Thursday, December 22, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Lately David has been exhibiting somewhat more interest in reading. He even gets excited about going to the library. He returns home with stacks of books, although I'm not always thrilled with his selection. I think some of them are way too easy. Some are reference-type items that he skips around. Others are comic books. But his teacher recommended that at home we foster our kids' interest in reading by letting them choose whatever they wish to read (whether for pleasure or for daily reading homework); we should let her be the "bad one" who forces the kids to read what they might not otherwise choose.

I have to say that I'm a bit shocked at what passes for children's' reading these days. Themes I don't like. Inappropriate language. Foul humor. Etc.

For a while David has been asking us to get him the popular Diary of a Wimpy Child. At one point I did pick up a copy at Costco. But when we looked at it at home we thought it was inappropriate and returned it. I couldn't believe his friends' parents let them read it. I guess times change? Well we finally broke down and let him buy it on the most recent book order.

He can't put it down. Getting ready in the morning takes even longer than usual because he tries to sneak in a few pages. And putting him to sleep at night is even more tortuous than usual because he wants to read more of it. I've spoken in the past with classmates' parents who complained their kids won't go to sleep at night because they stay up reading under the covers. "How horrible," I would sarcastically comment. Thank God my kid doesn't do that, I would add with a ting of jealousy.

Last night we let him stay up later than usual because of Chanukkah. As usual it was a bad decision. The nightly rituals didn't go so smoothly, words were exchanged and fists flew (just kidding). We sent him up to bed but when I went up to check on him I saw him reading in bed. I didn't have the ko'ach to argue anymore and gave up. When Kinneret checked on him a little later she found that he had literally fallen asleep in his book. Maybe he is turning into an ohev sefer after all? How can I get angry at him for reading in bed after bedtime?

* * *

On the subject of "how can I get angry . . . ?"

David broke the pencil sharpener by sticking trying to sharpen the eraser end. We told him not to do that again, but just to be safe, I replaced it with one that has a stronger motor. Then Kinneret caught him sticking in all sorts of items, e.g., chop sticks. She was furious, but I couldn't stop laughing. I really did think it was funny. I also think that a measure of mischief fueled by curiosity, the desire to try something new or different, and independent decision making is healthy in a child.

* * *

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Modern Orthodox Inconsistincies?

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In my estimation the core elements of American Modern Orthodoxy include (but are not limited to) Zionism (idealized as aliyah), American patriotism and integration within civil society. Lately I have been wondering how we can subscribe to the first at the same time as the latter two. We talk about living in Israel as the ultimate actualization of halakhic, nationalistic, communal and social ideals, all the while being disdainful of the particularism, insularity and ghetto mentality that are hallmarks of the right wing. But doesn't the aspiration of MOs to live and interact with Jews only in a Jewish state represent particularism, insularity and ghetto mentality par excellence?

Maybe to a certain extent we are on the same page after all with regards to how we conceive of ourselves vis-a-vis the non-Jewish world? Is MO patriotism and commitment to civil society in fact just a bedi'eved to accomodate the reality of us living in America?

The Sermon

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Sometimes we have to fight with David to pay attention. And other times he pays attention when we least expect it.

Kinneret told David that if he does X then he will get Y. He responded, "but the rabbi said never to promise to do something only because you want something in return."

At first we had no idea what he was talking about. Then I realized that he was actually repeating the message of a sermon that a guest rabbi had delivered that morning in shul. (It had to do with the take-away message of Yaakov's promise to Hashem at the beginning of va-Yetze.)

I wasn't even paying attention to the rabbi, and yet davka now he was?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pacifier Stunts

Ora can't go anywhere without her pacifier. Sometimes she carries an extra one for backup and sometimes she even uses two at the same time. David didn't really use pacifiers. We didn't really let him and I don't recall him expressing interest. This time around I'm willing to surrender this battle.

Ora has become very adept with the pacifier. When it falls to the floor she just bends over and picks up in her mouth without hands. She also spits it out and then just as it as about to fall down she sucks it back in.

The best was Saturday night. We were sitting in Toby's apartment. The pacifier fell out of her mouth and Ora put it back in upside down. With just one motion and without using hands she spun it around in her mouth that it would be right side up. It was so funny. We kept on taking it out and putting it back in upside down. She started getting it annoyed but for us it was real entertainment. I wish I could post a video but I can't obscure her face.

(A few months she was very into "yoga." She would bridge herself with her head on the floor and the pick up her hands.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jumps Rope (UPDATED)

Recently David took us outside to the backyard to show us he had learned to jump rope. I was skeptical, but sure enough he was able to do it.

Not quite like Rocky

but we were proud nonetheless.
And he got a 98 on his math test this week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shas Pollack Skills of an Art Critic

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Today at work I came across an obituary for Meyer Schapiro, the noted New York intellectual and art historian and critic (NYT, 3/4/96). It notes:

All his life Schapiro had a capacity for total recall. No matter what subject was raised in general conversation, he could usually name not only the necessary books on the subject but the chapter heading and even the page reference that was most appropriate. In this regard, he was rarely faulted.

Equally remarkable was his visual memory for works of art that he had once seen and never forgotten. When the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was newly arrived in New York from Europe during World War II, he spent an evening in Schapiro's company. The talk turned to the great collections of tribal art in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, and in particular to a piece that he had especially admired. To help Lifschitz recall it, Schapiro took a sheet of paper and drew, from memory and to scale, not only the piece in question but every other piece that had been in the case with it some years before. He did not see this as anything out of the ordinary.

