Thursday, December 10, 2009

How Come All the Boys're on Ritalin? מדוע כל הבנים נוטלים ריטלין

ADHD. Say it in a roomful of parents, and you won’t have to worry about small talk for hours. Everyone’s got an opinion, from the anti-TV crusaders to the armchair anthropologists [“It’s a trait that was useful when we were hunting mammoth”; “It shows up more in the descendants of immigrants”]. For a long time now, I’ve suspected an element of gender stereotyping in the “ADHD soup”.

First of all, we need to reintroduce a term that unfortunately has gone out of use: hyperkinetic, meaning simply “can’t stop moving”. I knew one kid in my childhood who actually had this disorder; it is indeed organic, and present from birth. I recall reading an article in some women’s magazine decades ago written by the mother of a hyperkinetic teen. She described a parenting nightmare for about the first 14 years, when according to her description, the condition began tapering off. At her writing, her son was 16 and well-adjusted. She never mentioned drugs, although these perhaps could have been a livesaver for her. Hyperkinesia is rare.

Whenever people begin to speculate about the explosion of ADHD in the population, and someone laments, “What happened? It used to be a rarity.” I want to respond, “True hyperkinesia is still a rarity. What is now referred to as ADHD is simply a product of too much screen time, too little parenting, and a large dose of gender stereotyping, all of which may respond to drugs, but none of which are congenital.” Except parents let themselves off the hook by choosing to believe that it is congenital.

I did some Web research and found two articles about the prevalence of ADHD among boys. The first does a nice job of explaining the phenomenon. The second does a good job of reinforcing stereotypes:

“When girls are under increased stress, they fold their hands and get quieter. When boys are under stress, they become a behavior problem.”

A commentor on an Amazon review of The Trouble With Boys:
“As a female classroom teacher… I understand the difference of learning styles between boys and girls.”

Furthermore, the article claims that schools are more rigorous than they once were:
“…schools ratchet up their expectations, says Lawrence Diller, a psychiatrist in the Bay Area who has been an outspoken critic of the ADHD industry. “More kids — and particularly more boys — look as if they might have a problem. Teach­ers now demand a standardized level of performance from all students. Many can’t tolerate too much motion, too much noise, too many questions — even within the range of normal — if it interferes with the pace of their class.”

“The way schools are run we have kids sitting at desks for a very long time,” says principal Susan Charles.

Let’s take a look at these claims:

Teach­ers now demand a standardized level of performance from all students? - You could’ve fooled me. I thought we’d gotten away from all the soul-sucking uniformity, having shifted over to the “tailored-to-the-individual” and “learn-at-your-own-pace” philosophy.

Today’s teachers can’t tolerate too much motion, too much noise, too many questions? As if teachers in previous generations could?

We have kids sitting at desks for a very long time? Certainly not that I’ve noticed. On the contrary, from what I’ve observed, not only is there much more motion in my kids’ classrooms than there was in my classrooms as a kid, but moving about the room is much more accepted today, as is a certain noise level. In fact, I have my doubts about my former kid self being able to concentrate in today’s classrooms precisely because of the casual atmosphere.

My mother began teaching in 1943. She was assigned a combined class of 40 second and third graders in a school with a working- and middle-class enrollment. I asked her if she recalls any discipline problems. “No,” she replied. “They all behaved.” I’m pretty certain, too, that they were all seated at desks and required to remain quiet for hours at a time, in surroundings far less comfortable or kid-friendly than those in today’s schools. So what gives?

My theory? “He’s ADHD” is the new, PC “Boys will be boys”. I suspect a link between parents’ expectations of their sons’ behavior conforming to "boy" stereotypes, and the likelihood of those sons being diagnosed ADHD. After all, all the other explanations — TV and computers, single-parent homes, food additives, environmental toxins — affect both genders equally, yet up to four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed ADHD. I blame parents’ throwing in the discipline towel sooner with their sons than with their daughters, thereby perpetuating the stereotype of rambunctious boys and compliant girls. Ever noticed that one never hears parents of daughters describe their offspring as “high-energy”, “noisy”, or “rambunctious”?

I would love to construct a study of two groups of parents: one composed of parents who believe that the genders are inherently different and express it in their parenting, letting gender stereotypes take over in the home; and one composed of parents who actively oppose gender stereotyping and who hold their sons to the same behavior standards as they do their daughters. These concepts being almost completely subjective and difficult if not impossible to measure, it would seem that such a study will not be conducted anytime soon. Therefore, while I can’t prove such a link, I am here, throwing it out to anyone who will listen. If anyone knows of a study like the one I describe, please let me know.

Friday, October 30, 2009

He's All Baby! הוא כזה תינוק

I heard it again today. The twenty-something mom saying about her six-week-old infant: hu kazeh ben! Translation: “He’s all boy”. Tip: If you want to see me go ballistic, this is the perfect way to do it. Since I wasn’t part of the conversation, I managed to control myself and make do with an eyeroll and a sigh, but what my shadow was doing was tapping her on the shoulder and saying:

“Excuse me. This is 2009. How is it that you’re twenty-eight years old and you sound like my grandmother? Have we gone backwards? Are we devolving? Was feminism just a blip?"

That's right: Despite what you choose to believe, feminism is too about combating gender stereotypes; if we perpetuate stereotypes, how can we honestly say that our children have choices? Sorry, Millennials: Despite what you may believe, feminism is not “the choice to dress my girl in girly-garb if I want; I’m secure in my feminism. I’m liberated.” Mom, you may feel liberated, but your job is far from done.

Let’s take a minute and break this down: You say your son is “all boy”. Even if I chose to buy into stereotypes, this doesn’t parse. What is he doing at age six weeks that’s typically masculine? Is he smoking cigars? Watching a prize fight on ESPN? Saying “hubba hubba” as a blond bombshell passes by? Fast-forward 16 years. If he were doing any of the above, would you be saying glowingly of him, “He’s all boy!”?

I’m thinking you’ll say no. I’m thinking you probably want your son to have more substance than a cartoon version of “boy” or “man”. If you do, then how come you’re starting now — at age six weeks — to push a cartoon agenda, if only in your own mind? At what point does it stop being in your own mind and begin to be absorbed by him? When he starts to understand language? Age two? Three? At that point, will you jump up and “insert the Human Being disk into your son’s CD drive” and quit referring to him as “all boy” / relating to him as a stereotype?

Mom, wouldn’t it be simpler to insert the Human Being disk now, rather than have to uninstall the cartoon program later on? Consider substituting for “He’s all boy!” > “He’s exquisite. I’ve never seen anything quite like him. I’m crazy about him!” There. Didn’t that feel wonderful?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Has anyone else had it with NYCentrism?

Has anyone else had it with NYCentrism? I’m referring to the assumption on some people’s parts that not only is New York City the center of the planet, but that it’s everyone else’s reference point.

This morning I happened to sit down at breakfast across from a women who proceeded to wax on about the Village and “the Park” [I assume Washington Square Park] and Bleecker Street, nodding at me earnestly the entire time as if we’d grown up together next door to the Village Gate. I honestly thought she might have mistaken me for someone else.

We hadn’t been introduced; in fact, I hadn’t uttered a word, so there was no way she had of knowing that I’m even a native English speaker, much less whether I’d ever so much as stepped foot in North America. For all she knew, I’d just dropped in for the day from Afghanistan. But the galling assumption not only that I’d been to NYC, was familiar with it, and share her cultural references, was simply over the top.

Anyone else been in this situation, and does it bother you?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fashion 4 Teachers לבוש הולם לְמורים

The subject of teacher dress codes עברית reminds me of two juxtaposing articles that appeared in recent years in Haaretz: One during the 2006 teachers’ strike, profiling a male junior high teacher who owned but one work outfit, but took care to come to work every day dressed in a clean dress shirt and pressed pants. He told the reporter he wants to set an example for his students. He gets it, I thought. I nearly cried with gratitude. God bless you, wherever you are, haMorèh*.

The other article told about some unique 6th grade curriculum being implemented in a classroom somewhere in the Center, perhaps it was Holon. The accompanying photo showed the teacher surrounded by her students, wearing a dress that revealed a cleavage the size of the Suez Canal. It reminded me of a teacher in my kids’ school: She’s in her mid-fifties and as my friend observed, she seems to reveal more skin every year. Has anyone reminded this woman that she’s teaching teenagers, not a teenager herself?

Ms. Livneh, I beg to disagree with you: What we wear does affect those around us, especially those in appearance-oriented occupations such as teaching. How are adolescent boys supposed to ignore exposed breasts and heady perfume? How are the girls supposed to respect someone who looks like their peer? I’m not suggesting that teachers should have to dress like nuns, but yes, they need to look businesslike; they are doing an indoor job that doesn’t involve cleaning or heavy lifting, they are meeting the public, and they should dress commensurately.

Regardless of the amount of skin showing, I also admit that I’ve never gotten used to the Israeli concept that it’s perfectly acceptable for female teachers to dress flamboyantly. What’s up with the two-toned nails in day-glo colors, the magenta hair, earrings the size of hubcaps, and the hooker shoes? Can you honestly say that these are conducive to teaching? At the very least, that they aren’t distracting?

