Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My City in Ruins

This is at the Kennedy Center Awards...Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder is doing the song that Bruce Springsteen wrote after 9/11. It is a near-perfect rendition.

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The nutters have found me (and it only makes me madder)

I knew I was asking for trouble when I posted this. I received four carefully-worded comments on this post that are clearly from the wackjob get-withholding contingency. They were careful to pay attention to my post enough not to capitalize every letter, and their grammar and diction are near-perfect. But their comments are almost verbatim off their nutter websites, and I recognize the propaganda in their comments. I'm going to exercise the same rights that they do when I attempt to comment on their crazy websites...as proprietor of this blog, I choose not to publish their comments. I don't want to be an instrument of spreading around their insanity.

You see, I know agunahs. I know their ex-husbands. I've spoken to them at length. And here's the thing...I'm about as straight an arrow as you can possibly get when it comes to moral issues and this makes me a very sensitive b.s. meter for when people spin immorality into some version of Torah. And when I talk to these guys, my needle runs into the red. These men are sick, selfish and evil and they cloak themselves very cleverly in Torah. Most of the time, they hide their immorality very well.

Orthodox Judaism is very gender-role oriented. I actually believe that most of the time, this is a good thing. But how I feel about it is sort of irrelevant...it is what it is, and though I do struggle with certain aspects of halacha, I embrace them, because overall, I think Torah is an ideal system. Orthodox Jewish marriage is one of these bizarre legal constructs that is centuries old. It basically involves the husband "acquiring the wife." I don't know a better English word than "acquire" although it is not exactly accurate. It's not the same thing as acquiring a goat or a piece of furniture, as the wife needs to consent and understand what is transpiring (a goat or table does not) and by acquiring the wife, the husband has specific legal obligations toward her. While halachic marriage is one-sided transactionally (the man is actively acquiring, the woman is passively acquired), it is not misogynistic. But since it is the man that is active in the marriage, it is the man that is active in the undoing of the marriage. The man holds the power of the giving of the divorce, the get.

On the positive side, I remember when I stood under my chuppah (both times) thinking that it was extremely cool that my husband was marrying me using the exact same words and the exact same action as my father did when he married my mother, my grandfathers did when they married my grandmothers, my great-grandfathers did when they married my great-grandmothers, etc. I felt like I was part of a giant spiral. On the other hand, when a woman stands under a chuppah with a man, she is putting her life in his hands. She is trusting him that if something goes wrong, he will do the right thing and release her. That is an enormous trust. Think about that. And anytime a husband withholds a get from his wife, for any reason, he betrays that trust and abuses that power.

I'm not saying that all divorces are the man's fault. I'm not saying that women don't play dirty in divorce and custody settlements. Hire a lawyer, rake her over the coals, do whatever you think is right, and defend yourself. But the get needs to be completely off the table. It is difficult for me to believe that God meant for husbands to torment and enslave their wives when He gave the power of the get to men. It was not meant to be used this way, and when men do this, they belittle themselves, halacha and the Torah. When a husband uses a get to extort money from his wife, he becomes a naval b'rshut haTorah, or worse, just a plain thief and extortionist. These men are cruel and often mentally unstable. I've met enough of them.

I've already lived long enough to accept that there are evil people in the world. That part doesn't keep me up at night. What bothers me more is the apathy of otherwise good, giving people when it comes to dealing with these men. People are more willing to advocate against global warming than against get-withholders....what the hell kind of value system does that show? If I owned a store or a restaurant in a Jewish community, I would have a sign up: "If you are withholding a get from your wife, your business is not welcome here." I get furious when I hear about synagogues that allow these men to come in the door. I want to tear my hair out when I hear about a Beis Din that instructs a woman to "just pay her husband off and get it over with." Every time a Beis Din condones this kind of extortion, they open the door for a hundred other men to do the same. The Batei-Din should decree that going forward, all gets that were bought-off with money are invalid. That would stop these extortionists cold. I want to scream when I hear about shadchans setting these losers up with unsuspecting women. And the women who date them, knowing their situation...well, I have no words.

