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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Dear Rachel,

In your column of Oct 26th you published a letter written by B’Ahavat Yisrael (really??) who attacked you for being soft on the candy issue. Actually, she sounded hyper, like someone who overdid the sugar, in her stinging criticisms of the people she (in her signature) professes to love.

She claims that we have lost our “sense of Yiddishkeit” and lists a whole host of grievances she has against us. Besides our “obsession with sweets,” she takes issue with the way we give mishloach manos, the type of music we enjoy and the expense we go to when making a simcha, and to add insult to injury she cites our frum culture as mirroring that of a non-Jewish society.

With all due respect, I would like to address her faulty analysis. Regarding her criticism of the way we give mishloach manos, she’s apparently never heard of hiddur mitzvah (the beautifying of a mitzvah by embellishing it). An example of hiddur mitzvah: some of us go all out to decorate our sukkah, which of course doesn’t mean that a plain looking sukkah does not cover the bases.

The same with the esrog; most men vie for a beautiful esrog, despite the increase in expenditure, and some even use a magnifying glass to check for the tiniest blemish. Would she consider this to be in excess or a sign of materialism? It is neither.

Giving more than the traditional two mishloach manos and getting enjoyment out of applying our own personal touch to them is hardly frivolous. On the contrary, it is putting our G-d given talents to good use. She can present hers without flourish and stick to the minimum required if she so desires, but she is not right in begrudging others their indulgence in a hiddur mitzvah.

She might also keep in mind that those in a position to go all out in celebrating occasions like weddings are mostly the same people who dispense charity to the needy with a generous hand. One should not dictate to others how their money should be spent. There have always been rich people, those of moderate means, and the less privileged. Naturally their different lifestyles reflect their resources; this is the normal way of the world and always has been.

As for overloading on sweets, the subject that led to B’Ahavat Yisrael’s rant in the first place, most of us are aware of the boundaries of unhealthy eating. In fact, overeating altogether (doesn’t have to be sweet junk) is detrimental to our health. Education may be what’s needed; we must talk about it – as we are doing here – and schools would do well to emphasize and promote the value of good nutrition. If we drum it into our kids early on, they’ll be more likely to live that way down the road.

Another disturbing condemnation by B’Ahavat Yisrael concerns summer camp for children. “When did that start?” she asks with incredulity. Would she really rather that they stayed home with nothing to do? Summer camp happens to be a wonderful outlet for children and a healthy way for them to unwind from their rigid school year, make new friends, and learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. Day camp is a lifesaver for those uneasy about sending their children to overnight camp or who cannot afford anything but.

No, summer camp does not spoil our kids, as B’Ahavat Yisrael implies. It offers them healthy physical and emotional outlets in a structured environment. She opines that they should stay put and “earn a little money.” At what age does she suggest they go job-hunting? At eight? Ten, maybe? Thirteen? The enterprising adolescent can, by the way, earn a few dollars by working in camp while still enjoying the benefits of being on camp premises.

As for B’Ahavat Yisrael’s contention that home is the best place for children to be in the summertime, I’m sure those mothers who can’t afford to send their children to camp of any kind would be willing to straighten her out as to the pitfalls of having children at home with nothing to do but play computer games, watch TV, annoy the heck out of their sibs, and eat. Mostly junk. Sweet junk. Lots of it.

All this ostracizing should be left to the rabbis at the pulpit who are trained in how and when to lecture. The rest of us ought to have compassion for one another and lend a hand to those we perceive as being in need of one.

Thanks for letting me speak my mind.

Just my sense of Yiddishkeit

Dear Just,

Be it sugar or salt, overdoing is the culprit. In moderation we can handle both. Abuse of either can get us to the point where we’re forced to ban one or the other forever from our diets.

B’Ahavat Yisrael called attention to some of our foibles, as when we take things to an extreme. I rather tend to view us much more optimistically. Considering the restrictions of an orthodox lifestyle, we do more than admirably on many fronts. We are creative and enterprising, compassionate and giving, and family oriented.

As humans we are not perfect, nor are we expected to be, but far more important and indicative of our Jewishness than how fussy we are about our mishloach manos is the way we conduct ourselves both in public and in private. Are we loyal and devoted to our loved ones and act with a pleasant demeanor and with kindness to others? Do we share with those of lesser means and deal fairly with all people?

As for the subject that got us into this discussion to start with, before reaching for the cookie jar we’d best digest the following: According to the American Heart Association, 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar should be a woman’s daily limit (9 for a man). This includes the sugar worked into the ingredients of all the other foods we eat, such as crackers, breads and many of the spreads that go with them.

The more we indulge in sweets, the more we mess with our metabolism. Our liver, brain function, and mood are all adversely affected. Aside from weight gain, sugar overload can contribute to malaise of the heart, to diabetes, to cancer and to premature aging of the skin.

I think I’ll pass on the chocolate today.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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