Ms. Livneh, your reminiscences in the second-to-last paragraph have no worth other than as anecdotes. You may attribute your students’ success in English to the teacher’s wardrobe, and the literature teacher may have been unpopular, but it wasn’t about his clothing. And while it is true that reducing class size, raising salaries, and bolstering teachers’ status are certainly called for, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea of dress codes.

Not only would teachers dressing appropriately for their jobs likely go a long way toward their gaining the respect of both students and parents ― but guess what? It doesn’t cost the taxpayer one agorah!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Israel's Retail Culture תרבות הקניות

Whenever anyone asks me if there’s anything I miss about the States, I don’t even hestitate to reply: The retail culture. Notice I did not say “consumer culture”, which I abhor, and which I define as the drive to buy, buy, buy regardless of the effect on our planet or the humans thereon. What I mean by retail culture is the fact that in the States, the shopper is treated like the very royalty whose eschewance the Land of the Free is founded upon, whether shopping at Family Dollar or at Nordstroms -- true equality.

I grew up in the epitome of Shopping Land -- the Midwest ‘burbs -- where every component of The Shopping Experience, from the spaces-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see free parking to the Have-A-Nice-Day! Return and Exchange Policy are geared toward Getting You Inside The Store, Enticing You To Stay As Long As Possible, and Getting You To Come Back. Makes sense to me that if you’re selling something, you want to makes things as painless, simple, easy, and convenient for your customers as possible. Why, then, are Israeli retailers still stuck in Soviet-style Supply-Side-Rules-And-The-Customer-Can-Blow-Me mode?

I get that not everything is under the retailer’s control: Space in Israel is at a premium, so we’re stuck with cramped parking, narrow aisles, and telephone booth-sized fitting rooms. But everything else is doable, including:

1. Atmosphere - When I enter your store, I want to hear Muzak. That’s right, Muzak, or at the very least, I don’t want to feel trance music pulsing through my being, played at so loud a volume that I can’t hear myself think.

2. Cleanliness - I usually have to use the bathroom at some point during shopping. I was recently in an H&O whose bathroom wasn’t fit for a junkie to shoot up in. I went to see the manager and asked him if he would let his own daughter use the bathroom there. He said he’d “check it out”. Right. HaMashbir is slightly better: They supply toilet paper and occasionally a squeeze bottle of all-purpose soap, complete with drippings down the sides, to wash your hands with. Towels or dryers? You’ve gotta be kidding -- who dya think you are? The Jordanian royal family? You must have us confused with a business that wants its customers to stay as long as possible and buy stuff.

3. Fitting rooms - Have Enough Of Them. No one should have to wait to try on clothing. And while they may be small, there’s no reason they can’t contain: 1) An ottoman to place your belongings on; 2) Hooks to hang clothing on; and 3) A full-length mirror. You retailers who put the mirrors on the outside of the doors? So transparent. You think we’re stupid? We know you just want to force us out of the fitting room so you can talk us into buying whatever we’re trying on. Recently at Fox, my daughter was trying on a cute gray shirt emblazoned with “The One & Only” (one of the less offensive messages on Israeli clothing). She was checking out her reflection in the extra-fitting room mirror and said to me, “I’ll take it” ― ding-ding-ding, that’s called a sale ― when a sales clerk said to her, “You’re fair-skinned. You need another color, like pink.” Predictably, the same shirt in the pink version was emblazoned with “Never Dance Alone”. My daughter was flustered. I ignored Sales Clerk and told her, “Honey, the gray looks good on you, and the message on the pink one is cheap”. The sales clerk continued to argue. I turned to her and said, “She wants the gray one”, thinking, What is the matter with you, Lady? She likes the item; she wants to purchase it. Hands off!

OK, we’ve decided on our purchases. Now let’s move on to the ordeal known as…

4. Checkout - I have never seen all three (or at most four) registers staffed at an Israeli store. Never. Yesterday I was at Mega ba’Ir at 17:30, peak shopping time, and as I approached the checkout, the cashier informed me she was closing her register -- at peak time, mind you. I had three items. The “Express Lane” line reached all the way to Taba. I opted to stay in a regular lane. We moved forward at a snail's pace and waited 'til the customer before me argued with the cashier about the price, then had to rummage around for her vouchers, then couldn't find enough cash...just the way I wanted to spend my afternoon.

At haMashbir recently, only one of two registers was open. I dutifully got into the line, which reached all the way to Nuweiba. I stopped every sales clerk that passed me and asked to have the other register opened. Most looked at me like I’d dropped in from Mars. One actually had the gall to reply, “Why? The line’s not that long”. In contrast, when I worked as a KMart cashier in high school, as soon as a supervisor noticed shoppers having to wait in line behind more than two other shoppers, it was: “Miriam, open Register 16, and hustle”. Why do Israeli retailers hire just less than enough staff? And why can they not train all employees to operate a register? Is it that complicated?

5. Flawed merchandise - In the States, cashiers have the Authority Vested In Them to give a standard discount on flawed merchandise, usually 10%. Here in Israel? Forget it. First of all, no personnel has any authority to make any decision whatsoever beyond how she’ll have her nails sculpted. So I’ve learned to just skip over the lowlings and ask to speak to the Shift Manager. Recently a Shift Manager at H&O grudgingly gave me 5% off a tank top with a stain in front, warning me, “Realize that this is it. No returns or exhanges. It’s yours.” Oooooh. Real scary. I wanted to say to her, “Honey, I’m doing you a favor. No one else’ll buy this, and you’d be forced to let it go for way less than 5% at the end of the season, when you’ll be stuck with it. Instead I’m taking it off your hands now.”

6. Returns - I like to say that you can walk up to Customer Service at KMart with a pair of sneakers you bought in 1965 and return them, explaining, “My boyfriend doesn’t like the color on me”. It’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. At Target, I recently returned a pair of earrings that I’d already worn, explaining that they were heavy and made my earlobes sore. Within five seconds I had my money back ― cash ― with a smile. You can bet I’ll be back at Target ― again and again and again. In contrast, I bought a futon frame at Futon ba’Ir that broke after ten days. The store had the chutzpa to offer me store credit, as if a futon is a staple you buy every day, like a pair of socks. At Mixer, when I wanted to return a fridge magnet whose magnet had fallen out on my way home, the sculpted-nail teen running the register told me, “My supplier won’t take it back.” And this is my problem? We’re talking a ₪5 doodad, for God’s sake.

Now I’ll tell you about my two most recent restaurant complaints. After eating at Passador in Eilat, I wrote the management a letter containing several complaints, including loud music inappropriate to an eating establishment; a giant-screen TV on the Fashion Channel, forcing me to stare at cleavages as I dined; chincy portions; and unimaginative presentation (no garnishes, etc.). The very nice manager called me and assured me that all had been rectified and invited me back so he could prove it. But. Didn’t. Offer. A freebie. No free dessert, not even a free beverage, much less a free entrée or complete meal. Sorry, not gambling in that establishment again.

At Aroma recently I ordered a Health Sandwich, whose ingredients can only be described with the British “sodden”. And it contained, of all things, sliced zuchinni. I wrote to the chain that 1) The sandwich wasn’t fresh and 2) The reason I didn’t know I’d be getting zuchinni [why not avocado?] was because the menu’s writing was so tiny that I was too impatient to read the entire ingredient list. I got a letter back from someone named Reuven telling me 1) I should’ve told the [sculpted-nail teenage] staff and 2) Describing to me in detail Aroma’s quality assurance practices.

I wrote back saying that he hadn’t addressed my complaints. Particularly, the staff has no control over the menu, nor could they change it on the spot. I got another letter informing me that the Eilat Big Aroma branch would be thoroughly investigated. Then I got a call from Avner, the manager, with the same rigamarole I got from Reuven, inviting me to come in and “discuss it over coffee”.

Avner and Reuven, wherever you are, I don’t need your lengthy explanations and invitations to coffee. Send me a voucher for a free cup of coffee, or a ₪25 gift card…anything, but give me something to compensate me besides verbose letters and phone calls that take up my time. Show me some good faith; demonstrate to me that you’re interested in my future business! I’m not interested in meeting you, I don’t want your company; I just want a reasonable product in exchange for my money!

Then there are the institutions and businesses that don't even bother replying: Ben-Gurion Airport, when I wrote in to its Feedback telling them that they should redo their signs to make them more comprehensible to the public, i.e, referring to Terminal 1 as "International Terminal" and Terminal 2 as "Domestic Terminal"; and the ones like the City of Jerusalem, who wrote back to tell me that there's no reason to label the bus station as such, thank you. They apparently think it's superfluous to label the building. Yet it's important that Clal Center bear prominent ads on its facade for a retail establishment that sells sex toys, in the middle of the city holy to three faiths. And to think there's a commentor out there who thinks I do this for recreation...

Israelis do a tremendous amount of marketing research; I know this first-hand, because I edit reams of it. When, oh when, is any of its findings going to be applied down here on the ground? When am I, the ordinary consumer, going to see the results???

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back-to-school Special on Master's Degrees מבצע בתארי ב'

Research question: Can kibbutz [principles] be applied in the developing world?

The researcher: She arrived unannounced on a Saturday and figured she could finish interviewing (five members of my income-sharing community) by sundown, with no prior notice.

She couldn’t string together three words.

She took handwritten notes in a cutesy hardback Blank Book adorned with dolphins: no laptop, no recording device.

