Monday, July 30, 2012

We've gone beyond nachas...

...into the realm of open gloating.
The Things finished camp last week.  As is customary, the camp had an awards ceremony.  When the Things and I got home, I opened their backpacks to check for stray art projects, wet bathing suits, etc.  In Thing 1's backpack was a certificate for excellence in tefillah.  Thing 2 had the same certificate--excellence in tefillah.
This means that out of their respective bunks, my kids were among the best at davening.  Now, stop and think for a moment.  My kids have never been to school.  The only davening they know is what Mommy taught them.  And Mommy is the (comes from the garbage according to one of Builder's friends) BT.  I never went to yeshiva either.  Yet, somehow, my two weird, anti-social homeschooled kids were not only well liked by kids and counselors alike, they could also pray well enough to get noticed. 
Certificate of Excellence.  I feel like gloating.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Shani--Chapter 3

Once the boys disappeared around a corner, women streamed out of the buildings they had hidden in.  Shani ran for the bus stop.  Baruch Hashem, the bus hadn't come while the sikrikim were out. 
The crying girl tried to get to her feet while holding the back of her head where the rock had hit.  Blood seeped through her fingers.  Once outside, Shani could see the girl better.  No wonder they had targeted her.  She was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with sleeves that barely covered her elbow.  And her stockings were so sheer that one could hardly tell she was wearing them.  Of course they had no seams.  Silly girl.  Well, dress like a pritzua and see what happens.  Most women ignored the girl.  A few spat on her.  However, one woman, the one with the brightly colored scarf, ran over to the girl.  Bending down, she pulled the girl to her feet, reached into her purse and handed the girl a tissue.  The girl wiped her eyes and nose, while still holding the back of her head.  The woman pulled out a cell phone.  Who would she call?  911?  Nobody in their right mind would call those goyim.  Hatzolah?  If she caught the dispatcher in a good mood, he might send someone.  However, some dispatchers took a dim view of helping victims of the sikrikim.  Shani suspected that a few Hatzolah members were sikrikim themselves. 
Within a few minutes, the bus pulled up.  Shani lined up to board, holding Moishie in one hand and his folded stroller in the other.  She and the other women bypassed the mostly empty front seats and squeezed into the back with the other female passengers.  The elderly lady who had been accosted earlier looked for a seat, but in vain.  She clutched a pole, and braced herself with her cane.  Shani hoped the lady wouldn't fall as the bus swayed.
Shani was positioned in such a way that she could still see the girl through the bus windows.  A black midsized vehicle with a car service medallion pulled up, and the girl got in.  The woman with the scarf slid in next to her.  The car sped off in the direction of Maimonides Medical Center.    As the bus pulled away, Shani could still see the girl's bloody handprint on the sidewalk.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guess we're fasting on Tisha B'Av this year--again.

 Note--I will be returning to Shani soon.  Keep watching for the next chapter.
There is a midrash somewhere that says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B'Av, and then what was the saddest day on the calendar will turn into one of feasting.
Well, I hope that's true.  But it won't happen this year.
The Siyum HaShas is a little more than one week away.  I will be there, along with Builder, the Things and Queen Mom.  However, the Monsey Viznitzer Rebbe won't be.  The reason?  Two rabbis from Israel will be speaking.  Apparently, the Monsey Viznitzer Rebbe does not believe in the State of Israel, and wants to disassociate himself from anything remotely Zionist.
The comments, BTW are a reminder why I never read the Yeshiva World News.  Not good for my blood pressure.  One commenter said :You can't call Rabbi Yaakov Hillel a Zionist!  That's motzi shem ra!  (Translation--a straight insult.)  Wow.  Have we really broken down to such a point that the term "Zionist" is now considered a black mark against someone?
Truth is, I don't even know who is speaking at the Siyum HaShas.  I don't particularly care, either, as I've probably never even heard of most of the speakers.  However, the Siyum isn't about who is up on the dais.  It's about the large section of K'lal Israel who have spent the last seven and a half years taking time out to study the Talmud one page a day.  It's about those who might not have the chance to learn in an organized fashion taking that opportunity and making the most of it.  And, if all these petty internecine conflicts overshadow that accomplishment, then we have completely missed the point.  And, once again, we'll be fasting on Tisha B'Av.  Unfortunately, if this infighting keeps up, that's about the only thing we'll have in common.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shani--Chapter 2

