Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Much Ado about Tiger Mothers


I am not a 'Tiger Mother,' but there's a lady at the local CVS whose glare suggests I'm a shrew. Just the other day, on a phone interview for work with the kids off from school, I asked my 4 year old to quiet down when background noise hit an all-time high. My interview subject said "Wow. You've got them well-trained."

But really, I do not. I liken my crew to the comic strip Family Circus. Everyone runs amok, doing their own thing with little to stop them. Games are played, homework is delayed and beds are rarely made. I hear that my older children's "bed time" is eight o'clock - That is either a future goal or a cover. I'm going with a cover. For what, I am not sure. For Granny who would be outraged by my children's real point of turning in? For my child's friend who goes to bed at 7 sharp without fail? To somehow make that friend feel better? That he is not missing out on the wonderful world of Cartoon Network and all that can be found on a kid's station after kid-approved hours?

When my eight year old decided that his two hour, twice weekly soccer class was too boring and long, I agreed to let him drop it. Another mother, who I think may actually be proud to call herself a Tiger Mom, who is strict about her children's daily piano and violin practice, ice skating training, excellence in academics, extracurriculars and bedtime, turned to me: "There's no way I would do what you did."

What I did.

There is much controversy surrounding Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger, her coming of age memoir (where the parent comes of age) of uber-strict parenting (no sleepovers, no playdates, no grade less than A, no getting up to pee or have dinner until you've mastered a particular piano piece...). Many saw the book as Chua's attempt to teach her form of - what she calls - the "Chinese approach to parenting" as the style to model. But in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chua explains that "my actual book is not a how-to guide; it's a memoir, the story of our family's journey in two cultures, and my own eventual transformation as a mother. Much of the book is about my decision to retreat from the strict 'Chinese' approach, after my younger daughter rebelled at 13." In an interview with Jezebel, Chua addresses why readers are up in arms over her book: "We parents, including me, are all so anxious about whether we're doing the right thing. You can never know the results. It's this latent anxiety."

While I never want to be Amy Chua (It's too late, my kids would be 'scarred for life' for changing the game plan on them! They have a finite idea of what a "meanie" is.), being her polar opposite, I envy her a bit - let me stress, just a bit. I wish my children didn't think TV is an option and would pick up a violin instead of the wii remote. I wish I had them so well trained in the notion that I am boss, rather than landlady who weighs in from to time. OK, I have some authority. So I guess I exaggerate a bit. And so must have Amy Chua because her eldest daughter staunchly defended her in an open letter published in the New York Post. She says that she and her sister were not oppressed by an "evil mother". She discusses some of the incidents that have been criticized as harsh, and explains that they were not as bad as they sound out of context. She ends the letter saying, "If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I've lived my whole life at 110 percent. And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you."

If Amy Chua's daughters are truly happy in life, then she did something right despite, or in spite, of her rigorous approach and should not look back and have regrets.

While Chua is not my model of a perfect parent, she has taught me something about becoming slightly stricter, implementing more rules in my home, and encouraging (but not pushing) my children to achieve what (I reasonably feel) they can achieve. So, I will say that I've taken a little something away from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and unlike Chua, I make no apologies.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Non-Confrontational Clergy: When Inactions Speak Louder Than Words


The issue of whether or not the late Pope is being "fast-tracked to sainthood" is a hot topic among those intrigued by news of his upcoming beatification. A criticism that has been raised: The Pope may have largely ignored cases of pedophilia among clergy members. But do we really know what went on behind the scenes? Would we truly be privy to all the efforts he may have made to crack down on this widespread problem? I don't profess to have an answer, nor am I in the position to say what the Pope may or may not have done during his leadership.

But the debate surrounding the Pope brought to my mind a problem I am having with rabbis. Over the years and in recent times, many rabbis have been criticized for helping women to obtain a "Get," Jewish divorce papers which (archaically, although steps have been implemented to modernize and circumvent this predicament) are granted by the husbands.

