Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Think only Beit Shemeshites get spat on? Think again. אתה חושב שרק בבית שמש יורקים? חשוב שנית

In a talkback on the report of eight-year-old Naama Margolese getting spat on and called a whore on her way to school in Beit Shemesh for not being dressed what the ultra-Orthodox deem modestly, talkbacker Eleanor says: "This group [the rabbis] must be stopped."

Eleanor, unfortunately the “rabbis” will not voluntarily stop. Instead, the police must go, i.e., do their jobs as public servants. Law enforcement and swift crackdown is the only response that will bring the desired results. Not only are the rabbis not going to cede their power, but the perps may not even be taking orders from “above”. I hate to say it, because it's such an oft-used cliche about another minority, but if the shoe fits, wear it: The only language they understand is that of [police] force.

Does not anyone see the irony in the second paragraph of the article? The protest march venue was moved after Haredim threatened violence if it was held at Orot Banot? Excuse me? So let’s get this straight: The thugs succeeded in moving the March Against Thuggery by threatening to use violence if their demands aren’t met. Yoo-hoo! Police: Anybody there? Aren’t you the ones who are armed and trained in crowd control, and if necessary, arrest those who commit violence? You certainly had no compunction about doing so in October 2000 against Arabs, did you?

And why does Haaretz insist on describing Naama Margolese as "religiously observant"? What does her level of observance matter? No eight-year-old, or eighty-year-old, or anyone of any age or level of observance, of any faith or denomination, should have to undergo bullying anywhere, certainly not on her way to school.

When will we, and the legislature, press, police, and other institutions, call a spade a spade? This is bullying, it's harassment, and it's assault, all of which we have laws against. Police: ENFORCE, for God's sake! Today it's “just” the ultra-Orthodox spitting on the Orthodox; tomorrow it’s the ultra-Orthodox spitting on us all.

Sidebar: My daughter’s youth movement winter camp joined the protest, for which I’m proud. Since the protest was hastily organized only after the camp began, the camp organizers had to go into action quickly and get all the parents’ permission for the kids to protest. I of course gave mine, along with my blessing, but not all the parents did. I’d like to ask those parents two questions:

1. Where are your kids supposed to learn solidarity with the downtrodden and social activism if not in their youth movement? Where are they supposed to learn about rights, and not letting terror win out, if not from us, their parents?

2. If you think your neighborhood is safe, that this outrageous behavior is confined to Beit Shemesh (where we, the “enlightened” don’t live), you’re in denial. The Haredim are spreading, and with them their vigilante rule -- Coming Soon to a Nice Suburb Near You.

I confess, I was a little scared; I reminded the counselors to watch out for our kids, and I trust them to, although I don’t expect them to hover. But it’s times like these when I remind myself that Tzviya Lubetkin was only 14 when she crawled through the sewers beneath the Warsaw Ghetto to evade the Nazis while delivering arms to the ghetto fighters. I’m not being melodramatic; obviously I’m grateful that my children are spared such scenarios, likely thanks in part to the Tzviya Lubetkins. The point is that if young people during the Holocaust wittingly placed themselves in danger in order to fight for their freedom, then surely we should encourage our kids to take slight, what are really negligible risks, in order to speak out against injustice, should we not?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If These Walls Could Talk לו הקירות היו מדברים

I saw a disturbing film yesterday on the topic of abortion, called If These Walls Could Talk. Yet it wasn’t disturbing in the way you might assume. For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll give a synopsis:
The screenplay is actually written as a trilogy, with each story taking place in a different era, all featuring protagonists who find themselves pregnant and not wanting to be:

Claire is a widow in the 1950s who in desperation opts for a back-alley abortion after which she hemorrages and presumably dies.

Barbara is a 40-something mom of four in the 1970s. Her youngest is eight, she has just begun college, and she discovers she’s pregnant. She considers abortion, then decides to continue the pregnancy.

Chris is a college student in the 1990s who agonizes and then goes through with an abortion. [spoiler] Just as the physician is finishing the procedure, a psycho gunman bursts into the clinic and shoots the physician.

What disturbed me about the film wasn’t the fact that Claire’s kitchen looks like a scene from the Manson family as she sinks to the floor, the telephone hanging off the hook as she tries unsuccessfully to summon an ambulance. Rather, what I found disturbing is the horror of conservative backlash: The only character who had access to a safe, legal abortion without getting mobbed or firebombed was the 1970s one. If These Walls Could Talk reflects the fact that our society passed through a blip of progressiveness that lasted about a decade, a fact with which there’s no arguing regardless of one's stance on the matter.

Moreover, I refuse to use the euphemisms “pro-life” and "pro-choice”. I’m an Abortion Advocate, i.e., I believe that all three women should've aborted. As testified to by the hundreds of testimonies at I', not all women who find themselves pregnant against their wishes agonize over it; nor do I believe that having an abortion necessarily affects a woman negatively and / or for a long period of time. For that I'm grateful for the character in the middle segment who admits to having felt relieved after aborting. Hard for me to believe that relief isn't the Number One sensation felt by a woman after undergoing a safe, legal abortion. No, it will not haunt you for the rest of your days, and this needs to be heard.

Finally, I’m tired of hearing that abortion is a “very, very personal decision”. This statement has lost its meaning, if indeed it ever had any. Every decision, whether vanilla versus chocolate or whether to donate a kidney, is personal. Abortion is nothing if not political; everyone, whether pro- or anti-, must agree on this.

Veering a little off-topic here, can anyone explain to me why back-alley abortionists can't take the extra minute to wash their hands and disinfect their instruments? It's not as if it adds to their overhead. What motivates this pond scum? Money? You’ve already been paid. What skin is it off your back to swab some alcohol onto the speculum? The abortionist in the 1950s segment of If These Walls Could Talk was the one who deserved to be shot. Where are all the indignant anti-abortion voices when it comes to him and his ilk -- and they still must exist: The state of Wyoming has not a single legal abortion provider. Who do you suppose is performing abortions in Wyoming?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Take my muezzin...please! בבקשה, קחו את המאוזין שלי

I have to concede in reference to Bibi’s support of mineret-muzzling that indeed, even a broken clock shows the correct time once a day. However, what bothers me is how he argued his case: “We don’t need to be more liberal than Europe”. Does he not realize that this remark gives him away as implicitly admitting that Europe is the light unto the nations, or at least the model of civility that we all should strive to emulate? As I read his words, I thought to myself: Aha! So you do admire Europe! And you admit that liberal is a positive thing to be! Gotcha!

However, although I agree that the Moslem calls to prayer constitute noise pollution, it’s still offensive and certain unnecessary to target them specifically. We have noise pollution ordinances; why not simply enforce them in all locales? That would take care of the ultra-Orthodox and their bullhorn-fitted vans that cruise the streets for hours (apparently it's OK to pollute in God's name) blaring their appeals to dress modestly, attend a study session, or light candles. If I had the misfortune to live within hearing distance of this noise, I’d applaud any and all measures to silence it, including that inspired by the scene in the film Hair wherein George fires a rifle to silence the loudspeakers at the military base parade ground.

Same goes for Shabbat sirens, which I find paternalistic and therefore offensive. Anyone who observes the Sabbath can consult their watches, calendars, newspapers, or multiple fridge magnets for Sabbath starting and ending times, and if those fail, go outside and look at the sun, for God’s sake.

More than one talkbacker to the article proposed that Muslims install an app in their phones (or subscribe to a service) that sets off a prayer reminder replicating the muezzin, so we could do without the public calls to prayer altogether. Good idea, and let’s take it a step further: The Religious Affairs Ministry should provide this service for free, should it not? As long as this rabbi-opoly has to exist, let it serve the public for a refreshing change, and not vice versa.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pink-&-blue medicine and revealing clothing רפואה ורוד-כחול ובגדם חושפים

I have long been skeptical of the claim that women having heart attacks “present differently” than do men. Could it not simply be the case that men tend to ignore their symptoms until a later stage? In other words, might a man experiencing back pain, fatigue, weakness, and nausea brush it off as a momentary discomfort; and not until the stereotypical symptoms set in — chest pressure, arm pain radiating to neck and jaw — seek help?

Or the reverse: If a woman experiencing back pain, fatigue, weakness, and nausea were to wait — as men typically do — might she also present with the stereotypical symptoms? I predict that as awareness of heart attack symptoms grows in the lay population, first responders are going to be increasingly seeing men present (sooner) with what physicians now refer to as typically female symptoms. Otherwise there should be a physiological explanation for the differences in symptoms, and I seen none offered, leading me to suspect that gender medicine is simply another manifestation of the blue-and-pink backlash. In fact, in the (admittedly few) articles I’ve read on the subject, the heart attack example is the only one ever cited. So we need an entire new specialty based on a single example, which might itself be flawed? Are not gynecology, obstetrics, and urology enough?

