Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Today's factor in our lovely "cascade" mostly affects non-Orthodox women, but I think we can safely make some deductions that are relevant to the Orthodox community as well.

Fishman told me that among Americans generally, including Jews, women are more likely than men to describe themselves as "religious" and to believe that religion is important for raising ethical children.

American women (including Jewish ones) are also more likely than men to be close with their families and to prefer to marry someone who will please their family.

For both these reasons, Fishman said, Jewish women more actively seek husbands who share a Jewish background with them, while men widen their options by being more open to intermarriage. Remember, women and men intermarry at the same rates, but women do so later on average, indicating that their preference would have been to marry Jewish.

I'm going to go out on a limb and extrapolate that, perhaps, Orthodox men – who generally would never consider intermarriage – are more open to marrying women who are less religious than they are, while Orthodox women are more likely to limit themselves to men who share their "hashkafa" (particular religious outlook).

(I'd like to point out, also, that the more religious a woman is, the more time-consuming it is for a man to match her religious level. Keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and dressing a certain way does not involve the same time commitment as going to minyan regularly and learning Torah x hours a week. The way a woman dresses might involve a certain emotional commitment and raises all sorts of questions about femininity and feminism – indicating a level of dedication to certain type of religious approach – but isn't as time-consuming as the demands put on men. I personally think it would help Orthodox women find good relationships if they had a little more open-mindedness about men who don't appear to be as religiously committed as they are – and boy do I wish I'd known this 15 years ago.)

Back to the subject of non-Orthodox communities, Fishman had a lot to say about why Jewish men aren't as committed as women to in-marrying. Remember we've already discussed her study showing that Jewish men hold active antipathy toward Jewish women. This is in addition to the fact that men are less likely than women to self-label as religious, and less likely to care about pleasing their families.

Another problem, Fishman said, for women in the Reform and Conservative movements, is that as they have become increasingly powerful and involved in those movements, the men have disappeared.

"Feminism has done lots of wonderful things to bring women to the center of Jewish life,” Fishman says. “But we didn’t notice that in the meantime, a lot of men were alienated from Jewish life.” In her monograph "Matrilineal Ascent/Patrilineal Descent" she writes: “Just as Jewish women were marginalized from the centers of Jewish life for much of Jewish history, for complicated social-psychological reasons, American Jewish men now feel displaced from Judaism."

According to studies cited in the monograph, American Jewish girls are more likely than boys to receive a Jewish education, especially after their bar or bat mitzvah. They are also more likely to join Jewish youth groups, participate in college Hillel activities, take Jewish studies classes, describe themselves as affiliated with a wing of Judaism, attend weekly worship services (except in Orthodox congregations), attend Jewish cultural events, partake in adult Jewish education, visit Israel, attend secular Jewish events and engage in volunteer Jewish leadership. In liberal synagogues, women constitute many of the rabbis, cantors, presidents and the majority of participants.

If women in general are more inclined to be religious, then perhaps there will always be a gap between the observance and affiliation levels of Jewish women versus Jewish men. But there is room for policy change as well. Perhaps solving the "singles' crisis" means looking at how we educate Jewish kids. The Reform and Conservative movements need to look at how to keep boys interested and engaged, so that they can't imagine themselves marrying someone who doesn't share their love of Judaism. And Orthodox leaders could help by letting teenagers and young adults know – especially girls – that people's religiosity can change over time, and that kindness, patience, and a sense of humor (for example) are more long-lasting than what sort of kippah a man wears, or how many hours a week he spends in shiur..

Friday, November 12, 2010


Hi, everyone. It's been a long time, I know. To those of you who do not know me personally, I apologize. To those personal friends who have been complaining that they don't know what's going on in my life, I have just one word: Facebook. And special thanks to Michael for encouraging me about this blog.

Continuing on with my series on "Fabulous Girls" in the Jewish community who are having trouble finding marriage partners . . . I know I promised to elaborate on the intermarriage issue, but have changed my mind for now (to quote Britney Spears, "that's my prerogative"). The great thing about blogging, rather than publishing in a paper, is that I can focus on areas that are of most interest to me because they pertain to me. For all the "shidduch" problems that hit Orthodox people hardest, intermarriage generally is not one. So I'm going to go on now with other factors that make it harder for Jewish women to get married, factors that hit me the hardest, unfortunately. Much of this appeared in my original World Jewish Digest story, but some is new for the blog.


Jewish women are even more likely than non-Jewish women to be caught in the “age squeeze,” the phenomenon of women in their 20’s who think they have plenty of time to get married, only to discover in their 30’s that men their age prefer much younger dates.

As women age, their dating pools become quantitatively smaller, while men's become larger. This is because women prefer to marry men around their own age, give or take a few years. Men, however, almost universally prefer to date women who are younger – often much younger – than they are.

“You have a Jewish man and a Jewish woman who are both 28,” Fishman says. “They are both in graduate school or pursuing careers. The women see that not all the Jewish men are married yet. They are not panicking. What they don’t realize is that in their mid-30’s, when the men decide to settle down, the men will not be looking at Jewish women their own age. Instead, they will be looking at two different populations: Jewish women who are 10 years younger than they are or non-Jewish women.”

Sara Brownstein, a matchmaker who worked with hundreds of Los Angeles Jewish singles until she moved to Israel four years ago, puts the age squeeze slightly later, saying that “When a man in his 40’s wants to get married, if he does not have children, he will look for a woman under 40 because he wants children. They do not understand that if a woman is 35, 36 she does not want to marry a man who is older than 41, maybe 42. If he is in his 50’s, if he has children he does not want new babies. He could marry a woman in her 40’s, but those women still want children. They feel the men are too old.”

(I wish to acknowledge here that men in their late 40's and 50's who wish to have biological children are in an age squeeze of their own, wherein women who are still fertile consider these men too old to date. Anecdotally, I've noticed that women in their late 30's and early 40's, and men in their late's 40's and early 50's, are rather "stuck" because of the issues surrounding fertility and the conflict between wanting biological kids and being rather old to become a first-time parent. In some ways it may become easier once one can no longer have biological children or has given up on the idea, freeing one to date people of all ages or to become more open to the possibility of step-parenting. Adoption, by the way, is a whole other story because older couples are often considered undesirable by adoption agencies, at least in Israel - I don't know about the US.)