Chapter 1
Shani didn't even think twice.  She grabbed the handle of Moishie's stroller and pushed him into the nearest store.  It turned out to be a sheitelmacher.  About a dozen women were inside already.  A few were getting their sheitels set, but the rest were hiding.  Two or three, including Shani, positioned themselves so that they could see through the cracks in the opaque gray curtains over the doors and windows.
About a half dozen young boys, with beards in various stages of growth, marched down the now-deserted street that had been a hive of activity only a few minutes earlier.  All the boys wore fedoras, dark suits, and white button-down shirts.  Shani could see their tzitzis flapping in the breeze.  Behind her, one woman was grumbling.  "It's not fair!  We still had 45 minutes left!  Why couldn't they have waited?"  A few other women were rolling their eyes.  Shani sighed.  Another woman spoke up.  "I'm going to miss my bus, and they're so crowded this time of day..."
"I have to pick up my Devory from playgroup..."
"I still have to pick up a few things for supper..."
"Can't they leave us alone..."
As the women complained, Shani looked at the boys.  One, whose beard hadn't even begun to grow, looked to be about the age of her Shmulie.  However, she knew from experience that, despite his youthful look, he was probably the most dangerous one.
The boys confronted an elderly woman sitting at the bus stop.  She had been too old or too tired to move out of their way.  They stood in her face and yelled at her, but Shani couldn't hear what.  Slowly, she got to her feet and turned around.  One of the boys reached in his tefillin bag and pulled out a folding ruler.  They held it up, nodded, and walked on.  The old woman sat down again, but not before Shani saw the tear in her eye.
Just when everyone thought they would move on, a girl came out of a bookstore basement.  As if on cue, the boys rushed at her.  Although Shani couldn't hear anything, she could see the anger in their faces as they surrounded her, screaming right at her.
"Thugs."  Shani looked right at the speaker.  It was a middle-aged lady wearing a bright scarf around her neck.  All over the scarf were printed turquoise and magenta flowers.  The scarf stood out even more over her requisite black suit.
"Sha," Shani whispered.  "They'll hear you."
"Who cares?"  the lady responded.  "On some level, you have to agree that they shouldn't be doing this.  They shouldn't go around tormenting people."
Another woman spoke up.  "My husband says that they're all vilde chayas.  They can't get by in yeshiva, they can't get a job, so they hang out together and make trouble."
"Poor girl..."  the lady with the scarf responded.  By now, the boys were in a tight ring around the young girl from the bookstore, and she was on her knees, crying.  Of course the boys weren't going to beat her up.  They would never touch a strange girl.  It rarely went beyond screams and taunts.  However, some of them were capable of real cruelty.  Most of the women in the area had heard stories of boys throwing bleach, garbage and even rocks at girls and women they considered immodestly dressed.  The ring broke up, and the boys sauntered away.  Before they rounded the corner, the youngest boy, the one about Shmulie's age, pulled a sharp rock out of his pocket and hurled it as hard as he could at the still-prostrate girl's head.
To be continued...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shani--Chapter 1

*Note--this is the first chapter of a story I am writing.  It's meant to be dystopic fiction.