Schapiro hailed from a long line of “Talmudic scholars,” but his own father had abandoned Orthodoxy for haskalah and the Bund. (For parnasa purposes though his father first job upon immigrating to America was “a teacher of Hebrew at the Yitzcak Elchanan Yeshiva [YU].")

(On the "shas pollack," see On the Mainline here.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

If Only David Were a Rat

Start off the New Year with a big mitzvah--save a life. Click here to register as a bone marrow donor.

* * *
The inability to identify the etiology for some of David's ailments is as troubling and frustrating as the inability to control them. At one point a doctor who has been monitoring him mentioned that he had just seen a note that a colleague was threshing out the details of a newly (or poorly?) documented (potential) cause for one ailment and he promised to follow up on it.

I asked him about it at David's next visit and he informed me that the testing at this point is not yet in the human phase. "With rats," he commented, "it sometimes seems like there is nothing we can't test for or treat. If only David were a rat it would make things that much simpler."

(Thankfully that ailment is now finally under relative control, but the cause remains a mystery.)

Israeli Pride (Or Lack Thereof)

Start off the New Year with a big mitzvah--save a life. Click here to register as a bone marrow donor.
* * *

I recently finished reading Yehuda Avner's Prime Ministers, a seven-hundred page insider account by someone who served under Eshkol, Meir, Rabin and Begin. It is an amazing book and I learned a lot from it, including some tidbits about the first three that improved my estimation of them.

It is clear--and the author admits it himself--that of the lot he held Begin in the highest regard. Begin, more than the others, maintained the image of the proud Jew who bows to no one.

I couldn't help but think of the absence of Jewish pride upon reading a recent article that Israelis had attempted to import lulavim from Gaza. As if this were not ludicrous enough to begin with, it should be noted that the Gazans themselves do not grow lulavim, but rather were planning to smuggle them in from Sinai in the same tunnels used for terrorist arms.

So who had the beitzim to reject the deal? The Israeli government? Nope. The rabbinate? Nope. Hamas nixed the deal.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

He's Still a Little Kid

Give a child the best birthday present ever . . . the ability to live to celebrate yet another birthday. Click here to register as a bone marrow donor.

* * *

Two weeks ago we went to Sesame Place. Kineret wasn't sure if David would enjoy it there as he is a too old for Sesame Street already. (He's almost seven years old.) Nonetheless he had a great time and he even used his own money to purchase a Count von Count doll.

He's so grown up now (and he really looks it with his new haircut), but later that night as he walked with the doll tucked in his arm Kineret commented, "you know, he's still a little kid."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Praising Kids for Disobeying Orders?

Give a child the best birthday present ever . . . the ability to live to celebrate yet another birthday. Click here to register as a bone marrow donor.

* * *

(From three years ago . . .)

I've told David a million times not to try to climb the kitchen garbage can as it can easily topple over. And yet again yesterday I once again caught him trying to climb it. This time, however, he succeeded. I watched as he stood on top, carefully balanced himself, extended himself on his tippy toes and reached up to claim his prize in the cabinet high above.

I was angry that David disobeyed my orders and was scared that he put himself at risk in this manner. Yet I also got nachas watching him tap into unknown physical prowess and at the same time exhibit that he could overcome his fear of daunting tasks. I wasn't sure how to react. A long time ago I read about a German military decoration awarded to soldiers for actions committed while disobeying orders. Now it made complete sense to me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Unlike David, Ora needs her pacifier. Once she was even walking around with two of them stuffed in her mouth.

A few weeks she met up with a cousin of the same age who also had a pacifier in her mouth. Someone told them to give each other a hug and kiss. They embraced but every time they brought their heads together they were stymied in their effort to kiss by the obstacle of pacifiers bumping against each other.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thank God for America

There was an article today on VIN (here) about a Jewish diabetic from Brooklyn who was in a car accident in Sierre Leone. Apparently he died while being treated in a hospital there because insulin was unavailable.

Later in the day at work I opened the fridge and I just stood there gazing at the stock of insulin supplies. Who would think that in the twenty-first century someone could have trouble getting insulin? And in a hospital, no less?

God bless America.

On the other hand, even in bountiful America there is a great dearth of organ donors. 3,000 Americans die every year while waiting for a bone marrow donation (and many more die from complications due to partially matched donations). Click here to register with the bone marrow donor registry and you can be the one who lowers it to 2,999.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Learning to Ride a Bike

I never thought David would learn how to ride a two-wheeler. And then today he picked it up by himself in under two minutes. Nothing had worked. We tried loosening the training wheels as well as removing one training wheel. Then today I borrowed a "Balance Buddy" but he wouldn't use it for more than five minutes and insisted I put the training wheels back on. As I was reattaching them, his friend's father suggested he try just coasting on a very low bike. We had heard about this method but never got around to borrowing a low bike from someone. And at this point I was consigned to putting the training wheels back on. I put on one and as I went to reattach the other, his friend's father said to me that I may want to hold off with the training wheels. I lifted up my head and to my delightful surprise watched David coasting along and then before I knew he picked up his feet to the pedals and was riding around the track. He looked like a circus clown on the tiny bike but around he went. After two circuits we told him to try his friend's bike, which was in between the low bike and his bike. He effortlessly made a circuit. Then the friend's father suggested David try his own bike without the training wheels. I was sure it was too high for his comfort, but he got on and went around. And around. And around. And fell and got a big bump on his forehead to testify to his efforts. And then around again. And around.

