Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What did I sign up for--Thoughts on abuse

When I was still in San Diego and grappling with my Jewish identity, I read the book Shanda.  It's the story of a self-hating Jewish journalist who rediscovers his connection to Yiddishkeit with the help of the prominent Chabad rabbi Manis Friedman.  After reading the book, I thought that Manis Friedman would be an interesting person to know.
Now I'm not so sure.
Recently, Rabbi Manis Friedman released a video on YouTube where he basically blasted those who were abused for being victims and not getting on with their lives.  While the original has been taken down due to the widespread backlash (bloggers such as BrooklynWolf, FailedMessiah, and Rabbi Harry Maryles all condemned the video in the strongest possible terms), nothing ever really disappears from the Internet.   Despite the apologetic video posted the next day, Friedman's words will live on.  And they should serve as a warning to all those who seek to enter this community.  There is a poison here.  And it won't go away anytime soon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stepford Wives--The Club!

For those of who who missed the Stepford Wives (and I am still trying to purge the 2004 remake from my mind--this post is only going to reference the Ira Levin novel and the 1975 film), the story is pretty simple.  An aspiring photographer, her lawyer husband, and their two daughters leave Manhattan for the suburb of Stepford, CT.  Joanna, the photographer, notices that almost every woman in Stepford is obsessed with domestic chores, dresses like a runway model, and looks gorgeous.  And they idolize their husbands.  However, there are a few exceptions--a couple of new arrivals who have other interests.  And then, they change.  Finally, just as Joanna is about to flee, she finds out the truth.  The local Men's Association has been bumping off the wives and replacing them with docile, beautiful robots.  The story was intended as a satire, and a warning about the need for feminism in a world where women are still expected to fill that role and be nothing more.
It was never intended as a suggestion.
While Googling the book and movie, I found there is an actual Stepford Wives Organization.  Turns out it's a group of housewives in Connecticut (surprise!) who have taken the Levin novel as a how-to guide, rather than a warning.  The group emphasizes submission to husbands, dressing conservatively but feminine outside the home and like some sleazy pin-up in the bedroom, working only if the husband asks, and being the perfect stay-at-home mom.  From their website:

Stepford Wives Organization is a website that supports the idea of the homemaking wife who is not only the cheery domestic goddess, but a fantastic dresser, neat as a pin, a lady with good manners, and a gracious, well-behaved, obedient wife who always puts her man first.
Stepford Wives Organization supports and promotes the Stay-At-Home-Mother.
Stepford Wives Organization celebrates the good housekeeping days of the 1950s.
Stepford Wives Organization also believes in the freedom for anyone and everyone to pursue their dreams. We never have a cross word to say about other people's decisions to lead their lives. If we have an opinion- which is seldom- we speak quietly to our husbands in the privacy of our homes. If we have an opinion on the matter, it would be our husband's opinion.

My personal favorite is the "Dressing" section--women are not only encourage to diet down to a frail figure, but are expected to adopt a hyperfeminine, "Daddy's Little Girl" look--ruffles, bows, tight dresses and skirt suits.  First of all, asking a grown woman to dress like "Daddy's Little Girl"--yeah, there's nothing pervy there.  Secondly, what message are we trying to send?  Most men would rather have a smart, competent woman as a lifelong companion, rather than a simpering idiot whose every thought is how can I please my may-unn.
In the "Pleasing Men" section, they take advice from the anti-feminist backlash literature of the 1960s and 1970s, including Fascinating Womanhood (written as a direct response to The Feminine Mystique), and Marabel Morgan's Total Woman.  Their etiquette section even goes so far as to suggest that women skip dinner in order to be on call while their husbands eat!  (And what could be better to keep that trim waist than living on the brink of an eating disorder?)
Now, I don't live in Connecticut, and these women wouldn't give me the time of day (From their blog: "none of us are Muslims or Jews"), so why does this bother me?  Because women like this vote (although they will only do so if they vote like their husbands)!  They have an Internet presence!  They may have countless people who agree with them!  (There is a blog called Ladies Against Feminism that wants to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.  And then there's Debi Pearl, and her Created to Be His Help Meet, which essentially advocated the same thing.  People like this exist.)  While it's ideal for a husband and wife to mutually respect each other, organizations such as this are not advocating respect between two adults of comparable intelligence and ability, but a domineering man having complete sway over the simpering, passive, submissive girl-child that he now controls.  Even under the best of circumstances that can lead to resentment.  And when the circumstances are not the best--domestic abuse, isolation from friends and family, marital rape, financial control...
Again, please note that all links are for informational purposes ONLY.  I do not advocate any of the views presented in any of the websites linked. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Siddurim and tefillos

