests itself as sores on either the mouth or genitals.  In the mouth, these are commonly known as cold sores.  However, to an 8-day-old infant whose idea of immunity is whatever got handed down in Mommy's colostrum (and G-d help the bottle-fed, who don't get all their mother's antibodies), herpes simplex can cause brain damage and death. 
So now you have a mohel placing his saliva (which is filled with bacteria anyway, even without the herpes virus) on an open wound, on an organ filled with blood vessels, on a fragile newborn.  Do you want to take the Vegas odds that everything will be fine?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is there a community of scholars?

Last night, Builder and I went to the wedding of one of Rabbi Brooklyn's kids.  We met up after the chuppah to see where we would be seated.  Builder, of course, chose that moment to mention to mention to me that one of his friends from the shul is the executive director of Modox Girls' Elementary, and that we could get the Things in without a problem.  (Now, where have I heard that before?)
This friend and his wife immediately started in on the Things' "socialization."  This is, of course, the best way to piss a homeschooler off.  My response, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a majority of the time in school spent sitting in class, not socializing?" 
"Well, there's recess, and there's lunch, and then, there's the exchange of ideas in class.  I mean, kids can hear about different perspectives."
OK, that was a fun little delusion.  Now back to Planet Reality.
Except for my graduate seminars, I have never experienced this exchange of ideas.  Most of the time, class was spent listening to the teacher.  Occasionally someone would ask a question, but it was more because they couldn't understand than because they wanted to go into depth.  I get more of an exchange of ideas discussing The Eskimo Twins or Winnie-the-Pooh with Thing 1 than I ever got in school.  Usually, all the class discussions were between the teacher and one student (me) while everyone else passed notes, doodled, counted the acoustic tiles in the ceiling, or waited for class to finish.
But it wasn't all bad.  I did get to deliver my famous "why call it homeschooling when we're never home?" line.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To workbook or not to workbook

My friend N. also homeschools her kids.  One day, at a play date in a Prospect Park playground, I got to look inside her homeschool backpack.  It was stuffed to the gills with workbooks for every subject--math, handwriting, phonics, spelling, geography, vocabulary--and this was all for a six-year-old.  I started questioning whether I could legally homeschool in this state.  A part of me was thinking, "Hey, you're making me look bad!  With you as the role model, my rather vague IHIP doesn't have a prayer of being considered in compliance!"  (FYI, I submitted my IHIP at the beginning of the month--and it WAS in compliance!  Woohoo!  We're legal!)
Now, when I saw all those workbooks, I thought about what  we were doing.  Thing 1 and I were only using them for two subjects--math and handwriting.  And, by that point, both the math and the handwriting workbooks were long finished.  I had also gone through some Kumon materials--but that was to develop motor skills in things like cutting and pasting.  Skills my then-four-year-old completely lacked.  For reading, we read a McGuffey Primer and some folktales written in simple language.  For writing, she copied.
Now, this year, we have to be more official.  However, I'm really only using workbooks for Chumash, dikduk, and Hebrew script.  Math and handwriting are both done in marble composition books.  For phonics, we're back with Reb McGuffey.  Reading practice is done with folktales and simple readers out of the library.  History and geography are mostly done through stories, with a timeline book and blackline maps printed off the Internet.  Science is learned through stories and observation.  And, yes, we've already used the dissection kit once.
And then I realized something.
As free-form as I am, there are certain subjects I have no confidence teaching--mainly because of my own ignorance.  These subjects happen to be heavily skewed towards textual analysis in Hebrew.  I can find non-workbook resources for general Jewish knowledge and parsha.  I can certainly find ways of teaching basic phonics and math that don't involve workbooks.  Handwriting workbooks are useful, both only to a point.  Once kids have mastered letter formation, just let them write!  But when it comes to Hebrew language skills, I am lost. 
And that's where the workbooks come in.  They lend structure to teaching a subject I can't handle.
Admittedly, because of all the Hebrew books, I'm at least a step ahead of Thing 1.  I can now translate a few prefixes.  I know what some of the roots mean.  And, hopefully, by the end of this year, I'll know enough to help her navigate a Chumash.  And, if not, then I guess we're back in the workbooks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Politics in action, or women can vote too

