Monday, December 30, 2013

What did I sign up for--Disposable children

The Things are now 7 and 5, respectively.  They may grouse a bit about Shabbos, but they still keep it.  They go to yeshiva, daven when they're told to daven, learn the parsha, and follow the Torah.  They're little kids.  Going OTD is not really an issue at this point.
Fast forward ten years.
I am picturing Thing 1, who wants with every fiber of her being to be a professional actress.  How will she react if she is given a part that demands a Friday-night performance?  What about Thing 2, who was born with a mind of her own and a penchant for bending the rules?  What will happen if one of my children turns out to be gay?  What will I do if they decide to go OTD?
I'll tell you what I will not do.  I will never abandon them.
One of the big selling points in kiruv is Judaism's strong family values.  I have questioned this for years, seeing the widespread institutionalization of young children, educational neglect, silent children, and kids knocking on strangers' doors doing fundraising without adult supervision.  However, this article in the Mishpacha made my hair stand up on end.
The article referenced a rabbi in Israel that takes in young OTD girls tossed out by their parents.  A kind act, true, but why are teenagers being turned out at all?  Because the parents are ashamed?  The child (and make no mistake--15 and 16 year-olds are still children) is trying to grow and define herself.  Sometimes, this takes on forms that parents disagree with.  That's typical adolescence.  However, putting one's own children out on the street is not only atypical, it is abusive.  Moreover, it is counterproductive.  Odds are, once a child is tossed out, that child will never come back.  Not to the parents, and not to Yiddishkeit.
As parents, it is our job to put our children first.  Our own feelings, our egos, others' opinions--all are secondary.  No family should ever throw away their children.  No parent should ever pray for a child's death.  No parent should ever deliberately put a child at risk of harm, whether through starvation, physical attack, or sleeping in the street.  And no one should ever tell a confused teenager that "she brought it on herself."
Our children are gifts from G-d.  They are not disposable!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Rant 2013--Peace, Goodwill, and Shooting Your Eye Out

For many years now, I have ranted about what it's like to be a Jew at Christmas.  However, I think I'm done.  I've made my peace with Christmas.  I leave it alone; it leaves me alone.
Which brings me to the subject of this year's rant--Christmas TV.
I admit it--I'm a sucker for Christmas TV.  Those sappy Rankin-Bass specials, the cartoons, and, of course, the movies.  Ahh, the iconic images of Christmas cheer!  Tiny Tim blessing us, every one, Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls, wishing everyone a merry Christmas, little Natalie Wood tugging on Santa's beard (I know there have been remakes, but they DON'T count!).  And then, of course, there is the line which makes every celebration of Christmas complete:
"You'll shoot your eye out."

Let's face it, most of these beloved movies are pretty dark.  Court cases, Santa in the nuthouse, ghosts, suicide attempts, bullies, getting one's mouth washed out with soap, shooting your eye out--these are not happy stories!
Let's start with A Christmas Carol.  Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge turns his life around and embrace Christmas cheer.  However, why does he do so?  Because he has seen the light?  Or is it because his future includes dying alone and having his body robbed while it's still warm?
And then there's It's A Wonderful Life.  Watch the "Potterville" scenes and then ask yourself--does this really need to be a Christmas movie?  I guess it's kind of the film noir of the holidays, but set the date to any other day, and the message would be the same. 
Miracle on 34th Street features Santa Claus, so this should lighten the mood, right?  Wrong.  We've got a drunk Santa less than ten minutes in, a divorced mom (in 1947, when this was never spoken of above a whisper), a guy deliberately getting his wife plastered, an insecure shrink trying to get a guy committed because he challenges the shrink's authority, and weirdest of all, a little girl hanging around her bachelor neighbor alone.  Did the Hays Code people give this movie a pass because Santa was one of the main characters?
And then, finally, A Christmas Story.  They used to show this one in my junior high between midterms.  I don't think I saw it all the way through until years later.  This, of course, features the "you'll shoot your eye out" line that I referenced (spoiler alert--Little Ralphie shoots his eye out.)  Ralphie also beats up a bully, drops an F-bomb on his dad (and gets his mouth washed out with soap), fondles an electric, fishnet-clad plastic leg, and gets kicked in the face by a department-store Santa.
But don't let these dark stories get you down.  Have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a divine Solstice, or just a nice day off work.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What did I sign up for--Domestic violence

I had another court date last week.  As I sat waiting on the Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) floor, I saw two--two--different women with covered heads who were not related to Builder.  Nor were they attorneys. 
Two more.
Another at the Children's Law Center.
More than I care to count at the Family Justice Center.
And, if you go off the "iceberg theory," (only the tip is visible), for every one of those women, there are how many more who DON'T report?  Nine?  Ten?
Since Builder is now on his third arrest, this means that I am very much on the radar with the local precinct.  Every so often, the DV officers check up on me to make sure I am safe. The last time they were there, they told me that they were in the area, and happened to notice that I was home.  Apparently, there were a few other families on the block that they were checking up on.
The block.  Not Boro Park.  Not the neighborhood.  The block.
It should be mentioned at this point that most of my neighbors are very frum.
Is it any wonder that I see frum men as predators?  Is it any wonder that I don't want to remarry?  Is it any wonder that I am more "tifrosh min hatzibur" than before?  Is it any wonder that I walk through boro Park and mentally ask every frum woman I see, "Does your husband hurt you, too?"
When we are told to "walk modestly with G-d," we are also told to "do justice and love mercy."  How, then, can that be compatible with spousal abuse?  How can a Torah-observant man justify hurting his own family?  Moreover, how can it be so common that frum abuse victims keep turning up everywhere? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Personally, I'd rather be a potato

