2.27.2007

What would Delaware?

What fun!



These are the states that I have visited. Apparently, they number 23, or 45% of states in the US. Make your own here, and feel free to post your map in the comments (if that can be done--not sure).

Keeping lists of states and countries that you've visited is a big deal in my immediate family. There are rules, though. This is serious stuff. You have to have gotten off of the bus, plane, train, or out of the car, to count that state. Your feet have to touch the hallowed ground.

I've only been to the airports in Illinois, Texas, and Minnesota, but the rest I've been to in a more normal fashion. The only one I'm not 100% sure about is Delaware. I've been to Washington, D.C. so many times, via car, bus, train, and plane, that I can't believe I wouldn't have been to Delaware at some point, so I included it. I rode a bus through Vermont on the way to Montreal from Boston in 2000, but didn't get off since it was the middle of the night and the middle of the winter.

As soon as I typed "Delaware" the following popped into my head, from the deepest recesses of my brain, not having seen the light of day since about fifth grade.
What would Delaware?
I don't know, Alaska.
Her New Jersey!
I feel like there were strings of these that involved more than three states, but that's all that I can remember. It's a peculiar function of the 8-to-10-year-old brain that these seemed absolutely hilarious at the time.

States that I would like to check out but haven't made it to yet include Alaska, Georgia (and the rest of the South, for that matter), and Maine. I wouldn't mind Hawaii either.

My countries map is a bit more pathetic. Here it is:




I've only been to thirteen different countries, or 5% of the countries of the world. Vast swaths of Africa, Asia, and Australia and the Pacific remain untouched. Even Europe is pathetic. I would really like to spend more time in South America, though, or check out Japan. Russia holds little allure. Africa holds some.

Note that I have no immediate plans to visit any of these places, since at the moment (and generally), I am short on both money and vacation time (because I do things like take off chol hamoed Pesach). Also, there's still plenty of New York City to explore.

Once again, make your own map here, and feel free to post your map in the comments (if that can be done--not sure).

Happy travels!

2.26.2007

So hot! celebrity sighting

Wow. I mean, wow. Wow! Should I say it again? I'm not usually so into the whole celebrity sighting thing, but I saw Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Denny Duquette" from Grey's Anatomy and, be still my beating heart, the Jewish "Judah Botwin" from Weeds) on the Upper West Side this morning. I won't give away the exact location of the sighting, in case I decide to stake it out until I see him again. At the time, I was 90% sure it was him. I saw him quickly and then kind of looked again to make sure--I don't think I was staring, per se, because that's so gauche, but I got two good looks. Now that I've IMDB-ed him, I'm sure it was him. He was tall (6'2", apparently) and walking a dog (a a female 9-year-old Rottweiler mix, apparently--looked about right). He looked friendly. Kind of smiley. Wearing normal dog-walking clothing. And hot. Very hot. Have I mentioned that already? And, in another be still my beating heart discovery, his hobbies include painting and writing.

I haven't thought an actor to be this attractive since I had a crush on Jason Priestly, circa 1991-1992 (and he is so not cute anymore). I think that this is about how he looked then, and I'm not sure what he was doing with that hair, but I guess I thought it was cute when I was twelve. A certain junior high classmate of mine slept with a collage of Luke Perry under her pillow, which I could never understand because (a) he wasn't cute and (b) what was that supposed to accomplish?

The only other celebrity sighting I've had in my 3.5 years in Manhattan was Richard Kind pushing his kid (presumably) in a stroller right near my apartment. I recognized him from Spin City. Don't ask me why.

And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming: Manhattan real estate, Orthodox feminism, health care, lactating and lying men, the environment, Drew Gilpin Faust, chocolate, and educating women. I can't promise that a celebrity-crazed deviation like this won't ever happen again, but I think it's rather unlikely. (How'd you like that triple negative?)

2.25.2007

More (depressing news) about the real estate situation in Manhattan

I take that back. This is only depressing if you're a renter. If you're a real estate developer, building owner, The Man, etc., this is terrific news!

The depressing news isn't news so much as corroboration for (of?) what I already knew. It comes in the form of an article from today's (Sunday's) Real Estate section of the New York Times, called "When Renters Reach the Breaking Point." it says, among other things, that people are either buying places or leaving Manhattan because the rent has become untenable. What I found most interesting/horrifying was the following:
In the last year, rents for market-rate apartments in Manhattan have jumped as much as 20 percent, or nearly three times the standard 5 to 7 percent increases seen each year in the last 15 years, said Fritz Frigan, the director of sales and leasing for Halstead Property. "Rents heated up so much that people said, ‘At this level, we’re better off buying," Mr. Frigan said.
Why are rents going up so rapidly? The article explains how low-rate mortgages drove a lot of people to buy condos in the city or houses outside it, and how a lot of rental apartments converted to condos to meet that demand. Now that that's no longer the case:
Then, by early 2006, New Yorkers who were scared about buying in an uncertain market flooded back into the rental market and found that there were fewer units to choose from. So by last May, the vacancy rate in Manhattan had shrunk to a record low of 0.43 percent. The vacancy rate was even lower in some neighborhoods, like Murray Hill and the West Village, and people were offering to pay more than the asking rents or to put down a year’s rent upfront.
I still don't know what my rent is going to be next year (have several months left on this lease), but this makes it seem unlikely that they won't try to raise it by at least 10%. In this rental market, a 10% raise would probably seem quite reasonable, but I already feel like I'm overpaying for what I'm getting, so it looks like it's time to move.

Another somewhat horrifying aspect of the article was the tale it told of a 37-year old woman who has been living in a rent-stabilized 150 square foot (if you count the sleeping loft she built) studio on the Upper West Side for the past nine years. Nine years, people! 150 square feet! And she's paid up to $1000/month for the space! A bargain! (Read those last two words with the proper amount of sarcasm.) 150 square feet is hardly enough room to turn around in, if it's measured counting the bathroom and sleeping loft.
For nine years, Candice Spielman, a 37-year old freelance television producer, lived in a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side that measured about 150 square feet if you count the sleeping loft she had built over her refrigerator and desk.

As she stretched her arms across a five-foot-wide section of the living space, she spoke about how she learned to tolerate the rattling in the walls when her neighbors watched television and how she saved room by keeping most of her belongings at her mother and stepfather’s house in New Jersey....

Sitting in her old place, Ms. Spielman described how she managed all those years. “You can never fully relax because you can’t sit down on a couch,” she said. “You’re always sitting in a straight chair.”

When she tried to rent something larger, she found most studio apartments with a similar amount of space cost more than $2,000 a month.

Luckily, the story has a happy ending. Because she's been saving her money on rent and investing wisely for all of these years, she managed to save $100,000, which was enough for a down-payment "on a $510,000 apartment, a 470-square-foot studio in the Cocoa Exchange building downtown." She "expects to pay about $2,500 a month for the mortgage and common charge." Reading that part was a good reminder about how I should really be saving more money, even though I couldn't live in a 150 square foot studio to do so. (For one thing, living in a 150 square foot studio would make having Shabbat meals with actual guests impossible. For another, I own too many books and don't have family in New Jersey to serve as free storage.)

