Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Tuition Crisis: Religious Zionist Edition

Fighting for Cheaper Yeshiva Tuition. At least for now.
I just got the bill for my son's new yeshiva - which includes full dorm. The price? 18,000 shekel for the year.
I know what you're thinking in the United States: 18,000...divided by about 4...that's 4,500 dollars for the year! What a deal! And it includes full dorm? What are you complaining about?
First of all, I'm not complaining. OK, I am. But also realize that salaries are far lower here than they are in America. And it's not only me. The entire Religious Zionist sector is complaining. And it's gotten quite political, which means that something might actually happen.
Check out this article from the Israeli website Kipa, which is one of the primary websites for the Religious Zionist community. In it, the head of Bayit Hayehudi, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hershkovitz, is quoted as refusing to vote for the cuts to the Israeli budget (which aslo include a small tax hike), unless the government does something about the astronomical price of Religious Zionist education.
"הורים רבים נקלעו לחובות וקורסים תחת הנטל הכלכלי. בחינוך הדתי משלמים פי 10 ויותר מאשר בחינוך החילוני והחרדי. הציבור הדתי-לאומי נושא בנטל אך הוא הראשון שמשלם את מחיר הקיצוצים", אמר הרשקוביץ.
במפגש שקיים בשבוע שעבר עם ועד ההורים הפועל למען הוזלת תשלומי ההורים במגזר הדתי, אמר להם הרשקוביץ כי "הגיע זמן להפסיק להיות מנומסים ולדאוג גם לעצמנו. אנחנו משלמים עבור חינוך ילדינו סכומים כבדים שאף מגזר בישראל לא משלם. דורשים מאיתנו לשאת בהוצאות שלא דורשים מאחרים. תקציב החינוך החרדי גדל ב-46% בהתמדה, ולחינוך הדתי קיצצו קרוב ל-80 אחוז מהתקציב הממוצע לתלמיד. בדיוני התקציב נאמר הפעם: עד כאן. מחובתנו להילחם למען הציבור שלנו, שקורס תחת נטל התשלומים".
"Many parents find themselves ensnared by dept and are crumbling under the financial strain. For religious [Zionest] education, parents pay ten times what other parents pay for secular or Chareidi [eduation]. The Religious Zionist community carries its weight [in serving in the army and in Israeli society] but it's the first to pay the price when there are cuts", Hershkovitz said.
In a meeting last week with a committee of parents working to reduce the cost of education in the Religious Zionist community, Hershkovitz said, "The time has come for us to stop being polite and to take care of ourselves. For our childrens' education, we pay great amounts that no other sector pays. [The educational system] demands payments from us that it doesn't demand from others. The budget for Chareidi education grew consistently, at a rate of 46 percent, and from the Religious Zionist edudational system, they cut an average of 80 percent of the budget per student. With regard to the issue of the budget we say, "Enough!" It is our obligation to fight for our own community, which is crushed by the burden of these payments.

Yeah! Right! You go Rabbi Dr. Hershkowitz!
What's really going on here?
First and foremost, what we're dealing with here is politics. The Bayit Hayehudi is in the middle of its first-ever primaries (although I have no idea when the elections are - I think early September), and candidates are falling all over themselves to demonstrate how they're the best choice to lead the Religious Zionist community. I don't know if you clicked on the link to the articel, but let me share with you what the screen actually looked like when I read it. (You need to click on the image to see it full size with my comments).

Hershkowitz is clearly trying to gain favor with his constituency with an issue that's near and dear to most of our hearts: the high cost of education. And he's got my attention. Truth be told, if he gets the government to kick in some money, I'll vote for him too.
Moreover, I take some comfort in the fact that there is actually a chance that something might happen, and that tuitions might go down somewhat, because the issue is political. In America, despite the insistence that Jews must get more involved in local politics as a means to help address the crushing burden of day school tuition, I can't really see that making much of a difference. There's no appetite for vouchers pretty much anywhere in America, and with budgets as tight as they are, what politician (other than one in Brooklyn or New Square) would vote to give a slice of that budget to private schools? But here, everyone fights for their piece of the pie. So, if Hershkovitz is willing to fight hard enough, he might just get somewhere. In fact, Ha'aretz is now reporting that the Prime Minister has already promised to do something about the payments in response to Hershkovitz's threats. Great for us.
But his comments raise a much broader issue. He's really right. For ages, the RZ community waffled between trying to do what's best for everyone, and worrying about our own needs. Not so Chareidim who willingly sold their votes to fund their yeshivot. (If you're wondering why they get such great subsidies, that's why.)
We pay more for the simple reason that we want more out of our kids' education. The secular want excellent secular studies. They don't need or want 24 hours of class per week on religious education. The Chareidim want and pay for Torah, but pretty much could care less about secular education. We want both. We insist on both. So, should we really be that surprised when it costs more money?
But do we really want to be yet another group that grovels in the Knesset for our slice of the pie? I guess, right now, the answer is yes. But that groveling comes at a price. In essence, we've got to ask ourselves: what are we willing to give up? What's our price? It's easy to refuse to vote for a budget that's going to pass anyway. But when push comes to shove, and the Prime Minister is counting votes for a controversial issue (kicking people out of their homes, perhaps), will we be willing to sacrafice those people, and that Land, at the Altar of Cheaper Education?
Is that really who we want to be?

Rethinking Shabbat Nachamu

Each year on Tisha B'av, I struggle with the same question: Should I, or can I even recite the full version of Nachem – the additional insertion recited at Minchah on Tisha B'av? In the traditional text we pray,

נחם ה' אלהינו את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים, ואת העיר האבלה והחֳרבה והבזויה והשוממה. האבלה מבלי בניה, והחריבה ממעונותיה, והבזויה מכבודה, והשוממה מאין יושב. והיא יושבת וראשה חפוי כאישה עקרה שלא ילדה.
Console, Hashem our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Yerushalayim, and the destroyed, mournful, degraded and desolate city; mournful without her sons, destroyed without her stations, degraded from her honor desolate without any inhabitants. And her head is bowed like a barren woman who cannot bear children.
After Minchah this past Sunday (on Tisha B'av), the gentleman who sits behind me in shul asked me, "How can we say this? Have you seen Yerushalayim recently? Can we really honestly complain to God that Yerushalayim is 'desolate and destroyed…barren without inhabitants'"?