Seguing into a less cut-and-dried area of gender, I finally have a guess as to why Israeli women dress so revealingly, even when inappropriate, i.e., professional and employment situations: They’re hot! “Um, OK,” I can hear you saying. “Yes…so what?” Well, perhaps they’d be more willing to cover up if they could find decent cotton clothing. Ever looked for cotton clothing in Israel? Sure. It’s here — for double and triple the price of synthetics. While many are disturbed by the fact that whole grain flour costs more than white and granola costs more than Sugar Bombs, few seem perturbed about the equivalent situation in clothing.

In order to find 100% cotton elastic pants with pockets, I went all the way to the wholesale district in Tel Aviv, where Ofnát Sabába was willing to sell me one pair, for cash only, in their largest size, which they call Xtra Large. So what’s a woman larger than I to do? The largest size cotton tops at Fox are size 3s, which is barely a medium; 2 is small; and 1 is micro-human. I finally went to Onót, a plus-size chain, where I found a size that doesn’t cover me on top as well as I’d like, but at least it fits me. I’m now officially a plus-size woman (I’m 5’1” and weigh 135 lbs.), I live in a desert country, and can’t find decent cotton clothing that's not white yoga pants. Is this not absurd?

Id al-Adha and organ donation איד א-אדחה ותרומת איברים

Let's begin with Muslim Knesset members' request to postpone the session for Id al-Adha so as to enable them to vote on two bills. Seems the Jewish Knesset members are so eager to get down to the work of running the country that they just can’t countenance postponing. My favorite quote from the article: Zeev Elkin: "...I don't believe these laws have a distinctively Muslim dimension..." Oh. So you mean that simply being an elected official who wishes to vote in the legislature is now not a good enough reason to ask for a deferral? The issue has to concern hizzer’s constituency directly?

This damned country and its parochial leaders. Everything has to be sectarian: You belong to either an "Arab party" or a "Jewish party". You either live in an Arab area or a Jewish area (we conveniently forget Lod, Ramle, Acre, Jaffa, Haifa, and even Eilat); you donate to / villify a "left-wing NGO" (that's "human rights group" on the rest of the planet), or just a default NGO (all the rest). Everything breaks down according to sector. When will we join the 21st century?

And as for the Druze celebrating their Id next week, I offer that we also have two Christmases: the Latin one celebrated December 25th and and the Orthodox one two weeks later. Those pesky non-mainstream denominations! Jeez! You mean they actually expect us to respect their calendars?!

Now let's turn to our current jack-in-the-box bills, i.e., the ones that keep popping up just as you thought we'd shut the lid on them. MK Ofir Akunis explaining why "left-wing" NGOs (aka human rights groups) should be prohibited from accepting donations from abroad: "The fact that a state such as England can donate money to a movement such as Peace Now is blatantly unfair."

Hmm...I was not aware that countries donate to Peace Now — can you cite an instance please, Mr. Akunis? — but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s so: Would the same apply if England were to donate to Gush Emunim? ‘Cause after all, fair is fair…

Talkbacker Herring on the closure of Jerusalem's acclaimed MaGaL drug treatment facility is absolutely correct when s/he says, "Unfortunately, financing new settlements is a priority." Kah-ching! $17 billion dollars and rising…Because we all know that settler youth don't have drug problems. Anyway, let me get this straight: There will now be ONE 20-bed juvenile addiction treatment facility in a country of 7 MILLION? Are we out of our ever-lovin' minds?

Let's hear how [the] ADI [organ donor card-issuing organization] responded to donors' anger at Cna'an, ADI's ad agency, caving to ultra-Orthodox demands that they use images of men only in their sign-up drive:

“ADI officials: the decision was based on a desire to convey the … campaign's message to all Israelis.” And of course it’s incumbent upon us not to offend the sensibilities of the ultra-Orthodox. But hey. What about me? Last time checked, I was a member of the superset “all Israelis”, and I’m offended at the ad agencies’ excuse that the ultra-Orthodox vandalize whatever offends them. Great. So we’re letting terror win. And where is law enforcement in this equation? How come it’s so easy to detain Palestinian teenagers for throwing stones, but law enforcement just can’t seem to prevent public property from being vandalized by religious extremists? I’m a card-carrying organ donor; don’t I matter?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why aren't the undersigned running our country? חבל שהחתומים למטה לא בממשלה

Four letters to the editor of Haaretz yesterday are worth reprinting (I edited and added links) for their wisdom and, in the case of the last, its why-didn't-we-think-of-that, out-of-the-box thinking. Here we go:

What does “without religion” mean?

In response to "Court grants author's request to register as 'without religion,'" October 2:

Some see recognition of Yoram Kaniuk as a citizen "without religion" as a breakthrough for the separation of religion and state. Yet there is something strange about this definition. Embedded therein is the unstated premise that every individual is born into a religion, as though a religion is a limb of the body. "Without religion" therefore designates someone who lacks a quality ordinarily found among people, a classification tantamount to "missing a leg" or "homeless" [or an animal - M.E.].

The campaign's goal should be the opposite: Whoever feels it important to declare her religion on identity documents should ask for this attribute to be listed as an addition. This means that an identity document should include the following automatically: citizenship; name; and address. Affiliation with a religion should be listed only if the bearer explicitly asks for such.

Edna Inbar
Hurray for Edna Inbár! As I've said many a time, What is the "Religion" datum doing there in the first place? Obviously only one piece of information is important: Are you, or are you not, an Arab? And that can overwhelmingly be discerned by the bearer's name and / or address. So "Christian" or "Muslim" are actually irrelevant in this case, are they not?

Barghouti should be freed

Gilad Shalit's release shows us as the big family we are, with so many regarding Shalit as if he were their own son. It also shows how achingly we want Jonathan Pollard to go free, as well as the agony of so many who lost their loved ones at the hands of swapped prisoners. Yet Haaretz always brings out the complexities of the conflict in both sides' narratives.

So, on the other side, even after the exchange, Israel will still hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners (some for as long as 30 years).

And yet in order to help bring both sides — with their so profoundly divergent narratives — closer to peace, how calamitous it is to leave imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, perhaps the one Palestinian leader able to unite the divided Palestinians behind an effective peace agreement.

Were Franz Kafka here, he would surely put this in one of his stories.

James Adler
Cambridge, MA

Is there really no one to talk to?

We watched those rare moments that were the outcome of talks with Hamas with Egyptian mediation. We talked with Hamas! It is possible. As someone who lost three members of my family — my sister Rivka and her sons, Roi and Ilan — in the bloody coastal road bus terror attack that took the lives of 38 Israelis, I can still remember the mindset with regard to the PLO: Not only was there "no one to talk to," it was forbidden to talk; anyone who talked with the PLO went to prison. Our partners today are the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. You have to sit and talk and talk and talk, until there is an agreement.

Khaled Abu Usba, who was among the perpetrators of that attack, was released in the Jibril deal, and unlike several who went back to terror, he eventually spoke about the need to arrive at a peace agreement.

Yona Kitai-Cohen
Kfar Saba
Agree, and I do perceive a shift. I heard one of the swapped prisoners tell a reporter, "We'll keep on abducting Israelis as long as Israel holds Palestinians prisoner." As little as ten years ago, the prevailing declaration would have been, "We'll keep on abducting Israelis as long as even a single drop of Zionist infidel blood pollutes the land of Palestine." So we're making progress, no? Although the problem is that as long as we occupy Palestine, we will hold Palestinians prisoner, even if it's on charges of an unpaid parking ticket...

The half-hour compromise

In response to "The shortest summer in the world," October 4:

I propose a course of action for Daylight Savings Time that could bridge between the sides without forcing anything on either. At the base of the idea is changing local Standard Time and moving it to a point more suited to our geographical locale — 34 degrees east (on average) — and deriving our Daylight Savings Time therefrom.

Israel lies in the Greenwich Mean Time +2 zone, which stretches from meridian 22.50 eastwards to longitude 37.5, with the 30th meridian at its center. However, the longitude of the central part of Israel is located at 34.5 east, closer to the edge of the area bordering on GMT +3. Geographically, therefore, Israel lies closer to GMT +3 than to GMT +2. Hence for most of the year, Israel's locale is more suited to being located in GMT +2.5.

In order to avoid constant conflict with the Orthodox, I propose encompassing by law the entire country, all year long, in the GMT +2.5 time zone. There are a number of countries and areas of the world that have adopted half hours and not whole hours. Moreover, between April 1 and September 1, Daylight Savings Time should be observed by moving the clock half an hour. Thus Yom Kippur will always fall in GMT +2.5.

Amos Cohen
Ramat HaSharón
Ah, but this would be too logical, wouldn't it? Is anyone in the Interior Ministry -- or any ministry out there -- listening?

And, on an unrelated note, over the recent holidays, among other festive fashion statements, I was disappointed to see a baby girl wearing one of those baby girl headbands, presumably so that she won't God forbid be mistaken for a boy. I've seen other babies wearing them, and I always want to ask their moms [it is the moms, isn't it?]: "Why, oh why are you perpetuating this blatant gender stereotyping that will only have to be untaught later?"

