Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Israeli style

Oh yeah, I write a blog. Almost forgot.

Not that I am returning with anything important. Today's topic is Israeli style, of which I have become somewhat of an expert.

Here are a few of note:

Nuclear waste hair dye: Have you ever seen an Israeli woman with an abnormal hair color? Stupid question. Have you ever seen a woman with normal color hair? Yes, at some point it became fashionable for women to color their hair blood red, or neon orange, or some other color of puke. What type of place would offer these shades? Where do they get their hair done? Dimona?

Plumber jeans: Yes this one is just like it sounds. Except everyone in Israel seems to be a plumber.

Bling bling charedi shirts: But don't worry as long as they are still white.

Male belly shirts: As far as I am concerned men (and women for that matter) should keep their navels to themselves.

Face Shadow: Let's try to keep the eye shadow on your eyes (that one was from IH-- I wouldn't have noticed)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Uppa's legacy (or at least a part)

My dad posted about leaving ball games early just like my grandfather z"l would do.

I am happy to report that bnei banim harei hame k'banim.

Brad was upset and philosophically opposed to the practice, and his points are well taken.

But a few points of my (or our) own:

1. I would agree with you if the game in question was basketball or hockey contest where the experience is based largely around the excitement and energy in the arena. However baseball to me is far more about relaxation than excitement. Getting stuck in traffic after the game ruins the whole experience. And if I might miss some excitement at the end, so be it, it's not why I came in the first place.

2. The satisfaction of a clear Van Wyck goes beyond not wasting time myself. It is also about the poor suckers who stayed and will have to drive through a big mess.

3. Sorry, but there is something about leaving events early that is ingrained in the collective unconscious of the greater MoC family that you are probably not going to get no matter how hard you try.

Perfect example: This summer my wife and I took our son to a Wiggles concert. As I saw the concert winding down I said to IH "seventh inning, time to go."

On second thought, perhaps we are (or just I am) a little sick.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Orthodoxy and the field of mental health

Recently, while riding the bus I eavesdropped on a conversation between a young religious woman around my age and a woman who appeared to be an old teacher of hers from seminary. The two women, whom I gathered had not seen each other in a few years were busy catching up, and the teacher asked her old student what she was up to. When the student replied that she was in college studying psychology the teacher responded, "Oh, very nice. I have been thinking about going to college to study psychology, I think that it would help me understand my students better."

She continued, "I think that psychology has a lot to offer. Of course, anything that contradicts the torah you just have to throw out the window."

While I find this teacher's desire to improve her ability to connect with her students admirable there are two things that puzzle me.

First, her statement regarding things that she might learn that will "contradict the torah." Perhaps I haven't been looking hard enough, but no psychological theory that I have seen has contradicted the torah, and actually, I cannot fathom how it could pose such a stira.

Now, if she would have phrased her statement differently, like say, "Anything that might be improper for a bas yisroel to read I will have to avoid", I might have understood-- especially considering her desire for insight as opposed to making mental health a career. Freud himself, notwithstanding his genius, was a fairly serious menuval, so I can certainly fathom and identify with such a concern.

What really bothered me was the anticipation. This woman, who most assuredly had never given more than a glance at any of the field's literature, had already concluded that there were large chunks of it that were incompatible with yiddeshkeit.

What bothers me further still is the field's reputation as being somewhat kephiradic and in opposition to rabbinic Judaism-- as if therapists have the desire to undermine rabbanim, and change the values of the religious community. Some of the blame falls on us, as I do believe that there is an element of mental health professionals who believe that rabbanim should stay away from any type of therapy. An older woman with whom I worked last year, and who believed that the only part of the therapy process in which rabbanim should take part is the referral, comes to mind. However, in my, admittedly limited, experience these people are the minority.

I was recently asked by a young lawyer if I was worried about some of the halachically problematic situations that would arise for me in the future. When I asked for an example he responded, "I don't know, lets say someone comes in and says that he has homosexual feelings, and that he doesn't know what to do." I told him that I am not sure why that would be problematic-- that is where the work begins.

It occurred to me that I should have replied with the classic technique of responding to a question with a question. In this case how he intends to deal with his firm's not so subtle encouragement of over billing. I would assume that such a case is halachically stickier, and one that definitely occurs more often.