Our mornings start with davening, and of course, we distribute siddurim.
Each of us has a siddur, ranging from the smallest (mine) to the biggest (Thing 2).  All three are from Artscroll, and each is for the appropriate level.  Mine is a battered, blue, pocket-size Artscroll Korban Minchah siddur with English and Hebrew.  Builder bought me some nameplates for my books, so my Hebrew name is on the cover.  Thing 1's siddur, less than a year old, is already staring to show some dog-earing where she flips the pages absently while davening.  It is the standard-size Artscroll Chaim Shlomo Chinuch Siddur, all Hebrew, and Nusach Sefard.  Thing 2 makes do with the picture-book siddur that Artscroll designed for children.  This is easily not my favorite.  Not only is it nusach Ashkenaz only, but it's missing some of the tefillos we've incorporated, such as Hallel (on Rosh Chodesh), Yotzer Ohr (and would it have been so hard to add one line to the Barchu page), and Tehillim perek 150 (which is shorter and a lot livelier than Ashrei, which they did include.  Nothing against Ashrei--I committed it to memory years ago and won Builder's heart that way--but 22 verses is a lot for a little kid.)  However, since Thing 2 is only on the cusp of learning nekudos, it really doesn't matter that I've had to improvise so much so that she has a page.  
My rule about davening is that we add, but don't subtract.  In other words, if the Things learn a tefillah in camp, davening group or elsewhere, we add it into our morning davening.  However, when Thing 1 told me that her camp skipped certain tefillos that I had made routine, I said.  "That's nice.  You're home now.  No more skipping."  As of now, our morning tefillos consist of the following:
Modeh Ani
Reshis Chochma
Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe
Ma Tovu
Adon Olam
Netilas Yadayim/Asher Yatzar
Bircas haTorah (but we skip the readings from the Mishna and the Talmud)
Bircas haShachar (first 14)
Tehillim perek 150
Barchu/Yotzer Ohr (Builder said it's OK to say this without a minyan, since it's for chinuch purposes.)
First two brachos of Shemonah Esrei (eventually we'll add the third)
Aleinu, first half
Ani Maamim number 12 (not my idea, Thing 1 imported it from summer camp two years ago.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The cardinal sin in any friendship... an honest response.
Recently, I took one of those online Myers-Briggs personality tests.  The results were about what I suspected--I am an INTJ.  INTJ's are great at leadership and getting things done, but they have a hard time making friends.  Not only must we overcome our natural reserve to even get close to someone, but we value truth over social niceties.  So, when we're not biting our tongues in two trying not to say something (and thus feeling cynical about a friendship that we don't really trust), we say what we feel.  And that may not be what the other person wants to hear.
See, INTJ's see both sides of a situation.  We rely on our intuition and judgement (hence the N and the J), and we are not swayed by appeals to popularity or authority.  We question EVERYTHING.  It's a fun mental execise, but it doesn't make us too popular.  And, because we have built-in BS meters, we cut through the BS fairly easily and give direct answers (again, when we're not biting our tongues in two.).  This usually results in the other party hating us for not being supportive.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Parshat Beshallach--some more kol isha

  Feed the birds.  Do a mitzvah.  And if singing was good enough for Miriam, it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I doubt he'll survive his sentence

Today, a NY state judge sentenced Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist convicted to 59 counts of sexual abuse against a girl who came to him for counseling when she was twelve, to 103 years in prison.  The abuse lasted three years and included a four-hour trip upstate.
This should be fun. 
First of all, Weberman is 54 years old.  If he begins his sentence today, he won't get out until he's 157.
Secondly, word travels fast in prison.  Child molesters are the lowest of the low in prison, hated by guards and inmates alike.  Sure, the system will keep Weberman in isolation--but he has to get out sometime.  And, if does end up in isolation, it means 23 hours a day in lockdown, with one hour outside.  No minyan.  No Daf Yomi.  Probably only supervised use of tefillin (the straps could be considered a weapon.).  Fear of reprisals from inmates who see him raping their little girls.
Finally, the judge also sentenced seven people of trying to intimidate the witness.  This case has blown the lock of a secretive community.  Hopefully the fresh air will get rid of the festering rot inside.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A dream realized

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have A Dream" speech, Washington DC, August 28, 1963

"I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Barack Hussein Obama, taking the oath of office of his second term as President of the United States, Washington DC, January 21, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When ceremonies backfire