  1. We are so proud of him. Nothing can turn this into a bad week.

  2. Now if only he'd learn to swim and to defend himself I could rest assured that I have fulfilled my paternal responsibilities.

  3. Never give up on your kid.

3,000 Americans die every year while waiting for a bone marrow donation (and many more die from complications due to partially matched donations). Click here to register with the bone marrow donor registry and you can be the one who lowers it to 2,999.


Why do black nurses all go completely nuts over David's eyelashes?

3,000 Americans die every year while waiting for a bone marrow donation (and many more die from complications due to partially matched donations). Click here to register with the bone marrow donor registry and you can be the one who lowers it to 2,999.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ora Laughs

I don't mind changing diapers. I hate feeding. Baths are in the middle.

Today I reached right under Ora's chin to clean her neck and she let out a loud giggle. It made today's bathing duty all worth it.


3,000 Americans die every year while waiting for a bone marrow donation (and many more die from complications due to partially matched donations). Click here to register with the bone marrow donor registry and you can be the one who lowers it to 2,999.

Elokim Sheli: Uzi Chitman to Kinderlach

There is a very catchy old Israeli song that I like, "Ratziti Sheteda," aka "Elokim Sheli" (Hebrew lyrics with English translation here). Here is the author, the legendary Uzi Chitman, singing it:

This song has been sung by various singers in various versions. Some have changed the words (a little or a lot) and most have introduced their own style. By far the most bizarre is this version by Kinderlach and Yisrael Rand. I'm not a fan of bans, but now I completely understand the Lipa ban. This is just wrong. Who do Kinderlach think they are? New Kids on the Block? (Yes, I'm a hypocrite. Sue me.) And I also thought it strange they would sing a song I thought was a bit sacreligious.

My favorite is the Hebrew-English version by Liel Kolet. I'm not a fan of Israelis singing in English, but Liel pulls it off. Note the changes in the English.

In this version by Hadag Nachash the original is barely recognizable:

There is also this version by Harel Skaat and Roni Duani, but it isn't anything special or unusual. Frankly its boring, particularly in light of the above versions.

Finally, in sign language:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers Day--Save a Life

Give a father the best Fathers Day present--save his child's life. If you haven't been swabbed for the bone marrow registry, you can do so today at the Talmud Torah of Flabush (click here) or in Passaic (here).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Childhood Friendships: Quick Review of "Super 8"

I saw "Super 8" last night. It revolves around a group of small-town pre-teens who while filming an amateur zombie movie stumble across an extraterrestrial being on the run from ruthless military types.

I'll tell you below what I thought of the movie overall, but first I want to note that I really enjoyed that at the center of the story was the close friendship of the 5 pre-teen protagonists. I seem to have a soft spot for these types of movies--"Stand By Me," "Sandlot" and "Goonies" come to mind. Sure "Super 8" could have been easily been scripted without this pure adolescent camaraderie dynamic, but then it would have just been a typical horror flick with its stock adolescent characters.

Overall "Super 8" fell short and I think it had a lot more potential. I left the theater feeling like I had just watched a modern remake of ET (with some "Goonies"-type kids thrown in). Yes, the camaraderie dynamic was compelling, the kids' acting was great and I did jump out of my seat a couple of times even though I'm not generally a jumper. But unlike "Sandlot" and "Goonies," which I can watch over and over, I doubt I'd elect to see "Super 8" again, the intense camaraderie notwithstanding.

The truth is I even felt a bit ripped off, particularly for having seen it in IMAX. But it's ok, as at the very least I did get to spend the evening with two of my own long-time friends as we continue our real life camaraderie.

(Q-tips can save a life. If you haven't been swabbed for the bone marrow registry, please click here.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Go to the Parade, Save a Life

If you are attending the Salute to Israel Parade this Sunday, please stop along the way at the Jewish Community Center (Amsterdam and 76th) and get swabbed. You can help save the life of one-year-old Ayelet Galena or someone else in need of a bone marrow transplant. For more information, click here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Yom Yerushalayim

Israel's Liel Kolet teams up with the legendary Klaus Maine of the Scorpions to sing an English rendition of everyone's perennial favorite, Naomi Shemer's "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold):

Ofra Haza's angelic version of the original Hebrew:

One more duet with Liel Kolet and Klaus Maine, this time singing a special version of the Scorpions' own classic "Send Me an Angel."

According to Wiki (here) Liel has recorded five songs with the Scorpions. I'm not a fan of Israeli singers performing in English, but she does a pretty decent job of pulling it off.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Foolish" Rabbis and Parenthood

From Adin Steinsaltz, Talmudic Images (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1997), pp. 46-47:

Many other stories throughout the Talmud and the Midrash reveal other aspects of Rabbi Yehoshua's personality. For example, the Sages came to consult with Rabbi Yehoshua about a strange will, in which a father wrote that he would leave all his property to his son when his son became a fool. The Sages found Rabbi Yehoshua playing with his children, and one of his sons riding on his back. After the game, Rabbi Yehoshua explained that that was precisely what the writer of the will had meant: that he would bequeath his property to his son when the son himself became a father and played the fool with his children (Midrash Shoher Tov [Buber Edition] 92).

I love how this story depicts one of the greatest Sages in his capacity as an ordinary father fooling around with his kids. It's a great book overall too, although unfortunately I left it on an airplane after having read only a few chapters.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wise-A@@ Frumkeit Part 2

While reviewing parshas yisro with David we did a quick overview of the aseres hadibros. Some were easy to do and some I elected to skip over altogether (e.g., adultery). And some I modified. So instead of lo sisa I did nivul peh. I told David that we have to be careful with the words we use, but he wanted clarification. And so with a smirk:

David: What about . . .