(I wish also to acknowledge that the "Age Squeeze" factor opens up all sorts of Pandora's Boxes about women's value being tied up with their youth and beauty and their perceived fertility, men's value being tied up with strength and perceived virility, painful issues surrounding infertility and the biological clock, medical miracles, cultural issues that effect family size, etc. Most of these are beyond the scope of my series and I'm sticking to the notes I have from the interviews I conducted for the article.)

The “age squeeze” appears to be more pronounced among Orthodox Jews than other groups. Danielle Jacobs, the chief operating officer of SawYouAtSinai.com (a dating Website with over 25,000 Orthodox members) and the founder of JRetroMatch.com (a site with almost 10,000 non-Orthodox Jewish members) says “age is a sensitive issue in the Orthodox community, more so than in the secular world. Men are not as open to dating women their own age, never mind a woman who is older. A man is less inclined to date a 30 year old if he can date a 23 year old.”

When I asked interviewees what women can do to increase their chances of getting married, the most common answer was "be willing to date men who are 10-15 years older than you are." I'd like to think that if I'd also asked what men can do, the answer would have been "be willing to date women your own age or older."

Up Next (I think): Frummer Than Thou

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fabulous Girls Part III: JAPs and Education Gaps

Intro to this series here.
Part I here.
Part II here.

Money and education are big factors in why Jewish women have a hard time finding Jewish mates. But the way they affect matters – the reason that these are important aspects of the dating game -- depends almost entirely on whether you ask the women ("it's hard to find someone as educated as I am") or the men ("Jewish women are only concerned about money and success").

But what it boils down to for the women is this: There aren't that many Jewish men who are "successful" enough to be appropriate mates for most Jewish women, and additionally the Jewish men who are appropriate are more likely to feel active antipathy toward Jewish women, or at the very least (unless they are Orthodox) to not mind dating non-Jews – which means that Jewish women are "competing" for those few men not just with other Jewish women but with gentile women as well. (I assume this is the case for American Jews but not for Israeli ones; I wrote my original story for an American audience.)

Let's start with the point of view which was generally presented with more objectivity and less emotion, the one that puts Jewish women in a more sympathetic light. As I wrote in my article:

Jews are among the most highly educated minorities in America. More than half of all Jewish adults (61 percent of men and 50 percent of women) have received a college degree, and a quarter (29 percent of men and 21 percent of women) have earned a graduate degree. Jews are almost twice as likely to hold a college degree than Americans generally and four times as likely to hold a graduate degree.

Unfortunately, their academic and professional success decreases their dating pool since, as Cohen says, “men want to ‘marry down’ and women want to ‘marry up.'"

. . . . Although no one is advocating that women avoid graduate school, Dr. Michael J. Salamon, a psychologist and the author of “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” says “the problem [in the Jewish dating scene] is that women are overeducated and find the men boring. The men are intimidated. And the women are not getting what they want.”

He also notes that this phenomenon makes “in-marrying” a difficult proposition for Jewish men with low levels of education. Fishman goes a step further and says that many Jewish men are attracted to gentile women because non-Jewish women and their parents are perceived as easier to impress.

OK, let's unpack this.

First, let's look at the women's viewpoint. Let's say you are a Jewish woman in your late 20's or early 30's and you have a master's degree and a job that gives you a certain level of leadership or autonomy and/or financial success. You probably have the intelligence, professionalism, and people-skills that your education and professional success indicate. And so even if you really, truly don't need a husband who earns as much money as you do or has an equivalent education, you probably do want someone who has at least a college degree and who shares (or exceeds) your intelligence, professionalism, and people-skills.

The problem is that you are so highly educated and successful that a smaller proportion of men – even Jewish men, who are more educated than the population in general – will share or exceed your success. Again, maybe you don't care about money per se. Maybe you are open to marrying someone who never went to college but is astute and engaged with the world and knows what he is about. The point is that you want someone who can think and speak and interact with life in ways that are similar to yours. But what you are most likely to hear from, say, potential matchmakers, is "I'm sorry, but there aren't that many men who are smart enough for you." And so you are lonely.

As Dr. Cohen put it in a quote that didn't make it into the original article:

Given the hierarchical nature of marriage, higher-educated women are at a competitive disadvantage in the dating market, whereas for men, being highly educated gives them an advantage. Jewish women are among the most highly educated in America, so they are at a comparative disadvantage in the marriage market. On every social hierarchy, men tend to marry down, and women tend to marry up. It relates to age, height, social class, and social status. On every one, husbands tend to outscore their wives. The most high status women who are single have trouble finding men of their status who they find attractive, and they have trouble being attractive to many men, because you need reasonably secure men who are attracted to high-status women.

Now let's look at the point of view of the Jewish man who never went to college, or who isn't in a prestigious field. To you, the world of Jewish dating is simply a minefield of women who don't find you "good enough." You, too, are lonely because it's hard to find a Jewish woman who doesn't expect you to somehow be more than what you are. It probably seems to you that Jewish women are money-seeking and/or prestige-seeking and that the values of the Jewish community are out of whack. You might find yourself open to dating women who aren't Jewish, because, since they are less likely to have advanced degrees, they don't think of you as "less." It feels a lot nicer to be around people who appreciate you for what you are.

If you are a Jewish man who has an MBA and is VP of a Big Famous Company, things are easier for you. More of the Jewish women find you impressive and engaging and want to be with you. But you, too, might decide that they are not seeking your company, but rather your money and prestige. Perhaps you aren't considering the idea that the women you meet are excited to meet you because they see you as their intellectual and professional equals, not because they have dollar signs in their eyes. Or perhaps, as Fishman posits, you are transposing your ambivalence about your Jewishness onto Jewish women.

