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November 5th, 2011

11:33 pm: I'm Getting Done

I've been blogging here for a long time, as blogs go, about six years.

It's been a very useful, helpful outlet, but all good things must come to an end and I'm starting to think about finishing up.

First, the nature of my questions are changing. I am spending more time discussing local social issues and less time on  larger intellectual or halachic ones. The blog format is a very public one and  not very practical for chatting about my family and friends or my kids' school problems. I spent some time debating whether I should make this blog "friends" only or find some other approach to improving privacy  that might work better, but I couldn't think of anything.

Next, this blog was a little bit like chocolate. Helps you get through the day but not so good for you in the long run. This outlet kept me in check and helped me make it through these past six years. But it also kept me tethered to religion, particularly its negative aspects, too much.

Finally, and this is going to make some of you sad, I just don't care that much anymore. I'm barely frum, at best, and with every passing day, I associate less and less with crazy frum people. Here's an article about the good people of Crown Heights who are upset that someone reported an illegal daycare. Apparently they'd rather have their kids attending a daycare out of a garage with too many kids and not enough licensed teachers. In the past, I would have been upset, even wondered whether this community will ever learn, etc, etc. Now, I just don't care. I have nothing to do with them, they are some crazy sect and I might as well spend my time worrying about the Quiverful folks or the Amish.  It's like that for almost everything I read now about Orthodox Jews. It just doesn't affect me anymore, I'm not part of that community and there are many idiots in the world, why focus only on the Orthodox ones?

But I'm not totally closing down yet. I need a little security blanket. I think I should give it a rest for a few months and see how it goes and then make a final decision. Yes? Yes.

Thank you for reading all my ramblings :)


October 15th, 2011

11:42 pm: I canceled the sleepover

My 8 year old was going to have a sleepover for her birthday party. It was a big deal, with lots of planning and excitement. Making cupcakes, seeing a movie, getting their nails done, etc.

We invited a few kids from the neighborhood, one of them was our secular ( possibly not Jewish?) next door neighbor's kid, a cute second grader.

Today, one of my daughter's best friends told this secular girl that she can't come to play at her house because anything she touches will become tomei. My kid just stood there and didn't say anything, even though she knew this was wrong to say.

I heard about this and canceled the sleepover. A huge tearful tantrum followed, she was really upset.

I'm sure all the other moms think I am overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing. Canceling a party is a huge punishment, the kind you only dole out once in a childhood. I hope I used it for the right thing.

Damn. This parenting thing is hard.

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October 5th, 2011

12:23 am: A Short Story

Hennie waddled out of the chicken pen and into the small yard. Her friends were already there, chattering and pecking away. She loved them so much, each one with her own personality and funny mannerisms.  There was Penny, the most talkative of the bunch, she could hardly get a bite of corn in before starting to jabber again. Sadie, with her seven chicks was right next to her, trying to figure out how to keep them all in line and eat at the same time.  Gertrude was the quiet one, the skinny, scrawny one, the one who never got enough feed and the one who almost died last winter when the raccoons came.  Clarissa was the new hen, an unknown. She had just arrived a few days ago and seemed tough and bossy. But you had to be tough and bossy to make it in a chicken coop, especially when you were the newcomer.

      “Henny, you’re late, how are your eggs? “ Penny asked. Always the nosy, chatty type.  But friendly, too. Always happy to lend a helping wing, so to speak.

      “Eh, I’m good, they’re good, a few days left and they’ll be all ready to hatch, I think.” Hennie started shoveling corn meal into her beak; sitting on eggs made her exhausted and also starving hungry.

      “Having chicks is such a blessing. Not everyone gets this joy in their lives.” That was from Sadie and Hennie could see Gertrude’s feathers wilt and droop a bit. Sadie went on. “Mine are so excited. I told them tomorrow’s the big day and they can’t wait, they’ve been practicing all afternoon.”  Hennie looked at her in a puzzled way, shaking her head and trying to swallow at the same time.

