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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘School’

American Culture: How to Reconcile the Brutal and the Effete?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

I’m deeply confused about American culture. Let me cite two incidents as examples and then talk about some attitudes I hear about from my son’s reports on visits with friends. Perhaps readers can explain this contradiction between the effete and the brutal.

Arriving in the United States, I go to the nearby Trader Joe’s food store. It is of course very PC. At the checkout counter, the clerk asks, “Have you returned anything?” I did a double-take. Is this a bid for higher taxes? A taunt to the 1 percent who shop there?

No, he explains that they have some kind of program about bringing back bags. “The people in Bethesda,” he smugly asserts, “are the smartest!”

By coincidence, I had just heard some article saying that using returned bags is potentially dangerous since there can be some food remnants that rot and may breed bacteria. (I certainly don’t know what is true scientifically.) Unable to resist, and out of curiosity, I said, “Maybe they are not the smartest,” and explained my concern.

Instantly, he changed his attitude, snarled and said, “They’re the smartest!” No contradiction would be tolerated. Anyway, he started it. But given all the waste involved in a supermarket business–let’s start with the packaging–the small but highly right-thinking-people gesture of reused bags strikes me as a laughable symbol. Not to mention the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t giving out food to the poor or opening stores to take big losses in what Michelle Obama calls, “food deserts.”

Is this salvation on the cheap, like those in wealthy California coastal cities that take away the farmers’ water to save some obscure fish and then congratulate themselves on their enlightenment?

About the same time, I sit in a sandwich place and a song comes on the radio. My jaw drops. A female singer repeats the lyric, “I said drive, bitch,” apparently it’s a car-jacking? She just keeps going over and over again in a very aggressive tone. At the end, the sound effect indicates that the female driver has been shot and fell down dead.

I sat there speechless. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If there is a “war on women” isn’t it actually waged most vigorously in certain sectors of popular music? The same could be said of the music of the much honored Jay-Z or many others.

Now perhaps this is a silly taking of two extreme phenomena, and I’ll accept that verdict if that’s what you think. But it symbolizes perhaps a bigger thing. On one hand, American culture today (should I say popular culture?) is one of watch your language, goody-goody, we are just so virtuous. There is rap music and the message given to children in Politically Correct lessons.

On the other hand, though, on film, television, literature, music, and public discourse it is intolerant and at times proudly brutal. Is that a valid observation? And if so how is this tension reconciled?

During a visit to the United States, conversations among young teenage boys, who in school were subjected to intense indoctrination, run like this:

–They make fun of alleged gays among them, flinging the charge as insulting but then quickly adding, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

–They show very vile disrespect toward girls of their age. It doesn’t seem that there is any change over the decades, but there certainly isn’t a reduction of “sexist” attitudes. They discuss them far more openly. The concept of gentleman or even restrained behavior is gone, perhaps in conjunction with the musical examples. Attitudes that would once have been derided as “low-class” by the elite have now become common place. So how is there then an elite setting a good example?

–They use far more racial epithets and negative stereotypes of others than my generation, though it is covered by frequent accusations that this or that is racist. Dubbing of something as racism is used as a weapon, a description of something one doesn’t like.

–They see themselves as part of some downtrodden class even though they are financially well-off. For example, they talk about rich white people but when pointed out that they live in big houses, they say the houses are bigger in some other neighborhoods.

Jewish Agency Hands Gondar School to Ethiopia

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky handed Getnet Amare, the mayor of Gondar, Ethiopia, the keys to the school that had prepared thousands of Jewish Ethiopian children for their subsequent immigration to Israel through education in math, physics, computers and English.

In a ceremony on Monday, the Jewish Agency donated all the school buildings and equipment to the city. “Jews lived in Gondar for 2,500 years. However, their longing to return home never weakened,” Sharansky said at the ceremony marking the conclusion of the Jewish Agency-led Operation Wings of a Dove. Through the operation, launched in 2010, Israel absorbed more about 7,000 people in Ethiopia, the Falash Mura, whose ancestors were Jewish but were forced to convert to Christianity.

