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

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

3 films and a bunch of books

It's film and book time. I recommend three recently seen movies:

Encounter Point
Whether you're on the Peace Train, or you're still on the platform mulling it over, you can't fail to be touched by this trilingual film (English / Hebrew / Arabic, with the two languages not being spoken at any given moment subtitled). It's a documentary about Semites on both sides of the divide bereaved by the Pali-Israeli conflict.

Everyone interviewed (it's a documentary) deserves a Peace Prize: the Pali who did time in an Israeli prison for a security offense, for adopting and trying to spread non-violence; the former (Orthodox) settler who moved inside the Green Line; and the rest of the bereaved parents who tirelessly lecture around Israel about giving the other side a chance. Left an imprint on my soul.

Sweet Mud Adadmáh Meshugá'at

Controversial film about a pre-decollectivized kibbutz circa 1970. Why controversial? Because everyone who's seen it feels compelled to either attack or defend the authenticity of the depiction of the kibbutz. I find it interesting that whereas many viewers have commented on the "beautiful scenery", I actually found the set to be drab and colorless – reflecting the spartanlike atmosphere of the kibbutz.

There's no doubt that kibbutzim are presented negatively; it's as if the director created a composite of Awful Stuff That Occurred on Kibbutzim. What bothers me is that so much of the Awful Stuff is so often attributed to the institution known as lináh meshutèfet [children's communal dorms]. Supposing there had been lináh meshutèfet, yet those caring for the children had been warm, caring, and had a sense of humor? I believe that if any or all of the Awful Stuff did occur (and I believe it did), it had more to do with the rigid ideological mindset and less to do with where the kids were housed / slept.

As a side note, I also find it interesting that two films that deal with kibbutz (this one and Mivtzah Savta) both have scenes about kibbutz kids stealing food. We've also had incidences of this type on my kibbutz, and it leads me to think that, as opposed to all the hand-wringing and wear-did-we-go-wrong-ing, it's a rite of passage in all institutional settings, including boarding schools. I'd be interested in hearing from readers who attended the latter about this phenomenon.

Odd Girl Out
Moms should watch this with their adolescent daughters. It's somewhere between Mean Girls and Thirteen in presenting the issue of relational violence, a term coined by the author of the book on which Odd Girls Out is based. I say just call a spade a spade: It's bullying, even though it's moved from the blacktop to the desktop.

Even though there's a happy ending, the film doesn't sugar-coat its subject. As a mom, I can vouch for the authenticity of the mother-daughter scenes and for the mom's despair and helplessness. As for the daughter, you want to jump out of your seat and shake her, but that's due to the fine acting and the film's succeeding in drawing in and involving the viewer. Recommended.

And now for books:
If you're interested in reading the books I've reviewed at Amazon, don't be deterred by the most recent, which is actually a product review of a dog brush. Just keep scrolling down…

Lose the Flags...Please חייבים להפטר מהדגלים

You must have noticed them: the flags. You know the ones I mean: the pathetic-looking ones that "grace" the entrances to many of our hotels, particularly around the Dead Sea, but certainly not exclusively. I always wonder: What exactly is the message here? "We cater to people from Lots of Countries"? "All nationalities welcome here"? A-duh! It's a hotel, for God's sake.

I get the feeling that some Tourism Minister 'round about 1975 got the idea to start the Flag Thing, and since then no one has questioned it, and just left them fluttering forlornly to welcome all the Japanese, Germans, and Swedes swarming in to visit.

I can imagine that if done properly, it looks quite grand, a la the entrance to a world-class hotel in Hong Kong, or a luxury safari guest lodge, or, say
the Kampala (Uganda) Serena Hotel Conference Center, where:

"The broad plaza to the front of the conference centre features the flags of the nations with a generous sweep of stairs that leads into the grandeur of the marbled entrance lobby…"

…but unfortunately, our local examples, unlike the Kampala, conjure up the opposite of class, i.e., an old-time traveling circus or carnival road-show. In other words…tacky. Rinky-dink. The two last things you want to be if you're in the tourism business, right? I beg of anyone reading this who's in a position to have any say in the matter: Lose the flags. Please, for all our sakes. I would hope that we strive for class.

