Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Cinderella Myth and the Sense of Entitlement

Fairy tales seem to be harmless enough. But some of them present a rather warped picture of the world. I don't refer to the introduction of magical elements but to the concept of how one goes about getting what one wants. Two stories that particularly bother me are Puss in Boots and Rumpelstilsken. The protagonists both "win," but only through completely misrepresenting who and what they are and taking credit for the achievements or possessions of another. So the moral of the story is, boys and girls, the ends justify the means. Don't worry about the Faustian bargains you make along the way; you can cheat your way out of those. You'll get to marry a princess because she believes the lies spun by a cat. Or you'll get to marry a prince because he believes you have spun rooms full of straw into gold. Those two stories are among the most insidious I have encountered. But there is even some danger to the most popular of the fairy tales, the Cinderella story.

I was thinking of using the phrase, "The Grim (not Grimm) Reality" for the title, though the Cinderella story may not have originated with the brothers Grimm. And of course, some of our perception of the fairy tales are actually seen through the lens of Disney with the mantra of "Dreams come true" as the optimistic theme. Think about that phrase. It is an absolute. Now, as far as aspirations there is a positive element to clinging to one's dream for one's own accomplishment. That is a matter of determination and persistence, to do what it takes to qualify as a doctor or a teacher or an architect, if that is what one dreams. That is an entirely different matter from wishing for a dream house, car, or wedding. Yet, in our culture, even such materialistic dreams are viewed as valid. And people are brought up on having all their wishes granted. They want to believe that they will get the chance to wear the gorgeous gown and be the belle of the ball if only on their own wedding day. And so what if they don't have the money for the coach and horses, glass slippers, and the rest? That is what fairy godmothers are for.

Wait, did I just indicate that there are people regarded as adult enough to be getting married who believe in fairies? Well, they do in a way. They don't think that not having the financial means to make their dreams come true should get in the way of their big plans. Someone else is to be found to foot the bill. And the parents of these starry-eyed peole choose not to teach them the hard facts of life but to bolster the illusion. The Disney dream feeds the sense of entitlement that makes people brazen enough to demand others take on the role of fairy godmother by granting them the wedding affair, home, and even gifts they could not afford on their own.

Hey, when it's all magic it doesn't cost anyone anything. But we're in reality, remember? The tzedaka funds that went toward your purchase of gold cufflinks or a stunning fresh flower bouquet could not find their way to other causes, like helping people who can't afford food, medical care, or basic clothing. So while it seems like a very nice thing to make someone else's dream come true, you have to realize that these glass slippers have to paid for with money that could have gone to other uses. If there are unlimited funds, then you really can give to all. But when choices have to be made about how to allocate limited resources, it may be time to evaluate the causes in light of the pressing needs of people at large.See Sephardi Lady's latest post on the subject at http://orthonomics.blogspot.com/2009/02/pretending-it-away-while-some-deal-with.html#links

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making sense of a Chazal

This morning I heard a speech that referred to the Sages' explanation for the fact that the Immahos [Matriarchs] were akaros [barren] as "Hakdosh Baruch Hu mithave letfilathan shel tzadikim" [G-d desires the prayers of the righteous]. It struck me that this hardly sounds comforting. On the contrary, it sounds like G-d, who actually lacks and, therefore, needs or should desire nothing deliberately withholds what people want just to make them jump through the hoops, so to speak. It sounds like a sadistic game. That's my kashe [problem or question].

