Monday, November 3, 2014

Kiruv above the neck

I have said this many times before--I rarely buy services magazines published under Orthodox auspices unless there's an article of interest to me.  Kiruv articles qualify, and so I actually plunked down some coin on a copy of last week's Mishpacha Magazine.  Not only was there an article on the roaring success of the Shabbos Project, but there was also a roundtable discussion on the success of kiruv.  According to the article, more Jews than ever were learning about the wonder and beauty of Torah observance through lectures, open Shabboses, and of course, the campus Chabad.  (In my day, the campus Chabad was a home for ex-frat boys who wanted cheap rent and plenty of booze.  Slap on a kippah, grow a beard, change your name to Menachem and you're good to go.)  There are plenty of people with a need, and it's easy to believe that Orthodoxy will fill that need.
However, booze, cholent and divrei Torah will only take you so far.  Getting people in the door is relatively easy.  Keeping them in the fold, however, is far more difficult.  As the article stated outright, about 150,000 Orthodox Jews are baalei teshuvah.  However, there are about 330,000 adults who were born into Orthodox families but are no longer observant.  In other words, for every person you bring in, two have left.  And that doesn't include the former BTs who bail.
So what's the problem?  If the Torah is so profound, why do our own children bail?  As Pirkei Avos states, "Any love dependent on a specific cause dies with the cause."  Let's face it--being Torah observant is capital-H HARD!  The lifestyle is expensive, the dress code both restrictive and conspicuous, and there are rules about everything from light switches on Saturday to music in the summer.  Once the bloom is off the rose, what keeps someone from saying, "See ya"?  You have to get above the neck.  And there's more to that than Midrash and Gematria.
Remember those "needs" I mentioned?  Well, if our community doesn't meet them, then the motivation to stay wears a bit thin.  Someone sold on those beautiful families around the Shabbos table may grow discouraged after years of sitting single (or being trapped with an abuser who lays tefillin every morning before coming home to scream at his wife).  If you want to emphasize community, then genuine inclusion is a necessity.  There can be no talk of "bad influences" as the BT and his or her children are rejected from schools and excluded from playdates.  For me, it was hearing that Torah study makes you a more moral person.  If we want to say that and mean it, then we have to let the Torah get above our own necks.  It must be more than skirt lengths, velvet kippot, and four hechsherim on your cookies.  We cannot condone any act of abuse, theft, or dishonesty, ever.
(To be continued...)

Monday, July 7, 2014

On the Hobby Lobby decision, contraception, and personal responsibility

OK, I really wanted to weigh in on this earlier, but life has prevented blogging!  I have moved out of Builder's house!  (Happy dance, happy dance.)
This Hobby Lobby case has raised strong opinions, and since I have friends who range from very liberal to very conservative, I have heard them all.  I also caught what Justice Ginsberg had to say in her dissent, and I happen to agree.  Supreme Court decisions have had far-reaching consequences, and when they have curtailed individual rights in favor of some other cause (see Dred Scott or Korematsu--which are now taught as examples of the Supreme Court being on the wrong side of history, and proof of a more bigoted time), they usually are overturned by a more enlightened court, or never brought up outside of a college-level constitutional law class.
Now, here's the thing.  CONTRACEPTION IS NOT ABORTION!  Contra comes from the Latin for "against."  Meaning, that contraceptives prevent pregnancy.  Contraceptives by their very nature cannot cause abortion because the woman using the device was never pregnant.  If you're not pregnant, you don't have an abortion.  End of story.  (Any comments which refer to abortion will be deleted.)
Now, let's discuss personal responsibility.
Once we get past the issue of "but, but--think of all the poor baybeez you're killing" (see what I said above--if you use a contraceptive device, you did not create a baby, therefore you did not terminate one), the next comment is "women should take responsibility for their actions."  Loosely translated--if you dumb sluts would just keep your legs closed, you wouldn't have to worry about pregnancy.  (the thought process of the Rush Limbaughs of the world.)
Let's deconstruct this, shall we?
How many contraceptive users are married?  Should married couples completely abstain from sex until the wife reaches menopause?  How many men would agree to that?  What happens if a married couple can't get access to birth control?
I'll tell you what happens.  Journey with me to the hamlet of Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York.  Kiryas Joel is a Satmar Hasidic enclave.  Birth control is unheard of, and most couples who marry are too young to drink at their own weddings.  That translates to a lot of fertile years, and a lot of children.  Kiryas Joel is number one in the country for two demographics--it has the most children per capita of any town in the US.  And it has the most residents per capita living below the poverty line.  So, who supports all these precious little babies?  Why, you and I do, of course!  These "responsible" citizens may not use birth control, but they sure don't have a problem with collecting welfare.
So, where's the responsibility?  All these couples are very religious and very married.  Holding hands out of wedlock, much less sex out of wedlock, is unheard of.  So, by most measures, they are "responsible."  However, they have more children than they can afford, which to me is very irresponsible.  An IUD is about $400 and lasts ten years, assuming it's not rejected.  Try even getting halfway through a single pregnancy on $400.  Can't be done.
Now let's consider a Hobby Lobby employee making $8/hour.  If she and her husband have a child they can't afford, they have to go on welfare (I guarantee you she has no job protection if she takes maternity leave).  Isn't that more "irresponsible" than implanting an IUD?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A partner in hope

This is the story of a young woman with no family.  A naive girl, duped into marriage to an older man.  A young woman who endured years of abuse, then fled with her children.  To this day, she is embroiled in a custody fight, her husband menaces her, and she is just trying to obtain her Get.
No, it's not my story.  The young woman in question is fellow Brooklyn resident Rivky Stein.

