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?!