Friday, December 10, 2010

Time management: The new "women's thing"

I was just recalling how in the 1990s, the moms who had kids my kids’ ages always seemed to be plotting “Girls’ Nights Out” getaways, for which I could never work up any enthusiasm. There seemed to be an underlying sentiment of “let’s escape our meany husbands. We’ll show them! We’ll go out together!” Whereas all I wanted to do once the kids were in bed was either spend scarce time with my husband or hit the hay myself. I definitely had neither the inclination nor the energy to pile into a car and drive 45 minutes round trip to “seek refuge” with a bunch of women — or with anybody. Nothing sounded less relaxing.

Now the trend for adult women seems to be “getting my life organized”. Every other woman you meet claims to have “adult ADD”, or “ADD that went undiagnosed in childhood”. There’s a burgeoning industry aiming its products at this population, from life coaching to dedicated planners (since your Outlook sync-ed with your smartphone isn’t enough). Now I find this interesting: Boys are diagnosed with ADHD three times more often than are girls. Why, then, do I know so many women who claim to be ADD, while I can think of only one man who believes he is / was ADD (meaning he believes he is now, and was undiagnosed as a kid). Are all the not-diagnosed-as-children females now crawling out of the woodwork as adults? Perhaps, but I have another theory:

More moms work full-time now than a generation ago, including more single moms, of which there are both more in raw numbers and which make up a larger proportion of moms than they did a generation ago. That’s a lot of overwhelmed women, dancing as fast as they can to maintain a career (or just a job) as well as a household. And the men? They’ve never been expected to do as much householding as the women are, so little has changed for them: As kids, Mommy did all the heavy lifting carewise, and as adults, his mate does all the heavy lifting household- and carewise; the same attention span that served him (or didn’t) as a child, is serving him just fine as an adult. Whereas women’s attention spans are required to reach miles further than they did as kids, as well as miles further than the previous generations of women. Ergo, all the time management courses, dedicated planners, and life coaches.

Heck, I’d be at an attention deficit too if I didn’t have a partner who has my back. My guess is that a lot of the “adult ADD” among women would disappear if their partners, or the fathers of their kids, would hold up their end of the deal, by which I mean ALL it takes to run a household, which in my book includes child care and supervision; transportation; health care (meaning both appointments AND delousing); administrative duties (finances, social calendar, contact w/ schools); shopping (for groceries AND clothing AND school supplies AND birthday presents), cleanup and tidying; home, lawn, garden, and auto maintenance; meal planning and prep, including lunches, and on and on and on. In other words, scratch a woman who suffers from "adult ADD", and chances are you'll find a man in the equation who’s not pulling his weight.

Added Friday January 7, 2011: Just read yesterday that the Health Ministry is pulling Ritalin for adults from the health basket. I think I'm in favor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bristol and Abstinence בריסטול והמנעות

Here I come, out of the closet. Confession: I’m a Bristol-watcher. Palin, that is. Ever since hockey-mom Sarah was nominated for the Vice Presidency, this family has been my window into the abstinence-only world of reproduction (that shouldn’t be happening in the same sentence, should it?). First things first: I think Bristol did a terrific job on Dancing With the Stars. I have no critique of her performance, despite the more than 1,400 comments generated by the Washington Post piece thereon, which quickly deteriorated into a bash-the-other-sideFest of which the commentors of both parties should be ashamed — not for bashing each other; that’s natural — but rather for failing to distinguish between fluff entertainment and politics.

My critique of Bristol is twofold. First of all, if, as she says, parenting is a 24-hour job, then why is she engaging in endeavors (dance competitions, speaking engagements, PSAs) that take her thousands of miles away from her not-yet-two-year-old?

Secondly, if she advocates sexual abstinence, what is she doing dancing provocatively in revealing costumes before millions of viewers? I know, I know: Sexy does not equal sexual, and being sexy does not equal engaging in sex. Still, I have a hard time ignoring the link between overtly seductive behavior — even if it’s pretend — and actual sex. Is there not a mixed message here?

I don’t know about others, but for me the mixed message here is about as hard to miss as the broad side of a barn, as is the illogic of abstinence-only education. My problem with AOE goes beyond the fact that it doesn’t work, ditto for its advocacy. My problem lies in this niggling sense I have that in their zeal to eradicate abortion, AOE advocates have lost sight of these starting-with-a-handicap girls and their babies.

Because I’ll give the AOE advocates credit for reading the stats, they have to
know that AOE doesn’t work: AOE-educated teens are still having sex (albeit delayed by an average of 18 months behind their non-AOE-educated peers — great, so 17-year-olds are doing it instead of 16-year-olds…only the former are 66% less likely than the latter to use protection) and still getting pregnant. So the AOE advocates know that babies “slip through” their net, and at the same rate as non-AOE babies. So where’s the Christian right’s zeal about young women’s futures? I suspect it’s trampled over by the ultimate goal of maintaining patriarchy.

Besides that, though, what’s going on here? Why are the AOE advocates willing to let babies “slip through”? I have a theory: We, all of us, pro- and anti-abortion, are secretly titillated by the image of a teen mom, and I have a hunch that it stems from the iconology of the Madonna. Why, then, is Europe so much more liberal about reproductive education and abortion than the US? I believe it has to do with our Puritan roots, which is why I don’t foresee any rapprochement on this issue: The Christian right simply sees terminating a pregnancy as a more grievous abomination unto the Lord than compelling a teenager, who has the most pessimistic profile for parenting, to give birth. Because after all, there’s life after having a baby at age 17: Just look at Bristol Palin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Jew & the Travel Agent היהודי וסוכן הנסיעות

Yesterday, my husband, who’s shopping for a good pre-Passover fare to the States, told me of an Orthodox travel agent (probably not the only one) who won’t sell anyone an itinerary any part of which will compel the passenger to travel on the Sabbath. This of course raised my “parochialism-versus-civil-society” antenna. The following conversation ensued:

Me: How does he know you’re Jewish? The only document you're required to show him is your passport. Your religion isn’t listed on your passport [yet! Stay tuned…].

Him: Well, Plony Almony [acquaintance whose surname is typically Jewish] went to him, and he refused her.

Me: So he’s just assuming she’s Jewish because of her name. He has no actual proof.

So not only is Travel Agent claiming to be able to ascertain his clients’ ethnicity, but of course the real test would be if someone named Muhammed Abu-Salaam walked in and asked for a Shabbes-violating itinerary. If he is sold his ticket, then we have proof that Travel Agent is actually refusing service to certain customers (Jews, according to his own Jewish-o-meter) on the basis of their religion, which I presume to be illegal.

While I don’t have time to test this case, I believe it’s worth bringing to readers’ attention in order to illustrate what a Chelm we’ve created here on the decidedly flimsy basis of something called the “Jewish character of the state”. Not only is this “Jewish character” vague and doesn’t stand up to any Western standards of due process, but it derives from an unsophisticated, Hebrew school-level perception of Israel as a place where Jewish visitors ooh and aah over the taxi driver telling them “Shabbat shalom”…and isn’t it just adorable that the travel agent won’t sell you a ticket for a plane that takes off on Shabbes?!

By now, we as a modern Western country should have advanced past the rapture stage of a summer teen tour participant walking down Ben-Yehuda mall on a first-time-in-Israel Temple Mount High murmuring in stoned wonder, “Far out! Everyone here’s Jewish!” Because to do so is to remain in a state of national arrested development.

It’s time we grew up and faced the challenging, complex, not-as-much-fun-for-the-majority reality that we’re not all Jewish: That fully 25% of us have needs and desires, for instance, the need or desire to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, whether to visit a relative in another town or another country; or to purchase goods on the Jewish Sabbath. And those 25% (plus a large chunk of the other 75%) should not be constrained by the Jewish Sabbath.

It’s time we let go of our fear of losing our “blankie” that we call the state’s “Jewish character”: We’re grownups now; time to put aside our childhood security objects and face life as mature, adult citizens of a democracy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Of loyalty oaths and playgrounds על השבעות נאמנות ומגרשי משחק

Two things about Israel “get to” me. Well OK, more than two, but two specifically that to me symbolize lack of Western values and quality of life: 1) No public transportation on the Sabbath. Try exiting Jerusalem on a Saturday night; it’s like Escape From Alcatraz; 2) The first thing I notice about Arab-populated areas is that the kids always seem to be playing in weedy vacant lots; where are the playgrounds? Lack of playgrounds is the visual hallmark of an underserved population.