But the evil continues and it remains a large boil on the backside of the Jewish community. It makes me cringe. When I see my Jewish sisters unable to date, remarry, have children, go on with their lives, all because they made the mistake of marrying selfish monsters, my heart breaks.

So think twice before you date one of these nutters. Think twice again before you let him into your home, shul, store, restaurant, or do business with him. Think about what you would do if your daughter or sister became an agunah and her life had to come to a screeching halt. Think hard, because all Bnos Yisroel are your daughters and your sisters, so stand up for them, protect them, and give voice to this injustice.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mi K'amcha Yisrael, Goy Echad Ba'aretz

I think I complain about the religious Jewish community enough, yes? So for a change, I'd like to post on how absolutely wonderful they are. You heard me right.

IVF is not cheap. The whole thing costs roughly $25,000 from start to finish and almost none of that is covered by insurance. My health insurance is very weird. They will cover any procedure or medicine that corrects infertility but absolutely none that will contribute towards a pregnancy. How stupid is that?

Given that my husband and I are now both unemployed and are being kept afloat by the odd contract job here and there, the idea of taking $25,000 out of our savings is not one we relish right now. Nearly a third of that $25,000 is the cost of IVF medicines. The medicines are unbelievably expensive. I've been looking into ways to curtail the costs and take the edge off of the expense.

I spoke to an IVF nurse at an infertility support group about possibly getting in touch with patients who had insurance coverage and are now done with their cycles and have no further use for their leftover meds. She said she's done this before, and she'd put me in touch with patients who would be happy to sell me their leftover meds at a slightly reduced cost from what I would pay at the pharmacy.

Then I visited some infertility support boards online. Again, lots of folks are willing to sell me their extra meds. Sell.

Then I got in touch with a Jewish organization in NY that helps couples deal with infertility. I'm not going to mention their name....they don't engage in any sort of IVF drug dispensing (and actually, they made a point of NOT doing it) but I don't want to connect them to this in any way. Basically, dispensing drugs if you're not a pharmacy or doctor is illegal. This organization refused to let me post any requests on their boards asking for meds (I assume this might have been a legal problem in the past) but I did post a request for information on less expensive medication resources, along with my email address. Ha'mayveen yaveen. I was flooded with emails from women who had extra meds that they were done with and they offered to give them to me. Give. So far, not one of them is willing to even be reimbursed for shipping costs. I am stunned and overwhelmed by their kindness.

So far, I have received offers for about $5,000 worth of medicine that I need.

As far as the illegality of it all, look, we're not talking about dealing heroin here. These are not narcotics, amphetamines or barbiturates. These are fertility drugs and I'll be using them under a doctor's care (my doctor is totally fine with this btw, as long as the drugs are sealed and unexpired). These are extremely expensive drugs that would otherwise go to waste if they are not used.

I am so touched by the kindness shown by these women. These are not women I would typically hang out with. Many of them are from Williamsburg and are Satmar Chassidim. From their emails to me, I can see that quite a few are partially illiterate...their grammar and diction are horrendous. But who cares? Kindness and generosity don't need to write well.

I am trying to think of ways to repay them and all I can think of is to take their Hebrew names and daven for them, since they are in the same infertile boat that I am. I'm also making small donations in their honor at the mikvah here.

See, to me, doing this is a celestial deal-changer. I don't think God will give someone a baby because she is drinking ruby dust or wearing a red string or any of the other kooky segullahs that I've heard about or been offered. But giving a fellow sufferer medications worth thousands of dollars just because you can...I think that is worth quite a lot, and I hope that God will agree and reward these wonderful women in kind for their kindness to me. It's times like these that I really do feel like I belong to a giant family. A giant, dyfunctional family, but one that cares about its members to the point of sacrifice and giving.

"Mi k'amcha Yisrael, goy echad ba'aretz?"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More on babies and how I don't have any.

Lately, it feels like God is slapping me around a bit in the baby department. Let's make a list:

1) Normal but painful comment#1: Lady at Bat Mitzvah, holding one of her cute little kids in her lap (number 4 or 5) asks me in front of the whole table: "so how many kids do you and your husband have?" Me, not stopping to feel anything: "We don't have kids." Awkward Pause. Awkward Pause. Awkward Pause. Me, filling in space "So are you from the Midwest or did you move here recently?" (like I give a rat's etc.) Later, my shame is exacerbated by the lady telling my friend how sorry she was that she asked me that question and had she known about MY SITUATION, she never would have.

