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?