Therefore, after reading of the disgraceful proposal that “non-Jewish”* candidates for Israeli citizenship be required to swear an oath of allegiance to a “Jewish, democratic state”, I decided that if ever citizens are ever required to sign a loyalty oath, I will say, “Fine. You want me to swear allegiance? No problem. I will sign this document”, and will take out a red pen and amend the oath to read:

“…Jewish[1] …democratic[2]

[1]- As per the definition: A country wherein public transportation operates seven days a week, 365 days a year

[2] - A country wherein a minimum of one dunam of European-standard playground area, with safe, functioning equipment, is available to every 50 children under the age of 10, within a kilometer radius of their places of residence.

If as a result, my citizenship is revoked, you'll find me at Ben-Gurion Airport wearing a t-shirt that reads יהודים לא מגרשים יהודים! [“Jews don’t deport Jews!”].

*Whatever that means, since we haven’t managed to decided what a Jew actually is

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kids in business establishments ילדים בבתי עסק

Even though the topic of this post is parenting-related, it’s one that everyone’s got an opinion on, so everyone’s welcome to join in the fray. I’m taking issue with the seemingly universal axiom that “kids should be taken out in public; otherwise how will they ever learn how to behave there?”

I postulate that the pendulum has swung too far in the take-‘em-everywhere direction. I actually can't think of a single reason to take a child below the age of about eight to a store or a mall, or any retail establishment, unless they themselves need clothing, and even then, for instance, my mom’s solution was to stop in at a discount store on her way home from work and buy me half a dozen inexpensive dresses or pairs of pants, let me try them on at home and choose, and return the ones I didn’t want the following day. My mom’s method was simply efficient: Why would anyone opt to take hizzer kid to the Land of Temptation and $$$pending when s/he doesn’t absolutely have to?

The only exception I can think of would be single working parents who have no alternative, i.e., no one to watch their child while they do their shopping. Otherwise, why would anyone be under the impression that any effective commerce could be carried out with a child in tow? Besides which, why would anyone deliberately put their child through the predictable exercise of being tempted by all the colors, shiny stuff, and products that they can’t touch, handle, or own? Why?

A fellow commenter on Tell Me About It argues, “The first trips to any place are going to involve a learning curve, no matter what age that first trip is at.” I disagree. I believe that most people over the age of about 14, taken to their first opera, would be able to sit quietly without disrupting the performance, despite never having been to the opera before. Would there have been value in taking them while the “learning curve” was still in process? Similarly, I’d be willing to bet that upon being taken to Target for the first time at the age of eight, an Amish child who’s never seen the inside of a discount emporium, would not run up and down the aisles squealing, grabbing items off the shelves, and demanding to be bought toys and candy.

That’s because Amish (and ultra-Orthodox, etc.) kids of both genders are expected to adhere to “opera behavior standards” when out in public. When our kids hear us say “boys will be boys (i.e., rambunctious)”, our sons get license to behave rambunctiously, and our daughters learn that girls are supposed to be the opposite, i.e., docile. So the boys act up, the ‘rents can’t handle it, and put ‘em in treatment. Why not instead hold our sons to the same behavior expectations as we do our daughters, i.e., cooperative and well-behaved? No doubt because cooperative and well-behaved boys in our society are termed “sissies” instead of “civilized human beings”.

But back to retail establishments -- which we as a society seem to have forgotten are places where business is transacted, and have confused with places of entertainment -- to which I have a problem bringing small children. I’m not suggesting that they be sequestered with their parents under house arrest until they’re “opera-ready”. There are plenty of public places where toddlers belong:

1. The playground (free!) with lots of healthy snacks brought along
2. A public swimming pool or beach (reasonable membership rates)
3. A Discovery Zone if weather is inclement
4. The public libraries, which run wonderful children’s programs, all free

Note that the above are all public, non-sequestered places, yet they are not places where business is transacted (other than paying the entry fee).

You simply must show Junior the latest movie? That’s what DVDs are for. Why are parents of two- and three-year-olds under the delusion that their children can sit through an entire performance, even a children’s play? Eating out? Well, 21st-century parents should consider themselves fortunate that McDonald’s offers a play area; otherwise feed kids at home until they can handle the IHOP or Denny’s, then progress “up the sophistication ladder” from there. There’s no nobility in the parental boast, “Oh we just take her along everywhere!”

Friday, October 1, 2010

"We didn't start the fire..." הפסיקו לכבות שריפות

Reading this article ע about gender dividers down Mea Shearim’s main street was frustrating for me, yet not for the obvious reasons. I’m more frustrated by the response of the seculars to this latest Khomeinization measure than I am to the actual barriers. Instead of once again “running to Mommy” to tattle and demand that “she” intervene from above in this endless quarrel, why don’t the female activists and elected officials inject some inspiration and humor into the struggle, a la the Supermarket Stripper? Instead of unproductive hand-wringing and putting out fires, why not engage in what’s sorely missing in this country: grassroots activism and civil disobedience? For example, the female activists could have done one or more of the following:

1. Gone to the site in the dead of night and silently removed the fabric from the barrier
2. Strolled up and down the divided street dressed in their usual garb
3. Strolled up and down the street dressed in swimsuits
4. Strolled up and down the street dressed in swimsuits, reciting tehilim [Psalms]
5. Gotten a bunch of male friends to dress as women and stroll up and down the street, reciting Psalms, or not

Get the idea? And if approached by police or residents, say they’re not violating any law. Same goes for the mehadrin [gender-separate] buses. Why not:

1. Board the bus wearing swimsuits?
2. Get a bunch of males dressed in women’s clothing to board and insist on sitting in the back?
3. If approached, respond by quoting a Psalm?

Or as I suggested in a previous post on the “battle for Kiryat Yovel”, instead of fighting the zoning-defying minyan [prayer quorum], go join them: Send a delegation of 50 non-Orthodox men to the home in question, who announce upon entering, “We heard there’s a minyan here. We want to pray.”

Road closed on the Sabbath because the city bowed to Orthodox pressure? No problem: Recruit a dozen swimsuit-wearing folks to stroll up and down it just as folks are going to or coming from shul. Too cold for swimwear? Then wear your usual garb and sing songs from the Bible.

In other words, turn the situation on its head. Challenge assumptions. Demonstrate to the public the absurdity of these situations. Secular activists, are you listening?

Segueing onto the topic of secular values, I’m reading ארבעה בתים וגעגוע by Eshkol Nevó (I believe the English title is Homesick). In it, a man tries to persuade his wife to enroll their son in the (low-low priced, extended-day) Orthodox preschool. He asks her, “What’s wrong with him learning a little Judaism? A few values?” This is an oft-heard question posed by the Orthodox when trying to persuade Jewish parents to enroll their children in Orthodox schools. After all, who would oppose their kids having values? But it got me to thinking: Why are values so inextricably associated with mitzva observance? Why can’t / don’t us non-Orthodox seem to be able to pass on humanist values to our kids?

I believe the answer is that progressive, liberal people, both Jewish and otherwise, tend to be so concerned with tolerance and pluralism that they forget to actually talk to their kids about these values; they figure they’re living them, so their kids will simply…what? Absorb it all by osmosis? It’s time for us liberal parents to take a leaf from the right-wing parents’ books and start talking at home, to our children. We don’t have to preach, and we don’t have to trash anyone; all we have to do is comment on any current news item and ask our kids what they think. Get a conversation started, and don’t be afraid to let your kids hear your opinion.

If you’re ambivalent about an issue, say so: “The occupation is unjust, but I can’t see ending it without a civil war. How would you propose we end it?” There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that every solution creates new challenges. How else will we raise a generation of problem-solvers? Even kids in the primary grades can learn the lexicon: “occupation”; “settlements”, and “territories” can be explained at their level. These are not dirty words, and there’s no reason to avoid using these terms in everyday conversation; our kids should hear us utter them: After all, in right-wing households, the kids regularly hear about building the Greater Land of Israel and expanding the settlements being God’s mandate. So why are we uncomforable talking to our kids about speaking out against oppression and injustice being committed in our names?

I once overheard an atheist mom twisting herself into a pretzel trying to answer her child’s question: “What’s God? Do we believe in God?” She was trying to walk the tightrope of political correctness with a three-year-old! And we are all That Mom: We’re so fearful of being politically incorrect that we forget to pass on our (humanist) values to our kids.

Guess what? Our kids will not absorb these by osmosis like they (unfortunately) absorb every jingle, commercial, and hit song plugged into their brains via their music players. That stuff is candy; we need to feed them vegetables. We’re not talking force-feeding; just arrange the nutritious stuff attractively on a plate and set it out where they can easily get to it. They’ll bite.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do blue laws dovetail with Jewish observance? האם האיסור על קניות בשבת תואם לשמירת המצוות

Those who know me can attest to the extent of my caring about our planet and my loathing of the consumer culture. And those who know me can attest to my loathing of the mixing of state and religion. That's why I have a problem with the conclusions that Rachel Talshir draws עברית from the fact that our entire country goes into Consumer Paralysis Mode on Yom Kippur.