“For us it is very symbolic that the Jewish community here is leaving behind a place of study. It’s a promise we make all the countries from which Jews emigrate: that we will leave behind a school for their local community’s children,” Sharansky said.

The final flight of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel will arrive in the Jewish state on Aug. 28 with 400 immigrants.

Bullying Must End!

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Dear Dr. Yael:

My husband and I are having a problem with our seven-year-old daughter. She is having difficulty with socializing and was bullied this past year by another girl. She is a very sweet girl, and it is hard for her to respond when someone is mean to her. I don’t know how to help her and it is breaking my heart to see her going more and more into a shell. I spoke to her teachers and they tried to be more on top of the situation, but I am concerned about this coming school year. My daughter is already starting to dread going back to school because she is nervous that the bullying will continue. What can we do to help her avoid another difficult year?

A Heartbroken Mother

Dear Heartbroken Mother:

It is very frustrating to watch a child being bullied and to not know what you can do to help. The most important thing to do is to empower your daughter and help build her confidence. This can be done in several ways.

Does your daughter have any other girlfriends that would help her stand up to this bully? Getting other girls to help your daughter may make her feel more confident (and less hurt) by the bullying girl. And the girl who is bullying her may be much less likely to continue the bullying if she sees that it will not be tolerated by others. Research has shown that the most effective way to stop bullying is to get the bystanders to become proactive. Even though the other kids who are standing around may not be outwardly contributing to the bullying, they are in essence contributing to it because they are not standing up for the victim, thus allowing the bullying to continue. Someone proactive will defend the victim and not let the bully get away with demeaning anyone or making anyone feel bad. If even just a few girls decide that they will not let bullying occur, they can make a huge difference. Remember that in numbers there is strength. While I am not advocating for the children in your daughter’s class be mean to the bully, they must be assertive and make it clear that bullying behavior will not be tolerated in their school.

It is imperative that you make every effort to raise your daughter’s confidence level so she can have the self-belief to answer the bully and not look hurt while doing so – a very challenging feat. It would be helpful to come up with some witty comebacks and then role-play. Once your daughter feels comfortable with various responses, she will be more likely to use them when needed. Practicing the situation beforehand will help her feel more secure and less scared. Make sure to distinguish between nasty and aggressive remarks on one hand and confident and assertive remarks on the other. While a mean remark may sting the bully and make your daughter feel better in the short term, it will not be effective in the long term – as no one truly feels better when he or she makes someone else feel bad.

There is a huge difference between standing up for oneself and retaliating against others. Retaliation will likely continue the negative cycle and may even get your daughter in trouble. Defending oneself is a sign of self-assertion and strength, not meanness. Appropriate comebacks to bullying include “I’m surprised that such a nice girl like you would speak that way” or “I’m really sorry you feel that way.”

It may also be beneficial to get your daughter involved in some kind of chesed project and/or extracurricular activity. When people give to others, they feel useful and better about themselves. Many young girls and boys assist Tomchei Shabbos and other tzedakah organizations.

Another idea is to have your daughter aid a mother with several young children. These are great ways to do something positive on behalf of the frum community while your daughter strives to raise her sense of self. Getting involved in a specialty class (e.g. art, gymnastics, or dance) will also help her succeed in other areas and improve her self-esteem. These classes can also be great places to make new friends who share similar interests. Any kind of active class will pump your daughter with adrenaline, making her consistently feel better.

Try to minimize criticizing your daughter while maximizing your compliments and words of positive reinforcement. Seek opportunities to praise her for things she accomplishes and for the way she acts. Point out her special qualities in meaningful and sincere ways. For example, instead of saying “great job,” say “I really liked how you handled yourself when your little brother hit you. I could tell that you were upset, but you controlled yourself and acted like a true bas Yisrael. You really are a special girl!” This demonstrates that you were paying attention to her actions, and your praise lets her know that what she did was exemplary. She is then able to internalize the praise because it is meaningful.