(An important statistic that Fishman has uncovered is that, although the intermarriage rates among Jewish men and women are pretty much the same, Jewish women who intermarry do so, on average, three years later than Jewish men who intermarry. The inference from this finding is that Jewish women are more likely to want to marry a Jew, and intermarry only when they "give up" on finding a Jewish partner.)

Please read this excerpt from the original article carefully:

Disproportionately, compared to non-Jewish men, American Jewish males harbor active antipathy toward Jewish women. They complain, Fishman and Parmer write, that dating Jewish women is more work than fun and that Jewish women are “demanding, overbearing, and best escaped.”

Fishman conducted studies in the late 1990’s in which groups of Jewish men, non-Jewish men, Jewish women and non-Jewish women in and around
Los Angeles were asked to choose, from among many photos of anonymous females, a “typical Jewish woman” and to describe her. They were then asked to describe the “ideal Jewish woman.”

The last three groups—male and female gentiles, as well as Jewish women
-- overwhelmingly described Jewish women in neutral or positive terms such as “smart,” “able to talk about anything,” “beautiful,” “voluptuous” and “well-read.” In describing the ideal Jewish woman, they used the same terms.

The responses of Jewish men were markedly different. They were likely to describe the typical Jewish woman as “talking too much,” “having to have an opinion about everything,” “obsessed with food,” “overweight” and “materialistic.” And when they described the “ideal” Jewish woman, they chose different photos
--of supermodels--and described them in opposite terms, as “quiet,” “not saying much” and “likes to listen.”

So, at a singles mixer, if a Jewish woman asks a man what he does for a living, “a Jewish man will interpret that question as hostile,” Fishman says. “They say ‘all Jewish woman care about is how much money I make,’ as if there is no other reason for a person to ask you what you do when they are getting to know you. If a non-Jewish woman asks the same question, it does not get interpreted that way.”

“These are self-image issues,” Fishman continues. “Men are ambivalent about their Jewishness, and they project that onto the women. They feel that if they are attached to a non-Jewish woman, it will break the curse.”

In other words, statistically, everyone likes, or feels neutral about, Jewish women except for Jewish men. Fishman, Cohen and Bayme all linked this antipathy to men's general ambivalence about their own Jewishness (as I'll discuss later, Judaism is generally more important to women than it is to men). But men themselves say it's because Jewish women are gold-diggers, JAPs, hostile, aggressive, etc.

Here are a few telling quotes from Evan Marc Katz, the dating expert (who, probably not coincidentally, was himself dating a non-Jewish woman when I interviewed him; however, to be fair, his goal in our interview was not to excoriate Jewish women --or men-- but rather to help women look practicality in the eye and take actions that lead to the results they want):

The answer is not to say “men are this, men are that.” Even if it’s true, you can’t change it. But a woman can say “given that there is a problem, what can I do?“ Maybe the answer is to date non-Jewish men. Maybe dating a clone of yourself is not a good idea. Maybe you need someone who is more balanced and has fewer demands. That’s for both Jewish women and Jewish men. In general we are not an easy people. If Jewish men find Jewish women to be difficult, then perhaps the answer for the women is to date men who are themselves easier. We have to either become more likable and more datable, or change our focus on what we are willing to date.

. . . . The stereotype about Jewish women is not from the media, it’s from people’s experiences. It’s from 3 years on Jdate.

. . . . We’re a bright people, a questioning people, but a neurotic, complaining, and negative people. Would you want to be around that? We’d be well-served to at least get aware of that and somewhat responsible for it, and not be too surprised if others aren’t responding well to it. We have a lot of meshugas. It’s no wonder we don’t want to marry each other. We’re very lucky when we find someone who loves us.

Interestingly, Dr. Salamon, too, suggested that Jewish women themselves "give off this vibe" (his words) which is off-putting to men, though he was a bit more kind in his theory as to why:

A woman feels she has invested so much time into her career, and now men don’t want her. It’s true from her own perspective. Outside the Orthodox world, the men are not put off by it, but they are put off by her anxiety. She is put off by herself.

Men are put off by the fact that the women are not confident about their decisions or themselves.

(Note the implication that in the Orthodox world, a woman's career success is, itself, off-putting to men, in addition to whatever anxiety the woman herself feels about it.)

So there you have it. On one side, you have Fishman, Bayme and Cohen saying that women often want to marry men who are as successful as they are; that men often are intimidated by women who are more successful than they are; that since Jewish women are very educated it creates an imbalance in the Jewish dating world; and that Jewish men often misinterpret women's interest in their education and jobs as greediness or aggression.

On the other side you have Katz and Salamon suggesting that Jewish women, for whatever reason, are in fact anxious, neurotic, or demanding, and that their negative vibes are off-putting to Jewish men.

Flip sides of the same coin?

Next: More About Intermarriage

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fabulous Girls Part II: Shrinking Pools

Intro to this series here.

Part I here.

Today I start listing reasons that single Jewish women have a harder time finding partners than their male counterparts. Disclaimer: If you are single and looking for a partner, please do not take what I write here to be about you, personally. These blog posts are about trends as observed by those who deal with hundreds, or thousands, of singles. If you are a man, these posts are not meant to "blame" you, individually, or to imply that there is something wrong with you. If you are a woman, these posts are not meant to suggest that you are a "victim." In addition to the trends outlined here, each person has his or her own "issues," and there is no way I can account for the life struggles of each person out there.

Disclaimer #2: These factors are not presented in order of statistical significance, but rather in an order that makes for manageable blog-post lengths.

There are more women than men. Most of the experts I interviewed declined to give precise statistics about how many single Jewish men there are in each age bracket than women – I have the feeling no one has drawn up those numbers. But according to Dr. Salamon, "there are more women born; that is always the case. All over the world, 51-52 percent of births are female." I'm stating this at the outset to sort of get it out of the way; the slightly higher number of women doesn't begin to account for "the crisis."

