Thursday, March 29, 2012

White people guilt

Recently, the Park Slope Co-Op held a vote on whether to ban products from Israel in their stores.  The initiative lost, 1000-650.  However, I have to wonder, why it seems that boycotting Israel has become a liberal cause.  Israel is both the only democracy and non-Muslim state in the Middle East.  It is one of the smallest countries by land mass in the Middle East, and welcomes people of all faiths.  It also has a very liberal policy WRT to the LGBT community (especially in a region where being LGBT can become a capital offense).  It also, until recently, had a fairly liberal policy on the role of women.  All of these are important liberal causes.  Many would say that it is anti-Semitism.  However, I think  it goes to another issue--one that I call "white people guilt."
The history of the United States is one that has not been kind to minorities.  Between slavery, Native American resettlement, internment of the Japanese during World War II, quotas designed to keep out non-Anglo immigrants, and Jim Crow laws, there are a lot of reasons for liberal Americans to feel guilty over the treatment of the underdog, especially if the underdog is not white.  Back when Israel first started, the Jews in the region were that oppressed minority.  Between the Holocaust in Europe, and various "gentleman's agreements" here in the States, Jews were easy to categorize as the underdog.  Put them on a sliver of land surrounded by people that want nothing more than to drive them into the sea, and they become more enticing.  After all, they didn't have a prayer.  Until they started fighting back and winning.  Suddenly, the entire dialogue shifted.  Instead of the poor, oppressed Jews, suddenly it was the poor, oppressed Palestinians.  And, as an added bonus, the Palestinians weren't white!  Think about it.  Most people who visualize Jews think of Eastern European Ashkenazim, who are fairly indistinguishable from the Caucasian ruling class.  The Sephardim of the Middle East (many of whom had to flee their native countries the minute Israel became a state) rarely register.  This makes the Palestinians the perfect target for anyone who has sympathies for an oppressed minority. 
The irony, of course, is that the Palestinians probably would not like many of the things their supporters like.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Does it take a village, or does the village take over?

Back when she was a first lady, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "It takes a village to raise a child."  I have to wonder if the village is taking over raising our children?
Today, I saw my neighbor outside with two of his kids, looking like he was waiting for a school bus.  I asked which of his kids he was waiting for.  He answered with the name of his three-year-old.  This left me confused, as I know that this particular family does not start their children in school until the age of four.  My neighbor then explained that the school made him enroll his son.  He said that the school was now enforcing nursery enrollment because the kids were better behaved as they got older.
I could not believe this.  This school, where the boy in question's older brother is a student, made them enroll their son at the ripe old age of three?  This means that they invoked in loco parentis on a child that was
  • not a student
  • well below compulsory attendance age (in this state, children do not have to start school until the age of six, and there is no mandatory kindergarten.).
Of course, all I said was that he was below compulsory attendance age.  Sadly, I then had to explain what I meant.
Yet another reason to avoid the madness!

Who should stand their ground?

Recently, I took a break from my cleaning to catch up on current events.  Specifically the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Looking at the facts in the case, it seems pretty clear-cut.  A 17-year-old boy went out for some candy and tea.  While he was walking home, he was followed by a much older, larger man in a vehicle.  The man got out of the car, chased the boy, and confronted him.  There was a scuffle, and the man pulled a gun and shot the boy.  However, the police accepted the shooter's claim of self-defense because the dead boy "looked suspicious."  What looked suspicious about young Trayvon?  His hoodie?  Having lived in Florida for several years, it seems like the right thing to wear for a stroll to the grocery store in March.  His skin color?  Has it become illegal to go for a walk if you are black?  The fact that he reached in his waistband?  If I saw an armed man following and confronting me, I'd try to fake him out, too!
The shooter, George Zimmerman, invoked the "stand your ground" law.  But really, if the facts are correct, then Zimmerman was the aggressor.  It is completely illegal to pull a gun on someone who is just walking down the street.  Technically, Martin had every right to defend himself against Zimmerman.  Now, of course anyone with self-defense training would not try to physically defend themselves against an armed man (good chance you'll end up dead), but perhaps Trayvon Martin did not have the benefit of this wisdom.  So, if the facts are correct, I would say that there is enough evidence that Zimmerman should at least be arrested and indicted.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two Jews, Three Opinions--Pesach edition

This afternoon, I went to Rabbi Brooklyn's pre-Pesach shiur.  There, I got an idea for a new series: "Two Jews, Three Opinions."
According to the CRC, cumin is considered kitniyot.  However, the OU will certify it for Pesach.  The CRC also says that sunflower seeds are kitniyot, but Builder lives on them during Pesach.  Builder buys Pesachdik bottled water, but it's supposedly not necessary.  And then, there's the quinoa question--is it allowed or not?  Some say it is, as long as there isn't a drop of chametz in it (not so easy to ascertain, because it is often grown and processed with chametz grains), while others say that it is also kitniyot.    All of this only makes the celebration of our freedom that much more drudgery.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

If Anne Frank had a grave, she'd be spinning in it.