If none of these ideas help your daughter, please seek professional help in order to build your daughter’s confidence and give her tools to use in stressful social situations. Never forget that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” Getting your daughter help now can save you from years of future therapy. Hatzlachah with your trying situation!

Note to parents whose children are bullying others: Get your children professional help to rectify their abusive behavior. Bullying is a serious problem for the victims and perpetrators alike. It is not something that children generally grow out of. Most children who bully feel insecure about themselves and in order to feel better feel the need to put others down. But in reality this creates a negative cycle that makes the bullies feel increasingly worse because being mean to others does not make them feel better about themselves.

Help them express what is bothering them so they can stop taking out their pain on other children. Now is the time to assets them in gaining more effective coping skills, thereby improving their middos. If they don’t change for the better at a young age, they may have difficulties in the future regarding issues like job security, getting married, and staying married.

Bullying is unacceptable and it’s easier for a bully to change his or her behavior at a young age. So please help your precious children learn to socialize appropriately. In the end they will be nicer to others – while feeling better about themselves.

When Good Children Go OTD

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The problem seems to be far worse than anyone thinks. We may even be at an epidemic level. Everywhere I turn these days it seems, I find a family where at least one child has gone OTD (Off the Derech–away from the religious path). Or at least does not follow the Hashkafic path laid out by their parents.

Many of them are all from fine families. Exemplars of great parenting. Nothing dysfunctional about them. The parents have many children all the rest of which are the obvious results child rearing by 2 great parents. Most of their children do fine in the Hashkafic milieu in which they were raised and in which they live. And yet it seem to be increasingly the case that at least one child has no interest in towing the family religious line.

In the families that I know about it seems the problems tend to begin in mid to late elementary school or early high school.

The question is why is this happening? What is it that is driving this OTD phenomenon in good families? It is very understandable when this happens in dysfunctional families where physical or mental abuse exists either between parents; between a parent and child; or both. It does not take rocket science to see why a child associates their strife their parent’s lifestyle. If they are a religious family, then religion is associated with that strife.

But what about the good families with good children where one of them does not want to have anything to do with their family’s religious way of life? Unfortunately I know of far too many situations like these. Hashkafos don’t seem to matter that much. I know families with an OTD child that are very right wing, moderate Charedi, and right wing Modern Orthodox. None of them are so strict as to warrant the kind of rebellion they have experienced from at least one child.

I have no real explanation. But I suspect it has something to do with the current pressure that schools and thereby parents put on their children to excel in their religiosity, Limudei Kodesh or Limudei Chol. I am constantly hearing about how schools of all Hashkafos are ‘rasining’ their standards. That is impacted negatively by the times in which we live. By that I mean the great distractions that now exists that did not exist in the past. Distractions that expose children to a much easier lifestyle than their parents insist upon. Distractions that take away from their study time. Distractions that cause them to question matters of faith. These are distractions that those of us over the age of 30 never had when we were growing up.

The internet, its ease of use and availability, and the ability to easily hide one’s involvement with it puts pressure on young people now – as never before. No matter how much we try to discourage it, limit it, or ban it, it is so pervasive that it is impossible to avoid the influence it has on children. Children can access anything they want as quickly as they can delete it from a screen. A child now has an unprecedented and unfettered window to the entire world. A little curiosity about a taboo subject will beget websites and images that can easily pull a child away from their parents’ influences. It is amazing that there aren’t even more OTD children than there are.

Coupled with this is the increased pressure put upon children in our day to be more religious and be better students than ever before.

The pressure to excel and adopt ever increasing Churmos into our lives has become so ingrained that not conform to these new standards is unacceptable.For example violating a Chumra is as painful to a family as violating a Halacha. I know one family that feels great pain that a child now uses non Chalav Yisroel products. I hasten to add that they are a very loving family – accepting of that child and allowing her to bring non Chalav Yisroel products into the home and use them freely. But it still pains them internally.

And how can any self respecting parent not want their child to excel in school? So with every increase in the amount of material to be mastered, there is a parental motive to see to it that their child measures up. Whether it is the Charedi standard of Limudei Kodesh or the MO academic standard. And in many cases – both.