“What? Don’t tell me you forgot! Tomorrow is the Mice-Dunking Ritual! Really, you are supposed to do it in the middle of the night, that is the optimal hour for our Lord, God of the Poultry, Blessed be His Pulkes, but I am too old to get up that early and Rooster Mack said he would come with me during the day. The chicks are talking about it non-stop.”  Sadie was brimming over with joy. 

Hennie smiled and sighed. “Of course, I remember, Sadie.  When I was a young chick-“

Penny suddenly interrupted with a squeal.  

“Oh, me too, me too.  I loved dunking the little mice and seeing them struggle. One! Two! Three! And pop, into my mouth you go! What a great childhood memory. My father always used to say the prayers and I can clearly hear his crowing tenor even now. Oh Lord, God of the Poultry, we bless you and beseech you, let the mice be drowned, but let me live, let the mice be eaten, but let me live, let me live. So moving,  so powerful.”

Sadie and Henny smiled and clucked. They also had similar memories of the haunting chants and rituals that filled their days  during each and every  Fall season. Gertrude was pecking at the ground, seemingly oblivious to the conversation, but Clarissa was paying attention to every word. She stomped her leg and starting pecking harder, with an edge. After several moments, she spoke.

“I personally think that there is nothing wrong with using bread crumbs for the ritual and no one needs to practice this barbaric mice dunking anymore. It all ends up being such a waste anyway, all those dead mice all over the creek. “  She looked defiantly at the three hens, daring them to challenge her.

“ Oh, you poor dear. You are just misinformed. The mice do not feel pain. They are treated well and are overjoyed at the opportunity to participate in our special tradition. They have a mission in life and this is it. You poor, poor confused dear.”  Penny clucked and shook her head.  

“Uh, no, I have seen the conditions that the mice are kept in and I see how each year they are half-dead before we even start to make our way over to the creek. And the chicks! I see how they toy with the mice, bantering them about and pecking at them and enjoying another creature’s misery! And some flocks, did you know, some flocks have a custom of poking at the mouse’s eyes just before it dies, to commemorate the whole Three Blind Mice thing.” Clarissa was angry now, stomping her foot and clucking in a high-pitched trill.

“Our traditions are sacred,” Sadie intoned wisely, as if speaking to a recalcitrant chick. “They cannot be discarded just because some newfangled generation decides that mice are now actual creatures instead of plain vermin. Didn’t Our Lord, God of the Poultry make the mice as well? Wouldn’t He know if they felt pain, if this was wrong to do? Of course, He would! And here He has commanded us to-“

“Well, no, actually He has not.” Clarissa haughtily interrupted. “Did you know that there are some Roosters who feel  that this custom is pure foolishness and who explain that Our Lord, God of the Poultry is so upset and disgusted by those who mistreat His creations in this manner? And not even modern or newfangled Roosters, as you might say, but the ancient scholar Roosters, like the ones who authored the Code of Proper Poultry Behavior in Exile!” She waited for the rejoinder, but Sadie just mumbled and looked away.  It was almost embarrassing for proper hens to argue like this, their feathers all ruffled, their tails spread out.

A soft voice spoke up. “ Oh, but Clarissa, are you not afraid of raccoons and dogs? I also am uncomfortable with the mice ritual, but I am afraid of the animals that come at night and if I don’t do it, maybe the Lord Our God of Poultry will not grant me His grace this year. “This from shy Gertrude, the most she had spoken in a month or more.  Clarissa opened her beak to respond, but Sadie cut in, her voice furious and controlled at once.