2) Last week in shul, I said to Moriah, new to my community, in front of five of our friends, "Yonatan (her six-year old) is so cute!" She replies "You want him?" Awkward glances exchanged all around. Again, not giving myself a second to feel, I force myself to laugh. I wish people would realize how freakin fortunate they are.

3) I had some blood typing and genetic testing done. (Thank God, all good news). But wouldn't you know that a woman from shul, Ellie, works at the lab, and didn't have the grace or discretion to keep quiet about it. She forwards the results and the bill to me with a little yellow sticky note attached, saying Hello and Good Luck with the fertility stuff, Love Ellie. I wanted to just die. I immediately called my doctor and asked him to never use that lab again for any testing. I could just imagine Ellie coming up to me after davening and saying something like "great news about your estrogen levels, huh!" or "how's the husband's sperm count doing?" while we're ladling out chulent at the kiddush. Kill me now, please. The other labs charge about twice the price, but I don't care.

4) This woman's daughter, whose wedding I attended six months ago, is 4 months pregnant. Just found out on Facebook and forced myself to wish her a "b'sha'ah tovah." Her response? "Thanks. I hope you're okay with this." Shutup.

5) A friend of mine whose husband just lost his job, was very upset about it. She was crying to me over the phone. I told her that at least she still had her job, and that she was in good company because both my husband and I were now both unemployed. She screamed at me (really, hysterical) that it wasn't the same because she had three children to support, and what nerve for me to compare. I said, "Honestly Debbie, I would kill to be worried about how I was going to pay for my three kids' tuition bills right now. " Again, people don't know how lucky they are.

6) Had an initial consult with the doctor. Turns out in my age category, assuming all my chemistry turns out ok, I have between a 10-15% chance of conceiving with IVF. Super. Happily, I also found out that with IVF, they can screen out for Down's Syndrome with a 90% certainty. It occurred to me that those odds are roughly the same.

I'm not as sensitive as I used to be about baby comments and baby-related stuff. I do understand that the whole world has babies and that it is I who is the exception, and that even though these comments bite and sting, they are normal and I need to turn off the emotion. And I do, pretty successfully. But every now and then, it catches up with me and I feel like I can't bear this pain, that it's too much for me already. Then I choke it down and wait for my next test.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guess who's hiring? Uncle Sam!

Fascinating article in USA Today. So quick, without looking, tell me, where will you find the highest overall average salary, the government or the private sector?

Bong! If you guessed the private sector, you would be wrong. How wrong?

The average federal worker's pay in 2009 is $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector. Yes, the average salary in the government is 77% higher than in private industry, in the midst of one of the most devastating recessions to hit America.

Now perhaps you don't trust these figures? The salary survey was done by USA Today, which is not exactly a bastion of Conservative or Republican ideology. And they excluded from this survey: the White House, Congress, the postal service, the military and intelligence agencies. I sorta wish they hadn't, but I guess they wanted to be mincingly fair.

Six figure salaries in the federal government have also been on the rise:

  • "When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000"
  • "Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted."
And not only are gov't jobs on average higher paying, they are also more secure. In a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector, the federal government is hiring! The government is adding jobs at a rate of nearly 10,000/month.

Think about it. Working for the government has got to be the cushiest gig around. Since gov't agencies don't need to show a profit, there is no incentive for competence or excellence, no reasons to trim expenses or cut out bloat. As Michael Medved points out, if you go into a Joe's Diner and get lousy service, you'll be unlikely to tip the waiter and even more unlikely to return to the restaurant or recommend it to your friends. If, say, Apple doesn't sell enough Ipods this month, their investors will dump their stock like stones. Not so with the American government. If I go into a DMV, wait four hours on line, and am treated with rudeness and incompetence, where will I go the next time I need the address on my driver's license changed? Why, back to the DMV. What other choice do I have? What motive is there for the clerk at the DMV to treat me with courtesy or to go the extra mile for me? What motive is there for the directors of the DMV to figure out a way to make their service more efficient and reduce the waiting time? Will they make more money if they do? Sure. But see, they will also make more money if they don't. The DMV will always have me as a customer. Joe's Diner will not. As Medved says, "In every sense, private, for-profit businesses are more directly and immediately accountable to the public than are taxpayer supported bureaucracies."