And ten bucks says five years hence Mom will be overheard to say, "She refuses to even look at anything that's not pink and sparkly. I just don't get it: I certainly never gave her those messages. I mean, look at me: Am I dressed pink and sparkly?" Sigh. Feminism: a Sisyphean climb.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Separation, not "pluralism" הפרדה, לא "רב-השקפתיות

This news report was sent to me by a reader who knows that its contents would please me, and while they do, all these non-Orthodox groups struggling for recognition by the rabbinic establishment seem to me to miss the point, or at least my point. While it’s certainly a good thing that Jerusalem Police Chief Niso Shoham is committed to banning forced sex segregation in public, this should not be news. OK, so it made the news in the wake of last Succot’s public sex segregation in Mea Shearim. But what happens when a new police chief steps into the job? Supposing that s/he personally doesn’t take as deep offense at public sex segregation as does Shoham? Not only that, but should our energies, i.e., those of the non-Orthodox public, be aimed at banning sex segregation in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods or performances or in private schools, where the audience in any case segregates voluntarily?

Would our energies not be better expended on struggling for changes that would benefit the masses? For instance, public transportation on Saturdays? I did a little research on the origins of this ban, and it appears that it began in 1948, with the birth of the state. Not only am I outraged that David Ben-Gurion wheeled and dealed us into this corner, but I’m astonished that a ban on public transportation was not met with a public outcry: After all, in 1948, hardly any Israelis owned cars! Agreeing to such a ban on most citizens’ one day off work amounted to nothing less than a violation of human rights, as it still does today.

Today the cry for transportation on Shabbat should be all the louder, as environmental consciousness is far higher, and with the majority of Israelis car owners, we should be doing our utmost to remove as many cars as possible from the roads, not add them. Moreover, trains are a perfect answer as far as not offending Orthodox sensibilities on Shabbat, as unlike buses, they’re out of everyone’s view.

The struggle to have non-Orthodox denominations recognized is misplaced. We should instead be working toward separation of church and state, period. I would even accept the European model, wherein state symbols are religious — i.e., the Swedish flag, the cross in the Italian courtroom — nor would I even mind the state offering religious services to those who seek them, i.e., marriage, divorce, mikveh. But the state’s role in our lives should end there.

The rabbinic establishment recognizing more and more denominations won’t get us anywhere as far as our daily lives are concerned; in fact, I don’t need or want their recognition. Instead, we need to address each rights violation as exactly that, and I propose beginning with public transportation on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, as inroads have already been made, i.e., interurban buses run to and from Eilat. Only such a hands-on strategy will get the state out of our personal business and allow us to conduct our daily lives like Westerners.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Right-wingers should be equally outraged ימיניים אמורים להתעצבן גם כן

While no one is surprised that I’m steamed about how the Knesset’s been spending its time lately, in fact, right-wingers should be angry too: With Iran breathing down our necks; Gilad Shalit still in the pit (Palis, after you get your state, will you let the Red Cross visit him???); the health, education, and welfare systems overextended; and the Palestinian Authority on the threshold of declaring independence (shouldn't they have to release Gilad Shalit first???), what legislature on earth (except a benighted one) would spend its time legislating a boycott prohibition; a law allowing communities to screen candidates for residency; an oath of allegiance requirement; a law allowing the Knesset to audit human rights groups (instead of simply visiting their Web sites); a bill opening the door for halakhic law to guide the courts and rescinding Arabic’s status as an official language; and debating whether J Street is Zionist?

Whether or not one agrees with the above measures, I’m certain we all agree that they do not further a single inch resolving the aforementioned issues. How can anyone, whether right or left, make an argument for a legislature spending the taxpayers’ time thusly? And no, I don’t agree that Knesset members aren’t answerable to their constituencies because they don’t have constituencies in the American electoral sense of the word. They’re elected officials, and instead of legislating, they’re sitting on their behinds McCarthyizing at our expense. Everyone should be mad as hell.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fairy Tale God אלוהים של אגדות

I can’t stop thinking about the following anecdote, told to me by the sibling of a Gan Israel (CHaBaD’s day camp network) camper, whose counselor told the campers:

“Gan Izzy saves lives. Ten years ago, a GI camper broke his arm while at camp. A few weeks later, his father took off work to take him to the doctor for a checkup. While they were at the doctor, some bad people flew planes into the building where the dad worked, but he wasn’t at work that day; he was with his son at the doctor. So Gan Izzy saved the father’s life.”

There are so many disturbing things about the above, I hardly know where to start. If any GI staff are reading this, let’s break it down: At any given workplace, on any given day, a certain percentage of the workers will be absent for any number of reasons. Every single individual who worked in the Twin Towers as of September 11, 2001 and who was absent from work that day has his or her own “Gan Izzy”: the traffic fine whose deadline for payment was that day, the tooth that broke while eating breakfast at a diner that morning, and any number of planned absences such as vacations, training, or family events (I can't even believe I'm explaining this elementary concept).

The leap from there to “Gan Izzy saved the dad’s life” is dangerously close to “…and therefore we should all send our kids to Gan Izzy, which is proven to be good insurance against being killed in a terror attack,” which in turn is dangerously cozy with “…affiliating with CHaBaD -- the operator of Gan Izzy -- is good insurance against any ill befalling you or your loved ones.” Moreoever, supposing one or more of the Twin Towers casualties did send their kids to Gan Izzy? How come it didn’t “work” for them?

Lubavitchers, believing that God [I refuse to call Her “haShem”] intervened for the outcome we all know to save those fortunate absent-from-work individuals is what we call “magical thinking”, which is not indulged in by rational, responsible adults. If you choose to indulge therein, it’s your right, but it is not your right to impart it to impressionable children.

As for the rest of us Jews: Perhaps this will give you pause next time you’re solicited by CHaBaD for a donation. Like all fundamentalist groups from evangelicals to the Islamic Movement (that’s right -- ask any mom in Um al-Fahm who runs the best daycare), the reason CHaBaD can offer quality, appealing programs is by keeping costs down, which they do via 1) donations and 2) low-cost labor, i.e., mobilizing their own young people. CHaBaD does not have the monopoly on Jewish continuity -- unless we choose to hand it to them on a silver platter. There are plenty of worthy Jewish causes that could use your donation that do not promote magical thinking. I encourage you to donate thereto.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learn a dirty Hebrew word: "Political" "מלה גסה: "פוליטי

In case it's escaped your notice, social protest here is deplorably unsophisticated. Three examples:

A female Jewish cashier dates a male Palestinian bagger, and all hell breaks loose. The local rabbi, who would be the sheriff if this were a western, pays a visit to the store CEO demanding that the latter do something, and poor Rami Levi twists himself into a pretzel trying to please everyone. In the process he sets himself up as a social worker, relationship chaperone, and babysitter, and forgets what he presumably does for a living: He runs a business. In a real Western country, where clerics don't intimidate the ordinary citizen, Levi would tell Rabbi Perl privately, "I run a business, and my employee policies are implemented with that one goal in mind. I regret that I'm not the address for your problems."

And in a real Western country, Levi's statement to the press would be: "We at Rami Levi do not purport to intervene in the individual relationships between our employees. As long as their relations do not interfere with their performing their duties, it's not our business. With all due respect, I direct Rabbi Perl to address his congregants on this issue, not us. Meanwhile, as always, we invite all our neighbors to continue to shop with us, and in return we pledge to continue to provide quality groceries at reasonable prices to all our customers."

Thank the Lord for Yossi Sarid. Unfortunately, we in Israel suffer from a disease called We're Not Political-itis, which manifests itself in social protesters resolutely insisting that their cause isn't, God forbid, political. Yet Sarid reminds us that curiously, there are no tent protests in the territories. Hello, Israel: How could anything be more political? When will Israelis stop being intimidated by the right? How long, Lord, before we demand what is due us?

That aside, I have a problem with the whole "I refuse to live anywhere but Tel Aviv" mindset. What's wrong with a 45-minute train commute to and from Ashdod, or a 10-minute commute to Lod? Who wants to live in Lod, you ask? Well, if a critical mass of tent-dwellers does, they'll benefit, and so will Lod. That's how organic communities form: Greenwich Village was originally populated by struggling artists. Ditto for similar urban districts all over the West, which morphed into bastions of -- you guessed it -- openness and tolerance. But if all the open, tolerant folks insist on living nowhere but Tel Aviv, what direction do they expect housing prices to go?

What a shame Ir Amim's Orit Noy didn't "tell it like it is" regarding artists performing in Silwan. She states her protest is "personal, not political" (there we go again: "Not political"). Why is Noy afraid to take a stand on behalf of Ir Amim, who's been valiantly fighting Elad for decades? Again: What could be more political?

And what's "active cooperation with a 'radical political move'" supposed to mean? Don't hide, Noy. Just state your case clearly: "We oppose patronizing Elad-sponsored events held in Silwan, as Elad has been harassing Silwan residents and making their lives miserable for decades." Case closed. What's so hard about that?

What in God's name are people afraid of? It must be the same fear that causes Israelis to incessantly use כ, or *keh* — a prefix that translates as "approximately" — anytime numbers are involved, i.e., *ani gara k'arba'im kilometer mi'Eilat* ["I live approximately 40 kilometers from Eilat"]; *k'esrim achuz miHaOchlusiya aravi* ["Approximately 20% of the population is Arab"].