She was unable to answer my question about the use of the word pseudonym that appeared on the waiver she gave me to sign after she’d finished “interviewing” me, saying, “I think it's like ‘he’ or ‘she’”. "No," I explained. "‘He’ and ‘she’ are pronouns."

She didn’t connect the dots: After I told her that my reaction to an article I’d read in the mid-1980s about Tlalim was that it wouldn’t last, much later she asked me, “Are there any kibbutzes that didn’t last”? Honey, I just handed this one to you on a silver platter ten minutes ago. Go Google it (duh) and find out!

When she asked me if I "had any ties to the other kibbutzes" in the area, I replied, not particularly, but suggested she look them up, as each surely has a site. Her response: "Oh, yeah. Good idea".

She completely missed key thoughts. She asked, “What about adaptability? You guys seem adaptable”. I replied, “What one person thinks of as adapting, another might call selling out”. If not a gem, a tidbit, no? Went straight over her head. I suspect she didn’t know what “selling out” means.

She told me twice that her grandparents live in Missouri. Both times, she couldn’t recall where. Granted, perhaps she’d only visited once, when she was six, but I had the feeling she’d’ve had the same trouble with St. Louis. Hell, I had the feeling she couldn’t pick out Missouri on a map. “Big deal,” you say. “So couldn’t most Americans”. Yes. But this one is in a Master’s degree program. She seemed like she could barely handle community college. A neighbor said to me, “Yes, but look at where the program is [a not-particularly-prominent state university]”. I contend: It doesn’t matter. The granting of a degree, assuming the granting institution is accredited to do so, is supposed to mean mastery (hence “Master’s”). This gal clearly has mastered nothing beyond her PIN number and the On/Off switch on a TV remote.

Hello? McFly? Is there an advisor in the picture? If so, is s/he permanently out to lunch? The fact that this gal even got this far (?) is a condemnation of the institution she’s enrolled in, if not academia in general. If these are today’s master’s candidates, how am I to trust any research results I read two years hence?

And let’s not even go to how she chose [State U.]: “Well, I was driving through there, and I just thought it was so pretty…”

Friday, July 17, 2009

The real "demographic threat" ה"איום הדמוגרפי" האמיתי

In response to Dror Yehezkel’s piece on demanding that the Arab states recognize us as a Jewish state עברית, talkbacker Eric responded: "If indeed Israel IS a Jewish state, then why is it importing Russian atheists to populate the West Bank, based strictly on their lineage?"; while talkbacker Mark Lincoln of Houston, TX, adds: "Paranoia is the national pastime: A sound practice before the decisive Yom Kippur War; a national curse since. The curious thing is that as the real threat has vanished, the hysteria about `the threat` has increased. Whereas the major security threats to Israel were external for its first quarter-century, the major security threats for the last 30 years have been of Israeli device."

Apropos paranoia, the very words “demograhic threat” make me cringe. How can anyone in this day and age even utter that phrase and take themselves seriously? To view an entire group of human beings not as such, but as a phenomenon? On the other hand, how can I then justify my unapologetic loathing for the ultra-Orthodox? I suppose the difference lies in the fact that I see the ultra-Orthodox as lording it over us non-Orthodox. How else can we explain what can only properly be described as their mass tantrums עברית, i.e., dumpster-burning whenever they don’t get their own way?

Let’s even suppose for the sake of argument that in some warped world, rioting as a protest to a denial of one’s rights (a free parking garage open on the Sabbath, say) has its place. But rioting in response to a fellow citizen’s undergoing the accepted consequences of abusing her child? Certainly never heard of such a thing in the Pali community. And yet we label the latter a threat. If any group threatens our existence as a democracy, it’s the ultra-Orthodox.

Here’s my favorite sentence from the article: “[in arresting the mother], the police destroyed the delicate relations built for years between the city and Haredi community, the officials said.” So now it’s the fault of the police that our “delicate relations” with the ultra-Orthodox are destroyed? Everything was fine until the evil Jewish Gestapo had the gall to intervene in our “internal” affairs?

And let’s talk about these delicate relations. When I hear that phrase, what I read is: the non-Orthodox tiptoeing on eggshells for 60+ years in a grossly misguided attempt not to offend the ultra-Orthodox and set off rioting. If a woman described her relationship with her husband to me this way, I wouldn’t have to be a therapist to see that she’s in an abusive relationship. And with an abuser, there’s no “talking it out” or “negotiating” or “processing” or “if I’m ‘good’, he’ll stop”.

If we wouldn’t counsel a woman in an abusive relationship to placate her abuser, then why, oh why, do we continue trying to placate the ultra-Orthodox, whose behavior is nothing more or less than bullying? With a bully, if you can’t exit the situation, you set boundaries, i.e., “I refuse to be treated this way”. Two-year-olds who learn that tantrums will get them what they demand grow up to be bullies and abusers. If it wasn’t transparently, abundantly, crystal-clear before this, it should be now: If any minority community needs to be “put in its place”, it’s the ultra-Orthodox.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Too busy to run our own occupation עסוקים מכדי לנהל את הכיבוש

I thought surely I’d heard everything, that the situation couldn’t get any more Chelm-like, and now I find out that the IDF, finding that it’s too busy to staff its own checkpoints ― the manifestation of the occupation ― is farming this uh, lively task out to private security firms עברית. I can picture the Chiefs of Staff meeting where they came up with this one:

Chief of Staff: Men, the Tul Karm checkpoint is a problem. There just aren’t enough kids in the 18-20 demographic to man it. Something’s gotta give.

Colonel in charge of manpower: Gabi, what’s the problem? Just crack open the Yellow Pages and give Soldier of Fortune a call. Or Jane’s Defense Weekly. I know I have their number somewhere in my Rolodex here…

Chief of Staff: Nah, let’s go blue and white. Hand out some defense contracts to the local boys. Issue an RFB and I want at least three quotes on my desk by 07:00 hours tomorrow.

Colonel in charge of manpower: Right, Chief. Right away.

I mean, could it get any more ludicrous? We don’t have time to run our own occupation? Oh, excuse me, I meant “liberation”. Let’s see if we can explain things to our alien journalist from another galaxy:

Alien: I’m here with Yam Erez in the West Bank, and I’ve got to say to the folks back home, the way they run this show is downright confusing. Now, Ms. Erez, would you mind explaining to me again why you Israelis are in charge here, yet we can’t visit Ramallah?

Me: Well you see, Israelis aren’t allowed there.

Alien: You’re in charge of this territory, yet you’re not allowed there.

Me: That’s right. It’s in Area C, which is Palestinian-controlled. I mean, it’s ours, ‘cause God promised it to us, and She’s overall in charge, but it’s under Palestinian control. I mean…oh never mind.

Alien: So who’s that fellow over there? The one wearing the Muslim clerical-style head covering and the 5.5 kids? Is he a Palestinian?

Me: Oh, you mean him? He’s a settler.

Alien: A settler. So he’s…

Me: Israeli.

Alien: He’s Israeli. So how come he’s allowed to be here, yet you’re not?

Me: He’s Jewish.

Alien: But aren’t you Jewish?

Me: Yes, I am, but I don’t live here.

Alien: So let me get this straight: You’re Israeli, so you’re not allowed to be here, but he’s Israeli, and he’s allowed to live here. But you’re both in charge. Yet not really in charge, ‘cause the Palestinians are sort of in charge.

Me: Well, I can visit. For instance, were he to invite me, I could visit that settler.

Alien: Uh-huh. And suppose that nice actor of yours, that Muhammad Bakri fellow, wants to visit the settler. Would that be OK?

Me: Well, actually, no, it wouldn’t.

Alien: But I don’t get it. Mr. Bakri’s Israeli, isn’t he? So that means he's an occupier. What seems to be the problem?

Me: Yes -- I mean, no, that is, yes, he's Israeli, but he’s an Arab.

Alien [looking flushed]: It must be the heat. Do you suppose the settler would give us some water? I understand it’s a scarce resource in the occupied -- excuse me, I meant liberated -- territories...

What next? Oh, I have an idea: How about importing Thais or Filipinos to man the checkpoints? Isn't that what we Westerners do with our unseemly tasks? Farm them out to foreigners? Oh, that's right, [slaps forehead] you need permission from…what ministry was it again? The Welfare, or the Agriculture Ministry? I can’t seem to keep all the regulations for the various wood-hewing, water-bearing nationalities straight. [snaps fingers] Hey, I’ve got it! How about employing the Sudanese refugees to do it? They need work; we need staff―it’s a match!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Suppose they are conniving נניח שהם אמנם מתחכמים

Of course our initial response to Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin’s assertion עברית that “[Russian immigrants] will do everything possibly to deceive. They are to be assumed to be cheaters" is horror and revulsion. At the very least, Sheinin should hire a spokesperson more skilled in diplomacy than he himself is. But let’s examine the issue disregarding for the moment Sheinin’s offensive words.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Sheinin is right: Russian immigrants are lying in order to be accepted into Sheinin’s club. Can we blame them? They’re being set up for failure. First we lure them here on the premise of meeting an irrelevant criterion (one Jewish grandparent) and for our own paranoid ends (adding to the non-Arab population), then when they arrive, we tell them, “Oh yeah, we forgot to inform you that a primary civil right will be denied you”. Who among us wouldn’t at least consider trying to get around a hulking bureaucracy rather than jumping through its Kafkaesque hoops? And let’s not forget that we’re only talking here about the negligible numbers of “obedient” immigrants* who have sought conversion.