Although folks recognize faults and possible mental illness on part of husbands who withhold this historically important religious document (granting the religious divorce as opposed to the secular and legal document, which says a woman is free to remarry, halachikally speaking), they criticize those Rabbis for helping to expedite the process or make it easier. Why can't he stay out of it?" I've heard people ask. In some cases, rabbis have been ostracized for helping those who sought their help in the first place! "Breakaway synagogues" have formed over the years and across the country for this very reason and for reasons like it. Sadly, these situations are not unique and I hear these type of stories every day.

While some are of the mindset "The rabbi should stay out of it" and others will say "He is helping people in need. The role of the rabbi is to mediate when necessary!", many observers will cluck their tongues and lament "He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't."

I remember growing up when one family asked a rabbi for help with an entirely different matter, a conflict with another family. The rabbi said "I do not wish to get involved." He was afraid of backlash from the other family and from the congregation. The family who had sought the rabbi's help later resolved the conflict privately and after much heartbreak, but the rabbi in question lost their respect. They quickly learned never to expect him to have their backs. It was a situation that the religious leader could have handled with finesse, but he chose to bow out.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not comparing these rabbis to the Pope by a long shot, nor am I criticizing the Pope! Rather, I am bringing up a question that I have had for a very long time and of which recent news has reminded me: Do inactions speak as loud as actions do?

I feel that if one chooses not to get involved, the consequences could be damning; i.e. turning a blind eye on the sexual or physical abuse of a child, not alerting authorities to alarming words from someone who threatens violence or suicide. When one is in a leadership position, he or she is expected (more than the average individual is) to get involved, be it a principal of a school, a mayor, a rabbi, a priest.

The opposite argument is that involvement can make people angry. Taking a stand offends those taking the opposing stand. When a rabbi mediates in a nasty divorce or tries to help with a custody battle after his help is sought, another rabbi may criticize him for sticking his nose in. He may be ostracized by others who he frequently consults or collaborates with; he may lose members of his congregation. When a priest tries to stop abuse, another priest may shun him for smearing the name of his friend the accused. A religious leader has a lot to be stressed out about.

Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC, who holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, explains that this challenge is an ancient one:

"We have been programmed by our religious institutions for centuries to believe that the emissaries of religious doctrine and practice are somehow above or separate from the thoughts, feelings and personal motivations of 'regular' folks. We look to religious leaders for insight and direction with issues that we feel are somehow too challenging or uncomfortable to handle by ourselves, yet those who have chosen paths of spiritual leadership had to grow up with parents who said 'no' like the rest of us. All of us wearing human skin carry with us human baggage so it is fascinating to imagine that just because someone embraces a full time religious life that they somehow do not also carry the same emotional challenges or longings.

As designated religious leaders, clergy of any faith are in a position to offer guidance that common parishioners might not normally feel open to exploring or accepting as viable. The religious mantle often adds a degree of gravitas to a decision or path that makes many people feel safer than had they come to the same decision on their own.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel suggested that 'in order for religion to be viable anymore, it must be revolutionary.' I fully believe this to be the case now more than ever. Religious leaders volunteer to wear a mantle of dogma and faith therefore whatever they choose to do or not do is under close scrutiny from those of us who pay attention. Not acting when it comes to the pain and suffering of others is indeed as significant a statement as marching for civil rights or combating genocide."

When I corresponded with Pastor Jared Byas of BranchCreek Community Church, who is confronted with issues and asked for his involvement on a daily basis, he wrote the following:

As I scrolled through Facebook yesterday, I came across several Martin Luther King sayings. The one that struck me most was "In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends." This, of course, comes from King's personal experiences with feeling betrayed by the silence of his fellow clergy. And as a Christian pastor, I know what it's like to be in the position of those fellow clergy. There are many times when an individual will call me or send me an email asking me to be involved in their cause or in a personal emergency. At that moment, I realize that this request will not go away. Silence is not the non-answer I wish it could be. Quite the contrary, it yells out a resounding "no," and speaks loudly about my inactivity. And when these issues are controversial, clergy often find their selves in a tough position. For example, when people begin expressing their concerns about child abuse, at what point does silence remain quiet and at what point does it begin to speak. And when it does begin to speak, what does it say? At best, disinterest, at worst, complicity? There are times when silence is simply a good political move but then there are times when that same silence becomes suspect and even possibly condemning. As it relates to the Pope, it seems the jury is still out. For our congregation, the most recent issue has been homosexuality. As long as no one asked the questions, our silence is quiet. But once the question is raised, the clock starts ticking as to when our silence will be viewed as subtle acceptance of the status quo. For me personally, my religious tradition compels me to be involved on behalf of those without a voice and without power, whether or not doing so will bring criticism. I do not always listen to my tradition unfortunately, but that is my standard. If I am going to be criticized by both those who say I am involved too much and those who say I am involved too little, I always want to be criticized for my actions and not for my inaction.


It is no secret that leaders were designated to their positions with the expectation that they will take charge -- sometimes in the most uncomfortable of situations.

Turning a blind eye on congregants in serious need can do more damage than "being nosey."

A friend of mine put it this way: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the clergy."

(This article of mine also published on Huffington Post)

Mormon, Single and (sort of) Ready to Mingle


Elna Baker is attractive, engaging and looking for love in New York City. If you're thinking typical, think again: She's also a writer, a hilarious stand-up comic and a solo performer who specializes in storytelling. Oh, and she's a practicing Mormon. That means no sex. So Elna Baker is a 28-year-old virgin living in the big city, and that would mean she is not typical.

There are more details of her life that make her interesting and as one friend stated, those facts have made it so that "Elna had to write a memoir." Without giving too much away, let's just say she grew up in Seattle, Madrid and London. She's visited her parents in Siberia, where they resided until recently and where her dad worked in a Titanium factor (until Boeing transferred him to China). If you're not intrigued by this point, I should mention that she's the first half-Mexican Mormon I've had the pleasure of speaking with.

In her 2009 best-selling memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance (Penguin Group), Elna talks candidly and humorously about faith, family, losing 80 pounds, waking up beautiful and searching for Mr. Right -- at every wrong turn. I spoke with the author a year later about her book, what it means to be a single Mormon in Manhattan, and how life has changed since Halloween Dance hit stores.

SHW: Let's start with the dedication page to your family: You warn them about "F" bombs ahead. You're extremely close with your family, so what was their reaction to your Sex in the City -- minus the sex -- tome?

EB: I pushed the limit and I was afraid of some of the family's reactions, but even my grandma thought it was hilarious. I thought for sure she would open and not finish it. My immediate family was very supportive. We did a fake Mormon dance at the book launch event and my mom made plenty of jelly casseroles (a Mormon thing!). That was definitely her way of supporting me!

SHW: Are you still single? What about your sister who was your roommate and partner in crime as a single Mormon in NYC?

EB: I'm still single after having recently ended a relationship. My sister got married in May and it wasn't to a Mormon but a Turkish Muslim! He got baptized and converted for her.

SHW: Your struggles in the Mormon dating scene, where everyone seems to know (or know of) one another, reminded me of when I was single and in the Modern Orthodox Jewish dating scene. I also have some wild and unbelievable stories from that time, so I laughed and could relate to yours! Do you think that someone worldly enough is out there in the Mormon scene for Elna Baker? What type of guy would he be? Before you answer, let me share this excerpt from the book:

"My life is a constant balance between saying no to substances, sex, porn, and Starbucks, and saying yes to adventure. I am a Mormon in New York.
A Mormon in New York seeking another Mormon in New York.
Which brings me back to the beginning: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. Me, in the corner by myself, with too many cookies and a notebook. To make matters worse, I just witnessed a 35-year-old man -- definitely a virgin -- dressed in a duck costume doing the electric slide."

EB: I've come to learn as I'm getting older (I'll be 29 in 3 weeks) that there is a balancing act between religion and relationships/dating. There's a balance between compromising some of your initial hopes and not "settling." I'm still dreaming big and I believe in finding someone that meets most of those expectations and makes me happy. Things are possible, though some things are subject to compromise.

