Our BS, eh?

A Canadian's musings on life in RBS-A (Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph), Israel and whatever else I feel like writing about.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cutting in Line

It's nothing new that people always try to cut in line by making up some story about how they really were already there, they just left the line temporarily to do their laundry.

I'm not going to comment on the phenomenon overall, but what I witnessed the other day at the bank was a little different.  To head off this problem, the bank placed a numbered ticket dispenser at the start of the line - like the ones you see at the bakery or the deli.  It's supposed to remove doubt as to who was there first, and it also allows one to go sit down in the waiting area rather than stand guard for their precious spot in line. 

I took my ticket, 203, but remained standing in the line anyway.  (I tried to sell it to some people behind me, but that didn't work - a little Stephen Wright humour there.)  Standing ahead of me was a woman who upon seeing me take a ticket, went over and also took one,  204, I presumed.  She was certainly there before me, so I suggested we swap tickets, that way she'd have the lower number.  She declined, and showed me she had already taken a number, which was in the 190s.  204 was the next number sticking out of the dispenser.  (I guess when she just wanted to see what numbers the dispenser was up to, but she didn't actually take one.)

The she pointed to a man already standing at a teller and says loud enough for everyone to hear, "But that guy came in at least half an hour after me, and he cut the line and they don't even care."  She turned to him and says, "Gezel (theft), that's what you did.  You just don't care.  Wherever there's charedim, this is what happens."  The man meanwhile smiles and with a smug look and says, "Yes, you're right, we're all terrible...no, you're right, you're right..."   This escalated into a heated exchange between the two of them, to the point where even the tellers told them both to knock it off. 

Now I don't know why this woman chose to make this a charedi issue since plenty of charedim don't cut in line and plenty of DL's like her do.  But I did resent the smugness of this guy, who appeared very satisfied to get away with cutting  the line and getting her all bent out of shape.  Whether its right or wrong to stereotype a whole group by the action of one, the reality is I felt that both his actions and his patronizing response was a chilul Hashem that does put charedim in a bad light. 

And then the strangest thing happened.  He pulls out his ticket, and it's a lower number than hers!  He was there before her.  He then gives her a look as if to say, "Eat _____, lady!"  Never in my life have I seen a person transition from angry and accusatory to embarrassed and apologetic as this woman did then.  She was wrong, and readily she admitted it.  But this guy loved the moment, and kept his smug look the entire time.  5 points for Slytherin, -5 for Griffindor. 

Now I'll leave aside the fact that he probably popped into the bank, saw how crowded it was, took a number, went out and did other errands in the area, then came back.  Sort of like "I was already here, I just left the line temporarily to pick up my brother at the airport."  But what I don't understand is, why did that guy wait so long to show his number, and prove he was first?    He could have diffused the whole situation before it started simply by showing his number right away.  Why did he let her carry on for so long?  Was it in order for her to embarrass herself in public even more than she already had?  Everyone knows it's wrong to embarrass someone else in public.  He wasn't doing that.  He was simply not stopping her from embarrassing herself.  

If that's why he did it, smug look and all, then even though he was technically right by being first, he was wrong in my book, I would think in G d's book too.   

-10 for Slytherin.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Valuable Lesson from a Special Bar Mitzvah