"So," I asked him, "what did you say? Did you say the Tefillah?"

"Yes," he answered, "but I focused on Har Habayit."

His is the classic answer. We can't change the text, so when we recite the same, age-old text, we give it new meaning. And, of course, Har Habayit is desolate and degraded, without a doubt.

But his solution doesn't really answer the question. The prayer is about the City of Jerusalem. It's about Zion. It's about the entirety of the Land of Israel. And, for centuries, it accurately described the situation in the Land of Israel, which did indeed lay barren, waiting for her nation to return.

Yet, walking the thriving, bustling streets of Yerushalayim, busy with students and tourists, brimming with attractions and unending construction, the prayer really does not accurately describe the true reality of modern-day Jerusalem. It's just not true anymore, and we struggle to find a context in which was can apply words that no longer seem accurate.

This conundrum about Nachem represents, to me, a small sliver of a much larger issue. It's not just about Nachem and the words that we say. Rather, the entire Tisha B'av observance and experience for all Jews today is fundamentally different than it was for the past two millennia.

Throughout our wanderings in the exile, Jews have suffered the terrible burdens of persecution and exile. Galut was, for the most part, a daily experience. Jews were restricted in where they could live, what they could do for a living, and suffered daily indignities from the surrounding non-Jewish neighbors. Sure, there were good times, but for the most part, Jews felt the ugly, painful sting anti-Semitism throughout their lives. It wasn't usually the overt shock of pogrom and forced exile. Rather, it was the more mundane indignity of groveling for the right to earn a living; the daily curse or the small taunt, and the knowledge that Jews would rarely receive a fair hearing in a secular court. 

When I think about it, I find this life difficult to imagine. I thank God every day that I have to wonder what life was like for my grandfather, growing up in Poland, or his parents, and their parents. It's almost too much to bear. How do you suffer in silence each and every day without crying out?

First of all, Jews did cry out. We cried out to God for redemption and salvation three times a day. Rabbi Yaakov ibn Habin writes in a powerful comment in his Ein Yaakov commentary (on Brachot 3a) that the blessing of Re'eh, in which we plead from God,

ראה נא בעניינו, וריבה ריבנו, וגאלנו גאולה שלמה לפניך
See us in our povery, and fight our fights, and redeem us a complete redemption before You…
has nothing to with Moshiach or the End of Days. (We ask for that as well, just not in that brachah). Rather,

We should pray before God for the existence of our nation during this long exile, and for this reason the Men of the Great Assembly established the blessing of ראה נא בעניינו. And the intention of this blessing is not for the ultimate Redemption, but rather for our salvation from the travails of the exile.
Jews lived with suffering every day. We lived with persecution every day. And we cried out to God about it every day.

But that's not enough. You cannot suffer indignities and persecutions and not react and express your grief and your anguish. And we did indeed express that pain, on one day a year. On Tisha B'av.

For most of the year, we suffered in silence, keeping our pain to ourselves. But, on one day in the Jewish calendar, we allowed ourselves to feel and express the pain, the powerlessness and even the rage of constant persecution.

I believe that for the vast majority of Jewish history, Tisha B'av wasn’t primarily about the future and a yearned-for Redemption. Rather, it was about the present; the taunts in the street and the inability to earn a living a support one's family with a head held high. We didn't need to conjure a sense of pain and suffering or think about terrorists or attacks against Israel in the United Nations. Galut was part of the daily Jewish experience.

Thank God, that's simply not the case today. Life is good. I cannot think of a single time in my life when I suffered an overt act of anti-Semitism. Jews work where they want, live where they wish, and enjoy the protection – both physically and emotionally – of a Homeland that represents their national aspirations. So we struggle to give Tisha B'av a new meaning, when the old meaning no longer resonates with our daily life.

Moreover, what's true for Tisha B'av is equally true for Shabbat Nachamu – and perhaps more so. After the fasting and sitting on the ground of Tisha B'av, on the Shabbat that follows we have for generations read the prophetic words of Yishayahu (Chapter 40) who declared,

נחמו נחמו, עמי--יאמר, אלוהיכם.  ב דברו על-לב ירושלים, וקראו אליה--כי מלאה צבאה, כי נרצה עוונה:  כי לקחה מיד ה', כפליים בכל-חטאותיה
Be comforted, be comforted My people, said God. Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim to her that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off; that she has received from God double for all her sins.
Throughout two thousand years of exile, we would read this Haftarah longingly, hopefully, looking to the future. "One day," we would tell ourselves, "we will indeed be consoled, because we will have suffered enough."

But today, we read the words of Yishayahu with a very different perspective. We can and do take consolation because we are witnessing the rebirth of Zion. This isn't something that we only hope and yearn for. Rather, it's an event we're watching unfold, in real-time, with our very eyes.

We must still mourn on Tisha B'av. There is much to yearn for, and the exile continues to drag us down.

But, at the same time, Shabbat Nachamu gives us greater hope than at any time in the last two thousand years. Jews have, by the millions, returned home. The Land of Milk and Honey is just that, once again. The words of Torah reverberate throughout the Land, and the Nation of Israel has grown strong, vibrant and energetic.

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, indeed.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Jamie Geller Makes Aliyah - But She's Already Pretty Israeli

Kudos for Jamie Geller and family for their upcoming Aliyah. Watching the video of them packing up her house brought back memories. Moving is hard. Moving across the ocean and sleeping on the floor is really hard. Just imagine how hard it will be for her when she realizes that much of her beloved stuff just won't fit in her new house.

When the lift comes and you house is stuffed to the gills, and they've still got half of your belonging on the truck, that's when you realize that as much as you like your stuff, it's not who you are. (At least that's what I keep telling myself when I think of the two pieces of beautiful furniture I left behind in Oak Park. I don't miss my breakfront. I don't miss my breakfront...)