Her story resonates with me, and also gives me hope.  Her Facebook page has close to 8,000 "Likes," and she's gotten a great deal of support from both anonymous donors and ORA.  
But as hopeful as I am, her story also makes me sad.  For all her supporters, there are many voices online (and perhaps in person) who would rather silence her.  Those who call her "unstable" or "crazy", or those who claim that she is playing the domestic violence card to win in court.  (Just read the comments.)  Those who claim her husband is a sweet, charming man who has been blindsided by a drama queen looking for a payoff.  
Let me say this: Having gone through a similar experience, I believe her.  Both the video and the documents she posted to her page make her husband sound like a more extreme version of Builder.  Moreover, since she was not legally married to Yoel Weiss, she can not put in any claims against his property or assets.  In other words, she gains nothing by lying.  She got an order of protection, which in Kings County is all but impossible.  That alone adds weight to her allegations.  
Rivky, this is for you.  You are in my thoughts and prayers, and I hope you receive your Get soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

School's Out! Some thoughts on the year of yeshiva.

For the past year, against my wishes, the Things have been at Small Modox Girls School.  Court-ordered attendance.  True, I could have kept on homeschooling them had I stayed with Builder.  But that would have meant putting up with his abuse.  And he probably would have forced them into school anyway.
To my mind, school serves two purposes--keeping kids safe while their parents work (I'm still looking for a job), and giving them an education.  Let's see how they did on those two areas.
Safety: Here I would have to give the school a very low mark.  The building they were in is old and decrepit, and has some issues.  During Thing 1's siddur play, there was no heat in the auditorium--in January.  During one of the coldest winters I've ever experienced.  It was so cold that we all had to keep our coats on.  Additionally, their school bus managed to lose Thing 1 twice--once when she was with her little sister.  I couldn't reach the school and wound up calling the police.  They almost called in an Amber Alert when a neighbor found the girls.  Since that day, I have not trusted the afternoon bus, and pick up the girls myself.  I was also less than impressed with their attitude towards Builder.  Despite the fact that we have a standing custody order and visitation schedule, Builder was free to "visit" the girls on campus whenever he wanted.  He also took Thing 2 out of school one day, and no one notified me.  I found out from Thing 2.  At the beginning of the year, I informed the menahel and the preschool director that I had an order of protection against Builder.  They ignored me.  ACS also got on their case about the "visits," but the school allowed them to continue.
Education: Here, I'm not sure if I can give a fair assessment, since the school made both girls repeat.  (Thing 1 needed work on her Hebrew, and there was no space in Thing 2's grade.)  I'm not really sure that Thing 2 learned anything, but I'll give them a pass--it is preschool, after all.  Thing 1 was really more of the evidence.  Her writing and spelling improved, so I will give them that.  (This may have come down to a difference in philosophy.  I don't believe in encouraging independent writing for kids who can barely read--they have to rely on phonetic spelling and get into sloppy habits.  Thing 1 did copywork with me, but no spelling tests or anything.)  Her mathematical ability not only stagnated, but regressed.  The work she was bringing home for math was the sort she did two years before she started.  Thing 1 informed me that she did not do math every day in class.  For reading, the school seemed to rely heavily on memorization and whole language--despite the fact that whole language techniques have been discredited.  Thing 1 also told me that one of her teachers could not spell "Wednesday," and had to look it up.  Not surprisingly, the school has lost its accreditation with the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (it ran out in 2011, and as of the website, has not been renewed.)
As for the Hebrew, I had two main issues.  Thing 1's reading and vocabulary are not much better than they were at the beginning of the year (so, why did she repeat?), and all the homework assumes that the parents are proficient enough in Hebrew.  The materials I used when homeschooling at least allowed translation.  While I understand that immersion is the way to go, what do I do when I'm faced with a worksheet written entirely in Hebrew script that I have to interpret so Thing 1 can complete it?  So far, I'm still in the range of my limited ability, but what happens when I'm faced with a page of Rashi?  At the end of the year, Thing 1 brought home all her workbooks.  Most of her English workbooks were two-thirds empty.  One of her Hebrew workbooks had another child's name written on it.  Thing 1 told us that the books had been distributed when she was out sick, and she never received her own.  She had to share with another student.  I can understand these shortages in an underfunded public school where there are 40 kids to a class and there aren't even enough desks for everyone (I attended such a school for a year), but in a $10,000-per-year-per-child private school?  The least they can supply is TEXTBOOKS!
My final issue is summer homework.  What sadist thought this up?  Summer is supposed to be a time to decompress after a year of school.  However, on top of attending camp (again, court-ordered), Thing 1 has to complete packets of worksheets in English, math and Hebrew, play a computer game that locked her out within hours of the end of school, keep a journal, and write five "reader responses" to ten books.  I understand the reading and the journal.  However, most of the worksheets amount to raw busywork.  Thing 1 can complete three of them in about 30 seconds.  Also, most kids either do them at the beginning of the summer just to get them over with, or in the last week or two before school starts because they've been putting them off.  This means the effect on "summer brain drain" is negligible.  It makes the school look more rigorous than it is.
Bottom line--I wasn't that impressed with yeshiva education going in.  After a year of experiencing it, I'm even less so.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Feminism--A short history