From what lawsuit are people trying to cover their behinds? Are they afraid that if they don't use כ, someday they'll be subpoenaed and be required to prove that the distance from their house to Eilat is precisely 40 km? That precisely 1.5 million Israelis are Arab? It's Loony Toons. But then so is a CEO of a supermarket chain placating a local rabbi.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Boycotting and Goldstoning חרם וגולדסטון

The talkbackers to Karni Eldad's defense of the Boycott Law say it better than I could, although I did edit:

JJ Burke wrote:

"If the settlers had any confidence in their arguments, they wouldn't need to mangle the law to silence their opponents."

David wrote:

"1. You did not go to Judah & Samaria to be human shields, but based on Messianic belief, so don't feed us that bull. Maybe the Arabs like martyr stories, but we don't. 2. You enjoy inexpensive housing and municipal services paid for by our taxes. 3. You have an entire army wasting resources on protecting you. I'd be surprised if your taxes cover that. 4. You cause millions to be spent on roads and utilities to support your settlements. I'd be surprised if your taxes cover that. 5. The decision to settle territories was not made democratically, even if it was eventually adopted by the governments, so let's not pretend the right is huge fans of democracy. 6. Thank you for not deploying supermarket inspectors to examine whether I buy Arabs' olive oil and not settlers' olive oil. The fact that you even bring this up as some sort of “capitulation” on your part should make everyone of sound mind shudder at the implications of the crazy thoughts you and your buddies consider acceptable, moral, and cultured discourse. You have become ridiculous. Wake up.

Nahman Umani wrote:

"She’s kidding, right? If this is for real, it shows us how much the settler movement is living in a parallel universe and that there is no real way of reconciliation. She is presenting us with the prospect of a zero-sum game. Tragic."

And I ask: If the settlers believe their cause (and livelihood) is just, why don't they just publish their own list of Judaean and Samaritan products, a la the Christian Yellow Pages? Why force the consumer to rely on (and decipher) BDS information, some of which is admittedly questionable? Nu, Yesha? I challenge you to pick up the marketing gauntlet. Let the consumer public decide who's right and who's wrong.

Know what galls me about the settlers? The pathetic Kiryat Shmona library, the only public library for miles, was closed for lack of funds; the Sderot Cinemateque, the only one in the entire Negev, is in danger of closing for lack of funds; and meanwhile, in the settlements, the beat goes on: paved access roads, lush, watered lawns, a theater in Ariel (because the five-minute drive to Kfar Saba is too far), museums (?!) -- plenty of money for those. But for the weak population who's really on the front lines -- being pounded by Katyushas and Kassams -- the well runs dry.

What I don't understand is all the secular Israelis who defend the settlers. I want to ask them: Don't you understand that they don't give a rat's _ss about you? They're totally in it for themselves. Karni Eldad cries crocodile tears about her "worthy sons" who defend "our" cafes and pubs. How about my sons (OK, nephews, but you get the idea) who have to serve in Hebron to defend her red-roofed house in Tekoa? How fair is that?

And now we turn to the proposed bill to audit human rights groups that "fed" info to Goldstone. Journalists Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis, as well as Haaretz, have got my knickers in a twist almost as much as the Boycott Law. They’ve done it yet again in this headline: “Lieberman blasts PM, Likud ministers for refusing to probe left-wing groups”.

Why, oh why, do the reporters play directly into the right’s hands by referring to human rights groups as “left-wing”? Not only is this practice journalistically unacceptable, as “left-wing” is a subjective term that can’t provably be applied to non-profits; but in applying it to rights groups, it perpetuates the twisted notion that human rights is the exclusive purview of the left, which is the whole problem. I appeal to all journalists: Please, please refer to organizations by what they do, not some knee-jerk label.

The article headed MK Zuabi red-carded for role in 2010 flotilla tells us: ""The Ethics Committee said that Zuabi...dealt a blow to the Knesset's dignity and the public's trust therein."

No, I'm afraid that "achievement" goes to the Knesset itself, for passing deplorable laws instead of governing the country. Way to go, “Ethics” Committee.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pink: Not just another color ורוד: לא סתם עוד גוון

Even if you subscribe to the belief that girls and boys inherently differ — as argued by a friend who describes her son’s first encounter with a tractor tire at age three: “He stood there staring at it in awe…my daughter would never have exhibited such behavior” — it’s hard to argue that the deluge of Everything Pink, Princess, and Sparkly (after which they graduate to Sexy, Slutty, and Bratty) is doing our girls any good.

First, let’s take a look at the color (actually shade) pink. To those who shrug and ask, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a color,” I ask in kind: What’s the big deal about a swastika? It’s just an ornamental symbol that was in use for centuries before there were ever such creatures as Nazis. See what I mean? Nothing that ubiquitous, that pervasive, is ever “just a…” We can’t turn the clock back to when pink was just a color any more than we can go back in time to when a swastika was just a decoration.

Speaking of going back in time, let’s take a look at the quintessential female-stereotyped toy: the Susie Homemaker Oven As much as I disapprove of its message that cooking and baking are women’s jobs, note that 1) It’s — get ready! — green, and 2) It actually does something, i.e., it’s a tool used to produce, create, make something — not to mention promote learning a life skill — as opposed to the overwhelming quantity of products aimed at today’s girls, which encourage them to 1) dress up, 2) look good, and 3) get pampered.

Even classic toys like Lego, which encourage building and creating, now have a special “Girls” category, and parents unfortunately seem to swallow whole the Legos premise that kids’ interests break down by gender. Instead of asking, “Why aren’t there more ‘girls’ Legos’?” how come parents aren’t simply buying the “boys’ Legos” for their girls? Did I miss the Gender Police at Toys r Us?

Lastly, let’s turn our attention to this century’s corporate juggernaut, the Disney princesses. Look closer: They’re no longer innocent. In fact, they’ve gotten a sexy 21st-century makeover Also, note the facial expressions: In the last two examples, Belle and Sleeping Beauty have coy, come-hither expressions that they didn’t have when they were “born”. In other words, Disney princesses who began their “careers” as girls have "inexplicably" morphed into young women, i.e., they have sexual potential. Whether or not it’s not subtle, it's insidious, and like any subliminal message, deserves our attention.

So, what do we do? Well, for one thing, we can make a Present Pact: Next time you’re choosing a present for a kid, choose a gender-neutral one, or if those are too hard to find, at least don’t drench the recipient, if she’s a girl, in yet more pink; and if a boy, in yet more macho, superhero black. For newborns I recommend skipping a gift for Baby entirely and instead pampering the parents with a nice body products or coffee sampler gift pack. After all, being pampered is a privilege, not a right, right?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Taking bets: Is Storm a boy, or a girl? האם סטורם בת, או בן

Regarding the Canadian couple who have chosen not to reveal the sex of their third child, I’m reprinting here some of the comments thereon, with my occasional responses interspersed in red. As you’ll see, the first few commenters don’t take the notion seriously at all, remarking snarkily about how much therapy the kid’ll surely need. Below the comments, I’ll offer my thoughts:

2. kris
I hope in Canada there's plenty of funding for therapy.

3. lk
These people are just setting their kids (all of them) up for years of therapy.

12. Tara Lindis
I am currently pregnant with our second child, and …as we prepare therefor, we have been searching for gender-neutral clothing and ending up frustrated by the lack of variety - or that anything remotely gender neutral is [to be found] in the “boys’” department. I believe it is indicative of the increasing disparity of gender identities.

As someone currently looking for baby clothes and as someone who did not have her first pink dress until she was six, I find the lack of primary colors in children's clothing disturbing: Everything is either pink, or camouflage.

A friend of mine from Finland tells me of a trend there wherein parents, when asked if their child is a boy or a girl, respond, "It's a person." I find this fascinating. Surely, there is some balance to be achieved between the Canadian couple and the nauseatingly limiting array of baby clothes on sale at Babies R Us? Isn't army fatigues for newborn boys and bikinis and high heels for three-year-old girls just as twisted as raising a child without any gender at all?

15. Kara
So... if I am not supposed to, or can't, use "he" or "she" to refer to this child..... do I use "it"? That is the only other pronoun available.
Uh, no, it’s not. I’ve seen: co / co’s; hizzer; hir; s/he; and others I can’t recall. Why not expand the options, instead of limiting them and ourselves?

19. Anne
It is not as if the child can be kept in the dark about its own gender much past the age of three, if that long. I doubt that a gender-neutral upbringing until then — exposing the kid to both dolls and cars — would have long-term traumatic impact. If gender identification is ingrained, then the child will eventually identify with its gender anyway. If gender identification is not ingrained — well, then they have proven their point that …societal norms rather than biology …determine who we are — and the kid will be fine.

21. jzzy55
What is the advantage of being gender-free?
I suppose the same advantage as not having to wear a yellow Star of David patch bearing the word “Jude”: It’s no one’s damn business and should be irrelevant, with the exception perhaps of the individual’s medical providers.

