Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hooting at the Huppa תרועות ליד החופה: וֶטוֹ

Overall, I prefer Israeli (Jewish) weddings to American Jewish ones, mainly because of the relaxed informality. However, there’s one practice that crosses the line from casual to inappropriate: the widespread practice of whooping as the groom -- and increasing in volume with the bride -- walk to the chuppa.

In discussing it with my kids, one of them brought up its origins in Middle Eastern cultures where the women ululate, thus according to said daughter, labeling me “racist”. Truthfully, I hadn’t even made this connection; although I believe she’s correct about the origins of the practice, I humbly disagree with her conclusion. She blames my bias on my having grown up in the US, where brides (and grooms, and endless maids and groomsmen) proceed down the aisle in silence except for any music being played; and where to cheer or applaud would be considered wildly out of place.

In that sense I agree. However, while in the wider sense, it’s indeed a cultural bias, disliking it doesn’t make me racist, or even bigoted; it simply means I’m biased in favor of my own cultural (non)practices, which I believe is OK. In my perception, ululating, like strapless bridal gowns, hints at the act that will supposedly be taking place post-nuptials, which to me places it in the realm of prepubescent bathroom humor, or frat boy humor, neither of which has any place surrounding the solemn ritual of kiddushin [holy matrimony].

To me the whooping says: Here we are, dressed in our best, gathered to witness this couple’s union -- and suddenly, voila! It’s a sports bar! Or a soccer stadium! Or a construction site! Woot! No, just no. Call me uptight -- even pearl-clutching -- but I find it objectionable.

But besides my personal bias, which is admittedly subjective, what about the objective fact that at many a wedding, the couple has asked one of the guests to play and / or sing a particular song as they’re led to the chuppa? Your friend(s) or family member(s) have graciously obliged, presumably rehearsing so it sounds lovely, right? They begin their piece, everyone’s in the moment…here comes the groom…and suddenly we’re at a rock concert or a World Cup game.

Certainly not every foreign practice is worth importing. For instance, I dearly hope we never import the arrangement wherein the couple stands with their backs to the guests, so -- yea! -- I got all dressed up to see…the rabbi’s face! Immigrants, feel free to check that practice at the door. But whooping as the bride and groom walk to the chuppa is a practice to wish I’d dearly love to say שלום ולא להתראות good riddance!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

That's right: Harness those minorities to your cause יש לרתום את בני המיעוטים למסע הצלב

עברית לאחר האנגלית

I was actually kept awake at night after reading Bristol Palin’s shamelessly cynical blog post claiming that black and Hispanic fetuses are targeted for abortion by none other than Planned Parenthood, then asks “How liberals justify their support for this?”

Bristol, there is such convoluted fallacy in your claims that it’s hard to untangle it all, but I feel compelled to try. I’m not even going to go into the critiques of the research and the numbers, as there is extensive discussion in the 350+ comments. Instead, I’m just going to tackle your underlying message.

Let’s even say for the sake of argument that PP is part of some white supremacist eugenics conspiracy being carried out by deliberately locating its clinics in areas populated by non-whites and “marketing” their services thereto. Can we wrap our liberal brains around this just for a moment? If so, the assumptions in Palin’s rhetorical query are that:

1) Liberals necessarily support this alleged eugenics program, as support of abortion rights and abortion availability necessarily means supporting any uses or purpose to which abortion is put. Uh, no.
2) Liberals have historically championed the rights of racial minorities, therefore it is our job exclusively to correct or rectify any perceived violation of those rights.
3) These downtrodden minority members have no voice of their own; they depend upon us liberals to represent them.
4) Implicitly, conservatives neither have nor feel any responsibility toward minorities, and have never recruited them to their ranks nor made any attempt to advance their parity in society. Palin, are you sure you want to put your name to such a claim? Are you sure you want to suddenly cry crocodile tears for all the unborn minority babies after never having shown any interest in the welfare of already-born minority members?
Bristol Palin’s anti-abortion arguments are nearly as ludicrous as her mother’s claim that we should all be OK with nativity scenes in public spaces because after all, the infant depicted therein is “a Jewish baby!”

I’m picturing all the Jews (and others) who oppose the mixing of church and state reading that statement and saying “[slap forehead] Of course! That doll in that plastic manger depicts a Jewish baby! How did I not see that? She’s so right: Remind me: What was the problem with that nativity scene being in the public school entrance?[scratches head]”

It’s one thing to take a stand; but it’s quite another to try to bolster it by playing on our emotions…and insulting our intelligence.

שנתי נדדה בלילה אחרי שקראתי את הפוסט הציני וחסר-הבושה של בריסטול פיילין בבלוג שלה, בו היא טוענת שאגודת "פּלנד פּארנטהוּד" ("הורות מתוכננת") מסמנת עוּבּרים שחורים והיספניים כמטרה להפלות, ומעלה את השאלה: "כיצד יכולים הליברלים להצדיק את תמיכתם בכך?"