In response to EAR's comment about organizing a tenants' group, we did sort of attempt to do that in my building, but it's hard. About half of the tenants are rent stabilized and have separate concerns from the market rate tenants. Since our tenants' meeting, many tenants have left because they couldn't afford the higher rents, and since nobody particularly likes the management and the apartments themselves are sort of falling apart (each one in its own special way, but still), there's little incentive to stay and fight the rent increase. It's not like the market rate tenants feel like they currently have a bargain. It's also not clear what leverage tenants would use to fight the rent increase.

I'm also not sure what legislative/community-wide action is workable. It's not like anyone is going to expand rent control or rent stabilizing laws right now. The Ariel buildings going up certainly helped gentrify Broadway a little further North than it was previously gentrified, but more condos don't directly raise the rent, and I'm not sure on what basis one could/should prevent developers from putting up more housing in Manhattan, on land that is already zoned for mixed commercial/residential, and assuming they aren't taking down historic buildings. I mean, it seems pretty clear, with a 0.43% vacancy rate, that more housing of all kinds is needed in Manhattan.

I think that the answer, at least for me, is going to be, as Avi suggested, to move into a doorman-less walk-up in a slightly less-gentrified area. (Really, all I want the doorman for is to let Shabbat guests in, but people find ways to make that work.) It might also be time to leave the Upper West Side vicinity or Manhattan altogether. Hell, maybe even New York.

Finally, about EAR's comment regarding increased graffiti on the subway and what that might say about the changing neighborhood: that's due to new graffiti technology, not more graffiti happening. When it was just spray paint, they washed it off the cars every night. Now, the graffiti "artists" are using hydrofluoric acid (a.k.a. "etching acid"), which can't be washed off. According to the NYTimes article linked to above (and here), all subway cars produced since 2000 have Mylar-coated windows that are resistant to etching acid, so you'll only see it on the older cars. I guess the fact that the graffiti can't be removed easily encourages more of it, though, so maybe it's now "more graffiti" in addition to "new graffiti technology" issue. In any case, it's not directly connected to changes in any particular neighborhood. I still see people cleaning regular spray paint graffiti off of things in Central Park all the time.

And with that, I'll wish you all a good night/morning. If you're in New York or environs, enjoy the snow!

2.23.2007

Free drugs and a single-payer healthcare system

Yes, that's right. Employers are realizing that by heavily subsidizing the cost of certain prescription drugs (ones to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and depression), they can lower the cost of insurance overall. Read all about it here.

I think that providing inexpensive preventative care or even, in this case, regular care for chronic conditions, is clearly a good idea. Hospital stays of any length (even a few hours in the emergency room) are very expensive, and anything you can do to prevent them seems like a good idea.

In other news, this report states that the US government currently pays 45% of the costs of healthcare in the US. One excerpt:

They said the findings support claims that the United States is slowly moving towards a single-payer system.
"We are moving incrementally away from traditional sources of insurance, such as employer-based coverage, to a system comprising more federal and state government-provided healthcare," said the study's authors, who work for the agency that runs Medicare.

I was trying to think about what these two things mean together. On the one hand, we have corporations paying for drugs for their employees so that the costs of insuring those employees doesn't continue to skyrocket. Since they're paying for a large part of the cost of insuring their employees, it makes sense to put some effort into keeping those costs down. That's a smart business move, and a nice example of capitalism helping regular people stay healthy. On the other hand, we have a study that shows that the government itself is paying for more and more of the costs of our healthcare, and it seems short-sighted not to cover preventative care and chronic, treatable conditions for the otherwise uninsured, before those people end up in emergency rooms and the government spends a lot more money on the problem. Maybe they should take a lesson from private corporations?



P.S. I haven't forgotten about the promised follow-up JOFA post. Actually, did I promise one? I definitely promised one in my head. I even spent some time writing (outside my head) a post about how Orthodox feminism and I have changed since 1997. Then I found this glorious bit of writing, apparently from 2002, reacting to the Fourth International JOFA Conference and how Orthodox feminism and I had changed since 1997, which put the current draft to shame. Also, it was conveniently written five years ago, so now I have these 10-year-old thoughts and 5-year-old thoughts and current thoughts to sort through. Now I'm trying to figure out if I should just integrate the two pieces of writing or what.

2.22.2007

“A Phenomenological Study of Sexuality in Single, Heterosexual Men Within the Jewish Orthodox Community” (seeking research subjects)

My friend Koby sent this to me, and I thought some of my readers might be interested. If you are not personally qualified to participate, please forward it to people who are. If you have a blog and could post it there, that would also be great. Thanks!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am looking for research participants who are willing to be interviewed for my dissertation called, "A Phenomenological Study of Sexuality in Single, Heterosexual Men Within the Jewish Orthodox Community."

Please pass this along to anyone who you think is compatible with the description below.

Please also keep the following in mind:
  • I don't interview those whom I know personally.
  • Research participants have found the interview process to be very meaningful and helpful. While many will shy away, many others will be very interested.
  • If you have any comments or questions about my study I would be very happy to hear from you.
Thank you!

Koby Frances
City University of New York
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Subprogram
kobfran@hotmail.com


Seeking Male Participants for Clinical Psychology Dissertation Study:

Looking for bright, introspective, single heterosexual men in the Orthodox community who are willing to discuss thoughts and experiences related to their sexuality in a one-on-one, open-ended interview. Participants must be at least 24 years old and need to have grown up Orthodox. The study seeks to understand more about what sexuality is like for individuals in this group and could lead to important findings that have both clinical and educational significance.

The study is the first of its kind to systematically understand this phenomena using interviewing methods. The results may be an important first step in helping many single men who experience confusion, anxiety and religious conflict around their sexual desires or activities. While it is clear that these problems are common, mental-health and pastoral professionals know very little about how single Orthodox men navigate through their sexuality, both experientially and psychologically, and what the precise nature of their personal and religious struggles may be, if any.

The study seeks to interview a cross-section of single men reared in the Orthodox community, regardless of their current religious orientation and sexual lifestyle. Therefore, all religious levels of observance and styles are welcome, as are those who are at any level of sexual experience and comfort.

Participation requires up to two 1.5-hour, one-on-one interviews with a clinical psychology doctoral candidate. Your confidentiality and comfort will be strictly preserved.

If you are interested or would like to hear more details, please contact kobfran@hotmail.com.

I [insert adulatory verb here] SephardiLady

SephardiLady, for those who don't know, is the author of Orthonomics. She lives in a community that is is clearly to the right of mine (both my current community and the community I grew up in). Most of her posts are not relevant to me right now. Most of them may never be relevant to me, since I don't have any connection to the kollel community nor do I expect to marry into it. I am also probably not going to be sending six kids to Jewish day school day school or buying or renting an apartment for married-at-twenty future hypothetical children.

So why do I like her?
  • because she writes clearly and honestly
  • because she says sensible things that would really apply to almost anyone. This is one post that exemplifies that.
  • because she exposes the financial failings of her community, but also writes about how they can be made right
  • because she is a woman writing about money, and many women, myself included, are sort of scared to think about or deal with money. I mean, I deal with it in the sense that I earn it, spend it, and even save some of it, but it took me much longer than it should have to set up my current 403(b), and I'm still dragging my heels on doing a rollover that would probably take me ten minutes at most to do. Why? I just don't want to think about it, that's why. But she clearly does, and I like that. It also somehow makes it a little bit less scary for me.
  • because, as far as I can tell, her blog, unlike so many others, has never gotten the slightest bit rude or nasty, yet she encourages healthy dialog. (Maybe it hasn't gotten nasty because everything she writes is so clearly correct and she writes in a very non-inflammatory manner? More about why online folks get rude and nasty in this recent New York Times (Science section!) article here.)
I think that's it.