22. miami lawyer mama
We can only know so much about newborns, and one of the few concrete things we can know at birth IS what's between their legs (along with their weights and lengths). That's why those three things are the most asked [about]. Because seriously, what are we supposed to do? Sit down with newborns and have a conversation to "get to know" them?

Well, I suggest we can each actively make an effort to not ask the gender, or if the gender is known, not dwelling on it, and especially not making dorky and / or sexualizing comments such as [said in an artificially high voice to a girl] “Oh, such a sweetheart! She’s gonna knock ‘em dead!” / [said in an artificially low voice to a boy] “Hey, Big Guy. You’re a little man, aren’t you? Go knock ‘em dead, Bucko!”

Other suggested topics: the birth (without probing too much); nursing (without getting too intimate); how sibs are reacting, if any; the name; the weather; how ‘bout them [name sports team]? See? It’s actually easier than we think to not dwell on gender.

25. kateNonymous
While when I was a child, pink was “for girls”, today it seems as if pink is the only color “for girls”. There is relentlessness to the shade that it lacked in my own youth. Similarly, there were no babies wearing clothing printed with things like "Diva". That is not what we want to teach our daughter, or the message we want to send to the world.

I never have a problem with people who ask if she's a boy or a girl, or who refer to her in the masculine. She's a baby, and it's hard to tell at this age. But on more than one occasion I've had someone say in an accusing tone, "It's hard to tell when you dress her in blue."

My response to the next person [who says that] will be, "Really? I'm wearing blue. Can you tell I'm a girl?"

33. Hadfield:
I tried a very mild version of this. People would say "what a handsome boy!" and I'd just say, "Thank you" instead of telling them that my daughter is a girl (and vice versa with my son). But at a certain point, before they were 16 months old, my children would look at me with surprise, and some dismay, as if I weren't sticking up for them. They seemed to want the correction to be made.

While it might be crazy to ignore sex distinctions, it's equally crazy--and much more widespread--to highlight them constantly: Not all clothing, toys, haircuts, and types of play should be determined by gender. Yet marketers and parents seem to be rigid on these points--sickeningly so. I'd rather be treated as gender neutral than forced to paint my nails and wear high heels and tight shirts — and for some reason, elementary school girls are doing these things these days!

37. jh
Has it occurred to anyone that the kid could be intersex? This is actually a relatively common occurrence. If this is the case, the parents are perhaps taking a risk in being so public about rejecting binary gender for the kid, i.e., a lot of scrutiny of the family and the kid might not be so desirable either. On the other hand, what else is better? And who's to say?
I'm not saying this is definitely the case; obviously we simply don't know. Yet [it’s] worth considering before jumping all over the family’s choices. Indeed, worth considering as we think about gender, period.

43. Maggie
The tone of the commenters before me makes it completely clear to me how valuable this family’s action is. And how much I would like to see parents in general raising "children" rather than choosing to raise "a girl" this time and "a boy" next time. There is …damage in being told -- by teachers and neighbors, not just parents -- that what you are doing is 'too girly' for a boy or 'too mannish' for a girl.

Perhaps if all parents were raising gender-neutral children, as Storm's parents are, the world would be a bit safer for the kids who really aren't "boys" or "girls".

47. Tiara
While a more gender-neutral approach to raising children than our current standard would be good, a completely gender-neutral approach is impossible and unwise. That said, it's amazing how fixated we are on gender. It's the first thing asked about a baby: Boy, or girl? It shouldn't be the first thing we care about, and it shouldn't be artificially ignored.

55. sRose 1210
We're not genderless, and … these "progressive" parents aren’t doing their anon-tot any favors. If that doesn't scar them or ill prepare them for adulthood, their names surely will.
Let me guess, sRose: Your kids are named…let’s see now; what’re the trending names this year? Max and Emily? Oh no, wait: That’s so Last Decade. Or did you decide to just “blend” with Susan and Michael?

62. rh
I don't believe that a boy walks earlier and a girl has better language skills. That was made up long ago and now we’ve become to believe it. And that is how we are conditioned, and we project this on to our kids. It's time to wake up to new consciousness, and I congratulate all parents that give that freedom to their kids.

...And now back to our original programming: Commenter no. 4, slKim, basically sums it up for me:
"I can think of lots of ways to challenge gender norms [other] than this kind of veiling."

While I genuinely respect Storm’s parents and wish more would challenge gender norms and stereotypes, they may be killing their experiment with all the media attention. I’m imagining the pointing and whispering whenever they’re outside their home, and it’s just got to be hard on Storm’s siblings, if not the parents. It seems to me that they could’ve gotten the same point across by buying a dozen white onesies and having them printed with: “I’m not just a girl; I’m a person.” Or how about: “I’m not a girly-girl. I’m a kid.” For a boy: "I'm a person first, then I'm a boy." CafePress, I’ll be the first in line to buy one!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Women, don't give UP your surnames; give them PRIMACY נשים, תנו שמותכן זכות קדימה

Please welcome guest blogger Mark Tyler, who recently took his wife's surname:


The following explains why I believe the woman's last name should be given primacy rather than given up. In the ongoing discourse about last names, marriage, and children, nearly all of the focus is on the choices that women face upon marriage, i.e., whether to keep their birth names, take their husbands’ surnames, hyphenate, use one name at home and another at work, etc. I propose a totally new approach: On marriage, the woman keeps her surname, the man formally takes his wife's surname, and the children of the couple are given that surname. Further, if an unmarried couple has a child, it is given the mother's surname, while the father retains his surname.

This solution is superior to our (Western) traditional one. One advantage thereof is that with both divorce and single parenthood so prevalent, yet with divorced mothers still obtaining custody nearly 100% of the time, having kids bear their mother’s name simply makes sense. For example, under our current system, Miss Salt marries Mr. Pepper, becomes Mrs. Pepper, and their children are named Pepper. If, as happens about 50% of the time, the Peppers divorce, Mrs. Pepper will likely retain custody of the Pepper children. If she later marries Mr. Marjoram, she becomes Mrs. Marjoram, as will any offspring of that new marriage, resulting in Peppers and Marjorams living at the same address; whereas under my proposal, when Miss Salt first marries, the couple is Mr. and Mrs. Salt, and their children are Salts. After their divorce and Mrs. Salt’s remarriage, the new family – the couple and the kids from both marriages – remain Salts. Far less confusion, I’d say. And radical, too, I admit — yet it makes more sense than the present system.

It becomes even more logical when applied to out-of-wedlock children. Today, it's not uncommon for a single mom to be living with 2 or 3 kids under her roof, each of whom bear a last name other than hers (and each others'). My proposal eliminates that confusion, if not the attendant social dysfunction.

As long as we're being “radical”, let's go a step further and put men and women on equal footing when it comes to identifying their personal statuses, which should be irrelevant to everyone except the IRS and Social Security. Under our current system, men retain their privacy, i.e., they are all "Mr.", whereas women are still marked as "Miss" and “Mrs." despite the fact that "Ms." has uncomfortably coexisted with them for more than 30 years. I therefore propose using “Ms.” for all women and “Mr.” for men - totally equal.

So, to go back to our example with this refinement, Ms. Salt marries Mr. Pepper, he becomes Mr. Salt, she remains Ms. Salt, and their children are named Salt. If, as happens about 50% of the time, the Salts divorce, Ms. Salt will likely retain custody of the Salt children. If she later marries Mr. Marjoram, he becomes Mr. Salt, as will the offspring of that new marriage. So everyone living at that address will be a Salt. While the system is female-centric, it makes profound sense given our societal structure, and it is as even as can be made possible: All men and all women are treated equally when it comes to title. The only difference is that men change names upon marriage, and deal with that issue should there be a divorce.

Should a divorce occur, the man has the option of reclaiming his original surname. Some will, so our first Mr. Salt will revert to being Mr. Pepper; some won't, probably wishing to retain a naming connection to their kids, so our first Mr. Salt will remain Mr. Salt. Either way, from a naming standpoint, the man's decision is irrelevant. Take our Mr. Salt / Mr. Pepper: If he meets Ms. Nutmeg and marries her, he becomes Mr. Nutmeg and their children will be Nutmegs. If they have a child outside marriage, s/he will also be a Nutmeg. Since each child derives her last name solely from her mother, regardless of marriage, the man's naming decision does not matter.

To make one further point, men of course have the option of using their birth surnames in business or whatever other aspect they wish; just their official surname changes upon marriage.If society were to go in this direction, I'm confident we’d all adjust, and women would even have a good laugh or two: Wedding announcements stating, “the groom will retain his name professionally”; men bitching and moaning about all the paperwork involved in a name change. High school reunions will never be the same: The guys will wear the nametags that read “Bill (Clinton) Rodham” and “Tim (Robbins) Sarandon.” And not a few women would look at their daughters proudly and reflect that they will “carry on the family name”.

Mark Tyler

Mark, I congratulate you. Just one note regarding “Ms.” It’s been suggested that “Ms.” largely failed because someone(s) tried to reinvent the wheel, i.e., if instead those women had simply declared that all women, whether married or not, are now “permitted” to use “Mrs.”, “Miss” would’ve dropped off the horizon, along with all the ambivalence associated with “Ms.” So I’ll take this opportunity to re-propose it: Let’s all us women adopt “Mrs.”.