Recently, the Yeshivat Maharat graduated its latest class.  Congratulations to the graduates.  Semicha, whether or not one receives the title of "rabbi," is a challenge and requires a great deal of study and hard work.  I know these women will be an asset to the Jewish community as a whole.
And, of course, we now have to deal with opinions.
Rabbi Harry Maryles is against the whole business of ordaining women.  I'm not sure what "serara" means, or why it's a problem that a woman rabbi will be on the other side of the mechitza from him.  (My rabbi is always on the other side of the mechitza from me--live with it!)  However, he stated that all this ordaining women "nonsense" stems from feminism, a movement that should be discounted because it dates back only to the 1970s, unlike the longstanding traditions of Judaism.  OK, history buff hackles officially raised.
I'm not about to get into a cyber shouting match with the man.  However, I will use a tool that I used with my own kids--a timeline.  This will show that not only does feminism date back quite a while, but that women's interests have been used and misused to meet other goals in society.

1791 (those numbers are not transposed--I mean the 18th century): Mary Wollstonecraft publishes the Declaration of the Rights of Women in France.

1848: Seneca Falls conference on women's suffrage in New York, USA

1851: At the Women's Convention in Akron, OH, USA, Sojourner Truth delivers her "Ain't I a Woman" speech, arguing that women are not always treated like ladies, can handle the same work as men, and deserve the right to vote.

1869: In an attempt to entice female pioneers, Wyoming becomes the first United States territory to offer women the right to vote

1878: Amendment introduced to grant women suffrage in the United States (failed)

1890s: Women's Christian Temperance Movement aligns with suffrage movement; liquor interests attempt to keep women's suffrage quashed.

1902: The newly formed Commonwealth of Australia grants suffrage to non-aboriginal women.

1909: The Uprising of the Twenty Thousand, the largest labor strike in history, shuts down garment manufacturing in New York City for about a year.  Local suffragists tried to invade the labor movement, then abandoned it when their Republican interests clashed with that of the laborers.

1917: In an effort to keep girls from leaving Judaism, seamstress Sarah Schnirer opens the first Bais Yaakov girls' school.  The schools, which taught Judaism and halacha, would become key institutions in the Orthodox Jewish world.

1919: 18th Amendment passes, beginning Prohibition.  Temperance laws are now longer an issue.

1920: The 19th Amendment passes in the United States by one vote, granting suffrage to all Caucasian women.  (Women of color still had to deal with anti-suffrage laws based in racism).

1941-1945: During World War II, American women are encouraged to perform men's jobs in factories, then relinquish those jobs to returning veterans.

1949: Simone de Beauvoir publishes The Second Sex, considered the manifesto of Second Wave feminism.

1953: First issue of Playboy magazine, famous for its centerfolds of scantily-clad women, is published.

1963: Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique.  It describes "the problem with no name," as a number of college-educated women had been discouraged from working and encouraged to be homemakers in the suburbs.

1964: Title VII barred discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of gender or race.

1968: Protesters gathered at the Miss America pageant.  Although no bras were burnt, several items of lingerie were discarded in a "Freedom Trashcan."  The event, however, gave rise to the term "bra-burning."

1973: Roe vs. Wade states that laws banning abortion interfere with the physician's right to privacy.  However, laws regulating abortion are still permitted and enforced.

1979: Equal Rights amendment fails.

1985: Tracey Thurman successfully sued the city of Torrington, CT, for failure to offer equal protection under the 14th Amendment.  Her estranged husband, Charles "Buck" Thurman ndearly beat her to death while the local police watched and did nothing.

1991: South Carolina became the last US state to make marital rape illegal.  However, it is still damn near impossible to enforce existing laws

2009: Sara Hurwitz becomes the first woman ordained as an Orthodox Maharat.  The next year, the title would be changed to "Rabba," making her the first woman t receive semicha.

2010: "No-fault divorce" is the law in all 50 states.

Feminism is not new, not restricted to the 1970s, and not superfluous.  It affects Judaism just as any trend in the wider culture does.  Hopefully Orthodoxy will be big enough to offer these ladies a seat at the table, as well as those who may follow.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My experience with white privilege