There are more straight women than straight men. According to Dr. Cohen, "homosexuality is somewhat more frequent among men than among women." He didn’t give me statistics and I didn't ask for them. My impression was that, again, the differences make a slight impact but not enough to account for "the crisis" by themselves. Unfortunately I didn't ask how he knows this, nor did I follow up with questions such as whether it's possible that women are simply less likely to be "out." In any case, this isn't something that we can really "do" anything about, so I'd like to move on to issues of greater social concern.

There are more commitment-ready women than men. This is a widespread problem brought up my many of my interviewees. Men who, by nature or nurture, are keen to enter a long-term relationship are most likely to get married young (outside the ultra-Orthodox world, this means, for men, in their 20's). This is not necessarily the case for women. A woman who is ready to get married might spend many, many years searching for a husband without success, whereas, in Dr. Fishman's words, "when a guy who is not resistant to commitments meets a girl he likes, he marries her." Therefore, as a woman ages and she is starting to panic, the percentage of men who are "resistant to commitment" (Fishman's words) is getting larger and larger. There are men to date, but a smaller proportion of men who will actually follow through to the aisle.

Next up: Education Gaps and JAPs

Friday, July 16, 2010


(Sorry about the screwy formatting in this post. Blogger isn't being cooperative today.)

At the beginning of 2008, I got a call from Simona Fuma, who was the Israel editor of the World Jewish Digest. She had an assignment about singles, and wanted me to do it because I'd written about various issues relating to Jewish singles in the past, for The Jewish Week of New York.

The assignment was this: Given the perception among many Jewish women and matchmakers that it is more difficult to find a "quality" man than a "quality" woman, my job was to find out:

a) Is this perception correct? Is it, in fact, harder for Jewish women to find a partner than for Jewish men?

b) If the perception is incorrect, what accounts for its widespread nature?

c) If the perception is correct, then why is it harder for women than for men?

The topic hit a personal nerve because I myself was 35, single, and often the recipient of news like "Sorry, Sarah, I can't think of anyone good enough for you" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up but the guy has a long list of people trying to set him up so it might be a while" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to present your profile at a matchmakers' meeting the other day, but they have a rule now that you can only present men, because everyone has a long list of women and there aren't enough men to set them up with."

(This is beside the equally oft-repeated statement of "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up with someone but he will meet only thin girls," which, while annoying and frustrating, doesn't necessarily indicate a widespread problem for all, just a problem for me and other not-thin women. Perhaps that is an article for another day.)

From the start my goal was to base conclusions not on anecdotal evidence (though I got lots of that, too, from singles I interviewed) but on information provided by sociologists, Jewish demographers, directors of Jewish dating websites, and well-known matchmakers. The "experts" I interviewed included:

  • Steven Bayme, Director of Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.

  • Sara Brownstein, dating coach who was also a popular matchmaker (focusing on unaffiliated Jews) in Los Angeles until her aliyah a few years ago.

  • Dr. Steven M. Cohen, sociologist of American Jewry; research professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR/New York and professor at the Hebrew University Melton Centre for Jewish Education.

  • Dr. Sylvia Barrack Fishman, sociologist of American Jewry and professor at Brandeis University

  • Danielle Jacobs, COO of SawYouAtSinai.com and a founder of JRetroMatch.com

  • Evan Mark Katz, dating coach and self-styled "America's Leading Dating Expert."

  • Michael J. Salomon, Ph.d., member of the psychology faculty at Hofstra University and author of "The Shidduch Crisis."

It emerged quickly that the perception is, indeed correct; it IS harder for Jewish women to find Jewish dates than it is for Jewish men to do the same. Here was my "nut graph" (the "thesis paragraph" of the story):

What is commonly referred to as the Jewish “singles crisis,” and in Orthodox communities as the “shidduch crisis,” appears to affect women more drastically than men, both practically and emotionally. Both statistical and anecdotal evidence . . . paints a picture of a dating scene in which many more women than men attend Jewish singles events; more women actively use Jewish dating sites; matchmakers are flooded with applications from women; and single Jewish women in their late 20’s and 30’s are panicking. . . . As well they should be, sociologists say. As difficult as the “dating scene” can be for many men, it is often more challenging for the fairer sex, especially in the Jewish community.

But the reasons given by each expert, while often overlapping, covered a wide range of social phenomena. This isn't happening because of X, or Y, or Z, but because of X and Y and Z all "cascading together," as one interviewee put it.

Because of the nature of my assignment, my story focused on all the reasons that Jewish men aren't dating Jewish women (or aren't dating Jewish women their own age, or their own level of education, or who have the same religious values as the men's parents, etc.) The paper got letters complaining that I was putting the blame for the "singles crisis" exclusively on men and not at all on women, which had not been my intention at all.

In fact, I did interview two experts who blamed the women for their own problems, and included a quote from one of them. More about this later.

The end of my article gave suggestions of what individuals and the community can do to lessen the "singles crisis." The suggestions all came from the "experts," not from me. Among them is the recommendation that women be more open to dating men who are much older than they are, so as to remove the obstacle of the "age squeeze," a phenomenon which I'll discuss in depth pretty soon and which, the interviewees said, is a big problem especially in the Orthodox community. But it raises the question of what "settling" is, something I wish to address here in the blog.

That's it for now. Have a Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Answer To Their Unstated Question

Being in a musical or play requires a significant investment of time for rehearsals and shows, and so the 63-member cast of "Fiddler," for the most part, consisted of four types of people: 1) retirees 2) schoolkids 3) college/army/sherut leumi student-age people and 4) single adults. When I say "single adults," I'm referring primarily (though not exclusively) to myself and a few other women in their 30's and 40's.

During performances, there is a lot of "down time" for most cast-members; in "Fiddler," the "non-principals" had almost all of Act II to sit around chatting or doing crossword puzzles backstage. It was terrific getting to know new people, and because of the wide age range it truly felt like a village, a community that spanned generations.