בריסטול, סברת השווא שעליה מבוססת טענתך היא כל-כך מפותלת שקשה להתיר את הפלונטר כולו, אך אני מחוייבת לפחות לנסות. אני לא הולכת לעסוק בביקורת על המחקר והמספרים, שנידונו כבר בהרחבה בלמעלה מ-350 התגוביות לפוסט שלך. במקום זאת, אתעמת עם המסר שבבסיס טענותייך.

בואו נאמר אפילו לשם הויכוח ש"פלנד פארנטהוד" היא אמנם חלק מקשר להשבחת הגזע מטעם התנועה לעליונות לבנה, המבוצע באמצעות איתור מכוון של מרפאות באזורים עם אוכלוסיה לא-לבנה ו"שיווק" השירותים שלה למרפאות הנ"ל. בואו נמקד את המוחות הליברליים שלנו לרגע סביב ההנחה הזו. אם כך, ההנחות שעליהן מתבססת השאילתא הרטורית של פיילין הן כדילקמן:

1)   הליברלים בהכרח תומכים בתוכנית זו להשבחת הגזע לכאורה, היות ותמיכה בזכות לבצע הפלות ולזמינותן פירושה בהכרח תמיכה בכל סיבה ומטרה שלמענה מתבצעת הפלה. ממש לא.

2)   הליברלים מאז ומתמיד הניפו את דגל הזכויות של המיעוטים האתניים והגזעיים, ולכן זה התפקיד שלנו בלבד לתקן את המעוות כאשר מתקיימת הפרה לכאורה של הזכויות הנ"ל.

3)   לבני המיעוטים הנרדפים אין שום קול משלהם. הם תלויים לחלוטין בנו, הליברלים, שנייצג אותם.

4)   במשתמע, לשמרנים אין שום רגשות או אחריות כלפי המיעוטים, והם מעולם לא גייסו אותם לשורותיהם או ניסו לקדם את שיוויונם בחברה. פיילין, את בטוחה שאת רוצה לצרף את שמך לטענה כזו? את בטוחה שאת רוצה להזיל לפתע דמעות תנין על גורלם של כל תינוקות בני-המיעוטים שלא נולדו, אחרי שמעולם לא גילית שום עניין ברווחתם של אותם בני מיעוטים שכבר נולדו?

      הטיעונים של בריסטול פיילין כנגד הפלות מגוחכים כמעט כמו טענתה של אמה שרה, לפיה כולנו צריכים לחוש בנוח עם הצגתן של סצנות המולד של ישו במקומות ציבוריים כי, אחרי ככלות הכל, הרך הנולד המוצג שם הוא "תינוק יהודי"!

אני מתארת בדמיוני את היהודים (ואחרים) המתנגדים לערבוב דת ומדינה קוראים את הטענה הנ"ל ואומרים: "[טפיחה על המצח] כמובן! הבובה הזו באבוס המלאכותי מפלסטיק מייצגת תינוק יהודי! כיצד לא ראיתי זאת? היא צודקת לחלוטין: מה בכלל הבעיה בהצבתה של סצנת המולד בפתח בית הספר הציבורי? [גירוד בראש]"

דבר אחד הוא לאמץ עמדה; אולם דבר אחר לגמרי הוא לנסות לחזק אותה באמצעות משחק ברגשותינו... ועלבון לבינתנו.

תורגם בנדיבות ע"י עמי ארגמן

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where the girlz are

This fall’s cyber-hubbub over GoldieBlox got me thinking. One of the better evaluations of the new toy that aims to interest girls in STEM (sciences, technologies, engineering, math) was that of Deborah Siegel. I tend to agree that princess-coated though it be, GoldieBlox weighs in on the plus side in terms of its objective, which leads me to dig further down to the matter of teaching our daughters (and sons) about feminism.

Before anyone can counter, “But why are you indoctrinating them ‘one way or another’?” let me say that I firmly believe there is a place for indoctrinating them, if that’s what you want to call it. Humans have inhabited the earth for – what? – 10,000 years, and for about 9,800 of those years, patriarchy dominated. And it still dominates. So our daughters are getting plenty of it, packaged quite slickly and going down oh-so-smoothly. So, yeah, I’m gonna indoctrinate, and I’m not apologizing.

So, once we’ve decided to introduce our daughters to feminism, how do we go about it? It’s indeed a daunting task, so I’m here to de-dauntify it. Just as Caitlin Moran distilled feminism thusly [paraphrasing; I couldn’t find the exact quote]: “If I have to worry about it and men don’t, it’s sexism.” Ready examples are removing body hair and walking unaccompanied after dark. While Moran’s formula works beautifully, it’s a bit out of reach for our little ones. Therefore, along the same lines, I suggest introducing this query into your household lexicon: “Where are the girls?”