Last night, Builder and I went to my nephew's pidyon haben.  (As in, my nephew was the baby's father.  It's about the only time that it registers that Builder is older than me.)
As my nephew redeemed his new son from his uncle (who is a Kohen), I had to wonder--what would the Kohen do if the father said, "You know, I'm not really ready for fatherhood, and taking care of kids is more than my wife and I can handle right now.  You take the kid, and I'll keep the coins."
Now, I've only seen about three of these in my life, because they're extremely rare.  However, this is a serious ceremony that means something!  Parents are actually asked if they want to give their firstborn to the priesthood!  There is a chance that a parent my take the Kohen up on his offer!
It's like the chalitza ceremony.  A few years ago, I saw a TV movie called Loving Leah.  It was about a man whose brother became a BT, married a frum girl, and died young and childless.  The secular brother had to show up for chalitza.  However, he felt guilty about cutting off his brother for so many years, that he ended up marrying his sister-in-law.  Weird premise for a movie, but it proves my point.  These ceremonies actually mean something.  I'm sure that at some point there were parents who gave up their children to the priesthood, either out of poverty or some kind of "safe haven" because they were overwhelmed.  Like dumping newborns off at the firehouse.  A little something to think about at the next pidyon haben.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cutting the middleman

So, Builder is still determined to get the Things into a school, any school , no matter their personalities.  However, Small Modox Girls may be out of the running.  (The price tag scared off Builder, and their hard-sell tactics with a side of soft deception scared me off.)  His new project is Big Mainstream Girls, where one of our nieces is enrolled.  (It came highly recommended by my SIL--whose kids go elsewhere.)
My response:  Isn't that particular niece still illiterate--in the third grade?
Builder then said that it's not the school's fault, because the girl has a learning disability and her mother doesn't put in the time I put in.
Of course her mother doesn't put in that kind of time.  The girl goes to school!  The school, which charges tuition, is supposed to handle that.  And, if I have to teach my kids everything anyway, why not just cut the middleman and teach them myself?  (Incidentally, Thing 1 may have a learning disability as well--but she's still reading at least at grade level.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mistress AztecQueen, Quite Contrary

Hello, my name is AztecQueen2000 and I have a contrarian nature.

Hello, AztecQueen2000

Years ago, when I became bat mitzvah, my rabbi started his bracha to me with the following: "The minute I first laid eyes on you, I knew you were trouble."  He then blessed me that I would stay a troublemaker.  I guess the blessing worked.  Here I am, 12 years later, still causing trouble.  Of course, this particular quirk of mine did not go unnoticed.  My eighth grade science teacher had to admire me for marching to my own drummer and not following the herd.  (Don't even try to do the arithmetic--I had a late bat mitzvah.)
But I think it goes beyond that.
Not only do I march to my own drummer, but the surest way to make me go against the herd is to tell me that Something Just Isn't Done.  Or for me to even sense that there is a "can't," sitting on the sidelines waiting to pounce.  When I first came to Brooklyn, I felt so stifled by all the "can't" that I think it pushed me away.  I "can't" have non-Jewish friends.  I "can't" listen to secular music.  I "can't" go bare-legged in the summer.  I "can't" pick a secular (if somewhat Israeli name) for Thing 1.  I "can't" keep Thing 1 out of playgroup.  I "can't" play my favorite game, Stump the Rabbi.  (OK, if I can't ask my rabbi my questions about midrash, I'll just rant about it here).
However, I'm beginning to wonder if that's a problem.  Fighting the good fight is one thing, but fighting just for the sake of the fight?  How many of my concerns are legitimate and how many are just a way for me to release tension by getting all riled up?   And is it just my contrarian nature that's causing me to question, or is it a legitimate search for the truth?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

College--sex, drugs and Jesus Christ

It's odd that in joining this community, I found myself in a place where "college" has become a dirty word.  Those who attend invariably went to Orthodox institutions (YU or Touro), or completed a degree online in one of those bogus "seminary/yeshiva credit, life skills and CLEP tests take you from high school to a Master's in a year" institutions where I seriously wonder if they're accredited.
Often cited is the fear that college will interfere with one's hashkafa.  That the liberal professors with their teachings of evolution and hating Israel, combined with enough sex and drugs to make Woodstock look tame, will drive these poor kids off the derech.  Soon they'll be scarfing down bacon cheeseburgers at Friday night keg parties.  On Yom Kippur.  And it all comes from college.
Now, I went to college.  Real college.  And, yes, there was some of the "party school" atmosphere at the old alma mater, especially with Mexico and booze for the 18 and up crowd just a short drive away.  However, I was never pressured to try drugs.  I was never pressured to drink.  I only went on one date between freshman year and graduation, and spent the entire time fully clothed.  The biggest danger to my spiritual development in Judaism was...get ready for it...
That's right.  While the druggie kids didn't care if I joined them or not, I could easily think of several people who tried to sell me on Jesus Christ.  From the guy in my first-semester Economics class who tried to sell me on the truth of NT prophesies (and any prophesy is true when it's written after the fact), to my freshman mentor who dragged me to The Rock church (pass the Kool-Aid), to my RA (who tried to tell me that even the best non-Christians were going to burn in Hell for all eternity--great way to make Jesus look like a jerk), to the man I dated for 18 months (although in all fairness, I was warned about him).  I had more people trying to sell me on Christianity during my college years than I've had trying to sell me on any other vice in my entire life.
So, please remember that the danger may not come in a keg, but in a book.  And prepare your kids for the missionary onslaught.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Curses! Curses!