So I thought about how this can be explained, especially given the context of the barren state of the Matriarchs. Think about this: a Matriarch by definition has to become a mother. That is her destined role. And the Immahos, who were all prophetesses, recognized what role was intended for them. And herein lies the answer to the kashe. Even when something is clearly seen as one's destiny, that does not mean it can be taken for granted. Thus the Immahos had to have children to fulfill their roles as intended. But they still had to work for the priviliege of having children. Even something that must happen, as it is central to the Divine plan, requires the individual to do her part. She cannot just sit back and say, "Well, if my role is to be one of the Matriarchs, then I am bound to have children, so there is no need to worry about it." It is not that G-d needs the prayers, for He needs nothing. It is for the righteous to get the opportunity to work through their prayers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Macher class

OK, right off I will say that I am not any type of macher at all. But I have been thinking that there is not only one macher type. While all machers do share some common traits, there are variations on the macher personality. Indeed, the classification of machers could work for one of those composition assignments I used to assign. If it boils down to only 2 types, it would be done as a comparison/contrast. If there are 3 or more to be identified, it would be written as a classification essay.

So here's what I've been thinking about the types of machers that I encounter. Very simply, there are those I cannot abide at all, and those that I can work with. Let us call them type A ( and B.

Type A know that machers have to be pushy, and that about sums them up. There is nothing positive to say about such people. They say things like, "I only pay half the prices everyone else does." This is their G-d-given right, apparently, because a mahcer does not want to admit to not having money even while he bargains. Bargaining is a sport; their mind is set on win-lose, and they cannot feel they have won unless it is also clear that you have lost. They also say totally absurd things to justify their special status like "I come from the holy city of Tel Aviv." That, my friends, is a direct quote form a phone conversation from someone who wanted to demand half the price and twice the coverage. He left off with "take it or leave it." "I'm leaving it," I said and hung up. These people are not worth the time or aggravation. Actually, right after I sold the same spot to an existing customer who wished to upgrade her ad position. No negotiation: I told her the price difference, and we were set.

But in all fairness, I have to admit that not all machers are all bad. The difference, I noticed, is that the machers I work with temper their pushiness with some consideration. The type B, rather than assuming some type of Divine right, push for what they want with finesse. They may se self-effacing humor, saying things like, "Of course, I want everything for nothing." But while they may drive a hard bargain, they do not insist on ripping off the other guy altogether. One other important difference, they do try to show appreciation. They are capable of seeing value in someone else's work and complimenting accordingly.

Obviously, this is an effective tactic in getting what you want, but the type A is so thoroughly egotistical that they put down all others before themselves as naturally as breathing. What realy amazes me is that the A type is able to work with anyone at all. There have got to be a lot of masochists out there for the type A macher to feed off.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You're looking particularly modest today

A pat on the head, er sheitel/tichel. See the ensuing discussion at http://lifeinisrael.blogspot.com/2009/02/email-of-day-eotd.html and http://amotherinisrael.com/2009/02/18/uninspiring-letter-women-ramat-beit-shemesh/

The Wheel of Fortune Does Make its Way Round

A few weeks ago, someone whose husband is "in chinuch" reported that she was turned down for a scholarship for sleepaway cam for her son this year, though she had received it last year. The man told her that there are many far worse off than those in chinuch during this economic downturn. Indeed, many rebbeim make $60-$90K and sometimes even more, making their salaries higher than many full-time city jobs that do not give the summers and all yomim tovim off, not to mention the huge tax benefits of parsonage and the fact that many yeshivos pay the salaries directly to the yeshivos of the rebbeim's children, in effect, lowering their taxable income substantially and allowing tuition payments to be made with pre-tax dollars.

But nothing is everlasting. I heard that YU declared an across the board pay cut of 15% for MTA rebbeim. A local principle said he was flooded with resumes just after the news broke. But he is considering doing likewise, so the rebbeim likely will be faced with what other employees now deal with -- lower salaries everywhere. Instead of being able to advance financially with greater experience, nearly everyone must bite the bullet and make do with less.

all decked out for Purim

on the home page of www.kallahmagazine.com. Check it out, and find Purim Divrei Torah -- not Purim Torah -- on the DivreiTorah page and Levana's recipes for Purim on the Homefront page.