If you combine the two phenomenon of increased pressure (whether religious or in the level of study)in the home and in school with the ubiquity of the internet – I think one can understand why the OTD phenomenon even in good homes might be near epidemic levels.

I would add that the fact that as the religious population increases, so too do the number of children going OTD – even if the percentages may be the same. But if I had to guess the percentages have increases too and not only the numbers.

I don’t know how to solve any of these problems. But I do have a few thoughts about it. First we ought to be aware of the problems and to recognize that we live in unprecedented times. One cannot for example ignore the internet. Nor can it be successfully banned. But one should do the best they can to set up parental controls, rules, and guidelines about its use. And avoid giving very young children hand held devices.

Of course the most important factor is to love our children unconditionally. Even – and perhaps especially – if they are at risk or OTD. They must know that they will always be loved; part of the family; and welcomed in the homes. Even if they are Mechalel Shabbos, and eat Treif. A bare headed son or daughter whose modesty does not measure up to family or community standards must be accepted. No matter what others in your community think! That may not bring them back. But it will for sure not push them away should they ever want to come back.

Another much harder thing to accomplish is to change the current penchant of religious schools to demand ever increasing religious standards for – not only their students but their parents.

The same thing is to be said with the ever increasing academic standards; or Torah study standards. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be top schools in an area of study in either Limudei Kodesh or Limudei Chol. But they should be special schools reserved for the very best, brightest and most highly motivated students among us. Putting a child that does not have those qualifications into schools like those will almost certainly set up them up for failure. And failure should never be an option.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Meet a 19-Year-Old Explosives Expert

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Growing up, it was uncommon for students from Corporal Dylan Ostrin’s International school to join the IDF, let alone stay in Israel. However, she had a specific vision for herself: she wanted to be in the Combat Engineering Corps.

Corporal Dylan Ostrin made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from the US at the age of seven with her family. After moving from Texas and California, Cpl. Ostrin spent much of her school years at an international school where the students were children of foreign residents, such as diplomats, who did not have a connection to the land, history or culture and did not plan on making their lives in Israel. Tailoring to this crowd, her school provided an education devoid of Israeli identity, including the idea of joining the IDF. “My school’s point of view was to graduate and go as far away from Israel as possible for college,” said Cpl. Ostrin.

For her, joining the army was not the norm, unlike most people who grow up in Israel. “I see it as a privilege to be able to serve my country and I was not prepared to give that privilege up.”

Today, Cpl. Ostrin is an explosives instructor in the Combat Engineering Corps. She teaches all things explosive: from how to handle the explosives themselves to utilizing them in operations, such as gaining access to buildings. The soldiers she leads are mainly reservists who come back for their annual duty, ranging in age from 22 to 40 and sometimes more. Cpl. Ostrin loves working with reservists because it is satisfying to see reservists relearn things they might not have done in years.

“[Reservists] come out of their everyday life to do this, [leaving] their family, their work,” she explained. “They don’t have anyone to force them to listen. So I really have to show them how much I know in order to keep their attention.”

Though she loves her job, Cpl. Ostrin has dealt with hardships during her service. First, due to a filing error, she was placed in the wrong course for several months. She fought for what she wanted, including writing letters, making phone calls, begging her higher ups and even spending a whole day trying to convince different placement officers. They finally agreed to correct the situation.

After all the stress of trying to get into the right training track, Cpl. Ostrin received some hard news that would affect every aspect of her life. Due to a job promotion, her parents were leaving Israel and moving to the U.K. When her mother presented the situation to her and her brother, Cpl. Ostrin at first told them they should not leave. However, she later realized she is independent enough to thrive on her own, thanks to the new sense of independence she learned from serving in the IDF.

“If my parents would have told me they were leaving before I entered the army, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it. But the army teaches you certain skills that force you to become your own person and be independent,” she said.

Since her parents moved, Cpl. Ostrin has been getting by as a lone soldier, especially thanks to her fellow soldiers. She said have become more like family than just friends. They have invited Cpl. Ostrin and her brother over holidays, weekends, and when she was sick, her fellow soldiers picked her up from to take her to doctor appointments.