Recently, someone emailed me the Torah U'Mesorah list of approved secular literature.  While I was not surprised that certain books failed to make the cut, such as Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery was a minister's daughter, and a lot of the book focuses on the church), Little House in the Big Woods (dancing, hog-killing and Christmas), and Harry Potter ('nuff said), one entry made my eyebrows leap a mile.
Frank, Anne: The Diary of a Young Girl.  Rated N for Not Acceptable.  Huh?
According to the notes, the book failed to make the cut because Anne Frank, like most teenagers, talked back to her mother, and had a schoolgirl romance with fellow teenaged refugee Peter Van Daan.
So, let me get this straight.  The most famous book, by a Jewish author, on a Jewish subject, is not acceptable for Jewish children to read?   Because Anne was honest?  What does THAT teach our children?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What did I sign up for--Superficiality

Last week, I read an article in the Jewish Press, in which the author rejects girls for her "great" son because they weren't pretty enough.  HUH? 
And all this time, I thought that spirituality counted more than looks.  Only the secular world encouraged puff-brained beauties.  But no, out of the window go good middos, compassion, business acumen, learning, and good conversation.  In comes Marilyn Monroe from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  (Ironically, Marilyn herself had to change both her appearance and her name to be acceptable to Hollywood.)
Now, I have no problem with advising girls to use makeup, hairstyles, and grooming to show themselves to their best advantage.  However, I would strongly condemn the author for her casual attitude towards both massive weight loss and cosmetic surgery.  Perhaps she should visit a hospital where young women are being treated for eating disorders.  Also, maybe she ought to consider that these young women were attempting to impress their future mothers-in-law with their modesty, simplicity and frugality.  They wanted to show that they could turn their hands to the varied, and often menial, tasks involved in running a home without breaking their families' collective banks.  They wanted to show that they would not demand $800 strollers, extravagant wardrobes, or top-of-the-line cosmetics--all out of the budget for a learning family.
Yet another moment when I shake my head and ask, "What did I sign up for?"

A message to the Robo-Rabbi

Today is a special election in my district to fill a recently vacated state senate seat.  And if I didn't know it, I would have gotten enough reminders.  Yesterday, I got about five robo-calls urging me to vote for one candidate or another.
The most annoying went as follows:  "Hello, this is Rabbi Robo-Voice urging you to vote for David Storobin."  Excuse me, Rabbi Robo-Voice, but I've never heard of you.  You don't paskin for me.  In fact, I'm not even sure if you ARE a rabbi, since all I'm getting is a canned voice over the phone.  So, don't tell me how to vote!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Birth control and smoking

Recently, on my Comstock Laws post, I raised some hackles.  Hopefully, I also gave some pause for thought.
Someone made the comment (since the person chose to remain anonymous, I can't say who it was.) that sex is not a need.  That would be correct.  As far as survival goes, it is not a need.  However, it is an inborn biological drive that few try to ignore.  Where in or out of wedlock, I'd say it's a fair bet that 90% of human adults will have some form of sexual contact during their lifetime.
Which brings me to smoking.
I am anti-tobacco.  I've never smoked a cigarette in my life.  I think it's dangerous, unhealthy, and stupid.  I made Builder give up smoking before we got married.  I fully support the Clean Air Act, in all forms.  I think any parent who smokes, especially around their kids, is extremely irresponsible.  I would never allow it in my home or vehicle.  And, if a person gets emphysema or cancer as a result of smoking, that's just too damned bad.  Smoking is neither a need, nor is it a biological drive, so I think it is fair to say that the percentage of adult humans who choose to smoke at some point in their lives is below 90%.
That said, I also do not support passing laws that would cut funding, insurance coverage, or training for treatments of smoking-related illnesses.  I would not support firing anyone who smoked.  I believe that smoking cessation programs of all types should be covered by insurance.  I also believe that all children should learn about the dangers of smoking from a young age.
Replace "smoking" with "sex", "smoking cessation" with "birth control" and "smoking-related illnesses" with "prenatal testing and amniocentesis," and you get the idea.  And, as a reminder, we are discussing birth control, not elective abortion!  Any comments on that topic will be deleted!

Post-Purim WTH?