The more I turn over this intractable problem in my mind, the harder I hit the wall: There is simply no way that we Jews will arrive at a consensus on who is a Jew, and corollarily, who is a rabbi. Would that there could be a worldwide (interplanetary? Intergalactic?) Jews Database, but not even the Cyber Age would solve this one: We’d still need someone behind it all ― someone we all trust and whose rulings we agree to abide by ― to honcho the whole thing, to approve or reject those logging in to register, to send out the confirmation e-mails with your Jewser Name and Password.

The answer to me appears to run counter to the calls for unity: A Jewish nation that continually subdivides according to groupings and followings of individuals ordained as rabbis, whose conversions and marriages certain Jews accept and others do not. The key, of course, is for governments to stay out of the religion business, i.e., the government must assiduously avoid backing any one or more particular group(s) of Jews, or their institutions or rabbis. Each Jew decides for herself which kashrut seal to accept and which other Jews are kosher enough for her children to marry.

Besides, the system is warped from the git-go: Is the Gerer Rebbe’s grandchild required to show up at the local rabbinate bureau waving her mom’s ketuba at the clerk in order to be granted a marriage license?

*”Immigrants” having now become Israeli shorthand for “Russian speakers”

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Big Sister's Pretty Dress השמלה היפה של האחות הגדולה

In the past few years, I’ve become less timid about challenging gender stereotyping, perhaps as my kids have aged beyond the stages when parents are heard to say, “He’s all boy!” or “She’s a girly-girl!” (I can hardly stand even to write those statements. If I could I’d wave my wand and banish them forever).

Recently I challenged a case of gender stereotyping, and a father of two preschoolers accused my point of being “trivial” (hadn’t heard that one before, even from the detractors). Many claim that they are not guilty of feeding their kids any “sexist messages”. OK, all you skeptics about the existence of gender stereotyping and sexist messages, consider this recent, real-life, unplugged example:

In our community, when a baby is born, someone makes a clever, handmade congratulatory sign and posts it on the bulletin board. The sign is usually a gentle spoof on the parents and siblings. The sign for the newest baby, born this week, featured:
1. The dad wearing his political party’s t-shirt
2. The mom wearing a t-shirt “emblazoned” with the name of her job
3. Sister wearing a dress labeled ― are you ready? ― “Pretty Dress”

I challenge anyone to tell me that if Sister were Brother, his clothing would’ve been labeled “Great Outfit”. If anything, it surely would’ve been labeled “Big Brother”, which one would think would’ve been the obvious choice for either gender. Indeed, why not “Big Sister”? Is her appearance the only thing we can think of to say about this child?

Everyone in the community will see this sign. Kids who can’t read will ask their parents what’s written on it. I have no quarrel with it per se: It's tasteful, effort was clearly invested in it, and it will without a doubt be a family memento. But if anyone thinks that our kids aren’t getting messages that reinforce gender stereotyping, I offer this example, for which I didn’t have to go searching: It positively jumped out at me. Would anyone dare argue that my point is trivial?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Here's where my tolerance ends עצור! גבול סובלנותי לפניך

For some strange reason, Gideon Levy suddenly decided to champion the cause of the poor, maligned ultra-Orthodox עברית who want to move into the secular stronghold of Ramat Aviv. As another columnist already responded*, we non-Orthdox don’t go into “their” neighborhoods and attempt to familiarize their young people with humanism, so the Ramat Avivians’ indignation is justified.

I also have a problem with Levy’s terming the Ramat Avivians’ justified indignation “anti-Semitism”, a deliberately inciteful use of a loaded term. Because I hate Jews coercing other Jews into giving up their freedom so that we all live in a Torah-pure environment, that makes me anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. I think it makes me anti-coercion. Requiring that I tolerate the intolerant is taking PC-ness too far, or to quote Tevye, “If I bend that far, I’ll break”. I cannot condone intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Besides, it’s hard for me to believe that Levy doesn’t realize that the ultra-Orthodox are in the same camp as his “beloved” settlers, the only difference being each group’s respective priorities: The former prioritize bringing about the redemption by adhering to the commandments and trying to get as many of us as possible to join them; while the latter prioritize bringing about the redemption by settling the Greater Land of Israel. But make no mistake about it: Both see the redemption as embodying a theocracy no less terrifying than that of, say, Iran. And, just because the ultra-Orthodox are infiltrating Ramat Aviv and not some hilltop in Samaria doesn’t mean their goals aren’t the same as the settlers’.

As Levy wrote yesterday, sipping espresso on Sheinkin עברית is not mutually exclusive to being a productive ― and yes, patriotic ― citizen, any more than does sipping espresso on the Champs d’Elysee or Fifth Avenue. Yet, sipping espresso on Sheinkin is antithetical to living in fill-in-the-blank-with-the-name-of-your-favorite-settlement. What Levy fails to acknowledge is that sipping espresso on Sheinkin is also antithetical to the ultra-Orthodox world, even though the latter doesn’t confine itself to a specific locale, as do the settlers. They’re one and the same, Levy; you can’t evade this truth.

*I searched for the response, but couldn't find it. All I recall is that it was written by someone named Carl.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Guide Dogs for Dummies יסודות אימוץ כלבי נחייה

I’m posting this even though it deviates from my usual content. Last night my retired guide dog Labrador, in an attempt to get at the wax vestiges on a borrowed aromatic oil burner, knocked it over and broke it. That did it: The time has come to expose to the world the paucity of information on adopting retired guide dogs.

Although this isn’t an issue that touches most people, if this reaches even one person who’s considering adopting a retired guide dog, it’s worth it. For the sake of fairness, this is not an Israel-specific problem: I’ve looked high and low all over the Web, fully expecting to find an e-group, forum, or site aimed at guide dog retiree owners. Not only could I find nothing, but the school through which I adopted (twice ― this is my second guide dog) not only gave me little guidance, but neither did the former owners.

The lack of guidance is no one’s fault: The circumstances of “retirement” render nearly all information applicable to the dog’s working life irrelevant, which is why retired guide dog adopters need each other. Through a friend, I finally did find another retired guide dog adopter who was helpful; but having now owned two retired Labradors, I have a wealth of information to share.

So hopefully the engines’ll pick this up, but in the meantime, please fire this off to anyone you know who might benefit. Anyone considering adoption of, or who has already adopted a retired guide dog is encouraged to contact me for advice.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shop 'til you're deaf קנו עד שתתחרשו

I wish to publicly confess that my favorite days to shop are Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, and Holocaust Remembrance Day. Now that you’ve picked your jaws up from off the floor, I’ll explain why in one word: noise. Unlike the other 362 days a year when malls and stores play music at an ear-splitting level, on the two aforementioned days, one can browse at a leisurely pace to the strains of *musika shketah* which literally means “quiet music” but in this context might also be translated as “respectful music”.

One of the most annoying phenomena in this country is that of music played by retail and other businesses, I’m assuming because the proprietors are under the hallucinatory impression that we consumers like it that way. Sure, I love it when:

  • I’m relaxing by a hotel pool and the aerobics music assaults me.

  • I’m in an outdoor bazaar where every merchant has his music turned on, oblivious to the others, supposedly to lure me into his special and unique shop to purchase his special and unique cheap merchandise.

  • I’m vacationing with my extended family at the Dan Eilat, and at 11 p.m., boom-boom music reaches us on the upper floors. I call down to the desk and they tell me, “It’s not on the premises. It’s coming from the *tayelet* [boardwalk].” Well then get your butts out there and find out where it’s coming from and tell them it’s disturbing your guests, who are presumably also their livelihood!

  • I’m in line at the cashier purchasing some clothing at Fox, and I ask the teenage sales clerk to lower the volume. She refuses, citing as a reason that she “can’t be turning it up and down constantly, according to whoever walks in the door”. Uh, like you’re going to have customers complaining that the music’s not loud enough?

  • We’re shopping for sneakers at MegaSport, where not only are they playing FM 102 over the PA system, but the wall-mounted TV is also playing MTV. I don’t even bother looking for the sales help. I simply go over to the wall where the TV is plugged into an outlet, and pull the plug. No one even notices.

  • I’m waiting for the Eilat Mall to open on a morning during Chanuka. The adjacent pub, Hof Tziyon, is blasting music to an empty beach. I make my way down and ask Tziyon to lower the volume, or at least turn his column speakers inward and not toward the Saudi Peninsula. The proprietor tells me, “Why? People want to hear it.” I look around. What people, pray?

    Change will come only when we, we guests / shoppers / consumers demand it. I therefore propose a grassroots campaign consisting of the following:
  1. Next time you’re in Eilat, before you go to the mall, take a few meters’ detour and ask Tziyon to lower the volume. Tell him you’d love to stay and buy a drink but his music’s too loud. Ditto for Papaya Nights, whose shift manager, when I asked him to lower the volume, asked me, "Are you sitting on my beach?" to which I replied, "No, that's the point. If I can hear your music all the way to Cafe Optimi, it's too loud. And I can promise you that as long as it's this loud, I will never patronize your establishment".
  2. As you meander down the *tayelet*, tell every merchant playing music that you’d love to stay and browse, but his or her music’s too loud.