In her video, she is understandably anxious about the move, her acclimation and the family's new life in the Holy Land. Actually, though, Jamie is more Israeli than she realizes. A recent Forward short piece on her aliyah declares that,
Geller, a television producer, author and cooking celebrity, is producing with the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah assistance organization a documentary series following her and her family as they prepare to make aliyah and finally land in Israel...Geller founded the Kosher Media Network, which combines traditional media such as magazines, books and broadcast with digital, online and social media. In the spring of 2011, the network unveiled its Joy of Kosher consumer brand, launching JoyofKosher.com and the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine.
Using your aliyah as a marketing tool to build interest in your budding food network? That's a totally Israeli move. Welcome home Jamie! Apparently you belong here more than you realize.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Culture of Violence

A little more than five years ago, I stood before my congregation on Shabbat morning, and said the following:
This week, the country and the world found itself once again, shocked, sickened and horrified by the carnage inflicted by a single, disturbed young college student, who single-handedly perpetrated the single worst mass-murder...in American history.
That was five years ago, following the Virginia Tech massacre. Were I still serving in the rabbinate today, I would stand before my congregation this week and read the exact same sermon yet again. Because things only seem to be getting worse.
Frighteningly, no one thinks that there's anything anyone can do about it. A prominent Senator told Chris Wallace on Sunday that he doesn't see any solution that could prevent such occurrences from repeating themselves. While the inevitable gun control debate reemerged in earnest towards the middle of the week, the political pundits doubted whether any politician would risk the wrath of the NRA to suggest greater control on deadly assault weapons, and the politicians wondered whether stronger laws would or could even make a difference.
From a practical, immediate perspective, there really is nothing that can be done to prevent another massacre. Yet, we also fail to question the underlying cultural causes that makes these massacres even possible. And we do so at our peril.
The Aurora slaying is far from an isolated incident even this year. We can add Aurora, Colorado to the name Columbine, which is already etched into our collective memory. And most of us have probably forgotten by now the terrible shootings of ten Amish girls in schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. And what of the four killed at a church event in Brookfield, Wisconsin? Or the six postal employees killed last year in Goleta, California? Or the nine killed by a high-school student in Minnesota? At what point do isolated incidents become a trend, representative of a larger, more deep-seated problem? To any casual observer, we are well past that point.
America is sick. We’ve been racked by senseless mass murders too many times to think that these are isolated incidents. Yet, in the aftermath of the latest incident, the incomprehensible murder of twelve movie-goers at a theater this week, we fail to ask the right question. We want to know whether there are too many guns in America, or perhaps not enough. But we don’t ask the most important question: Why is this happening most to America? One answer must be to acknowledge that we are sick. We have an illness, and an addiction. And until we acknowledge that addiction, the symptoms of that illness will only continue to get worse.We are reaping what we sew – and we wonder why it’s happening when it’s right under our noses.
We – all of us – are addicted to violence.
We love blood. From the movies we view to the television shows that we watch to the books that we read to the sporting events we attend, we want blood.
Pundits rushed to their keyboards to ensure that we don't place the blame on the movie that served as the background for the actual killings. Indiewire self-servingly demanded that we "Don't Blame the Movie", and it did so mere hours after the shootings. A more thoughtful New Yorker piece stated the obvious point that,
Whatever we learn of the Aurora murderer, whatever he may profess, and whatever the weaponry, body armor, and headgear that he may have sported, and however it seems like a creepy match for what is worn, by heroes and villains alike, in the Batman movies—despite all that, he was not driven by those movies to slaughter.
Or, to paraphrase the NRA, "Movies don't kill people. People kill people." (Ironically, the very same people who rushed to exonerate the movie that served as the backdrop for the killing rush to condemn the tools of the killing.) Dana Stevens at Slate at least wonders about the connection between the movie and the killings. Of course movies don't kill people. But culture creates an environment of acceptable attitudes and behaviors. Culture changes our attitudes, slowly but surely, over an extended period of time. Who can argue that Western Culture - the music, television, movies and written word - has fundamentally altered mainstream views on sexuality, marriage, homosexuality, etiquette, dress - you name it - our culture has affected it.Why should violence be any different?
Let's look at the evidence:
  • The highest-grossing movie in America this past weekend was, of course, the Dark Knight Rises, about which Commen Sense Media wrote,
Parents need to know that The Dark Knight Rises is the final installment in director Christopher Nolan's dark, violent Batman trilogy. Like its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises features ultra-violent scenes of torture and death that are too intense for younger kids used to the nearly comic, stylized action violence of other superhero films. A disturbingly high body count is achieved via massive explosions, kidnappings, neck breakings, shootings, and hand-to-hand combat. While there's not a lot of actual blood, there's tons of death and mass destruction. 
I wonder: why do we assume that ulraviolent movies are acceptable for anyone at any age, as opposed to sex or foul language? Reading the review carefully, it's clear that the producers worked hard to achieve the desired PG-13 rating (i.e. it's OK for kids), leaving out any real sexuality or profanity. At the same time, there's no effort to hold back on violence. In fact, the more the better. And somehow, it's still fine for kids - sorry - teenagers, to watch.
  • First-person shooter games are growing category of video games in which players move through different worlds, basically shooting and killing hundreds of times during a single game. The media inundates us with news of murders, killings, bombings and other various forms of actual violence on a daily, if not hourly basis.
  • Hockeyfights.com attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to its website each month. The USA Today quoted the sites creator David Singer as saying, “Fans like that part of the game.” He’s right. We do.
  • From the King of Thrones (that's got both violence and sex - so I hear...) to 24 to the Sopranos to CSI to the various flavors of Law and Order, television networks flood the airwaves with murder – both implied and explicit – and we watch.
Let’s make no mistake about it: America is addicted to violence. But calling for bans and limits and ratings and laws won’t address the problem. Companies sell violent video games because we buy them. Studios produce slasher movies and TV shows because we watch them. Hockey players fight because we pay them to. We love the NFL not despite of, but because it's the most violent sport in America. Boxing now seems tame in comparison to the new fighting sport that America loves called Mixed Martial Arts. (basically, pretty much anything goes.) Newspapers lead with blood because we buy them. Why would we ask the government to limit our access to something that we clearly want?
Why are we addicted to violence? What do we find so appealing about a movie about the wanton murder of teenagers in a forest? What do so many find so compelling about a video game that allows us to assume the role of mass-murderer? Why do we love blood so much?
When we see an act of violence, it gives us a rush – a sense of excitement and danger and exhilaration, almost like a drug. But in order to get that same rush, that same high the next time, you can’t take the same dose. You have to take more. So forty years ago, all we needed was the Three Stooges. An eye-poke here, a bop on the head there, and we felt that rush. Today, the Three Stooges is tame – even lame. The recent tepid response to the movie revival confirmed that fact. Now we can only get our rush from watching fake teenagers blow up drug dealers using information they learned in high school chemistry on the streets of Los Angeles.
But, like all drugs, the rush we get from watching, glorifying and recreating violence has a side effect. It dulls us to real violence. In a 2003 press release, the APA – the American Psychological Association declared: “Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study.” “Children who identify with aggressive TV characters and perceive the violence to be realistic are most at risk for later aggression.
Can we change American society? Not today we can’t. But we can change our homes, and we can change our families and our children. Do I think that our children will grow up to follow in the footsteps of James Earl Holmes (ever wonder why they always use the full three names about these people?), God forbid? I don’t think so. But we can at least begin to try and lower the level of stimulation they need to get that rush from the violence that surrounds and envelops them in the media that they - and we - consume.
Do we want our kids to get their emotional rush – their excitement and adrenaline -- from a culture of violence and aggression? Do we really want our kids to grow up addicted to death, killing and murder? Do we really want them to get a rush out of a movie that features a man in a mask using a chain-saw to murder innocent people, or a video game that allows them to kill, maim and murder in all its gory, glorious, graphic detail?
Or do we want them to get that rush from a great hit on the baseball field, or the feeling of accomplishment after they’ve worked hard and aced a test or finished a project, or the rush of energy that they get at youth even, dancing with their friends?
I will end this piece with the very same words that I ended my sermon five years ago.
If all of this is so obvious, how then can we be so surprised – so shocked – when an imbalanced young man, who has watched thousands of murders on television and in the movies, and killed literally thousands and thousands of people on his computer screen – simply loses the ability or the will to distinguish between what’s imaginary and what’s real? Is it really all that surprising?