Other bloggers I really love for their exemplary writing, or saying things that speak to me, or for writing things that I really enjoy reading even when I disagree with them 100%, or just for their general fabulousness, include, but are not limited to: To Love, Honor, and Dismay, and A Little Pregnant (see this for one example), Leery Polyp (see this for one example), and the Freakanomics blog, which posts very frequently and which I am thus terribly, terribly behind on (leading, in turn, to feelings of guilt, which lead to not wanting to even start trying to catch up). When I was reading it regularly, I really enjoyed it, at least partly because they have smart commenters in addition to the bloggers themselves being smart (examples of their fine blogging include this, this, and this). Daboysof905 is (are?) starting to grow on me, too, but I haven't been reading them long enough to be really comment on their fabulousness in a reliable manner.

There are a lot of other blogs that I also love, but I'm not counting them because I know their authors (ChayyeiSarah, MahRabu, Breeding Imperfection). If I'm friends/acquaintances with someone, I'm more likely to enjoy their blog, so that's, well, it's just not special. Their blogs are special, but the fact that I'm an avid reader of them isn't, at least not in my mind.

2.21.2007

Historical perspective on Upper West Side rents...and more!

Read this. Fascinating. According to the NYT article, one-bedroom apartments started at $1,350/month when the Westmont was brand-new in 1986. According to this US government inflation calculator, that would be about $2,483 in 2006. And, yet, one-bedroom apartments in the Westmont currently start at $3,460, which is 39% more than $2,483! Two-bedroom apartments haven't gone up nearly as much. Using the same method of calculation (i.e., comparing 1986 rent to 2007 rent in today's dollars), they've only gone up 6%. I'm not sure how to describe the discrepancy. Maybe two-bedroom apartments were way-overpriced to begin with, which is why people moved in and added two bedrooms so make them semi-affordable. (And, hey, it could be worse! You could be paying $3,280/month to live in a less-than-500 ft2 Archstone-Smith studio apartment in Chelsea!)

I think the New York City housing market has outpaced inflation by quite a bit over the past twenty years, so the 39% increase since 1986 might be in line with rent increases elsewhere in the city over the past 20 years. Something tells me that they are not, though. It would really be interesting to figure that out, though, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, I am too lazy (or busy, depending on how you look at it), to compare rent to salaries in 1986, rent to salaries now, and Westmont rent to salaries now, and to compare the Westmont rent to other buildings both in the area and elsewhere in NYC.

Luckily, some hard-working people at the New York City Rent Guidelines Board have done some of that rent:salary calculating and surveying rents across the city legwork for me. In their publication titled "2006 Income and Affordability Study" [PDF], on pages 54-55, they report:
Affordability of Rental Housing
Examining affordability of rental housing, the 2005 HVS reported that the median gross rent-to-income ratio for all renters was 31.2%, meaning that half of all households residing in rental housing pay more than 31.2% of their income in gross rent, and half pay less. Furthermore, more than a quarter (28.8%) of rental households pay more than 50% of their household income in gross rent. Generally, housing is considered affordable when a household pays no more than 30% of their income in rent.15 Both the overall gross rent-to-income ratio and the proportion of households paying more than 50% of income towards rent increased from the 2002 HVS, which reported proportions of 28.6% and 25.5% respectively....

Despite ongoing efforts by a number of government agencies and non-profit groups, housing affordability remains an issue in a city ranked 11th highest in a nationwide survey of monthly rental costs ($856), but only 27th highest in median household income ($41,509).16

A number of studies have chronicled the difficulty New Yorkers face in finding affordable housing, including an annual study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that found NYC housing to be unaffordable to the poorest working New Yorkers. In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the City’s Fair Market Rent ($1,133 a month), as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a full-time worker must earn $21.79 per hour, or $45,320 a year. Alternately, those who earn minimum wage would have to work the equivalent of 145 hours a week (or two people residing together would each have to work 72.5 hours a week) to be able to afford a two bedroom unit priced at Fair Market Rent.17

I didn't realize that HUD determined Fair Market Rent. I was under the impression that Fair Market Rent is "whatever people are willing to afford," which, at least in my neck of the woods, seems to be heading towards "a helluva lot of money and much more than I could ever afford." These are HUD's Fair Market Rent data sets. I don't know what one does with such data other than bemoan one's overpriced apartment. Oh. Never mind. Based on what little I've read online in the past, um, five minutes, I think that they are used to figure out some housing assistance programs (Section 8?), but I'm not sure of the details. This [PDF] explains more. In any case, FMR it seems to be correlated to city-wide rental prices, so if it's grown faster than average city salaries, that indicates something about rent:salaries in general. FMR clearly has almost nothing to do with rents in one small part of Manhattan, which must be the most expensive borough.

And here, they discuss the increase in salaries vs. housing costs over the past 20-25 years, since that article was written about the construction of the Westmont and Key West. This is what really interested me.
A report released in January 2006, “Pulling Apart in New York,” documents income trends for both New York State and New York City from the early 1980s through the early 2000s.19 The study found that New York State has the widest income gap between rich and poor of all fifty states, and the gap grew over the past twenty years, with only income disparity in Arizona growing at a faster rate. While nationwide the income of the rich grew at three times the pace of the poor, in New York State it grew at five times the rate.
Finally, I want to clarify, before I move on, that I'm just picking on the Westmont and Key West because I have that data easily available to me. However, I do think what's happened to the rent in those buildings over the past year, not to mention twenty years, is symptomatic of what's happening to the rents in other, non-luxury, Upper West Side buildings. Please feel free to submit your own data points from now or from years past.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Other items related to that last post, but not about a historical perspective on rents...

Someone from the State Insurance Fund Of New York saw the previous post at 10 am yesterday. They got to it by Googling "fake wall New York." Should I be concerned? Is there a worker's comp issue here? Are lots of people getting injured on the job putting up fake walls? And do you know how many other people have gotten to my blog since Friday by Googling "fake wall" or "turn one bedroom into two"? Several! This is clearly a hot topic.

How about the fact that someone from Archstone-Smith headquarters, in Denver, CO, was reading the post at home at 8 pm on Monday night? They were reading it because someone (possibly an electronic clipping service?) e-mailed it to them. Do you think corporate read my post and issued a directive: "Take her down!" Or maybe they'll read it and decide, "You know what? ALG is right (as usual). These new higher rents are ridiculous!"

Also, read EAR's first comment on the last post if you haven't yet. It has some suggestions of actual steps you can take if you find yourself in a similar situation. Feel free to respond to her comment with more suggestions.

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15. The HUD benchmark for housing affordability is a 30% rent-to-income ratio. Source: Basic Laws on Housing and Community Development, Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development of the Committee on Banking Finance and Urban Affairs, revised through December 31, 1994, Section 3.(a)(2).
16. 2004 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/acs/www/index.html
17. National Low Income Housing Coalition report,"Out of Reach 2005."
19. "Pulling Apart in New York: An Analysis of Income Trends in New York State," Fiscal Policy Institute. January 26, 2006. [You can find some of the Fiscal Policy Institute's material here, but it looks like they haven't put this paper from 2006 online yet.]