Now that things have settled down, Cpl Ostrin is enjoying every minute of her job. She has already begun receiving job offers to work on bomb squads and similar security-related teams both in Israel and abroad, but is focusing on the present. “Serving in the army, in a job I wanted to do, is more rewarding than anything else. I’m doing it for the good of the people around me and the good of the country.”

Census Debunks Arab Demographic Threat

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Jewish and Arab birth rates indicate that the percentage of school children in the Israeli educational system who are Jewish will grow by 2019 while the percentage of Arabs will decline.

The Central Bureau of Statistics reported Tuesday that the Jewish percentage will rise by one percentage point, from 73 to 74 percent, and the Arab percentage will decline by a point, from 27 to 26 percent.

Previous warnings of a growing Arab population were based on birth rates that no longer are valid. The latest statistics show that there will be 12 percent more children in the Hebrew education system by 2019 but only 10 percent more in the Arab system.

One reason for the decrease in the Arab birth rate might be due to Arab families enjoying a higher quality of life and becoming part of the “middle class” that usually is accompanied by smaller families. The change also indicates that Arabs in Israel do not share the ideology of the Bedouin and fundamentalist Muslim communities that promote larger families as part of the “resistance” movement to eliminate a Jewish majority in Israel.

However, birth rates among Haredi and modern orthodox Jews remain high, one of the reasons that the supposed Arab demographic threat in Judea and Samaria also is exaggerated.

The estimated number of school children also indicates that the Haredi birth rate has declined but still is far higher than in other Jewish sectors in Israel. The annual growth rate in the Haredi primary educations schools is expected to drop from 4.7 percent, for the period from 2001 until 2012, to 3.6 percent by 2019. The rate in the secondary school system is forecast to drop by nearly 50 percent, from 4 percent to 2.3 percent.

The growth rate in state secular and religious schools will increase, but only to 1.43 percent in the primary school system, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

Children in Haredi schools will comprise 31 percent of the total primary school population by 2019, 50 percent more than the 21 percent recorded in the past 11-year period.

Following a Passion for Sports to Israel

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Just a few miles north of Tel Aviv, along Israel’s glistening, Mediterranean beaches, lies the Wingate Institute. Wingate, Israel’s leading sports institute, is a global leader in professional fitness and health education, and boasts Israel’s only Olympic training ground. Featuring everything from gym instruction to yoga to Krav Maga (Israel-developed martial arts), Wingate is a world-renowned institution that has everything an aspiring athlete is looking for.

The World Betar Movement, another of Israel’s foremost institutes since 1923, has teamed up with Wingate to open a new program for young aspiring athletes around the world. Called ‘Betar-Wingate,’ this cooperation offers a unique five-month program at the Wingate Institute, in which young adults from around the world will be able to receive worldwide-recognized certification and qualify as a professional physical fitness and health instructors.

Open to young adults aged 20-30 from anywhere in the world (provided they can keep up with the English language instruction) the program takes place under the auspices of Masa Israel, a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which offers substantial scholarships towards long-term programs In Israel.

“I chose this program because it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to live in Israel and come back with a profession I can work at,” says Ben, one of the program participants. “I’m crazy about fitness, so it’s a great way to both promote my career and have a meaningful experience while doing it.”

Muscle force testing, cardiovascular and posture training, gym training practice, anatomy, nutrition, gym management, and first aid are only a few of the extensive range of courses offered in this five month program. Participants will also be able to choose from a large range of electives, from nautical sports to yoga, ballroom dancing to martial arts, and more.

Additionally, while the program itself offers a Hebrew language training course, participants will also be able to experience ‘the real Israel’, either by enjoying organized trips in Israel (included in the course), by participating in combined classes with Israeli students, or by taking advantage of the course’s phenomenal location in the center of Israel, close to the hubbub and nightlife of the most fashionable and cultured city in Israel, Tel Aviv.