Parenthetically, think about this when you consider the possibility of government-run health care. You doing the math? If I have to go back to the DMV three or four times to get my new license plates, that is inconvenient. If I have to go back three or four times to get my new kidney, well, that is just a whole different story, yes? But I digress.

Lest you think that gov't employees suffer in the benefits dept., uh no, they don't. If you work for the federal government, you will receive a generous insurance package and pension plan, along with mandated paid sick, overtime and vacation time. Do all or even most jobs in the private sector guarantee that?

This is your money funding these salaries and packages, taxpayers. Do you get these sorts of perks?

Thinking back on the anger that was expressed over the AIG raises and the rage over the salaries of the top CEO's of some of the bailout companies, I wonder if we will apply the same standards to the bloated salaries of our largely incompetent federal government. I think the American people are at a crossroads now, and we've got some important choices to make. Are we going to continue down the path of being a people of the government or do we want to reinstate a government of the people?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anti-Agunah Nutters

Why is it that all those maniacs who support Jewish men who are withholding gets (divorces) from their wives speak in capital letters nearly half the time? They also seem to use really, really bad grammar and spelling. And they repeat things a lot.

I don't get the whole thrill behind torturing agunahs. Haven't they been through enough? I also don't get anyone who supports someone who withholds a get. What is that all about?

The few people I know who fall into these categories are always one or two sandwiches short of a picnic. They tend to be pathological liars, very insecure, misogynistic and full of themselves.

I don't want to post links to any of their crazy, messed-up websites, because I don't want to give them free publicity. They seem to have a lot of free time and I don't want any of them finding me and sending me vicious hate mail. I got four ugly hate mails this week alone. I have enough to deal with.

But, single Jewish chicks, if you meet a man who has withheld a get for any reason (or is still withholding one), run the other way like you are on fire. These guys are generally crazy/evil/power-hungry like nobody's business. And if you casually know one of these bastards, don't loan them money, don't get involved with them, don't engage. Some of these dudes are major sociopaths.

That said, I will shrink back into my anonymity and hope they stay away from my blog. But you have been warned.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gluttony

I was out of town this past weekend at a Bat Mitzvah in the midwest. My friends, the hosts, are rather wealthy, and put out QUITE a spread at the kiddush in shul. QUITE a spread. There was some really, really good food and quite a lot of it.

So why do normally calm, polite, courteous people think it's okay to behave like animals at kiddushes? I watched in awe as people shoved, pushed, climbed over each other, reached around people, etc. to get to the food. I watched them pile about 3 or 4 meals worth of pastrami, chicken, chulent, deli-roll, dolmas, rice, wings, oh, and of course, salad on their plates. These are not starving, under-fed people. These are people who just conducted themselves with the utmost decor while immersed in prayer. And then as soon as the food came out, they sank to the lowest levels of gluttony.

I didn't even try to reach any of the food tables. No way I was going to fight that throng of animals. I stood in line at the drinks bar (at least there was a line) and waited patiently for my Diet Coke while four people cut in front of me. I watched as a man ordered a scotch (a very expensive brand) while he continuously popped 1, 2, 3, 4 rolls of pastrami into his mouth with his fingers. Not sure if he even chewed. I looked over as a waitress tried to bring a heavy-looking tray of brisket spears to the buffet, and never made it, as people stopped her to grab the meat off the tray before she even put it down. Watched as someone tore off a hunk of bread before the Bat Mitzvah girl's father could even make haMotzei on the two enormous challahs. Watched as someone dove into the relish platter with his fingers because someone else was using the serving utensil.

Of course I joked about this with my friends, who waited a full hour until the tables thinned out a bit before they even tried to get some food. But why is this behavior deemed acceptable? The Christians have named gluttony as one of their seven deadly sins. Why have we set the bar so much lower when it comes to this sort of behavior? Why do we laugh off rudeness and piggery? Aren't we classier than this?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bad Writing, Randy, and Tikkun Olam

I find it fascinating that so few people can really write.