2.20.2007

Rising Rent on the Upper West Side (updated)

Is anyone blogging about this? I haven't come across anything about this, but I'm not the biggest reader of blogs originating on the Upper West Side.

If you live in the West 90s and are friends with anyone who lives in the Westmont or the Key West, you've surely heard the rumors. Both buildings were acquired by Archstone-Smith over the past six months (the Westmont in July and the Key West in September). The new owners summarily raised rents by 30-50% on new leases. These new leases also forbad (forbade?) putting up the temporary walls that make these several-thousand-dollar-a-month rents affordable for young singles on the Upper West Side. (Side question: Is the Charles E. Smith whose name appears on the Archstone-Smith website the same Charle E. Smith who funded this day school, about which I've only heard amazing things? This implies that the answer is yes.)

Background: Many young, single Modern Orthodox Jews live in the Westmont and the Key West, in addition to the Paris and the James Tower. In most, if not all, cases, one bedroom apartments are occupied by two people and two bedroom apartments are occupied by four people. This is accomplished by hiring people to build temporary walls that turn small dining areas and half of the living room into two separate bedrooms. (This photo shows what looks like a 2-bedroom apartment without walls. In the converted apartment that I lived in, the two windows would have been windows to two new bedrooms.) Even in other buildings, almost everyone I know, including myself, has at least one fake wall or has turned a closet-less dining room in an old, pre-war apartment into a bedroom. As far as I know, if you have moved to New York any time within the past three years or so, this is the only way to find a place to live with your own bedroom between W 70th St. and W 100th St. for $1200/month or less. There are some very small bedrooms available in these Westmont/KeyWest apartments that are less money, but I couldn't live in a small space that had room for a twin bed and a dresser and nothing else. Other people get lucky and find rent-stabilized apartments with lower rents or where you get more for your money. Also, if you happen upon an apartment that has been passed down from person to person for awhile, with at least one previous tenant always staying on, you can get a very good deal, maybe even around $900/month, especially if you know Elba. (You have to know her and you have to bribe her, though, and there's still no guarantee something will be available. And if something in one of her buildings breaks, tough luck.) More information about typical Upper West Side rents here.

Anyway, so this is how people live.

But that opulent lifestyle is now threatened by rising rents. It's not just the Westmont and the Key West. I have a friend who lives in a door-man-less walk-up on 100th, between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West (not the fanciest part of the Upper West Side by any stretch of the imagination), and her rent is being increased by 10% this year. Maybe that's "typical" (is it?), but if your rent is starting out at $1200/month for a studio, having it go up to $1320/month is not easy.

In my building, which is not billed as a luxury building, new leases are being sent out with increases from 46% to 76%! Some people managed to "bargain" the management down to a 20-30% rent increase, but it's still crazy. We have a part-time doorman (8 am to 11 pm, roughly), laundry in the basement, and elevators, but that's the extent of the luxuriousness of my building. It was originally built in the 1910's and it has not been well-maintained. The plumbing is terrible, both in terms of wacky water pressure and in terms of sudden, surprising switches from temperate water to very hot or very cold water. It makes for unpleasant showers, but, well, we put up with it. Certain times of day are better than others. (The management said that they couldn't fix it without ripping out the entire building's plumbing and starting over from scratch.) There are also serious structural problems with the building. A few people have literally had their kitchen ceilings fall down, and it's not uncommon to see tiles buckling in the bathroom or large water leaks in the walls that the super comes and paints over every once in awhile. The lobby smells strongly of gas or heating oil when it's cold outside, and the doorman told me that it's been that way for the past 28 years and it's because they use No. 6 oil. Nothing can be done, he says with a shrug. How can you possibly charge $4000/month or more for a two bedroom apartment in such circumstances?

Entire floors of these buildings are, of course, moving out. The Westmont and Key West are, apparently, having enough trouble filling these newly-vacated, $4900/month two bedroom apartments that they're offering $500 to current residents if they find tenants. The floor below me in my building has emptied out, too.

I'm not sure what will happen. I'm hoping that nobody will be willing to pay these higher rents and that the rents come back down to the "reasonable" range.

Barring that, it is probably possible to find reasonable rents further north, between 100th and 116th Sts, or further east, say, around 103rd and Central Park West. There is also the possibility that large numbers of people will move to other neighborhoods like Washington Heights or Park Slope, but I am loathe to leave my Central Park, Riverside Park, and Fairway behind. It's also possible that all of my friends are teachers, social workers, non-profit-do-gooders, but that a lot of the occupants of these apartments may be lawyers and bankers and that they can pay the new, higher rents, and are willing to. (At some point, even rich people must get tired of throwing their money away.)

Only time will tell. In the meantime, if you know of a good deal on a place starting late summer, I might be looking to move...

2.15.2007

I am not a cat blogger.

What, on earth, would make anyone think that I blog about cats? Have I ever blogged about cats? I am allergic to cats. I sometimes start sneezing as soon as I walk into a room that has a cat in it.

Before I realized how allergic I was, I was at my parents' and the cat was in bed with me at night, and I had difficulty breathing. Another time, my brother's cat slept on my neck, and I woke up with a red, itchy face and neck. (Washing it off immediately with soap and water and then taking some benadryl made life bearable.)

So, no thanks, I don't want to join the cat bloggers network!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Cat Bloggers
Date: Jan 29, 2007 8:00 AM
Subject: Invitation to Join Cat Bloggers
To: abacaximamao@gmail.com

Dear blog author:

We recently came across your site, abacaximamao.blogspot.com, while searching for bloggers who blog about Cat issues.

A small group of us have started a new site called Cat Bloggers. Our intent is to bring Cat bloggers closer together, and make a positive contribution to the Internet community.

Would you be interested in joining Cat Bloggers? Please take a few minutes to have a look at what we are trying to do, and if you are interested, there is a sign up page to get the ball rolling. We would greatly appreciate your support in this endeavour.

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2.14.2007

Is Valentine's Day for the Jews?

Three posts in one day is really a bit excessive, but I can't help myself. This blogging thing may really be getting out of control. Someone may need to wrest the keyboard from me before I keep posting and posting and posting...

I always assumed that Valentine's Day was one of those things that observant Jews got a pass on, like Halloween. What I mean by that is that I can safely escape the craziness of it all without feeling guilty. It's just not my holiday, so I don't need to deal with it or feel bad about not having someone to observe it with (with whom to observe it, whatever). I don't need to dress up on Halloween or give out candy and I don't need to feel sad on Valentine's Day if nobody tells me that they love me or if nobody buys me chocolate or flowers. Because, you know, since I'm Jewish, it's just like any other day when nobody does those things! Furthermore, I already know I'm loved and who needs a special day just to find that out? And isn't that what birthdays are for?

But then I read JT's post (of DaBoysof905) and that got me wondering what the deal is with Valentine's Day, anyway. Like Halloween, I feel fairly secure in the knowledge that I am better off not observing it, but what if I actually wanted to for some reason? Could I?

A-googling I went!