All are equal, but some are more equal than others

The following is a post that appeared this week in the 5Towns Shuls list [note: I know nothing about this company and am not suggesting or implying anything about it; my point is a different one]. Note that this post's email is one that is off the company's name. Whenever I try to post for jobs for Kallah Magazine, my posts are rejected if I include the email address that is @kallahmagazine.com with the explanation that no business names are allowed. BTW a number of FTS posters have emails that are their company names like one that describes the platters they make. But their posts always go through. I'm wondering if any of you can explain to me why the Sunenergy post is compliant and mine is not.

[Note: Message edited by moderator]

We are looking for professional & talented sales experience (both
inside and outside sales-you can work from anywhere!) to help develop
and expand our corporate and residential client base.

This is a commission only position with great financial potential and
growth for the right candidate (six figure+ salary very reachable).

Please send your resume to sales@sunergypower.net... or call 516-566-
2367 -cell (516-566-2367 - Office) and ask for David.

Anyway this is the post I tried to then submit -- the same one I sent to other shul lists, though those included the magazine name and website and email off the website. As I am well aware of the "rules" for this list, I had already removed any identification of Kallah Magazine by name:
Attention Real Estate Agents
or other salespeople who want to start earning more now! Set your own hours when you sell ad space in locally based high quality glossy magazine that has grown tremendously in the last 3 1/2 years. Contact me for the corresponding website to see the most recent issue, and those going back through the beginning of 2008, as well as many other exclusive online features. Then email your resume along with a cover letter that explains what you can bring to _____ Magazine as an account manager. You can start earning commissions right away by selling ads in the spring issue! *Note that only applicants for this position will be considered, so please do not send in queries on graphic design or writing positions. Thank you, Ariella Brown
{My post did not go through. Instead, I got the following from the moderator:}

Haven't we been through this all before? Please do not post content
like this to FTS. I am not going to spend hours arguing this back and
forth with you via e-mail; I will just delete any future non-compliant
posts like this.

This is commercial content, and you cannot post it to the list. Thank

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do you know what is equal to a diamond carat?

Someone told me this today, and I plan to include it in the diamond article of the spring issue. Stay tuned for the surprising answer.

Do you think Monet would have ...

banned all other painters from the scenes he painted? I don't think so. Though the Impressionists departed from the more classical art forms, they did not feel they had to put down each other in order to gain recognition as artists. True artists have confidence in what they do even when they are not publicly recognized or enriched for their visionary works. In fact, Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime; his canvases were used for patches! But now his pictures go for millions. (So you get the juxtaposition of this post to the one just before --- evidence of my own family trip to the met, though we spent less time on Impressionists this visit than we have in the past)
But anyway, what made me think of this is my own visit to someone who declares himself an "artist." According to him, no other photographers can ever do what he can. Look, I have no problem with the arrogance, well, at least not much. What really gets me is the twist of logic that allows him to declare himself unparalleled but to insist that if he would deign to advertise in my magazine, I must banish all lesser photographers, which, of course, means all of them on the basis of his estimation. Now that makes a lot of business sense for me to take on one ad from Mr. Ego and forever foreswear all other, including those who have been regular advertisers for years. As I tell him, I cannot assume to know which photographer is technically not as good as another, but so long as I don't know them to be dishonest or otherwise unacceptable for people to hire, they have a right to advertise themselves in my publication. As he admits himself, he is beyond the budget of quite a lot of people. I have never claimed that Kallah Magazime is targeted only the affluent as some magazines claim.

