Monday, June 25, 2012

Little princesses

When I was a little girl, I loved dressing up in fancy dresses and sequined dress-up gowns.  My kids love the same thing.  I don't know what it is--you can stock the dress-up box with as many fire helmets, animal masks and cowgirl hats as you want, and girls will inevitably go for the shiny princess gowns and tiaras.
Yesterday, I was looking over a children's book about modesty.  Inside was a poem about a princess who wore dazzling gowns and heavy jeweled tiaras.  One day, the gardener's daughter asked the girl, "Why are you wearing all those heavy, impractical clothes?  Why not wear overalls and a straw hat like mine?  The princess explained that her gowns, jewels and tiaras showed the whole world her special status as the daughter of the King.  (Of course, the reference is obvious--as Jewish girls, we are the daughters of Hashem, King of the Universe, and our tzniusdik clothing reflects that status.  I certainly prefer that explanation to "You're going to distract a bochur from his learning with your exposed elbows!"  Anyone thinks that way about my kids--or me, they should be locked up.)
Of course, we're not the only ones who feel this way.
I get tired of all the black clothing for children.  So, I've been scouting around for modest dress patterns for my girls.  There is a company called--surprise!--The King's Daughters*, that specializes in modest clothing for fundie X-tians!  (Apparently we're not the only ones who use that imagery.)  Of course, their patterns would need a LOT of modification--I don't think ankle-length, puffy-sleeved prairie dresses, pinafores, and sunbonnets would go over to well in very urban Boro Park.
But why the need to be princesses?  Why do we need this regal imagery to sell the idea of modest dress?  After all, we don't call kashrut "The Royal Diet."  Why do girls need to feel like princesses?  And, if we are princesses, why aren't we invested with the royal purple?  What's with all the black?
Somehow, I don't think we'll ever know.
*I'm not advocating the use of this company; the link is merely there for demonstrative purposes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Damn you, Emily Post!

Sometimes, it's hard to be a lady.
Case in point.  Today, I'm sitting in shul, in my usual spot in the back.  (I like to slip in unnoticed--that way I can have some alone time--just me, my ArtScroll siddur, and G-d.)  As usual, the Gabby Old Women are in front of me, chatting away.  (Not all of them are old, but they're all older than me.)  They chat through davening.  They chat through laining.  They would chat through the rabbi's speech, but the rabbi has a death stare that could freeze water in July.  And he aims it at anyone who DARES to try and talk through his speech.  Because I usually slip in during the laining, I end up sitting in the back so as not to disturb anyone.  And, as much as I want to throw something at them, I content myself with tuning them out and shooting them little death stares of my own, aimed precisely at the napes of their necks.
Today, however, they were completely oblivious to their environment.  During the post-Musaf Kaddish, their whispered chatting escalates to loud gabbing--DURING KADDISH!  Finally, right before Ein Keloheinu, I leave the back and skulk up front to an area where the rabbi's death stare has some effect.  (I figure my little march forward was the lesser of two evils.  Otherwise, I WOULD have chucked a crumpled-up bulletin at their heads.)
Unfortunately, politeness dictates that a younger person cannot correct her elders.  Therefore, I can't do what I would love to do, which is to tap them on the shoulder and politely ask them to either shut up or take it outside.  This is a shul, and they're disrupting me, and everyone around them.  Unfortunately, I am a lady.  And a lady cannot correct her elders.   (I probably shouldn't be blogging about it, but, hey, it's anonymous!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

The "Vagina Monologue"--Political edition

Recently, a state representative from Michigan was barred from speaking indefinitely.  Her crime--during a debate on abortion, she said, "Frankly, Speaker, I'm flattered that you're so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no'."
On, no!  She used the "V-word"!
OK, her comment was a little out of line.  However, I would chalk it up to banter.  And I would chalk up the reaction to a major slippery slope where the First Amendment is concerned.  Because, reading between the lines, the problem was not a breach in decorum, but an attempt to silence someone who disagrees with the majority.  And, if that happens, then we can no longer call ourselves a democracy of any sort.

Poverty? Could've fooled me!

Recently, the UJA released a study that said that Jews in NYC (and that includes Westchester and Long Island, but not Rockland County or New Jersey)are more likely to be either Orthodox or non-denominational.  Also, the the number of Jewish households is getting poorer, with 45% of Chasidim with incomes below 150% of the national poverty line (and since the poverty line is based on taking the cost of a subsistence diet and multiplying it by three, that's REALLY poor.)
You'd never know by living here.
Seven kids in private school from 2-18 is not poor.  A stay-at-home mom isn't poor.  Summer camp, especially sleepaway camp, for large families isn't poor.  A $50,000 wedding for your daughter isn't poor.  Owning property in the NYC metro area isn't poor.  A closetful of silver isn't poor.  A seven-inch-tall fur hat and a $3,000 hairpiece isn't poor.  Imported clothes and shoes for a growing family isn't poor.  Weekly cleaning help isn't poor.  Something does not add up.
Now, I will admit to having some of these accoutrements (Builder has a friend in the shaitel business, so my shaitels were bought wholesale, and I haven't purchased a new one since I was first married.  We homeschool the kids, only use camp for one month each year, and Builder wouldn't be caught dead in a shtreimel.  As for the rest, I plead the Fifth.  But we don't cry poverty to Uncle Sam.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's not in the Torah, but it trumps everything...