WhyDateJewish.com
, a project of NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union, claims that Valentine's Day is:
  • Catholic (despite the fact that it was removed from the Catholic calendar in 1969)
  • pagan (says that the Church got it from Lupercalia, "a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.")
  • assur [forbidden]
  • and, anyway, we have Tu B'Av instead!
Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, in a post on mail-jewish from last year, explains why he thinks that it is not assur to celebrate Valentine's Day, just as it is not assur to celebrate (secular) New Year's, although Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that pious people may want to be strict and not celebrate New Year's (see Iggerot Moshe, Even Haezer 2:13). (As far as I know, Rav Feinstein does not touch Valentine's Day.) Rabbi Broyde's reasons are that "Valentine's Day is no longer celebrated even by Christians as a Christian holiday. It is a day of love, friendship and candy, each of which is independently explainable," and there are independent-of-religion reasons for celebrating Valentine's Day (i.e., it's a nice thing to do). This is different from the current state of Halloween, which he thinks is still assur. Even if you want to make the dubious claim that there is no longer anything religious about it, there are no independent reasons for dressing up and scaring people (or throwing eggs at their houses) on October 31. He adds his own sort of "da'as Torah" opinion, too, that pious people may not want to celebrate Valentine's Day. His final word?
I think it is the conduct of the pious to avoid explicitly celebrating
Valentine's day with a Valentine's day card, although bringing home
chocolate, flowers or even jewelry to one's beloved is always a nice
idea all year around, including on February 14.
In later posts on mail-Jewish, many people vehemently disagree with Rabbi Broyde and call celebrating Valentine's Day "the worst kind of avodah zara [idol worship]." A few people agree with Rabbi Broyde or at least disagree about Valentine's Day being "the worst kind of avodah zara" (say, worse than passing your children through fire to worship molech). One even thought that even "ba'alei nefesh" (pious folks) could happily celebrate Valentine's Day.

This comment on Daniel Pipes' blog points out that "In 1349, one of the largest single pre-Holocaust massacres of Jews took place on Valentine's Day in Strasbourg, France, where Jews, blamed for the spread of the plague, were burned alive en masse by the citizenry: 2,000 men, women, and children died on the feast of love." This is given as a reason (among others) for Jews not celebrating Valentine's Day. I sort of think that's neither here nor there. Not very convincing, although it is, of course, sad. It's not really nice to purposely go out and celebrate on a day when 2,000 Jews were burned, but, really, are there any days that many Jews have not died? (The page I just linked to is terribly sad.) There must be a lot of days between, I dunno, 1939 and 1945 when 2,000 Jews died in one day. Is that any less sad because we don't know who they were or when they died?

Arthur Magida from Beliefnet also weighs in when someone asks him an etiquette question about celebrating Valentine's Day in a Jewish nursing home. He also mentions the 1349 Strasbourg massacre, which I had never heard of. Now I'm beginning to be more convinced.

The upshot? It looks like I can keep feeling great about not caring about Valentine's Day and not feel like I should be doing something special tonight. (So far, tonight, I mopped one wet floor at work to prevent some people from slipping. Honestly, I feel pretty good about that.)

-----------------------------------

Bonus link! On IslamWeb.net, there is an article warning Muslim youths, in particular, against celebrating Valentine's Day. And Fatwa #627, from this past January, forbids the same thing. Here's another note about that, this time from a Jewish source.

Bonus link #2! This church warns "true Christians" against observing Valentine's Day, because it is pagan. (The church says that it is the successor to the Worldwide Church of God, which, well, you can read about it here. I once worked with someone who had been raised in the church, and he had less-than-kind words to say about it.)

Chocolate and the New Blogger

As you may have noticed, I made some changes to my blog recently. The main change is that I'm now using the newer form of Blogger, and can thus have labels (or "tags," if you want to call them that instead). Both deciding which labels to use (rejected a general "Jewish" tag, decided to have separate "parsha" tag, decided to conflate "science/environment/health" into one tag instead of keeping them separate) and going back and tagging old posts were wonderfully self-reflective exercises. Seeing how various topics intersect was also interesting. How often do I write about gender + Torah vs. gender + history or gender + science/environment/health?

I'm sure I missed some tags that belong on old posts, but my list of tags, from most-used to least-used, currently looks like this:

Labels Most of them are self-explanatory, I think, but I thought I would take the opportunity to explain a few that might not be.

  1. life = mostly self-reflective musings about my life or the nature of life
  2. links = posts that mostly consist of links to other blogs, newspaper articles, or websites
  3. childhood = about my childhood or about childhood in general (what can I say? it's something in which I am interested)
  4. books/reading vs. words. This merits an explanation. Books/reading is about things that I'm reading or have read or about buying books compulsively. Words is about cool words that I've discovered or about linguistics or the nature of a particular word or set of words. This distinction makes complete and utter sense to me, although I can see how it might not to others. There are two distinct things that I love: reading (books) and words.
  5. meta = posts about this blog or about blogging in general
  6. mental health. I thought that I blogged a lot more about mental health issues than I do. Likewise, I thought I blogged a lot less about New York than I do.
  7. chocolate. I can't believe I've only blogged about chocolate twice! That's ridiculous! In my defense, though, there's probably generally less controversy about chocolate than about some of the other things I blog about, and maybe less nuance as well. Of course, you can get into fierce debates about milk vs. dark chocolate (dark, of course), and about what percentage of cacao is acceptable (65-82% is my happiest range). Except for the child/slave labor stuff, though, it's not too controversial.
To remedy this dire chocolate situation, here is some recent news about chocolate:
I realize that this will only get me up to three posts with chocolate tags, but one has to start somewhere, doesn't one?

If there are labels/tags that you would like to see that I don't currently use, feel free to let me know.

People really want to know if Drew Gilpin Faust is Jewish

Still!

Some statistics about how people have reached my blog recently. (The percentages are "of the last 100 visitors who reached abacaximamao through a search engine.")


Num Perc.Search Term
5 20.00%drew gilpin faust jewish
3 12.00%is drew faust a jewish
2 8.00%drew gilpin faust jew
1 4.00%numbers rabbah and longing
1 4.00%catholic drew gilpin faust harvard
1 4.00%drew gilpin faust, israel
1 4.00%posman's books discounts
1 4.00%drew gilpin faust israel
1 4.00%rav moshe feinstein on ocd
1 4.00%faust jewish
1 4.00%drew faust jewish
14.00%drew gilpin faust, jews
14.00%drew gilpin faust
14.00%statistics on sibling abuse

Apparently, one person also wants to know if she's Catholic. (I have no idea, sorry.)

It's crazy. I had about 170 unique visitors on Monday, which is the most I've ever had in one day (by a lot). Between this issue of Drew Faust's religion and my new fame through JOFA, I'm positively glowing!

I feel like I should capitalize on this somehow. Do you think I can turn this into a money maker? Perhaps something to offset the several hundred dollars that I spent at the dentist yesterday morning, since I had one small filling and don't have dental insurance? (Cursed be he who decided that dental insurance was not a necessary employment benefit. Cursed, I say! Of course I'm not going to let my teeth rot, but I hate to dig into my carefully-hoarded and somewhat meager savings to pay for a teeny tiny cavity in my mouth. I've thought about buying dental insurance, but it's apparently not worth it if you only get one filling every year or two, as I do.)

2.13.2007

Why educate women? Why not educate women?