More than one fellow castmember – all men in their retirement stage or almost there – commented (in a very friendly, tactful, not over-the-line way) that he "can't understand why you girls aren't married yet. You're all so lovely, smart, talented, wonderful people. It's mind-boggling." (I'm leaving aside the whole "girls vs. women" thing. Context and tone are important and I didn't detect any particular condescension; it felt more like a generational thing, since the speakers could have been our dads. I'm also leaving aside the fact that they assumed we all want to be married since, in this case, I happen to know that all of us do, or did for a long time.)

I actually wrote an article on this very topic in 2008, for the now-defunct World Jewish Digest, but since the story was about 4,000 words (incredibly long, even for a cover feature), it wasn't something I could explain "on one foot." But on my blog, I can explain as comprehensively as I want. I feel the article I wrote was important, and the information it contained should be read (or read again) and available on the internet. I'd also like to be able to send the links to those gentlemen who asked about it, saying that here are some answers to the mystery.

I set out to write a blog post, summarizing and commenting on my original article, about why such "wonderful girls" aren't married yet, but now that I've compiled my notes, I realize that to cover this properly will take about 4-6 separate posts. So, over the next few days, that's what will be coming up.

The first order of business will be to explain why I'm focusing on women, with an assurance that men will have their day in a future post (my notes about this are already written up). I'll also explain where I got the information.

Get ready.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Known Idiocy

Have you been checking out the blogs on my blogroll? Have you been reading Single Dad, Disabled Daughter? Because if not, you should. I've learned much about issues affecting the disabled and their families.

Single Dad's daughter, "Pearlsky," is, in his words, "messed up." She can't control her muscle movements, she can't talk, she can't always see, she can't communicate in any way. Based on when she laughs and how she responds to stimuli in her environment, her team of caretakers and therapists think that she probably has the mental capacity of a child of six or seven (she's actually sixteen), but they can't be sure. She has siezures a lot. Her body doesn't produce a certain amino acid, and if she doesn't get it as a supplement twice a day, she'll die.

As you can imagine, in addition to being the benificiary of many generous and sensitive people and systems, Single Dad also puts up with a lot of crap in his life from many people and systems -- sometimes the same ones. I want to share an exchange in which I participated recently in his comments section, because I think the response to my comment was funny:

Never in my life have a seen one man surrounded by so much idiocy.


Sarah B. says:


Based on the experience of my mom, who is chronically ill, the issue is that there’s a certain amount (let’s call it X) of idiocy in health-care systems, and the more chronic your need for help from that system, the more of X you will witness. Also, the more time and motivation you will have to complain about X.

People whose needs for help are acute, not chronic, might witness some idiocy, but either not realize how big X really is, or “let it go” because once their problem is resolved, they don’t feel a need to invest any emotional energy in fixing it.

Barbara says:

My compliments to Sarah for stating the relative ratio of known idiocy.

Can we make "relative ratio of known idiocy" a regular part of the English language? Because I think that is awesome.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tap Tap. Is this thing still on?

Oy vey oy vey oy vey. It has been a VERY long time since my last post, as many of you have told me again and again. Since the last post, I've played Shaindel (Mottel's mother) in 12 performances of "Fiddler on the Roof" (which was phenomenal in every way; pictures here), enjoyed the cast party, said "ouch ouch ouch" over the whole Flotilla Disaster, found a teeny bit of common ground with Lisa Goldman (my Token Lefty Blogger friend), thought a lot about dating issues that might have interested you, and gotten sucked into Facebook.

That's right. Instead of blogging, I've been writing Facebook status updates to keep the world aware of my goings-on. This is unfortunate for some of my blog readers, because I only "friend" those whom I've actually met in person. I'm sorry for ignoring the rest of you.

The good news is that I've realized over the last couple of weeks that when I have Serious Thoughts percolating in my mind, I can't get any paying work done until I get the Serious Thoughts out on paper and – while I'm at it – onto a blog. Facebook status updates have a limited character count. Blogging provides more scope for the imagination (points to those who can identify the reference).

So, the plan is to start blogging more regularly again, so I can get those pesky Worthwhile Opinions and Astute Observations out of my brain so I'll have space for my Very Boring Paying Work.

See you soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Fiddler on the Roof opens tonight! Our dress rehearsal yesterday went really well, and I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a terrific show (especially since we have several very strong talents in the cast), but I'm nervous that I'm going to see all those people and just freeze or something. Gah! By the way, if you still haven't bought your ticket, go to www.encore-etc.com or call 054-578-9006.

In other news, I GOT GRADES IN ON TIME! Ah, the joys of having only four students! Also for the first time, I invited students over to my house. I've wanted to do this for a long time, but this year it came together nicely because on Mondays our class period was 90 minutes, enough time for the kids to come over to my house, have a decent-length class, and then get back for their next period. I fed them cookies and ice tea and we did my traditional last-class activities: Course evaluations, nice notes to each other, and my annual reading of Oh! The Places You'll Go.

Here's a philosophical question for you: If all four students took the English AP, is it fair to also give them a final exam? I say yes, because a) I don't have any evidence as to how they actually performed on the AP and b) my finals are in themselves learning activities that help them improve their skills, and why should they stop learning? I gave them the essay topics about 10 days in advance and told them they could bring all the texts and outlines they wanted, AND I gave them time in class to prepare. Of course the students say no because they are tired of writing essays. What say you?


A couple of weeks ago I went to a memorable wedding. My friend Adina, who hails from Canada and the United States and now lives in Israel, married an Ethiopian man who moved to Israel 16 years ago.

To be honest, the beginning of the wedding was a little hard for me. I mean, it was really great to see Ashkenazi Americans, traditional Ethiopians, and Israelis of all stripes mixing and mingling at a chuppah -- very joyous, very symbolic -- and I was happy for my friend. But weddings are a little tough for me anyway, and I was starting to feel like the wedding was simply a typical, nice, simple wedding when two things happened that brought it to another level.

First, the second that the bride and groom came into the reception hall after the chuppah and pictures, the electricity went out. No electricity, no lights. No electricity, no music! But the bride and groom had just come in, so everyone sang and danced in the dark. There were about 400 people at the wedding and everyone was jumping up and down, singing at the top of their lungs, unable to see anything but having a rocking time. It was so much fun that some people expressed disappointment when the lights went back on.

