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Out of Retirement For a Moment – I need to talk

I feel like I’m young again – being moved to outrage,  feeling the urge to get up onto my soapbox. I just wish I knew a way to do something about it.

This Malky Klein story, is tragic. The first I heard of it was my sister telling me about a shiur she listened to about her story and I found the details so incredulous and ridiculous I didn’t believe it, until I saw who the speak was, R’ YY Jacobson, very reputable, and not one to exaggerate and conjecture. I just couldn’t believe these puny reasons schools found to torture this girl.

But it’s not a new story – look around, talking to a few people, everyone knows someone, or has their own horror story(ies), myself included.

The system is messed up, I don’t trust it. That’s one reason why I teach, so girls can have one class that I’ll love them regardless of their grades or what the school thinks they are. I make sure to slip in at every opportunity what an awful student I was, how I failed my way through high school, messaging the girls, High School doesn’t define you as a person, you can be amazing and successful regardless of your grades or status in high school (never mind studies revealing that it’s the popular people who end up unhappier later on in life).

But it’s disingenuous really. Because I know that if I tried, I could’ve done it. If I cared even a moment, I could’ve been the top of the class. But I didn’t. And the area that I truly struggled in – math, did bring me down, did make me question my intelligence. If I was as smart as everyone said I was, why couldn’t I remember the steps to a formula.

People are suggesting things like creating different tracks, academic and vocational. They’re well-intentioned but naïve. Not just the American culture, but particularly the Jewish culture values intelligence above all. How many results do you get from Google when you put in “Are Jews Smarter” or some iteration of the theme. Even if they make two tracks, the academic track will be the prized one, and the academically challenged (not dumb, never dumb, learning disabilities don’t make a person stupid) students will be left second best again. Yes, they’ll be in a more welcoming less pressured environment, but they’ll still know they’re second in society’s eyes (and who would ever acquiesce to being in the vocational track, who would marry them, because everyone knows you need an IQ of 180 to be a good wife, mother and person).

People suggest less stress on academics – that’s a double edged sword. While it’s more inclusive to the left end of the bell curve, it disenfranchises children who do succeed academically, you enjoy the challenge, who need the stimulation, who derive their self-worth from their accomplishments the same way other measure their worth by their lack. (which is another problem for another day)

There’s no easy fix, what’s required is a cultural shift, a revolution of thought. The thought is out there, but it’s harder to instill, feels to feel-good to be true, and to some, almost antithetical to their Jewish values when they quote (I forget who) “10,000 go in, 1 becomes a gadol.” [referring to yeshivos] And I believe the Chazaon Ish who said, “Every child should be taught as if he’s the next gadol hador.” It’s blasphemous to many to deny these sage words, so we pressure every child.

As an English teacher, maybe I’m more sensitive to language and word choice, but there’s a lot of wiggle room and interpretation in those statements, that don’t leave to the obvious conclusion most people reach – Academic Excellence.

Focusing on Growth Oriented mindset. The research on it, is amazing, but yes, it takes more patience, and rephrasing and resisting language and culture we’re so used to, but it empowers people. And particularly in the Litvish culture, we focus so much on the intellectual aspects of Yiddishkeit, the learning, the intensity, the depth, the mind. We often forget the core – the neshama, the ahavas yisroel, the chessed, the character building. It’s second – part of the extracurricular program, not the curriculum.

How many times have I sat in teacher’s meeting, were they discussed jobs and positions to offer various girls, and invariably the girls at the top of the academic ladder were always chosen. If someone else was mentioned there was a long discussion of “can she handle it – balance the workload.” And from the goals they set for their students, those questions are valid, academics, college, professional opportunities come first. But if they looked at their students as people, without considering their earning potential (never mind that intelligence is not the biggest indicator of future success) they’d realize that who cares about “handling” the workload. Will the girl do a good job, will she positively influence others, what will it mean to her self-worth.

Culturally we need to move away from the intelligence is primary attitude. It’s overrated, studies show that. Not suggesting it doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, but it’s A LOT less significant than the value people pin to it.

I don’t know how to implement any of this. I don’t know how shift the culture. I’m not even sure how to do in in my own classroom. But I know something needs to be done. Or Malky Klein will just be another name among many.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Jewish, Teaching

 

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Tznius These Days

“My husband wants to know, maybe you can explain it,” my friend asks. I’m talking to her motziah Shabbos she’s driving home from Shabbos Sheva braches, kids conked out in the back seat, her husband driving and baffled. “My cousin was there, her husband learned a few years in Israel, she went to a top seminary everything and you should have seen how she was dressed. I get the grey lines of tight clothes and long shaitels and knee-skimming skirts, but here she didn’t even try. My husband wants to know what she’s thinking.”

Me the groiyse mind reader, Na, I just have enough opinions and perspectives for five people
“Who said she’s thinking anything,” I started. “These days there such a lack of regard to the authority of halacha maybe she views it as nice but optional.”