Today I attended a bar mitzvah.  I didn't know it until they called the boy up...for Chamishi.  "Oh, it's his son," I think to myself.  It's a family I know cordially.  I already have my own opinion of who they are.  A frum family, sure.  But I see the way they dress, the way their kids dress, I know the schools they send their kids to, etc.  Let's just say they made choices I wouldn't have made, but hey, to each their own. 
In today's perek of Avos (2) we have the famous mishna, V'al tadun es chavercha ad sh'tagiyah limkomo. 
But I think everyone in some fashion sums up another person in his own mind.  It starts with the externals, since that's usually the first basis of information.  As you gain more information, your opinion is either confirmed or changed.  Am I wrong for doing this?  
You never know about someone.  And anyway, why is it my job to judge?  But then there's a voice in your head that goes, "Yeah, yeah, but you can tell about them, you know what they're about."  Of course I have never verbalized any of my opinions to anyone, nor have I allowed my preconceived notions to manifest themselves in any interactions I have had with them.  At least I hope not.  I always try to be friendly, and the father and I always have what to chat about.  The only judging going on is in my head, and it goes no further.  So it's a victimless crime. 
So today they call the boy up.  Funny, I have never seen this boy before.  I've only some of this guy's older children.  "Ah, so what," I think.  "I hardly see the older son in shul, so why should I be surprised I've never seen this son in shul?"  The kid goes up for his Aliyah and manages with obvious difficulty through the brachos.  And I'm thinking, "Geez, this kid can hardly even read Birkas HaTorah!  What is with these parents?!"
At the kiddush, no one from the family speaks.  A family friend gets up instead.  Choking back tears in every word, he says he's sure most of didn't realize the miracle we all witnessed today.  He then goes on to explain that when this bar mitzvah boy was born, his parents were told he wouldn't live past the age of 5.  He would never speak, he would never walk, he would never be able to do anything a normal child can do.  He'd be a vegetable his entire short life.  Today, he's 13, he walks, he speaks not one by 2 languages, English and Hebrew, and he just said Birkas HaTorah for his bar mitzvah. 
He went on to say how befitting it was for the boy's bar mitzvah to be on Parshas BaHa'alosecha.  The first Rashi tells us how Aharon felt bad he couldn't take part in the Chanukas HaNisi'im like all the other shevatim did.  Hashem reassures him by telling him he'll get a better job, lighting the Menorah in the mishkan everyday!  This bar mitzvah boy was not supposed to be able to do anything other children do.  But today he did, and everyday he does something even better.  Not only does he remind us what a blessing from Hashem it is to be able to do the most simple things we take for granted such as walking, speaking and reading, but moreover, he sets an example for all of us about striving to achieve one's potential.  Hashem doesn't judge us only by where we ARE.  It depends where we WERE and where we CAN BE.  Hashem doesn't expect the same achievements from everyone.  But He expects everyone's best. 
So for all my information gathering, the conclusions I had drawn, and my overall impression of others, I saw today how I had it all wrong.  My preconceived notions about the way these parents were raising their children made me think, "Geez, this kid can hardly even read."  Had I known better, I'd have thought, "Holy cow, this kid can read!"  Remember earlier how I said that the way I judged others only in my head was a victimless crime?  I'm wrong.  The victim is me.  What if that friend hadn't made that speech?  I'd have used today's event to further strengthen my misconception, and I'd have gone on thinking, well maybe not negatively, but maybe not so highly, of this family.  Today I had my eyes opened in a big way. 
But still, isn't it normal for a person to formulate opinions by what he sees and hears?  In this example, I clearly had come to the wrong conclusions.  But was it wrong in the first place to try to draw a conclusion from the information I had?  What's the lesson of that mishna in Avos?  Is it that you can never know the whole story, so be careful how you act toward others since your opinion might be incorrect?  Or is it that we should not formulate opinions in the first place?  Is that even possible?  What's your opinion? 

Monday, February 15, 2010

A V'nahafoch Hu Shacharis

It's Rosh Chodesh Adar, and in these 2 days I experienced an interesting sort of v'nahafoch hu at Shacharis. At the local minyan factory, the gabbaus is unpredictable, which is to say non-existent until someone stands up and does something. I'll give you an example. Here in Israel, it's common for a minyan to have no shliach tzibur for p'skukei d'zimra, but for someone to step up for Yishtabach at a set time, in this case, 15 min. after the official start time of the minyan. When someone's a chiyuv, you can count on starting on time, because he's up there. Otherwise, it's a hem and haw game until someone finally gets tired of the finger pointing - No, you go. No, you do it - and goes up there. On a good day, someone will start the finger pointing a few minutes in advance so that it's been decided by the real start time.

Yesterday, someone was on the ball enough to tap me on the shoulder a minute early and point in the direction of the amud, indicating I should daven. I can't stand standing around doing nothing, so I went up. Of course this person who appointed me wasn't taking the entire role of gabbai that morning, so after Hallel and by the time I brought the Sefer Torah to the bimah, there was no one there to call up the aliyos. Except me, since the baal kriyah and I were the only ones up there. So not only did I lead Shacharis, I was the gabbai too.

