Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Complacency Tax

Today the moderator of a local e-group I’m on advised us to check how much we are paying our Internet service providers and find out whether we can get a better deal. I took his advice and was astounded to find that I have been paying an outrageously high monthly rate for an Internet speed so low it isn’t even marketed anymore. But that’s going to change very soon; effective midnight tonight, I’ll be getting a rate of speed several times faster at less than half the price I’ve been paying.

I’ve heard this phenomenon referred to as the “complacency tax.” We accept the given rate and stay there for months. And although Internet companies run specials all the time, they don’t tell their existing customers about them. It’s up to us to take the initiative. Once we do, we can get a better deal with one phone call.

Like I just did. Thanks, Moderator—you know who you are.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Israel Gets a Gold

Israeli Windsurfer Gal Friedman won an Olympic gold medal today—his second Olympic medal and Israel’s first gold.

(His first name means “wave,” by the way. Is that cool or what?)

Congratulations, Mr. Friedman, and thanks.

(So where’s Iran in the rankings now?)

How to Get a Kitty Hug

If you want to know how to get a cat to hug you, just ask Lair. Good information on a topic I love.

The first challenge to hugging your cat is to find a way of picking the cat up that doesn’t frighten the cat. Most cats will telegraph how they want you to hug them when they approach you, giving subtle hints in their body position how they won’t mind how to be picked up.

And what a coincidence: today’s Word of the Day from was “ailurophile.” (Go look it up.)

Maybe tomorrow my neighbor’s cat will give me the time of day. (She usually doesn’t.) Someday I’ll blog about the Siamese Princess and my years of unrequited feline love, and also about the Lady in Red, a red tabby female with black whiskers who likes me. She also drinks out of my hand. (Take that, Siamese Princess.)

But for now, I’m going to sleep. It’s been a long day.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Strengthening the Good

Alan at Strengthen the Good has posted about the site’s first charity, admitting that it is not a micro one as he had originally intended. But as he notes, after Hurricane Charley the need is not micro but macro. Check out his link to The Gulf Coast Community Foundation Of Venice Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief Fund ... and give whatever you can.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Strengthen the Good

Alan of the Command Post is using the blogosphere for a good cause: making people aware of deserving local charities. Check out his new site, Strengthen the Good.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Busy, Busy, Busy

... which is why I’ve maintained blog silence over the past few days.

Let’s see: two day jobs, a sewing project (completed last night) and designing and creating a fair-sized bilingual website (not mine): yup, that’s a pretty full plate right there. No wonder I feel ready for a nice, long vacation.

I still need to redesign my own website. I worked on the others first so that I would learn lots of new techniques before I got to my own ... and now that I have the skills, I don’t have the time. I should have known.

If all goes well the bilingual website should be done in about a week. I work on it at night, after my regular job(s). (Free time? What’s that?) I confess I’m looking forward to two things: the sense of accomplishment I’ll feel once I complete this project successfully and it goes online, and getting paid—provided that the Income Tax Authority doesn’t decide that I was really doing this job for them.

So once this website is done, I’ll have to do everything but swear an oath to bring my own site up to date. I feel like I’m walking around with outdated code stuck to my shoes like week-old gum. Not pleasant.

The sewing project involved making three sets of curtains, by the way. Though they were simple ones, I hadn’t realized they take so long to make. I mean, how long can it take to make a loop for a curtain rod and finish a bunch of edges? (Stop that snickering!) I remember falling asleep years ago to the sound of the sewing machine as my mother made matching curtains and bedspreads for every room in the house. Even though I didn’t know a great deal about sewing when I was younger, I still knew that my mother is an expert needlewoman and that she put her heart and soul into those sets. (They were gorgeous, too.) But after a project like this, I can appreciate her efforts even more because I understand just how much work it is ... and that’s without making even a single ruffle.

So I tip my pincushion to you, Mom.

Actually, both my parents are expert craftspeople. I still remember the drop-leaf table they rescued from the trash years ago and the hours they spent rebuilding and refinishing it. Today that table could grace a museum, and that’s only one example of what they can do. I like to think I got my appreciation for handicrafts and love of writing from them. Now if only I had my father’s head for numbers, I’d have it made.

Time to get back to work.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

And the Bus Blues Roll On

The Jerusalem Post is running an opinion piece by a woman who seeks to defend the idea that women should have the “right” to sit in the back of the bus for reasons of modesty. If you want to read it, head over to the Opinions section of the Post and scroll down. You’ll find it if it’s still posted there; its title is unmistakable. I’m not going to excerpt it or link to it here; I see no reason to delay its swift slide into the oblivion it deserves.

The author of the article goes on about how women should have the “right” to choose to sit in a more protected area of a public bus. Yet she conveniently ignores the fact that Ms. Ragen was not given a choice. She was intimidated, bullied and ordered about by a man who expected her to obey him as a matter of course. That is not modesty. It is arrogance. If this man were truly modest, he would have remained seated and silent with his eyes averted—just as I’m sure he thinks women ought to do.

