Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Etiquette and nichum aveilim

I just came across this article with tips on shiva visits: http://www.kveller.com/how-to-make-a-tragic-shiva-call/ They are definitely useful, especially remembering that the point is not to fill the air with idle chatter but to be there for the avel.  Earlier this year my husband sat shiva,  and among the visitors was one who spoke about the major faux pas people tend to make even when they mean well. So here are my additional notes.

Things not to do:
Don't try to comfort the person by saying "it was their time to go." Rabbi Yaffe said that some people say that even to parents who have lost children. It's not appropriate to make any such statement, nor to point out to parents that they still have surviving children.

Don't start criticizing the avel in any way, shape, or form. That extends to the situation of the niftar or even the setup for the shiva house. My husband's mother has a dog that she kept upstairs most of the time when people were dropping in. One visitor said she was being cruel to the dog, which hurt her feelings quite a bit.

Things to do:

Say it with food seems to be the motto of the members of the tribe. During shiva a lot of food is sent over by well wishers. Much of it is used and very much appreciated. But some really goes to waste. During the shiva, my husband's family threw out whole huge fruit platters that remained untouched after a few days. They happen to not be big on fruit and hardly made a dent in all the fruit sent. Yes, fruit platters are nice, but they don't keep fresh very long. So it's a good thing to check ahead about the family's food preferences and what they have. When in doubt, send something that keeps longer. Another nice thing to do is to find out about what foods they really shouldn't have, like deli meats that are high in salt for people with high blood pressure.

Do call if you can't come. The Kveller article said coming in person is what it's really about. That is true, but sometimes it really is not feasible. I can tell you that my husband who is really not a phone person still appreciated getting calls from people he feels connected with when they couldn't come in person, particularly as he was sitting away from his own home and was most often surrounded by people he didn't know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wedding planning streamlined

Keep focused and organized to check the items off your wedding planning list in the right order
Keep focused and organized to check the items off your wedding planning list in the right order

Pulling it all together in 4 months or less

How long should an engagement be? There is no set answer. In All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of the American Wedding (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) Carol Wallace explains that the “planning time” needed for a wedding has changed according to bridal magazine directives. Bride’s includes a schedule for wedding planning. “As late as the 1960s, the lead time could be as little as three months, though six months was preferable; by 1973, the magazine instructed its reader that it took as long as year to plan a big formal reception” (233). It is not only a question of planning but of booking one’s preferred hall, caterer, and band, while they still have dates open. Indeed many bridal guides will begin the timetable a year or more in advance of the big day. The average American engagement period today has extended to 18 months.

In contrast, the average for Orthodox circles seems to be somewhere around three or four months with some engagements as short as six weeks. So, it is possible to pull everything together in a shorter space of time, though the shorter the time you have to work with, the less likely it is that you will be able to get your first choice of venue. Below is a general timeline for wedding planning that assumes about 3-4 months. Generally, the “as soon as possible” would take place 4 plus months before the wedding. Obviously, though, for a shorter engagement, there is less lead time, and the schedule directives must be adjusted accordingly.
As soon as possible:
  • Select a date for the wedding.
  • Discuss expectations and finance with both sets of parents to come up with how much you can spend and an estimate of number of guests that will attend.
  • Set a firm budget that should allow margin below the total you have to work with, as certain items will always creep up.
  • Reserve your slot at the hall and with the caterer; that may require a deposit.
  • Decide if you want a monogram and have it designed in time to print on invitations.
  • Order invitations and thank you notes.
  • Find a kallah class teacher who suits you and set up a schedule that works for you.
  • Schedule an ob/gyn exam (recommended for a number of reasons)
  • Review all your borrowing, renting, and buying options to find your perfect wedding dress within your budget.
  • Select a headpiece style to coordinate with your gown. You can buy, rent, borrow, or make one. 
  • Decide if you want a set color scheme and what it would be.
  • Find dresses for mothers, sisters, etc.
  • Select a photographer and videographer and book for your date after clarifying details of what particular package you want and how not to incur overtime charges.
  • Choose your florist; clarify that you can get what you need and want within your budget, and then and book for your date; be prepared for the deposit.
  • Book the band you want; a deposit may be required.
  • If you want to get a wig in time for the wedding, look into what is available and narrow down what you will look for and where. If you want one that is truly custom made for you, allow 8-12 weeks. You would need to put down a deposit.
  • If you intend to register for china, crystal, and china patterns, you should do so three months prior to the wedding, assuming time permits. Your registry should be set by the time the invitations go out.