Or maybe she’s feeling disenfranchised that her husband’s not learning anymore, so she’s not in the “yeshivish” world anymore.

Or, she’s not in school no one’s telling her what to do, so she’s just acting out like this. Because she’s not an idiot you know, she knows the Halacha, sure, she can recite it and many other lessons that were drilled into her head over the years.

“Na,” my friend counters. “It’s not scandalous for her husband to be in college, it’s ok for her crowd.”

“I dunno,” I muse. “These days no one is tznius and what used to be black is now grey. They always hocked in school about skirt lengths, but have you noticed no one covers their elbows anymore?”

“People in Lakewood still cover their elbows,” She answers.

“Well people on Facebook don’t.” I say, “and these are my ‘friends’.”

“And what about shaitels,” my friend continues.

“What about them?” I ask. I wear short shaitels, not for tznius reasons (although it does work out) but because my bone structure gets lost in long and my face looks fat, so I can discuss it pretty neutrally.

“We came to a consensus on Shabbos that past your bust is prust, past your shoulders to your bust is long and until your shoulders is totally fine.”

I laughed; it’s all so arbitrary.

“My sister n law was hocking about some woman she saw in the pizza store” my friend continued “ ‘her shaitel was till her waist it was disgusting!’ I ripped into her. When you got married, your shaitel was 11 inches, now it’s 16. Her’s was 16 when she got married, add five inches, that’s 21. You started off more yeshivish, but you’re at 16, she started off less so, it’s the same five additional inches, what’s the difference behind the thought? My sister in law was quiet.”

So was I.

“I can’t listen to this sister in law talk about tznius,” my friend started again. “Every day she wears the same long pleated mid-calf skirt. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand women when they’re pregnant… When I’m pregnant I struggle with my knees, they’re the only part of me that’s skinny!”

And I’m thinking, does her cousin feel as misunderstood as my friend does by her sister-in-law?

My friend came back to her cousin. “Her skirt wasn’t near her knees with a slit, there’s no grey area, it’s a straight up nisht. What can make a girl just disregard everything she’s been taught.”

And then I remembered. There had been a tznius gathering for educators in my community. “Shaitels shouldn’t be more than 2 inches past the jawbone.” A co-teacher and I exchanged looks and laughed. We both complied with his ruling, but no one else did. I didn’t think much of it until the next day at school when a bunch of teachers were firing off.

“2 inches past, that’s way too short”

“I’m not cutting my shaitel”

“Who is he to make up such random line?”

Then one teacher articulated what everyone felt but couldn’t put words to.

“I’m not a person who doesn’t listen to daas Torah. If I’m told something, I do it. But I’m not cutting my shaitel, so I’m mad that he is turning me into someone who doesn’t listen to Rabbanim; it’s not even Halacha. ”

Four inches were told, hair not past a shirt’s yoke, colorful shoes need not apply. These aren’t Halacha, but it feels like that sometimes, and if we don’t listen long enough, we slowly become people who don’t listen to Rabbanim even when it is Halacha…

I don’t know what my friend’s cousin was thinking. I don’t know why she dresses the way she does, but I walk the streets and she’s not alone. The reason can’t be solitary. What I do know is that tznius is complex. It goes to the root of who we are as women and yidden, and in this modern world that seems to contradict each other even if it shouldn’t. I also, know we’re going about it all wrong. I don’t know right answer and what we should be doing, that many opinions I don’t have, I just know that this isn’t working.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Jewish, Musings, Uncategorized

 

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It’s Just A Haircut

The PeklachIt was E’s upsherin on Sunday, and I still can’t stop looking at him. My son is transformed into a new person it seems. Until of course he opens his mouth and as my grandmother said you’d realize he’s “still the same brat”. But such a cute brat. Now that his distractive (and so beautiful) hair is gone, I’m drawn to his eyes. They are soulful. Wide, asking, deep, framed by long lashes, they are the entrance to his soul and world. And I think he’s gotten more mature. Even if I know that that’s all in my head – maybe it’ll turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Cutting his hair was very difficult for me. I was surprised, considering that I hadn’t wanted to leave his hair uncut and do the whole upsherin thing in the first place. But it wasn’t about the hair, it was about the person I knew to be my child. This is a transformative haircut. E doesn’t look like anything I know. I couldn’t even imagine what he’d look like afterward. While they cut his hair, yes, we all laughed that it was a shame for such beautiful hair to be wasted on a boy, but I preoccupied myself with taking pictures the whole time, lest the tears on the edge of my eyes break free of the rim. I did feel like I was losing my child as I knew him. And even though I know it’s the same E, with his finitive language, and inquisitive nature, on Sunday, he was a different person.

There we two moments where it crystallized and I had to turn my face away from the crowd. One, after all the men took their turn snipping off locks of hair, I stood in the back and looked at his hacked hair, and a loud flashing sign in my head read “It’s OVER. This stage is over”.