But hold on: Why not take titles to their logical conclusion? In keeping with my claim that gender is a social construct, why not both genders just adopt “Mr.”? If you think about it, in all cases outside of formal business correspondence, any title is superfluous. Why does my magazine address label even need one? As long as they get my name (and address) correct, who cares what my gender is? In cases where gender matters, such as research, the researcher can certainly ask the respondent to indicate it. Otherwise, I can’t think of a single instance wherein an individual seeking to correspond with me needs to know whether I’m a man or a woman. Anyone ready to jump?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Proposed circumcision ban האיסור על ברית מילה על הפרק

At the behest of my cousin, who blogs here and wondered why I’ve been silent on the proposed circumcision ban, I concede that she’s right; while I don’t have a strong opinion thereon (perhaps because I don't have sons?), after having done my research, which consisted of reading this article and the first page of comments (which seems to cover all the bases), I’ll weigh in. First, though, I’d like to quote two of my favorite comments, the first actually being more appropriate to a discussion of another controversial procedure, but I’ve blogged on that procedure already, so I paraphrase it here:


"It's the anti-abortion people who should oppose circumcision. After all, either they care about those helpless little babies AFTER they are born too...or they are just a bunch of windbags using fake concern for zygotes to try and control women's sexual behavior, and care nothing for the actual infants / children / adults once they are no longer useful as 'punishment' for sex."

Well said, NotKidding!


"At what point does a collection of cells become a baby? Have your own opinion on that? Based upon…? See what I mean? Everyone has their own definitions... You are clearly entitled to oppose abortion... however you are not entitled to restrict my rights based thereon.... It is the woman's choice.... If she believes as you do, then she won't have one…no one is forced to have an abortion; one can only be forced not to.

Back to the topic at hand... how much government interference in our lives are we going to allow?... This might be a pertinent topic IF circumcision were required by law, but it is not. Therefore, once again: It is the individual’s choice, and it should remain so."


What I am getting from the comments is that a small group claims to be extremely concerned about innocent infants’ genitals. Why is that? Who gets this hyped up about this issue?

I don’t buy the HIV prevention, sexual sensation, or aesthetic arguments, either pro or con. In a case like Africa’s, you do whatever it takes to prevent the spread of AIDS and save lives. As for sexual pleasure, it’s a toss-up: Some claim more, some claim less, both intact and circumcised. Aesthetics are certainly a matter of taste. Nor do I believe that banning circumcision makes a society more evolved, just as banning abortion certainly does not make a society more evolved.

I also reject, “It’s child abuse, and where does it end?” I don’t know. Where does it end? So far, it seems to end at the shouts of mazel tov! Circumcison doesn’t fit the parameters of child abuse as the social work and child protection community recognizes it, i.e., circumcisees are not an at-risk juvenile population and are not a risk to society due to their being more likely to grow up to be violent / abusers.

My proposal: Circumcision should be legal provided: 1) a topical anaesthetic is used; 2) health insurance doesn’t cover it. It is, after all, elective. There. Everybody happy?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We have to save our bellies for our husbands? עלינו לשמור את בטנינו לבעלינו

I’m going to open this piece with the caveat that it’s going to contain a non-PC descriptive phrase, namely “dressing like a slut”. Or alternatively, as this articulate Amazon reviewer put it, "the slut uniform". So if you’re squeamish about what that phrase invokes in your imagination, read no further.*

I justify using this phrase by way of reminding readers that language and words serve us as code; non-PC though it be, “dressing like a slut / tart / hooker” describes an adequately consensual phenomenon, thereby eliminating the need for illustrations complete with arrows and labels and bulleted lists, i.e., when we hear “dresses like a slut”, we each know what we mean.

Now enter Secret Keeper Girl, which I came across in my cyber travels, a concept for Christian girls and their moms that advocates dressing modestly. So far, in light of our over-sexualized, under-parented young population, I’m down with that. The site even features a Truth or Bare Fashion Test designed to help girls dress in the latest styles, yet modestly. The first tip talks about showing too much belly. It explains, “Bellies are intoxicating, and we need to save that for our husbands!”

Well...not exactly. Here’s where my philosophy diverges from theirs: I presume that we don’t want to show too much belly so we don’t look like sluts, i.e., so we’ll be taken seriously, and not just related to as sex objects. This is usually the point where a young woman presuming to be a third-wave feminist chirps, “But I choose to dress this way [revealingly]. It’s my choice to flaunt my body.”

At this juncture, I’d ask said young woman: Are you willing to own that choice? Are you informed about the risks entailed in sex? Do you carry contraceptives with you and know how to use them? Do you know self-defense? Are you as aware of Aunt Ovum as you are of Aunt Flow?

Because “we have to save [our bellies] for our husbands” falls apart if the girl should ultimately reject Christianity, or the part thereof that prohibits physical intimacy outside marriage; whereas the second-wave feminist outlook — “We don’t want to come off like sluts” — will serve her no matter what she ultimately rejects or adopts.

So while I confess I am quite taken with the idea of fashionable-yet-modest, it’s a shame that it’s narrowly associated with religious views. Anyone want to step up to the plate and start a secular version of Secret Keeper Girls? Let’s call it the “Tell it Like it is Girls”!

* I considered “bimbo” instead of “slut”, but decided that no, they’re two different phenomena, thus not synonymous.

Friday, April 15, 2011

If this is "kashrut", count me out "נמאס לי "מכשרות

Yesterday Haaretz reported on events venues, specifically wedding halls, whose owners have been threatened with loss of their “kashrut” certifications if they host same-sex couples. Note that I put “kashrut” in quotes. The reason is that for me, kashrut is about the spirit, not just the letter, of the law, i.e., it involves ethics, not merely the gushpanka of some mashgiach that the meat and dairy utensils and work surfaces don’t make any contact.

For a certain portion of the public, kashrut certification is akin to an establishment’s certification that it has passed fire, building, and health codes. Accordingly, where secular consumers wouldn’t patronize an establishment lacking the first three, Orthodox consumers won’t patronize an establishment lacking the latter. So in effect, establishments operating without kashrut certification are the victims of an institutionalized boycott: A state-run agency — the rabbinate — is actually violating the law that guarantees freedom of occupation. Furthermore, the rabbinate is now in violation of the Nakba Law, which contains a clause prohibiting state-funded institutions from engaging in incitement. Because after all, what is refusal to host gays but incitement, as it implies that gays are untouchables?

I’m certain that if it hasn’t happened already, wedding halls will be threatened with losing their “kashrut” certificates if they host events wherein there is mixed dancing, or what is deemed morally abhorrent music or other entertainment. So what are we non-Orthodox to do? While turning to the courts is nice (assuming they decide in our favor), it’s time-consuming and costly. Instead, there is something we can do immediately, and that’s ceasing to view ourselves as victims of the Orthodox establishment, and starting to view ourselves exactly as the Orthodox, i.e., a consumer group with power.

A restaurant owner is quoted in the article as saying, “…he was not refused over the issue of kashrut certification,…[but rather because] there was sensitivity at his establishment over the issue of [same-sex] weddings because of his religious clientele.” Well you know what? I’m sensitive to insensitivity. I and my public — the non-Orthodox — have our “special needs” too: We have the “need” to not be complicit in intolerant practices. And the natural followup thereto is to counter-boycott, that is, to boycott venues that have kashrut certification.

Upon giving an affirmative reply to a couple’s inquiry, “Are you kosher?” and then hearing the prospective clients say, “Then no thanks, we’re not interested,” venue owners will sit up and pay attention far faster than they will to some verdict issued after having been dragged through the courts at a glacial pace.

As far as adhering to Jewish dietary restrictions, a certification-free place (they should actually hang signs that say “We’re kashrut-free. We welcome all clientele!”) can meet our needs. The client chooses the menu, after all; all it takes is choosing a meat-only / dairy-only menu that includes only permitted foods. If Orthodox guests are invited, let them do as they would if invited to any event: Decline, or attend but don’t eat, or eat what they deem acceptable (cold produce; soft drinks for instance). It’s not a host’s duty to ensure that every single guest’s dietary limitations are taken into account; it is a host’s duty to make sure to provide enough selection so that every guest can eat something; in any case, no one is going to starve.

Business owners listen to one thing: their bottom line. As soon as non-kosher businesses begin to realize that they’re a niche market, i.e., they serve a certain clientele, they’ll respond accordingly. But first, non-Orthodox consumers must take the initiative. We have to realize our power as a consumer group with our “special needs”, just the same as the Orthodox are recognized as consumers with their “special needs”. We need to fight Rabbinic Rule over our celebrations from the ground up — or shall we say, from the wallet up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Has Seder gone cutesy? האם סדר פסח הפך ל"פנן"

When I read this article, I thought I’d plotz: Now we’re supposed to be concerned about the 10 Plagues’ psychological effects on our delicate little tatelehs? I give you a few excerpts from this absurd piece:

“It leads me to wonder,” says Nussbaum. “Is it possible to engage with the Seder’s graphic illustrations of God’s might without leaving the kids emotionally or spiritually scarred?”