Shani Goldstein pushed her stroller down Thirteenth Avenue.  Around her, women were emerging from store basements, their purchases either clutched in their hands or shoved under similar strollers.  Shani had just ordered a dress from an exclusive shop.  True to form, the windows were covered with heavy gray cloth so that the men, going to and from shul and the bais midrash would not be distracted by either the mannequins or the customers.
Shani sat down on a bench to wait for the bus.  It was almost 2:00--the time for women to clear the street was less than 45 minutes away.  She had to get home anyway to start dinner and get her kids off their buses.  Her little son Moishie kicked his legs and giggled.  Shani smiled at him.  "Hello.  Aren't you cute, Moishie?"  Moishie giggled back.  "Mama."  Shani ruffled his curls.  He was growing so fast.  Already 20 months old, he could put words together.  He was also getting into everything.  Shani sighed.  Moishie would be her last baby.  He had been premature, delivered by emergency C-section .  Her doctor told her that another baby might kill her.  Normally, when they were getting close to two, another one would be growing in her.  But no more.  She sighed.  At least, baruch Hashem, she had seven healthy kinderlach at home.
From down the block, a cry sounded.  "Sikrikim!"
To be continued...

Only three days left!

The Things have been attending camp for three and a half weeks now.  After Wednesday, they'll be done for the summer.
I don't know who's looking forward to it more--me or them.
Now I understand why parents send their kids away.  This sort of schedule and arrangement seems to bring out the worst in everyone.  I become a screaming harridan every morning, trying to hustle them out of pajamas, dressed, washed, brushed, fed and in time for the bus.  The Things, hard to believe, actually fight MORE during the off-hours.  Thing 1, who has been making stories up out of her own head practically since she learned to talk, cried that she's "not as imaginative" as her little sister.  The kids are tired and draggy on weekends.  And, because they need an earlier bedtime so they can make the bus, I have even fewer hours with them than before. 
But there are only three days left.
Then, Queen Mom comes in for her annual summer visit.  And then, August 6 and the first day of lessons!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Welcome to the Republic of Gilead!

Recently, a senior rabbi ruled that a man can take a "pilegesh," a concubine, if the couple is barren and the wife refuses to accept a divorce.
When did we turn into the Republic of Gilead?
For those who missed the reference, I was alluding to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  The story takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a future society run according to a strictly fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.  (Sort of the like the X-tian version of sharia law, complete with public stonings.)  In this society, women are under complete control of the male-dominated society.  They are not allowed to vote, work, have access to money, speak publicly or read even so much as a street sign.  Needless to say, "be fruitful and multiply" is a big deal.  However, because of ecological blight and nuclear war, there are copious quantities of radioactive waste on the outskirts of the Republic of Gilead.  As a result of all this pollution, most people are sterile.  Most of the babies that are born are deformed, and destroyed at birth.  However, a few women are still able to bear healthy children.  These women, dubbed "Handmaids," are expected to mate with the husbands in a bizarre coupling ritual that involves the Handmaid literally lying between the Wife's legs while the husband (dubbed a "Commander") attempts to impregnate her.  Needless to say, the Handmaids are thought of as little better than whores.
Look at the similarities.  A pilegesh is a woman dependent on the man she's with.  Her job is to be available for s*x and bear children.  Her presence may be both tolerated and resented by the man's wife.  Also, it's up for debate who would be considered the child's actual mother.  (In Atwood's tale, a Handmaid who successfully bore a child would nurse the child for three months, and then be sent to another family.  She would never see the child again.)  If it's the pilegesh, would the child have the same rights as a child born of marriage?  And if not--what then?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I should be sorrier, but I'm not.

Yesterday, the 102-year-old Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv passed away from a combination of old age and sickness.  Baruch Dayan Emes.
Maybe I should be sorrier that he's dead.  I should be weeping.  But I'm not.
Maybe it makes me an evil person, but I can't get that worked up.  Yes, he was a learned and influential rabbi.  He may have even been a gadol.  But, in all honesty, I'd never met him.  I'd never even heard of him until a couple of years ago.  I know very little of the decisions he'd made.  My impressions were of an aging man, slipping into ill health and possible senility, allowing himself to be manipulated by those closest to him.  Maybe that was true, and maybe it wasn't.  But either way, I don't see it as a great tragedy, except for those closest to him.  (For instance, I would never show up at the shiva and express these views to the grieving relatives...which I can't say for everyone...Chavie.)
However, death is death, and any death is a tragedy to those who were close to the deceased.
Baruch Dayan Emes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's more than socialization