I'm speaking, of course, about tzniut.
There was a story years ago, about a young girl who was offered a choice--convert or die.  She chose death, and was sentenced to be dragged through the streets of town by a horse-drawn cart.  She had only one request--that she could pin her skirt to her knees so that it wouldn't ride up.  As the sentence began, onlookers could hear the girl crying out.  The carriage stopped, and the girl asked if she could replace some of the pins that were coming loose!
And then, there was the story of Revital Avraham, a young girl of nineteen who died of brain cancer because she was too pretty!  (Of course, this was AFTER her beautiful red hair had been burned off her head.)
And now we have...this.  For some things, there are no words.
Yes, there are.
We have a mother torturing her daughter for all eternity for the sake of...tznius.  Not honestly, not fair dealings, not kindness to her fellow man and to G-d's creatures, but for not covering up enough of her body.  Forget the the Top Ten on the stones written by the Hand of Hashem, this one doesn't even make the 613!  The only references in the Torah to women and dress, are "Don't wear men's clothing" (whatever that means), and an oblique reference to covering hair.  Nothing about what needs to be covered, nothing about stocking thickness or seams.  True, we are supposed to "walk modestly with G-d", but that could mean a hundred things, including a ban on JAP behavior and conspicuous consumption.  Or not taking on a thousand chumras to outfrum your neighbor and drive a wedge between yourself and other Jews. 
If this is what we are teaching our kids, then I'm not sure I want any part of it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Do you believe in magic?

Having a run of bad luck?  Check your mezuzahs.
Breaking the law?  Donate to Kupat Ha'ir.
Want your daughter to get married?  Join with other women to bake challah.
Segulos.  Now there's something I DEFINITELY did not sign up for.
When I was 15, a love of nature combined with a field trip to Salem, Massachusetts sparked an interest in Wicca.  Three years later, I dropped it all for a weekly trip to the little synagogue that could.  Several years after that, my Messianic ex convinced me to burn all my Wicca books.  (Seriously.  He took me to the beach and set fire to my books.)  I considered magical interventions to be a closed chapter in my life.
Then Thing 1 was born.  Right away, my family wanted to me to put a red string on her to protect her from the evil eye.  No thank you.  Speaking as someone who spent three years learning about magical practices, this had "talisman" written all over it.  I'm sorry, but the last time I checked, doesn't the Torah, oh I don't know, FORBID this sort of thing?
Unfortunately, this was only the first of many segulos I heard about.  I read the Kupat Ha'ir brochures mostly for laughs, but on occasion there would be a story about someone breaking the law.  The authorities would be on to the person, but one call to Kupat Ha'ir and--problem solved!  Chavie's family is having trouble with various health problems, so she wants to check her mezuzah.  Why?  Putting up a mezuzah is a mitzvah, not a magic spell to protect your house.  I think too much of what we now call Yiddishkeit got mixed up with Eastern European superstitions and folk magic.  And, because we focus almost exclusively on mesorah, we can't separate out the actual Judaism from the cultural flotsam and jetsam.
Hashem has given us a Torah, but has also given us a world that works in a certain way.  Instead of using segulos, work with what's there.  And stop treating your mezuzah like some kind of protection charm.  Somehow, I don't think that's what G-d had in mind.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A truly horrifying metaphor