No, this is not a post about the JOFA conference, although that may be forthcoming. It's sort of a continuation of this post (as promised), insofar as it further explicates some of the themes that Harvard President Eliot raised in his "hateful" address at the inauguration of Caroline Hazard as the new president of Wellesley College in 1899.1


I have, in my possession, a book called The Vocation of Woman, by Mrs. Archibald Colquhoun, an anti-woman-suffragist. (Google tells me that her first name was Ethel and that her first husband was Archibald Ross Colquhoun.) It was published by MacMillan and Co. in London in 1913, was given as a gift to the Episcopal Divinity School Library in Cambridge, MA by one "Very Reverend E.S. Rousmaniere,2 was withdrawn from the library at an unknown date, and I purchased it at some point.

Some choice bits include Chapter 10, "Education of the Unmarried Woman." Anything in brackets was added by me.
It has been said, earlier in this book, that matters would be immediately simplified if one knew beforehand which girls would marry and which would not--if, in short, they came into the world labelled. The uncertainty of their destination complicates the question of education and training in what may appear to be a hopeless manner. After all that has been said as to the main womanly function and its social and psychical significance it is hardly necessary to reiterate [yet, of course she does!] that the woman who does not marry misses the highest possibilities of her sex, and the vast majority of mothers, even if their own matrimonial experience has been unfortunate, instinctively hope for their girls a happy marriage as the crown of a successful life. Yet, in obedience to the modern theory of female education, these mothers permit their daughters to be trained for everything but matrimony.

In preparing these young runners for the race that is set before them, moreover, let us remember the Nemesis which overtakes those who train too long or too hard. In the attempt to equip them we may actually snatch the prize from their hands....[T]he great harm that has been done to girls is that in the revolt from one dogma we have gone to the extreme of another. From conceiving wifehood and maternity as the only vocations for women we are swinging over to the theory that they are not vocations at all--merely "incidents." It is said that the aim of female education formerly was to enable girls to achieve matrimony. Nowadays it seems as if the whole aim is to prevent them from achieving it successfully. [Recent studies show that the falling marriage rate in the United States is almost exclusively among women who don't get a higher education. College-educated women are actually more likely to marry than other women.] This book is a plea for the setting on one side of all such notions.

...The merits and de-merits of co-education are far too controversial to be discussed here, although the writer has been interested in the question for many years and has made some study of it in the United States and elsewhere. Up to the age of ten it appears to have many advantages; after that certain disadvantages intervene....Evidence gathered in the United States points to the conclusion that, far from reducing sex-consciousness or putting of the age of sex attraction, boys and girls educated together show great precocity in their love affairs, though the temperamental sexual frigidity of a large number of American women (a curious phenomenon which cannot be discussed here) probably prevents much immediate harm coming from these boy and girl flirtations.

At present, however, we are dealing chiefly with principles--the principles which should underlie the education of a girl who may not marry, and may be destined to be a single, self supporting unit of society....[S]he should be given every change of having a healthy body throughout life. No intellectual gift can compensate for the ruin of her health, and yet it is no exaggeration to say that the path of modern education is strewn with the dead, mutilated or devitalised bodies of women whose physical well-being has been sacrificed before the Moloch of competitive examinations. [I love this sentence! Wow. It sounds like it was really bad, eh? I especially love the "it is no exaggeration."]

During the period of adolescence physiological changes are taking place in a girl which make a heavy demand on her nervous energy. In many cases she may need a great deal of quiet and repose, and under no circumstances should she be encouraged to fight against the lassitude which is nature's own protective weapon--yet at this critical period the vast majority of girls are in the thick of school life. The demands upon them are incessant, the pressure is insistent and their own conscientious nature impels them to respond far behond their real strength. In the intervals of brain work they are encouraged or even compelled to take various forms of severe physical exercise, such as hockey or cricket. After they are seventeen, if they are destined for "a career," the tension tightens, and it does not release them until at twenty-two or twenty-three they "finish" their professional training and start on their life work. Of course in the medical profession, or if they take up some specialised branch of science, the training will be longer and the examinations more severe, but these come at a less critical period, although the cumulative effect of previous overstrain may help to make them severely felt.
Really, you should just read the whole book for the full effect. Mrs. Archibald Colquhoun then goes on to quote, at great length, one Walter Heape, who, in an essay titled "Sex Antagonism,"3 explains that "if a woman is to have a fair chance of physical health, whether as married or single, she must not be treated like a boy, whose organs are differently constituted, or permitted overstrain of mind or body during the critical period of womanly development." Mrs. Colquhoun felt that she must not be treated as a boy in really any respect, but including education. Studying hard and taking many tests were downright dangerous for the physical health of an adolescent woman.

The Vocation of Woman is a good snapshot of a particular form of opposition to higher education for women that was popular around the turn of the last century. This opposition was based on the idea that thinking too much diverts "nervous energy" from a woman's reproductive system to her brain, and makes her less fit as a mother. It was an argument against higher education for physical reasons. If, for some reason, a woman were never to get married, her education would be more understandable, although Mrs. Colquhoun still felt that it would make her more prone to the "nervous ailments" that plagued middle class women of her generation. If, however, she was going to end up married (i.e., a child bearer), it was imperative that she not tax her system during adolescence with schoolwork and sports.

All of this was tied to fears that non-white peoples (including people from various non-Northern European countries whom we would now consider quite white), with their higher birthrate, would take over Western civilization. It was already clear that women who were more educated had fewer children, on average, and Colquhoun and others thought that it was because their education ruined their reproductive systems. Nowadays, a lower birthrate is often tied to economic prosperity and seen as a good thing. Then, it stirred fears of being overtaken by the non-white peoples of the world.

There is a lot of secondary literature about the role that racial fears played in the fight for woman suffrage. In 1867, the 15th amendment to the Constitution gave African-Americans the right to vote but, more than that, a large number of Irish Catholic, Italians, Eastern Europeans in general (including Jews) emigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1924, when strict immigration quotas were set. Around 1910, the Dillingham Commission reported that emigration patterns to the US has shifted dramatically in the preceding decades, such that a much higher percentage of immigrants were from Southern and Eastern Europe than from Northern Europe. So people were very afraid of the "unwashed masses" whose men had the right to vote, as opposed to the white, native-born American women who could not vote.4 Some people played on this fear to push for woman suffrage; others used this same fear to try to encourage women to marry young and have many children.

Lest you think that we, with our modern sensibilities, have put this all behind us, I shall point you to this post and then this post by Ariella from the Kallah Magazine blog. Another example of this phenomenon is the announcement in early January of education restrictions for hareidi women in Israel--again, clearly a pronouncement made from a deep pit of fear. The question of "Why educate women?" or "Should we educate our daughters?" seems to be one that is deeply connected to fear, to some version of "What will happen to us or to them if we educate them?" The implied answer is "something very scary indeed." Higher education for women is a threat to the status quo of society. The more things change...


-------------------------------------------------------
1. For more on President Eliot and his relationship to the founders of Radcliffe, see Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, "The Great Debate: Charles W. Eliot and M. Carey Thomas," in Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History (NY: Palgrave, 2004).
2. According to http://www.warwickri.gov/heritage/damatoshistory/pontiac4.html, the Very Reverend Edmund S. Rousmaniere was "an excellent historian" and the rector when the new All Saint's Church was built in Warwick, RI, in 1888.
3. Elsewhere on the internet I found sources that point to this as a book titled Feminism and Sex Antagonism, by Walter Heape, F.R.S. F.Z.S., London, Constable, 1913 or as a book titled Sex Antagonism, by Walter Heape, New York, G.P. Putnam's sons, 1913. I think it's available through JSTOR, or maybe just reviews of it are. He was a biologist who wrote a lot about the fertility of people and other primates, as well as that of rabbits and sheep. He also seemed interested in race and sex. Other works of his include: "The Proportion of the Sexes Produced by Whites and Coloured Peoples in Cuba," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Containing Papers of a Biological Character, Vol. 200, 1909 (1909), pp. 271-330.
4. I first learned of the connection between woman suffrage and fears about race from Scott, Anne Firor, and Andrew MacKay Scott, One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage (1975; reprint, Univ. of Ill. Press 1982).