The explanation that the Orthodox give for their demand that retail establishments close on Sabbath and Yom Tovim is that if the latter were to remain open, other Jews (not themselves, heaven forfend) would then shop and violate the Sabbath. In other words, the problem isn't that they themselves would be thus tempted, but rather that violation of the Sabbath, by any Jews, would occur.

I find this reasoning offensive in its blatant paternalism: Though not Orthodox, I choose not to engage in retail transactions on the Sabbath because I see value therein; it's irrelevant whether others so indulge. Moreover, the demand that there be no retail engaged in on our Sabbath necessarily diminishes the human value of those non-Jews who wish to so engage. In other words, the Orthodox are saying, "Our need to prevent our Sabbath from being violated (as if that were possible in any case) trumps the needs or desires of anyone who isn't of our faith." It's unfortunate that few Orthodox will allow themselves to be exposed to a courageous Christian cleric like the one who said, " Any religion that must depend upon the state to do what it cannot do [i.e., force the citizenry to observe the commandments] is not worthy of existence...even Christianity." The very belief that any legislation reduces Sabbath-violating can fairly be described as madness.

I therefore admit to being positively gleeful when I read of the sweeping profits earned by those stores that did remain open on Rosh haShana [could not find link]. Of course it appears the Orthodox have no trouble looking the other way when such stores are where the goyim shop (referring to Tiv Taam, a chain patronized heavily by non-Jewish consumers); it's only us fellow Jews' abominations they're worried about.

While I'm all for consuming less, including of course less fossil fuel, I absolutely oppose the government piggybacking on religion to make it so. There are plenty of government interventions that I support solidly, such as investing in public transportation, levying tolls on cars entering cities, and mandating recycling (by the way, do the Orthodox lobby for these measures?), but let's not delude ourselves into thinking that blue laws are somehow a good thing for the entire Israeli public.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The College of Your Choice אוניברסיטאות אמריקאיות

Inspired by this New Yorker article, coupled with years of listening to 11th and 12th graders and their parents agonize over “getting into a good school”, here’s my advice to the agonizers:

Forget all about which schools have “a great X department”; the only time that will be relevant is if and when you apply to grad school. For earning a bachelor’s degree, your enjoyment without breaking the bank should be your priority. Pick a part of the country that’s always intrigued you, choose a state school(s) therein, and apply. Why?

First of all, until I got to college, I had no idea how common transferring is. This decision that looks So Fateful when you’re opening those acceptance envelopes should be de-mystified. Try this factlet on for size: Half of all graduating seniors did not start out at their schools as freshman.

Secondly, this may be the last time in your life when you get to choose where you’ll live. Soon enough your choices will be constricted by employment, aging parents, special-needs siblings or children, or those of a partner. Why blow this jewel of an opportunity so you can later say you attended Fancy Name College?

Finally, I wouldn’t do this post justice if I didn’t air-raid against the Great Brainwash of the Private College. It’s a shame how many families pursue the myth called “a good college”, the main claim of which is that public higher education is inferior. Why would any sane person dig herself deep in debt in exchange for a piece of paper that is only marginally more valuable — if at all — than an equivalent piece of paper purchased at a fraction of the cost?

A four-year degree is just the beginning of a life journey that in most cases consists of three or more career moves; it is therefore in actuality merely a ticket to either a job that doesn’t require a hairnet, or grad school. What one does in either of these post-B.A. worlds determines much more strongly one’s path and one’s success therein than does what university you attended. Two anecdotes illustrate:

An acquaintance who attended community college and then continued at an Ivy League school tells of her community college instructors and how skilled they were at enthusing their students about the material. She was therefore shocked on her first day at Penn, when the professor stood on the podium staring at his shoes, then looked up and greeted the full auditorium with, “I don’t like teaching. It interferes with my research.” In complete seriousness.

VoteForTheLeastWorst, a reviewer on Amazon: “My brilliant community college communications professor told us a wonderful story on our first day. She was at Harvard for a conference, and decided to check out the bookstore and their communications textbook selection. What did she find? That my good ol' publicly funded community college uses the exact same book Harvard uses, for the exact same communication class. I paid $39 a credit hour for my education; Harvard students pay $800 a credit hour for theirs. Who's dumber?”

Steph16, a Hax commenter, on Big Name College: "Competitive Parents, I work on Wall Street. Honestly, after your first job, NO ONE cares where you went to school, What they care about is how you've distinguished yourself in your career. There are people here from U. of Florida to Harvard. What matters more are your grades in undergrad for your first job, and then working your way up.

I'm sure you've heard about the millions of CEOs who were C students. Quality of grad school matters to a degree more but then it's back to performance. So really, just let your kids enjoy themselves, pursue their interests, and it will all work out. Happy, satisfied people have it so much better.

More on this subject here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ariel: It's the occupation, stupid אריאל: זהו הכיבוש, טיפשון

May I add my two zuzim to the Ariel theater “boycott” fray?
First of all, let’s get our terms straight. Or rather, let Limor Livnat et al. get their terms straight:
1. What a boycott is: an economic tool used to pressure a seller into ceasing a certain practice perceived by consumers to be unlawful, unfair, or inhumane
2. What a boycott is not: a social taboo, i.e., sleeping with one’s mother

When Livnat decries a “boycott from within”, I say: You can decry all you want, but from within or without, it’s legitimate to boycott an institution. For instance, I choose to boycott products made by Nestle, which now owns chunks of both Telma and Osem. So yes, in a miniscule way, I’m harming my own (Israel’s) economy. Does this mean it’s not my right to boycott it? After all, it’s “a boycott from within”.

3. What the theater personnel are actually doing: striking. That’s right: They’ve declared that they will not work under certain conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that their threatened actions are illegitimate because their employers — the theaters — are state-subsidized. Interesting. Last time I checked, teachers, firefighters, nurses, EMTs, and airport personnel are also state employees, and we’ve all certainly suffered the effects of their strikes. Therefore logic dictates that if there is a work dispute, it should be referred to the Labor Ministry, not the Patriotism Police, much as Livnat no doubt wishes there were such a thing.

Now let’s turn our attention to one of the popular arguments against the actors’ strike, that claiming that “Successive (read: Labor) governments supported the settlement enterprise, so it is unacceptable to turn our backs on it now”.

First of all, this is a transparent smear at the left, i.e., “Your once-powerful party started this thing, and now you have the chutzpa to oppose it.” This argument is disingenuous at the least, as we all know that many of us, despite having perhaps voted for Labor, opposed the settlements even as Labor established them, as we hoped to influence those whom we saw as our representatives to stop doing so.

Moreover, is the fact that one’s government made mistakes a reason to throw good money after bad? Many governments have backed or actively engaged in spilling effluent into and over-fishing our oceans, over-timbering the Pacific Northwest, and decimating our rainforests. Does that mean we should just continue engaging in these unsustainable practices? Because that’s what the settlement enterprise is: One can argue whether it’s right or wrong, good or evil. But whichever it is, it’s indisputably unsustainable, which in itself is a reason to do a U-turn and not continue down the Greater Land of Israel Collision Course.

Now let’s look at a term that’s being excavated from the media antiquities and bandied about: Ariel was enticingly advertised as being “five minutes’ drive from Kfar Saba”, the subtext of which is: “You get the scenery of Samaria with the convenience of a nearby city, which includes shopping, services, and entertainment, a five-minute drive for which is a low price”. So, the settlers paid their money and made their choice: They chose Samarian scenery over living inside the Green Line; therefore let them drive five minutes to see theater. The majority of Israelis live further than a five-minute drive from a theater, so what makes living in Ariel such a particular hardship?

The actors’ strike was inevitable; it’s a natural response to a policy that they oppose, and it won’t be the last. For their part, the Palis are perfectly situated to ensure that the building freeze never thaws: All they have to do is not show up for work on September 27th, i.e., a strike. What could be simpler? If all who oppose the settlements were to donate to a strike fund for those Palis who earn their livelihoods doing construction work in the settlements, we'd have enough to at least stop work for a while, during which we should demonstrate, but not in Rabin Square. Instead, we should form a human chain stretching from the Defense Ministry Compound to the remotest hilltop settlements, carrying banners proclaiming, "העם אינו עם השומרון"; "Settlers, you're outside the consensus"; and "Israelis Against the Settlements"; and make sure CNN is there with cameras rolling (to quote my talkback to Bradley Burston's heart-stopping piece on the settlements).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome to the new classroom ברוכים הבאים לכיתה החדשה

I happened into a blog called The Unbearable Lightness of Teaching. This post is titled The Wiki Classroom, which headline alone gives me the creeps, as “Wiki” means “quick”, implying that the process of gaining knowledge should resemble that of making a cake from a mix. Moreover, I found flaws in the author’s argument, which appears to be that the classroom should suit itself to the pupil, and not vice versa. I’ll take it point by point:

“Broadcast learning of old was teacher-centered, molding to the teacher’s own flair and style. It was an inflexible, one-size-fits-all method that utilized individualistic learning.”