I once read a book about women's history in which it stated that it was a common belief that ovulation was caused by orgasm.  Therefore, if a woman got pregnant and claimed that the child was a product of rape, her pregnancy could be used AGAINST her.  After all, she must have enjoyed it, or she would not have conceived.
Plus ca change...
Representative Todd Akin is still in the race for Missouri State Senator.  And his remarks on "women can't get pregnant from a legitimate rape" have left half the population legitimately incensed.  Uh, Todd?  Just a little reminder?  The Nineteenth Amendment, you know, the one that gives every adult with two X chromosomes the right to vote your sorry a** out of office, has been the law for the past 92 years.  And that little soundbite of yours will be all over state television, the Internet and social media from now until November.  As for your GOP cronies, they LIKE their jobs.  They would rather not alienate half (that's right HALF) their constituents by supporting you in this.  And those who do will also find themselves on the receiving end of the collective wrath of the women of this country.  A wrath which, in a civilized society, we express with votes.
See you in November!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shani--Chapter 5

Shani couldn't forget what the woman with the scarf had said.  "I was always told that the Torah makes us better people.  I'm not so sure anymore...."  Of course the Torah makes us better people, Shani thought.  The woman was just over-wrought.  A girl being pelted with rocks, even a pritzua, would have that effect.  And, sure, maybe as an outsider, some of this separation might look a bit bizarre.  But after all, women must be kept in their place so that the men can focus on their learning.  Still...Shani remembered a time when there were no women's hours.  Or at least she thought she could.
That night, after the kids were in bed, Shani sat down with her husband Yaacov.  Although the pressures of raising six children (keinehora) had driven Yaacov from kollel and forced him to earn a living, he still made time every night to go over the parsha and the Daf.  Once Yaacov returned from Maariv, Shani was confident that he'd be able to answer her questions. 
Shani relayed the events of the last two days.  Yaacov looked at her thoughtfully.  He knew about some of the "modesty squads" that patrolled Thirteenth Avenue, but, like many people, was appalled by the violence.  As Shani finished her story, Yaacov thought about how to answer her.
"Shani, you and I both know that hilchos tznius exist to enhance the kedusha of our community.  Look what happens in other areas.  Women dress with everything hanging out, like they don't respect their bodies.  And then they wonder why they get attacked and raped.  Same thing with this girl.  Maybe if she had been more careful..."  Yaacov trailed off.
"Are you saying that those boys should have attacked her?"  Shani had never known Yaacov to advocate violence.
"No, of course not.  Chas v'shalom!  I'm just saying that we have to be so careful.  There are men who must preserve their learning.  After their Torah learning protects the whole world.  If it were to cease for even a moment, the world itself might stop."
"But what about the boys?"  Shani asked.
"Those boys are just thugs.  Look at them.  They were out on the street in the middle of the day because they have nowhere to go.  The yeshiva's don't want them.  Most of them can't get a job.  So they make themselves important by throwing rocks."
"But why can't the rabbis do anything?"
Yaacov chortled cynically.  "Which ones?  You know Boro Park.  Besides all the Chassidishe rebbes, there's the Agudah, the Young Israel...the list goes on.  So many voices.  About the only thing they agree on is 'kol kevuda bas melech p'nima.' "
Shani had heard the quote from Tehillim repeated frequently since her days in playgroup.  It meant "The glory of a princess is inside."
Yaacov continued.  "No one wants to think that his wife or daughter could be attacked.  But we must preserve the kedusha of our community.  That's why we demand the utmost in tznius."
Shani reflected on the conversation she had earlier that day.  "But doesn't it say in 'Eishes Chayil' that 'her clothing shall be of fine linen and purple'?" 
Yaacov smiled at his wife indulgently.  "That's just a metaphor for a woman's status as a bas melech--a daughter of a king.  Just like a princess wears special clothing that befits her royal status, so to does a daughter of Israel wear refined clothing that does not draw attention to herself.  Refined clothing is not flashy with bright colors.  It's subdued."
Shani nodded.  You certainly can't get more subdued that black, grey, beige and white, she thought. 
"Is there anything else?" Yaacov asked.
"In the Torah, did Yaacov kiss Rachel?" Shani asked.
Yaacov pulled a Chumash Bereshis out of the seforim cabinet.  He opened to Parshas Vayeitzei, flipped a few pages, and handed the sefer to Shani.  "See for yourself."
Shani read the Hebrew, and found the passage that described the meeting between Yaacov and Rachel.  "Why did he kiss her?  I didn't think that was allowed."
Yaacov turned in shock.  "He did?"
"Yes, it says so right here."  And Shani read the Hebrew.
"I'll have to ask Rabbi Tannenbaum."
Shani rose from the couch.  "Coming to bed?" Yaacov asked.
"In a minute," Shani answered.  "I just want to read some more."
Yaacov nodded.  "Don't be up too late.  Kids have school in the morning."
Shani closed the sefer and followed her husband upstairs.

