Friday, December 28, 2012

The Terrible Tragedy

This video is so ridiculous, I just had to laugh watching it. It was shown at a huge conference for frum (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in 2009 and speaks of a "great tragedy": that 14% of  "girls" (their word, not mine) from the community polled, ages 24-29, are - wait for it (hat-tip Barney Stinson!) - still single. Unlike (SPOILER!) Barney Stinson. 

I find it particularly amusing because I was probably included in this poll. The high school that I graduated from actually reached out to find out if I was married or single a few years ago. I couldn't understand why the heck they would care, but now it all makes sense. They needed me for their tragic poll. 

I actually feel awful titling this post, "The Terrible Tragedy," in the wake of the Newtown massacre and argued with myself for a bit before deciding to stick with the title  - because I want it to be clear how utterly absurd it is that "They" consider this such a tragedy. 

Being single is not tragic. Living in a world where it is considered a tragedy to be single, as I've written before, is not only unhealthy, but can actually be dangerous. 

You would think that a community that, within living memory, suffered an actual genocide would be more careful in using the word "tragedy" so freely. Because although I laughed watching this video, it really isn't funny.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amazing Women: Sharpshooter

Let's raise a glass to Annie Oakley, a female sharpshooter in a world of male sharpshooters.

I'm a big proponent of Second Amendment rights, in part because women do not have the same upper-body strength as men and a gun can mean the difference between life and death if a woman is attacked. And as Ronald Reagan said:

“The gun has been called the great equalizer, meaning that a small 
person with a gun is equal to a large person, but it is a great equalizer in another way, too. It insures that the people are the equal of their government whenever that government forgets that it is servant and not master of the governed. When the British forgot that they got a revolution. And, as a result, we Americans got a Constitution; a Constitution that, as those who wrote it were determined, would keep men free. If we give up part of that Constitution we give up part of our freedom and increase the chance that we will lose it all.” ~Ronald Reagan

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Amazing Women: Baby Protector

Repost from Facebook: 

Irena Sendler 
Died 12 May 2008 (aged 98)
Warsaw, Poland

During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a plumbing/sewer specialist. 

She had an 'ulterior motive'. 

Being German, she knew what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews, so Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids). 

She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. 
The soldiers wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises. 

During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. 

She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her backyard. 

After the war, she tried to locate any parents who may have survived to reunite families. 

Most of the parents had been gassed. The children she rescued were placed into foster family homes or adopted. 

Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. 
She was not selected. 

President Obama won one year before becoming President for his work as a community organizer for ACORN 
and Al Gore won also --- for a slide show on Global Warming. 

I'm doing my small part by sharing this message.

I hope that you'll consider doing the same. 

This message was originally sent as an email sent as a memorial chain in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Amazing Women: First Computer Programmer

Today's Google Doodle taught me that the first computer programmer was a woman, which is just awesome. 

Her name was Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace. She lived in the 1800's (1815-1852, to be precise) and while, no, there were no computers back then, her notes were found to contain an algorithm for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine which turned out to be the first algorithm that was intended to be processed by a machine. 

I love finding out things like this. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"She Knew She Was in Trouble When Weberman Closed the Bedroom Door"

Regarding the case of Nechemya Weberman, a man who was supposed to be counseling a 12 year old girl and molested her for years instead: 

She was a bad girl. Was it because she talked to boys, or she was dressing too fashionably, or she asked too many questions? That didn’t matter. She was bad and the vaad hatznius (modesty committee) of Williamsburg was willing to fix her, for a hefty fee, of course. The alternative was being stuck with a reputation as a nebbish(loser), an oiysvorf (outcast), and a shiksa (gentile). Once you you acquired that reputation no decent family would let you marry their son.
Her family’s last hope was a “torah therapist” who could change her into a good girl. She didn’t know what to expect. But she assumed he would counsel her with words of torah. He would be a rabbi with a reputation for being zealous about torah and tznius(modesty). That of course meant he would scrupulously observe all the halachos(rules) and minhagim (customs) governing relations between men and women. She was only twelve, just a bat mitzvah, and thus liable for violating any of the halachos applying to a grown woman.
Read this blog post. Support this girl, even without knowing her name. Justice demands it. 

Woman of the Year

More like "Woman of the Decade." This woman should win some sort of prize. To protect herself and her children, Yael Matzpun fought off a terrorist who had broken into her home using Krav Maga, a special form of martial arts.

Even as he slashed her face and stabbed her in the shoulder she drove him into the bathroom, locked him in, called the IDF for help and took her children to safety. 

That's one hell of a woman. 

I salute her. 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dark Side Confession #2: Birth Control

As promised, once I got a confession from the Dark Side in my comments section, I am writing another confession of my own. This one is about birth control. 