About 2-3 months before:
  • Make menu choices with caterer to fit your budget and expected number of guests.
  • Make your selections for flowers. Bring in pictures or sketch of your wedding gown along with swatch to match your bouquet to the dress style and shade. Consider not only your color scheme but seasonal selections. Be clear on your first choice and what substitutions would be acceptable.
  • Shop for sheitels, hats, and other hair covering, as well as outfits for sheva brachos you may need.
  • For the groom, with his presence and input, buy tallis, as well as the atara decoration for it, tallis bag --- can be custom embroidered with name, buy kittel – it may need some adjustment. Bring him along to pick out gifts like watches and cuff links to be sure they are to his taste, and ask if he prefers a particular edition for a “chasson” shas.
  • The bride may pick out her choice of silver candlesticks if this traditional gift is offered by the groom's family. 
  • Address and mail invitations. 
  • Select a band.

One month before:
  • Track response cards to make up lists of guests to be accommodated at the wedding.
  • Order benchers
  • Consult with makeup artist and hairstylist.
  • Obtain the marriage license.
  • Buy the wedding ring.
  • Be sure to have a kethubah ready for the wedding. Discuss options for artistic or basic styles and consider getting a backup copy in case someone makes a mistake when filling it out.

Two Weeks before
  • Schedule final fitting for gowns.
  • Get your new sheitel cut and styled.
  • Be sure to have shoes you need. 
  • Work on getting a final count of guest; you will probably have a number of calls to make to those who failed to RSVP.
  • Give the caterer as precise a guest count as you can.
  • Make a seating plan for the dinner.
  • Go over any relevant details, such as specific requests, selections, and stipulations you have with the hall, caterer, florist, photographer, musicians.

One Week before:
  • Schedule a kallah appointment at mikvah. You would be allowed in earlier than standard time.
  • Confirm that all those assigned kibbudim [the honors like reading the Kethuba, reciting the blessings, and arranging the wedding] will arrive in time for them.
  • Get final fitting of wedding gown.
  • Confirm your times and places with makeup artist and hairstylist.
  • Touch base on last minute details with hall, caterer, florist, musician, and photographer.
  • Write or get calligrapher to write place cards.
  • Of course, along the way, you also have to find a place to live after the wedding. You will also have to obtain the basic furnishings and linens; equip the kitchen with the dishes, silverware, pots, and appliances you will require; make changes need to assure insurance coverage you need. Seeing all that needs to be done, it is no wonder that some would consider even a half a year too short a time. But while it may seem at times like being caught in a whirlwind, it is certainly possible to pull off a wedding in a few months.

Find more wedding planning posts at http://kallahmagazine.weebly.com/

Friday, April 17, 2015

Frum warning signs

I suppose this is the kosher equivalent of warning labels printed on cigarette boxes. In front of the broccoli for sale in one of the local kosher grocery stores was a warning sign. Essentially, it said that the Vaad found that this year's broccoli crop is so infested that it is virtually impossible to rid the vegetable of all bugs. Therefore, it advised any customer considering the purchase to consult with a rabbinic authority first.

Interesting that they didn't go so far as prohibiting the sale but insisted on a "buyer beware" sign. Perhaps they figure some will cook the boccoli just for flavor in one of those bags that advertise they block bugs.

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Modeling behavior for a child

I saw this posted on a number of streams. I get it that it's a nice idea to make people - even random strangers - feel good by saying something nice to them. However,  that should not be  false flattery. The man who gives the compliment refers to the hat as ugly to the boy. That makes it clear that he doesn't really consider it awesome. He could have come up with another compliment that wouldn't be a blatant lie, perhaps complimenting the man on his bag or his tie. 

As it is, the example set for the boy is that you can make friends and influence people by lying about the most obvious thing rather than looking for something you can truthfully point to as positive. 

It's actually a very bad example to set for a child that lying is the way to achieve one's goals, for the end justifies the means. There's a famous Talmudic  (Yevamos 63a) account of a clever child who figured out that by switching around what his father, Rav,  asked for, his mother actually made what he requested by trying to do the opposite. When he revealed this strategy to his father,  Rav ordered him to cease and desist.  "Do not do this," he said, "so you will not learn to lie." Not willing to compromise on the truth -- even for the sake enhanced harmony-- was a powerful lesson for a child. And that child grew up to be Rav Chisda.

Now to connect the point of the previous two paragraphs: let's look at what Aharon HaKohen was famous for. Chazal say that all the Jews mourned him -- even more than Moshe -- because he was an ohev shalom verodef shalom [a lover and pursuer and peace]. He excelled at reconciling people who had a falling out. How would he do it? He'd go over to each person and tell him/her that the other wanted to make up. But, here's the big difference between a great man and the one shown in the cartoon, he wasn't lying. He had the ability to recognize the part of the person that really did want to make up. That's what he brought out in people. And that's how he proved so successful in bringing about peace. 