Builder brought home the Flatbush Jewish Journal so I would have something to read over Shabbos.   Inside, in the Letters to the Editor section, I found, not one, not two, but three separate letters on the same topic--girls gone wild, Purim edition.
Apparently, while nice yeshiva bochurim go out collecting tzedaka for worthy causes (which involves putting on costumes, hanging out with friends, drinking, and smoking), they are accosted by young girls, who are putting on costumes, hanging out with friends, drinking, smoking, and worst of all, having the unmitigated chutzpah to engage these young men in conversation!  Not that!
Apparently, these girls are too much of a distraction for these nice young men, and the pure-hearted, if slightly inebriated bochurim, may end up having their refined nature compromised by all the pritzus in their midst.
OK, now how's this for another perspective.  After having complete dual-curriculum homework and helping their mothers costume younger siblings, prepare mishloach manot for everyone, and cook a seudah, and then sitting quietly through a Megillah leining, girls see their brothers going off to wear fun costumes, hang ut with friends, and drink and party.  So, she has two choices: decide that what's good for the gander is good for the goose (after all, the costumes, drinking and partying are technically bittul Torah, so if my brother gets to have all this fun, why can't I?) or stay home and feel resentful.  Guess what most teenagers will choose!
Purim used to be one of my favorite holidays.  Then I moved to Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A return to Comstock

There was a time when neither birth control nor the use of abortifacents in the first trimester (until you felt the baby move) were considered a big deal.  Granted, medical technology was not that advanced, so they either didn't work too well, or killed the mother.  However, all were perfectly legal, and available over the counter.
Then came the Comstock Laws.  Suddenly, it was a felony to distribute information about contraceptives through the mails.  In other words, while wealthy women could still get birth control (and abortifacents) through their doctors, poor women who had relied on mail-order birth control were seven different types of screwed. 
Then along came Margaret Sanger.  Yes, she was a bigot and an advocate for eugenics.  However, when she opened the first birth-control clinic in 1914, her clients didn't care.  There was a line around the block.  Of course, her Planned Parenthood clinic was shut down, thanks again to Mr. Comstock.  The sections of the Comstock Laws dealing with contraceptives were repealed in 1936.
Of course, between the Pill, Planned Parenthood and the Internet, most of these laws are now irrelevant.  Or are they?
Recently, several states, including Mississippi and Colorado, passed or attempted to pass laws declaring that life begins at conception, and that a fetus is a person.  Note the term "conception," not "implantation."  If a zygote does not implant, for natural reasons or due to artificial means, you ain't gettin' pregnant, lady.  Unfortunately, this would have two unintended consequences.  One: it would make certain types of birth control (such as the IUD) illegal.  Two, what about all the conceived embryos taking up space in fertility clinics that were never implanted?  Are they meant to sit in cold storage forever?  Does this mean that if a doctor chooses to destroy them after a certain number of years, that he could be convicted for mass murder?
Other states, such as Arizona, have made it legal for an employer to fire anyone who uses their company health insurance to pay for contraceptives.  That's a great idea!  After all, it's not like married people use birth control!  I mean, it's not like the lawmakers who came up with this idea want to cut back on maternity leave, healthcare, or assistance to families with small children.  What?  They think those should be cut?  So, in other words, women should just play Russian roulette with their bodies and finances for the rest of their fertile years.  Good idea!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When Midrash doesn't work--Pesach edition

Recently, Thing 1 asked me to read her the Artscroll story of Pesach.  (Side note: how many frum Jews does it take to change a lightbulb?  One, but the light bulb has to be made my Artscroll.)  In the story, it mentioned the Midrash of the Hebrew slave women giving birth to six babies at a time.  Then I read about Moshe's birth and said--wait a minute...
If Yocheved had been like the other Hebrew women, then Moshe would have been one of six.  It's much harder to hide six kids than one.  Also, assuming the others had been girls, don't you think someone would have noticed that Yocheved only had five kids this time?  Moreover, the only siblings we hear about are Miriam and Aaron.  Neither of them were twinned with Moshe Rabbenu or each other!  (Miriam was three years older than Aaron, who was three years older than Moshe.)  So, if Yocheved had fifteen other kids (assuming that each of the children was one of sextuplets) where are they?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Lately, I've had a bad case of "Pesach Brain."  This condition lasts until the first Seder.  The symptoms are that I get obsessed with Pesach cleaning, bore everyone to tears, and get snappish with the Things.  (All homeschooling, other than learning about Pesach, is put on hold).  My cure--at the first Seder, I pour myself a very potent, very full first cup.  I empty it within the requisite minute or two, and spend the first Seder in a state of drunken bliss.
Today, I was telling Queen Mom about my cleaning escapades.  I said that if Builder had an Indian name, it would be "Clothes Horse."  The man has more clothing and shoes than me and the Things combined, and I can't throw any of it away.   Meanwhile, I set up a "donation pile" in the upstairs hallway, so now it looks like a scene straight out of A&E's "Hoarders."  Queen Mom suggested, "Why don't you just call 1-800-GOT-JUNK?"  Great idea EXCEPT--I want it donated.  Builder wants it donated to a gemach.  Fine, just get it out of my house!  Or, I will.
This made me think of a fun idea.  Why not have an organization called 1-800-GOT-CHAMETZ?  A service that comes and cleans your house for Pesach!  They could come, wash all your linen, vacuum and flip the beds, check all your pockets and books, wash down all the shelves, and turn over your kitchen.  This would mean that I can spend the first nice days looking for crocuses instead of crumbs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Conformity and principles