Now here's the greater irony. He wants me to commit to his standards for quality, while he cares not for the quality I strive for in writing. He unveiled the ad he was so proud of having put together for a directory, which was riddled with punctuation mistakes -- at least 4 missing apostophes, a misplaced comma (despite his argument for the pause, it is not technically correct), and a very awkwardly contstructed sentence. I won't even get into the tastelessness of attacking others in his profession. It seems he cannot cast himself in a postiive light without throwing a dark shadow on others.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What you can do in NY this week for free

Go to http://www.metmuseum.org/events/family/ to download the PDF for a coupon good for up to 6 admissions. However, this is not for a date visit because the visitors must include at least one child. As it says: Family Admission Offer (February 13–22)Celebrate Winter Recess by taking advantage of our special Family Admission Offer (PDF) to receive complimentary admission for you and your family (six people maximum; must include at least one child) to the Museum's Main Building and The Cloisters Museum and Gardens.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The holiday of this weekend

Well, of course, Monday is Presidents' Day. (Remember to put the apostrophe after the s because the day commemorates 2 presidents.) My girls are off from school that day, even though the same school makes a point of making parents drive these girls in on Thanksgiving and on Veteran's Day, not to mention Martin Luther King Day, and January first (which is after all not the Jewish New Year). But there is another day that is celebrated by bestowing bouquets of red roses or boxes of chocolates. That holiday is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Valentines Day. Actually, it is St. Valentine's Day (note the apostrophe placement here). Like St. Patrick's Day, it is named for a saint in the Catholic tradition. In other words, this is not just an American holiday like the ones I named above while ticking off which days my girls get off and which they don't (my son, BTW, gets none of these days off).

Therefore, I find it very unseemly for a kosher restaurant (under the local Vaad, no less) advertises in a paper that bills itself as Orthodox that the readers should book their reservations and come in for a special Valentines [sic!] Day menu. I wouldn't go so far as to shout "avoda zara!" over this (even though a case can be made to regard a celebration of a Catholic saint as such), but it seems not so very far off from offering a "holiday party" on Dec. 25th. Now, based on my glance at the calendar, this holiday of Catholic origin actually falls out on Shabbos. So I assume (but who knows?) that this restaurant is offering this special Motzai Shabbos. But there is no mention of anything so smacking of Jewishness as the term "motzai Shabbos" or the suggestion of the meal that would actually constitute melave malka. Eating for the sake of melave malka is, indeed, a mitzvah. But going out leshem the date set to honor a Catholic saint is certainly not.

I know, I know, you can say that people do not think of the religious origins. But that is the same rationale used by Jews who set up trees and enjoy caroling.

At least the stats are positive

With Purim less than a month away, the plans for the spring issue of Kallah Magazine are in full swing. That includes many often frustrating hours of cold calling prospective advertisers. And, yes, I do it myself. So I just glanced at my site statistics and found that for February (which is, admittedly, less than half over) over 90% of visitors bookmarked www.kallahmagazine.com as a favorite. Actually over the year of 2008, the number was 51.5% of visitors, which is still not bad at all. Now if I were as unscrupulous as some who shamelessly promote their publications, I would claim the ninety-something number as an average. But honesty is really its own reward because it is certainly not rewarded in money terms.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Question on Yael & Sisra

According to the rabbinic observation (based on the number of words Devora uses when relating nafal beyn ragleyha) there were 7 rounds between Yael on Sisra. Has anyone ever found a reason why this point is identified. I know she was tiring him out, but the number seven usually is signifiant and would seem rather much under the circumstances. And BTW this particular drush was not at all censored in my BY education. In fact, one girl questioned why Yael was concerned with avoiding kley gever in using a tent peg rather than a sword to slay the general when she already gave herself over to him 7 times.

To Bee: Devora's role

Devora makes some people uncomfortable. What to do with a woman who was a public figure -- a judge, prophet, and military leader? For some, the solution is to downplay her public role by splitting it and giving prominence to her role as wife. Thus, when my calss was taught a song intended to help us memorize all the shoftim, when it came to Devora, suddenly the leader role of the judge became a partnership, and a husband was brought in so that Devora would not have to go it alone. In the song, it was Devora along with her husband Barak that are credited with the role of shoftim for her time .