Naturally there’s a gradually passing from one stage of life to another, a shade of gray, or green, where the red and blue are changing, a mixing of the colors, with the shades starting lighter, fading into on another and gradually being completely transformative in hindsight. It happened in a moment here. It was hard.

And then about a minute into the real haircut, my mother in law (also the barber in this case) had trimmed away enough so you could see the curve and actual shape of the back of E’s head. It was so round and perfect. And I thought, I don’t this part of my son. I don’t know this boy.

Now of course logically, I recognize that he is the same exact person he was the day before, sans hair. He still manipulated his toilet training to get more candy, he still jumps off any surface possible, and still speaks in finite terms of, can’t and need. But he looks so different. So beautiful, yes. But so different than the child I know, that I can’t help but feel I need to get to know him all over again.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Jewish, Musings

 

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Joining the Family Business

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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Humor, Jewish

 

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Polishing a Reputation

Polishing a Reputation

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Lakewood ain’t what it used to be – to blatantly advertise such gashmeis and pritzus.

Is no place to remain unsullied?

I must broaden my horizons, spread my wings and seek purer pastures.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Humor, Jewish

 

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An Intriguing Post With an Ironic Tone

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Are they serious? Is that the best tagline they could come up with? It makes me question of they can accurately define ironic. And please, let me use some, just some of my neurons to develop the opinion they so subtlety suggested to me. No, I did not go to see it, apparently I’m not one of the ‘neshei chinuch’ who reccomended it (can you see that little note in the corner?) Embarrassing.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Humor, Jewish

 

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Good Enough for Some, Isn’t Good Enough

I’m am amateur baker, if you can even award me with that title. When my niece was born and my sister in law and brother in law made a Kiddush for her, I was a good aunt (and sister in law) and sent something over for the occasion. I usually send biscotti, in a cookie jar. It looks cute, doesn’t require much patchkening, and best of all, it tastes good. I’m not sure what possessed me, maybe because it was after Purim, and I had just made all those black and white cookies, and I didn’t want my newly acquired skill to go to waste, I made pink and white cookies.

I worked hard on them, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to results. I didn’t have the right shade of pink, it was a bit bright, due to my food coloring packaging description of “NEON” (I thought it was fun colors to get at the time, I didn’t actually think about how I might use it, and that whatever I would be coloring, I’d like it to resemble edible food, not radioactive waste).

Also, it’s a pain doing each cookie, one side at a time, holding it between your thumb and index finger; I developed temporary carpal tunnel syndrome. But for a first attempt, they were ok. The place where the pink and white met up wasn’t always totally straight. The pink sometimes overlapped the white a little bit, leading to lighter shades of pink in some places. They were really pretty from a short distance though.

I made tons, so I froze most of them, and worked on the final presentation.

Exhibited on a trendy rectangular plate, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon, it was perfect – for Queens. And it was easily one of the fanciest things at the Kiddush. I beamed and blushed with all the compliments.

Fast-forward a month, and brother and sister in law were making a Kiddush for their newest addition. Pregnancy wasn’t being nice to me, and I didn’t have the energy to make something. I kept thinking I did, I even put up a cookie dough on Monday. Made the actual cookies three days later, but the decorating never happened (Pregnancy won that battle).

It was Friday, and I was getting a bit frantic, yes, my brother and sister in law would more than understand and forgive me for not sending something in celebration, but I wouldn’t be able to live it down for myself (besides I wanted my sister in law to send something when I would eventually be making either a Kiddush or shalom zachor – selfish motives, I know).

I remembered my pink and whites, pretty in the freezer, waiting to grace another Kiddush. I took them out, and looked at them scornfully. They weren’t good enough – not for a Lakewood crowd. I could never show my face and be proud of my confections here. Besides, these cookies in Lakewood would almost be insulting to Baal Hasimcha. She’d have to put them out, due to social dictums, but they’d most probably mar the balance and beauty of everything else presented.

Last minute I wrangled something together with my sister’s help (who I was hosting for that Shabbos for the Kiddush). Using the cookies I had yet to decorate, we finagled something that could pass muster in Lakewood and did not require great technical prowess. Shalom al yisroel, I can still show my face in proper society.

I ate those pink and white cookies with my coffee. They tasted great. My other sister in law in Queens is due soon. I might be making another test drive on the pink (or maybe blue) and whites, and see if I’m ready for primetime in Lakewood.

And for those who think I’m crazy, check out the cookies my sister in law sent over for my baby’s Shalom Zachor. This is what I’m up against, and she didn’t take this picture, I did. She thought they weren’t good enough to merit a memory.

It’s not totally about competition, and being good enough, but really doing what’s acceptable and expected in your community. For my ego though, I should maybe consider Queens.

On second thought, Queens is only 20 minutes from Far Rockaway – and my sister – who made these

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Food, Humor, Jewish

 

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