Abba: Don't say it!

David: I'm not saying it, but I just want to know if *&%! is a bad word.

Abba: Ugh. Yes, it's a bad word. Can we go on?

David: And what about . . .

Abba: Don't say it!

David: I'm not saying it, but I just want to know if @#!^ is a bad word.

Abba: Ugh. Yes, it's a bad word. Can we go on?

David: And what about . . .

Abba: Don't say it!

David: I'm not saying it, but I just want to know if $!)& is a bad word.

Abba: Ugh. Yes, it's a bad word. Can we go on?

[And so on]

(Just for the record, he was not asking about the most offending words.)

To be continued . . .

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Grandfather Spins In His Grave

(I wrote this post about my grandfather a while ago and wasn't planning to post it. But I was thinking about him again after having seen a recent sefer that included a tribute to his influence on the author. I thought it was pretty nice and considered decloaking to post it, but I'll pass.)

Various considerations arose as we debated whether or not to take David out of day school. Mostly the considerations were practical, but there was also an emotional dimension. Both of our families had struggled to send us to day school and were we now returning the favor by stabbing them in the back? Or worse yet, the heart?

From my side there was an additional element. My grandfather was a big advocate of a day school education even in the interwar period, when the concept of day school was as foreign to the vast majority of American Jews as Mars. He actively volunteered in a local day school (until he had a falling out with the principal?) and he later combined his dedication to day school with his passion for athletics by helping to found the yeshivah basketball league. (He raised money for YU as well.)

He also put his money where his mouth was. His oldest daughter graduated from an elementary day school and his next daughter and my father continued through yeshivah high schools as well. (The idea of sending girls to day school was particularly unusual then.)

So as we considered changing educational paths, I thought of my grandfather, whose yahrzeit had just been observed a few days earlier. I imagined him turning over in his grave at the prospect of a grandson--and one named for him, no less--attending public school.

The truth is my grandfather was an extremely practical person. He was very tachlis oriented. I'm sure that if I enumerated to him our grievances he would sigh and nod his head in agreement. I could even imagine that after we'd part he'd pick up the phone and give the principal a piece of his mind. (I actually remember him once calling up the director of a day camp I attended and telling him he didn't know the first thing about how to run a camp.)

But public school? He definitely wouldn't be happy, to say the least.

Friday, April 29, 2011

My Sister's Keeper

When Kinneret was pregnant with David I spoke to a doctor friend of mine about whether or not we should bank his cord blood. He didn't think it was worth it and he added that if we were ever to need cord blood it would be cheaper to have another baby. In the end we decided to bank his cord blood after speaking with another doctor acquaintance (Summy's brother-in-law), although we didn't do it again for Ora.
I recently watched "My Sister's Keeper," a movie that revolves around a family that pursued my first friend's strategy. The daughter is diagnosed with leukemia and after no bone marrow donor can be found her parents decide to have another baby engineered to be a genetic match to the leukemic daughter. The second daughter is born and she ends up serving as a donor on multiple occasions, sometimes suffering severe adverse reactions. When the older daughter goes into kidney failure the mother insists that the younger daughter donate one of her kidneys. At this point the younger daughter says that she's had enough and she retains a lawyer to sue her parents for medical emanciption.

If you like depressing dramas, it's a great movie. But it's also a good springboard for some discussion. The subject of organ donation and halakhah recently flooded the Jblogosphere (e.g., Hirhurim), specifically the question of brain stem death. I think "My Sister's Keeper" would have provided an interesting tangential debate, i.e., may one coerce a minor child to serve as a donor. Even if there isn't actual coercion, do parents even have the right to ask a minor child to serve as a donor?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pesach Rants: The Seder

If the seder is supposed to be to educate the kids, why does it start so late? What is the purpose if the kids are already dozing off right after mah nishtanah? There is an interesting discussion here about starting the seder early, but even assuming the established practice to wait until nighfall, who in the hell invited the chazan to daven maariv and shlep out the hallel? Isn't it late enough already? (And someone please remind me why we need to recite hallel twice at night?)

And if the seder is supposed to be to educate the kids, why do we sit around rambling in a language the kids (to say nothing of the adults at many tables) don't understand?

I have no authority over the shul's schedule and shaliach tzibbur roster, but I can control what goes on at my own table. So this year we did some parts in English.

And it went something like this:

Abba: At first our forefathers were idolaters . . .

David: Why does it say four fathers?

Abba: Forefathers means ancestors.

David: But why four fathers?

Abba: I just told you. Forefathers means ancestors. Now let me continue.

David: But there were only three fathers?

Abba: Huh? I said forefathers.

David: But there were only three fathers.

Abba: What are you talking about?

Finally Kineret had to point out to me that he was confused because he thought I was talking about the avos.

(And now I realize that he was probably further confused because I keep asking him who the 4 imos were--he keeps on including Dina--and here I was talking about "four fathers.")

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Balabustas, Pesach and Christina Aguilera

This is time of the year when balabustas world wide sing songs of lament. Now in my humble opinion that's just the wrong attitude. Instead they should be singing Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" (a la "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger").