First of all: Get your mind out of the gutter. I'm not confessing to whether or not I myself take birth control. That's a bit too personal, even on an anonymous blog. Also -- ew, T.M.I.

No, I'm going to make a confession about my beliefs about birth control. 

In my post-high school year I went to an ultra-Orthodox seminary for girls in Jerusalem where we had a lesson about "family planning." The following are actual notes from that class. I apologize in advance for my horrific grammar and vacuous explanations : 
  • "Don't worry about פרנסה (livelihood) because each birth is a סגולה (a sort of lucky-charm) for פרנסה (livelihood)."
  • "Talmud: If someone doesn't pro-create, it's as though they're destroying the world."
  • "Some people think to have less kids will help world because there's already too many [people in the world]. Not true: If we have many children and raise them correctly, you're contributing to a better society." (sic on this whole sentence)
  • We are told, "... not to do family planning because you're supposed to have however many [children] Hashem (G-d) wants you to have... Especially after the Holocaust,  [we] must rebuild [the] world." 
  • "If someone is worried about פרנסה (livelihood) with many kids (sic), they don't have proper אמונה (faith in G-d). G-d will provide!"
In short, we were taught that using birth control (though actual methods of birth control were never discussed) was a statement of distrust in G-d. 

This is the actual, really-and-truly, attitude of the frum community. "Have children, and keep on having children and don't worry about the cost, just keep having children." 

The biggest problem with this philosophy is that it's taught to us when we are young, naive, and unsuspecting. There's a tremendous amount of peer\community pressure to have children, and to keep on having them, without any regard for financial planning or emotional capability. So often this results in overtired, overworked, and over-the-top-in-debt couples who tend to neglect their children - not because they don't love them or because they are bad parents, but because they simply don't have the time and the energy to properly care for their children.

I witnessed this pattern when I was growing up and I continue to witness it around me today. 

My confession here? 

I confess, in defiance of the community that I was raised in,  that I do not believe that birth control should be forbidden.

I defy the community's belief that having children is more important than financial and emotional health. I protest the value of putting the necessity of rebuilding the Jewish people in the hands of the young and naive. 

And I beg that the halachot (Jewish laws) that DO allow the use of birth control be taught to these young people. The laws exist for a reason, and promoting a philosophy of disgrace in "family planning" is unfair and unhealthy. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Confessions From the Dark Side. Part 1

In the interest of erasing the taboo that admitting that you have faults is wrong, I'm going to start publishing confessions from my own dark side. And for every honest confession I get in return in the comments section, I'll publish a new one. 

Confession #1: 

I enjoy listening to "non-Jewish" music.

This might sound like a really stupid confession to people unfamiliar with the frum world, but in the frum world, you're not allowed to listen to "goyishe music". We were strongly reprimanded in school (elementary and high) if our teachers found out we listened to the radio. "Do you listen to the radio?" was a code question for, "Just how frum are you?" It's a question they ask in shidduchim (the matchmaking system in the frum world) to rate just how worthy you are of a "good guy" (or "good girl", if you're a guy.)

So... Yes. I listen to the radio. I'm currently listening to a song called, "Spiralling" by the band Keane on Spotify. It just switched to "We Are Young" by "Fun." 

Now it's your turn. Confessions, people, if you want another from me. We're all (well, not me, so much, anymore) speaking anonymously here. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dark Side

"Everybody's got a dark side; do you love me? Can you love mine?" 
-Kelly Clarkson

The philosophies that we FFB's (people who are Frum From Birth) are raised with differ depending on which communities we're born into. Some communities focus strictly on the importance of scholarly knowledge; others believe that it's what you do and how you behave that matters most. 

The community that I grew up in had a strong emphasis on thinking positively. Long before "The Secret" became popular, the leaders and teachers of my community were teaching, "Think good and it will be good." (And with that a bunch of readers are going, "Hey! I know what community you're a member of!) 

The teaching of, "Think good and it will be good" is that if you think positively, and honestly believe that G-d will give you good things, that you will actually experience those good things. 

If you've read my blog, you know I have a lot of issues with my community; this teaching is not one of them. I think it's a beautiful way to live your life - to always think positively. 

[Not that it's easy. It isn't. Just about the only time that I see it work consistently is (as per "The Secret"'s instructions) in finding a parking space. Literally, I'll say out loud, "G-d, please give me a parking space," in a parking garage that I've been driving around in for 15 minutes and someone will pull out right in front of me. It's awesome.] 

But what happens when you can't think positively? When you've experienced a tragedy, or are in a difficult life situation? It's easy to tell people, "Just think good and everything will be fine!" What about when things aren't fine? 