SHW: (Spoiler Alert) You fall in love with an atheist in the book, and you should know, readers who I've spoken with fell in love with the atheist and were rooting for you both due to the incredible chemistry you shared. We've got to know: Has he read the memoir and has he been in touch?

EB: Before I published the memoir, I sent him a draft. He called me after he read it and said that he really enjoyed it, highlighting certain parts, and that it was funny. I was half-heartedly waiting for that "and...I love you too," but I didn't get that. That was the moment I got over him. I had met him when he was 28 and I was 23 and now that I'm 28, what I would be cool with is so different than what I was cool with at 23. At times I was just happy to have a guy who liked me (and that's something you see in the book). It's always about timing.

SHW: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is an actual annual event and something you dread due to the cheesiness, that obvious feeling that you're there to be paired off for marriage while wearing a humiliating costume (though your own costumes and mishaps will have readers in stitches). Have you been back to the event that inspired the title? If so, were you the star of the dance?

EB: No (laugh), I was not the star at all, but I did go back in 2009! I was walking out of the subway and passed the Barnes and Nobles next door. In the window was the book displayed with the name of the dance. It had just been published in hard copy earlier that month so it wasn't known at the dance yet, but it was different going that year. I felt strength from having put my voice out there. There is a whole division of young Mormons who are questioning their faith and aren't encouraged to voice that. My book was the first to do so and people were drawn to me and grateful that I shared my story.

In LA, there is a similar Halloween dance that has been held for years. They renamed it after the book came out so it now has the same title.

SHW: What would your advice be to the single women of Manhattan who are looking for a soul mate of their faith? How do you keep the faith when it seems like it would be easier to expand your options?

EB: I believe that there are more women than men out there who are strong, interesting and of a high caliber so it's really important to put yourself out there so you can meet lots of people. But also, don't think that just because you're in a limited dating pool you need to accept something that's not really what you want. If you think of the whole world, everyone who is out there, it's possible to find someone who really meets your expectations and someone whose expectations you will meet.

Since the book was published, I am definitely more confident about being able to express what I want or don't want. The guys that I have dated have been respectful of my religious history, my culture, what I come from.

SHW: In Halloween Dance you are always questioning your faith, wondering if Mormonism makes any sense, and while some would say questioning is what keeps our connection to God, others say "Come on already! Decide if you want to be Mormon or not." You go back and forth in the book. How do you feel that has impacted your faith and what would you say to the naysayers who question your questioning?

EB: In Mormonism, you're told if you have too many doubts you need to correct the aspect of your life that's not righteous. I'm always questioning Mormonism and I don't want to give too much away to readers, but currently I'm asking the same questions about my faith that I was asking myself in the book, just from a different angle.

SHW: Hmm..interesting. a "different" angle...I can only hope that means there will be a sequel to The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance and aptly titled as well!

You can watch Elna discuss her book in this video: http://youtu.be/BogilVYcvCs

(This interview of mine was also published on The Huffington Post)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King's Impact on Judaism (also published on Huffington Post)


Last night, I was trying to think of ways to teach my young children about Martin Luther King. While searching online for books about Rosa Parks and "I had a Dream," a Facebook thread caught my eye. A close friend had just seen Rabbi Capers Funnye, an African American convert to Judaism and the head rabbi of a Chicago synagogue, in a local restaurant. Rabbi Funnye, who according to The New York Times used to hear the joke "Funnye, you don't look Jewish," is also a cousin of Michelle Obama. Apparently, he was in the neighborhood speaking about African American Jewry as part of a series of similar lectures taking place across the country.

In addition to being the first African American "Head Rabbi" of a synagogue, Funnye co-founded the Alliance of Black Jews in 1995. I thought how appropriate it was that my friend's sighting took place the night before Martin Luther King Day. King is Funnye's hero, the predecessor who set the groundwork for the Rabbi's tremendous efforts and strides. In recent times, the Rabbi has brought a lot of positive attention to the African American Jewish community, a community that is being embraced by Jews across the nation and finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves. Despite meeting with skepticism as the first and only black "Head Rabbi," Funnye contends in an article that ran in The New York Times, "I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers."