Ok, just kidding. Ok, just kidding. But I hadn't heard this song in a while and it's been in my head all day since having heard it this morning.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

David's Daily Journal

David came home with a stack of his daily personal journal assignments. It was an interesting read. Some days were revealing about his perspective on things; other days were simply amusing. Overall it was a gratifying (and somewhat surprising) experience to see him write so expressively. But is also served us with an important warning, i.e., there are no house secrets when you pair a first-grader with a personal journal assignment.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Conflict vs. Unity

"The clash of opinions honestly thought out is far better than a unanimity obtained by the enforced or voluntary suppression of the reasoning faculty."

-Sir Leon Simon, The Elements of Zionism (London: Association of Young Zionists, 1934), p. 5.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Of Metaphors and Anthropomorphisms

Sometimes I'm concerned that David may not be absorbing everything that he is taught in school.

* * *

While reading through the Haggadah last night with David we reached the lines that speak of God taking the Jews out of Egypt with a strong arm, an outstretched arm, etc. Then this morning we paused after Yigdal for a line of be'ur tefillah and I focused on ein lo demus ha-guf ve-eino guf, i.e., the principle of God's incorporeality. We translated the line and then I started to explain that even though we read last night about God's hand, it doesn't mean He really has a hand. Instead of the expected confusion I was greeted with a smile and, "Abba, it's a metaphor."

I guess things do sink in after all in school.

Monday, April 4, 2011

President David

The other day I was explaining to David how one become the president of the United States, term limits, etc.. Then I told him that if he wants perhaps even he can be the president one day. He was intrigued by the possibility and asked what he has to do to become the president. I told him he has to study hard and do well in school. "And then they'll put my picture on a place mat?" he inquired with excitement.

* * *

Ora says a few more words: baby, ball, bubbles, eyes, outside and nana [banana].

She loves her doll and doll carriage. Today she put a hat on her head and one on her doll's head and put the doll in the carriage as if she were going to take her for a walk outside.

Ora is very attached to her pacifiers. That's right multiple pacifiers. Shabbat afternoon she crammed two pacifiers into her mouth and went her merry way.

She generally wakes up at least once at night (if not more often) for a bottle. She sits up strait and cries until we bring it to her. The she opens her mouth, lets the the pacifier fall out, goes limp and falls strait back with the bottle her mouth. It's so mechanically cute.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Are Brooklyn Yeshivos So Cheap?

People often wonder why Teaneck-type schools are so much more expensive than Brooklyn-type schools. Of course it's easy to point to the fancier facilities, more extra-curricular activities, the serious college-prep curriculum, better-paid employees, etc.

Wait, did I write better-paid employees? I should have written that Teaneck-type schools have paid employees.

Gil at Hirhurim commented in a recent thread that he overheard a rebbe mention that his wife, a Bais Yaakov teacher, is owed two years salary. Anyone famliar with Brooklyn-type schools knows that this is an oft-heard lament.

Well I guess it's easier to charge such cheap tuition when you don't have to pay employees on time, if ever.

Similarly, not paying rent on time (or ever), also common in Brooklyn-type schools, helps keep tuition down.

Yes, these practices are aborent and in my humble opinion defeat the purpose of sending your kid to yeshivah, but please don't leave any comments bashing the community in which these types of schools are usually found. My point in this post is simply to explain one reason why Teaneck-type schools are so damn expensive and question if parents who want a Teaneck-type school at Brooklyn prices are willing for their kids' teachers to be treated like slaves and for landlords to be stiffed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Last night we did some parsha. I started to exaplain to David that there are special signs to determine if an animal is kosher. "Why can't you just look for the hashgocho?" he asked.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Diaries, My Toys, Homework Addendum

David has been dying for a diary. I'm not sure why he would want it, but he did. Yesterday it arrived in the mail and he was so excited, especially about the little lock and key. He promptly sat down and penned four pages--they are small pages--of "daer diurey" entries. He wrote about how he felt on the first day of his new school ("I was nervise and I cried to my dad"), difficulties riding a bike, a movie he saw with "three dee glasus" that he liked and a swiming exhibition for parents at camp.
He's not a very expressive writer in general--this is one area of concern we see from his homework--and it was quite a surprise to see him writing freely in this manner. So maybe this is a good way to develop his writing skills and confidence while at the same time giving him an opportunity to "speak up" and vent (and provide us with a window into into his little mind).
* * *
On the subject of homework . . .
I recently had a post about our experiences with David's homework and I aknowledged the debate over the utility of homework in general. One thing I forgot to note is that I like homework because it enables us to know what is going on in David's class and if he is able to keep up. The homework might not help him, but it helps keep us informed.
* * *
I am a pack rat, but over the years I've slowly cleared out all my accumulated crap from my mother's basement. What remains are mostly books (tons of them) as well as some toys and other typical childhood items (baseball cards, comic books, train set, etc.). There was one box with toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, GI Joes and other action figures. Every time David was in the basement he would stand over this box, salivate and beg me for it's contents. Being the sentimental pack rat that I am, I refused his entreaties. I knew he'll just lose them, break them, etc.
I finally realized that it is really pointless to keep this box in my mother's basement just for the sake of it. They have no real monetary value and what is the point of them collecting dust? Just so once a year I can go downstairs, look at them, and for a fleeting momement have a window into childhood memories? So I brought the box home and started letting him choose items from it on a periodic basis (mostly for rewards/reinforcement).
The box is about half empty now but David is starting to lose interest (and the contents no longer work as well as rewards/reinforcement). I have to wonder what in the heck was I thinking when I kept the box in my mom's house. So now I have this empty box on top of the microwave and what will I do with it if David really loses total interest? Throw it out? Give it away. Maybe I should have just given him the whole box to begin with and let that be the end of it.
This morning David showed me a fake GI Joe that he received from a classmate in return for one of my Star Wars storm troopers. Wait, did I say *my* Star Wars storm trooper? Even though I gave it to him, in my mind I still think of these as my toys and I was disappointed and upset that he so casually and thoughtlessly dispensed with one. But I don't need the storm trooper and if it makes David happy, why should I care? (Although it's not altogether clear to me that David really wanted to make the trade and that he didn't do it because he was coerced into it or in order to curry favor.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Family Pictures