For the next two weeks, we'll be reading about the ten plagues--seven this week, three the next.
The irony is, that had Hashem kept the end goal of freeing the Jewish slaves, those curses would have been cut down to five.  The rest--and the drowning of the Egyptians--was all on G-d.
Seroiusly, how much could G-d have been weeping for all the drowned Egyptians.  After the fifth plague, it was G-d who kept hardening Pharaoh's heart--thus causing more plagues.  It's like G-d wanted to destroy them for no good reason--especially since the enslavement was part of G-d's plan.  Even Avroham knew that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years.  So why did G-d do it?  Did he just want to show the world that He was the biggest badass on the block?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When the city is the textbook

Last night, Builder got on my case for taking the kids on two and three trips a week instead of having them bone up on their reading.  So, I did what any reasonable parent would do.  I grabbed My First Parsha Reader off the bookshelf, opened it to the first page of Va'era, and set it down before Thing 1.  "Okay, Thing 1.  Read it."
Thing 1 read it.  Thing 1 read it accurately and fluently.  You were saying, Builder?
Then I explained to Builder that our trips were not only fun, but educational.  After all, who can argue with the National Museum of the American Indian?  Or the Metropolitan Museum of Art?  Or the zoo?  Or the library?  I have a theory that a person could run around New York City for a year and learn more that that person could learn in a classroom.  In fact, part of the reason I like homeschooling is that we sit down for an hour or two of lessons, and then we're out the door.  There's so much that can be learned about history, science and the arts just by running around NYC's landmarks and museums.
Why call it homeschooling?  We're never home.  And that's the way I like it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It seems like such a reasonable request...

but I can't get a copy of Small Modox's curriculum.  The menahel doesn't have it, and wants me to enroll my kids this second on the basis of no information.
And they are at an impasse.  They want the Things, but I'm not handing off my kids without an acutal curriculum.
And that makes me unreasonable.
However, see it from my perspective.  I've taught the Things from the time they were babies.  I know their strengths and weaknesses.  I've taught  ABC's, numbers, and even reading.  I've done pretty damn well, too, if my kids are grade level even by their biased admission.  I have to tell the state of NY what I'm doing in great detail.  All I want to know is "For my kids and on my dime, what are you doing?"
Now, I have seen other private school websites.  I was actively involved in choosing the last two schools I attended.  Both were chosen solely on the strength of the curricula.  Both publicized it for all applicants and their parents.  Every homeschool program I looked at had curriculum samples on their websites, as well as detailed book lists.  (Ambleside Online, the one I want to use with some tweaking to remove X-tian content, uses mostly public domain books--which means I can get them free.  The ones that are not public domain mostly have the "look inside" feature.)
Seriously, I'm not asking for state secrets.  I just want some kind of scope and sequence.  I'd like to see how it compares to their current curriculum.  I'd also like some idea of the books they use.  (Let's even take the issue of mid-year enrollment off the table--the fact that they even have that many openings is not a good sign.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2e or not 2e--that is the question.

As part of the application process for Small Modox Girls (and really more for my own purposes), I had the Things tested.  I'm still waiting on the results for Thing 2.  Thing 1 came back with a Very Superior score for verbal and a Borderline Score for Performance.  The Borderline score was caused by one "outlier" test--the block test.  Apparently Thing 1 could not make patterns that match other patterns.  The results were so scattered that the tester did not want to do a full workup, since the aggregate number would not match Thing 1's ability.
There's a term for this.  It's called "twice-exceptional," or 2e for short.  Gifted kids with learning disabilities.  In this case, it's a visual motor delay.
So far, it hasn't affected her education.  Thing 1 tested at mid-first-grade level--and we're in the middle of first grade, so that makes sense.  However, no one really knows what to do with 2e kids in school.  Schools that are big enough for tracking really only have three slots: Gifted, Average, and Learning-Disabled.  So, where does the 2e kid fit?
  • If they put her in Gifted, her delay will get in her way.
  • If they put her in Average, she'll be right skill-wise.  However, content-wise, she'll be bored out of her head.
  • If they treat her as Learning-Disabled, she'll be bored AND stigmatized (make no mistake, everyone knows who the "slow" kids are.)
Either way, Thing 1 will be turned off to school, and, concomitantly, to learning.  By homeschooling her, I can tailor her curriculum to her needs, giving her rich content while working on the reading and math skills.
In fact, it's already helped.  One of the signs of visual motor delay is illegible handwriting.  Thing 1's handwriting is not only legible, it is, for a six-year-old, very neat.  I attribute that to Handwriting Without Tears, a handwriting curriculum developed by an occupational therapist.  Also, she does daily copywork to reinforce neat handwriting.
Looks like the best option is still homeschooling!