This film about the rise of Nazi Germany was about the ways that a divided people can fall prey to a cruel, despotic tyranny--one that is literally self-destructive.
But we're doing the same damn thing.
When I was still in San Diego, I thought there were Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, with a few Humanists, Renewals and Reconstructionists thrown in just to keep life interesting.   And then I moved to Boro Park.  I had been here scarcely two weeks before I started joking that Brooklyn was the only place in the world where you could have two Jews in a mixed marriage.  Suddenly, the overarching category of Orthodox became further divided into Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Left-wing Modern, Right-wing Modern, Centrist, Agudah, Young Israel, Mizrahi, Haredi, Chassidic, Misnagdic, Yehivish, Litvish, Lubavich, Belzer, Telzer, Bobov, Spinka, Satmar, and on and on and on.  We have, instead on One Judaism Under G-d and Torah, a thousand variations all clamoring to be right!  We have separate shuls, yeshivas, newspapers, and even kosher standards for these groups!  And, by looking over our shoulders at hemlines, hechshers, and affiliations, we're beginning to lose the point.
Case in point: Last night, during my study session with Chavie, she read me a story that was supposed to be inspiring.  A photo processing lab in a Charedi area would stay open late every Friday.  Rather than noisily confronting the business owner, a rabbi decided on a kinder, gentler approach.  Dressed in his Shabbos finery, he went into the store, warmly introduced himself, and invited the store owner to his home for Shabbos.  The man was so moved that he and his family became shomer Shabbos.
Yeah right.
Actually, the real story, according to Chavie, was that the rabbi DID walk into the store in his Shabbos finery, sat down, and began reciting Tehillim.  The store's customers, realizing how late it was getting, began to leave the store in droves, and the store owner had no choice but to lock up early.  I explained to Chavie that this approach had the potential to backfire.  Hugely.  See, the rabbi wasn't shedding tears over the store owner who would never know the beauty of Shabbos.  He was just annoyed that he had to walk past an open store on his way to and from shul.  What did the the rabbi think the store owner would do--rush home and bench licht?  Or mumble about the "damn frummies ruining his business" and go home to watch TV?  Was the community more concerned about a Jew breaking Shabbos, or that THEIR Shabbos was being disturbed?  If the rabbi HAD opened his home to the store owner, then there would have been no Shabbos breaking at all, and they might have made a new friend.  Chavie said, "I never thought of it that way."  Of course not.  As the video showed, truth is obscured in favor of the despotism that is Daas Torah.  By compartmentalizing our fellow Jews into so many separate groups, it is impossible to see that "the other" has both feelings and a legitimate viewpoint.  And, because there is no access to literature, secular media or the Internet, there is no way to break out of that mindset.  But, as the video showed, the only outcome of this mindset is self-destruction.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Winding down--and winding up

Ahh, June!  A time for finishing up.  We're winding down Aleph Champ, and are just doing enough of the Three Rs to keep the kids' hands in.  Camp is around the corner, and with it the requisite physicals, supply shopping, and mentally getting ready for Thing 1. (Thing 2 will join her big sister next summer.)  Thing 1 complained about camp last summer, got excited for it last winter, and is back to complaining now that it's next month.  But, hey, it's only 4 weeks!
And, now for The Big, Serious News: This is our last year of unofficial homeschooling.  This summer, I am putting in our paperwork!  That's right, Thing 1, by virtue of her approaching-too-slowly-for-her-taste sixth birthday, is going to be of Compulsory School Attendance Age this fall.  Help.
See, I live in New York, aka Homeschooler Hell.  I'm not complaining about the amenities--in fact, I think you could learn more just going around the city in a year than you could ever learn in a classroom.  I'm talking about the PAPERWORK!  Every year, I have to submit a Letter of Intent, an Individualized Home Instruction Plan, four Quarterly Reports, and an Annual Evaluation.  I have to show that I'm teaching arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, the English language, geography, US history, science, health, art, music, physical education, patriotism and citizenship (shouldn't be too hard in an election year), fire safety and arson prevention, dangers of alcohol, drug and tobacco misuse (neither Builder or I smoke), and highway safety and traffic regulations.  I also have to document 900 hours of instruction.
OK, OK, I get it.  There are people that pull their kids out of school, teach them nothing, and call it homeschooling.  The state has a vested interest in ensuring that a child not in school is receiving the substantive equivalent of a public school education.  It all sounds great--until you're the one sweating bullets over the IHIP.  Did I include enough?  Is the state really going to allow copywork instead of some fancy spelling workbook?  Are the materials chosen at grade level?  Should I list Thing 1 as a first grader or a kindergartener?  (I would still use the same curriculum--I would just get to push off the mandatory standardized testing for another year.)  Most importantly--Will the state accept it?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Of birthdays, cutoffs, and the reason for school

Over on Imamother, there is a post about kids who are born a few days past the cutoff.  Should you try to push them into the next grade or not.  The consensus is that the kid is almost always better off being the oldest in the class, rather than the youngest.  Older kids are bigger, more mature, more physically coordinated, and will have an easier time making friends and playing sports.
And now for something not completely different.
Thing 1 is a November baby.  Here in NY state, that means that she was born about 5-6 weeks before the cutoff.  She will be of compulsory school age in the fall (and I get to begin the paperwork saga that is the bane of every NY homeschooler's existence).  However, she is in a very unique position.  I happen to know two other November babies--both of whom were held back.  I've never held her back.  As a result, she was always in the older group--with the entering kindergarteners (or Pre-1A kids, depending on lexicon) at camp, with the Pre-1A crowd in her Sunday program.  She's also earned her siddur, and has worked her way through material appropriate for five-year-olds.  And she's not having any problems.  She's tall, well-spoken, and mature--even though she's young.  Had I held her back, she's be learning her ABCs instead of reading Little Bear.  She's be learning her numbers instead of manipulating them.  Also, I keep hearing about the social effects trumping academics.  Isn't school supposed to be academic?  Otherwise, it's just a six-hour a day social club.