How can something be inflexible and individualistic? Isn’t that a contradiction?

“The teacher must follow an interactive model to grasp and hold the learners’ attention, and must present them with real-world applications and issues to which they must synthesize, analyze, and respond.”

This is the core of what concerns me. The above basically describes teacher-as-television: It used to be the student’s job to pay attention to the teacher; now it’s the teacher’s job to “grasp and hold the learners’ attention”. Why should this be? School is not meant to be fun. That’s not to say that it should be intentionally unpleasant; but a world where all knowledge must be Relevant Right Now is a scary one indeed for the likes of us who value the liberal arts.

“Nearly half of those who drop out of high school found school uninteresting or boring, and 70% of these felt unmotivated or found the material irrelevant.”

This is news? Wasn’t this always the case? You mean to tell me that 30 years ago, dropouts found school relevant and interesting, and felt motivated? So now we’re supposed to change the schools to fit…the dropouts?

“Teachers are no longer endless supplies of knowledge; [they can be] circumvented entirely by the Internet.”

Right, but only if one knows how to read, and how to use a computer for something besides Mortal Kombat. You’re saying dropouts drop out because they can now get all the knowledge they need from the Web? I'm trying to picture the dropouts spending their days at the computer, diligently logged onto distance courses in trig and world history...and the signal in my brain is all fuzzy.

What concerns me about this post is the assertion that “Teachers must be prepared to adapt to this generation so that the classroom becomes an extension of their lives.”

Disagree. The classroom should actually be a haven from the plugged-in, wired, constant stream of electronic noise coming at the pupils. It should be a place with decorum (remember that word?), where an atmosphere conducive to learning prevails.
If it starts to resemble MTV, how are the kids going to tell the difference between weekdays and weekends?

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's a male? מיהו זכר

This recent article עברית about a same-sex couple that was refused a family admission to two national park sites got me to thinking about the actual encounter between the family in the story and the employees who refused them admission. Aside from the obvious disgraceful, blatant discrimination involved, another, less explicit yet no less insidious phenomenon is at work here, namely our arrogant presumptions regarding “what is a man” and “what is a woman”.

In both cases, as far as we know (the article does not say that in either case they were required to show their ID cards, on which one’s gender is specified) the employee attempting to bar the couple from entrance based on their family membership clearly assumed both adults to be a particular sex (in this case male) based on what they saw, i.e., based on their assumptions about gender combined with the mens’ actual appearances. Supposing, though, that one of the men had no facial hair, wore his hair long, and wore typically feminine clothing or jewelry. Would the couple then have been admitted? I believe it is safe to presume so.

This puts me in mind of blacks “passing”, a phenomenon engaged in during the 20th century under circumstances wherein blacks were not allowed into certain establishments. The success of passing was entirely based on the assumptions whites held about “what a Negro looks like”, which did not include light complexions and / or Caucasian features.

What I conclude from both phenomena described herein is that both race and gender are nearly wholly socio-cultural (as opposed to biological) constructs: We see what we want to see, i.e., “we” in the case of passing being the members of the white majority; and “we” in the former case being “the vast majority of society that conforms in appearance to what it believes a girl / woman / boy / man ought to look like”. Just another illustration of why I can’t let go of my quixotic crusade to banish gender stereotypes from society. And in closing:

When her child was two, a friend took a parenting class. At the final session, my friend asked the facilatator (a family therapist) what serious problems brought more families to her office than any others. Without even pausing to think, the facilitator replied that with the exception of actual abuse, it was relatives (parents and grandparents specifically) who failed to love a child for who that child is, but instead constantly dinned into the child's ears what a disappointment s/he was.

Among the specific examples the therapist cited: the child who comes from three generations of doctors and lawyers, and wants a career in the arts; the child whose family is heavily into competitive athletics, yet has no interest in sports; and children who do not meet their parents' expectations for gender attire or behavior.
Parents and others who love children, take note...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sloshing of the Levant הצפת הלוונט

There's only one statement with which I disagree in this excellent article[1] by David Elkan about our water situation (hint: It's bad):
השימוש במים כאן יעיל וחסכוני מאוד בהשוואה למדינות אחרות, הן מבחינה מערכתית והן ברמת השימוש האישי.
English: “Water use here is very efficient and economical compared to [that in] other countries, both system-wide and in terms of household use.”

Has Elkan ever seen a native-born Israeli wash her floor? I recall being dumbfounded when I first encountered this phenomenon in 1978. My roommate at Tel Aviv University announced that being Friday, it was time to wash the floor. She handed me a squeegee and proceeded to pour bucketsful of sudsy water throughout the apartment, instructing me to squeegee it out…out where? Out the door? Into the stairwell? And what about rinsing? I was raised with the foreign notion that soap needs to be rinsed off on order for the soaped-up object to actually be deemed clean. Apparently different rules apply here: Soap grunge accumulated in corners, around the edges of the rooms, and around furniture legs apparently "doesn't exist".

I, a newbie to the system, was confused. Isn't Israel an arid region? Aren't we supposed to conserve water? Then why are people behaving as if they live in Canada, or northern Europe? And don't the majority of Israelis live in multi-storey dwellings? So who invented this rule that you pour water like there's no tomorrow, then squeegee it outside?

This went beyond denial; there appeared to be a total disconnect between "the proper way to wash an Israeli floor" and reality. I theorize that the immigrants in the early days of the state, both European and Middle Eastern, somehow sought to prove to themselves that they were now in a modern country with all the amenities, i.e., if water came out of a tap, there must be plenty of it. It's the only explanation I have for this bizarre floor-washing obsession.

I observed more of the same in the kibbutz children's houses where I worked. On one occasion I was even reprimanded for leaving squeegee tracks on the just-washed floor. It was then that I resolved that if I were ever to be in charge in a children's house, I was going to wet-mop the floor. With plain water. No pouring, no squeegeeing, no soap grunge. I found validation for my resolution in Martha Meisel's householding column in the Jerusalem Post. Remember her? She actually interviewed the manufacturer of the ubiquitous terrazzo tiles that were standard flooring up until this century. She asked the manufacturer what the optimal product is for washing his tiles. The reply? "Water"[2]. Hah! I knew it! We don't need all those suds! Now I had facts to back up my "foreign notions".

My day finally arrived. I was working in the kindergarten and was instructed to wash the floor. I duly stacked up the chairs on the tables and tried to get as much furniture off the floor as possible. I then proceeded to sweep thoroughly, paying particular attention to the edges of the room. Then I wet a floor rag with plain water, hung it over a squeegee, and began to mop. The result looked fine to me. Gong! I was informed that what I was doing was not "washing the floor properly". Exasperated, I resolved that when I had my own house (not shared), I was going to clean its floor MY WAY.

Indeed, for 35 years, I've been sweeping thoroughly, then wet-mopping my floor with nothing but water, after which it dries instantly — clean. While there's no way I can prove it — I haven't done a comparative bacteria count — I raised three healthy kids in a home thus mopped, and the floor looks no less clean than any other. Why, then, are otherwise intelligent householders, in light of the looming drought tax and the Save Water Campaign, willing to dry up their yards and gardens, but they're still sloshing water onto their floors like sailors on a ship's deck? Does everyone else own stock in the Ritzpaz company? How does David Elkan call this profligate sloshing of water throughout our arid land "efficient and economical"?
Someone please enlighten me.

1 couldn’t find link to English version
2 I’m sure the same is true for ceramic tiles; both are a porous mixture of cement and marble.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Should Birthright Visit Hebron? האם מוצדק ביקור "תגלית" לחברון

What interests me most about the article headlined thusly is how the reporter skirts around the ideological aspect of the question, dealing solely with the (red herring of) the security aspect. This implies that the only considerations to be taken into account when planning the Birthright itinerary are those of security, as opposed to considerations of showing a balanced picture of Israel to visitors, say, or considerations of identification-by-omission with the settlers (whom, to be fair, the reporter described as some of the most militant).

Truth be told, I agree with Daniel Guttman: The Tomb of the Patriarchs is our roots, is our story, and it is legitimate to take Jewish visitors there. However, Guttman and associates conveniently left out the other side of the equation: He refrains from then asking, “Has this site become a locus of cult worship? Is keeping it in Jewish hands worth strife, bloodshed, keeping another people subjugated? Worth an entire generation living under occupation that breeds hatred? Is it worth being here at any price?”