Recently, Queen Mom had an idea.  Why not take the Things upstate for a week, rent a bungalow in a colony, and then, instead of just hanging out there, going out and doing all the fun, woodsy, outdoorsy stuff we want to do with them?  Go hiking, find a stable and go riding, maybe even do some fishing?  Sounds good to me.  Last night, I saw an ad for a bungalow that could be rented by the week.  When I called up, Builder whispered  "Ask about the people who stay there?  Are they Satmar, Skvere, Modern?"  So, I asked.
"What school do your kids go to?"  Seriously.  This was the woman's response.
Obviously, no one knows what to do with the homeschooled kids, but who knew?  Who knew that everything about you and your compatibility with others could be defined by Bais Yaakov vs. Prospect? 
Personally, I hate pigeonholing.  When I was in San Diego, I hated people pigeonholing me on the basis of my age and marital status.  So what?  After 21, age ceases to matter unless you're cheese.  And as for marital status, I've seen people get married at 18, and I've seen them get married at 80.  It says nothing about the person.  So, just because I'm single and 22, I can be written off as a kid?  I hated it then.  I still hate it.
Now, the only pigeonholing seems to be in the form of which bus you ride in the morning.  (Or, don't ride, hehehe.)  However, it can be determined, according to a total stranger, that I would or would not be a good fit because of something so insignificant as a school choice?  What if I lived in a place where there was only one school?  What then?
But this points to an even bigger problem.  There are too many wedges in the frum world as it is.  If we can get to apoint where we tell people "If you're not X, don't bother coming here," then we've already lost.  We're still living out the Churban.  And it will replay, again and again, unless we change our attitude.
Just a little something for the Three Weeks.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

But I'm the Democrat!

Recently, I had a discussion about the role that welfare payments plays in modern-day Orthodox life.  Apparently, some families start signing up for "programs" like Section 8 and food stamps before the ink is dry on their wedding pictures.  Some couples even go as far as not getting state marriage certificates.  That way, they can be "single mothers" legally.
The irony of course, is that many of these families will denigrate the "sch******s" who supposedly utilize these programs.  (For the record, the Boro Park WIC office has most of the minorities present BEHIND the desks.  The nice ladies with the shaitels and the designer strollers--are getting benefits.)  When questioned about this, the answer is always the same--"Why not use it?  It's there."
Simple.  These programs were designed to be TEMPORARY aid to people needing to stay on their feet during a financial crisis.  They were not meant to be a way of life.  Moreover, anyone with any pride would try to avoid these programs altogether, and, if forced on by necessity (it's a bad economy right now, and many people need these benefits to survive) try to get off of them as quickly as possible. 
For the record, before I was married, I worked full-time and lived on my paycheck.  Sort of.  If you call a converted shed for an apartment and a tin-can on wheels "living."  However, it never crossed my mind to attempt to even get food stamps.  Maybe I just had too much pride, but I would rather live within my means, even if it meant skipping the more than occasional meal, than accept government handouts.
The irony of course, is that many of those on these "programs" are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.  However, I am a lifelong Democrat.

Monday, July 9, 2012

With apologies to Jonathan Swift...