Tangent: Being gabbai is the greatest power trip in the world. You get to decide who's important enough to get an aliyah, who's strong enough to do hagbah and who's too wimpy and can only get gelilah. You choose people you like, people you feel sorry for since they probably never get anything, etc. Such unilateral power to validate or invalidate a person first thing in the morning! It's better than being a customs officer at the Canada - US border.

OK, back to my story. By the time we finished Torah reading, I, now being the ever-powerful gabbai, had to find someone to daven Musaf. This is done simply by announcing, "Musaf! Musaf!" Of course, no one immediately stepped up. Finally the baal kriyah said he would do it. So that day's responsibilities were shared by the 2 of us. I did Shacharis and was the gabbai, he leined and davened Musaf.

Today I found ourselves at the very same minyan once again. (Which minyan I go to depends on many factors, and it's not always the same one.) Once again we found ourselves at Yishtabach time and no one stepped up to the plate. Finally, "they all" looked at me as if to say, "Nu, would you just go already?" Well I really didn't want to daven Shacharis and Hallel 2 days in a row, but it was now 3 minutes past the official Yishtabach time. I sort of grunted and started walking up to the amud. On the way, I passed my buddy, the baal kriyah from yesterday. I tried the same tactic on him - pointed. He shrugged and took the amud.

This gave me an idea. As he finished Hallel and carried the Sefer Torah to the bimah, I said to him, "Let's switch. This time you be gabbai and I'll lein." He said ok. After leining, I once again called out for a volunteer for Musaf. Of course, no one. So I did it.

And that's my v'nahafoch hu story.

Day 1:
Me - Shacharis, gabbi
The other guy - leining, Musaf

Day 2:
The other guy - Shacharis, gabbai
Me - leining, Musaf

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Unapologetically Disturbing Davening

I've had to come to terms with the fact that there will always be tzedakah collectors during davening - even though it comes to me as a contradiction since these mostly charedi looking people should understand and respect the fact that a person davening to Hashem should not be disturbed. Yeah, right. I guess they figure giving tzedakah is a great mitzvah opportunity and most people don't have kavanah anyway, so let's cut the frummie stuff about disturbing davening. I understand it's a captive audience and therefore more efficient than going door to door, although I wonder if the take is the same. Personally I give more to someone at my door than a collector in shul.

Now it's one thing if they walk around with their hand out or put a flyer in front of you, as long as they don't bother you. Or if it's during Chazaras HaShatz when a person isn't actually davening. It's when they start talking to you while you're actually davening that I get annoyed. I once told off a guy that did that to me. It was during Ashrei / Uva L'Tzion and I was very clearly looking into my siddur and saying the words when this guy started in with his story. I was so resentful of this invasion and of his chutzpah that I said aloud: HKB"H, tamtim rega, yesh ben adam sh'yoter chashuv mimcha! (G d, hang on a sec, there's someone here more important than You!) He walked away embarrassed and I sat there feeling terrible that I had embarrassed him in public. Luckily he was still there after davening so I went over to him to ask mechilla for embarassing him, but also to find out what would motivate him to start talking to me like that when it was clear I was davening. He said something like the poskim say it's muttar during Ashrei / Uva L'Tzion. I wonder which poskim. To me, "The poskim" is like saying, "Sfarim HaKedoshim teach us..." But I digress.

In chutz la'aretz, some shuls have rules about tzedakah collectors. Not during davening, but after, or you can walk around, but don't disturb people, Shliach Tzibur is off limits, go the the gabbai only and he'll give you from the shul's tzedakah fund, etc. I've never seen any shuls here in Eretz Yisroel with rules liek this, but most of the time, the collectors themselves have limits too. So far, I've never seen anyone walk around during shomeh esrai or kedusha, but today's collector came close.