What I wish the reporter had reported was the presumed ensuing dialog between the Birthrighters and Guttman. I hope I’m not naïve in assuming that at least one of the former — if not more — voiced the above-mentioned questions. Now a clip of that conversation would send me straight over to YouTube. If anyone reading this knows of such a clip, do let us know.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yikes! I had sex with an Arab! אוי לי! שכבתי עם ערבי

It isn’t often that I blog first thing in the morning, but this news item has me so riled I won’t get any paid work done ‘til I’m finished sounding off. Imagine:

An Arab posed as a Jew so he could get a woman in bed. Oops! Honey, be more careful who you have sex with within minutes of knowing him. Well, apparently she hasn’t moved on: She pressed charges of rape and indecent assault (whatever that is; I suspect it’s a fancy term for miscegenation). But wait, it gets better: A judge actually agreed to hear the case. The verdict: The man was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

I call “racism”, and I don’t use that term lightly (I prefer “bigotry”, as “racism” is a victim of word inflation). But beyond the racism, thinly veiled as “protecting the public interest” (according to Jerusalem District Court Judge Tzvi Segal), why is there not a hue and cry from the legal community? This case should be published in the law school textbooks as the example of abuse of the justice system. The defendant has been under house arrest, wearing an electronic cuff, for two years. Show me a Jew in the same situation who would be thus detained. Not to mention the fact that the courts are overloaded and don’t have the resources to hear actual cases of injustice, for instance, those of women who suffer violence at the hands of their mates, or minors at the hands of their parents.

Thank goodness for the sane voices of Dr. Elkana Leist of the Public Defender and Judge Emeritus of Tel Aviv District Court Shelly Teiman. To paraphrase the former, while the defendant was perhaps a sleazeball, the courts don’t exist to protect us from sleaziness. Now is every woman whose sexual partner told her he’s rich when he’s not, going to file a rape-by-deception complaint? Aladdin and Jasmine, anyone?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beyond Dolls vs. Trucks מעבר לבובות כנגד משאיות

Say the phrase “gender stereotyping” in a roomful of parents, and inevitably someone(s) will “prove” that gender is wired in “because when Mary was a year old, we put a doll and a truck equidistant from her, and she went for the doll!” or “Do you know what Johnny did with his sister’s Barbie? Scooped her up with his bulldozer and buried her in the sandbox — after studiously dismembering her!”

Ah, I think. So we’re off the hook, are we? Mary chose the doll, so that means we can just relax, kick back, and keep right on reinforcing gender stereotypes, guilt-free. Well, no. Sorry to have to break it to all you parents, but the old doll / truck anecdote hardly locks up the nature-nurture debate. In short: לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה. Or for the matter under discussion: While the task of eliminating gender stereotyping is too large for an individual, we as parents can't merely offer our kids both dolls and trucks and claim we've done out part.

I myself grew up stereotypically female, right down to the ruffled underwear that I insisted on wearing ruffles-in-front so’s I could see ‘em, for gosh sake! I was offered neither trucks nor weapons, and was happy being a girl. The one non-conventional thing about my family was that my mother worked full time, and when I was six (1966) she began working toward a Master’s degree. It was a difference I caught onto early, and it must have had some impact on me.

But it’s no longer unusual for moms to work, you say. Correct. So now we have to be even more conscientious about not falling into the gender stereotype trap. I’d like to share some strategies I used to raise my daughters’ consciousnesses regarding gender:

· Feel free to “edit” stories read aloud. Many children’s book characters are animals, and their default gender is male. Question it: There’s not a shred of a reason why all of the characters in The Three Little Pigs cannot be female, nothing to stop us from reading “she” in place of “he”: There’s no Read-aloud Gestapo monitoring us. And no, my daughters didn’t accept my editing unquestioningly: Indeed, they protested, which gave me the perfect opportunity to ask them: Why can’t the pigs be female? Why can’t the wolf be female*? Ditto for Eric Carle’s spider (hurray for Charlotte and her Web!). I actually saw an illustration of a kangaroo, complete with pouch containing a joey, referred to as “he”!

· Continue to question. While substituting at a preschool, I told the teacher of my discomfort with a Chanuka song that has “Mother cooking the latkes and Father blessing the candles”. Why not change it up? I asked her. She replied that children “don’t accept things outside the norm”. Oh, I said. You mean they can accept that a human being can fly or become invisible (e.g., all the stuff they see on TV), but they can’t accept a dad who cooks? Not buying that one. And you know what? Suppose the teacher had switched them, and the kids protested. A perfect springboard for a discussion of gender roles. No, the four-year-olds will not leave school that day spouting de Beauvoir and McKinnon, but so what? Just as important is their having been exposed to the concept of it being OK to question assumptions, instead of blindly accepting what is. Isn’t that the aim of education?

· My two older daughters insisted on subscriptions to a rather low-quality teen magazine called Rosh Echad. While each issue did contain “policitally correct” articles on eating disorders and alcohol abuse, these were spaced among ads featuring emaciated models and teens drinking out of Heineken mugs. I made sure to point out these inconsistencies to them, and eventually, they were pointing them out to me. Now they point them out to me in Haaretz and other publications that we all read.

The point is that while modeling desired behavior is certainly important, it’s not enough if we want kids to absorb our values. We’ve got to talk to our kids: This doesn’t mean lecturing or sermonizing; it means questioning assumptions and encouraging them to do so (“Do you know any women who look like that? Do you suppose that’s her actual shape, or is she photoshopped?). It doesn’t mean being rigid (“No, you may not give out lip gloss as party favors”); it means offering alternatives (“Not all your friends might appreciate lip gloss. Might these cute erasers please everyone?”). After a while, it becomes a reflex; you begin to see opportunities to raise your kids’ consciousnesses all over the place, and at a certain point the kids themselves proudly take over; make sure to praise them when they notice gender stereotypes on their own.

So yes, most girls like Barbies, want to pierce their ears, go through a dresses-only stage, and get excited about wearing makeup. I did, and I watched my daughters move through those stages; but instead of passively pointing to them as “proof” that gender is wired in, I didn’t make a big deal over it, and just continued “playing the gender-neutral tape”. The key is not to give up: Nail polish and consciousness-raising can — and should — coexist. The issue doesn’t begin and end with dolls and trucks.

* I taught my kids the words “female” and “male” early on. For some reason, it bugs me to hear “girl dog” and “boy cat”. Same way it bugs me when I hear parents describe unfamiliar foods to their kids as “like spaghetti” or “like pizza”. Riiiiight. That’ll expand their vocabularies and broaden their minds…

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mystery Photo תצלום תעלומה

Taking a break from our regular programming to post the photo on the left, which I found in May while cleaning out my mom's purses, which she no longer uses. Neither she nor my dad had any idea who these people are, nor how the photo made its way to my mom's purse.
While the likelihood is that they're Kansas Citians, just for the record, my mom volunteered at the (now defunct) Hadassah Bargain Center, where she might have taken a liking to and purchased the handbag in which the photo was found; so it's anyone's guess. I welcome all info, and will be pleased to send the original photo to its owner(s).

Monday, June 21, 2010

None of us are deportation-proof אף אחד מאיתנו אינו חסין כנגד גירוש

Reading about the cases of Drs. Imad Hammada and Murad Abu-Khalaf עברית — both of whom have had their East Jerusalem residency revoked while residing abroad — got me to thinking: None of us should get too smug about our right to live here. As long as our Interior Ministry is headed by ayatollahs, who run it in their typical capricious, draconian manner, it can turn on any one of us any day. Take my own case, for instance:

When I came on aliya, I don’t recall having to submit any proof that I’m Jewish. The shlicha asked for neither my mother’s ketuba nor a brisket receipt from my great-grandmother’s kosher butcher in Grodno. Ditto for the state rabbi who officiated at our wedding. However, according to what I hear and read about most other immigrants, my experience is exceptional.

Supposing in the same way that some rabbi decided to investigate further and revoke hundreds of conversions, a rabbi who didn’t have anything better to do that day decided to look into my Jewish pedigree. While no one would blink before attesting to the fact that I’m Jewish, I actually have no way of proving it. And neither do any of us. Ten years into the 21st century, we Jews have got to come to grips with the new reality; we’ve got to let go of the fantasy called “the unity of the Jewish people”. Not only is it impossible to prove that someone’s Jewish, it’s impossible to prove that someone isn’t. Not only do we need to admit this, but we need to come to grips with the implications thereof:
· Israel has become a desirable destination for the have-nots of the world, whether they hail from the former USSR, Africa, or elsewhere.
· Because thousands are knocking at our door, the Law of Return must be revoked and replaced with an immigration policy, as strict or as lax as we wish.
· The above entails (to paraphrase Carlo Strenger עברית) the state severing its ties to all religious institutions, and becoming completely secular, along the French or U.S. model. Both Jews and Muslims would have to accept that the state cannot play any role in affairs of religion, and religious institutions would become completely voluntary and communitarian.