  3. Call the reception desk at your hotel and / or random others to complain about the music from the *tayelet* ― and don’t wait ‘til dark. Call 24 / 7!
Seems to me that instead of evicting the merchants for operating illegally עברית, which is never gonna happen, the state should fine ‘em up the wazoo for disturbing the peace. Let ‘em have it, and don’t stop ‘til it’s quiet!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Yiddishe Kop, Where'd You Go? לאן הלך היידישע קופ

Couldn’t find the English online: “Protest, counter-protest planned over gender-segregated buses” by Yair Ettinger p. 4, Thursday April 24, 2009 Haaretz English tells of a protest in the Shmuel haNavi neighborhood of Jerusalem and a counter-protest by the Orthodox women’s group Kolech*, which is demanding that gender-separate buses be eliminated.

Not only has the establishment of the Jewish state granted the ultra-Orthodox inordinate power, as explained here, ironically, precisely here in the Jewish state, Jewish ingenuity and entrepreneurship among the ultra-Orthodox is atrophying.

By way of explanation, let’s imagine a hypothetical ultra-Orthodox Jew in New York City who decides that he’s fed up with the existing public transportation options because he’s uncomfortable with being in close proximity to women. Obviously, he does not have the option of demanding that the city provide him with “kosher” transportation options. What’s the obvious next step? Start his own!

He gets his commercial driver’s license, takes out a loan, obtains the necessary permits for routes, buys a couple of vans, hires a couple of drivers, and voila ― a parnassah! He can even expand into the Muslim neighborhoods and eventually his business will support his own family and perhaps even others: Everybody wins.

Meanwhile, here in the Holy Land, sadly, everybody’s losing. How much psychic energy has been expended on both sides of this confrontation? Isn’t it about time we found a “third way”, instead of “My Way / Your Way”? My suggestion to the women of Kolech and if they’re smart, all relevant authorities (the Industry & Trade and Transportation Ministries, for starters): Propose to the ultra-Orthodox demonstrators that they start their own transportation company, and outline the steps needed to get there. There it is again―that coaching thing: Figure out where you want to go and take positive steps to get there: Everyone wins.

*I have to take a moment here and award this group the Yam Erez Clever Business and NPO Names award for not calling themselves Re’ut; Ofek / Ofakim; Keshet; Gvanim; Zchut [or some form thereof]; or Yad [or some form thereof]. Good going, gals!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Simulate a Checkpoint, Why Dontcha ?למה לא לשחזר מחסום

In his op-ed piece published on April 16, Gideon Levy bemoans the indifference to the occupation in the public at large, and the lack of a crusader for ending it in the Knesset in particular. Well, I’d like to reassure Levy that I’m reminded of the occupation every (work)day as I enter our (communal) dining room during floor-washing time.

Our dining room team has recently taken to pushing all the equipment (steam tables and warming ovens of various heights as well as other assorted institutional-size pieces) into the entrance, leaving a narrow passageway and reminding me of nothing if not a West Bank checkpoint in miniature. It has that feel too, of not being able to see out the other side. Then I came up with an idea (danger!): The youth movement activity of the 21st century.
Friends who were in Habonim tell me of all means of anti-capitalism indoctrination such as a crawling-on-hands-and-knees race for coins spilled at one end of a long gymnasium reminiscent of the famous digging-for-money scene in the film The Magic Christian; and being taken to a mall and given a few quarters per kid but admonished not to purchase from certain purveyors of enticing foods because said purveyors allegedly supported the grape growers, the leftist enemy of the day.

Why not, I thought, have youth movement members set up and operate a checkpoint? The activity might consist of building the checkpoint out of crates and other junk, an education in itself, as it has to be designed according to certain needs and parameters, with signs reading “Do not go beyond this point”; “Place belongings here”; “Men this way / Women this way”, etc.

Then each kid gets a card telling his or her “identity” and reason for needing to cross into Israel, for instance: Muhammad Abu-Kabir, age 78, suffering from heart disease, needs to get to Israeli hospital for treatment; accompanied by 20-year-old grandson”.

Meanwhile, the counselors have donned IDF uniforms and explain that they have received their daily directives from the intelligence services, and they know that one person in line is a suspected suicide bomber. Their object is to keep that person from crossing into Israel while not obstructing the innocent people who want to get across. The kids’ job is to convince the soldiers to let them cross in. Afterwards, of course, there is a sum-up session.

I challenge all youth movement members and counselors, and anyone involved in informal education to take this one on. I’ll be expecting the reports to roll in…including how many parents complain that the activity is “unpatriotic” and that the movement or school should be “apolitical”, as if anything nowadays can escape being political.

What more relevant activity could there be for a youth movement in 2009? If the Habonim members of the 1970s could crawl around trying to get their hands on a few coins, certainly our kids can spend an hour simulating a checkpoint, the tangible symbol of the occupation, no?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Natterings-on about church 'n' state הגיגים על דת + מדינה

My dad recommended I read this well-written editorial condemning ultra-Orthodox violence as engaged in by the modesty patrols. I eagerly went online, and as I read, my heart soared: Finally a public condemnation of ultra-Orthodox violence from a member of the ultra-Orthodox community. Then I reached the end and read the bio line; my heart sank: The literate, articulate author is dean of a yeshiva in…New York. But of course, I told myself after the initial disappointment. What did you expect?

Why “of course”? What did I know intuitively that I didn’t even know I knew? That despite their insularity, when all’s said and done, the ultra-Orthodox abroad are still better-educated, more worldly, and have more respect for democracy than their counterparts in Israel. My buddy Dena Shunra explains it thusly:

"The practice of Jewish religion, especially by the Orthodox, has taken a flying leap out of being observant and into actual insanity. Quite seriously, I believe that the trigger therefor is precisely living in Israel. Our entire religion used to have the constraining force of living under the legal systems of other people, which helped keep it down to human size. With the advent of the state of Israel, the constraints were removed, and each crazy idea is met with people saying 'Gee, yeah. Let's try that one!'. It is not, overall, a positive development for Judaism (see Shabtai Zvi and other false messiahs for the likely eventual outcome, I'm afraid)."

Therefore, in my book, Horowitz’s condemnation just isn’t the genuine article. Admirable as it is, I'm as yet waiting for any ultra-Orthodox within a 3,000-mile radius of Maalot Daphna to join his or voice to Horowitz’s. If any readers hear of such, do let the rest of us know.


In discussions of church and state here in Israel, the term “the state’s Jewish character” always comes up as a defense of all sorts of coercive, theocratic laws. I, who advocate complete separation of church and state, am confident that as long as lots of Jews live here, should Israel (please, God) go the civil route, we are in no danger of losing our Jewish character.

Case in point: Yesterday a friend told me that Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe despite its being the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes birth control. I looked it up in Wiki, and indeed only Germany’s birth rate is lower than Italy’s. It would appear, then, that while most Italians choose not to follow the teachings of the Church, amazingly, Italy manages to retain its Italian (and even Catholic) character.

To paraphrase Prof. Gadi Taub, Italy isn’t a sovereign state because God promised Italy to the Italians, but rather because it’s where the Italians’ story begins. Likewise, Jews have a right to live in Israel, but not on the condition that leavened products not be sold during Passover and public transportation not run on Saturdays; I live here because it’s where my story begins and I want to be a part of that story. I do not need Jewish practice as defined by a particular group and used to take the rest of us hostage, to justify my aliya.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Time to Out the ultra-Orthodox הגיע הזמן לחשוף את החרדים

Previous to Haaretz running my op-ed piece in today’s edition, which was a version of my previous post about the secular struggle for Kiryat haYovel, the back-and-forth between myself and Editor David B. Green had value apart from the editing process per se, as it forced me to clarify and sharpen my argument, which is exactly what non-Orthodox Israelis need to do in the face of the perceived ultra-Orthodox invasion.

I believe that the knee-jerk anti-ultra-Orthodox reaction of most non-Orthodox stems not from blind hatred, but rather from the fact that most Israelis, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, have never had the pleasure of living in a civil society, i.e., one wherein the rules don’t change arbitrarily depending on who’s in power at the moment. Such arbitrariness is exemplified by the Chelm-like sleight-of-hand with which a judge decides that a supermarket is not considered public space [for the purposes of selling leavened products during Passover]; and a private residence is not zoned for praying.

Instead of the tactics they have employed until now, the non-Orthodox need to take a leaf from the book of life coaching, the underlying philosophy of which is: Instead of acting based on fear of what will be, imagine the outcome you want, and take positive steps to get there.

In the case at hand, the goal is to out the ultra-Orthodox on the fact that their practices (uglifying neighborhoods with their pasted-up notices; harassing inappropriately dressed women; driving cars fitted with bullhorns around residential areas at slow speed, blaring incessantly that the Messiah is coming; closing off streets to traffic at their own prerogative) have nothing to do with Torah observance, and everything to do with the fact that they want to escape back into a medieval ghetto and take the rest of us with them*. Perhaps I'm naive, but it's hard for me to imagine them launching a public, establishment-backed struggle for the “right” to engage in the above-mentioned practices.