The point is that sure, there is always a complex interplay for the frum therapist regarding the sometimes conflicting values of the two worlds that he or she is a part. Nevertheless, this should not pasul the profession. On the contrary I believe if utilized correctly this conflict can enhance the self tremendously. Moreover, I would fiercely contend that other professions that are more business oriented pose greater halachic dilemmas for a frum Jew.

The second thing that bothered me was the fact that if she would find something that would contradict the torah she would have to "throw it out the window."

Using the assumption that nothing in psychology refutes the basic tenants of the torah, let's assume that what she meant is that anything that might stray at all from what chazal said (again, I am unsure of what that might be, but let's assume it exists) is to be immediately discarded.

I certainly understand that we must be wary when it comes to divrei chazal, but the attitude of throwing out as opposed to dealing with just bothers me. You can read any of the many things written regarding the whole Slifkin affair, as I have no desire to rehash this topic. Just wanted to mention it.

Again, from the little I have come across, psychological research confirms the teachings of our sages far more often than it attacks them. And although the tide has begun to turn within the orthodox world regarding the field of mental health, I still perceive more than a little bit of misgiving. The bottom line is that the orthodox community needs the mental health profession, whether or not it wishes to concede as much.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jet lag and 9:00 minyanim

Flying east stinks. It really stinks with little kids.

Truth be told, I have nothing to complain about-- my kids were angels on the flight here. Once we arrived though it was a bit of a different story. I hate jet lag.

The first few nights my wife and I were up until 3:00 in the morning trying to convince our kids that they were tired (and yes, I hear all you parents who've passed this wonderful stage snickering in the background).

Hence the 9:00 minyanim part of the title. As an early riser, my experience davening in this type of quorum is limited.

It seems to me that there are two types of people who go to these minyanim on a consistent basis: A. People with nothing to do who enjoy davening, and B. People with nothing to do who want to get davening over with.

The best comparison I can make to the former is the proverbial Uncle Ned who surfs, plays video games with you, and is generally quite a hoot. Its always great spending an hour or two with Uncle Ned, but soon his antics become tiresome and you lose patience (I never had an Uncle Ned, which is too bad).

Sadly, this type of 9:00 minyan guy is probably the majority here in Israel, and trust me, there are a LOT of 9:00 minyan guys in the holy land. I was so far ahead that I found myself reading those corny intros to the artscroll siddur.

If you go to the shul down the block from me on a Friday night you will find a great deal of these holy yidden, bless their souls, inspiring me to name them "Kabbalas Shabbos Jews." KBJ are an interesting phenomenon-- I hope to write a more in depth post about them one of these days. (I don't mean to criticize (especially during Elul)(well, maybe I'm criticizing a little). The backgrounds of these Jews are often not your typical FFB, and the mere fact that they are somewhat in the fold is a neis.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Going back home

America has been great, but its time.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Father daughter bonding

On the way back from Philly where we saw the Phillies get crushed.

My strange and twisted brain was only about 75 percent invested in the game. The other quarter was busy observing my surroundings-- mostly to poke fun.

The topic for today is fathers taking their daughters to games.

Generally these dads fall into three categories.

1. Dads with daughters who are knowledgeable or at least interested in baseball. Lucky for my dad his two daughters fall into this category. Still, let's be honest guys. Even if a girl knows that there are three outs in an inning or even that A- Rod is having a fantastic year you can't argue the merits of the double switch or whether the pitcher should bunt with one out and a runner on first with a chick. There are very few women who won't spend a good amount of a baseball game thinking about whether David Wright would look better with his socks pulled up. Consider yourself lucky if you are a dad who falls into this category.

2. Over intense good dad with disinterested daughters. The first two innings are spent trying to explain the difference between a fastball and change up until he realizes that Sally and Jill are more interested in why the players slap each others butts. He then gives up and just buys them lots of cotton candy. Despite the sweets he is forced to leave his seat and go exploring for half the game, and, being a good dad, he is generally able to keep his emotions in check.

3. Over intense bad dad. See 2 except he sends his daughters exploring on their own, and, being a bad dad, is mostly unable to keep his emotions in check.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Today's random wikipedia search

Yes, the fact that I perform random wikipedia searches makes me only slightly less nerdy than the guy who wrote this article.