I don't understand why people plaster their walls with pictures of the kids. Now I have nothing against a few small cutesy pictures here and there, but I've been to homes where every available inch of wall space is covered by adorable pictures of the kids. Yes, they really are adorable, but in many homes I start to feel like I'm visiting a memorial (God forbid).
Yes, I like to take pictures to preserve memories--although I have to admit we did this much more frequently with David--, but why the need to frame and display these memories when the kids are right there in the flesh busy creating new memories. Running around, playing, laughing, learning, being naughty, etc. I just don't get the need for a gallery of frozen, inanimate photographs.
As long as I'm ranting about wall pictures, I also don't understand why people need to hang those gaudy, oversize wedding portraits in the living room.
(For a timely but unrelated post on a chumra against hanging pictures of girls, visit the good professor here).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Having Another Kid?

I know this is going to sound crazy, but sometimes I read about an amazing personality and I wish for another child so I can name him or her after that person. Right now I'm thinking about Irina Sendler, concerning whom someone just fowarded me a brief bio:
There recently was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena. During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an 'ulterior motive' ... She KNEW what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews, (being German.) 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 of course 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 back yard.
After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize ... She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming.
(For more info, see Wiki and Snopes.)
Right now my favorite boy's name is Pinchas (of Kehati fame).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pedophilia in Jewish Institutions

Over the last few years we've read about various educational figures being accused of sexually deviant behavior. This was a topic of discussion--of course along with tuition and other yeshivah-related venting--with our hosts this past Shabbat in light of a new accusation.
So how should parents with children in the school react when someone in the school is accused of pedophilia? My reaction ("Don't switch the child to a different school" is in black followed by "switch the kid" in red):
1) Our host commented that accusations against a sexual predator in a school are not--on their own merit--enough of a reason to pull a child from the school. After all, she argued, it can happen anywhere. Unfortunately I think there is a certain truth to this. It's a "the grass isn't always greener" argument. And after all, pulling a child from one institution that does not have mechanisms in place to prevent--or at least minimize the risk of--such behavior (which unfortunately is typical in Jewish schools*) and putting him/her in another institution that lacks the same mechanisms may be pointless. (*Just to clarify, I don't think pedophilila is typical in Jewish schools, but rather the absence of good measures to prevent it is typical.)
Of course it can happen anywhere, but the fact that one pedophile felt comfortable and safe enough to act can mean there are others in the same institution who feel it is a haven for them to prey without repercussions. There is simply no way to clean house and realistically ensure a safe future no matter how the school reacts.
2) Since it can happen anywhere, the single most important factor in deciding whether or not to pull the child is how a school reacts when accusations are leveled against a staff member. Does it circle the wagons and deny that such activity happens or that the school is already doing all that is possible to prevent such behavior? Does the school hire independent professional outsiders to review how the alleged behaviours could have been prevented and recommend what steps can be taken to ensure such behaviour can't take place in the future? Are such recommendations followed up on? Are these policies in writing and are all staff members instructed in them? Does the school notify parents of the accusations and encourage them to talk their children about the specific case and about abuse in general? Is there any talk of consulting rabbonim?
3) Is there any indication that a cover-up took place or that other staff members were aware of what was going on? If yes, will anyone involved in a cover-up or otherwise involved in enabling what happened be fired?
Who really knows what happened, who knew what, etc.?
4) How far can/should we go to protect our children? Some people (myself included) think it's ridiculous that yeshivos don't fingerprint prospective staff, institute mandatory reporting policies, have written policies regulating staff-child interactions (e.g., never be alone with a kid in a closed area), etc. Yet we also regularly entrust our kids to others (e.g., camps; shul youth groups; Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aguda and other youth groups; day care centers; babysitters; tutors; etc.) without even thinking about insisting on the same level of protection?
It's true that we can't stand by our kids' side 24/7 until they are eighteen years old. But the fact that our kids may sometimes be in environments over which we have no control shouldn't prevent us from trying to ensure they are in safe environments as often as possible.
4) It's your kid and there is no shame in taking steps born in illogical paranoia in order to protect him/her.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ten Lared

Today I was presented with two interesting captcha word verifications. I tried to leave a comment on a blog and was presented with the captcha word "liar." I refused this indignity, even if randomly generated.

Then I needed to use Google Books to download an article from The Atheneum (a nineteenth century British periodical) and was met with the captcha verification: "tenlared," i.e., תן לרד--let it download! See below for a screen shot (click on image to enlarge). How could I even make this up?!

Monday, February 28, 2011


Ora loves to walk around. No more hip swivels. Real steps, albeit still the stiff Frankenstein type. Not only was she ready for shoes, but she wanted them. A few times she took my shoes, sat on the floor and inserted her feet. So on Sunday we bought her first pair of shoes. No crying or screaming or falling flat on her face as with David. While Kinneret looked around Ora actually went and chose two shoes and brought them to Kinneret.
Ora still likes to play with our shoes. Yesteday morning she carried a pair of shoes over to me to put on her, except they were David's. Today she put my crocs on her feet.