Until American society is willing and ready to deeply and honestly look at itself, I can say with a strong degree of confidence (and great sadness) I'll be writing this very same post yet again, not too far in the future.

Summertime: Meaningful Jewish Mourning - A Tisha B'av Primer

Summer means different things to different people. Kids enjoy their vacation from school; parents don’t. Some of us take vacations. Others enjoy the cool summer evenings at home with family and friends. But, no matter how we spend the summer, the Jewish calendar reminds us that it has historically been a difficult period in for the Jewish people.
Historically, we have suffered terrible losses during the month of Av. On the ninth of Av, after seeing the people worship the Golden Calf, Moshe destroyed the לוחות הברית – the Tablets of the Covenant. On this day, invading armies destroyed both בתי מקדש – Holy Temples. So, we commemorate this important time period by observing a period of mourning in number of ways.

The Three Weeks (17th of Tammuz – Rosh Chodesh Av)
In their attack on Jerusalem, the Romans breached the walls of the city on the 17th of Tammuz. As that breach marked the beginning of the end of the Jewish kindom, the rabbis instituted a public fast on that day. While the true period of mourning begins in the month of Av, Jews have accepted the custom to begin mourning on the 17th of Tammuz. We refrain from making weddings, parties and other joyous celebrations. In addition, we refrain from taking haircuts for the entire three week period.

The Nine Days (1st of Av – 9th of Av)
The nine days mark the classical mourning period for the destruction of the Temples. In the words of the גמרא, “when Av enters, we reduce our joy.” This entails re
fraining from purchasing significant new items, such as expensive clothes or anything that would require making a שהחיינו, conducting home improvement projects, such as painting or remodeling, and even engaging in avoidable litigation. It’s just not a good time to start new projects.
When we refrain from common practices of comfort, we demonstrate our mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem in yet another way. Therefore, we don’t wear freshly laundered or pressed clothing during the Nine Days (so wear your clean clothes at least one time beforehand – underwear not included). We don’t bathe for pleasure, so we don’t go swimming in a pool or lake. When we bathe and shower, to ensure that we’re only showering to get clean, we only take quick, lukewarm or cold showers. It’s not about being dirty; it’s about refraining from activities that make us feel good. Therefore, we also don’t eat meat or drink wine on weekdays (we don’t mourn on Shabbos) during the Nine Days.

Erev Tisha B’av (August 6th)
In order to prepare for the long fast, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water throughout the day. We call the final meal before Tisha B’av the סעודה המפסקת – concluding meal. Because this meal takes on many elements of mourning, before this final meal, we eat a full, normal meal to prepare ourselves for the fast, finishing a short time before the onset of Tisha B’av. (It’s a good idea to eat a meal rich in starch.) Following that meal, we wash again, and eat bread and hard-boiled eggs, both dipped in ashes, while sitting on the ground. We eat this meal as individuals, and not together as a family, so we don’t bentch together.

Tisha B’av
Chazal designated Tisha B’av as the Jewish day to remember all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. We mark the day by reading Megillat Eichah, Kinos (Lamentations), and focusing on tragedies that have devastated us for so many years, from the destruction of the Temples, to the Crusades and massacres of the Middle Ages, up to and including the Holocaust of European Jewry and Arab terrorism in the Middle East. On Tisha B’av we refrain a number of different behaviors:
1.    Eating and drinking, from sunset on Erev Tisha B’av until nightfall of Tisha B’av
2.    Washing and bathing, except for hand-washing in the morning and cleaning soiled hands
3.    Wearing leather shoes (canvas sneakers are fine)
4.    Marital relations
5.    Study of Torah (other than the calamitous and sad aspects that we learn on Tisha B’av)
6.    Anointing oneself (Actually, I’ve never seen anyone pour oil over himself, but they used to do it during the times of the Talmud, and apparently, it feels good. So don’t do it. Please DO use deodorant.)
7.    If you can take the day off and focus on the sad nature of the day, do it. It’s a very good thing to do, and will better sensitize you to the meaning of the day.
We also sit on the ground (or on low chairs) for the first half of the day, until chatzos – midday.