I had on my Tefillin shel yad and was taking out my shel rosh. Unless you're about to keel over and die, this is a point where you're basically not allowed to talk or do anything unrelated to putting on your tefilliln. It's right at this moment that a guy slips a laminated letter of approbation for me to read, and then starts talking to me! I was livid. He walked away when I didn't answer him, but by the time I was finished putting on my tefillin, he was back again to collect his laminated letter - as if he had given me sufficient time to read it - and to take my money. Of course I had neither read the letter nor prepared any money for him. But now that I could talk, I asked him, and was very careful not to be antagonistic, just curious: Lo samta lev sh'hayiti bein ha'shel yad v'ha'shel rosh? (Didn't you notice I was between my shel yad and shel rosh?) - indicating the poor timing of his approaching me. He looked at me for a second, then said, "Rotzeh La'azor?" (Do you want to help?) I felt like taking his laminated letter and flinging it across the shul, but I knew I had a level to preserve too, so I bit my tongue. By then he had walked away anyway.

I'll admit I know nothing about this fellow or his situation, and that's what being dan l'kaf zechus is all about. Maybe his mind was preoccupied with his troubles. I would have found it easier to let it slide had he simply acknowledged, not even so much apologize for his poor timing. But that he was so indifferent, even after I pointed it out, that makes it hard to judge so favourably. I'm working on it.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Senator Bob Menendez (D) NJ

You've probably already seen this on Rafi G's Blog, but I really wanted to try embedding a video for the first time so here it is again, followed by my letter which I sent to the Senator. Cool, the video works!

June 17, 2009

Dear Mr. Senator,

There were so many times during your speech about Israel yesterday where I thought to myself, "Wow, he hit the nail on the head on that one!"

Decoupling the founding of Israel with the Holocaust, G d's Biblical promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People, the ties the Jewish people have had with Israel for thousands of years, the truth about the Arab refugees in 1948, the non-equivalency between Hamas and Israel, and the threat of Iran - you touched on so many important points and I wanted to thank you for getting it right and setting the record straight. But there are 2 items I wanted to add to this comprehensive list, please.

You mentioned that the US is not only an ally of Israel, but of its citizens. I am an American citizen living in Israel. I hope you know there are tens, maybe a hundred thousand Americans like me who have chosen to live with their families in their biblical homeland, at the same time continue to be patriotic Americans. For this reason, Iran's threat against Israel is also a threat to Americans living here. Of course it's much more than that. A nuclear Iran isn't only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the entire free world, including the United States.

You also mentioned you have faith that through talks, agreements can be reached from all sides. While Israel has made peace treaties with more moderate regimes such as Egypt and Jordan, I feel this will not be possible with fundamentalist regimes such as Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, not even Fatah. Most people still think the issue is about land and sovereignty and rally behind the two-state solution. But Israel's withdrawal from Gaza proves that for fundamentalist Moslems, it is about the destruction of Israel, which is rooted in their religious faith. There cannot be agreements because doing so would be a violation of their faith, as they interpret it. So they will continue towards their goal of Israel's destruction, either until they succeed, or until they are stopped.

Diplomacy, treaties and talks have their place. But as we learned from Neville Chamberlain's failed policy of appeasement towards Germany, they don't always work. It is a tough decision which sometimes must be made, that your enemy will stop only when stopped. If a Rottweiler comes charging at you with deep growling and teeth baring, you will not succeed in negotiating with him and reaching an agreement. You must either stop him or run away. Mr. Senaor, Israel will not run away. Its enemy must be stopped.

I thank you for your bold speech yesterday in defense of America's allies, its citizens and Americans living here. Please continue to do all you can to keep the United States in Israel's corner, supporting and joining in Israel's right to defend itself against its enemies when all other attempts fail.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shabbos Crocs

What has happened to dressing up for Shabbos Kodesh? Suit, tie, Shabbos shoes, etc. When I was growing up in the FFB world, everyone dressed nicely for Shabbos.

Over the years I've watched people (whom I would think know better) dressing more and more casually on Shabbos, both here in EY and in Chu"l. In EY, people are naturally more casual, particularly when it comes to ties. OK, I can deal with that, it's a cultural thing. And maybe so even in Chu"l people have started to dress casually, not just on Fridays but all the time. What I don't get is when someone who DOES wear a tie both Fri night and Shabbos morning, loses the tie at Mincha. Is it any less Shabbos by then?