For the past twelve weeks, I have been a student in a job-training program for women.  Graduation day is looming, and I'm going to miss it.
However, I think that I come off as a bit of a shill.  White, Jewish, under 40, native-born, and college-educated, I have to admit that I'm one of the few in the class to hit all those markers.  However, this doesn't bother me in the slightest.  When I was a kid, I went to school in Baldwin Hills.  For those readers unfamiliar with Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills is an upper-middle-class neighborhood in LA.  An upper-middle-class black neighborhood.  I was the poor white kid from the broken home with the crazy, alcoholic father, and most of my classmates were black kids with intact families whose parents were professionals and drove BMWs.  (It was the 80s--decade  of greed and status symbols.)  It was like living in the movie White Man's Burden.  Naturally, given the demographic of the school, we learned a lot more than the usual Martin Luther King and George Washington Carver and Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month.  In fact, it took me years to realize that suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony was Caucasian.
Fast forward to today.  I consider myself fairly colorblind, with the upbringing I had.  However, there were a couple of instances where I'm not so sure.
First of all, we had to create PowerPoint presentations for businesses we might like to start.  When I put in pictures, I included a rather adorable one of Thing 1 (since my business was a forest kindergarten for city kids, it was relevant).  My classmate saw the presentation, and asked me if the school was only for white people.  I quickly added another picture, this one featuring two black kids.  It hadn't even occurred to me that my classmates might not see themselves or their children in my presentation.
The other was a little more amusing.  We were planning an end-of-course potluck party, and being something of a queen of the deep-fry, I offer up some of my homemade fried chicken.  It's one of my comfort foods, and I've been told that it's quite good by people who are not related to me.  One of my classmates told me, "Now, you know we're all black women, and we'll know good fried chicken.  It had better be good."  I looked around at my cohort.  (We were divided into three cohorts for this program)  These were women I had been in class with for twelve weeks, and the cohort had only a little bit of change.  I realized, after going to class with this group for three months, that I was the only white person in the room!  I hadn't really thought about it.  To me, they were just my classmates, and race had never really been a factor.  But that is also a form of privilege in itself.  To go through life not having to think about race.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blurring lines

CN: Strong language, references to sex acts
Last summer, a fun little romp of a song was all over the radio.  (I didn't hear it until the fall, since I keep my radio tuned to classic rock.)  The song was by Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell, and was called "Blurred Lines."
Since I only listen to classic rock (on the radio at least--my Spotify playlists can be described as eclectic at a minimum, crossing both genres and centuries), I'm not sure if this song is even still being played.  Between the plagiarized melody and the creepy lyrics, I was happy to hear it a couple of times, roll my eyes, say "Yuck" and move on.
However, this song still has something of a shelf life.  According to this rather patronizing article, this song is still being played and still pissing us off.  Apparently, a campus pub was playing the song, a student complained that it was offensive, and the school took action, barring the song from the pub.  
For those of you who spent 2013 under a rock, here is the video:

For those of you not distracted by bright red hashtags and oversized dice, the message is pretty obvious.  The "blurred line" in question is between consensual and non-consensual sex.  Because any girl who goes to a club and dances with a guy after a drink or two wants to sleep with him.
Some have criticized the reaction as being overblown, including Cathy Young, whose article I linked to above.  But give a listen.  Really give a listen.  Besides "I know you want it," which has almost become a cliché in rape culture, the song talks about "I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two" and "Do it like it hurt."  That sounds degrading on a good day.  But for me, the innocent opening lyrics really frame this.  "If you can't hear what I'm trying to say/...Maybe I'm going deaf."  Yes, you are.  A dance does not equal a proposition.  Even Internet music critic Todd in the Shadows said the song had a "rapey" vibe to it.  All three artists have deflected criticism by saying how much they respect women.  After all, they're married men!  And as we all know, married men never rape women...oh wait a minute.
Now, we do have a First Amendment, and artists should be free to express themselves as they please.  But it takes a discerning audience to distinguish good art from bad.  And I draw a very not blurry line at songs that degrade women, call them "animals"  and think that it's OK to "smack your ass and pull your hair like that."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What did I sign up for--Marginalized groups

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my separation from Builder. I celebrated by joining some of my job training classmates at a seminar on sexual assault.  (It was very empowering, not triggering.)  The organization hosting the event at the Queens Borough President's event, SAVI (Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention) started off by describing services specifically to four groups they considered "marginalized" in reporting sex crimes or domestic violence--immigrants, trafficking victims, and the LGBT community.  Guess which group was number four?
Ding ding ding!  That's right.  Orthodox Jews for the win!
Am I saying that all Orthodox Jewish men are rapists or abusers?  Far from it!  I'm sure there are many kind Orthodox men out there.  I didn't happen to be married to one, but one bad apple is easy to dismiss as just that.  I am saying, however, that Orthodox women who are victims of this sort of crime are reluctant to report it.  Look what happened to the girl who went up against Nechemya Weberman.  Booed out of shul on Rosh Hashanah.  Look what happened to me.  My own rebbetzin told me that Builder "didn't do anything to me."  (Seriously, what do you call being raped?)  Besides community pressure to keep silent, how many Orthodox women even call it rape if their attacker stood under a chuppah with them?  Fathered their children?  Made Kiddush for them?  Even in the secular world, marital rape is still a crime almost impossible to report.  How much more so in the Orthodox world, where women are taught that they are responsible for shalom bayis?  My own kallah teacher taught me nothing about my right of refusal.  If I didn't have a secular background, how long would I have tolerated being the victim?  Would I have continued to cry silently, then shrug it off as an inescapable part of marriage?  How many more times would it have happened?  How many more times will it happen to other women before we end it?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Disney Princess 3G