The beauty of this query is that as soon as you start asking it, it fits in in every circumstance. For instance, as soon as my kids were old enough to be read to (that starts with picture books before age one, right?) I edited the text in real time. And you know what? They never questioned it, even after they themselves could read. Once you start doing this regularly, you’re surprised to find that nearly every character in children’s books — and invariably the animal characters — can easily be referred to as “she”. There’s no reason on earth that any of the three little pigs, nor the wolf, can’t be females, is there? Once you start asking, “Where are the girls?” there’s no limit to incorporating the answer everywhere, including using “she” and “her” as your pronoun default.

I knew I’d gotten through when my eldest, at the age of seven, was playing with a deck of cards, and she asked me, “Ima, if there’s a násich [Hebrew for “jack”], how come there’s no nisichá? [would-be “jill”, if she existed]. Yay! I thought. She gets it! She’s begun asking ‘Where are the girls?’” Because when you get down to it, where girls and women are absent, there’s an imbalance, and the odds are it’s due to sexism. Yet it’s within our power to correct that imbalance early, at least linguistically and theoretically, which is where all education begins.

Which brings me back to GoldieBlox: If we use the yardstick “Where are the girls?” then GoldieBlox has answered correctly: They’re right there, front and center — constructing, making, thinking, strategizing, producing. And isn’t that, after all, where we want them?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mystery Photo צילום תעלומה

Taking a break from our regular programming to post this photo

2 things that I'm sure would make Shulamit Aloni mad

I was listening to a 2009 radio interview with Shulamìt Aloni yesterday. The host asked her to talk about the many articles she wrote. She chuckled and said, “I did write lots of articles, and the best ones are those I wrote when I was mad!” YES, I thought. That’s me! So, two things that’ve made me mad lately:

This article concerning the Eilat Orthodox school rejecting an Arabic language teacher due to her wearing of the hijab; and this followup on the Education Ministry’s commensurate policy. I’m so mad I can’t even see straight. Where do we get off? There’re so many things wrong here, I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just ask: What could be more appropriate in an Orthodox school than a woman covering her head? Ah, but it’s the wrong kind of head covering. Chelm, here we come!

My no. 2 thing that’s got me mad is admittedly a classic First World Problem: My new keyboard. The Ctrl key on my old one got a hole in it (I know - weird, huh? I don’t ordinarily use plastic-eating acid in my line of work), so off I went keyboard shopping. How ‘bout I just list my complaints chronologically:

  1. The store, Petcom, one of only a few (two?) in my locale, had a selection of exactly three keyboards; two were for gamers. That left me with the Microsoft 3000 wireless. Sold for 210.00.
  2. Took it home to my office, opened package, which contained the product plus a warranty and safety warnings. No user guide, no other literature.
  3. Hooked it up and began using it. Works fine except the function keys don’t work. Searched online and discovered that it has a Function Lock key. OK, now why do I need this key? Presumably, I want all the product’s features to function, do I not? OK, unlocked the functions. Yay. [eyeroll]
  4. I notice a row of keys above the function keys labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and “star”. They do precisely nothing. I also notice to my chagrin that there is no Stop key, which on my previous keyboard would stop a webpage from loading. It was quite convenient. Now I am inconvenienced. Consulted a colleague.
  5. Colleague says those keys are wild card keys, i.e., you can program them to perform whatever task you want (walk the dog? Wash the dishes?), but he doesn’t know how.
  6. Back to the Internet. Can find nothing. Sigh. Write Daughter’s boyfriend, who sends me links to two clips about my product. I view clips.
  7. Clip 1 says the software comes with the keyboard, right there in the box [frown of consternation]. Clip 2 mentions downloadable software. I search.
  8. I find and download software. I program a key to do what I want it to do.

The above succession of events took place over the course of eight days from purchase. In between I went back to Petcom, where no one could help me. Neither they nor the manufacturers at any point indicated that software must be downloaded. The word “software” was neither uttered nor written anywhere. And not only am I an adept computer user, but I’m compulsive about reading and following instructions. No tearing open the box and plugging it in for me, not I: I actually RTFM. As none came with the product, I actually downloaded .pdf versions of the “product guide” and “quickstart guide”. The former doesn’t mention software except for something called a Healthy Computing Guide [condom use?]. The latter mentions it, but does not tell you where to get it. No link. No link! Isn’t that one of the features of online help??? As First World Problems go, this is outrageous. And the maddening part is that it would be so simple to fix. Just tell me I need software! Right there! Inside the package! Where it makes sense!