...I have a "Modest Proposal" of my own.  (And, no, I am not going to suggest eating our young--children are not kosher.) 
Everyone complains about the tuition crisis, but no one does anything about it.  Those who complain the loudest (and rightly so) are the middle-class workers who are going broke to pay tuition while the children of kollel parents receive all sorts of free stipends.
Well, I did a little research.  I talked to my friend H., a practicing Catholic who attended Catholic schools for her K-12 years.  According to H., Catholic schools employ monks, nuns and priests who are paid a pittance.  However, since their needs are mostly provided by the Church, the teachers can still afford their standard of living.  Also, it helps that they've taken vows of both poverty and chastity.  In other words, they don't need to worry about tuition for their own kids, nor will they take expensive vacations or drive luxury cars.
So, why not take this model and apply it to kollel?  Allow anyone who wishes to learn in kollel to do so, as long as they agree not to marry while they are there.  The minute they wed, they have to leave off full-time study and go out and work.  Additionally, they have to teach in the schools while they're learning for a small stipend.  Enough for any needs that won't be met in the dormitories, but not enough to support a family.  This solves several problems:
  1.  By disallowing marriage, it means that yeshiva bochurim don't have to decide between kollel and working.  They will not have to worry about their kids tuition because--they don't have kids!
  2. No more kollel wives means that more women can choose to stay home with their kids during the formative years.
  3. No more rebbes with high salaries--tuition drops.
  4. This also has an effect on the "shidduch crisis."  Because learning boys cannot marry anyone until they leave kollel, there is no more pressure for girls to attract "top learners."  The boys also have an obligation to support their wives, meaning that they will choose based on factors other than yichus and money.  (They may still choose based on looks, but we are talking about men here.  They're only human.)
  5. This will also eliminate the benchwarmer problem.  Because learning boys will have to live a hard life and will be denied marriage, the boys who are not serious about full-time learning will leave the yeshiva.  They will then be free to pursue a career or join the army if they live in Israel.
There are those who will say that I'm an apikorus, or worse.  That I don't understand that Torah study preserves the world.  I have no problem with Torah study...before and after work!    The Torah commands us to work.  Pirkei Avos commands us to work.  The Gemara commands us to work.  If you want to learn, fine.  Then live a lifestyle devoted to kedusha.  Just make sure that you don't have family responsibilities taking you away from kollel.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Somehow, I thought we were smarter than that...

Recently, I was having a conversation with one of my neighbors.  Usually, when I do this, I try to keep the conversation light.  (It doesn't help that I'm in a world that does not value secular learning.)  One of my neighbors was saying that her son is having his 15th birthday this Shabbos.  She also said that the aforementioned son reads on a fourth-grade level.
Apparently, I'm the only person who finds this appalling.  The conversation turned to "Why does he need to know how to read English?  He can just enter a trade.  He can become a plumber or an architect."  OK, ladies, reality check time.  There is more to being an architect than just knowing how to draw a basic floor plan.  That's just basic drafting.  Heck, I could do that.  An architect (a real one, or at least someone who won't drive a contractor nuts) has to understand scale, bearing weights for foundations, plumbing, wiring, drainage, building codes, zoning laws, computer usage, and some basic engineering.  And as for the plumber--good luck getting your plumber's license if you can't read well enough to pass the licensing exam.  Hey, try getting a driver's license with a fourth-grade reading level, let alone a skilled-trades license.  Fourth grade is all but functional illiteracy.
And what does that lead to?
That same day, Builder was at the doctor's office.  A young Chassidic man (about in his twenties, Builder estimated) walked into the office as a new patient.  The receptionist handed him the usual forms about insurance, medical history, etc.  The man could not fill out the forms.  Basic paperwork.  Now I will admit that English may not be the "holy tongue."  However, one should have enough grasp of one's country's language to handle basic paperwork!
The irony of course, is that we are the Jewish people!  We're stereotyped as being smarter than everyone else!  We're supposed to be obsessed with study!  We're supposed to lead the world in Nobel laureates!  With a nonexistent educational system, we'll end up being another poor, broken minority group that can't get anywhere.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Another great moment in homeschool socialization (sort of...)

Builder and I have a deal going.  The Things go to camp for one month every summer, and they're mine for the other eleven.
Last night, I got a call from Thing 2's counselor.  At first I thought she was calling to remind me that Thing 2 was chosen for the Shabbos Abba in her bunk and needed to bring snacks for 25 kids (which we were packing when the call came.)   She had forgotten that Thing 2 was the Shabbos Abba.  Instead, she called to tell me that Thing 2 was great kid!  Apparently, the counselor had some concerns that Thing 2 would have a hard time adjusting to camp life because she was homeschooled (whatever THAT means when you're 3), and Thing 2 surpassed all her expectations.  She could share, make friends, and greet her teacher every day with a happy "Hi Mowah!"  Also, she's very expressive--to the point where the counselor thought that Thing 2 was going on five instead of four!  The only issue was a bit of poor sportsmanship, but even that was showing some improvement with a little gentle guidance.  And, again, she's three.  All I could think, while the counselor was talking, was "that's my weird, unsocialized kid!"  The counselor then wanted more information about how exactly homeschooling worked, and I think I was able to answer her questions without proselytizing. 
It's always nice to hear good things about your kids.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Back-to-homeschool shopping