Second, about 45 minutes into the dancing, the DJ announced that he is now switching to Amharic music. The Ethiopians were all like "yay!" and pushed into the middle to dance THEIR way. I'd seen this before so I wasn't surprised but it was new to most of the other Americans at the wedding: Ethiopians dance with their shoulders. They stand in place and the shoulders jerk rhythmically up and down, back and forth. It looks simple but try it and you might feel like you are dislocating something. Pretty soon all the Americans were trying it too. Four hundred people, only about 150 of whom were actually Ethiopian, dancing Ethiopia-style. It was amazing! Really, really fun.


In more trivial news, Artemis got her first bath the other day. I'd been told by my vet, other cat-lovers, and cat websites never to bathe a cat if you value your life, unless the cat is filthy. Well, Artemis came home covered from head to toe in black powder that smelled like plastic. Man, does she love to frolic in the construction zone around the corner. Anyhow, I got everything ready for the most efficient washing possible and pushed the unsuspecting cat into the sink. Artemis was so stunned by the sensation of being submerged in water that she just sort of arched her back, stiffened every muscle, and wouldn't move. When I picked her up to put her in the other sink for a rinsing, she was like a cardboard cat, all four legs stretched out tight. I cooed at her but she was petrified, which worked well for me because I was able to get most of the black stuff off without losing any skin or either of my eyes. But I have the feeling that if I ever try it again she'll take one look and go berserk. Afterward, she was very angry at me despite the treats I gave her; the most egregious insult, apparently, was that now her soaking-wet tail looked like a rat's. She kept looking at her tail and then up at me accusingly.

Anyhow, she is now white and fluffy and smells like citrus fruit, and has forgotten all about it (until next time).


PS Still no reliable internet access at my house. However, I sometimes get enough of a signal that I can Skype. If you want to reach me that way, email me with your Skype address so I can add you to my contacts (please, only if we are friends in "real" life, thanks).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Answer Me This

Why do so many men think it's OK to ask a woman on a first date "Why aren't you married yet?"

Please note, I'm not asking here about men who make the complimentary declaration "You are so terrific, I don't understand why you aren't married yet," which clearly should lead to the simple reply of "Thank you" and isn't meant to be any sort of deep "grilling" measure. It's just nice.

But I'm astounded by the sheer percentage of men who, on a first date, expect me to give a serious answer to the question of why I'm still available.

On a third, fifth, tenth date, I can see how a reflective answer would shed light on my personality and history and provide insightful information about my level of self-awareness.

But on a first date, I have three choices. I can dismiss the question airily with "Oh, I'm just unlucky, I guess," which makes me seem not self-aware, or I can give a serious answer, in which case I'm being forced on a first date to reflect out loud on my past mistakes and current shortcomings -- mistakes and shortcomings, I should emphasize, that are no different or worse than any of the many mistakes and shortcomings of married people-- which makes me feel like I'm being given the third degree.

If I dismiss the question entirely -- and I'm not really suave enough to do so in a way that is charming -- it looks like I'm hiding a terrible secret or that I'm bitter.

Being an earnest person who doesn't know how to wiggle her way out of awkward questions (oh, how I wish I'd gone to a southern charm school!) I usually answer honestly, trying to maintain a balance between truth and a desire to keep some privacy on a first date, and then, in a small act of revenge, turn the question back to my date.

Almost invariably they say "Oh, I'm just unlucky" or "I just haven't found the right person," which leads me to believe that they are neither self-reflective NOR aware of what are appropriate questions for a first date.

Of course, there is the man who answered "Well, I'm a yeller and a screamer."

Check, please.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mostly Annoyed

I have no internet access in my house. How and why this happened is a long story not worth telling. It is not the fault of any one particular person, but rather a combination of

a) the person who stole my roommate's computers, a curse be upon him/her!

b) my roommate (who is now out of the country and therefore unable to help much in correcting the problem) - God bless her, she made an honest mistake and now I am paying for it and

c) Bezeq International, a curse be upon them!

The attempts I've made to fix the problem have taken some time and led almost nowhere. To complete the fixing process, one of two things has to happen:

a) I have to spend A LOT of time gathering information that is hard to find because it is in the room of my roommate AND I have to go to the Bezeq store, which I hate, to get a new router AND make a whole bunch more phone calls or

b) wait for my roommate to get back in THREE WEEKS so that she can go chasing after a router and Bezeq.

Meanwhile, my American phone number does not work, and I can't access the internet from my house AT ALL. I tried stealing bandwidth from unsuspecting neighbors, but they all have password-protected networks, God bless their suspicious little hearts. I tried asking the people next door, with whom I have a good relationship, for their password, but THEY have a dial-up connection.

So I can't work or email or watch YouTube or ANYTHING from my house, and meanwhile all the money I'm NOT making is going to Cafe Hillel (where I am right now) and Tal Bagels and Aroma, where for the price of a meal I can use the internet for a few hours, until I can't stand sitting anymore and go home to NOT work.


In happier news, my students took their AP exams on Wednesday and seemed in pretty good spirits afterward about how they'd done, so that makes me proud. Their writing and ability to analyze text has certainly improved this term.

Rehearsals for Fiddler continue apace. The first two shows are sold out! I'm getting excited and nervous.

Oh, and I have two stories in this week's Jewish Week, in the Israel Travel section.

Have a Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Israel -- and Artemis!

Today is Israel's 62nd Independence Day. I'm so grateful to have a State here which allowed me to move to Jerusalem and live in this wonderful city.

Today is also the day before Artemis' FIRST birthday! Happy birthday (tomorrow) Artemis!

I adopted Artemis when she was 9 weeks old, so it's been almost 10 months now that she's been my ba-- I mean, cat, and she's a great pet, if a bit whiny when I refuse to play mouse-on-a-stick with her. Tomorrow, for her birthday, she'll get a serving of raw chicken skin. Mm, mm, mm.