Over the Purim seudah, at my sister-in-law's house, I managed to cut back on the ribbing by sticking to two subjects--the weather and my health.  (It takes all the fun out of trying to get a rise out of me when I only smile and answer, "Lovely weather we're having, isn't it?")  Thank you, George Bernard Shaw.
And then Builder opened his mouth.  He announced to everyone that he could get the Things into Prospect Park Yeshiva without even an interview because he knew people.  "Oh, yeah, that's a great idea!  It's a wonderful school!  Your kids would do so well there!"  Sure, it's a wonderful school--an hour away!  I'd never get to see the Things at all, except to rush them through homework and dinner.  Not to mention the twenty grand in school fees that I'd rather spend on museum memberships, trips to see that there's a world outside of Flatbush, and real literature rather than the frummie books with no discernible plot!  (OK, vent over!)
So, I responded that I would continue to homeschool the Things as long as they enjoyed it.  Now, my family can't really argue with that.  They can't get into academics, because my kids are where they should be, if not beyond.  They can't get into "socialization", because the Things are so polite and well-spoken.  So, they fell back on their last resort.  "It Just Isn't Done!"  "Frum people don't homeschool their kids!  Nobody does that!  Your kids will be Different!"
Really?  This is your best shot?  Because, the last time I checked, I really don't give a damn.
See, if I cared about "what Just Isn't Done!" I'd have started wearing heavy make-up, using foul language, and smoking when I was thirteen.  Because eschewing those activities, while continuing to read the classics, Just Isn't Done!  When I was fifteen, I would have stayed in public school.  Because running off to boarding school a thousand miles away, and dropping out a year later to homeschool myself Just Isn't Done!  When I was in college, I would have spent more time attending raves than classes.  Because caring about my grades when I was eighteen Just Isn't Done!  When I was an adult, I'd have stayed in the Conservative movement.  Because moving from hard-core Conservative to full-on Orthodox Just Isn't Done!  When I worked as a cube drone, I'd have spent all my spare time watching reality TV and evening soap operas.  Because that was what Is Done!  (After spending eight hours at work staring at a screen, I really didn't want to do that in my off-hours.)  Running off to New York City without knowing a soul Just Isn't Done either, nor is marrying a man three decades my senior.  So, if I gave a damn about what is and is not done, we wouldn't be having this conversation now, would we?  See, that's the thing about adhering to one's principles--it usually means that I will make choices that you don't agree with!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Friday Night

Friday night, I went to a special service/dinner at my shul.  It's the first time in years that I didn't have to prepare a Shabbos meal.  It's the first time in years that I've been at a Shabbos table other than my own.  (Builder doesn't like to go anywhere--he likes my cooking too much.)
So, Builder and the Things bundled into the car while I walked.  (We left twenty minutes before lecht bentchen--but since I'd already lit, it was Shabbos for me.)  When we got there, Builder wanted me to go in and daven--something I don't usually do at night.  Not only don't most women in my shul go on Friday nights, but I had to deal with the Things.  Listening to the davening brought back memories.  I used to go to shul a lot more before I moved to Brooklyn.  At one time, I used to go every day after work.  (I used to be religious--then I became Orthodox.)  Friday nights, I used to help lead services at the little shul that could.  It was my first synagogue when I started becoming religious--a little Conservative place that counted women, but still could barely scrape up a minyan.  That was over a decade ago, but they're still here!.  I became Bat Mitzvah there.  Then my dad died and I couldn't go there anymore.  When I started working, I would go there on Friday nights to help lead.  If they could see me now!  Sitting on my side of the mechitza, wearing a tichel on my head instead of a yarmulke, walking to shul--but since I stopped attending that synagogue regularly after my Bas Mitzvah, does that make me a Conservative statistic,or not?
Meanwhile, the Things were acting--like young children.  They were quiet, but they kept migrating between me and Builder.  Afterwards, people came up to compliment me.  "Your children are so well behaved."  Yeah--my weird, unsocialized homeschooled children!
After Shabbos, I walked back to shul to get the car.  I love having my license!