2.12.2007

Fame!

First AM New York, then JewSchool, now TailRank.com!

I've never heard of TailRank, but there I am, right under my esteemed fellow alum Matthew Yglesias. I'm not sure why my post, cleverly titled, "Drew Gilpin Faust presumed president of Harvard; Charles W. Eliot rolls over in grave," comes up as untitled, though. Maybe that's a failing of this particular Blogger template (or of my own limited somewhat technical skills).



I am so not caught up on trying to get more people to read my blog. I write it because I enjoy writing it, and if anyone else enjoys reading it, that's great, but (I try to convince myself) that's not why I do it. I have about ten regular daily readers, which is peanuts compared to any other blogger you've ever heard of. Still, I treasure those ten readers very dearly, and am pleased when someone else notices my work.

A lot of people got to this page over the weekend by Googling "'Drew Gilpin Faust' Jewish" or some variation thereof (including "Drew Faust is Jewish" and "is Drew Faust Jewish"). Well, as it turns out, she isn't Jewish, so there are only 610 hits at last check, and mine is the first. (If you're here solely to find out if Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust is Jewish, let me repeat: She is not. Her husband, Charles Rosenberg, presumably is, though!)

But isn't that strange? Why are they Googling that? Are they wondering if she's both female and Jewish? Good Lord, that would have both Charles William Eliot (who wouldn't let Radcliffe College quite be an official part of Harvard University) and Abbott Lawrence Lowell (who followed him as president and instituted the unofficial Jewish quota at Harvard) rolling over in their graves!

2.09.2007

Drew Gilpin Faust presumed president of Harvard; Charles W. Eliot rolls over in grave

Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust is expected to be named the 28th president of Harvard University this weekend. [Hat tip to my mother, who e-mailed me the news from Israel this morning!]

I am excited about this for two reasons. Firstly, she's the first woman president of Harvard and secondly, she was one of my senior thesis readers, so I actually "know" her (in the sense that she read 100+ type-written pages that I wrote and then asked me about them). Furthermore, she's a history professor, and well, go history!

I think the reason that I'm excited that Harvard is getting a female president is because Harvard always felt like such a male-dominated place to me. There was some respite from the pervading maleness of the institution in the community room at Radcliffe, but after Radcliffe College became the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 1999, that room disappeared (or became cubicled offices).

Note: I'm going to post this on Friday afternoon due to the timeliness of the first part, but hope to go back to expand on and revise the second part sometime early next week.

* * *

As to the second part of this post's title, in 1899, at the inauguration of a new president at Wellesley College, Harvard president Charles William Eliot said:
Women’s colleges should concentrate on an education that will not injure women’s bodily powers and functions. It remains to demonstrate what are the most appropriate, pleasing, and profitable studies for women, both from the point of view of the individual and the point of view of society; and this demonstration must be entirely freed from the influence of comparisons with the intellectual capacities and tastes of men. It would be a wonder, indeed, if the intellectual capacities of women were not at least as unlike those of men as their bodily capacities are.1
In 1892, President Eliot asked a group of women who were clamoring for the creation of a women's college within Harvard University to raise $250,000 for the university as a condition for the creation of the college. After they did so, the Harvard Corporation refused the money and the request for a women's college at Harvard or the admission of women to Harvard College. Still, in 1894, Radcliffe College was chartered as an independent degree-granting institution whose faculty all taught at Harvard before walking down the road to teach at Radcliffe and whose graduates received diplomas countersigned by Harvard's president. Radcliffe graduates weren't given Harvard ABs until 1965.2

-------------------------------------------------------
1. Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. "The 'Hateful' Wellesley Inaugural Address." Wellesley. Winter 1995, p. 31. See http://www.ed.gov/offices/OERI/PLLI/webreprt.html for more.
2. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the Company of Educated Women. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 55.

JOFA conference this weekend and ten years ago

The JOFA conference (JOFA's 10th Anniversary International Conference on Feminism & Orthodoxy, V'Chai BaHem: Passion and Possibility) is taking place this coming weekend, from Saturday night through Sunday evening. You can register at the door. (You could also register online, but that probably ends at some point before the conference, and may have ended already.)

Details

Saturday evening, February 10 (23 Shevat)
Low Rotunda at Columbia University, 535 W. 116th St. (between Broadway & Amsterdam)
7:45 pm wine and cheese tasting
8:30 pm Phyllis Chesler and Michael Steinhardt duke it out, with Dr. Adena Berkowitz moderating
then GOLEM [link opens a page that plays music] and a dessert reception

Sunday, February 11 (23 Shevat)
Lerner Hall at Columbia University (2920 Broadway at 115th St.)
8:00 am to 6:00 pm
Shacharit, breakfast, and registration from 8-9 am
Speakers include Tova Hartman, Rabbi Dov Linzer, Dr. Tamar Ross, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, Devorah Zlochower, and others.

More details here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I recently came across some things that I wrote after going to the very first JOFA conference ten years ago. Some of what I wrote is embarrassingly harsh and even antithetical to what I believe today. I really was a little mouthpiece for Modern Orthodoxy when I was 17. I'm cringing as I reread it. Other parts are a bit, well, nauseatingly earnest, but I think that's okay given my age at the time. If 17-year-olds can't have a monopoly on the truth, who can?

Luckily, things have changed a lot in the past ten years. For one thing, I graduated high school, spent a summer at Drisha, spent a year studying in Israel, went to college, left college, returned to college, graduated, was unemployed, got a job, moved to a new city, moved again within the new city, and got another job. For another, other people did lots of stuff, too. The upshot is that I no longer write such embarrassing things. (Hopefully! We'll see how I feel in another ten years. Maybe this will all be cringe-worthy then.)

Some of the more palateable things I wrote in February 1997 after the first JOFA conference are below. Elipses indicate things that I wrote that are currently too mortifying to include or things that were unnecessarily wordy. I didn't change any words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy: A Commentary
February 1997

Evaulating halacha from a feminist perspective was NOT the point of the conference. The point was to discuss how to allow women to fulfill their potential within the much-respected walls of halacha....

I don't think that this is something to be afraid of. When there are more women who know Torah and express their love for it, there will be more teachers and poskot who teach Torah and more Jews who grow to love and understand Torah. When there are more women who feel a strong connection to G-d and davening through women's tefilla groups, there will be more people in "mixed" shuls....When there are more women who feel that Judaism respects them, there will be more women willing to be mikablot ol malchut shamayim. What's there to be afraid of? I think that if some of the rabbis opposed to the women's movement spoke to more of the women involved, they would realize that so many participants are in this for kavod Hashem and kavod haTorah and not for their own kavod....They're in it for the entire Jewish people, to unlock the potential of thousands of women.