My sister asked for new pictures, so here are some I took today:

Artemis asking "Who, me?" or maybe she just spied a flying bug (which she'd never catch).

Artistic image of "Cat and Toy."

Portrait of Cat and Toy.

Lunching on kibbles.

Getting tired.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not (As) Boring Anymore

One of the advantages of teaching a course with only four students is that I have only 4 sets of papers to grade with each assignment.

But what helps, above and beyond the lower numbers, is that the types of assignments I'm giving this year (since I'm teaching a different course entirely) allow for more open-ended topics. Within a certain framework, the students can choose to write about pretty much whatever interests them. And it's always fascinating to see what they come up with.

Over the last few weeks they've been working on short research papers (they are limited in how much research they can do, both by time and lack of access to a good traditional library; I'm working with them to assess the reliability of various online sources). Here are the topics:

1- The benefits of running for exercise, and the best ways for new runners to take up the sport without injuring themselves or losing motivation.

2- The central arguments for and against stem-cell research.

3- The central arguments for and against the legality of abortion.

4- The history of cryptography (secret codes).

The papers about running and cryptography were especially interesting to me since I knew almost nothing about these topics before.

Today, the students must let me know the topics for their next papers, which will be "argument" papers (they have to take a position and support it). What I've gotten so far:

1- Satirical paper (a la "A Modest Proposal") arguing that the Hammurabi Code is a good thing.

2- Position paper on whether the TRY program (the program these kids are on) should continue having "creative tfilot" rather than traditional prayer services.

When kids are allowed to come up with their own ideas, they think of topics far more interesting than anything I would have given them. I also love the variety.

This is so much better than reading 17 papers on the same topic.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Try To Follow

I got to Cleveland Hopkins Airport on Wednesday at about 2:30, for a 5:30 flight. My itinerary, with Swiss Air, was thus:

  • Cleveland to Chicago on a flight operated by United.
  • Short layover in Chicago, followed by a Swiss flight to Zurich.
  • All-day layover in Zurich. I'd done my research and discovered that a) if I'm not tired, there are bus and river tours of the city to take, and museums open until 7 or 8 pm and b) if I am tired, there are couches and beds to rent in one of the airport lounges, with showers.
  • Zurich overnight flight to Tel Aviv, scheduled to arrive Friday morning at 3:30 am.
Upon arrival at the Cleveland airport, I was told that my check-in bag was 53 pounds and I'd need to remove 3 pounds of stuff. I took out a book that I need to plan lessons for the class I teach. Luckily, my parents had just bought me a beautiful new carry-on with the maximum amount of allowed room and 4-wheel drive -- in addition to a shoulder bag to put under the seat in front of me-- so I was able to stuff in a lot of stuff, including my winter coat, plenty of food for my day in Zurich, all my toiletries, even a set of pajamas in case I sleep in Zurich. This will all become important later.

I got through security in Cleveland. At about 5 pm they announced at the gate that, due to thunderstorms in Chicago, my flight would leave at least an hour late. I stood on line to talk to the United gate agent about the fact that I'd now have no more than 27 minutes to make my connection. He said that actually, if you add the time it takes to get to the gate and all, I'd have about 3 minutes. He found that there was no way for United to get me to Tel Aviv in a timely way, so he instead gave me a ticket for Air Canada, thus:

  • Air Canada from Cleveland to Toronto (in about 30 minutes, just one gate over, thank God)
  • 5-hour layover in Toronto, then a direct flight on Air Canada to Tel Aviv, arriving Thursday night at about 10 pm. For this flight, the agent said, I'd have to get the boarding pass in Toronto.

This itinerary was, as you can see, much better than my original one, so I was pretty happy. About the loss of my chance to take tours of Zurich, my feeling was "Man plans, God laughs." I was just excited to get home Thursday night instead of Friday morning.

I saw them load my checked-in suitcase onto the little propeller tin can that we flew to Toronto. The flight was bumpy but otherwise fine.

At Toronto, I went to the Air Canada Customer Service desk to get my boarding pass to Tel Aviv. The agent said that actually, the flight was overbooked, but she's giving me a priority-seating pass. If anyone cancels, I'll get a seat. Unfortunately, there was no way to know if anyone cancels until one hour before the flight, when they "close" the check-in for the flight. (Please note that United had made a reservation for me without confirming that I'd actually have a seat!)

From the way she talked about it, I felt confident that I'd get on the plane. So I killed a few hours in Toronto looking for a gift for my roommate, eating a sandwich I'd packed for dinner, and standing around in a bookstore skimming through autobiographies of Andre Agassi and Melissa Gilbert, and then made my way to the gate about 90 minutes before the flight, to make sure I was first on line. (I was actually third.)

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they opened the gate and it turned out that everyone in front of me AND behind me were trying to get boarding passes with a priority-seating ticket. It also turned out that they were giving out the one available seat on the basis of the order in which people got their ticket. They called someone's name ... he didn't show up. They called someone else's name... it turned out to be a couple who didn't want to split up, and there was only one seat. And then they called my name! I got the seat! Whoo hoo! They gave me my boarding pass and I snuggled into a chair in the waiting area, happy as a clam.

Five minutes later, they paged me and TOOK MY BOARDING PASS AWAY. The gate agent said he was sorry, but he hadn't realized that I'm not actually an Air Canada customer, but a United Customer. He called ahead to the Air Canada Customer Service Desk, where they would give me a voucher for a hotel stay and meals in Toronto.

I got to Customer Service and said half-jokingly to the two agents there "I'm an irate customer. Which of you wants to deal with me?" They were pretty nice about it. What irked me wasn't that I didn't get on the plane, but that they issued me a boarding pass and then took it away. They said that it was United's fault that I'm stranded, but Air Canada didn't want me to spend the night in the airport, so here is a night at a hotel and $32 for meals. Part of me was thinking "Thanks, Air Canada," and part of me was thinking "what kind of airline TAKES AWAY SOMEONE'S BOARDING PASS after issuing it?" But whatever.