10 points for anyone who can get through it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Research tells us that among fathers who are highly involved parents there exists infinitesimal difference between them and their wives in terms of parenting capacities (Ninio & Rinott, 1988).

The research failed to take me into account.

It has been less than a week since I finished school, and it is clear that I can't even come close to my eishes chayil.

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids more than anything in the world, and I know that I am a good dad. But the whole stay at home abba thing is not for me.

I think my problem is that, being a disciplined person, I can't deal with the times that my two and a half and one year olds act like two and a half and one year olds. My brother- in- law once actually said to his son who was two at the time and throwing a nasty tantrum, "stop acting like a two year old!!!"

Oh... the other problem is that I am a moron, and any decisiveness or common sense that I might display outside the house is lost once I step through the door.

A typical scene IH encounters when she returns from an errand that took 20 minutes:

Two and a half year old is gouging out his one year old sister's eyes while she desperately clings onto a block he is trying to wrestle from her. I sit on the couch reading.

IH: What's going on?
Me: They're playing.
IH: They're not playing, they're killing each other.

I'm fairly certain that had Ninio and Rinott observed me they would have quickly revised their work.

Ninio, A., Rinott, N. (1988). Fathers’ involvement in the care of their infants and their attributions of cognitive competence to infants. Child Development, 59, 652- 663
(if anyone is interested)

Monday, July 30, 2007

A new kind of discrimination

Social workers are compelled to seek and destroy discrimination and injustice. We fight for the rights of the underprivileged and battle for the oppressed.

Most social workers find their calling in the advocacy of the same old demoralized populations: The poor, the elderly, minorities, blah, blah , blah. How cliche.

As a social worker with true idealism I aim to go beyond ordinary oppression, and find discrimination in new places.

And I believe I have found my calling: Nusach sefard siddurim.

Anyone who davens Ashkenaz can go into a nusach Ari shul and easily find a siddur of their nusach. These nussach Ari shuls have the consideration to place a few siddurim for the minority in their midst.

Can the same be said for nusach ashkenaz shuls??? Nooooooooooooooo.

Go into any Young Israel and find me a nusach sefard siddur. Go ahead. I dare you to try. You'll be searching for a long time.

Is this fair? I SAY NO!!!!

Join me brothers as we combat this nusach Ari discrimination, and then we can all live in peace.

(By the way, the stuff about ordinary oppression at the top of this post is a joke. It is kind of sad that I need to spell that out, but from my minimal experience blogging it is clear that I do.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What it takes

A and B, recent American olim, walk into the misrad hapnim in order to fill out some routine paperwork. Both get the necessary forms from the front desk, take numbers, and wait. And wait. And wait.

Two hours later both A and B have their numbers' called. They sit down facing irritable agents who chew gum and talk on cell phones to their boyfriends. A and B both hand over the filled out forms, both are told that the documentation that they have brought with them is insufficient and that they must go to office X located in Y, get the necessary documentation, and
then return.

Both A and B had taken the morning off from work to come to the misrad hapnim in the first place and neither of them have the time to go running around to different offices. Both A and B had called ahead to make sure that the documentation they had was sufficient, and both were assured that what they had was fine.

A and B walk out of the building. A wears a look of anger/exasperation. B's lips start to curl upward, he looks to the heavens and says, "You gotta love this place."

A and B both call their wives. A says to her, "I hate Israelis." B says to his wife, "I love Israelis."

Every single American oleh can identify with the above case. The experiences of A and B were identical and not abnormal. That being the case, what made the two react so differently?

When we first planned our aliya the advice I was constantly given was, "Have a sense of humor about everything. You'll have good stories to tell."

This is good advice. There is no getting around the fact that Americans and Israelis are different. Every American will encounter situations that will evoke feelings of aggravation, and the key to getting over these feelings is having a good support system and a sense of humor.

But having a sense of humor about it all is not as easy as it sounds. Some of these things can really tick you off, and its not as simple as "just get over it."

But what is that nekuda?

Jay Belsky wrote a book called The transition to parenthood (a must read for new parents by the way) in which he talks about how the arrival of a baby impacts the relationship of the parents. He looked into positivity in parenting, and his research shows that parental optimism correlates strongly with marital satisfaction.