Oh, please. This is clearly an attempt to find a “fresh angle” to a festival about which — admit it — everything’s already been said.

“Some of the things [in the Haggadah] sound amazingly scary and awful,” said Miami-based psychotherapist and author M. Gary Neuman.

So now we’re consulting psychotherapists about the Haggada’s effect on the *kinder*? Spare me.

Then we have psychologist Clark Goldstein helpfully advising parents to:

“…take their cues from their children, paying attention to the child’s age and disposition…If the child brings up concerns… address them. Try not to ask leading questions, like, ‘Does that section scare you?’ Let them lead with any concerns or questions they might have.”

Dear God. Was this quote lifted from some Parents’ Guide to Divorce or God Forbid, Death? Have we lost our minds? This is nothing less than a meshugeneh stop along the Coddling Continuum. Disturbing? We were shown Night and Fog at Hebrew School at age nine, and I don’t recall ever even considering approaching my parents about its, shall we say, disturbing aspects. And now we’re supposed to add “Possible Effect of 10 Plagues on Yankeleh’s Sensitive Psyche” to our list of 21st-century Parenting Concerns, underneath Exposure to Germs and Abduction by Sex Predator?

Later on, Neuman adds: “Seder’s focus ‘should be about the children, and connecting to them.”

Says who? Actually, if I hear one more person say this, I’m going to throw myself into a vat of locusts. Let’s take a minute to realign our tires here: The Haggada was compiled between 160 and 360 CE. Granted, the Mishnaic concept of “engaging children” is obviously light years from ours; and certainly no one wants to return to the days of Uncle Moishe or Zaydeh droning through the Haggada so tediously that a vat of locusts would actually have beeen a relief from your boredom, but does that mean we have to go to the other extreme and turn Seder into an episode of Sesame Street?

Cannot Seder be lively and thought-provoking without having to dodge whizzing stuffed frogs and Styrofoam hail? In short, where is it written that engaging has to equal fun? Fun is what Purim is for. Fun is what birthdays are for. Not everything that occurs in the presence of children has to be fun.

The Haggada tells of a solemn, dramatic event, and the telling thereof should be appropriately solemn and dramatic. One of the major themes is to “tell your sons [i.e., children] of the Exodus. I’d venture that the reason Seder is so central to Jews’ collective memory is precisely because of its solemnity and drama. Do we want our kids’ memories of Seder to be no more impactful than an afternoon at Discovery Zone?

Next, I looked up the product pictured with the article, Passover Ten Plagues Finger Puppets. Here’s my Amazon review thereof:

"...products like this are a turn-off for me. First of all, a basic "requirement" for me to buy any Jewish-themed product is the inclusion of Hebrew. Where's the Hebrew? So right away I'm not buying it. The other turn-off is that I'm loath to add anything to the Seder that's not already there, especially if it's something cutesy. You can have a good time at Seder and include the kids without turning it into a nursery school. This is pushing it too far in that direction for me."

It’s not the commercial aspect to which I object; I'm certainly in favor of clever, enterprising innovation. But to purport to sell a Jewish product sans Hebrew? Veto from here: Hebrew is what held us together for over two millennia in the Diaspora; I refuse to patronize any Jewish enterprise that omits it. Even if the recipient doesn’t know Hebrew — and I’m aware that most Jews don’t — the visual of the Hebrew words for the Plagues does have its effect, however small, and does transform the product into something that if not holy, is special: It’s not Just Another Toy in the kids’ collection.

To that end, I wrote to both companies to ask: Where’s the Hebrew? Perhaps if others followed suit, the manufacturers would be convinced to add it; certainly no one would be opposed to its addition, and who knows? It might even boost sales.

I’m not calling for a boycott, here; Lord knows there are more important products to boycott; I simply seek to call attention to the fact that Hebrew is not just another language: It’s our “brand”; without it, we become “generic”. And I’ll jump into a vat of locusts before I let 5,000 years of history go down the drain like so much chametz.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Divorcing? Time to Take Back That Name מתגרשת? הגיע הזמן לקחת את שמך בחזרה

I recently noticed that, instead of reverting to her birth name, a divorced acquaintance of mine chose to hyphenate her and her ex’s surnames (her children have his surname). When I asked her why, she replied, “For the kids”, i.e., I want them to feel that we share a surname. Another acquaintance, a victim of abuse during her marriage, kept her ex’s surname even though it quite obviously doesn’t even reflect her heritage. Same reason given: the kids.

Both of these women divorced when their kids were young. Clearly, when they were in the “eye of the storm” so to speak, and their kids’ worlds (if not their own) were falling apart, these mothers sought to retain some semblance of order and stability, which is understandable in such a situation.

Yet also clearly — yet nonetheless understandably — they were not looking ahead: They were only looking at the next ten or so years during which anyone — namely schools and Scout troops — were going to care about or relate to the family as a unit. As far as the bureaucracies are concerned, after the age of 18, those children are individuals in their own right; it is no longer relevant who their progenitors are, or certainly if they are linked by a name. They go on to live their lives, presumably for decades, and Mom is stuck bearing the name of a man she may detest. How logical is that?

As soon as a person is an adult, the rest of us don’t have any expectations one way or the other regarding her surname matching those of her parents; in fact, we don’t expect matching names at all. I therefore urge divorcing women who took their husbands’ names at marriage to take the opportunity to remedy a decision they likely now regret, and reclaim their birth names. Not only is it likely to feel liberating during what may be an oppressive time, but the message to one’s children is likely more empowering than it is destablilizing: We make mistakes, but while we can’t go back and undo our mistakes, neither are we bound by them; we can shed the trappings of those mistakes and start anew, which is not synonymous with severing our link to those we love.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is it the schools' job to foster creativity? זה תפקידם של ביה"ס לטפח יצירתיות

OK, in the wake of having received for the third time, the link to Ken Robinson’s video Do Schools Kill Creativity? I watched it all the way through, and my responses thereto are interspersed by timepoint:

1:10 - Our kids no longer believe that learning = employment. This is a huge generalization. I believe that middle- and upper-class kids do see the connection; it’s likely true that lower-class kids do not. Yet I’m not sure it’s the schools — or anyone — that are “to blame”. My brother-in-law, who taught for several years at an inner-city school, says that he actually worked alongside dedicated teachers and felt the school did a good job. Yet what did the kids see at home, on the streets? That those earning truckloads of money were the drug dealers, while those with legitimate jobs barely got by.

1:50 -
Our present system of education evolved during the Englightenment. That’s right, and it’s no coincidence that it was called that. There’s nothing wrong with a classical education, as exemplified by St. John’s College. The content should not be conflated with the means; just because we might aspire to a classical education does not mean it must necessarily be “inflicted upon” the pupil.

2:43 -
Modern schools were necessitated by the Industrial Revolution. Correct. Machinery replaced human (child) labor, women were recruited to the workplace, now what were we to do with the children while their parents were at work? It does not follow that modern schools follow the industrial model (6:37) whereby students are schooled in “batches” called “age groups”. Schools educate by age group because, if you’ve noticed, human development roughly (or not-so-roughly) follows age: Children of a given age have generally mastered certain skills, as well as certain attention spans, impulsiveness, depth perception, and empathy, just to name a few. Sure, a given kid might have achieved proficiency therein at the same rate as kids a year or two older or younger than s/he, but there’s nothing revolutionary in this discovery. That’s why, from middle school onward, the age groupings for certain subjects are fluid. I doubt a six-year-old and a ten-year-old are ordinarily going to get much out of being taught together.

3:15 -
the division of pupils into academically inclined / vocationally inclined. I believe that most of us veer toward one or the other, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, here in Israel, educators are talking about “bringing back the vocational track”. I don’t know where it went; from 7th grade on, where I went to school, all students (regardless of gender) could take metal, wood, automotive, foods, and clothing as electives, as well as music and visual arts. And you had to take a certain number of electives. Yes, we were all also required to complete a certain number of credits of English, math, science, PE, and social studies. It seemed fair to me. Yes, the “non-academics” struggled with these, and I struggled in gym. Would it be preferable to have separate vocational high schools where the requirements in the academic subjects are relaxed? In terms of efficiency and economics, the answer is probably yes. But do so and people start to scream “segregation!”

3:27 - “Most of us suffered with the present system”. Another generalization. School was school. Was it a party? No. Was it oppressive? No.

5:42 - the arts are the victims of our present system. My high school was strong in the arts. So is my kids’ high school. So strong is the latter, in fact, that what I believe to be a disproportionate number of the pupils (particularly the girls) are channeled theretoward. I sit in our local clinic, where their work is displayed, and year after year see the same Twiggy-shaped outline of a woman filled in by variations on an Academy Awards gown. This is arts education? Much more impressive work came out of my strict, regimented, conventional high school.