PS A few weeks after I first posted this, I read R' Dr. Abraham Twersky's book, Life's Too Short! St Martin's Press, 1995). On p. 158, he addresses this exact point of building self-esteem without resorting to lies, particularly in a relationship with a child.  He recounts his thoughtful response to his 7-year-old grandson's violin playing:
Although the melody was grossly off tune, I was about to say, "That was beautiful. I'm really proud of you. I caught myself, because it was not beautiful, and to say so would have been a lie. Instead I said, "I know that tune. Let's have a concert. You play and I'll sing it." We did so, and that child beamed with pride. I had acknowledged his playing  a melody that I could recognize, and I had not lied to him.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Good will and good works on Purim

pic from http://old.chabadinfo.com/?url=article_en&id=32785
Long before the idea of government welfare programs, taking care of the poor was firmly entrenched in Jewish communities.  Giving money and food to those who could not afford the basic necessities, particularly around the holidays, is a standard practice that is rooted all the way back in the Biblical injunction for tithes. C
ontinuing that tradition today, many local Tomchei Shabbos programs, funded and staffed by area volunteers,  deliver food packages to needy families every week.

When the holiday of Purim was added by Mordechai and Esther, the mitzvos [obligations] of the day were set to include recounting the story of the Book of Esther by hearing the Megillah (both at night and during the day), sending mishloach manos  to friends, having a celebratory meal, and the mitzvah ofmatanos l'evyonim, that is gifts to the poor. 

It is not only unseemly to indulge in making merry while the poor go hungry, it is absolutely contrary to the halacha [Jewish law].  The minimum prescribed by the halacha is to give one mishloach manos and two matanos l'evyonim, which indicates a direction for priorities. If people are compelled to curtail their holiday spending due to their own budget constraints can minimize their own feasting and give the minimal mishloach manos but should not hold back from giving to the poor.   

Ideally, money is to be distributed on the day of Purim itself.  In Jerusalem, where Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, rather than the 14th, on the day of Shushan Purim, the holiday can fall out on the Sabbath.  (Because of how the calendar is set, the 14th of Adar never falls out on the Sabbath.)  In that case, the matanos l'evyonim  are distributed a day early rather than late. 

If you are unsure of where to give, area synagogues and schools often set up collections.  A number of charities, like Yad Eliezer (which has an excellent rating from Charity Navigator) accept online credit card donations and can guarantee distribution on Purim.

A freilachen Purim!

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Purim: when we were all heroes

One of the minor (he doesn't even get the extra mention in the song we sing afterwards)  characters in Megillas Esther is named Hatach. Who was he?  In Megillah 15a  Chazal  identify him as Daniel, the same one who has a whole book of TaNach named for him. The change in name is said to refer to his having been cut down [chatchuhu]from his greatness.

 The Meshech Chochma on Megillas Esther offers a novel reason for his loss in status. He says that his greatness among the Jews was due to his willingness to sacrifice  his life for a mitzvah. He incurred the penalty of being thrown into the lion's den for having prayed three times a day. He survived through a miracle.

At the time of the Purim story, all the Jews were involved in the 3 day fast Esther called for. At that time, they all devoted themselves to tearful prayer, the study of Torah, and a willingness to give up their lives for the sanctification of the Holy Name and religious observance. Consequently, they realized that all Jews have within themselves the power to lay down their lives. Daniel's feat of heroism appeared less impressive to them because he was no longer unique in that regard.

A freilachen Purim!

For more Purim posts, see 

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Another New Year

You may still be hearing "Happy New Year" wishes, as it is still January. In two weeks, though, it really will be a new year for trees, on the 15th of Shvat.
This post was adapted from one written by Rabbi Chaim Brown 
Tu B'Shevat is the day designated as the New Year for the trees. The first part of the name is made up of two hebrew letters:  "tes", which has the value of 9, and "vav", which has the value of six, to designate the number 15 for the date of the holiday. The new year for the trees marks the cutoff point for the tithes of fruit; it is rather like a fiscal year, which is not necessarily synonymous with a calendar year.  One does not take the tithe from the actual tree, but from the fruits that grow on the tree. So why is Tu B'Shevat not called Rosh HaShana l'Peiors-- the new year for fruit -- not Rosh HaShana l'Ilanos, the new year for trees?
Anyone who has gone apple picking out on Long Island or in upstate NY in the early fall can remember the bright sun beating on the orchard and the sweet apple aroma. If you wander in the same orchards in the early spring months, you will likely still feel the winter frost blowing through the barren trees. Yet the farmer knows that it is during those crucial early months that   pollination of his crops must occur if the ripe apples of the fall are to blossom. The roots of the tree are neither attractive nor visible, but without them, the tree would not get the nutrients needed for the blossoms to grow and ripen to the magnificent red apples of the fall. 
  "Man is like the tree of the field" (Deutoronomy 20:19) . We tend to judge people's character by the superficial evidence that attracts us - their appearance, dress, smile, looks. We are looking at the apple tree in the fall, with the red shiny fruit grabbing all our attention. Yet, that fruit will not return next year or the year after unless the tree itself is healthy and well cared for. Rosh HaShana L'ilanos tells us that the fruit may catch our eye, but long lasting growth and fulfillment is in the quality of the tree itself.