These three are not only intertwined, they’re inevitable; the only alternative is a theocracy. The fact that any Jew has the power to certify the kashrut of any other Jew -- unless granted such power by the Jew in question (i.e., you’re a willing follower of a particular rabbi) -- should be setting off alarms for us all. I call on every Jew reading this to “take back the brit”: Don’t submit your pedigree for inspection; don’t hand over authority to any entity to whose views you don’t subscribe. Don’t sign over your “power of Jewish attorney”.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Choice Feminism": I'll Opt Out "פמיניזם הבחירה"...אני בוחרת "לא"

I’ve noticed that whenever a woman defends having taken her husband’s name, or defends dressing provocatively, it’s invariably stated, “After all, feminism is about choice.” Well I’m not pleased with having women who choose tradition, or patriarchy, telling me what feminism “is about”.

Take the word “choice”. Somehow, when a woman explains her decision to take her husband’s name as a choice, it feels like she’s using the term in the sense of “I choose vanilla; you choose chocolate”, i.e., there's no implication, no greater statement being made; it's simply a matter of what you like and what I like. But the difference between choosing ice cream flavors and choosing which name to use is that the former has no values attached, while which name one uses very much reflects one’s values.

In this sense, I can’t really go with “feminism is about choice”. To me it’s akin to an African-American saying, “The civil rights movement was about choice, and I choose to sit at the back of the bus.” Unlikely, I’d say. So why is feminism any different? Feminism is about choice in the sense that it’s about women having choices other than the traditional ones; we don't need feminism in order to opt for tradition -- traditional roles have been "freely available" for the past 10,000 years.

Therefore I see feminism as being about parity (notice I didn’t say “equality”, God forbid), i.e., being on a par with men; and when I take someone else’s name, I’m by definition not on a par with him. Ditto when I intentionally dress (or dress my daughter) so as to objectify myself in men’s eyes. How can I be on a par with someone who views me as an object?

Moreover, it doesn’t strike me that someone who chooses to take her husband’s name is sincerely concerned about her “choices” being jeopardized. In a world where at least half of all women retained their birth names, such a woman might indeed feel pressured to do so, but we’re not even close to that world. On the other hand, stay-at-home moms do feel pressured to work for an income, but I doubt that that pressure is coming from feminist circles; more likely it’s economic pressure coming from within their own households.

In actuality, it’s democracy that’s about choice. In a democracy, we’re free to choose traditional lifestyles a la Amish or ultra-Orthodox, as long as we don’t impose them on the rest of the citizenry. Yet it seems disingenuous for women making traditional choices to invoke feminism in the defense of those choices, especially when it’s only when it serves them that they even bother to acknowledge feminism.

And, what exactly are they acknowledging when they say, “feminism is about…”? It appears to refer to a rather fuzzy code for “Some 1970s struggle that ended the Dark Ages”. How many of you who parrot “feminism is about choices” have actually read feminist literature, taken a gender studies class, or attended a consciousness-raising session?

I rather conceive of feminism as precisely being about questioning assumptions, pushing the boundaries, even rocking the boat, and yes, doing the uncomfortable thing. Taking your husband’s name does none of these; an eight-year-old wearing a top emblazoned with “So Many Boys, So Little Time” is making a statement…unfortunately a twisted one.

I will rejoice when we get to a place where retaining our names is the comfortable thing; when Western society finally strikes that sartorial balance between repression and promiscuity. Until then, please don’t drag feminism in when defending your having chosen to settle into comfortable, traditional roles.

Added February 13, 2011- quote from Haxer Beck2:

"Traditional ladies didn't have to pay for anything, but they didn't get to have sex until they were married, and the only decisions they ever got to make in their lives were whether to say Yes or No to an offer of marriage, and what they were going to wear.

Modern ladies get to do whatever they want (as long as it's considerate of others), AND they pay for that privilege by taking full responsibility for their own material support and well-being.

A woman can pick either system and still be a lady -- but she can't enjoy the rights from one system and ditch its associated responsibilities."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Party of Five שולחן לחמישה

When Gilmore Girls was dropped from the local channel, it left a hole in my day. So I checked out the series that replaced it in its time slot, Party of Five (I know, I know: I’m 15 years behind the times. Just humor me).

First let’s get something out of the way: Yes, Pof5 engages me; you could even say I’m hooked, because I want to know what happens next, and I even — I admit it — analyze it when I’m not watching, i.e., “Charlie should’ve moved them to Seattle”; “Why does Bailey have to go to college 2,000 miles away?” “Julia was so out of line talking about Justin to his mom”.

So while there’s no question that I enjoy the program, there’s a disturbing undercurrent running through it: Do viewers get that the way the characters operate in their relationships is a model of how not to do relationships? I’m not referring only to the incessant cheating; I can deal with that. It’s that every couple seems to have two modes: Deliriously in love, or quarreling, the latter always seeming to stem from an innocent remark from which offense was taken, along the lines of:

Character A: You need to act responsibly here…

Character B: Responsibly? Excuse me! What do you know about responsibility?!

Character A: Look, all I’m saying is that maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you’d…

Character B: Oh! Like you’re so perfect! I suppose you expect me to…!

It’s disturbing to think that young viewers may think that the above is a normal relationship pattern. Not to mention that the emphasis in Charlie and Kirsten’s almost-wedding seemed to be on one thing: forsaking all others. Not joining their lives, compromising, working as a team, putting each other’s happiness first…but forsaking all others, as if marriage is nothing but a relationship version of traffic law, i.e., just don’t exceed the speed limit, and you’ll be fine.

All in all, simplistic, served up as realistic. I know: It’s “just” TV; we can’t expect it to reflect real life. Yet we can’t ignore that it does feed into viewers’ — especially young viewers’ — concepts of what to expect from real life. I’d like to think that my kids will dig deeper and shoot higher than do the Salingers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Netiquette, please נימוסים אלקטרוניים, בבקשה

E-mail having been around since 1996, and most literate folks having gotten on the bandwagon by 2000, a decade should be sufficient time for us all to’ve gotten used to it, and for the novelty to’ve worn off. Why, then, am I still getting mail with “Fwd Fwd Fwd Fwd Fwd…” in the Subject line? Why are people still sending me mass mailings in 24 boldface font, three words to a line, and with a lifetime supply of exclamation points?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why is the message preceded and followed by a meter-long list of recipients’ addresses? And why am I instructed to “Hit forward and send this to everyone you know”? If you’re under eight or over 80 years of age, you get a pass from me. The rest of you, please heed:

1. A To or cc field with inches of addresses says, “Not serious; not businesslike”. When you send these out, you’re failing to protect your friends’ and others’ privacy. Learn to bcc.

2. Subject lines containing “Fwd” are spam magnets. Delete “Fwd” both in the Subject line and in the body of the mail.

3. Learn to compose a decent Subject line. Examples of the lame and the annoying: “Important! Please forward!”; “Hi”; “ " (that’s an empty Subject line; the first two examples might as well be empty, as they give no useful information whatsoever).

4. Trim off all excess “froms”. We don’t need to read them, and it’s annoying to have to scroll all the way down to Antarctica to read a mail.

5. Read through what you’re about to send. Ask yourself what impression it gives. Oversize lettering and multiple colors screams, “Written by a fourth grader!” Consider selecting the entire letter (Ctrl + A), going to your Format menu, selecting Rich Text, and adjusting the font(s) and color(s) (Format menu > Font). If you’re really ambitious and have the time, fix the double spaces and dial back those exclamation points. Correct spelling wouldn’t hurt either. And finally…

6. I don’t need to be told to forward mail any more than I need to be told to tell people my opinion on an issue or my impression of a product; it’s implicit. And can we lose the expression “Hit Forward” and “Hit Reply”? First of all, none of us should be hitting anything. We press keys on our keyboards, i.e., “Press Enter”; “Press Escape”. We click buttons using our mouses, i.e., “Click OK”; “Click this link”. And we simply forward mail…after performing all of the above steps.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Cleric Speaks Out For Separation of Church & State כומר בעד הפרדת דת ומדינה

I finally tracked it down after 17 years, with the help of Dwight Tawney and Caroloyn Nussbeck of the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas: A sermon delivered by their Pastor Emeritus the Rev. Doc. Robert H. Meneilly, and reprinted in the New York Times in 1993. It was probably reprinted in whatever English language paper I read at the time, and I never forgot it. I'm posting a link to it here (you don't even need to download the doc; just click on the above link and read), but for those who don't feel like slogging through the entire four pages, I'm reprinting what I feel to be the salient quotes:
  • Any religion that needs the government to support and subsidize it doesn't deserve to survive. It's not the state's business to carry out the churches' ministries!
  • Any religion that must depend upon the state to do what it cannot do [i.e., force the citizenry to observe the commandments] is not worthy of existence...even Christianity.
  • When the state and the church would become entwined, it is the latter that will be the loser.
  • We can't uphold the...commandments by majority rule!