While reading about Funnye, how he decided to convert to Judaism after extensive and thorough exploration into religion (converting is no easy feat for anyone regardless of race, nor is being born Jewish!), I decided that I had something to add to what I was teaching my children. Martin Luther King Jr. did not just impact the world, he did not just pave the way for Barack Obama and other African American leaders who we respect today, but he impacted the Jewish community as well. Rabbi Funnye is evidence of that. Imagine how much harder the rabbi would have had to work to represent the African American Jewish community had there been no King. Yet he has worked incredibly hard and he is still working to achieve his own dream. Funnye's continuous efforts might be fruitless today had it not been for his influential predecessor.

It is my hope that my children will have the opportunity to meet Rabbi Funnye at an upcoming talk and see how far not only our country, but our religion has come, since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and shared his dream.

Everything I Had Learned to Fear, I Learned in Kindergarten


I was being sent back to the bathroom for the third time while the rest of the class was on the monkey bars outside.

"Still not clean," said my teacher pointedly. She held up the can of paint brushes and her eyes bore through me. "Go back. You can't go outside until you're finished."

I trudged back to memorize that blue and gray marble floor, to feel the cold of the room, with tears dripping down my cheeks. I felt like no kindergartner should ever feel, in the simplest of words, Stupid.

When I finally finished the process and the paint brushes passed muster, I was allowed on the playground with the other children.

"There's something wrong with her," I heard one teacher say to the other, "She plays with an imaginary rope, for goodness sake!"

A few days later, students were being taken out of the class individually for IQ testing. Although none of the other kindergarteners seemed to know what was going on, I had an idea: That same teacher, the one who had been singling me out all year, sent me to be tested first. The significance struck me right away. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

My mother would later disclose to me (when I prodded) that I had scored quite high on my IQ testing. However, the teachers insisted that there was something wrong with me and eventually, I was diagnosed, by the same psychologist who conducted the testing, with "a learning disability." What that actual disability entailed was never made known to me, but I continued to feel singled out for my daydreaming.

I went through most of elementary school with feelings of insecurity about my intellect. It took a trip to Israel during the summer preceding fourth grade to make me realize that I was in fact somewhat “smart.” It was a word we students threw around so much to describe those who were favored by the teachers, those who raised their hands the most during class, and those who appeared to be perfect as we felt like outsiders looking in. I had come back to my Jewish day school from that vacation in Israel feeling confident in my Hebrew studies. Words flowed off my tongue with the inflections, intonation and accent of a Jerusalem native. If I could master a foreign language so easily, I could handle other obstacles. If I could master a language, I was not stupid.

I began writing (English) poetry that year and realized that this too was something I could do well. Then I started to compose essays in my free time and short stories. I even wrote a “book” with a science fiction premise during junior high. I entered an essay contest for Scholastic and although I did not win, I was the "class winner." I later came in second in the seventh grade class spelling bee (and if it were not for the boy who declared the entire time - loudly -that I would not win, I may have actually come in first).

Although I remained in the lowest academic track from first through eighth grades (the elementary school that I was in was one entity that continued through eighth grade), I landed in a higher track in high school and maintained a 94 average throughout. By the time I attended college, academic success was not my concern, but the "damage" to my ego was. I was a grown woman with a kindergartner living inside who had never left! Be it my social interactions, boys, or my oral presentation for Psychopathology, I could not look stupid.

Perfection became my focus. One day, at the age of 18, I decided I had to get help for what I thought of as "my unofficial OCD." Although I did not go to an authentic therapist, I sought out a friend who was training to be a psychologist – albeit at the undergraduate level. I thought I would initially open up to her about my latest crush and how he hadn't noticed me, or how my parents weren't thrilled with the length of my skirts, but I ended up bawling about kindergarten. When I was done and thoroughly embarrassed, I turned to her and said "I need to get over this already!"

For a little over a year, that friend would initiate discussions with me via phone, much like therapy sessions minus the couch, and eventually I told her it was time to drop kindergarten like a bad habit. I had finally confronted the past, I felt better, and most importantly, I was now ready to own up to the adult who I was.