“ She fears no one, not even the Lord Himself. Clarissa here has already made up her mind and knows all the answers before she asks the questions. Oh yes. The Mice-Dunking Ritual, done for thousands of years is suddenly too cruel for Clarissa.  She thinks she’s so much smarter than us and our Roosters, she imagines that she’s the first one with these questions. The fact that all our wise and holy ancestors have asked these questions and answered them is of no meaning to her. I know her type. She will draw you in, Gertrude, she will suck you in with her pecking and clucking and shrieking, but she is unhappy and miserable and you’d best stay away from her if –“  Sadie was speaking no longer.

She had been picked up and summarily crammed into a plastic orange crate, one filled with several other shrieking hens. Farmer Brown hastily grabbed the rest of the hens and stuffed them into the crate as well. As he latched the lock and tossed the crate on to his pick-up truck, he vaguely heard Sadie’s chicks crying for their mother.  The hens clucked and beat their wings furiously against the sides of the cage, all to no avail. Only Gertrude was silent.

“Sweetheart, where are you going with all those hens? Those are my good-egg laying hens you got there!” Farmer Brown’s wife stood at the entrance to the house, her hands on her hips and a mocking, teasing scowl on her pretty face.

“Darling, those Jews are here again, it’s that time of the year. They bought out all of Frank’s chickens from next door and they’re saying they still want more, we can get a good price for these, I think.  I’ll be right back, just a few minutes. ”  Farmer Brown was now locking the truck door and wiping his brow before climbing into the front cab.

“I wonder what they all need them chickens for.” Farmer Brown’s wife sighed. “So many chickens.”  She shrugged her shoulders and went back inside, the screen door creaking shut behind her.

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September 25th, 2011

10:22 pm: Tznius Round Up

Many websites have tznius-related posts this week. I'll sum them up for you and then ask my Rosh Hashanah question.  

Matzav Tznius Article Here.  Summary: Having women join hatzalah for ob-gyn emergencies would be immodest. It is a breach of tznius standards.  Better let the men deliver babies.

Collive Tznius Article Here: Summary : I was harassed in the street by a crazy man about my clothing, but that's okay because everyone in the comments agrees with him and wants me to move the hell out. Best comment #128.

Imamother: This link won't work for you unless you are a member, but basically, the burkah ladies have expanded and moved to Monsey. Did anyone have doubts that this would eventually come to America? Anyone?

Emes V'Emunah: Harry Maryles has a Tznius post here. Interesting perspective on why women dress in less than modest attire, at least not blaming everything on the wives.

Anyway, here's  my Rosh Hashanah question. As you go through the davening, does it appear to you that God is humble and modest? As you spend hours and hours praising Him for creating the world and glorifying Him and crowning Him and reciting pesukim about his splendor and majesty, does it all strike you as modest and humble? I know that tfillah is supposed to be for our benefit, but isn't it a bit much? Over the top?

Even when I was younger and more observant, I was always struck by how obsequious we all seem during Rosh Hashanah, God you are the greatest and the best totally, totally for sure. Btw,  can you please not kill me this year.

I know some of you find tefillah to be inspiring during these days, but why? How? I mean, okay, take an hour of davening. You have praised Hashem and discussed how He created the world and thanked him and talked about Judgment Day and prayed for your families and friends. Does it really help if you do that again and again for the next six hours as well?

September 21st, 2011

01:05 am: Is it Only a Matter of Time?

The parallels between the rise of Early Christianity and what is going on in some factions of Chabad is well known and has been extensively written and argued about by people with more knowledge that I have.

What is less known because it is maybe just beginning is the weirdish cult-like following starting behind Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin. It's one thing to argue that his sentence is too long, that the federal guidelines are unjust, that he didn't get a fair shake, whatever. It's another thing completely to use Nazi comparisons when referencing the judges and call for their deaths, like several comments did here and here. That's just out of control rhetoric.

But there's another strange vibe from these websites, almost as if Chabad is slowly coalescing around another leader. Every week Shalom Mordechai writes a "dvar torah" from prison. That in itself is very strange to me.  Who does that? Moreover, as this case winds down, it seems that he is becoming more and more of a martyr-like figure. Take, for example, comment #23 from here: 

                      ANI MAAMIN!!!! 
                      What Chizzuk!!! 
                      RABBI SHOLOM HATZADDIK SHALITA!             