Housekeeping Poll סקר נטל הבית

Thanks to Bethany W of the Carolyn Hax Commenting Crowd for giving me the idea for my poll (see left). Do vote!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Netiv: Now I'm Riled נתיב: עכשיו התעצבנתי

Looks like Netiv has managed to anger the Germans. Can’t say I blame the latter. Besides the futility of trying to recruit German (read: Russian-speaking) Jews to immigrate to Israel, let’s talk about the presumptuousness behind Netiv’s claim that its purpose is to inform Jews about their option to do so.

If I recall correctly, in 1948, when Israel declared its independence and thus that it was “open for business”, Jews from such far-flung locales as Yemen managed not only to hear the news, but to show up ― despite the absence of any electronic communication. So it’s pretty hard for me to imagine that in our day and age, wherein we have not only television and telephones but the Web, there’s a Jew on earth who doesn’t know about the option of immigrating to Israel.

It’s therefore clear that Netiv’s purpose is none other than perpetuating itself and keeping its personnel employed. There’s no other rational explanation for its activities, “semi-covert” or otherwise. The same thing might even be said for the Jewish Agency. I therefore propose that we “divide the empire”: The Jewish Agency will operate in the West, and let Chabad set up shop in the likes of Uganda and Jamaica.

It makes perfect sense: Chabad loves the challenge of Jew-hunting off the beaten track, and anyone that they convert and thus deem “immigratable” is certainly kosher enough for me. This will allow the Jewish Agency to operate in mainstream Jewish locales such as France, England, Australia, and the Americas, and the Netiv staff can quietly take their ball and go home.

Chabad: What if They Threw a Seder & Nobody Came? קריאה להחרים את חב"ד

I recently watched a TV documentary [could it have been this? Here you’ll read a short description of the film, about a Chabad couple “setting up shop” for outreach in ― are you ready? ― Ho Chi Minh City [hereinafter: HCMC]. Most of the program was spent following them around HCMC as they attempted to identify (and ascertain the kashrut of!) the unfamiliar foods at the grocery and explain to the furniture maker what kind of bed their toddler would need.
The suspense derived from the uncertainty of whether their things would arrive in time for Passover Seder, to which they’d naturally already invited a dozen or so guests. Their stuff arrived within hours before Passover, which they of course attributed to haShem working a miracle on their behalf.

Throughout, I could not stop exclaiming Why? I suppose I get the Chabad aspiration of increasing the per capita number of mitzvot performed anywhere on God’s green earth, but there? Vietnam? This article says that the Jewish population of HCMC is 200, most of whom are married to Vietnamese. Now what are the chances that an ex-pat Jew living in Vietnam and married to a native is going to “see the light” and return to the fold? Even if there should be such a Jew out there, among these 200, does it justify the formidable outlay of resources needed to relocate a family to a locale that Jewishly speaking is far-flung both in the geographical and figurative sense?

Yet my problem with Chabad shlichut goes beyond the expense. I "get" Chabad on college campuses, say. But the transplanting of an inherently Western institution to the Far East contains a distinct element of colonialism, manifested in the fact that all needs, down to formula for the toddler, flour for baking challah, and of course matzot, need to be imported; and also in the fact that the family’s only contact with the locals was to instruct the movers where to put things and supervise the carpenters who were assembling the Holy Ark ― tasks to which the shluchim naturally won’t or can’t stoop.

I find the entire phenomenon of Chabad in the Far East distasteful (and certainly not cute, as many Jews do): It smacks of paternalism, particularly the flagship Katmandu Seder, for which they’re famous among the post-IDF backpacker set, the underlying presumption of which is “those spiritually vapid seculars need us to ‘do’ Seder for them”.

Therefore, I would actually go so far as to actively discourage my kids from attending this or any other Chabad Seder or celebration, should they ever find themselves in the vicinity. Why not instead encourage our kids to join together with fellow travelers, shop for supplies to approximate a Seder (or Sabbath or other holiday) meal, and hold their own Seder? Such a Seder would certainly more closely resemble more Sdarim throughout Jewish history than does a Chabad Seder-in-a-box (Seder-in-a-vacuum?), and would no doubt not only have a more genuine feel, but would also likely be more memorable. So, calling all backpackers: Boycott the Katmandu Seder!