Yellow #2 pencils.  Pink erasers.  Crayola crayons and markers.  Marble composition books.  Dissection kit.
Hold up.  Dissection kit?  The Things are going into first grade and preschool, respectively.  Why on earth would I need to buy a dissection kit?
Well, we're dissecting seeds this year.  I would love it if Thing 1 came away from this school year knowing what a "cotyledon" is.
In many ways, I am a school supply traditionalist.  Why buy the notebooks and pencils with the crazy designs when the basics are much cheaper?  It's not like I'm dealing with peer pressure!  It's not like Thing 1 is sitting next to a little girl with a "My Little Pony" notebook. (Yet ANOTHER reason to homeschool--avoiding status purchases.)  My 4" 3-ring binder with the clear cover is just fine.  And, when the end of the year comes, I'll have all of Thing 1's papers in one place.  It should help with the evaluation.
But, yes, in other ways, I'm a little weird.  How many of my neighbors are buying their kids sketchpads?  Or magnifying glasses with a built-in compass?  Or timeline books?  Or folksong CD's?  Or butterfly kits?  Or artist's pastels?  And, yes, I'm getting the dissection kit.  In a few years, maybe we'll even get a frog to go with it.
However, homeschool shopping is not just supplies.  There is also the backbone of our program--books!  While about half of our books are public domain (and downloaded free on my Kindle), there are other books that require me to part with actual funds.  Workbooks for handwriting.  Hebrew language texts.  Chumash workbooks.  Math texts.  History spines (a one-time purchase, to be used for both kids over several years).  And, I want to get it all here before our first day back, August 6.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What did I sign up for--Family values

Both Thing 1 and Thing 2 are in camp, and the house is too quiet.
Everyone says it's good for them to go to camp.  Believe me, I'm glad they're enjoying it.  I'm glad they're swimming and going on trips.  I'm glad they're doing arts and crafts.  I'm glad they like the kids in their bunks.
But I'm not glad about the follow-up statement everyone makes.  "When they're done, you'll want to send them back for the next month."  No I won't!  Four weeks is quite enough of a separation. 
And now, for what I don't understand. 
When I was still on the receiving end of all that kiruv, I heard about how family-oriented Judaism was.  How people valued their children.  (It helped that my rav in San Diego homeschooled his own kids through the eighth grade.)  However, I'm not seeing it.  Sure, my neighbors have large families.  They clearly love their babies.  But I don't see that as "valuing one's children."  What I've observed is that parents have a baby, ooh and aah over it for about two or three years, dress it up and show it off, and then shove it out the door into year-round institutional care before the child is out of diapers.  Then it's on to the next kid.
Now, I get the need for daycare, particularly for working families.  However, most of my neighbors are housewives.  Why put your kids in school, camp, Sunday program, B'nos group, Shabbos study sessions, and all the other activities that draw kids away from the home?  How much of this all-important "socialization" does a kid need?  What about time to just talk to your kids, teach them to "help Mommy," sing them nursery rhymes, and show them the world?  (And, by the world, I don't mean the inside of various department stores.  But I hate shopping.)  What about letting them be kids?  How much can we value families if families never spend any time together?
All this has a very negative impact.  When kids come home from yeshiva or seminary, they have no qualms telling Mommy and Totty that they're "not doing it right."  That the family's way of living is "not Jewish enough."  They should have qualms.  These are the people who raised them!  Who loved, fed, clothed, and sheltered them!  Who paid all that tuition so the kids could repay it by acting holier than the parents.  Quite frankly, I think any yeshiva or seminary education that does not emphasize respecting parents (you know, one of the "big Ten" etched in stone by the Hand of G-d) is a total waste.  And it undermines the very family that Judaism is supposed to value.