As far as I'm concerned, that says it all as far as church and state. Would that more clerics and religious leaders were as courageous as Rev. Meneilly, who a friend calls "an icon in the 'burbs"*.

*Johnson County, KS, where his church is located. Think Ultimate Suburbia, and you're there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Popeye Has to Defend OliveOyl ?מדוע חייב פופיי להגן על אוליב אויל

A friend sent me Yet Another Article citing a “study” finding that male and female brains differ, and therefore 'proves' that the genders are destined to behave according to long-held stereotypes. Since you have to sign up as a member to comment (I hate that. What’s that all about?), and I don’t want to become a “member” of Yet Another Forum, I’ll sound off here, where I’m a member of my own club and anyone with a computer is welcome and encouraged to comment.

Dr. Louann Brizendine is here to tell us among other things that “his amygdala, the alarm system for threats, fear, and danger is...larger in men…making men more alert than women to potential turf threats.”

Why, then, are women the stereotyped worriers, and the ones who are stereotyped as getting up on a chair and shrieking if we see a mouse or a spider?

Dr. Brizendine goes on to explain how male’s brains are the reason they constantly check out women and stare at their breasts, and why, when we tell them our problems, they go into Fixit Mode. She concludes by proverbially throwing up her hands and sighing that it makes more sense to deal with these brain realities, than to argue with them or ignore them…”The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.”

Ah, yes. Let men be men: It’s just one molecule away from “boys will be boys”. It’s all wired in. It’s in their DNA. Not a darned thing we can do. Why even try to civilize them?

Dr. Brizendine's credentials notwithstanding, this is simplistic pop drek parading as science and excusing gender stereotyping.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Christmas. Yeah, Christmas. חג המולד

As I’ve mentioned on occasion, I’m a *chasida* [follower] of Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax’s commenters’ forum. The other day Hax ran a letter from a reader who was offended that his Christian MIL (that’s mother-in-law) sent him, his Jew-by-choice wife, and their four-year-old son Christmas cards. Unfortunately, the LW (that’s letter-writer) didn’t arouse too much sympathy, as he also complained that MIL gave them a cash gift, as opposed to one she picked out. Now I’m all down with the second point; heck, I’ll accept cash from any source, even if it’s the Islamic Jihad Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. But the ensuing discussion about card-sending (which elicited no fewer than 287 comments) aroused some latent defensiveness in me vis-à-vis Christmas in America that the Hax discussion finally enabled me to articulate after all these years. My visceral reaction to Christmas is so strong, in fact, that despite having left it behind 29 years ago, I was surprised that I still haven’t actually let go of it.

So, for any American Christians reading this, here's my Knee-Jerk anti-Christmas Primer. And yes, for my purposes, “Christian” refers to you even if you weren’t baptized and have never stepped foot in a church, as long as you don’t actively affiliate or identify with another faith. OK, now that we've got that sorted out, here we go: The LW got all hot under the caller ‘cause his MIL sent him a Christmas card — a seemingly innocuous act, right? And predictably, within the first dozen comments, someone piped up with, “I’ve gotten Chanuka cards and wasn’t offended”, to which I replied:

Christians getting Chanuka, Divali, or Eid cards and not being offended in a Christian-majority society proves nothing. Minority members — the laid-back poster above notwithstanding — tend to be sensitive on this and other fronts, and not without grounds, even if those grounds date back decades or centuries: They’re still part of our group’s collective consciousness. Call it paranoia if you want, but if you haven’t been one, you can’t judge.

Another poster commented: “The Jewish people I know all celebrate Christmas”, to which I replied:

This is akin to telling a blond joke, and when the blond you’re telling it to gets offended, saying to her, “But all my other blond acquaintances thought it was funny.” So you know a few assimilated Jews; does that make you an authority on Jewish observance? I’ll detour here to say that it also pushes my buttons when year after year on December 25th, some fellow ex-pat gigglingly greets me with “Merry Christmas” and then goes on to wax nostalgic about the Christmas carols of her childhood and memories of helping the neighbors trim their tree. It always makes me want to say, “Are you trying to shoe how worldly you are, having come from the multi-cultural West? ‘Cause I’m from there too, and I’m not impressed”.

It’s also ignorant to draw conclusions about a group based on the members thereof that you happen to know. I recall a (nominally) Jewish teacher harassing an Orthodox classmate when the latter told the former that he’d be absent on Succot. The teacher said, “What do you mean it’s a Jewish holiday? I’ve never heard of it!” When I tried to vouch for my classmate, telling the teacher that Succot indeed exists (this was pre-Internet) and it is indeed forbidden to work thereon, he asked me if I’d be in class on Succot. When I replied in the affirmative, he predictably said to my classmate, “See? She’s going to be here, so why can’t you?” It’s called nuances, or in this case, differing levels of religious observance. A university journalism teacher should be sensitive to these, no?

Another poster commented that she didn’t understand what all the fuss is about as she’d never received a Rosh haShana card. To which I replied:

Chanuka is not a Christmas equivalent, and card-sending is not an inherently Jewish tradition. My parents’ generation sends out Jewish New Year cards, which falls in September-October, to their Jewish friends. That explains the fact that you’ve never gotten one.

Another poster tried to smooth things over by saying how she simply sends everyone on her list regardless of religion her usual Christmas cards. Another described the whole issue as “just one big happy diverse soup”, to which I replied:

It works like this: Christians have their Important Holiday on December 25, so many of them (excepting the enlightened group here) assume that everyone has Something To Celebrate circa December 25th. You send your friends "the usual Christmas card". Nice. What you need to understand is that for non-Christians, there is no such thing as "the usual Christmas anything". It's this assumption on the part of (many) Christians that galls (many of) us non-Christians. Sorry. It's my upbringing. This is just not an issue I can get all Zen and soupy about...

To the commenter who claimed that the LW “…is missing out on and not learning a thing about his MIL’s traditions”, I referred to another Jewish poster’s references to: “…so overwhelming is the [Christmas] cheer with the movies, decorations, lights, commercials, sales, concerts: It's impossible not to get sucked in!” I wrote:

Pennagirl, "learn about MIL's traditions"? Are you kidding? Did you read Tscoll’s post? In order to "learn about" Christianity in the US, the only requirement is to have a pulse and watch TV: You absorb it into your pores by osmosis. In fact, if you can wrap your head around it, "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" is almost as presumptuous (perhaps more -- I haven't decided) as "Merry Christmas". The presumption that "OK, we get that you don't celebrate Christmas, but you MUST celebrate SOMETHING at this time of year", i.e., there is something inherently spiritual or joyous about the period between Thanksgiving and Gregorian New Year akin to the sun rising every morning, therefore I greet you with "Good morning". (What? Your religion doesn't recognize mornings???!!!). It is just so hard for Majority America (for lack of a better label for this category) to internalize that December 25th is just another day for us, like the 10th of Tishrèi is to you all. Except unlike the 10th of Tishrèi, of which you walk around all day utterly unaware, Christmas is In Our Faces; we feel assaulted by it. Though we'd like to, we can't just pretend like it's any other day. Believe it or not.

Finally, I agree that the LW seems to be looking for offense where there is probably none intended. I was just trying to give the majority members in this forum a window into what makes minority members tick, i.e., what may push our buttons. I don’t mean to sound bitter; I'm just tellin' it like it is, through my lens, having grown up as an identifying Jew in the US. For any of you who “get it”, you’ll understand this: I'd jump for joy if just one retail clerk between Thanksgiving and Gregorian New Year were to bless me with a generic, "Thank you. Have a nice day".


Tangentially, I was reminded just yesterday of how cringe-producing it is when the screenwriters of TV series try to “do Jewish”: I was watching the Party of Five episode wherein Claudia contemplates converting to Judaism for her preteen Jewish boyfriend. Arty’s attempts to explain Judaism “while standing on one foot” are superficial at best, pathetic at worst.