One of the most difficult aspects of Tisha B’av is the challenge of making it meaningful. Somehow, after shul in the morning we find ourselves engaged in our normal daily activities. How do we make the day meaningful in the mournful spirit that we know Tisha B’av is supposed to be?
It’s not a day for shopping or pleasure trips. If you can, read a book or watch a film about the Holocaust. Write letters to victims of terrorism in Israel. Make the day meaningful in a constructive manner. Have your children create a project about the Beis Hamikdash. Don’t give them candy or ice cream; tell them that it’s a sad day, a fast day, and that they should feel that sadness as well. Have them draw pictures of Moshe breaking the לוחות הברית – the two tablets. Teach your children through your demeanor and the day’s activities that this is not a normal day – it’s a day of sadness and lamentations to allow us to feel the pain of our fellow Jews.

The Gemara tells us that כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה – anyone who mourns for the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it in its glory. Let’s make the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha B’av meaningful, in the prayer that God transforms our sincere sadness into joy, gladness and celebration.

Table Talk for Devarim: The Kindness of Og

Originally published in the YIOP Bulletin in 5763

Chesed – acts of kindness – have a funny way of sticking around. In fact, you never know when an act of Chesed might get you out of a bind.
Moshe tells the Jewish people that when they attacked עוג מלך הבשן – Og the King of Bashan – God told him, “Don’t fear him, because I have placed him into your hands.” Why does Moshe suddenly become fearful now? What about the other enemies the Jewish people vanquished? While Og might have been a formidable enemy, why does Moshe fear him more than anyone else?
Not surprisingly, Rashi asks this question, and gives a terse answer. Quoting the Midrash, Rashi tells us that Moshe fears that perhaps, against this enemy, his זכות אבות – merit of the fathers – would not protect him against Og, because Og had, a long time before, served Avraham, as it is written, ויבא הפליט – “the messenger came” [and told Avraham of his nephew Lot’s capture]. Yet, Rashi isn’t giving us the whole story. There, the Midrash tells us that Og wanted to marry Sarah. So, he came and told Avraham about his nephew in the hopes that Avraham would rush into battle and be killed. Some chesed.
Yet, because of that one kindness, Moshe feared that the merit of that act would protect Og against the Jewish people. So go do an act of kindness. You never know when it may come in handy.

Table Talk Teaser: How old was Og at his death? How do you know?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Notes for Kinot - A Free Download

As is the custom in many shuls today, each year at YIOP, we would not recite each and every kinah, but instead chose a few to recite together, and I would offer some commentary on each kinah beforehand, to give people a sense of the richness and depth of the poetry, language and meaning.

I never recorded the kinnot (and there are many good online resources for those looking to the web for Tisha B'av), but if you're interested, here are my notes about the Kinot (including page numbers from the Artscroll Kinot) with some source sheets at the end. I hope that you find them useful and meaningful.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rav Elyashiv, zt"l. Posek Hador? Does Such a Thing Even Exist?

Let me begin this post by saying the obvious: Rav Elyashiv zt"l was a man of extreme piety, wisdom, and knowledge. He was a world-renown posek. Chazal teach us that the death of a tzaddik serves as a kaparah - an atonement - for the entire Jewish people.
What I am about to write is not a criticism of Rav Elyashiv - far from it. He never sought the spotlight and simply answered questions when asked.
But I would like to ask a few simple questions about who we choose as our leaders, and whether it was either accurate, or even appropriate to call him the "posek hador" - if there even is or should be such a thing.
Among the statements made about Rav Elyashiv zt"l, Rabbi Steven Burg, Managing Director of the Orthodox Union said that, “The impact of Rav Elyashiv’s halachic opinions on our daily lives will continue to be felt for generations to come.” Bibi Netahyahu said pretty much the same thing: "In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv left a deep mark on the ultra-Orthodox world and on the entire people of Israel."
This might be true. But at least for a portion of his rulings that affected communal, political and national life, I wonder: is it necessarily a good thing?

Rav Elyashiv, born in Europe and a dayan within the Israeli rabbinic system for many years, staunchly advocated a conservative ideology that would protect and defend the insular Chareidi community from outside influence. According to the New York Times,
He opposed service in the Israeli military for yeshiva students, which he called a “plot to uproot Torah from Israel.” He disapproved of professional studies for women...he opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, but he instructed the political representative of the Degel HaTorah Party, with which he was affiliated, to support Ariel Sharon, then the prime minister, in pulling out the remaining settlers, many of whom were Orthodox.
That last point is an issue that I find personally painful. Threatened by Sharon with the loss of funding for yeshivot, the Chareidi community sided with Sharon and allowed the disengagement to proceed, choosing funding over land and the lives of the Israelis living in Gush Katif for decades.
In essence, he worked tirelessly to increase the influence of Chareidim on broader Israeli society, and at the same time, to insulate the Chareidim from that society, all from the within the insular safety and serenity of Mea Shearim. Yes, that will be felt probably for generations to come. But not everyone would agree that that is a good thing for the Jewish people.

Moreover, I wonder when there even is such a thing as a "posek hador"? We don't (yet) have kings or a Sanhedrin. A rabbi cannot issue a halachic ruling that is binding on me personally, unless issued in the context of a rabbinical court. If I or you or anyone has a question, I turn to my posek - the individual whom I trust will use his guidance, insight, wisdom and also - and this is really, really important - his awareness of me, my life, my situation, and my worldview - to offer me guidance and direction.
Rav Elyashiv was that to many people. But he certainly was not that person to me, or to many of the rabbis that I turn to for such counsel. How then could he possibly be the "posek hador"? How could any one person be? Whoever decided that there should or even can be such a thing?