Now, Devora is never identified as the wife of Barak but of Lapidos in the text of the navi itself. However, some do identify her husband as Barak who point to the similarity of lightning nad flame to make the identification. I would think that some would be very uncomfotable with the notion of a woman working so closely -- as Devora does with Barak -- and seem so familiar with a man who is not her husband. I also observed somewhat flippantly that Barak shares the song of Devora with her, so it may be considered unseemly for a man not married to her to be singing along -- even though the divinely inspired song is not necessarily sung to a tune.

Another way of dometicating the public woman is to shift the focus when describing her greatness to how she related to her husband. For some reason, Devora was supposed to have married a dud (I suppose according to those who do not identify her husband with Barak.) To give him something worthwhile and keep him out of possible trouble, she would make wicks for the mishkan that she would have him deliver -- hence the name Lapidos. Wicks are not subjet to breakage or other forms or irreparable damage. I once even herad a well-known rebbetzin give a lecture on Devora that was entirel devoted to her great accomplishment -- building up her husband. There was no mention of her courage to take on the role of leader as a woman or the great spiritual state she was able to achieve as one among seven of the illutrious prophetesses recorded in TaNach.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Quantum mechanics, observation, and halacha

For a brief intro to the problem of Schrödinger's cat, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat.
So it is the observation that determines whether the cat is dead or alive. Until there is observation of the fact, the cat is considered in both the dead and alive state. Many have difficulty with this concept because in our usual frame of logic it is either/or. But this suspended determination also exist in the halachic realm. For certain categories, it is the observation that classifies, and what you don't see doesn't count. Consequently, one could actually be advised to avoid seeing in order to avoid the category. Perhaps there is some connection between talmudic thinking and physics.

Not a sin tax but a thin tax

I was given a petition to sign to protest a proposal to assess a tax (the sales tax rate) on gym membership. Now, if the justification for proposing an extra tax on sugared sodas is that it is a tax on something that is bad for the consumer, so it is like a "sin tax," what would be the rationale for taxing something that is good for you? My guess is that they just assume if you can afford the gym membership, you can afford the tax. But that type of reasoning could also lead to adding a sales tax on private school tuition. If you really couldn't afford it, you would not have opted for private school over free public school.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

But where did they throw it?

Opening sentence from an SAT essay: "Threw out history . . ."

The Shadchan Gets Her Man

Though my kids have all advanced beyond easy reader picture books, I couldn't resist picking up Someone for Mr. Sussman by Patricia Polacco (Philomel Books) from the children's room in the library. The narrator, a bespectacled boy between 8 and 10 or so, begins the book: "My bubbie is a shadkhen. If you're not Jewish, you may not know what a shadkhen is. . . . . Finding a person the perfect match is so easy for her. Except for one man: Mr. Sussman!"But Mr. Sussman certainly does meet his match in the determined bubbie who reinvents herself from one end of the spectrum -- as a kerchiefed frum one who believes kosher is exemplified by many dishes and silverware planted in flowerpots -- to the other -- wearing stiletto heels over fishnet stockings to prove herself a dancer. But is is not these stratagems that bring about the happy ending. The final lines are: "And, I thought to myself, Bubbie was right, you know ... [ellipses in text] 'No pot is so crooked that there isn't a lid to fit it!'"

While the frum aspect was only one episdoe, there is slightly humorous reaffirmation of kosher at the end. Anyway, I think the book could be offered as comic relief and somewhat wry encouragement for those in shidduchim who feel they don't quite fit or for those who observe how people do cast themselves into the molds expected by the marriage market. I could go on and on about parallels of women formed by others vs. the woman who reinvents herself in pursuit of a goal, but that would make the post rather long.

If you check out the book, be sure to watch the cat in the pictures.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

gotta have a sense of humor about it

This morning someone asked me if the man she saw walking with me was my son. I replied, "no, he's my husband." To mitigate her embarrassment a bit, I admitted that he is often taken for our kids' brother. (No one ever assumes I'm their sister.)