6:08 - we’re educating by anaesthetic in the form of Ritalin. Wrong. TV is an anaesthetic, as evidenced by the brain waves of those viewing it. Instead of sitting in front of screens, our kids should be running around outdoors, feeling real air and real weather, and something other than wall-to-wall carpeting under their feet. And we should be feeding them real food, not processed junk + vitamins to make up the deficit. And we should be spending enough time with them so that we don’t cave to ratcheting up their bedtimes, resulting in sleep deficit.

7:26 - conformity and standardized testing. Ask anyone who knows me: Do I feel the need to conform? The conventional, regimented schools I attended left plenty of room for individuality. Compliance with behavior standards? Yes. When the teacher said, “Form a line. We’re going to music,” I did so. When s/he said, “Get out your science book and turn to page 42,” I did so. Today, when I see a sign that says, “Speed Limit 25 mph,” I slow down and comply. When there’s a line at the checkout, I wait in it. Does this squelch my individuality? I don’t think so.
As for standardized testing, how else are we going to figure out if our kids are gaining proficiency? Why has standardized testing become a dirty word? I took standardized tests; they indicated to the school board if the school was doing its job. The SATs are a standardized test, and no one complains about it. On the contrary, it’s a sacred cow if there ever was one.

8:00 - thinking laterally. I believe it derives from knowledge, not vice versa. What is employment if not problem-solving? In order to solve problems and craft policy, one needs knowledge. In order to do their jobs, George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton need a solid mastery of history and economics, i.e., social studies. Where were they supposed to get these? In art class? Wood shop? I don’t think so. And by the way, artists and chefs need to know history in order to perfect their arts, too.

8:25 - the paper clip example: Even if you’re a genius by this measure, it and education are not mutually exclusive. And by the way, how did they test the children (and retest them at ages 8-10 - 9:25) if not by standard IQ testing?

10:00 - “There’s one answer”. I’m afraid that yes, to certain questions, there is one and only one answer: arithmetic problems, the dates on which events occurred, scientific properties of matter. At the research level, you start to ask questions. But in order to reach that level, and for your research to be respected by your peers, you do need to learn the facts first.

10:10 -
No, copying does not equal collaboration. It may sound cute, but saying it doesn’t make it so.

10:32 -
wholistic learning. I’m all for it, and I believe that today’s schools lean more in this direction than ever before. Yet it doesn’t mean that the old paradigm is a myth.

10:39 - “Most great learning happens in groups”. This is a broad, broad statement. I’m a loner. Every time the teacher said, “group project”, I cringed. I hated being dependent upon others for the results, or having them dependent upon me. Today I work in solitude, and I love it.

What I find to be absolutely true is:

“…the experience of personal talent meeting personal passion… in this encounter, we feel most ourselves, most inspired, and achieve to our highest level."

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Yet I wouldn’t have been able to find that passion without a solid grounding in written English; Hebrew (which involved frustration and tears, and was NOT FUN at first); and at least a superficial level of what we call classical education: I’d better know who Plato and Moses were, and if I don’t know what’s meant by Occam’s Razor, I’d better know how to read so I can find out. I just don’t see any way around it, unless we convert all learning into clever animated videos that scrunch dozens of concepts into 11:30 minutes. And even then, our kids would still need the vocabulary(“enlightenment”; “industrial”; “revolution”; “conformity”; “vocation”; “collaboration” -- these few just from glancing at my notes) to benefit therefrom. It could be that there simply are no shortcuts to basic skills.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Free to Be...Pink and Sparkly חופשיה להיות...ורוד ומנצנצת

My friend and I are having a friendly running argument over whether Free to Be, You and Me “succeeded” or “failed”. I claim it failed, she disagrees. It may be that her POV is influenced by the fact that she’s a few years younger than I, which when speaking of the 1960s and 1970s, may have a significant impact on one’s growing up and memories thereof.

I suppose she’s right in the sense that we wouldn’t claim that the civil rights movement failed because there’s still bigotry; and we wouldn’t say the anti-war movement failed because here we are in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of Vietnam and Cambodia. Those movements did have an impact, if only to call into question established assumptions.

So by the same token, even though I would venture that the message “girls and women can do and be anything, including boxers and doctors” has been internalized, some of the more nuanced messages have not. I’m specifically thinking of William’s Doll, about a boy who wants a doll to the dismay of his father; and Ladies First, about a dainty, princess-like girl who doesn’t believe in running, as it will soil her dress, resulting in her getting eaten by a tiger.

These two examples are what cause me to ask: If Free to Be succeeded, then why do I regularly hear boys call each other “faggot”?; and why does the Princess Consumer Thing seem to have grown even more widespread and tidal-wavelike in its utter permeation of All Things Girl? Why are today’s moms absently humming the title track tune to Free to Be while picking out their daughters’ pink sparkle-drenched princess backpacks? Is there not a collosal disconnect here somewhere?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How come it's only the left-wingers who support democracy?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
— Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868–1919), author of The Friends of Voltaire, published in 1906 under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre

What’s happened to the spirit behind the above quote? When, as Dror Katsav asks in his letter that sums it up so well, did democracy become the sole province of the left? This is a frightening situation, not to mention unhealthy.

I partly blame the media. Take this headline, for instance, which violates one of the basic rules of journalism: For a reporter to decide that someone is a “left-winger” or a “right-winger” is to cross the line from reportage to editorializing. A reporter has no business labeling an individual as anything that cannot be objectively verified, for example, the person’s carrying a party membership card on her person — and even that doesn’t give the reporter license to decide anything except that the individual is a Labor member (for instance); it says nothing about her actual views, which may actually be a mix of left and right, with a pinch of anarchy thrown in. The reporter in this case should presume to know nothing about the victim (Emil Grunzweig) except that he happened to be in attendance at a particular demonstration.
A journalistically verifiable and professional headline for this story would have been, then: "Emil Grunzweig Murderer Released". Indeed, the Hebrew headline [my translation] reads “Murderer Yona Avrushmi Released From Prison”. While this is certainly more factual, it doesn’t tell us who Avrushmi is famous for having murdered; after all, murderers are released from prison every day. Does not the victim in this case merit a headline more than his murderer (or at least a street named after him? As opposed to that well-known peace activist King George)?

But I digress. Such skewed headlines appear every day: “Left-winger Injured at Beilin”. Did the reporter interview the injured to find out their political views? What right has she to assume? Is it not theoretically possible that a Likud member believes that the separation fence route is unjust and went to Beilin that Friday? Yet such is inconceivable to the Israeli mind. Here in Israel, we march in lockstep as per the dichotomy: believes in freedom of speech, fair housing, and civil rights for minorities = left wing. Any other scenario is unimaginable.

Take another hypothetical headline: “Haredim Protest Sabbath Traffic on Bar-Ilan Road”. Technically, the reporter cannot ascertain the protestors’ theologies. A headline that would better serve the reader would read: “Jerusalemites Protest Sabbath Traffic”, for the only thing that can be verified about the protestors is their place of residence. Yes, as far as a reporter is concerned, an individual’s color, race, faith, nationality, ethnic group, or even gender don’t exist unless 1) it can be objectively verified and 2) it’s relevant to the story. Otherwise, as far as the reporter is concerned, the event happened to a two-year-old [no gender], a protestor, or a Jerusalemite.

The breaching of these time-honored journalistic rules feeds our dichotomous thinking. The only thing we know about a protester is what s/he is protesting against, i.e., hopefully bigotry, injustice, and discrimination. It is incumbent upon us, and especially upon the journalists among us, to create an environment wherein we all feel comfortable speaking out against the above three; in a democracy, this noble task is not relegated to those who subscribe to a particular ideology — it should be a tenet of everyone’s ideology.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

raging hormones = not accountable הורמונים רותחים = אין אחריותיות

Pursuant to my Bristol and Abstinence post, I discovered this excellent slide show comparing US and European attitudes toward teen sex.

Note: The <> symbols are actually links that you click to progress from slide to slide.

I was particularly struck by the assertion that Americans are convinced that teen hormones are “raging”. I never questioned it until now, but it’s quite possible that this is an assumption rather than a universal, science-supported fact. While there’s no doubt that hormonal activity is elevated in adolescence, is it not possible that the constant refrain of “raging hormones” simply gives teens a pass? In other words, might all the talk about raging hormones be interpreted by a teen as “Well, my hormones are out of control, therefore they control me, therefore I’m not accountable for my actions while ‘under the influence’”.

Would it not instead make more sense to present sex like any adult fun (alcohol, for instance): pleasurable, but it does have the potential to be misused or to impair judgement, so use it wisely and responsibly?

As for those who claim that engaging in sex before marriage constitutes betraying one’s future spouse, or that it weakens marriages, let’s look at the divorce rate in the Netherlands. Hmmm, let’s see: Half that of the US.

In short, picture it: Lots of teens doing it, using lots of condoms, all awash in various contraceptive gels, creams, and foams, with close to no unplanned pregnancies. Works for me.

I'll close with an irreverent quote (my favorite kind) from the But I’m a Cheerleader comment board:
"Those who place so much emphasis on their anti-abortion stance should be focusing on educating and providing contraceptives to those at risk of unwanted pregnancies rather than arguing over when one's soul gets inserted into one's physical body."