Feb 26, 2013

Can Kiruv be Quantified?

Dr. Rosmarin, a psychology researcher, therapist and teacher was invited to deliver the keynote address at the AJOP convention.  His presentation is about taking the guesswork out of kiruv. 

For decades now, those in kiruv have been winging it, trying different things, having more and less success. Dr. Rosmarin maintains that social science research can be used to analyze what makes for successful kiruv outcomes.  After all, if we are spending so much money on kiruv, shouldn't we have a way of defining success and doing our best to maximizing it? He says (as reported in Hamodia magazine), "We have no clue what is and is not working because no one has ever tested a set kiruv curriculum or program of any sort, ever."

(Though I thought that the Aish Ha'Torah Discovery seminar gives participants a survey to fill out after they attend the program based on which Aish says that a high percentage of attendees say they will marry a Jew.)

On the one hand, the idea of systematically examining what does and doesn't work in kiruv sounds wonderful.  On the other hand, I wonder whether it can all be quantified.  A program and curriculum can be tested, but not the effects of a Shabbos table, Purim party or Pesach seder experience.

Feb 25, 2013

Focus on Over-Consumption

I give Benzion Klatzko credit for his unpopular remarks in a recent talk entitled "The Grinch that Stole Purim."  For those not up on their Dr. Seuss, it's a take-off on a story about a grumpy creature that makes plans to deprive the Whos of their holiday presents, dinners, and decorations.

Klatzko laments the wet-rag attitude towards Purim by those who seek to minimize (or eliminate) noise-making at the mention of Haman's name, minimize shalach-manos giving, minimize (or eliminate) drinking, and say you're too old to dress up.  He thinks they're a bunch of spoil-sports and are taking Purim away from us, and he's got a good point!

Does drinking get out of hand? Sometimes.  Does shalach manos giving get out of hand? Sometimes.  But when we hear too much about things getting out of hand, then the mussar-giving is out of hand!

Actually, I think year round eating and enticements to eat with increasingly lurid advertisements and cookbooks has gotten out of hand in the frum world.  This affects us every day of the year, not just one, and it affects the health of men, women and children, not just men.  So rather than harping on  excessive Purim mitzva and minhag observance, I'd like to hear more from our leaders about excessive non-mitzva and minhag eating indulging.

Feb 19, 2013

Jumping the Line

The scene (as related by Dr. Wikler to whom this happened): A long line in a take-out store erev Shabbos. 

A woman comes in and says, "I am double parked and need two chickens etc." She ignores the line of people and expects to be served. 

The person behind the counter was not sure how to proceed (you may ask, why didn't he simply tell her to get on line, I don't know, maybe she was a frequent customer he didn't want to alienate, maybe her manner was intimidating).  He asked the person he was serving whether he minded if he took her first.  The person said okay.  The other people on line were not asked whether they minded even though each one should have been asked before the woman was served.

Question: If you were on line, what would you have done? Kept quiet but seethed? Loudly told the woman to get on line like everyone else? Loudly tell the counter man that there's a line and first come is first served? Loudly say: Everyone on line must be asked whether they mind if she goes ahead?

I found it interesting when someone said to me: The way we treat others is the way G-d treats us.  How would we want G-d to treat us?

I understood this to mean that we also make unreasonable requests of G-d and are rude sometimes.  Do we want Him to be forgiving or to take a hard line with us?

Another point the person made was something to the effect of - if the person is asking, and it's important to them, why be a stickler? It's not our job to teach others.  Why not accede to their request?

Feb 14, 2013

Sticking Up for our Fellow Jew

The scene: You are in a store and see someone shoplifting.  What do you do? Tell the manager/owner? Confront the person? Look away?

The discussion:

A says: It's not for us to judge anyone.  There's too much judging going on.  We are not G-d's policeman!

B says: So, just let the perpetrator get away with stealing?

A has, on previous occasions, expressed dismay over how Jews don't stand by one another.  Snitching?! Out of the question! So A is adamantly opposed to informing on the shoplifter.  A also gives examples of situations in which a store owner was aware that someone was shoplifting and chose to let it go.

B says: Well, that's the owner's prerogative! An owner can choose to let someone take merchandise without paying for it! But if you see it happening, how do you have the right to allow them to steal?

A maintains their non-condemnatory stance until B says: The halacha is that you are not permitted to buy stolen goods because that makes you an accessory to the thief.  If you look away from a shoplifter, you are an accessory to the crime! Why do you have more Ahavas Yisrael for the shoplifter than for the store owner?

At that, A's position was modified to say see whether you can say something to the shoplifter (as opposed to reporting to the manager/owner), having realized that by protecting the shoplifter we are hurting someone else.