* * *

She also says "out" (as in take me "out" of the crib) and "baby."

* * *

Yesterday we enjoyed the nice weather by taking her to the zoo for the first time. She enjoyed it (and called all the animals "baby") but freaked out when the llamas came too close. For her "woof woof" is the universal animal language and not just for dogs.

* * *

A few weeks ago I started taking Ora to shul shabbat morning. She is pretty well behaved, which is a good thing because my present shul is a lot more decorous than the one that I attended when I first started taking David to shul. (Not that he was really a problem and he was generally much better behaved than the adults.)

One acquaintance was amazed when he realized that I brought the kids myself. He comes with his older boys but he said he would never even attempt to bring his baby. It came out in the conversation that he doesn't really ever change diapers. I can't say that I don't do my share of diaper duty evasion, but I'm amazed--ok, in awe?--that in this generation dads can still get away without doing diaper duty.

* * *

Ora points to her nose and belly when prompted (so far in English only). She also puts her hands on her head if you say "uh oh." She waves a lot.

* * *

Last night she climbed into David's bed while he was sleeping and lay down next to him. Thank God he's a really heavy sleeper.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thoughts on Homework

David gets a lot of homework and sometimes it becomes a chore--for him and for us. I'm much stricter than Kinneret and I generally insist that he complete it. Aside from the educational utility of homework--yes, I know this is a matter of debate--I feel that the more times we let it slide then he will become even less likely to do his homework and will in general develop poor homework habits (as well as become increasingly emboldened in his defiance of our authority).
On the other hand, there has to be a limit to how far we push. I don't believe in doing homework just for the sake of doing homework and there has to be some type of pedagogical gain. If at some point it becomes obvious that he is too tired and there's no way for him to absorb anything, then what is the point of pressing on? Why torture him and ourselves?
So where is that line between fostering good homework habits and educational progress on the one hand, and torture on the other hand?

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Worst Part of Returning from Vacation . . .

. . . is dealing with kids who've been spoiled by the grandparents for a week.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Time to Call it Quits?

We really wanted the talmud torah to work. For all sorts of reasons. But it's just not working out for David. His behavior has become so bad that Kinneret and I fight it out to decide who will pick him up because we are afraid to face the teacher and get the bad report. It's too embarassing.

The truth is that he's ususally well behaved in school. We apologize profusely to the talmud torah teacher and profess our bewilderment why a kid who has never had problems in day care, school or camp is suddenly misbehaving and worse yet acting disrespectfully toward the teachers. Everytime I utter these words to the teacher I imagine him about to roll his eyes and thinking to himself, "another out-of-touch parent who thinks his kid is a perfect angel." (Actually the teacher is very apologetic about our many apologies and he says there is no reason for us to apologize.) But really, David is generally otherwise very quiet and behaved in educational settings. (Sometimes I even wish he would act out a bit or be naughty in class.)

If I had to take some guesses I'd say that the root of the problem could be:
  • He has a very long day; or,

  • He is bored because he is more advanced than the other children (because of his backround and home reinforcement ); or,

  • The environment is too informal; or,

  • A combination of the above.
Or maybe the problem is us and this is simply another instance of us not disciplining him properly?
* * *
A recent comment thread on Orthonomics went off on a tangent in response to a parent who reported that his son's school is unable to deal with the boy's suspected learning and behavioral issues. It was clear to most commenters--myself included--that there was no good reason for the boy to remain in this school and that in fact his interests were being harmed by his continued presence there.

Of course it's easy to dish out armchair advice to someone else, however when I step back for a moment should it be obvious that the time has come for us to take David out of talmud torah as well? At some level I am reluctant to do so because this means that he wins. It becomes yet another notch in his belt in his power struggle with us. Part of me wants to keep him there out of a feeling that we need to make a concerted stand and tame him. Yes, I'm well aware that this is the wrong reason to keep in the talmud torah--parenting isn't about "winning." There are some other (perhaps not entirely compelling) reasons to keep him in the talmud torah. But where exactly is that fine line that guides us how far we should go to try and work out the behavior issue (and for how long) before we pull him?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wanted: Famous Black Jews

David has to learn about a famous black person for school. Anyone have any suggestions for a famous black Jew? (I can only think of modern entertainment personalities.) He or she should really be American, but let me know about about famous foreign black Jews as well. Bonus points for pointing out a book about the person appropriate for a first grader. Thanks, Abba.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wise-A@@ Frumkeit Part 1

Earlier this evening I was adjusting the temperature of the bath water while David waited naked in the hallway. I turned around for a second and saw that he had grabbed a pair of my tzitzit and draped it over his body. We already had some tense moments this evening because he misbehaved again in talmud torah, and it was getting late now and I just wanted to finish up and get him to bed. So I ignored him and continued with the water.
I turned around again as he darted into and the living room and watched him return with Kinneret's Tehillim in hand. He opened it up and pretended to daven. At this point I told him to stop and explained that it isn't respectful to daven while naked.
"But Abba," he protested, "I'm saying Baruch ata . . . malbish arumim!"*
Was I supposed to reprimand him or shep nachas?
* "Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Master of the Universe, who clothest the naked people."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Juvenile Lie Detector (Or Instilling the Fear of God Part I)