Another thing I've observed about the ultra-Orthodox is that as much as they say that haShem and the Torah are their only authorities, they do respect strong leadership and law enforcement from outside the community. The key word here is "strong" -- the authority exerted must be confident and unyielding, not conciliatory like that of Beit Shemesh police chief Oz Eliasi, who allegedly made a deal with the ultra-Orthodox community there that police wouldn’t enter the neighborhood without first talking to the rabbi.

Taking potshots at “the black tide” won’t get us anywhere. Resistance to the ultra-Orthodox running our lives has to begin at the neighborhood level, and that means getting organized and leaving God out of it.

*So do the Amish resist modernity, but they don't move into my neighborhood and insist that I follow suit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kiryat Yovel, Change Tactics, Stat קרית יובל, שני את הטקטיקה במידי

Reading Yair Ettinger’s account of the secular struggle for Kiryat Yovel עברית was mightily frustrating for me, as once again I see the same tired “there-goes-the-neighborhood” scenario being played out. It’s not the “Orthodox invasion” per se that frustrates me, but rather the predictably inefficacious, hand-wringing response on the part of the neighborhood’s veteran residents.

In going after a minyan held in a private residence, they’re no more empowered than hunting hounds going after a mechanical rabbit*. In the time it’s taking them (and the energy and court costs) to squelch it, ten more will pop up, representing a hundred new Orthodox families in the neighborhood. Is that what they want?

Instead of looking to the government to referee their dispute like some babysitter, the non-Orthodox must change their entire mindset, as per Henry Kissinger’s quote on the op-ed page of the same issue עברית. To paraphrase: The issue isn’t one more or less minyan or yeshiva in the neighborhood, but rather a total change in orientation. Repeat as needed: The government should not be involved in matters of religion. That’s right: Not to decide who can and cannot marry, nor to dictate who can and cannot live, pray, or study in a neighborhood.

Instead, the Kiryat Yovel residents and others in their predicament should learn two words: community organizing. Ettinger’s article mentions “an organization that seeks to preserve the neighborhood’s [secular] character”. Note that I put the word “secular” in brackets. That’s because it was in the quote, yet it’s superfluous. The terms "secular" and "Orthodox" need to be removed from this discourse entirely. The important issue here is that the veteran residents want their neighborhood to remain an appealing place to live, as it was when they moved in and as it’s been up until now.

Instead of disrupting prayers, which only makes them look bad, the veteran residents should be expending their panic-driven energy on strengthening their neighborhood, the one they’ve lived in for decades. What do I mean? Besides , showing up for said prayers en masse, they should be taking the following practical steps: A neighborhood association representative should visit every newcomer business and institution and inform the property owner that the following will not be tolerated:

1. Graffiti or signage of any type, including pashkavels and notices to the effect of “Daughters of Israel, dress modestly” and the like

2. Garbage, sewage, dog droppings, other pollution, or noise

3. Harassment of passersby and physical assault, including spitting

4. Blocking or obstructing any byway, for either pedestrian or motor traffic, either on a weekday or Sabbath or holiday

5. Soliciting, either for business or non-profit causes

By the way, the above must apply to the corner newsstand not displaying drug paraphernalia or girlie magazines, and to the (God forbid) local drug dealer. If the property owner asks why the above are prohibited, s/he should receive a two-word reply: property values. That’s all. Nothing more. No mention of religion or freedom therefrom. It’s quite simple: We bought homes here, we pay municipal taxes, and if any of the above violations occur, our homes will be worth less. That's where the entire dispute should begin and end.

Then, they need backup from City Hall in the event that there are violations, and no, this doesn’t have to be in the form of Meretz city council members. Parties are irrelevant here. The point is that a neighborhood ordinance has been violated and the neighborhood association must show “early and often” that it means business, i.e., violators will be prosecuted.

I truly believe that if the plan I’ve outlined above is followed, which means removing religion from the equation entirely (a difficult concept for us Middle Easterners, I know), neighborhood newcomers as well as veterans will fall into line, as they will see that 1) The same rules apply to all; and 2) If everyone observes the rules, the neighborhood will actually be a pleasant and desirable place in which to live and conduct business, and all will benefit. Plus it surely beats taking on every micro-minyan that pops up, which is about as effective as a drowning victim flailing about just to keep her head above water. Kiryat Yovel, you’re a symbol for us all: Don’t flail ― swim!

*Not to mention the utter absurdity of the case, matched only by last year’s chametz sale verdict. Outlawing prayer in private residences? Come on! It happens every day: shiva, circumcisions, Chanuka gatherings where a chanukiya is lit, Passover Seder…please, folks, let’s not even go there…

Friday, March 20, 2009

Passover: Isn't That the One Where We're Freed from Slavery? פסח שמח

We’re approaching that time of year when we start to hear that greeting that always trips me up: chag sameach vKasher, invariably admonished gaily (picture finger-wagging with a preschool-teacher smile). chag sameach vKasher is unsettling to me for a few reasons: First, the kasher part sounds like a dangling appendage. At Purim, do we say chag sameach vShikor? At Chanuka, do we say chag sameach vMadlik?

Second, chag sameach vKasher has a distinct paternalistic ring. What? You think I’ll slip up and eat chametz if I’m not reminded of the primary directive of Passover every time I meet someone?

Third, it creates an unneccesary divide between those who are Torah-observant and those who are not. As one friend said, “It’s as if we went around greeting each other shalom uBitachon”. Do we really need to be reminded even more constantly of the divisions among us? Would it actually detract from the momentousness of Passover to simply wish each other chag sameach?

For the record, as far as I’m concerned your Passover can be kasher, chametzdik, or anything in between, as long as it’s an enjoyable festival wherein we join together to recite once again the story of the most dramatic hour of our history. This to me is the essence of Passover, not the collective elimination of every last molecule of leavening from the planet.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gilmore Girls: Antisemitic? בנות גילמור: אנטישמי

Those who know me know my obsession with Gilmore Girls, a TV series I have yet to find a show better than (See? It even caused me to end a sentence with a dangling superlative(?)). So it may surprise you that I have a big enough problem with an episode to blog thereon.

The episode in question is Season 3 Episode 10 (That’ll Do, Pig). It’s Rory’s senior year at Chilton. Ambitious, Type-A, nominally Jewish super-achiever Paris is telling Rory about her Christmas visit to her boyfriend’s family:

PARIS: The place smelled like cinnamon all the time, and there was a fire in the fireplace, and a ton of presents. I mean hundreds of presents. I’m looking at this mound of gifts, and I’m thinking, “Eight days of Chanukah. . . who was the skinflint who thought up that deal?”
RORY: Don’t the eight days symbolize something?
PARIS: Yes, they symbolize eight days of ripping off the little kids who can’t have a Chanukah bush.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Paris Geller: Typical self-hating assimilated Jewish brainiac: a walking encyclopedia of every culture…except her own. She’s on the expressway to the Ivy League, yet her knowledge of Judaism ― down to the most elementary facts, like why Chanuka lasts eight days ― is abysmal, going so far as to ridicule it.

The only excuse I can think of is that this episode was written not by regular screenplay writers Amy and Daniel Sherman-Palladino, but by Sheila R. Lawrence, who I see here has a filmography that includes, among others, many more GG episodes, as well as being producer.

How could she and the S-Ps let this go by? Did they think it would endear Paris to the gentile audience? Not only is it a disgraceful portrayal of a Jewish character, but it dips to such a low level in contrast to the piquant dialog for which GG is known. In addition, this soliloquy could have gone in a hundred other directions, i.e., the self-deprecation was totally unnecessary. Shame on you, Lawrence! You let us Gilmore fans down.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teen Trips to Poland: Ka-Ching! ?המסע לפולין: חיוני

Besides Avirama Golan’s excellent arguments against teen trips to Poland עברית and Fani Oz-Salzberger’s excellent response, I’d like to add that besides the obvious obscenity inherent in pouring thousands of dollars into the Polish economy, essentially rewarding the Poles for “having hosted the party” we recall as the Holocaust, I have another, more subtle problem with the teen trips.

I get the sense that they’ve become a vehicle for a last-ditch, mainline history lesson similar in kind to what my congregation growing up did for its confirmation classes: Rabbi Margolies, who was quite learned and charismatic, basically used the confirmation year to take the class on a journey through Jewish history. He knew that it was the last time many, if not most of us, would sit in a room with our Jewish peers and learn about our tribe. It was if he was saying, “OK. Enough with the model Seders and Purim costumes. We’re not fooling around now.” He knew that it was his last chance to fight our impending assimilation, and he pulled out all the stops. Valiant effort though it was, it was also sad; it was an admission of failure of seven years of Hebrew school.

In the same way, the teen trips to Poland seem to me to be an admission of failure of 12 years of Israeli schooling. It’s having the kids wrap themselves in our flag and calling it patriotism. It’s admitting that most non-Orthodox kids have a weak connection, at best, to their Jewish past, and hoping that a mainline injection of death camps will give it to them. The problem is that while a mainline injection has immediate knockout effect, the effect wears off just as quickly. You just can’t ring the little crystal bell* and “make Zionism appear” like it’s some pancake mix where you “just add water and serve”.