Feb 13, 2013

History in the Flesh


I have the privilege of knowing Mrs. Pearl Benisch.  By my reckoning, she is in her 90's since she describes knowing Sarah Schenirer who died in 1935 and she was a teenager, about 14 at the time.  Mrs. Benisch is the author of To Vanquish the Dragon which is about Beis Yaakov girls during World War II and and Carry Me in your Heart about Sarah Schenirer. 

Mrs. Benisch addresses group of high school girls and the main message she seeks to convey is: You are great.  You don't know what greatness you possess.

She is a very warm and positive woman who has been known, when speaking to young people, to say that she and they are the same age for they are all young.   

When I see her, I feel that I am looking at an extraordinary sight; a woman who helped Sarah Schenirer raise tzedaka funds, a woman who went through the war whose wish was not for bread or a sip of water but, "v'taher libeinu l'ovdecha b'emes" (Purify our heart to serve You in truth).

An interview with Pearl Benisch is here.
 In this excellent video: here which I recommend be watched in its entirety, Mrs. Benisch speaks at 31:26 minutes and 37:24 and 40:45 among other snippets.


Feb 12, 2013

I Will Build a Mishkan in my Heart

In honor of this week's parsha, Teruma, in which the Jewish people are told to contribute towards the building of the Mishkan and which provides detailed descriptions of how the Mishkan and the keilim are to be constructed, here is a classic song from the 70's composed by Shmuel Brazil that you can listen to: Bilvavi

בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו, ובמשכן מזבח אשים לקרני הודו, ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה, ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי, את נפשי היחידה(Sefer Charedim)

English Translation:

In my heart i will erect a Mishkan
to glorify His honor
In the Mishkan i will place an alter
to acknowledge His splendor
And as the eternal light i will take to me
the fire of the Akaidah
And as a sacrifice i will bring forth my soul
my soul the Yechidah (the highest level of the soul)

Feb 3, 2013

Not Quite Kosher Indulgence

An ad in a frum magazine:

chocolate + caramel

and it showed a bag of chocolates.

I translate this ad into:

GOT TAAVOS? Indulge in chocolate


In the same magazine an ad for a liquor store says:

Expanding your palate with select international wines

I translate this ad into:

Don't have enough taavos? Let us help you expand your repertoire.

I suspect that one of the reasons we say on Yom Kippur:

al cheit she'chatanu lifanecha b'maachal u'v'mishteh - for the sin that we sinned before You with eating and drinking, is because we indulged our cravings and expanded our palates and G-d wasn't in the picture.

Feb 2, 2013

Where's the Krechtz?

I'm reading an interesting book called "In One Era, Out the Other" by Kaufman (Mekor Press).  In one section he describes the thought process that led him to make aliya.  In short, he saw no justification to live elsewhere.  I've written on this subject here.

There was a line that caught my attention.  He writes about the explanations people provide as to why they still live outside of Eretz Yisrael and then says, "What has perplexed me, though, is that I have never heard a krechtz, a sigh, an air of genuine wistfulness, a deeply felt yearning to be living in Eretz Yisrael."

I knew what he means since I don't recall hearing that sentiment either and this is even though I had close relatives living there.  Our life was here and Eretz Yisrael was the stuff of news items, stories, school subjects, and songs.  I think it was like Rosie wrote in a comment to that earlier post, we expected that all Jews would go to Eretz Yisrael with the coming of Moshiach.  And sadly, I must say in retrospect, it wasn't something for which we were plotzing, apparently, since it wasn't something we spoke about with a sigh, with a wistfulness, with a yearning.

Feb 1, 2013

Why I am Opposed to Whole Wheat Challa

Let me say from the outset, if someone needs to eat whole wheat or spelt challa for medical reasons, I am not addressing that.  I am talking about those who feel virtuous serving a healthier challa made out of whole wheat rather than white flour. 

In the Beis Ha'Mikdash, solles was fine flour that had the coarser, darker flour sifted away.  The gentiles in Europe knew that although they always ate black bread, and so did the Jews, on the Sabbath, Jews ate bread made out of white flour.  Black bread was for the lower classes and white bread was for the wealthy. 

Challa made out of white flour was a way of honoring the Shabbos and it wasn't only in Eastern Europe.  There was no challa in Syria, says Victoria Dwek, food columnist.  "Whole wheat pita was eaten during the week, and white pita on Shabbat."

The Shabbos zemiros refers to meat and fish v'chol matamim - all delicacies.  There is no mitzva to make ourselves ill, but there is a mitzva to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights.  The food doesn't have to be dripping with oil and full of sugar, but it needs to be special.  There should be foods that we don't eat during the week, but save for Shabbos.  Shabbos is a time for holy indulgence, l'kavod Shabbos kodesh.