When I heard Kelly Clarkson's song, "Dark Side", a song that acknowledges that we all have struggles and difficulties, I was struck by the lyrics' willingness to admit that, "Nobody is picture perfect; but we're worth it; you know that we're worth it." 

Because the underside of being raised with the, "Think positively!" message is that we aren't allowed to admit that sometimes we don't think positively; sometimes we aren't perfect. 

And if you grow up in a world where no one admits that they have imperfections, you start to think that you're the only imperfect one. That something's wrong with you because you're not perfect, when, in fact, no one is. 

I think it's time for us to erase the taboo that imperfection is wrong. We're human - all of us. That means that we aren't perfect. We have "dark sides". And that's okay. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Overheard: Therapy Before Marriage

Exerts from a conversation I overheard on Shabbat

Woman #1: "Everyone should go to therapy in order to get to know who they are as a person before they get married."

Woman #2: "You get to know yourself in marriage. You grow up together."

Woman #1: "Well, there are going to be a lot of stumbling blocks along the way if you choose to do it that way."

This is a common discussion in the frum world because people get married at such young ages and with so few real-life experiences that it's nearly impossible for them to already know who they are as people. The answer nearly-always given is the one of Woman #2 above: That young couples grow up together and get to know themselves through their joined experiences. 

I'm going to refrain from criticizing at this point and just ask readers: 

What do you think? Is this a good or a bad way to grow up? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's All Be Teachers

In the community that I was raised in we're taught that we can all be teachers, no matter what our education level. 

"If all you know is aleph," (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet,) the saying goes, "then you teach that aleph!"

It's an encouragement to share what you know with those who know less in an attempt to increase learning and understanding in the world. 

It's an admirable mission. I heartily believe that education is the best way to improve our standard of living, so I applaud all efforts to spread wisdom to the masses. 

Yes, it's a wonderful philosophy... Until it is applied to school staffing. Until you find that your teachers have little to no training or that the schools will hire just about anyone to teach their students. 

I experienced it both as a student and as a teacher. When I was very young, I didn't realize that my eighteen and nineteen year old teachers had neither the education nor the life experience to be educators. When my classmates and I did start to realize it, in about sixth grade, we took full advantage of our teachers' youth and inexperience by raising hell in their classrooms. We scared away teacher after teacher. As one school administrator told us, "You chew them up and spit them out!" 

When I was, myself, nineteen, I took my own turn working in one of the schools. I was hired as a teacher's assistant in a classroom of three and four year-olds, despite my warning to the school principal that I had zero experience with children. I'd told myself, as a (younger) kid that I'd never   be the one to subject children to an untrained teacher by becoming one myself, but I needed a job, jobs outside of the community are frowned upon, and they were willing to hire me, so I took it. 

I hated that job. I loved the children, but as a member of the school staff I saw the way that things were run, most significantly the way that they treated their teachers, (very poorly,) and I dreaded every day that I spent in that institution. 

Because I loved the children, I was determined to treat them with the best care I could offer them. I held them when they cried, when they had tantrums and when they were sent to the corner; I couldn't stand to see such innocent souls upset. I took special care with the children who didn't seem to have friends or couldn't keep up with their classmates academically, but there was very little I could do because my job was to do what the teacher told me to do, and that usually kept me too busy to give the children individual attention.

I don't know how long I would have continued working under these conditions if after two years of working in the school I was refused a raise (I was being paid close to minimum wage) and I said, "Well, if they're not going to give me a raise then I'm not coming back." 

It was the last day of the school year and I nearly skipped my way home. I knew I would miss the kids but I was just so incredibly happy to be out of that school. I was lucky enough to find a better job in an industry outside of education and I've never gone back. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has that option. Parents are limited in their choices of where they can send their children if they want them to be in a Jewish environment and teachers are often stuck in their jobs because they don't have the education or training to work in any other profession. (Never mind the fact, previously mentioned, that working outside of the community is frowned upon and teaching jobs seem to be the only ones open to religious women.)

Which is terribly ironic, you know. That those who are supposed to educate are uneducated themselves. 

I'm not saying that they're all bad teachers. They're not; especially the ones who care about the children enough to research teaching methods on their own so that they can offer a better classroom experience. 

I know that in posting this piece I risk upsetting a number of friends and acquaintances who are,  themselves, teachers in the Jewish school system. I ask them to please read this with an open mind and instead of getting upset, to provide feedback (in the comments area) with their thoughts on the subject. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Brave Woman

Shout-out to former blogger "Hassidic-Feminist," who has come forward and revealed her name as Deborah Feldman, and has recently published a brave book telling her personal story of growing up in the Chassidic, Orthodox Jewish community.

I wish you the best of luck in your future, Deborah.