Living in a house with two little girls, we are naturally bombarded with a great deal of Disney.  (Although the Wicked Queen has permanently put Thing 1 off Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.)  When Frozen came out on DVD, Queen Mom happily procured a copy for the Things, and now I get regaled with their adorable renditions of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman," "For the First Time in Forever," and the award-winning "Let it Go."
But as I watch these films, it occurs to me how much the Disney Princesses have changed over the last 67 years, and not in the "Snow White is positively corpulent by today's standards" sense.  I'm talking about their characters.
By 1937, The Walt Disney studios had been successfully creating animated shorts featuring music and talking animals when they decided to tackle a new project--a feature length film based on a classic fairy tale.  The result was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a film that is considered a classic even today, and launched the first of the Disney Princesses.  These original princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora) were very beautiful, very passive--and not much else.  (Two of them spent the better part of their films comatose, and the third was hired help.)  Aurora from Sleeping Beauty had fewer lines than any other title character except the non-verbal Dumbo.  Admittedly, their love interests were not much better.  They were nameless "pretty boys" who "fell in love" after one song.  Sleeping Beauty was the first to name the prince and give them a chance to get to know each other a little--but since their marriage had been arranged sixteen years ago, it was pretty much a fait accompli.  And again, they share one dance, one kiss after she wakes up from a coma, and wedding bells.
After Sleeping Beauty, Disney returned to the "talking animal" characters and would not create another film with a princess for nearly thirty years.  The result was a rather unsuccessful little film called The Black Cauldron.  Here, we are introduced to the non-canon Princess Eilonwy.  This princess is younger than her predecessors, not quite pubescent, and scornful of the hero, who is not a Prince Charming, but a pig-keeper and wannabe hero.  However, she has actual dialogue, interaction with the other characters, and some action scenes.  She also does not marry Taran, although they do share a forced kiss.  Either because of her youth or the film's failure, she is not "officially" canon.  However, had the numbers gone differently, this would have been the first film of the Disney Renaissance.
The Disney Renaissance was truly the point in which the Princesses come into their own.  Although the most successful film of this period was a talking animal film (The Lion King), most of the Renaissance films that anyone remembers feature a princess.  These princess are not the beautiful cyphers interested only in True Love with the Handsome Prince.  They want more!  And they express their desires in song, usually in the first act.  They also spend a few days getting to know the Handsome Prince, instead of one song.  The Little Mermaid tentatively broke the mold in 1989, giving us a girl who wanted legs.  The "may-unn" was merely secondary.  And she rescued her prince long before he rescued her.  However, she was a bit more old-school than the others.  For one thing, the entire time that she was getting to know Prince Eric, she was mute.  A slight improvement over the girl marrying the first guy who kisses her while comatose, but the symbolism is pretty obvious.  The next princess was Beauty and the Beast.  Here we have a girl who refuses to marry the obnoxious town swain--only to wind up in the mother of all emotionally abusive relationships with an anger junkie who quite literally held her hostage.  Not to mention what a lovely message to abused women.  Just be perpetually pretty and sweet, and the abuser will become kind and loving.  With Aladdin, we have two departures.  The first is that Princess Jasmine is not the title character (although she also wants more!, she doesn't express this in song.)  The second is that we now have a princess who is not Caucasian.  She initially rejects Aladdin for being just another obnoxious prince wanting a pretty wife for the harem--until she sees his car flying carpet.  How very Quinn Morgendorfer.  Also, she doesn't marry him until the third installment.  But we still have pretty girls needing to get rescued.
After the first four films, the quality goes straight down.  Stories that had once been considered original had become predictable and formulaic.  This is pretty obvious in Pocahontas, which was so like its four predecessors that it had become almost a parody.  However, in this film, we have not only our first interracial love affair, but the first time that the princess rescues the hero without getting rescued herself.  Thus began an era of some experimentation where the actual hero who rescues the princess is not handsome (The Hunchback of Notre Dame); the princess and hero meet on the job while the girl is in drag (Mulan); the princess is the 8,000-year-old ruler in her own right of a lost kingdom (Kida in Atlantis: The Lost Empire); the "princess" is a working girl with no time for romance by choice (Tiana in The Princess and the Frog); and the "princess" is an anthropologist using her "prince" as a subject for study (Jane Porter in Tarzan).  However, in almost all instances, we still have Beautiful (if now spunky) Princess getting rescued by and falling in love with Handsome Prince. 
Tangled is another example of a transitional film.  As the quality of Disney films went into decline, the Pixar branch became more successful.  So, in 2010, Disney released Tangled, the first CGI film in the "princess" line.  Although stylistically, it is more like the later films I will call Disney Princess 3G, the story is similar to older ones.  Rapunzel is a shut-in emotionally abused by her not-mother (because we've never seen this before), who gets out with the help of Eugene.  Although the girl wields a mean frying pan and uses Eugene as a tour guide without thinking he's cute, he still rescues her, and they still marry in the end.  So, we're back to Beautiful Princess Getting Rescued.
Which brings me to the 3G stories.  For the first time, we have princesses who not only do not marry the prince, but end up rescuing themselves.  We also have less of a clear villain, or if we do have one, it's usually the prince himself.  In Brave, we actually have a princess who is her own worst enemy.  Instead of a mother figure who subjugates the princess for her own gain, we have a mother who tries to instill a sense of duty in her daughter against the girl's wishes.  It's only by appreciating her mother's wisdom that she grows as a character.  This is another departure.  While previous princess characters experienced no growth or even stagnated a little (I'm looking at you, Belle!), these princesses experienced character growth.   The next of these princesses was the video-game character Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck-it Ralph.  Again, not canon due to youth.  A street-urchin "glitch," she lives to race but is thwarted by the other characters in her game, mostly the crazy, sugar-crazed villain King Candy.  Her first action is stealing the hard-won medal of game "bad guy" Ralph, and using it to enter a race with a homemade car.  Vanellope is voiced by profane comedian Sarah Silverman, and frequently calls Ralph a stinkbrain.  Although Ralph does eventually help her, she rescues herself be crossing the finish line on her own, thus resetting the game's code and revealing her princess status.  She and Ralph stay friends, but do not marry. 
Which bring me back to Frozen.  Here, we have two princesses, one who is an inadvertent "evil queen" due to ice powers she cannot control.  Although originally meant as the villain, Queen Elsa is as much a victim of her own powers as her subjects.  Her sister Anna is the hero in this story.  Although paired with two possible love interests, she does not marry in the end.  Also, she is under a curse that can only be broken by an act of true love.  Naturally, we all think Handsome Prince Hans will kiss her and break the spell.  Instead, he leaves her in a cold room to freeze to death.  The first entity to show her that act of love that puts his needs before his own is the snow golem Olaf.  (That really should have counted.  Seriously, he's a snowman building a fire to keep a friend from freezing to death!  How is that not putting someone else's needs before your own?)  In the end, the act of love that rescues Anna is her own sacrifice to save her sister, not the act of any man.
Over the past 67 years, the Disney Princesses have changed a great deal.  With this new era, let us hope that we keep getting dynamic characters.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oh, my goodness!