Regarding “the rules”, he tells her about “kosher” [kashrut] by explaining, “You’re not allowed to eat lobster or shrimp, and you can’t have a hamburger together with a milkshake”. When Claudia’s face falls, Arty reassures her, “But you don’t have to be kosher [observe kashrut]; we’re not.” Oy vey! And the actor’s awful attempts at Hebrew (or in this case Aramaic): *yees go dole, vah yees go dosh, shmay row bow*. Gawd. Please, screenwriters-attempting-to-be-diverse: Spare us this torture. We’re all blushing beet-red on your behalf.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gender, Brain, & ADD מיגדר, המוח, והפרעות קשב וריכוז

I’m an active participant in the Free Range Kids forums, where in reference to studies on brain and gender, I wrote:

Yes, I’ve read those gender brain studies, and I always say, fine, but why are we so invested in the differences? We know that the differences between any two individuals of the same gender are wider than those between the genders in general. So what do we get out of emphasizing the differences between the genders? What do we gain from it? Who funds this research? Is it advancing humankind?

A poster named Lucy replies:

"The simple answer is it helps us understand ourselves. In an ideal world, it would be used for good, for things like changing classroom environments so boys aren’t expected to behave like girls in the classroom, and as a consequence, drugged to gain that achievement. In our twisted world, such information would most likely be used to develop better drugs to get boys to behave like girls in the classroom."

My reply:
Lucy, I’m sorry you equate sitting quietly and listening, skills that our society expects of audiences at lectures and performances, as well as worship congregants, with behaving “like a girl”. Reminding you that from the beginning of compulsory education until the 1960s, both genders were expected to behave thusly in school; this in an age when gender roles were rigid.

Today, parents want to have their cake and eat it too: They like our post-feminist world where women can be doctors and men can be nurses, but when they don’t bother to set the same behavior standards for their sons as for their daughters, they cry “ADD!” at the resulting behavior. Can’t have it both ways…

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is the incidence (or existence) of ADD among populations that demand compliant behavior of both genders, such as the ultra-Orthodox, or the Amish. Does anyone know the incidence of attention deficit in these populations? My guess is that it’s very low if it exists at all. Any information is welcome.

Adding to this post:
I'm also an avid follower of the Hax forum, where a commentor called jrzWrld wrote:

"When you have ADD -- especially when you've grown to adulthood before it's diagnosed (as I did) -- there are kind of like holes in your life skills. You don't learn the way other people do, so some common, basic skills are never learned properly.

Long before I was diagnosed, I had a boyfriend who picked up on the fact that I didn't learn things like other people did or focus like they did, and that was part of why I was such a bad housekeeper. When we were setting out to clean the apartment one day, he broke the plan down for me into tiny steps that made it seem more manageable and far less overwhelming.
He didn't know I had ADD, but he had realized that I tended to view household tasks as monolithic monstrosities rather than a series of much smaller jobs strung together. Even years later I am amazed at his sensitivity."

To which I replied:

While your boyfriend sounds quite sweet, I'm suspicious of ADD having become the go-to explanation for what used to be called simply "disorganized" or "unable to run a household". Seems to me that if you take the time to demonstrate cleaning the toilet to a (reasonably intelligent) child, let him try it, and praise his efforts, it should stick in there and be retrievable years later when that skill is needed. And yes, I used the male pronoun deliberately, Moms of Sons!

In that vein, a quote from Haxer Trout-on-line:

“The goal of raising kids is to end up with adults who can function successfully (outside the penal system or a fool farm) after you're gone; who don't need someone (defense attorney? consulting psychiatrist at sentencing hearing?) to explain to the world that they're good people, just high-energy (or however you favor selling people on the idea that a piece of ca-ca is actually a chocolate bon-bon).”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chametz Ban Round II חרם על חמץ, סבב שני

Referring to this article עברית:

Here we go again. At least this time (I have to give Shas credit) they’re starting the battle early, i.e., months prior to Passover. Gives everyone plenty of time to get their media licks in and do the requisite amount of keening and hand-wringing. In this corner — Shas. No explanations needed. In this corner — the confused, scattered, spineless stammering of the non-Orthodox.

First in this year’s lineup is MK Yohanan Plesner of Kadima, who walks straight into the decades-old semantic trap: “We support maintaining the Jewish character of the state. On the other hand, it is forbidden to change the status quo for the worse and to enter into people's dinner plates.” Go, Yohi.

Worst policy idea ever: Trying to fit vague concepts such as “the Jewish character of the state” into a legal context. No one can quite define this elusive Jewish character, but, like the judge said of pornography, “I know what it is when I see it”. Problem is, “I know what it is when I see it” is not a sufficient concept on which to base a law. Unfortunately, “Jewish character” is not like “quiet”, which it takes a certain decibel level to violate according to city ordinances. Decibel levels are an objective measure; everyone can agree that the wedding hall down the block is or is not violating the Noise Law. Not the case with “Jewish character”. Perhaps all Shas followers agree what constitutes it, but the rest of us don’t.

Even worse idea, policy-wise: “status quo”. Since when does “status quo” carry any legal weight? Does it merit being preserved even if it’s a bad idea? Why do all legislators, no matter their party affiliation, seem hell-bent on treating this status quo — which was cobbled together decades ago — like the sacred cow that it most certainly is not? Times change; perhaps we need to stop protecting this insidious and crippling “status quo”.

To quote Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax on victims of abusive relationships: “We contort ourselves into pretzels [trying to appease our abuser], then wonder why we’re so uncomfortable”. Shas is bullying us into submission, no more, no less. The only way to put a halt to bullying is to stand up to the bully. Legislators, take note: You’ve got exactly four months to show us — and them — what you’re made of.

New dads, old dads אבות חדשים, אבות ותיקים

I happened to be walking by a new dad carrying his baby when he was approached by an older male acquaintance, who said (jokingly) something to the effect of, “I feel very sorry for her [the baby]!” Besides finding this a vaguely inappropriate way to congratulate a new parent, even as a joke, something bugged me about it. After thinking about it for about three seconds, it dawned on me: Gender (of course!). Believe it or not, there are gender stereotypes zooming all over this scenario.

Let’s start with the Congratulator. What was behind his little jokelet of a remark? That we don’t really expect a father to take any more than a cameo role in parenting, because really, what’s a dad? Just a bumbling, doofus-y cartoon version of a “real” parent, i.e., a mother.

Second, only a man could get away with making such a remark. No woman could, even as a joke. Why is that? Because we expect women to be genuinely interested in new babies and solicitous of new parents, whereas our expectations of men in this area are diminished: Men get to make a joke and walk away, thereby distancing themselves from the matter at hand — i.e., a baby has been born — which makes them squirm and feel awkward. Women, on the other hand, are expected to exclaim over the baby and make a fuss, whether or not they feel a shred of interest in or ease around babies. A remark such as, “I feel very sorry for her!” coming from a woman would be perceived as rude indeed.

And where does all this lead? To the fact that we socialize our girls to be the responsible ones, the civilizing influence over those wild, out-of-control boys. I see it in our kids: Who does the baking, draws the signs, makes the greeting cards, composes the poems for classmates’ birthdays? Who recruits and organizes the class ditty for classmates’ bar mitzvas? Only in a few years, when fire (barbeques, bonfires) or vehicles are involved do the boys come out of the woodwork. Hmmmm…what’s at work here?

Noise is the new smoking רעש: העישון החדש

When I first moved here, Israel was way behind the States in terms of smoking in public places. I found that in order to get someone to put out her cigarette, on a bus, say, I’d have to say I have allergies, or asthma, or contact lenses: It had not yet been internalized that we’re all entitled to a smoke-free environment, just because.

We’ve come a long way vis-à-vis smoking, but I noticed that I’ve had to fall back on the same excuse-giving in order to get retail establishments to lower the volume on their (usually awful) music. This week I was sitting on a bench in Azrieli Mall in Modiin, taking a break and waiting to meet a friend. The bench was situated between two stores, each playing loud music. A few meters away was an Orange (cellular provider) island, and I wondered how the staff imprisoned therein could stand it and how they were able to even hear their customers. Then I had an idea.

I went into one of the music-blaring stores (empty of clientele) and asked the two teenagers staffing the place to turn down their music, “because I’m trying to execute a transaction at Orange and I can’t hear myself think”. They complied, albeit with quizzical looks on their faces. Ditto for the other store. They complied, but I’d had to give a reason for my request; after all, I was not their customer, so technically I had no “right” to ask them for anything…except that noise is…well, noisy.

While I’d solved my situation-specific problem momentarily (one of the stores turned its music up a few minutes later, causing me to wonder, “Wasn’t it a relief for the proprietors to have it quiet?”), I can’t help but wonder: Doesn’t the mall management get it? Instead of being relaxed and inviting, the atmosphere at that mall was like that of an outdoor bazaar, which here in the Middle East means each vendor blasting her music as loudly as possible, which according to their logic attracts customers, which I find anything but inviting: I find it downright off-putting.

Didn’t the mall management study “What makes a successful mall” in mall management school? Have any of them happened to visit a mall in the States, by any chance? Because while I’m by no means a fan of malls or consumerism in general, if you’re going to run a business — regardless of the nature thereof — don’t you want to do it right?