I mean, is that a normal thing to say about someone who is in prison for a fraud conviction? Even if you think the sentence is too harsh? Shlita? I'm thinking that if SMR plays this well and milks his stay in prison, a little mini-nesius is not out of the question. At the very least, I expect people to line up and ask for brachos or for advice in issues of emunah.

On the other hand, maybe I am completely clueless and out of touch and the average Joe Shmoe in Crown Heights couldn't care less anymore about SMR and is sick to death of all these stupid news stories. Do these websites portray the community in a false light? Is there only a handful of crazy individuals who keep on posting the same crap? What say you, live journal?

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September 11th, 2011

11:27 am: I guess it could have been worse.
Some people asked how the conversation with the principal went. I guess it could have been worse.

It was basically a dance between two very polite and and respectful people, each one trying to get the other to concede the point. I tried to impress upon the principal that my family is sensitive to comments about reform and conservative Jews as well as nonJews and that my child needs a gentle, friendly approach so that she will grow to enjoy and love Judaism. She tried to convince me to speak to my daughter about being tznius outside of school because otherwise, she won't have any friends as most of the parents will tell their children not to have anything to do with her. She informed me that on the first day of school, when my daughter was walking home in the heat, she unbuttoned the top buttons of her uniform so that her tank was showing. A parent driving by noticed and called the school to inquire who the new girl was and whether she came from a frum home. And I don't want her to be an outcast, right? Right?  Nu, so then I must speak to her and tell her for her own good to dress appropriately outside of school.

 I agreed with her that friendships might be affected, but tried to resist her intrusiveness into my parenting. I didn't tell her I think she's full of crap and her whole approach to religion is twisted beyond recognition. I kept those thoughts in my little head, where they belong.

In other news, our neighbors have two cute kids that play with my little girls all the time.The family is not observant and the neighborhood treats them like gentiles. My six year old recently informed me that a frum seven year old neighbor recently explained to everyone that this family is going to be our slaves when moshiach comes because that's what will happen to all the goyim. The little girl ( who is supposedly going to be enslaved) was right there with us during this conversation and she was pretty confused because "slavery was over many years ago," in her own words.

Of course, I spoke to my kids and minced no words and explained the ridiculousness of this concept. And later I calmed myself down by thinking that whatever school my kids go to, they will be exposed to ideas that I don't agree with and find abhorrent and that's part of my job as a parent, to talk and explain and share my own values.

But maybe that's just something I tell myself to feel good. I mean, really, say if I moved to a district with a better school system and sent them to the excellent public schools in that area. What are they going to learn about and hear from their friends that is worse than hoping for the enslavement of goyim? They will learn about Halloween? Santa Claus? Heather Has Two Mommies? At a later age, maybe they'll be offered a joint or exposed to boyfriends, sex.  Is that worse? I'm thinking not.

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September 7th, 2011

09:32 pm: People Should Know

My friend from Israel is going through a very rough time. She recently left a terrible marriage, complete with mental and physical abuse.

She waited until she couldn't take it anymore, sold her jewelry, took her three children and moved out. Her husband refused to give her a get and also refused to get a job. After she left, she had to pay him alimony. When the two oldest came to visit Abba, he plied them with new computers, new video games and new bicycles and so then they stayed longer and now she has to pay him child support for those two kids. The youngest lives with her.   

Today she wrote to me in happiness because it looks like she will be able to receive her get. After many weeks of hassle, this poor woman finally went in front of the beis din. What follows below, in her own words, is a description of how it went. 

anyway they asked me for the THIRD time why I left my husband. I said verbal abuse, non financial support, physical abuse and repeated threats of physical abuse.