I have read a number of books on the subject of tzniut since becoming frum.  The most infamous, Modesty--An Adornment for Life by the obsessive (and possibly pervy) Rabbi Eliyahu Falk I've only glanced through, because it's almost encyclopedic.  I've also read Daughters of Dignity, 6 Stories, and Seams and Souls.  Along with the laws, one usually runs across the following scenario:
"Imagine going into a jewelry store to buy a diamond bracelet.  You are buzzed in, and the diamonds are locked away under glass.  Now, imagine buying a potato.  They're out in the open, for anyone to take.  Would you rather be a diamond, or a potato?"
The implication, of course, is that we would rather be a diamond.  Diamonds are rare and precious, and must be hidden away.  But anyone can just take up a potato.  They're cheap and readily available.(Am I the only one who senses a slight rape culture vibe in that statement?)
But let's consider each.
Like us, both diamonds and potatoes contain carbon.  But the similarity ends there.  Diamonds, unless they're used in saws (and the ones that ends up in jewelry do not), are purely ornamental.  They are meant to be shown off and then locked away.  Moreover, they usually say, "Look at me!  I'm pretty!  I'm expensive!  I have value!"  I would not call that very modest, or even very practical.
However, potatoes are both modest and practical.  They are completely unassuming, drawing no attention to themselves whatsoever.  Moreover, they are living entities!  They can reproduce by themselves.  (Potato plants are usually grown from pieces of potatoes, rather than seeds.).  Moreover, they are food.  They provide energy and some nutrients.
Now, I happen to take umbrage at being compared (and therefore reduced to) an inanimate object.  However, given this rather bizarre little dichotomy, I think I'd rather be a potato.

(HT Love Joy Feminism for the image)

Monday, December 16, 2013

A few thoughts on Chabad

I have a friend who is very strongly oriented to the Lubavitch way of practicing Judaism.  I am not.  This has led to some interesting discussions.
After the Tablet article on head-covering came out, we had one of these discussions again.  I happen to believe that if you're going to cover your hair, it had better look covered.  No wigs.  Especially not some long, flowing, gorgeous hairpiece that costs upwards of five grand and looks better than the graying, frizzy mop on my head.  (Occasionally, I wear a wig, like to court or a job interview, but usually, when I do, it's covered.  Does that make me rebellious or extra-pious?)  My friend, however, quotes the last Lubavitcher rebbe as stating that wigs are preferred for two reasons--stray locks that fall loose aren't as obvious, and we're supposed to be modest, not frumpy or hideous.
And then I read an article that explained the perspective.  Apparently, Rebbe Schneerson decided that Orthodoxy would be a lot easier to sell to assimilated Jews in the 1950s if it didn't come with the schmattes their grandmothers had discarded the minute they hit the goldeneh medina.  America--where Jewish identity meant lighting Shabbos candles on Friday night (maybe) and then getting up early to hit the factory the next day.  (Would this be a good time to mention that the Triangle fire was on Shabbos?)  There was some attempt to stem the tide of assimilation, and that's where the Young Israel movement came from.  But Chabad was trying to sell Chassidus to American Jews who wanted to join the melting pot.  To "Devorah"s who became "Dorothy"s and "Itzik"s who became "Irving"s.  To those who firmly believed that one should "be a Jew in the home and a man in the street."  And, he was trying to do so during the height of 1950s conformity and xenophobia.
This, I truly believe, is what sets Chabad apart.  Whereas other Chasidic sects are mostly the descendants of shell-shocked Holocaust survivors clinging to a spiritual leader out of fear in a world that seems full of anti-Semitism and genocide, Lubavitch draws its followers from a more assimilated crowd.  Some of the excesses of other Chasidic sects (shtreimels, Yiddish-only, ghettoization, extreme gender segregation to the point of separate doors, lifetime learning to the exclusion of learning job skills) would not be tolerated by the target audience of American Jews.
Is Chabad a cult?  Maybe.  But certainly no more so than any other haredi group (two words--daas Toireh).  My own thoughts are sort of mixed.  I appreciate that they don't turn people away, I love the free services, and I like that they're willing to meet people on their level.  However, I think they tend to have a bit too much hard sell to young, impressionable Jews (the SDSU Chabad had cheap rooms and lots of liquor--a great enticement for alumni who wanted the glory days of AEPi back), and they seem to put more emphasis on the Rebbe than G-d.  Also, I find it troubling that the Sorbonne-educated Schneerson would discourage secular education for his own followers (Lubavitch boys' schools that cater to those born into it do not teach their students to read English until the third grade).  One rabbi of my acquaintance has accused them of poaching congregants--but maybe those are the congregants that WANT to be poached.  And then there's the whole "Schneerson as messiah/Schneerson isn't really dead" controversy, which just adds it's own touch of weird.  However, at the end of the day, I do think they unfairly get a bad rap from the rest of the Jewish world.  They mean well.