One thing in particular intrigued me. Belsky found that some parents who are not optimists by nature can nevertheless increase their level of positivity by the mere presence of the baby. In other words, the love these particular parents feel towards their babies negates any irritable feelings they might have at a particular time.

I find this amazing, because I think we can extend this to other areas of life.

Like aliya.

I think the key to staying positive about Israel is having something to be positive about. It is kind of amazing what parents put up with from their children, yet in healthy families they do just that because they love those kids.

You would also be amazed what people with a true love of Israel will put up with. Like the parents in Belsky's research they gain positivity from their love of the land. It allows them to smile in the face of enormous irritation.

But how to acquire this love?

For me, the only way to love the land is to know the land. To understand what Eretz Yisrael means to me as a Jew. In order to do this it is important to learn about Israel. Read Rav Kook, Rav Teichtel, Rav Yehudah Halevi-- Jews who really had a thirst for the land. Whose every waking moment was devoted to it. Read the history of the land-- from Avraham through the meraglim, through Greek and Roman times, through modern Israel. Learn about what we have given up for this little piece of earth. Hang around individuals who love Israel-- it will rub off on you.

I get scared when I hear of people making aliya for external reasons. Yes, the learning is great here, but you can learn well in the States too. Yes, we don't pay for health insurance, but the money you save on that will be lost elsewhere. Simply put, the only reason to live in Israel is to live in Israel.

And when you understand that you can smile.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Am I a kvetch?

I get easily annoyed in elevators.

The topic for today is something that I probably have no right to get upset about, but it annoys me nonetheless, and I want to get some feedback about it.

I get ticked off when I am on an elevator and I have pushed a high floor, say number 10. Another person gets on and pushes 6. A third person joins us, he is young and able bodied. He sees that floor six is lit up, and then pushes 5 or 7.

This annoys me, because he is wasting my time. Whenever I see that someone has pushed the floor directly above or below my floor I just get off with that person and either go up or descend a flight.

Am I just being a kvetch?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Something about this...

...doesn't make sense

Does anybody remember the uproar last year? I don't think the eida hacheredis has suddenly become multicultural.

What is really going on behind the scenes here?

Can anyone make sense of this?

Help me out here.

Home? Or just back?

The outbreak of Oleh Self Righteousness Syndrome has some interesting ramifications, particularly in the way Americans perceive olim. The guilt that I have spoken about is evident in the way I am spoken to now that I am back in the States.

Usually what happens is this. I see Old Friend Or Acquaintance, and go over to say hello. With a big smile they say, "Hey OOS great to see you. Welcome home."

Then suddenly a look of the deepest fear/worry/shame/guilt (and perhaps just a touch off annoyance) overtakes their faces, and they quickly exclaim, "I mean welcome back. Of course, welcome back. Not home."

To anyone who thinks that OSRS is harmless these exchanges are exhibit A. Why have we undergone this uncomfortable way of greeting? Why the quick and nervous clarification of their salutation? Is it because they truly believe that America is not home?

Of course not. The awkwardness is a direct result of having been corrected countless times by smug olim who either say, "Back, not home" or portray an expression of the deepest loathing at the nerve of these Americans to equate the U.S. with home.

In fact, for numerous reasons I make an effort to repress my instinct to call America "home." But please, if you OFOA see me in the street don't be scared to call this country what it really is.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

People I admire

I can't help but be awed by the numerous Israelis in my graduate program, or for that matter, American students in Israeli schools, and marvel at the work they put into studying in a foreign language. I was recently speaking to an Israeli classmate and we were lamenting the fact that we were required to read what amounted to over 90 pages for just one of our six classes. However, what emerged were two very different stories. What had taken me an hour and a half to read had taken her 4 HOURS!!! I can't even imagine what it must be like.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Everything in moderation

Going to the "matzah minyan" in the Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills is sort of like getting drunk: Fun and interesting once a year, but debilitating on a regular basis. If you have never experienced this phenomenon I strongly recommend doing so. It is marvelous.

What I like best about that minyan is the guys who leave early. I'm not talking taking your tefillin off during alienu early. These guys are out by the beginning of tachanun.

I know that most of them run supermarkets or other shops that need to be opened very early, but still, it requires a certain type of azus only frum Jews can muster in order to leave halfway through an eighteen minute minyan.