In which we begin sewing lessons

One of the items on my curriculum for Thing 1 is some basic sewing lessons.  First it's using McGuffey's and Ray's for reading and math, now it's sewing lessons with the possibility of a sampler.  I'm definitely obsessed with the 19th century!
Queen Mom and I start with a trip to the only Jo-Ann Fabrics in the five boroughs--the one on Staten Island.  Yes, Manhattan has better fabric stores, but the materials cost about an arm and a leg.  Thing 1 needed a sewing kit.  The only pieces I couldn't find were inexpensive thread nippers and a bobbin that worked more like a needle.  I also stocked her up on Aida cloth so that she could learn the stitches.
Last week, Thing 1 and AriSparkles had their first lesson in stitching.  To continue in my theme of all things old-fashioned, our sewing lessons came straight out of the Mary Frances Sewing Book.  I have two copies--a reprint from Lacis that has the original language and patterns, and the 100th Anniversary edition that resized the patterns for American Girl dolls.  Unfortunately, it also resized the language for modern-day stupidity.  So, we're using the original book, and I'll take the patterns from the new book when we get there.  The first two stitches taught were even and uneven basting.  The book suggested using Aida cloth so that the stitches come out nice, straight and even.  Thing 1 actually could make the stitches on her own, but we hit a snarl when I discovered that my sweet little daughter cannot tie an overhand knot.  This, of course, is the first step to sewing anything.  So, this week, we're going to work on that.  Since she can tie her shoes, it can't be that much more difficult.
Of course, I'm making the stitches along with my little sewing class.  This helps because then, my students have a working model.  I'm also planning to create all the garments in the sewing book.  I did them once, but because I had to re-grade the patterns on my own, most of them don't fit right.  (It should be noted here that I am the proud owner of three American Girl dolls.  Since Rebecca is from around the time the books were written, she was the beneficiary of this new wardrobe.)  Once the garments from both the sewing book AND the crocheting book are finished, I will post my creations.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Seeking consistency

After my father died, I started frequenting the SDSU campus Hillel.  My regular shul was about a half-hour away, and I didn't have a car.  Hey, I didn't even have my license!
One night, I found myself sitting next to a man with the most beautiful voice since Frank Sinatra (it should be noted here that I have a voice fetish.  Builder actually has a decent set of pipes, which he shows off every Shabbos singing zemiros.)  E was single, into theater--OK, he was a professional mime--and, as I found out within about two minutes of getting him to ask me out, Messianic.  Or as I like to call it, "Christianity in a tallis."  Since he was about as committed to his religion as I was to mine (I actually bothered to show up every week), it didn't work out.  But beign with him got me thinking.
Once, at the San Diego JCC's annual Yom Ha'Atzmaut carnival, I was looking aaround and noticed a strange phenomenon.  Various shuls had set up tables.  Every stripe was represented, from Orthodox (various Chabads, Beth Jacob, and a few in La Jolla that were too far away to visit) all the way to San Diego's Reconstructionist and Renewal temples.  There was even a table for the Humanist temple--talk about a contradiction in terms!  (Humanism is basically Judaism minus G-d--in other words, what's the point?)  As for the Messianic community, they had no table set up.  Oh, they were there, all right--mostly picking fights with the Jews for Judaism guys.  And I wondered, "you can be a Buddhist, an atheist, an agnostic, hey, even a pagan, and still call yourself Jewish.  But you can't be a Christian Jew.  Somehow that doesn't work."
Now, don't get me wrong.  I once went with E to his I-hesitate-to-call-it-a-synagogue church, and the only thing differentiating it from a tent revival was the more-than-occasional yarmulke.  So I had no illusions.  However, I still needed a more consistent answer to my question about who was accepted and who wasn't.  The only position that made sense was Orthodoxy.  Basically, they're ALL illegitimate.  And, since I would stop off for mincha every day after work as I got older, I was kind of halfway there anyway.
I think I am the only person who had missionary activity backfire like that.  E tried so hard to sell me on Messianic.  I even beat his I-hesitate-to-call-him-a-rabbi minister in a debate, point for point, Scripture for Scripture.  And, after all that, I end up Orthodox.  Probably the only person who became Orthodox BECAUSE of a Christian missionary.  In fact, had I never met E, I'd probably be complacently Conservative today.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remind me again--which religion am I supposed to be practicing?