OK, done. I hereby declare this post written in memory of Shulamit Aloni, z”l, who tolerated neither intolerance nor stupidity. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

GoogleFight: Taglìt-Birthright versus Mir Yeshiva...GO!

Using the premise of Birthright bringing non-Orthodox Jews to Israel, and claiming that it is funded by the State of Israel (25% of it is) Chaim Levinson cries crocodile tears over the fact that Birthright participants’ pitiable ultra-Orthodox counterparts, who come to study full time at Mir Yeshiva, get “only” two thirds the stipend that their fellow Israeli-born students get. I assume that this is based on the fact that the Israeli students have no other source of funding, i.e, their parents, whereas the authors’ New Jersey cousins presumably come from a more comfortable background.

But where Levinson is being willfully obtuse is in ignoring the premise of Birthright, which is to connect weakly identified young Diaspora Jews with their Judaism. Therefore comparing it to the Mir Yeshiva is – not to be too obvious about it – apples and oranges. Assuming that both Birthright and Mir Yeshiva are worthy institutions, arguing that they should get equal funding a la Title IX is absurd: Each does widely differing work, aimed at widely differing demographics. Should Mir students receive the equivalent of the yearly upkeep of an IDF soldier? Or should they have to pay the same tuition as Israeli university students? If the latter, should they also have had to serve in the IDF in order to qualify for state funding?

I’m not wild about either Mir or Birthright; nor am I wild about my taxes going to fund either. But I regard Mir as an elite, private institution that should get little or no state funding; while I regard Birthright as a flawed attempt to counter assimmilation, but one whose architects I can’t fault for trying. Yet conflating the two to “prove” that Mir should get equal funding seems strawmanlike, if not downright devious. Would that we didn’t need Birthright: I’d love to see that money going to worthy Israeli causes, but Mir is not one of them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sweden's gender-neutral "curriculum"

I find it interesting that opponents of Sweden’s gender-neutral pedagogy, which I’ve long admired, accuse it of “promoting an extremist feminist” and a “radical feminist” agenda. I’m wondering: What exactly are extreme feminism and radical feminism? If feminism is the elimination of patriarchy, then it seems to me that “extreme, radical feminism” is a good thing. Would anyone oppose “extreme racial equality”? If so, your white supremacy is showing.

What could possibly be bad about children growing up free of gender stereotyping? What is it that we find threatening about that? I was once discussing gender-neutral names with a friend. She explained to me that she named her children traditionally gendered names because she’d noticed that in preschools, kids with gender-neutral names end up being called “Yuval-ben [boy-Yuval]” and “Yuval-bat [girl-Yuval]”. I replied, “And supposing both Yuvals were boys. How would the teacher then differentiate?” She answered, as expected, “By adding their last initial”. Ding-ding! So why wouldn’t that solution be used for boy-girl pairs? Why should gender even enter into the matter of having the same name as someone else? Would we adults use “Yuval-ben / bat” in the workplace? In an adult education setting? Of course not; it would be considered disrespectful and infantilizing. So why are we tagging our kids? The only possible answer, and the one it always comes back to, is that we adults feel the need to relate to boys and girls differently.

A critic of Sweden’s gender-neutral pronoun argued, “ It can be confusing for [children] to receive contradicting [sic] messages about their genders in school, at home, and in society at large.” I see. So it’s not gender neutrality you have a problem with; it’s that society is not uniform; different environments send differing messages. And since those messages differ, the default should obviously be to do things the old way, the way they were done before women began questioning patriarchy. OK, got it. The critic goes on to say, “Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally. As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities."

“Children ought to be allowed to mature slowly and naturally.” Exactly. And as we’re born asexual beings, it is incumbent upon us adults to preserve that asexuality, or presexuality, as long as possible. That means not deluging our children with hypergendered influences like Disney princesses and “action” heroes, and embracing children who dont behave traditionally as per their sex.

As for “As adults we can choose to expand and change our gender identities” this reflects the fallacy that we choose our gender and sexual orientation at some later point, after we have been taught the “proper” gender expectations. Well, we’ve seen where that leads: To lives of frustration, rejection, abuse, even suicide.

If anything, it’s a gendered world that warps children’s development, not a gender-neutral one. Ask any kid who doesn’t conform to the gender stereotypes what that’s like. And even for gender-conforming kids, why set up boundaries and construct pigeonholes that they’ll later just have to struggle against, in some cases at great emotional cost? Why not let gender express itself from within the child, instead of being dictated from above?

In its purest form, gender-neutral pedagogy requires no special materials or training. What it “requires” is that we adults do precisely nothing vis-à-vis gender. Whereas a gendered environment requires our active input, i.e., teaching our kids what’s “girl-like” and “boy-like”. We’ve got enough on our hands educating our children to be thoughtful, contributing citizens, which is not to be taken for granted. Why throw gender into the mix?