Yesterday, an actress who was one of my childhood favorites, Shirley Temple Black, passed away at the age of 85. 

Some facts about the actress turned ambassador:
  • Shirley Temple was "discovered" at the Meglin Dance Studio in Los Angeles at the age of 3.  Her film career spanned 18 years from 1931-1949, during which time she appeared in 42 feature-length films and 19 short films (Take THAT, Lindsey Lohan.)
  • Shirley's first films were shorts in what was called the Baby Burlesks.  These eight films feature a cast of young children playing adult roles while clad in diapers featuring prominent safety pins (and often little else, save for a hat). Later, she would appear as a younger sister in a typical American family in the Frolics of Youth series.  Most of these films are in the public domain.
  • Shirley Temple's first feature film in which she was billed was The Red-Haired Alibi.  The first in which she received prominent billing was Stand Up and Cheer.  Although she is hardly in it, this film has the "Baby, Take a Bow" dance number in which she tap-dances in the red and white "coin-dot" dress that would later become a signature costume on Shirley Temple dolls.  She would later appear with Stand up and Cheer co-star and dance partner James Dunn in two more films--Baby Take a Bow and Bright Eyes.
  • Besides James Dunn, Shirley Temple appeared in films with some of the most prominent actors of the 1930s and 1940s, including Lionel Barrymore, Jack Haley, Buddy Ebsen, Robert Young, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Jane Darwell, Alice Faye, Claudette Colbert, Randolph Scott, Arthur Treacher, Myrna Loy, Clifton Webb, Hattie McDaniel, Frank Morgan, Carole Lombard, Ginger Rodgers, and future US President Ronald Reagan.  She produced films for Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, and David O. Selznick Studios.
  • With four exceptions (Baby Take a Bow, The Little Colonel, Our Little Girl, and The Blue Bird) Shirley Temple's early roles were either orphans or children who has lost a parent (usually the mother).
  • The reason Shirley Temple's footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater were done without shoes was to draw attention away from her face.  She had lost a tooth that morning, and didn't want the media catching her gap-toothed.  Later, the studio would provide her with caps as each tooth fell out so as not to mar her perfect smile.
  • Gertrude Temple, Shirley's mother, not only made most of her costumes and helped the young actress rehearse, she also ensured that Shirley Temple's hair was in fifty-six perfect little pin curls for each shoot.
  • Three of her movies were named for her noted facial features--Bright Eyes, Curly Top, and Dimples.
  • In 1934, Shirley teamed up with seasoned dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson for a dance routine in which they tap-dance down a flight of steps.  Temple and Robinson were the first interracial dance team in film history.  Their affection for each other off the set was notable.  They always walked hand in hand; she always called him "Uncle Billy," and he always called her "darlin'."
  • Shirley Temple never won an Oscar for any of her films, since in the 1930s, the Academy did not deem child actors eligible for nomination.  However, she won a special juvenile Oscar in 1935 for her combined six films of the previous year.  (Judy Garland would win a similar award for her work in the Wizard of Oz.)
  • The head of production of Fox Studios changed Shirley Temple's birth certificate so that it would show that she was born in 1929 instead of 1928.  Shirley only discovered the change when her mother told her about it on her thirteenth birthday.
  • Shirley's career was modeled after that of another "girl with the curls," silent-film-star Mary Pickford.  At least two of Temple's movies (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Little Princess) were remakes of Pickford films.
  • Shirley Temple married former airman Jack Agar in 1945 at the age of 17.  The couple had a daughter and then divorced in 1949.  She then married Charlie Black in 1950.  The couple had two more children and were together until Black's death in 2005.
  • Besides her film career, Shirley Temple also hosted the TV series Shirley Temple's Storybook through the 1950s.  She was the ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia through the 1980s.  In 1988, she published her autobiography, Child Star, which was adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 2001.
We will always love you Shirley.  May you fly that "Good Ship Lollipop" always.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It was 50 years ago today...