Lie Detector (Or, Instilling the Fear of God Part I)
When David was younger and I suspected him of lying I used a little trick I learned from a wise friend of mine. I would warn David that I was going to use the Pinocchio test. If he's lying and I touch the tip of his nose then his nose will grow.
At first it worked like a charm, but eventually the Pinocchio test became compromised and I was left hanging.
One day I asked David a question and I knew for sure he was lying and so I called him on it. He was flabbergasted that I saw through him and I told him that I have cameras all over the place and he can't hide anything from me. "Really?" he asked in awe. "Yes," I affirmed, "you can't get anything by me."
A few months ago David approached me in the kitchen and I called him on something. I thought for sure he was lying despite all his emotional and emphatic protestations to the contrary. I refused to budge even as he was on the verge of tears. Exasperated I finally threw my hands up in the air and muttered, "how am supposed to know if you're telling the truth?"
With tears rolling down his eyes, he answered, "please Abba, you can check the cameras."
Instilling the Fear of God Part II (Or, Instilling the Fear of Abba, Part I)
Last year David learned the middle finger in school. (Just for the record, this would be when he was still in yeshivah.) We let him know in no uncertain terms that we never want to see him do this.
One day were were in the lobby and he beckoned to me with his middle finger. Boy did I let him have it (verbally). The truth is I realized afterward that it wasn't intentional, but my mistake was worth the payoff.
The next night Kinneret was cutting his fingernails, but when she got to the middle finger he refused to extend it so she could cut it. He just kept shaking his head and finally explained, "I don't want to get in trouble with Abba."
Instilling the Fear of God Part III (Or, Instilling the Fear of Abba, Part II)
Last year I scared the crap out of David and he learned his lesson not to touch my iPhone without explicit permission. I don't recall now what happened, but I do remember that it felt really good to see him cower in fear.
Instilling the Fear of God Part IV (Or, Lack of Yiras Shamayim?)
I was recently talking with a friend of mine about parenting, punishments, bribing, positive reinforcement, etc. She has a daughter the same age as David and she said when her daughter doesn't listen she says something to the effect of "but Hashem is watching." She claims it works like a charm. I don't feel so comfortable invoking God for behavior modification, but last week I broke down and gave it a try. It didn't work.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Yesteday David corrected my Spanish for the second time. My Spanish isn't that bad and it's interesting that he's catching my mistakes.
(The following won't mean anything to readers, but hopefully will jog my memory in 20 years when I read this post: Mushrooms, bedroom, "I'm a tree.")

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Advice to Keep the Car from Icing

1) Pretreat the windows with Ice Blocker or something similar.
2) Cover the side mirrors with plastic bags.
3) Cover the windshield wiper blades with garbage bags.
4) Leave the wipers extended out (not up, but out, as if you were changing or cleaning the blades).
5) Keep de-icer spray and a good ice scraper handy in case the windows do ice over. Don't pour hot water on the windows to melt the ice. (If you do, you won't have to worry about the windows icing over again.)
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's Official

This morning I saw Ora take about seven or eight steps down the hallway. More like seven or eight semi-pivots or hip swivels, but it got her from point A to point B nonetheless. Its funny how awkward the movements are and how self-conscious she is that is trying to walk. We just walk, but she has to think about it. And she is so proud of herself.
Anyway, now that I've seen it it's official: Ora can walk.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ora Update

I came home from a male-bonding vacation with David to hear Ora say "Mama" and watch her take a couple of steps (and pivot). There were already rumors circulating two weeks ago that she had taken a step or two, but if I don't see it then it doesn't count.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Talmud Torah Shaylah

A few weeks ago I waited in the car while Kinneret went to get David from talmud torah. She opened the door and as she strapped David in she said to me, "guess what happened today."
"Oh no, not again," I muttered.
"No, you'll get nachas from this," she said.
David had learned about Yosef's ketones pasim for parshas hashavu'ah. As an activity the class was given white t-shirts and markers to decorate them with many colors. One boy drew a picture of a fishing trip with his father. A girl drew hearts. And David simply wrote across the chest:
בראישת ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארש
ויהארש [????] מרחפת
אל פני המים ויאר
אלוהים את האור ובן
המים אשר מעל לרקיאה
ויהי ערב ו
He wrote out what he remembered by heart from the first few pesukim of parshas bereishis, which I've been teaching him to lein.* (There were also a few nekudos but I can't reproduce them here). Yeah, it's jumbled and garbled, but I still thought it was cool that he even thought to do this to begin with instead of just drawing a picture like his classmates.
So my shaylah: Is it permissible to wash this shirt? Or even to wear it?
(*Progress note: He can lein bereishis through yom shelishi, a little into the third paragraph of keri'as shema and the first line or two of Friday night kiddush. I've started now to teach him to recognize the trop symbols and he can lein any word with a revi'i and I think pashta. He's also not bad with dagesh chazak and mapik heh, but I don't plan on stressing meseg with him.)
* * *
Ora can stand very nicely without holding on and has good balance, but she's still reluctant to walk. Kinneret said she took two steps last night, but I didn't see (so it doesn't count).
Her first word (a few weeks ago) was "up" or "abba." We're not sure which, as both are uniconsonantal bilabial plosive words and we couldn't really tell if she was enunciating a strongly aspirated "p" or a separate "ba" syllable. But now she definitely says both words distinctly. And still babbling a ton. If you say "oh no" she'll put her hands on the sides of her head and if you say "yes" she'll nod her head.
Still infatuated with David. Reverse is true, as long as she's not trying to play with his train table. Yesterday he hauled her out of the crib in the morning when she woke up and put her on Kinneret's bed.
* * *
David has a fear of homelessness. A few times he's asked where he will live when he gets much older. "And what if I don't have anywhere to live?" I reassured him that he'll always be welcome in our home, but he wasn't too comforted.