I believe it was Judaism, but I'm not sure.  Because the Judaism I practice should not have supernatural elements.
A story circulating on the Yeshiva World News website (HT: DovBear)seriously makes me wonder.  Tefillin has possul word in it, and man keeps losing his sons?  Come again?
Now, if I were a practicing Wiccan, this story would make sense as a talisman gone awry.  However, I'm not.  In fact Judaism specifically forbids performing magic spells.  By extension, we should not put faith in a ritual item (such as tefillin) to act as some sort of talisman.  The tefillin are a physical reminder to think about and do G-d's work, as is laid out in the Shema.  That's why they are bound on the head and arm.  The head is the seat of thought, and the arm is symbolic of action.  By attributing every misfortune in our lives to a chipped letter in the tefillin, we are taking this mitzvah and perverting it beyond recognition.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Shani--Chapter 4

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3
The next day, Shani boarded the bus with Moishie and his folded stroller in tow.  As she made her way to the back, she noticed one empty seat.  She hauled Moishie and his stroller to the back and sat down.  Suddenly, she heard a voice next to her.  "Hi."
Shani looked at the woman next to her, trying to place her.  Then she remembered the day before.  Sure enough, it was the woman with the brightly-colored scarf who had helped the girl.  Today, the scarf was a leopard-print, which seemed to match the woman's savage mood.  Shani settled Moshie and her purse on her lap, then turned to say a quick, non-committal "hi" in response.
"Can I ask you a question?"  the woman asked.
"Ask." Shani responded.
"Why didn't anyone help the girl yesterday?  It's been on my mind.  That poor girl was so scared, and hurt, and she got spit upon."
"You helped her," Shani pointed out.
"Yes, and I stayed with her in the emergency room until her mother could take her home.  She had five stitches in her head from where the rock hit.  The girl was so upset, she called Second Chances on my phone.  She wants to leave the community."
"I guess it goes to show you.  The girl is unstable and obviously not committed to Yiddishkeit."
"Really."  The woman pursed her lips.  "Would it surprise you to learn that she's an excellent student?  Or that she spends her Sundays with the Bikur Cholim?  Or that she's committed the entire Sefer Tehillim to memory?  But of course a yellow shirt and lack of opaque stockings means the girl was dirt under everyone's feet, right?"
Shani shifted her purse to the floor and looked away uncomfortably.  Moishie squirmed in her lap, but Shani didn't want him to run around in a moving bus.
The woman continued.  "I never expected this.  I was taught that the Torah makes you a better person.  But it seems like we care more about what we eat and how we dress than how we treat others.  The first time I heard a frum person use profanity or ethnic slurs, I was in shock.  Now it just appalls me.  Makes me wonder why I chose this."  Shani stared at her.  "Yes, I am a BT."
"Oh."  Shani responded. 
"My sister wonders what I was thinking.  Even I wonder what I was thinking.  She told me to bail after..." The woman loosened her scarf.  An ugly scar snaked across her throat.  "One of the sikrikim threw a piece of glass at me when I was on the street fifteen minutes after women's hours.  It's stupid.  There's nothing in our texts that says we have wear black tents and hide from men."
"Now, wait a minute," Shani interjected.  "It says in Bereshis that Sarah Imeinu was in the tent.  She was a truly tzniusdik woman who stayed indoors where she belonged."
"Oh.  I get it."  the woman responded.  "One of our Imahos stays in her tent during a heatwave--which is what most people would do--and now we all have to hide away.  I didn't know the Torah was made of rubber.  it almost needs to be to stretch that far.  Besides, didn't both Rivka and Rachel go to wells?  And when Rachel was there, didn't she get a kiss from Yaakov?" 
"No she didn't!" Shani snapped.
"Look it up if you don't believe me.  And as for the black, didn't Shlomo HaMelech say in Mishlei that the eishes chayil makes scarlet clothes for her household, and that her own clothes were of fine linen and purple?"
Shani couldn't think of a response.  Of course she had heard "Eishes Chayil" every Shabbos of her life, but had seldom thought about what the words meant.  Shani decided to look in her husband's seforim when she got home.
The woman pulled the cord, and the bus stopped.  "You know," she said as she squeezed past Shani, "I was always taught that the Torah makes us better people.  After yesterday, I'm not sure I believe that anymore."  And she was gone.
To be continued...