that four longhaired Liverpudlians performed on the Ed Sullivan show.  And music was never the same again.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wrapping up and lighting up

When I became a Bat Mitzvah (a week after my college graduation--figure that one out), I bought myself a tallis to commemorate.  It was pink and black silk with silver thread woven into the atara, and came with a matching tallis bag and kippa.  I still have it.  I was never sure what to do with it.  Cut off the tzitzit and atara and turn it into a headwrap?  Keep it as a relic?  Donate it?  To whom?  No boy would be caught dead in a pink tallis, and we certainly wouldn't want to give it to a girl--since of course, any girl who wants to wear a tallis is some evil feminist with either an agenda or a score to settle.  One morning, I decided on a lark that I would wear it again while davening at home.  (The Things were not there to witness my transgression.)  Before I even got to Shema, I took it off.  Somehow, after all those years of not wearing it, it just felt wrong somehow.
I think about my pink tallis, sitting on a shelf in my closet, now that the explosion is starting to settle down.  The explosion of course is the Orthodox yeshiva SAR permitting two girls to wear tefillin during in-school Shacharit.  I can't say that I've ever had the experience of wearing them, but I can sort of relate.
The halacha is very clear.  Women are exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot.  This includes things like tefillin, since they are to be worn during Shacharit.  This also includes davening with a minyan, hearing the megillah and the shofar, sitting in a sukkah, hearing Parshat Zachor--wait a minute!
Even in uber-frum Boro Park, plenty of women rush to shul for Zachor.  Some shuls even have later readings which are packed with women.  Same with megillah leinings.  As for shofar--even homebound women get to hear it, thanks to wandering shofar-blowers.  And I've never been ordered away from a sukkah.
Moreover, if that's the benchmark, why are women obligated to light Shabbos candles?  That's one of the main mitzvot for women.  However, since the lighting is from the commandments of "keep Shabbos" and "remember Shabbos," aren't those both positive?  And it's certainly timebound.  I can't, for example, decide to keep Shabbos on any day of the week I feel like.  And, as any balabuste can tell you, the minute is set in stone.  Miss the time, and you're mechalel Shabbos.  Bad Jew!
Frequently, I hear appeals to emotion like "most women don't really care about wearing tefillin" or "you women don't know how good you have it, not having to get up early" or "my wife would rather not wear tefillin, and doesn't understand why anyone would."  That's nice.  Unfortunately, these sentiments have no place in a discussion about halacha.  Either it's allowed or it's not.  And if women can sit in a sukkah or hear Zachor, and have to play "Beat the Clock" every Friday for the rest of their lives, then apparently the time-bound rule is a little fuzzier than we thought.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


One of the proofs given to me that Orthodox Judaism is really enlightened was that Jewish marriage guaranteed a wife that her husband provide her with "food, clothing, and marital relations."  These rights are guaranteed in the ketubah signed by every Jewish couple just before they go under the chuppah.  This was usually framed in a very feminist, sex-positive way.  As I like to put it, "On the eighth day, G-d created the orgasm--and it was GOOD!"
Sounds great in theory.  But as usual, context is everything.
This particular list of a wife's rights caught my eye as Queen Mom and I were reading the parsha last Shabbos.  Only it was not in the context of marriage.  It was in the context of buying a slave, or as the text put it, "a Hebrew bondswoman."  Not really much to argue with there.  Apparently, bride purchase was a common practice in the time of the Torah.  And these wives had the status of wives--sort of.  If the master decided not to marry them, they had to be released after six years.  (Sounds like there was a "try before you buy" option.  Nice.)  They also had to be paid off for their betrayal, adding to the theory that these men were "test-driving" their slaves before deciding whether to make them a permanent fixture in the harem.  (And, yes, there were multiples.  That line about food, clothing, and marital relations was the guarantee given to these slaves just in case Massa decided to get himself another slave wife.)
Disturbed enough?  It gets better.  Understand that I use the term "bondwoman" rather loosely.  See, according to the commentary, these "bondwomen" were roughly the same age as my daughters.
I wish I were making this up.
Straight from the commentary of my Stone Chumash, now considered the standard in Orthodoxy, "For example, if she had been sold when she was five years old..." Yuck.  Stop right now.  Put down the book, and back away slowly.  Children?  Seriously?  Grown men are buying CHILDREN for their harem?  This is the Torah?  And, please, spare me the cliché about how children were more mature back then, blah, blah, blah.  This is little more than the permitting of baby rape.
Makes you rethink that immortal line from the ketubah, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What did I sign up for--Hilchos Jail

