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.