There was also the question of my luggage. The Air Canada guy said that when I come back in the morning, I should talk with a United person about locating the bag which I knew for a fact was in the airport in Toronto somewhere.

The Hotel Delta Toronto West is a nice little place. From the desk in my room I called United to say "What the hell?" The agent, "Shar" ("Char"? Charlotte? Sharlene?) was sympathetic and put me on hold for 15 minutes while she tries to find a new way for me to get to Tel Aviv. Finally she gets back on the line and offers this (remember, it is now Wednesday night at about 11:30 pm):

  • Flight leaving Toronto on Thursday at about 6 pm, to Frankfurt, with Lufthansa.
  • Two-hour layover in Frankfurt, then a Lufthansa flight to Tel Aviv, arriving on Friday at 3:30 pm.

My answer: Look, technically this itinerary is fine. Lufthansa is a good airline. But I'm Sabbath-observant (had to explain that a little), and if anything goes wrong, if my first leg is delayed for any reason, I'm going to spend the weekend in an airport.

Shar: Two hours is plenty of time to make a connection.

Me: Shar, you know as well as I do that flights are OFTEN delayed more than two hours.

Shar: Well, this is all I have for you.

Me: Fine, I'll take it.

Meanwhile, I'd put in a call to my sister (who was still awake, due to the time difference -- she lives in California -- unlike my parents who may have been asleep already). In typical, wonderful Rivka style she said "I feel like going over there myself and smacking someone for you." Being a bit more clear-headed than I, probably because she wasn't the one looking at spending Shabbat in Frankfurt, she persuaded me to call United again and say that I'd rather go back to Cleveland, spend the weekend there, and then try the whole process again on Sunday.

United agent: I can't do that. You've partially used the ticket.

Me: I partially used it because United sent me a wild-goose chase to Toronto without confirming that I'd have a way, from there, to get to my final destination.

Agent: You'll have to go to the airport in the morning and talk to the United agents there.

Me: But you are a United agent.

Agent: Yes, but you'll have to talk to the ones at the airport.

Me: I don't understand. You are a United reservations agent. What can they do at the airport that you can't do for me right now on the phone?

Agent: I'm sorry ma'am. That's the way it is.

Me: I want to talk to someone who has more power than you do.

Supervisor: Hello, what can I do for you?

Me: Do I need to repeat the whole story?

Supervisor: No, ma'am.

Me: So you are aware that United has stranded me in Toronto overnight. And that with this Lufthansa plan chances are very good that I'll spend a night sleeping on the floor of an airport.

Supervisor: One moment ma'am.

After another 15 minutes on hold, he offered me this:

  • Continental flight out of Toronto on Thursday at around 12:30 in the afternoon.
  • Two-hour layover in Newark.
  • Direct flight on Continental to Tel Aviv, arriving on Friday morning at 9:30 am.

You can see how this is so much better. If nothing else, being stranded in Newark is 1,000 times better than Frankfurt, because I actually have good friends and relatives in New Jersey and New York. (Hi Rivka! Lisa! Jessica! Aaron! Miriam!)

Now, why the supervisor could offer me this itinerary and Shar couldn't is a mystery for the ages.


I slept pretty fitfully, even though the bed was comfortable and I had my own pajamas and toiletries.


The next morning I used my $32 meal voucher to breakfast on whatever kosher food I could from the hotel buffet (yay berries! melon! cereal and milk!) and a bottle of water and two bananas to add to my stash of sandwiches, since with all the flight changes my chances of getting in-flight kosher meals were slim.

I got back to the Toronto airport at 10:30, two hours before my flight, got my boarding pass to Newark AND Tel Aviv, and proceeded to try to find out where my checked-in suitcase was. The Continental people told me to ask Air Canada, since my suitcase had come in on an Air Canada flight--and assured me that it wouldn't take more than 20 minutes for me to come back.

The Air Canada people told me to ask United, since the luggage tag had been issued by them.

United told me to go to another terminal and ask for a security escort into the baggage claim area.

The people in baggage claim told me that they definitely do not have my suitcase, and if it ever was in Toronto it has left again. Their computer had no record of what happened to it after it left Cleveland, but it certainly was not in the airport. They said I should ask Swiss Airlines, since the luggage tag said that the bag was supposed to go to Zurich on Swiss and then Tel Aviv. In all likelihood it was on its way to one of those cities, and I could put in a claim for it in Tel Aviv when I got there.

Back to the first terminal where I made my way to the proper gate about 15 minutes before boarding.


The flight to Newark was bumpy but otherwise fine.

The flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was long and involved sitting in the middle of a group of 41 teenagers from two Jewish day schools in Florida who were on their "trip of a lifetime" to Israel. Nice kids, but of course they were up talking and laughing all night. I don't blame them, but it was all rather miserable for me. I slept for about 2 hours and watched "The Godfather" (wow) and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (fun), both for the first time. And indeed I got kosher meals.


At Ben Gurion, they said my bag was definitely not in Israel. I put in a claim and they entered my tag number (ALWAYS SAVE YOUR LUGGAGE TAG STICKER!!!) and information into the computer system which is accessible by all airports around the world. They were pretty confident that it should arrive in Israel within a day or two -- and they said they'll deliver it to my house when it arrives.

So, here I am. I got home at about 12:30 in the afternoon--only 7 hours later than I'd originally planned, COOKED FOR SHABBAT believe it or not, and then slept the ENTIRE Shabbat except for meals with my roommate (and Liz for dinner. Hi, Liz!). It is now Saturday night at 10:21 pm and I am WIDE AWAKE. Thank God for melatonin, because I have to teach tomorrow and can't afford to be jetlagged.

Also thank God for all that stuff I had in my carry-on. Especially the book.

Artemis was the picture of indifference when she saw that I'd returned, but since then has come to me for snuggles a few times, and she slept on my bed last night (after two weeks on Liza's bed, so it seems she prefers me, aw.) She's less verbal than when I left. She stalks around more silently now. We'll see if that changes over time.

It's so good to be home! Finally!