Years ago, I remember Rebbetzin Jungreis saying over and over again, that Torah is like no other study.  Studying Torah will make one a better person, a more moral person.  A Torah person.  And the Torah has all those rules about how to behave.  Rules about not stealing.  Rules about honest business dealings.  Rules about how to treat people.  Rules about not hurting people.  The most famous Hillel story has him saying "That which is harmful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah--the rest is commentary.  Go and study!"  That, to me, is what Torah observance means.  However, I would guess not everyone agrees.
Last spring, Misaskim magazine had a whole article about how to conduct oneself if one should be unfortunate enough to get arrested.  Now I have read many service magazines in my time, and I find that most of their articles get a tad repetitive.  However, I have never seen a secular magazine carry an article about arrest.  Had they really become so commonplace in the Jewish world?  What about the Torah?  What about following all those rules on theft and honesty and moral behavior?  What about the Ten Commandments?  Sure, you can study the damages paid when your ox gores your neighbors' bull, but what about that strong moral code?  Shouldn't that be enough to keep pretty much any Torah-observant Jew out of legal trouble?
I didn't think it could get any worse.
It got worse.
Coming out of uber-frum Boro Park--an entire two-volume sefer devoted to the laws, prayers, and inspirational stories for the Orthodox Jew in jail.  I hate to imagine.  (Since the book was written entirely in Hebrew, I'm afraid that I CAN only imagine--can't read well enough for a sefer.)
The big issue is not that this book was written.  If someone can write a volume thicker than the Brooklyn Yellow Pages basically saying "cover up and avoid men," then anyone can write anything.  The issue is that publishers will only publish books when a market exists.  Is there really such a large number of Orthodox Jews in jail that this book needs to exist?  Is there enough of a market for a book geared to frum prison inmates?
What does that say about us?
Child molestation.  Tax evasion.  Insurance fraud.  Theft.  Domestic violence.  Being a slumlord.  Assault.  All of these are--or should be--off limits to anyone who calls himself frum.  And, hopefully, there will never be any more need for seforim like these.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

So, what does 2/3 of a kid look like?

Recently, an article came out decrying the rates of women in poverty.  The article quoted the statistic that 42 million women and 28 million children live in poverty.  This, of course, leads to the inevitable comments about welfare queens with multiple baby-daddies having kids they can't take care of.
I know, after all, if you do the math, 28 million kids distributed among 42 million women works out to--about 2/3 of a kid per woman.
Less than one.
I would love to meet the baby-daddies performing this feat of nature.  Seriously, which two-thirds?  Is it divided from the feet up or the head down?  Or is it laterally?  Those poor children hopping around with only a vestigial second leg.  I have never seen a 2/3 kid, but I feel sorry for them.
Now of course, this does not mean that we have a rise in partial children.  Statistically speaking, it means that at least one-third of the women living in poverty HAVE NO CHILDREN AT ALL!  Yeah, so much for blaming the welfare moms.  Also, since this is not China, women can have multiple kids.  Therefore, this means that every woman in poverty with more than one child, means another woman with none. 
So much for "can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."  So much for the multiple baby-daddies. 
So, what is the problem? 
Wage price inequities.  Henry Ford famously paid his employees enough to afford the cars they produced.  Today, the minimum wage barely covers rent.  When I was single and worked full-time (with a college degree and no children), my salary barely covered an illegal converted shed that I called home.  My car was falling apart (and this was in California--you don't have a car, you're nowhere), and I once considered not using it because it needed repairs that I couldn't afford until payday three days later.  Fish and cheese were luxuries--forget meat.  I was in that statistic--and I had done the "responsible" thing by going to college and not having kids.
Plenty of people do the "responsible" thing and get burned.  Remember that.  And before you cry foul, do the math.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Remind me again about kol isha

Seriously.  Two of the songs in Shabbos Shira are sung by women.  Why is that never brought up?

Good Shabbos!  And enjoy Beshallach!

Monday, January 6, 2014


I have said many times that Judaism is not monolithic.  We divide along so many lines--level of observance, type of Chassidus (or not), country of origin, approach to chumrot, hashkafah--the list is endless.  However, most can agree that there are two types of Orthodox Jews--the type that were born observant, and the type that were not.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
I posit there is at least one other group besides the FFBs and the BTs (I include geirim in the same category as BTs--in some cases, a similar level of acculturation is needed.  Moreover, kiruv seems to have the most success with the least observant among the born Jews.)  This group is the BT3CK--third culture kids.  The FFB children of BTs and geirim.
These are the children whose parents have stumbled through Kiddush with the help of the NCSY bentscher (transliterated in italics).  The ones who learned Hebrew or Yiddish helping their kids with homework.  The ones whose parents are just a little more liberal.  Who listened to the Beatles or Metallica along with Lipa Schmeltzer and Uncle Moishy.  Or, at the other end, the ones whose parents drank the Kool-Aid and out-chumra everyone else, making sure they "do it right."  The ones those grandparents don't understand that Oreos aren't cholov Yisrael.  (See, it has the little U on it!  Why are you such a fanatic?)  The ones who have seen pictures of their mothers in jeans and their fathers bareheaded.  The ones who never visit aunts and uncles because "it might set a bad example."
Now, my children do not truly fit this category.  While Builder may be evil, he is still an FFB, and the Things have a nice big extended Jewish family which would like nothing more than to cut me and my evil secular influences out of their lives.  However, they are still the daughters of a coastal nomad and the grandchildren of some pretty laid-back products of the 1970s.  Will they fit in the world of frum Brooklyn?  Will they want to?  All I can do is make sure they follow the rules, try to love G-d, and hope for the best.