I’m inclined to agree with Oz-Salzberger, and am in fact enchanted by the idea of a Muslim-Jewish teen trip to Spain. The fact is that nothing, really --not even marching through the death camps themselves -- can substitute for hearing the live testimony of Holocaust survivors. We’re just going to have to accept that fact, and move on to a new era in Holocaust education.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One Name: It's Not Monolithic שם אחד בלבד: לא בהכרח

While I reject Arianna Huffington’s advice to bloggers not to bother perfecting their writing, I’ve decided to accept another of her suggestions, which is to “Focus on one or two issues and…specialize in them…and…latch on to a certain issue and…don't let go of it.” The last fits me to a tee, as those who know me know well.

Having thus decided, in addition to my main posts, I’ll be featuring mini-posts on the left-hand side of the page on the subject of women not taking their husbands’ names. Most of these will be in the form of responses to various arguments pro and con that I find across the ‘net. For the nonce, I’d like to take up what appears to be one of the main sticking points of deciding on surnames for one’s children, i.e., the oft-repeated mantra of “all family members having the same name”.

First, allow me to dismantle the assumption that a uniform surname is somehow the obvious ideal. I'll illustrate with my own situation: My surname is Erez (yes, I changed my birth surname, before I married or even met my husband); my husband’s surname is Slott ― simple, no hyphens, we each stayed who we’d always been. Pleasant, spontaneous result: Quickly, with no urging on our part, we became the Erez-Slotts, which we quite like.

It therefore seemed natural to give our children the surname Erez-Slott, and it’s worked out fine: Teachers and airport passport-checkers easily see the connections and how everyone arrived at their respective surnames. Mail is addressed to “the Erez-Slotts” or “Miriam Erez and Bill Slott” or “Hedy Erez-Slott”. Each of us shares some part of everyone elses’ names, and I have never had the sense on any of our parts that we aren’t an intact family unit, or that we are somehow irregular. The fact that Bill and I have separate surnames has had no impact whatsoever on our marriage.

I can already hear the protests: “That’s fine if you’re the Erez-Slotts, or the Walker-Smiths. Suppose we’re the Terwilliger-McGillicuttys?” OK, OK [picture me calming an angry mob]: Write your child's name from the git-go as “Hortense T-M”*. Everyone quickly gets used to it (the caregiver, the school, the soccer coach) and soon everyone will be referring to you as “the tee-ems”, and shalom al yisrael, as we say here in the Em-Eee.

Yes, yes, I know: When the T-Ms’ kids’ marry, they’ll more than likely drop one of their names (optimistic here that they’ll carry on with some option other than Bride taking Groom’s surname). Yes, inevitably names will get dropped along the way, but at least the women’s names will have a better chance of lasting more than one generation; either way, we now have recorded genealogies and databases, so no one’s actual identity disappears, like it did so often under the old system.

So there you are: a close-to-perfect solution, certainly closer-to-perfect than any other. So no more excuses, ladies: Get out there and Stand By Your Names!

*This is acceptable on all but the most official documents―and how often, really, do we have to deal with those? Once it’s on their passports and SSNs, that’s pretty much the end of it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Does Shabbes Trump Tzniyus? האם שמירת שבת דוחה צניעות?

In a recent discussion of tearing toilet paper on the Sabbath, I was reminded of an incident that happened to me when I was 19 and being introduced to the world of mitzva observance. I was spending Shabbat with an Orthodox couple and their young daughter. They’d both grown up non-Orthodox and had met while studying in their respective yeshivot-for-the-newly-religious in Jerusalem; he had been ordained as a rabbi.

To my misfortune, on Shabbat afternoon I ran out of tampons. Having searched the bathroom and found none, I managed to emerge therefrom long enough to discreetly ask Mrs. Rabbi if she perhaps had some tampons somewhere. After rummaging around, she found a box, but told me mournfully that while she usually remembers to tear a few of the wrappers open (for Shabbat use), none of present company had been so rendered shabbesdik.

Noticing my perplexity at this state of affairs, and trying to smooth things over (?) -- Orthodox style -- she sweetly said, “I’ll ask Chaim; he’ll give you a heter1!”; at which moment I simply grabbed the box out of her hands and disappeared into the bathroom, where no rabbi, with or without his heter, could get to me.

At the time, I simply rolled my eyes at the situation, impatient to solve my problem and annoyed that halachah stood in my way. Today, with more time to examine the situation, I’m even more irked than I was then: Putting a young woman in the position of having to expose her private matters to a married man? What happened to tzniyus2? What happened to simple regard for the comfort of a guest in one’s home? Does the letter of the law trump all? Trees, I wanted to scream, meet forest!

Needless to say, while at the time I was on the brink, thank goodness I did not adopt the Orthodox lifestyle. While I can "get into" spirituality, I happen to also "get into" the Western logic that allows me to tear open a tampon wrapper and fill my hygienic needs seven days a week without having to appeal to a “higher authority”. So Rabbi Chaim and Rebbitzen Chaviva, wherever you are, thanks for your hospitality, but save your precious heter for some other halachic “emergency”; As for me, no thank you, I won’t be needing it.

1 rabbi-issued exemption from upholding a commandment
2 the commandment of modesty and chaste behavior to be observed between the genders

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gestational Diabetes: What's Up With All the Sugar? סוכרת הריון: מה פתאום

A friend who’s eight months pregnant was describing to me the sugar tolerance tests that pregnant women now routinely take, especially if their babies are large for [their] gestational age. Here are descriptions of the screenings and tests.

I recalled from my pregnancies dutifully drinking 50 cc of pure glucose, or grape sugar guck, the mere thought of which had me paying homage to the nearest toilet. Even back then I recall thinking, “So I (and my baby) am / are ingesting how much sugar? In order to…what? Obtain some number that tells me whether I can or cannot have sugar for the rest of my pregnancy?”

Not only does it seem simpler and less costly for everyone involved to simply advise moms whose babies are large for gestational age to cut back on or cut out sugar from Week 28, but just as I wonder about Gardasil and finding out the gender from an amnio*, I have to ask: Is it necessary? I went looking, and sure enough, found evidence that indeed, it’s not. In addition, it says here:

“Pregnancy makes extra demands on insulin production; to minimize the pressure, pregnant women should eat a diet low in simple sugars, high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, and moderate in fat. Moderate, regular exercise also improves glucose tolerance.”

Sounds reasonable, right? So why do we insist on “fiddling with the works”, especially in the majority of cases wherein no particular concern is indicated?
Once again, my instincts were on target: We simply have a case of a supposed condition whose existence is based on errant information, unnecessary tests for which have been “adopted into the medical canon”. Once again, we have the medical community playing on patients’ fears so that practitioners can protect themselves from blame.

What would be the problem with patients signing an Informed Consent Waiver on tests that they decide they don’t want? I’d sooner have done that than drunk enough liquid sugar to keep my baby bouncing off the walls until first grade.
* Even amnio, with which I'm also uncomfortable, at least supposedly gives us information that is unavailable otherwise. Not the case with GB testing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'll Take A Pass On Arianna Huffington אוותר על אריאנה האפינגטון

Aspiring blogger that I am, thanks to the eagle eye of my neighbor, Sara Cohen, my attention was drawn to this review of a book on blogging by Arianna Huffington, editor of the Huffington Post. Perfect, I thought. Exactly what I’m looking for ― until I read this advice from the book quoted in the review:

“Focus on one or two issues and try to specialize in them…write often…don't waste time perfecting the text because the main thing is to publish…write the way you would speak…write succinctly…provide links to other blogs…get to know your audience, and…latch on to a certain issue and…don't let go of it.”

My talkback encapsulates what I think of her advice not to “waste time” perfecting your text.
As someone who has a love of language and appreciates well-written and -edited text, I have a huge problem with not “wasting time” perfecting it. If you want to read gigabytes of unedited drivel written “the way you would speak”, just open up MySpace or similar, and take your pick of blogs that recount the boozy adventures of twenty-somethings along the lines of, “Went out to Joes B&G last nite with Nicole, Ashly, Jason, and too other guys. Took Jasons car cause mines in the shop after the aksident (LOL*)”.

In contrast, I can appreciate reading even a point of view that is repugnant to me if it is well-written, and I don’t just mean engaging: I’m specifically referring to the mechanics of the writing. Two of the best-written publications I’ve ever read are Mad magazine (not kidding here -- there’s neither a typo nor an English error to be found therein) and the Land’s End Catalog. I actually read the latter for pleasure, that’s how good the writing is. For those of us who care, good writing is like a clean diner: You only notice when it’s not.

While I agree with the advice to link to others’ blogs, I do have a problem with what I call over-linking. Not everything a blogger mentions has to be linked; if it is I start to feel like I’m reading Wikipedia. I restrict my links to references to others’ writing that a standard search wouldn’t yield. If you’re not familiar with Mad or Land’s End, for example, I’ve put them in proper italics for you, thereby clueing you in to the fact that if you perform a standard search, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself therewith.

So, even though I’ve been excused by doing so by the likes of Arianna Huffington (who by the way needs to read my post on not changing one’s surname to that of one’s spouse), I shall continue to perfect my posts, editing them as many times as it takes in order to tell the world what I have to say and invite the world to talk back.

*Pet Peeve: “LOL” used when the writer actually means “ha-ha”.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Israel: Safer Than You Think ישראל: יותר בטוחה מאשר דמיינת

Here we go rebranding again: Another pathetic Tourism Ministry scheme, this one to sell Israel as a safe destination. The talkbacks say it all: They’re so clever I almost don’t need to add anything, but I will (naturally!).