But the most blatant example of dressing down for Shabbos that I've seen is when it comes to shoes. I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my first pair of Shabbos shoes. When I was really little, my mother didn't want to have to keep up with 2 pairs of shoes as I (supposedly) grew. So I didn't have separate weekday shoes and Shabbos shoes, I had one pair of shoes, which had to be menschlich enough for Shabbos, so they couldn't be sneakers either. They were these leather soled lace up shoes. Ever hear the Bill Cosby routine on his shoes when the front of the sole separates and makes a flapping noise when you walk - and you can even pick up a penny without bending down! That's what I had. I think it was in 2nd grade that I finally got my first pair of sneakers and separate Shabbos shoes. I remember how proud I was that I finally had my own pair of shoes - just for Shabbos! That was part of Shabbos - wearing nice clothing, not doing things on Shabbos afternoon that would ruin your Shabbos clothes, but not changing into weekday clothes either. And Shabbos shoes.

What has happened to Shabbos shoes? I see men coming to shul in Neot with no socks, women in beach flip-flops. And of course, everyone's all time favourite - Crocs! And not conservative dark coloured ones either. One guy I know now comes to shul with no jacket or tie and aqua Crocs. But this Shabbos was a first for me. A guy came to shul - chassidishe dress all the way: No streimel, but the unkempt beard, bekishe, gartel were all there....=and Crocs. I'll give him credit, at least they were black. But I don't get how it has become acceptable to come to shul in shoes you'd go to the beach with. Would you attend a business meeting that way? OK, maybe this guy had some need to wear loose fitting shoes, and this is not his usual choice of Shabbos footwear. I'll grant him the kaf zechus. But overall, I don't get how people come dressed for shul. It has certainly become way less casual than the way I was taught. And I'm not from the shtetel in Europe or the 1930s either. I hope someone can explain this to me, because to me it's an affront to the kavod Shabbos should receive.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sorry, Canada, about a Valid Homeland Security Measure

Heart Attack Patient Held Up at Border
Canada calls for review of border security after incident
The Canadian Press

TORONTO - A report says Canada is calling for a review of border security after an ambulance transporting a heart attack patient from Windsor to a Detroit hospital was delayed.

Last Monday, Rick Laport, 46, was being rushed to Detroit for an emergency angioplasty. The ambulance was stopped by U.S. customs and the driver and Laport were required to identify themselves.

CTV News reports Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has expressed concern and asked for a review of border procedures in a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. CTV says Day asked Chertoff that border procedures be reviewed.

Laport's wife, Kat Lauzon, says he could have died because of the five-minute delay. “We need something done about this,” Lauzon told CTV. “Not one person should die because of that type of miscommunication, or whatever you want to call it.”

New Democrat MP Brian Masse told CTV that “it's another sad chapter of what's happening at the border.” The ambulance incident was second such incident recently at a U.S. border crossing.

Last Sunday, volunteer firefighters rushing from Quebec to assist a small-town fire department in upper New York State were held up while being grilled about their identification. While they were delayed for up to 15 minutes, the landmark Anchorage Inn in Rouses Point, N.Y., burned to the ground.

11-19-07 07:02 EST

Now I'll be the first to point out some of the stupidities of Homeland Security, specifically some TSA behaviour at airports, about which I do not need to elaborate. However, I have to side with the US on this one.

The fact that the city of Windsor couldn't handle its own heart attack patient or angioplasty, such that they had to rush him to Detroit - now THAT is why this man might have died. While many US politicians marvel at Canada's "free" health system, here is an example of one its drawbacks. My "favourite" is about a man running in a fundraising race for a Toronto hospital. At the finish line right in front of the hospital, the runner had a asthma attack or something like that. But Toronto hospitals rotate their ER days and this hospital was not on duty that day. So they routed him to the nearest one that was 10 minutes away! He died en route. Some thanks he got for fundraising for that hospital, eh?

The US is not responsible for Canada's medical crisis and does not have to jeopardize its security by giving carte blanche entry to every ambulance that shows up at the border. How difficult would it be for terrorists or other criminals to steal one and use it to cross a border un-checked? Besides, a 5 min. delay ain't bad.

Sorry Canada, this one's your fault in my book.