Graduates of the course will become skilled, professional instructors of physical fitness and health. Upon completion, they will be certified with the title of “gym instructor” from Wingate Academic College, a certification that’s recognized worldwide. With it, the graduates will be able to train and work as a trainer anywhere in the world – and Wingate guarantees that they will assist any and all of them with whatever help is needed, if they ever run into bureaucratic difficulties.

Not only are graduates guaranteed assistance anywhere in the world, but, if the five month taste of Israel whets their appetite for more, the municipality of Ra’anana, where course participants will be living, is on board to guarantee course graduates jobs in the city.

“I am very excited about attending and participating in the Betar-Wingate program,” says Jordana, from Memphis, TN. “I am excited to receive an opportunity to not only enhance my knowledge at one of the most prestigious athletic focused schools, but get to do this in Israel. Betar-wingate allows me the opportunity to learn with other participants who share the same ideals as myself, which in itself is an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait for the fall and all that this program will do for myself and others!”

Finally, a complementary diving course will be offered to participants who then sign up a friend for this program.

For more information and to register, please contact Noga Caspi, program coordinator, at noga@betar.org.il or visit http://betar.org.il/wingate/.

An American Tragedy in Steubenville

Monday, March 18th, 2013

A significant number of American values failures came together to create the tragedy in Stuebenville, where two teenage High School football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.

Foremost among them is the American tragedy of sexualizing teen girls at an age where they are not yet women. Madonna sexualized herself in her mid twenties. Brittney Spears brought the age down to about eighteen. Not young enough for you? Miley Cyrus reduced it further to sixteen. One wonders when our culture will feel that even sixteen is not a young enough age to sexually exploit girls.

Then there is the issue of sports as an emerging religion where those gifted to be athletes feel a sense of entitlement that often has them crossing lines to their own detriment. The idea that two High School football stars would think it acceptable to post pictures of a nude sixteen year old to their friends on social media shows how they thought the normal rules did not apply them. And this would be true even if there weren’t the far more serious conviction on rape. How sad that two young men have ruined their lives and done so much damage to a defenseless victim.

Next is the growing culture of alcohol abuse by minors. Alcohol played a central role in this unfolding tragedy with the essential argument on the part of the prosecution that the girl in question was so drunk there was no possible way she could give consent. One wonders why our youth are so inclined to heavy drink. Is it mere experimentation or is something deeper at work? Are they already, at so young an age, as unhappy as adults who have been battered by life and are therefore drinking negative emotions away? After all, no one in America really portrays the teen years as a bowl of cherries.

I passed my later teen years in an all-male environment in Yeshiva where the focus of my life was study. I certainly was a lot happier than the co-ed environment in which I was immersed in my early teen years where peer pressure, popularity among the girls, and a general self-consciousness made my life less enjoyable than it should have been.

Then there is the general tragedy of the absence of responsible parenting in America. The biggest question for me in this heartrending story was where were the parents? Where were they when the three teens left one party at 12:30 am to go to another? Where were they to monitor extreme drunkenness on the part of people not old enough to vote?

Many African-American young men are not raised with a father’s guiding hand. I was astonished, therefore, at the honesty displayed by Malik Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, when he said in a CNN interview that he had walked over to his son right after the guilty verdict and told him he loved him, essentially for the very first time. “I haven’t been involved in Malik’s life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents should be more involved in their child’s life… be a parent and not a friend.”

No one is better qualified to address this issue than President Obama who also grew up without his father and is by all accounts a very loving and involved parent himself. The President has addressed the subject only lightly, but it’s time that he make this an all-out campaign.

But the greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls. Immanuel Kant wrote that the definition of immorality is treating a fellow human being as a means rather than an end. The abomination of American slavery was that a white child was taught to see a black child as a walking bale of cotton. Slavery trained a white man to see a black woman as lacking the same spark of the divine that lent him his humanity. When he looked upon the woman, she was stripped of her own dreams, her own opinions, her own aspirations. She was nothing but an extension of the white slave owner’s drives and ambitions. Like a third arm she existed to simply to do his chores.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/an-american-tragedy-in-steubenville/2013/03/18/

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