Finally, with his death we must begin to ask about the influence of "askanim" - those people who surround and protect the "gedolim", who are so hounded by the throngs of people looking for a brachah, a psak, or just the opportunity to meet the gadol, as if he's some sort of celebrity, that they insulate the individual almost completely from the public. I don't live in Chareidi circles. But it got to the point that whenever a proclamation was issued in Rav Elyashiv's name, I wondered whether he had actually said it or not. I wondered whether his askanim had given him the entire story and related all aspects of an issue, or whether they were "guiding" (read here: using) him for their own purposes. At least when Rav Ovadya Yosef says something, I myself can listen to him say it on the radio. People might not like what he says, but you knew that he said it. Can the same be said for much of what was proclaimed in Rav Elyashiv's name?

None of this is or was Rav Elyashiv's fault. He was, by all accounts, pious, righteous and simple. People asked him questions, and he gave them answers. He never sought the spotlight, and actually hid from it pretty well. Rav Aviner's beautiful eulogy highlights this point eloquently.
What does it say about us that we need a "posek hador" and flock to them like celebrities? Perhaps the Chareidi community that Rav Elyashiv wished to shield from secular society was more influenced by it than he believed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Presentation for My Students at the MOFET Seminar

This morning, I had the privelege of teaching about "Teaching Teshuva" to participants in an educational visit to Israel coordinated by the MOFET institute.

I promised to upload the Powerpoint Presentation, so here it is.

Also, if you're interested in learning more about our exciting online Certificate Program for Supplementary School Educators, you can find that link here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Audio Shiur: Parshat Matot-Masei - An Army of Chareidim

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Matot-Masei - An Army of Chareidim

The topic of Chareidim in (or out of) the Army has topped the headlines in Israel, and might yet topple the government. Rashi, the Midrash, and Ramban all make comments that are quite relevant to the discussion.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Now you can subscribe to this shiur as a podcast, directly from iTunes! To subscribe, click here.

Audio Shiur: Parshat Pinchas 5772 - Tribalism

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Pinchas - Tribalism

Why does God insist on maintaining the tribal divisions among the Jewish people, even after they enter the Land of Israel? I gave this shiur the day before we moved to our new home, which might explain the references to the boxes.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

Now you can subscribe to this shiur as a podcast, directly from iTunes! To subscribe, click here.

Audio Shiur: Insights into Agadah Shiur 1 - Kohanim to the World

Audio Shiur:
Insights into Agadah Shiur 1 - Kohanim to the World

This shiur studies the classic text of Agadeta found in Gemara Brachot, focusing as well on the commentaries of Ein Ya'akov of Rabbi Ya'akov ibn Habib and Ein Ayah from Rav Kook.

In the very first shiur in this new series on Agaddah, and the commentaries of Ein Yaakov and Ein Ayah of Rav Kook, we examine the ideological difference between Shema at night and Shema during the day according to Rav Kook.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Source Sheets can be found here.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

I'm working on submitting this shiur to iTunes as a podcast. Stay tuned for more info.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Moving Day

330am Can't sleep. Apparently going to bed at 1230 wasn't late enough to sleep through the night. It's going to be a busy day (little did I know how busy). Try to fall back to sleep.
400am Give up trying.Too much on my mind. Get up, head downstairs. After all, we're moving today.
5:30am Get dressed. Head off to early early minyan.
6:30am Return home. Make coffee. Must be at new house by 7:00am to meet house cleaning crew. (The house is still a mess from the construction, with dirt, dust and debris everywhere. Did I mention that the movers are coming today? And the workers are still working?)
7:00am Arrive at new house. Drink coffee slowly. Feel caffeine slowly pumping through veins. How did people live without coffee?
7:15am Cleaning crew has not yet arrived. Begin to worry that the guy decided not to come. Decide that I might as well install the ceiling fan in the kitchen while I'm waiting.
7:30am Construction crew arrives. They're putting the finishing touches on our bedroom (at least most of them). Gingerly call cleaning crew. He's on the road, and apologizes that he got out late. Phew!
8:00am Cleaning guy arrives. I give him instructions, asking him to wait to clean the master bathroom as the workers are still working there. He begin spraying water all over the house with a hose. When I ask him what he's doing he says, "Don't worry. This isn't the first house I've cleaned." Whatever.
9:00am Finish installing ceiling fan. It works. That's a good thing.
9:15am Notice that the cleaning guy can't reach the top of a window. I climb on the ladder to reach up. He holds my legs so I don't fall. Turns out he's a really nice guy, which I didn't know when he spent twenty minutes screaming at me the day before.
10:30am Rena calls me slightly in a panic. Moving guys are coming at 12:00pm, and there's still random stuff strewn around the house. And we've run out of boxes. Again.
10:45am Bezeq guys shows up to install our phone and internet.  
11:00am Run home, stopping at the local shopping center to scrounge for boxes. None to be found, probably because Rena's already collected them because when I arrive home, there's a new pile of boxes to fill.  Eat breakfast. We continue to pack frantically.
11:30am Get a call from the contractor calling me back to the house. He's got questions about the Shabbat timers they're putting in, and needs my input.
12:00pm Neighbor drops off second cup of coffee. Thanks! Movers arrive and begin loading boxes into truck.
1:30pm Call old home. Movers are there moving stuff. Run home to direct them. The mover came on time, but it's just him and another guy. It's going to be a long day. Also, I kind of expected them to bring packing materials, some cloth to wrap the furniture. Nothing doing. They put the stuff straight on the truck - which worked out in the end, because we only moved about 500 feet.
1:45pm Construction crew finishes the master bedroom. Cleaning guy moves in to clean, while they turn to other final tasks.
2:00pm Still at old house. First truckload nearly full. Quick falafel for lunch. I think I ate most of it standing up.
3:00pm Movers arrive at the house. Floor has finished drying perhaps 10 minutes ago. I'm a traffic cop, trying to direct them where to put different items. Note to self: movers don't like moving things once they've put them down. They'll do it, but let you know about it.
4:00pm Back to the old house for the second round. By this time, everything is pretty much packed up, but the movers have to take apart a crib and a bunk bed, so I've got some time. I call a neighbor for help taking down some shelves from the wall. (they're stuck) He says he'll be right over. We (me and Simcha) start sweeping the floors. It's amazing and scary (and disgusting) how much dirt accumulates under and behind your furniture.
6:00pm Movers still disassembling. Neighbor drops by with power tools, and takes down shelf in seconds. He then lends me some plaster, so I begin patching the holes in the walls where we hung pictures. (In Israel, when you rent a home, you have to leave the house in the condition in which you found it, which means whitewashing the walls.) Rena feeding kids dinner cooked by the neighbors on the back patio of the new house.
8:00pm Movers finally ready to go. Second truckload full. Back to the (new) house, where I discover that the kitchen contractor has finally returned to finish the kitchen. (We think that the phone call saying, "the movers are here, and we need to put our dishes away" convinced him that we were serious.)
8:30pm Get a phone call on my cell from the States for a prearranged (weekly) conference call. It's important, so I take the call. Hopefully what I said made sense. 
9:00pm Movers assembling bunk bed in boys' room. They actually borrowed the drill from the kitchen guy (who they know). 2 year old daughter seems finally to have had enough, and is about to explode. Older daughter actually gives her a bath (she was literally caked with dirt) during the pandemonium and takes her into the only room with a bed to try and get her to sleep. Good luck.
9:30pm Movers still assembling bunk bed. With overtired two-year-old, I start reassembling crib. They come take over, and then begin to reassemble closet in same room. Rena takes over the care of the toddler who finally falls asleep. (In retrospect, we probably should have planned for her to sleep at a neighbor's house, but who thought that it would take so long?)
10:30pm Back to the old house for the third and final trip. Not much for me to do, so I run around patching holes for the second time.
11:00pm Kitchen guys finish as much as they can and pack up.
11:15pm Back to the new house for a final time.
11:30pm Movers finally leave, with all our stuff in the new house.
12:00am Dinner. A nectarine. Don't have energy for anything else.
1:00am Conk out. On my old bed, but in my new bedroom, of our new home. Which we own - at least partially. The bank owns the rest.
It's been a long day. Baruch Hashem.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tuition Crisis, Aliyah and Happiness

Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein recently wrote a passionate piece on his blog about the unintended victims of the ongoing tution crisis: the unborn children, who will never be born, because their parents can't see a way to affordably raise them. His post raises important questions that he doesn't attempt to answer, for good reason. There aren't that many good answers.
Not surprisingly, a number of commenters suggest aliyah as a solution to the crisis, as tuition in Israel is largely paid by the government. I have come to realize that these types of responses just irk American Orthodox Jews who: (a) hate being lectured about aliyah constantly in the blogosphere and (b) insist, correctly, that aliyah won't solve the crisis. Take this comment for example:
I know the aliyahnicks mean well, probably, but anyone shilling for aliyah as an answer to an economic crisis must be either wholly uninformed or looking for company with whom to share their misery.
When you make aliyah, you must do so with your eyes wide open. You must do so with total understanding that you are accepting a far worse economic situation than the one you are leaving. You don’t have to pay tuition for school; this is true. Instead, you earn a quarter of what you earn in North America and you pay double for every good and service you can name. Tuition-free schooling does not offset that.
I’m not advocating against aliyah, but at least be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Start by grocery shopping on your next visit.
In a way, he's right - but only partially. Salaries certainly are smaller here, and basic expenses eat a huge chunk out of the average monthly paycheck. But I don't at all agree that it's a "far worse" economic situation, especially for an Orthodox Jew. In the end, I think that financially for most Orthodox Jews it ends up being a wash: in the United States, salaries are higher, but you pay through the nose for health insurance and tuition, while in Israel we earn less, but spend far, far less on those two major expenses.
Either way, you'll struggle. But, to my mind, there's a major distinction between living in the United States and living in Israel which can and must factor into the decision of where to live, and that's the issue of happiness. Where will you be happier? The answer, as the vast, vast majority of olim will tell you, is in Israel, for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.
This week's NY Times Opinion section featured a fascinating piece on happiness and income. Normally, we instinctively associate wealth with happiness: the more I have, the happier I will be. But research indicated that this assumption simply doesn't pan out. 
The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.
Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.
In America, speicifically becomes incomes are so high, it's a culturally accepted norm that the more you earn and the more you have, the happier you'll be. So people - all people - Jew or not, Orthodox or not - fall into the income trap of "needing" more in a never-ending pursiut of the happiness that seems increasingly out of reach the closer we get to it. I've written about this before, but it's worth repeating: when an American meets someone new, what's the very first question he usually asks? "What do you do?" Essentially, we're asking her, "How much money do you make?" because the answer to that question will allow me to place that person within our heirarchy of importance. Basically, the wealthier you are, the more important you are. This is just how most Americans think, for better or for worse.
In Israel, while this kind of thinking has crept into society to some degree, people generally don't think this way. They first ask, "Where do you live?" (or to Olim) "Where are you from?", "How many children do you have?" and try to play some form of Jewish geography. One's financial status has much less of an impact on a person's stature within the community, especially when you get away from the mostly Anglo communities (where the attitude is, understandably, still very prevalent). I'm not just making this up. Studies have shown that Israelis are generally happier than citizens of most other countries, including the United States. With all the challenges that Israel faces, these studies are certainly surprising.
Moving to Israel involves many difficult shifts - but this subtle, critical cultural shift is one of the many important benefits of Aliyah that's difficult if not impossible to articulte. How do you explain to someone that they'll care about different things and subtly, but critically shift their life's focus, when they're still living in a different environment? From an American perspective, aliyah seems daunting precisely because there's no economic benefit. "If I struggle here and I'll struggle there, I might as well stay here and struggle because at least I know the langauge." Sounds true enough. How do you explain, then, that while the struggle is real (both for native Israelis and their Anglo brethren), it feels different; it's not as all-encompassing; there are other aspects to life that take on greater importance?
I'll put it another way: aliyah isn't a solution to an individual's economic struggles, but it is a very real solution to his or her "economic crisis," because here, culturally, it's not a crisis. It's a struggle to make ends meet, and to "complete the month." But, for most of us who have found jobs and make a decent living, thank God, there are other, more important things in life than how much money we make.
No, making Aliyah will not solve "the" tuition crisis. But, if you're like most olim, it will solve your tuition crisis. You'll still struggle to pay your bills. But it won't be a crisis.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Audio Shiur: Parshat Balak - Avraham vs. Bilaam - Compare and Contrast

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Balak - Avraham vs. Bilaam - Compare and Contrast

In a number of different ways and places, Chazal compare Avraham and Bilaam - it's actually more of a contrast. Why do they specifically compare these two biblical figures, and what can we learn from the contrast between them?