Besides what all the talkbackers said being true ―they so nailed it ― does the person who hatched this one live under a rock? I naively assume that TM personnel have some background in tourism. Have they not noticed that we don’t see adds for Carribean Islands captioned, “The Bermuda Triangle: Safer than you could imagine”?

In fact (as was pointed out by the talkbacker equating us with the Congo as a destination), the only such ads you ever see a la “Come discover UtopiaStan! We’re much more than just a mosquito-ridden dictatorship!” are aimed at luring budget travelers to (perhaps closer-to-home) countries that have the same things to offer as more costly destinations, just on a smaller / poorer scale. Is that who we want to be? Good grief! Are there any brain cells operating at the TM? Or are they all permanently out to lunch?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Attack of the Disney Princesses מתקפת נסיכות דיזני

Hurray for Peggy Ornstein, who writes in "What's Wrong With Cinderella?" :

"In the 1990s, third-wave feminists rebelled against their dour big sisters, “reclaiming” sexual objectification as a woman’s right — provided, of course, that it was on her own terms, i.e., that she was the one choosing to strip, or wear a shirt emblazoned with “Porn Star”, or make out with her best friend at a frat-house bash.

"Third-waves have embraced words like 'bitch' and 'slut' as terms of affection and empowerment―that is, when used by the right people, with the right dash of playful irony. But how can you assure that? As Madonna gave way to Britney, whatever self-determination that message contained was watered down and commodified until all that was left was a gaggle of six-year-old girls in belly-baring t-shirts (which I’m guessing they don’t wear as cultural critique)."

The above expresses so well what I was trying to say here.

Ornstein continues:
"If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at age three, when does it matter? At six? Eight? Thirteen?", expressing exquisitely what I was trying to say here and here.

Go, Peggy Ornstein!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Air Travel Rant ירידה על חברות התעופה

Picked up this gem from EgyptianZipper*:

“I refuse to fly, and it has nothing to do with fear. It has to do with hassle. I do not want anyone going through my personal belongings at the airport. I do not want anyone patting me down or otherwise touching my body. I do not want anyone telling me to take my shoes off.

Then there is the little matter of airlines leaving their aircraft on the tarmac for six or eight hours, with no food, water, or access to restrooms for the passengers. The airlines should be sued for this and charged criminally with false imprisonment.”

I’ll add that what other industry besides the airlines takes your money with absolutely no guarantees to get you where you’re going when they say they will? i.e., “We’re cancelling / bumping you from your flight. Ooops! Sorry you missed your mother’s funeral. Nope, no refund. That was a non-refundable ticket.”

And don’t get me started on how you’re treated if and when you do actually manage to use your ticket: They herd you like cattle into a box where get to you sit for 10+ hours. OK; not their fault. But must the captain get on the PA and announce the altitude and the fact that the duty-free carts will now be trawling the aisles “for your shopping convenience”? And must they wake me up at 01:00 origin time to feed me a meat meal “because we want to transition you into destination time”? Can you say “paternalistic”?

How about just shutting up and letting me sleep and feeding me a nice, light, non-meat meal at a reasonable hour, and letting me decide when and if I want to transition into destination time? You’ve already got my money; it can’t possibly cost you anything to leave me in peace.

It's finally happened: "The surge in oil prices, a sinking dollar, and sagging Western economies have left commercial aviation on its knees…In the past six months, at least a dozen commercial airlines have failed, while others have been forced to ground planes, raise fares, cut jobs, and consider mergers as oil prices have climbed to record levels.

We’re scraping the bottom of the (oil) well, as has been predicted since I was born. What I don’t get is: Instead of casting about for alternative fuels a la “algae; halophytes, a group of salt-tolerant plants; and jatropha curcas, a bush native to Central America that can grow in poor soils” -- most of which won’t be commercially viable for years, if ever―and circulating e-mails like the one I got explaining how the common consumer can bring down fuel prices by boycotting Exxon ― why are consumers / travelers / drivers and airlines alike not scrambling to be the first to do the obvious: bring back rail travel?

Americans in particular ― who “moved on past” trains circa World War II and, imagining them to be passé, haven’t looked back ― should be demanding the resurgence of rail travel.
How many times have you heard someone say how sick and tired they are of the airlines? Of the waiting in ever-lengthening lines at ever-more-annoying security checks (the efficacy of which seem not to increase with their complexity)? Of the prohibitive cost of fares? Of the airlines’ bullying tactics (or what they no doubt refer to as “strategy” or “policy”) of Bumping, Cancellations, and Delays (BCD)?

When will we (and Americans especially) wake up and smell the coffee regarding the overwhelming advantages of 21st-century rail travel? Instead of the never-ending remodeling that seems to be taking place in every existing airport (Pardon Us While We Serve You Better!), those same airports could be adapted for use as train stations.

Not only would it remove most of the hassle from long-distance travel (it certainly couldn’t be more of a hassle), once you’re on board―comfort! You can actually get up and walk around! Even sleep! Eat without your elbows plastered to your sides. And use the bathroom―whenever you need to, without climbing over four other passengers. Another plus: no turbulence; no airsickness.

While it might not be quite as rapid as air travel, think about the frazzled nerves that are now an integral feature of the latter: the luggage that got waylaid…the passengers that got waylaid…need we say any more? Once we’ve adjusted our expectations in terms of the timing of our travels, I predict that we’ll leave air travel in the dust and never look back. Who’ll pick up the gauntlet? Airlines? Entrepreneurs? Anyone out there listening?

*another fellow Carolyn Hax commentator

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lisa Kogan Doth Protest Too Much

I'm appalled at the tone of Lisas Kogan's rebuttal to a letter from a Nebraska SAH (that's Stay-@-Home) mom in Julia Has Three Mommies. First of all, it was unnecessary to address her as "Miss Nebraska", as well as to specify her (Kogan's) choice of comfort foods she used to "ignore the letter": Mint Milanos, Snapples, and Cheddar Goldfish. If you ask me, this was a deliberate dig at Nebraska, who, like many Americans Kogan will never meet, no doubt cannot even dream of throwing these items into her shopping cart, if she's even heard of them. Then Kogan has the chutzpa to say that she's "resisting a smartass reply"!

This is followed by what can only be described as a condescending and elitist explanation of how much four years at an Ivy League college is projected to cost in 15 years, when her Julia will naturally be enrolling in one. Can you say "presumptuous"? She's got her three-year-old's life mapped out, and is using that map to justify hiring both a nanny and a babysitter to care for her (only) child.

This is followed by another dig: "…that…is the way the cookie (which was not made from scratch, because hey, this is 2007) crumbles". Then, just when you thought it couldn't get any more chutzpadik, Kogan has the chutzpa to "call a moratorium on snarkiness". Not only could Kogan's reply not have been snarkier, it pressed what I call my College of Your Choice Button.

This is the button that sends me into orbit whenever the discussion turns to paying the extortional sums known as College Tuition. It's unbelievable to me that the entire middle-class population of the US hasn't organized a boycott of private colleges; that people still subscribe to the concept of Getting Into a Good College. Has no one realized that where you earn your Bachelor of Arts has little bearing on your future success? That indeed, most people at age 40 are not working in the field in which their BA was earned?*

If I could give high school juniors advice before they start the rat race known as Applying to College, it would be this: Pick a part of the country that's always intrigued you, and apply to a state school(s) therein. It may be the last opportunity you'll have to choose where you live: Later on come spouses, jobs, elderly parents, and a smorgasbord of other obligations that life throws at you, resulting in the choice of where you live more often than not being made for you.

Where you earn your BA isn't as important as the fact of having earned one: A BA is nothing more than a ticket to either grad school or a job that doesn't require a hairnet. If the former is your direction, that's where you want to sacrifice, take out loans, etc. to get into the right program. Why in God's name go into debt for a BA? Is there any other product for which otherwise sane people willingly go into debt when there's a perfectly reasonable, non-debt alternative?

Yes, perfectly reasonable: They may not be Ivy League, but every state school, besides the obvious option of simply making good grades, offers honors programs that are not only challenging, but wherein, once enrolled, your little genius won't have to (God forbid) sit in the mega-lectures with the riff-raff. If you need more convincing, read here about the American obsession with Good Colleges (it's from the New Yorker, any of you who are still balking).

Indeed, my first thought while watching the travails of Nina, the overwhelmed Stanford scholarship student in the Broadway musical In the Heights: Why didn't she just enroll in SUNY Binghamton? Not only would she not have been in the Sisyphusian situation in which she'd found herself, but she wouldn't have had to listen to her rich classmates talk about their "cabins" on Lake Tahoe, and more importantly, she wouldn't have had to wipe her father out financially. But then, of course, there wouldn't have been a story…

Back to Lisa Kogan: Kogan, you're helping no one by perpetuating the disenfranchising myth that "the right college" is a status symbol. And if you're still convinced otherwise, perhaps you should consider giving up on one of Julia's "mommies" now, lest she God forbid ends up in the class of 2026 at University of Nebraska. Go Huskers!

* - "I was young and dumb and thought I really NEEDED to go to GWU to get anywhere"
— Gorijenna of the Hax commentors