Sure, some women are involved with the movement out of a sense of indignation, anger, resentment, or frustration. It can be frustrating to realize that women, no matter how many there are, can never form a halachic community. It can be discouraging to constantly be told that learning Torah is not a mitzvah for women (and thus, it is better left to men). It can feel belittling to come across mitzvot in which "nashim, avadim, and k'tanim" [women, slaves, and minors] are grouped together as the un-obligated. (We sometimes get grouped with the androgynous folks also.)

However, it can be fulfilling to sit in class and quietly explain a sugya of Gemara to the guy who's sitting behind me. It can be uplifting to daven with 300 other women, all of whom are davening ferverently though no minyan is present. It can be inspiring to learn Gemara from a scholarly woman.

Learning is one of the main things that connects me to G-d and to other Jews. I'm not always motivated to learn, because I can be lazy, but when I don't learn, I feel a discernable void. When someone tells me a halachic opinion, I feel the need to look it up and see the words for myself. That's what I think the key to all this is. Open all of the gates of Torah learning to all women, and they will be happy. Or, at least I will be.

....I thought it was wonderful. There were no hellfire and brimstone speeches from the pulpit about taking power or mitzvot away from men, abandoning young children in favor of careers, or ripping down the walls of yeshivot worldwide. Rabbinic condemnation of halachically-acceptable, though perhaps untraditional, activities simply drives women away from tradition. Rabbinic approval of halachically-acceptable methods of religious expression draws more women to tradition.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Self-Empowerment of Traditional Jewish Women
February 1997

Bat Sheva Marcus spoke about traditional women and self-empowerment at the end of the International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy, in NYC, on February 17th, 1997. After explaining that changes need to take place in the home, shul, and community at large, she went on explain why these changes need to take place, why women need to shift from the sides to the center of Jewish life. Some women, she said, feel uncomfortable doing these "progressive" things. Some women don't want to learn halacha, don't want to daven regularly, don't want to make kiddush or give divrei Torah. These women, Ms. Marcus said, should empower themselves anyway. She said that they should do it for themselves and do it for their children, so that their children see women as religious beings and religious role-models.

What she said really affected me....I thought about my own life, and I realized that...my father has really been my religious role model for mitzvot aseh shehazman gramman....My father is always in the middle of learning something, even when he's not actually sitting and learning. He learns parshat hashavuah on weekday nights...and mishnayot on Friday night. He's had chavrusas since I was born, and found a way to learn on some kind of semi-regular basis even in the midst of the greatest family turmoils. When my father and his chavrusas had a siyum when I was little, they bought halva and lots of other good food so that more people would come and share in their siyum, and I learned something about learning and the celebration of learning. The message sent was that even if it takes you years to finish a masechet (it takes them years), it's a worthwhile endeavor....My father used to daven shacharit at home when I was little, and I remember, long before I knew how to read, wearing a blanket, holding a siddur, and standing next to him. That was what one did. One got up in the morning and davened.

I wish that I could have learned those things from my mother. Obviously, I learned things of equal importance from my mother, who is an eishet chayil of the highest caliber. She has done countless other things that have taught me so much of what I know about giving of oneself and interacting with other people. But she didn't teach me how to learn or daven, arguably two of the most important ways we have of relating to G-d.

I used to go to shul with my father and sit next to him in the men's section....When I was eight or nine, I moved into the women's section. Actually, for about a year when I was in fourth grade, I stopped going to shul on Shabbos entirely. I didn't really know why; I just knew that I hated going. When I started going again, I didn't mind sitting in the women's section, except on Simchat Torah. My mother had always said that Simchat Torah was her least favorite holiday, and I never understood why until I was banished from the men's section. I began to hate it also. All the women did was open the mechitza and stand and watch the men singing and dancing with the Torah, expressing their religious spirits while their mothers, daughters, wivess and sisters watched from the sides. I disliked Simchat Torah until last year, when I went to Brandeis, where the female students dance with a sefer Torah also.

They offered me the Torah, and I declined the honor. First of all, I was afraid that I would drop it, and second of all, it seemed an honor that I didn't deserve. I've never actually seen a sefer Torah close up, I mean, seen the klaf with the letters on it. When I was discussing [feminism and halacha] with a guy in my class, I mentioned that in passing and he (bless his heart) said, "Okay, let's go to the shul and take a Torah out of the aron and you'll see it." I said no thanks. I'm not sure why. I would have felt uncomfortable, despite all my feminists rantings and the fact that part of me really wanted to. Maybe if he made the offer again today, I'd be more willing than I was in September.

This summer...I was offered the honor of making hamotzi on Friday night [for peers and teachers]. I flatly refused to do it. In all of these cases, I knew that it wasn't an issue of it being assur or mutar. My own mother has made hamotzi for my family since my parents got married, and it never seemed at all unnatural or wrong for my mother to be doing it. I think that I felt that if I did it [this summer], it would be making a statement about feminism and halacha and tradition that I didn't necessarily want to make. I should never have felt that way! Making hamotzi for a group should never have to be anything more or less than a statement of thanks to G-d for all that he has blessed us with! Why should women doing something that they have a chiyuv to do be a political statement?

I don't want my sons and daughters to grow up with that mentality. I don't want them to grow up being uncomfortable when a woman makes kiddush for them, or be embarrassed when they see women wearing talitot, or think that women who dance with sifrei Torah may not deserve the honor. I want my daughters and my sons to know that learning is something that both men and women should do on a regular basis. I don't want them to expect women to be on the sidelines as I have come to.

If I do end up fighting for the right for women to do progressive things, it won't be because I'm a feminist. It will be because I want to see a time when women aren't embarrassed or afraid to worship G-d as he wishes to be worshipped, with joy and openness. I want to see a time when batei midrash are set up for women equal to the ones set up for men, or acceptance of the fact that women will be learning in the beit midrash with men. I learn in the [shul] beit midrash every Shabbat afternoon between mincha and ma'ariv, and a female friend of mine does also, and once when I wasn't there, a man came over to her and asked her what she was doing there. He said that men could not learn while she was there, and just as she would not daven with men, she should not learn in the same room as men. My reply to him would have been to give women a place to learn.

One day, I walked out of the beit midrash carrying a mishna, and a sheitl-wearing woman who was standing outside asked me if I'd been learning in there. When I replied in the affirmative, she asked me if I could get her a Artscroll Masechet Ta'anit. So I walked in there and came out with her gemara. She was apparently too uncomfortable walking in there among the men. Why should she be embarrassed to be getting a sefer to learn from? Maybe I'm just brazen ("pritzut" comes to mind) and totally insensitive to the issues of tsniut, but I think that cultural changes can occur, well within the firm walls of halacha, which will serve to strengthen the Jewish people.

I think that the fact that women don't make kiddush or hamotzi when they could, that they don't clamor for entrance to batei midrashot or funds to start their own, and that they don't dance joyfully with the Torah on Simchat Torah leads to their objectification. By this, I mean the assumption that a woman learning in a beit midrash is going to be seen as a sexual object, and thus a distraction, rather than a Jew who is, quietly and in her own way, learning Torah to achieve d'vekut with her Creator.


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I'll see you on Sunday!

UPDATED to add: The things I wrote in 1997 were my opinion then, not my opinion now. One major change is that learning was the be all and end all of Judaism for me when I was an adolescent. That is no longer the case. Also, see comments and note that my mother did learn regularly when I was a child, I just didn't know that she did.