Click here to download the shiur, or here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Now you can subscribe to this shiur as a podcast, directly from iTunes! To subscribe, click here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

They Found the God Particle? Well, Sort Of...

The news is all abuzz abou the announcement of the discovery of the "God" particle, which really isn't a "God" particle at all, as its discovery sheds no information whatsoever on the origin of the universe. In fact, according to Wikipedia, scientists hate the name. Why is it called the "God" particle?
The Higgs boson is often referred to as "the God particle" by the media, after the title of Leon Lederman's popular science book on particle physics, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Lederman said he gave it the nickname "The God Particle" because the particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive," but jokingly added that a second reason was because "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."
Still, the media loves the name, because it's much more exciting (and generates far more clicks) than, "The Higgs boson", which sounds much more like a bad rock band; or the name of a recent LeCarre novel.)
And yet, reading about the discovery in the Washington Post, which really tries hard to explain what the heck the Higgs boson is - and fails miserably - one paragraph caught my attention. Writing about how the scientists "found" the particle, we learn that they didn't actually find anything at all.
The CERN physicists did not see this new particle directly, because it disintegrates too quickly. Rather, they divined its existence from sifting through the debris of millions of high-energy subatomic collisions and then searching for clues that the Higgs had been there. It’s like divining the presence of an elusive snow leopard by studying thousands of criss-crossed paw prints. 
In other words, they didn't actually see the particle. That's impossible. They just saw evidence that it exists. Sounds a lot, actually, like the way we relate to God.
As we all know, we cannot see the existence of God. But the evidence of the Divine presence is all around us, if we just know how to look for it.
This morning, I was speaking with a neighbor whose wife just gave birth to a daughter (Mazal Tov Shapiro Family!), and he mentioned to me a TED Talks video about the miracle of birth. The speaker, Alexander Tsiaras of Harvard University, never mentions God, but alludes to God (it's almost as if a scientist can't explicitly say God), but he does say that the things that they saw in their scans of the body, "Just make you marvel. "It was hard," he says, "not to attribute divinity to [the beautiful, miraculous organization of the human body], because we kept seeing this over and over and over again in different parts of the body. "
You don't need a $17 Billion Large Hadron Collider in France to find a God particle. No, we cannot see God Himself. But the evidence of His existence is right before us, if only we know how to look.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fixing the Dresser Drawer. A Phyrric Victory Over our Disposable Society

The Ikea Dresser That Won't Die, Thankfully
When Rena and I first married, we bought our bedroom set from Ikea. It was cheap. Since that time, we've moved four times (Washington Heights -- Linden, NJ; Linden -- West Hartford, CT; West Hartford -- Oak Park, MI; Oak Park -- Yad Binyamin. Yes, that's a lot of moving. And we're moving again next week.), and, amazingly enough, our Ikea furniture has moved each time with us. Sure, the back falls off of the bookcases - nothing a hammer and nails can't fix. But our Ikea furniture has moved with us without fail.
Then we gave the dresser to our sons - and specifically to our youngest son. Folding clothing isn't one of his strong suits. He's more of a crumpler and stuffer. So it didn't come as much of a surprise when I learned that the bottom of one of the drawers had (yet again) collapsed.
In the past, each time this had happened I repaired the back of the drawer that held the bottom in place. I used brackets, screws, and even duck tape. But Ikea furniture isn't made out of solid wood. Nor is it made out of not-solid wood. In fact, I doubt that there's any wood in it at all. It's more of a paper composite of some kind. And that little piece of "wood" was done. Gone. There was no more retaping, mending or fixing in it.
"Throw it out", my wife told me. It has served us well. It's time to move on. Perhaps a new Ikea model for the new house.
I would have none of it. I'm not throwing out an entire dresser because the backing of one drawer went bad. That made no sense.
And yet, it seemed to fit perfectly with the throw-away culture of today. We eat on disposable dishes, and discard them after a single use. We never fix electronics anymore. It costs more to fix them than to buy a new one. How many people have their shoes resoled? So, if we throw everything else out, why should furniture be any different?
And yet, I just couldn't do it. The dresser was fine. Why buy a new one for a single piece of fake wood? There had to be a way to fix it! And indeed there was.
I have a very, very handy neighbor who loves to work with his hands (as I do). He made a gorgeous garden in his yard, complete with stonework, and a sprinkler system. When our washing machine went bad, he took it (somewhere) to salvage the parts. So I went to him with my problem. Have you got a piece of wood to match the dead piece?
He thought for a moment, and then took me to his machsan (storage unit), where he found an old cabinet door that had exactly the groove that we were looking for. And it just so happened that that very day, the kids had brought down a huge box of tools from our attic, which included my old circular saw and wood clamps. We were good to go.
We cut the piece down to size, and it fix the drawer perfectly. (Frankly, I think my neighbor was kind of shocked that I knew how to use a circular saw.) He then glued the piece on, and we nailed it into place.
This time, I had won. I beat our disposable culture, saving the Ikea dresser for yet another move. And I walked away with that sense of satisfaction that you can only get by actually fixing something with your own hands.
There's no better feeling than putting a repaired drawer on a dresser that your wife asked you to discard. "Throw it away? But it's perfectly good." And indeed it is. I went through the dresser with my son, folding his clothing and putting the dirty clothes in the laundry. (It became immediately clear that he failed to distinguish between "hamper" and "dresser". Who knew?) When we were done, the dresser was neat, and fully functioning.
Until this past week, when I learned that yet another drawer bottom had collapsed.
Back to work.