Av Beis Din: Why did you leave your husband?
Me: I just told you
AV: I want to hear your REAL reason
Me: I told you.
Av: Is that all? And for that you abandon your children?
Me: I didn't abandon them. They lived with me for 8 months
Av: So why are they living with him? You are not a normal woman! You are crazy! You must be a horrible mother! Why did you abandon your children?
Me: They want to live with him
Av: Why don't they want to live with you? What is wrong with you? No child would rather live with his father than his mother! You must be a terrible mother! You need help! You are crazy! You need a psychologist! Maybe even more than a psychologist! (I thought he was going to mention an institution..he was that vehement)
Other Rabbi: I rule that you MUST go to therapy immediately, since you are obviously not a normal woman.
Me: I AM in therapy but NOT because I was a bad mother but because of the trauma of 8 years LIVING WITH THAT ABUSIVE MAN!!!
(pause...they were shocked I was yelling at them. So they mentally surveyed their instruments of mental torture and found another tool)

Av: Don't you realize that no one in your society will have anything to do with you if your children live with him? Don't you realize they will think you are crazy. (he started yelling) DON'T YOU REALIZE THAT THERE IS NO MAN ON EARTH WHO WILL WANT TO MARRY SUCH A WOMAN AS YOU!! NO ONE!! UNLESS HE IS INSANE!!!

They called him back in and said "Adon, you must give a get. Divorce this woman. She is no good for you or anyone else. And b'hatzlacha with your next marriage."

I want to clarify that this woman is completely Orthodox and fully observant and sincere. She is chabad and has rabbis whom she respects and consults for advice and for shailos. She has no reason to lie or to embellish or to paint religious Jews in a negative light.

I wrote this with her permission, without any identifying information. I wrote it so that people will know how chareidi botei dinim deal with abused wives. I wrote it so that next time you meet a woman who stays with a monster, you'll know why she stays. I wrote it so that next time someone tells you that the religious judicial system is far superior to any other or that religious divorce rates are lower than in the secular world, you will not drink the kool aid. I wrote it so that you, regardless of your gender or your religious affiliation, force yourself to take a good long look at the status of women in the Ultra-Orthodox world.

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September 4th, 2011

01:29 am: Two Days and the Brainwashing Has Begun
This past week was Parshas Shoftim and so in parsha class this past Friday, my daughter learned about the Jewish legal system.

The main point of the lesson was about how the Jewish justice system is vastly superior to anything the secular world has to offer. The American justice system, explained the teacher, is entirely corrupt because ALL the judges, every single one, are corrupt. How do we know this? Of course, from what happened to poor old Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, an innocent Jew who rots in prison.

The lesson also included tidbits about how Reform and Conservative Jews are not really Jewish and what they practice isn't Judaism.

Having been a teacher and administrator, I know that you are supposed to support the school blah, blah, blah, but here I just couldn't and just told her the teacher was a moron. Maybe I should have used different terms and said "narrow-minded" instead of moronic. I don't know.

As an aside, I have a meeting tomorrow morning with the principal. She says she likes to meet with new parents and talk about the upcoming year, etc, etc. I don't know how much of this I should bring up and discuss, if at all. From what I understand, she is a very imposing figure and takes things personally and will hold anything critical I say against my child. Some people have advised that I play the relatives card- "our relatives are reform and conservative so we are sensitive to this, blah, blah, blah..." 

I guess I'm probably going to go with that unless I think of something better. I'd much rather be more assertive about all this but it will just hurt my kid in the long run.

Ahhh. The joys of a new school year.

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August 31st, 2011

12:53 am: Smile for the Camera :)

One funny article here. Rabbi Ashkenazi from Kfar Chabad has run out of options to solve The Tznius Crisis and so now he will take pictures of immodest women and have his wife (of course) review the photos and speak to the young ladies in question.  