I don't consider myself to be a great writer. I consider myself to be a decently good writer. I think I'm generally a clear communicator, both verbally and on paper. The blog has been somewhat of a practice field, but not really, since this writing is very casual, very colloquial, and pretty much whatever the heck I want it to be. But I've written in other arenas as well.

Ok, now I feel really self-conscious about every word that I'm putting down. Gonna ignore that feeling.

I'm working on a grant-funded project for one of the Jewish organizations in my community. That project involves submitting a summary report to the grant powers-that-be at the end of the year. One of the requirements of the grant is that we hire a Jewish communal professional consultant and pay them $6,000 to evaluate the project and help with the reporting. I view this in the same way I would view taking a hundred dollar bill, setting it on fire, and using it as a shamash when I light Chanukah candles. A superb waste of money. But it's a grant and we are using other people's money for great things, and if they want me to throw away some of it on this, I will. They make the rules. So it goes with non-profits.

So my organization conducted a formal search for the top Jewish communal professionals in our midst, and after some whittling away of inappropriate people, we get to Randy. Randy is a colorful guy. He worked for many years for a Jewish cultural and educational organization that (IMHO) does nothing. He set out on his own now as a consultant. Randy is Reconstructionist/Reform, but incredibly respectful and knowledgeable about Modern Orthodoxy. I don't really get what he does, but I don't get what most Jewish communal professionals do. Frankly, I don't get much of the whole non-profit education and social advocacy world. I operate in tangibles. I get, for example, teaching. I get mentoring. I get rituals and rabbinics. I get social services. I get ladling soup in a food pantry. I get most advocacy, on some level (for tangible causes). These are good, good things. I get these things.

But I don't get what Randy does. I'm reading over his proposal to us, and he has hit all the important keywords like engage, navigate, organic, pluralistic, sensitivity, differentiated instruction, empower, shared. His sentences have subjects, verbs, and objects. But I'm reading it over and over again, and I have no clue what he is saying. His writing is bad, really bad. And this is the man who is going to be paid $150/hour for forty hours to help me write up a report. This is something I find astounding. Randy came highly recommended and is at the top of his field, whatever that field actually is or means. We practically had to beg him to take us on as a client because his dance card is pretty full right now.

His proposal is remarkably amateurish and juvenile. For starters, Randy got the name of his client wrong (mixed us up with another organization with a similar name). He also got the name of the program wrong. He pegged our population wrong. He calls our Rabbi, who is Rabbi Andrew Lastname "Reb Andy." He wrote almost the entire proposal in italics. And somehow he manages to charge $150/hour and get away with this.

I have never had a conversation about the Jewish-world-at-large with Randy without eventually hearing him talk about "tikkun olam." Tikkun Olam, for non-MOTs, literally means "fixing the world." It is the secular Jewish catchphrase of the 21st century. Tikkun Olam is used to justify every pee cee liberal social cause there is (even those that are halachically questionable). Support Gay marriage? Of course, Tikkun Olam. Going green? Yes, Tikkun Olam. In favor of government run health care? Certainly, Tikkun Olam. In the secular Jewish world, T. O. has basically replaced Torah and Halacha as the Jewish justification for doing good. Of course there are no real defining parameters to T.O.; it's just a "do what feels right" kinda thing. I bristle when I hear those highly overused words. Ich.

Randy is very into Tikkun Olam. When he starts talking that T.O. stuff, I just disengage. I've often told him that he should leave the whole T.O. talk in Temple, because religious Jews tend to gag on that rhetoric. He's thinks I'm cynical.

And while we're on the topic of rhetoric, oh, can he spin it. Pounds and pounds of it. He could give Barak Obama a run for his money in the rhetoric department; he is that good. At least when he speaks his rhetoric, he is understandable. When he writes his rhetoric, he is impossible.

But I digress.

Randy is actually a sweet, bright, well-meaning guy. I want so much to like him. But he makes it so difficult.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Put on your yarmulkah....


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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Birthday NJG!

Here's wishing Nice Jewish Guy a wonderful 29th birthday! EOM