I have news for this self-appointed guardian of public morals and women’s seating choices: no one behaves in this way out of devotion to modesty. History shows that people who bully and intimidate others do not do so for the sake of a higher spiritual cause, even if that is what they would like us to think. Their real goals are to assert their power, defend their turf and frighten others into obedience. The man who attacked Ms. Ragen violated his own religious law, with its strong emphasis on decent behavior, even as he claimed to defend it.

A brief aside: I recall stories of the “kosher bus” from Monsey, New York, to Manhattan. (I do not know whether it is still in operation.) This early-morning commuter bus, which doubled as a synagogue, featured a curtain placed down the center aisle with men sitting on one side and women on the other. This may have seemed awkward—particularly if the bus rounded a sharp curve—but I admire the compromise. The organizers sought to honor Jewish tradition (since the bus also served as an Orthodox synagogue, which requires separate seating) and at the same time would not countenance forcing anyone to sit in the rear. If only we all behaved with such decency.

One bright spot in all this: a Young Israel rabbi wrote a letter to the Post, speaking of the need to expose and be aware of the fundamentalists in our midst. True, we need to be vigilant against people who would bully and intimidate others while using religion as their excuse. The only thing such people seek to teach us is to fear them, and they act as they do not out of reverence, but because they have none.

Dead End

Yesterday I went to the Har ha-Menuhot cemetery in Jerusalem to visit the grave of a dear friend of mine who passed away last year. But I never got there. Instead, I got lost.

Perhaps I should explain. Because Jerusalem’s neighborhoods are built on hills, many streets, which run parallel along the hillsides, are linked by perpendicular stairways. So when I saw a long flight of stairs that appeared to lead toward a main road, I took it all the way up ...

... and reached a dead end. Literally. Right there in front of me was a high stone wall, impassive, imperturbable. I barely had enough breath left to contemplate what it has seen and endured, what it would tell if it could talk. But I knew what it was telling me at the moment: this is it, kiddo, the end of the line. Inevitable, unalterable, final. No amount of pleading, praying or anything else was going to change a thing; I was going to have to go back the way I came. All the way down.

I understood then why the two men in religious garb far above me on the same stairway had looked at me strangely when they saw me climbing upward. Of course, they knew where they were going, so they were probably wondering what on earth I was doing there and what connection I could possibly have to anyone buried in that particular section. Well, their wonder was resolved quickly enough.

Another thing about the Har ha-Menuhot cemetery: various burial societies own different sections of the land there. These sections are not connected. You can stand at the edge of one and look over to the section where you would like to go, which is close enough to touch, but that’s all you can do. It seems like it should be so simple, but it isn’t; there’s this stubborn, counterintuitive, chest-high stone wall right in front of you. Like the saying goes, you can’t get there from here.

So although I managed to visit the graves of other friends and acquaintances, I didn’t get to visit the one that was the purpose of my trip. And as I puffed up yet another flight of stairs while the sun went down, vowing to stick to the main roads next time, it seemed that I could hear from the other side, ever so faintly, the voice of my dear, departed friend ... laughing his head off.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Rightful Place

Although the issue of women in Judaism is important to me, I didn’t start this blog to deal with it exclusively. I figured that I would write about individual issues as they came up, but I was sure I wouldn’t be hearing or writing about them every day.

Until this week.

Novelist and Jerusalem resident Naomi Ragen writes about her recent experience on a public bus in Jerusalem: Egged and the Taliban.

I was happily immersed in an article about Yaddo in Vanity Fair when I was interrupted by an angry haredi man who announced that I needed to move to the back of the bus. I looked up at him, astonished, feeling a flash of what Blacks must have felt in Alabama in 1950.

It only gets worse from there.

Ms. Ragen’s article reminded me of similar incident that happened to me a few years ago when I boarded a bus at the Western Wall and sat down towards the front. Although the buses that go to and from the Western Wall are ordinary public buses, a process of voluntary segregation occurs on them. Men sit next to men and women sit next to women, but both men and women sit throughout the bus. A haredi man who boarded soon after me noticed where I was sitting and waved his hand peremptorily at me, not looking at me, saying: “Yoter le-matah” (farther down). That was it. No polite request, such as “Would you mind sitting farther back, please?” I guess that for men like him, women—or perhaps only those who do not know their place—do not deserve basic courtesy.

But lest we lose hope, here is an article by Rabbi Aaron Frank in the Baltimore Jewish Times on the importance of keeping a synagogue’s women’s section for the women: A Football Minyan.

If even one woman is made to feel that it is hard or uncomfortable to go to shul, we, as an Orthodox community, are failing. If one person, not to mention an entire gender, is shut out, it is simply wrong. Even if an entire year goes by and the women’s section is never used, it should never be given over to men—not ever. Keeping a designated women’s section reminds us all that shul is for everyone.

The issue of the women’s role in Orthodox Judaism has engendered much controversy, but this issue contains none of that. No Orthodox Jew should disagree that women ought to feel welcome in shul. Let us fulfill our mission of making our mikdashei me’aht into truly sacred space. Put up a sign in your shul’s women's section that this is a section for women only, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Way to go, Rabbi Frank. May there be many more like you among the Jewish people.