Yeah. The comments are split down the middle, with about half thinking this is the best idea since sliced bread and the other half wanting to know when the next train outta here leaves the station. There are quite a few offers to be in charge of vetting the photos and requests to post the pictures on-line with a rating system. My favorite post is #164, suggesting that the photos be used in a fundraising calendar for vaad mishmeres hatznius.

One sad article here. A young woman is struggling with....you guessed it! Tznius! The article is all about how she used to be so resentful of the nosy and judgmental adults around her and used to think that she should be judged on her middos and davening, etc. But now! She is wiser and smarter and realizes that tznius *is* what people see and that she will always be judged so she might as well adhere to the expectations. And of course, her life is much better now, people notice all the good things she does instead of focusing on her skirts.

Yeah. Does she realize, do you think, how ironic it is that she has to conform externally in such detail to get the people of her community to notice her positive internal traits? Mmm... I think no. All the comments to that entry are sad. #55 explains that dressing immodestly is like eating pig. #46 tells girls to dress in a way that is cognizant of their value for shidduchim. 

I am not in the market for shidduchim and tznius is not my strong suit, so I guess I can probably start eating ham now. And then you can take a photo of me and send it to Rabbi Ashkenazi's wife.

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August 24th, 2011

09:52 pm: FML and Also Gam Zu LeTova

There are three Orthodox schools here. One is far, far, far right of center. The girls get married before high school has ended and the school publishes its own text books so that no one should ever read about divorced parents or boyfriends. That school was out of the question for us.

Then there is the school that is just plain old right of center. It is kind of like a Beis Yaakov. They use regular text books but are known to white out paragraphs or tear out pages, so children don't read about divorced parents or romantic cartoon characters or dinosaurs, chas veshalom. Finally, there is the Modern Orthodox school, which is small but growing.

The first time around we sent our children to the right of center school and experienced some difficulties. I wrote about them in this blog here and here and here

This time around I wanted to try the Modern Orthodox school. We talked a lot about it and I pretty much convinced my husband that modern orthodoxy is a good option and we should give it a shot.

Sadly, the school did not give us a shot.  Even though this modern orthodox school is clearly small and trying to increase its student body, my children were summarily rejected this past week from the MO school. Did I mention that they are all straight A students? And that one of them skipped a grade?  When I asked for reasons, I was given some vague explanations about time and how maybe we should try applying earlier next year. Also something about hashkafa differences and my childrens' friends. Because of the July bar, I flitted in and out of the admissions process and left most of the heavy labor to my husband, who went to all the interviews and spoke with all the rabbis. He got the strong vibe that the school was concerned about religious differences, about whether medrash is taught allegorically or literally, about cholov yisroel and pas yisroel, etc. I guess we came across as a chareidi family and not a modern orthodox one.

So I'm pretty upset for so many reasons, it's hard to know where to start. Obviously, now the kids are going to have to go to the old school and I am going to have to put up with all that censorship and religious dogma and rigid thinking all over again. The secular education will not be comparable. More upsetting is that apparently the more modern school here has just as much difficulty being pluralistic as the more traditional schools. I need  my kids to know some version of  "Tatty wears a long beard and eats cholov yisroel and that's all right and  Mommy wears pants and eats cholov stam and that's all right too." Apparently, each school in my town can only teach one part of that equation, no one can teach both. If I send them to the modern orthodox school, my husband is the crazy one and if they go to the more beis yaaakov-type school, I will be the outcast parent. What am I supposed to do? Why can't everyone just get along ?  Why can't my kids get a solid education without all the crap in a place that respects other versions of observance? How are my kids supposed to get a good English education with only 2-3 hours a day, with short Fridays half the year?

Also I am annoyed with myself for being upset in the first place. How elitist is this whole post?  Considering the range of real problems, this isn't even a blip on the radar screen. Boo-hoo, my kids didn't get into the school I wanted. Tragedy of tragedies. What next?  Maybe my housekeeper, nanny and maid will all want the same holiday off.  

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