Today, I feel confident mainly; I am a mother, a wife, a career woman and I manage to balance those varying roles. My experiences have made me into the thoughtful person that I am today. The kindergartner has left this building, probably for the monkey bars or to run around the recess field. Occasionally though, she checks in with the paint brushes, ensuring that each one is clean, and knowing that regardless, she won't stay in for very long.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Do Atheists Read the Religion Section? (also published on Huffington Post)


Some of the most interesting people I've met are atheists. It’s no wonder; a recent Pew poll found that atheists and agnostics score highest, compared to the religiously affiliated, on a measure of religious knowledge (http://pewforum.org/other-beliefs-and-practices/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey.aspx). After publishing my first Huffington Post article, numerous atheists posted comments to opine on the religious views I expressed (if the name hasn't clued you in, I'm Jewish). While reading those comments, a friend asked "Why do atheists read the religion section?" In the same breath, that person said "Well, why the hell not!" Those ruminations inspired this piece.

I decided to open the floor to this discussion because the Religion section was looking a lot like Howard Stern. Let me explain: In the ‘97 biopic “Private Parts,” a researcher states that the average listener tunes in to Stern for just 15 minutes – and the answer most commonly given as to why?

“To see what he’ll say next.”

“But what about those who hate Stern?” asks ‘Pig Vomit,’ Howard’s boss.

“Two and a half hours per day,” says the Researcher.

“What? How can that be?”

“To see what he’ll say next.”

In my opinion, Atheists want to be well-informed. They want to know what the other side is saying, and then what they’re saying next. They wish to keep up with all that they’re contesting, not to change their minds. Others who I’ve spoken with speculate that some self-professed atheists may actually be agnostics who are seeking answers to address internal doubts.

Bram Kleppner is a “a fifth-generation atheist” with iron-clad convictions. He reads religion articles because he’s always hoping small bits of sanity will insist on working their way into religious doctrine. ”It was very heartening to hear the Pope suggest that condom use may be OK in certain circumstances,” he told me. He views the religion section as entertaining: “It’s fun watching grown, educated people tying themselves in knots trying to reconcile their beliefs to a world that demonstrates daily that those beliefs are false. I'm also looking for (and almost always find) positive reinforcement for my beliefs about our godless universe and the fact that there's no afterlife.”

Tonight Show regular and comedian Elon Gold, who is performing his one-man show Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish, offered this perspective: “Just as believers sometimes doubt the existence of God, the Atheist will often doubt the non-existence of God! That’s why they’re always checking the religious section for breaking news….'Has the Messiah come today? No? Oh good, I’m still right, it’s all BS!’ Who’s more worried about God’s existence than an atheist? Especially the atheist who lives a life of debauchery and sin - If there is a God, there’ll be no red carpet treatment for him in the afterlife. So he’s got to keep up with religious news. The consequences are enormous if he’s wrong!”

But as staunch atheist Bill Maher said in his documentary Religulous (2008) “We need God to decide not to kill each other?”

Atheist comedian Frank King told me he reads the religion section in self defense: “Hardcore Christians tell me the Bible calls homosexuality ‘an abomination.’ What they fail to mention is that it's only one of several HUNDRED abominations, including wearing clothes made of more than one material. Better send all those blends to Goodwill. When I point that out, they change gears and ask why I'm endorsing the gay agenda. Gays have an agenda? Ever watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? You can't get 5 gay guys to agree on drapes, much less an agenda!”

Joking aside, I spoke with clergy members, theologians and psychologists who agreed with my thoughts about the atheist’s thirst for knowledge, the need to say abreast of what believers are saying.

“Deep down within every person is a yearning for belief in God,” explained Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, Associate Director of the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP). “Note how pervasive this belief is across human society. Even avowed atheists may still be searching for a reason to believe and where better to find that (without going to church or synagogue) than on the religion page.”

When pastor and author Carol Howard Merritt started blogging for The Huffington Post, she initially read comments and responded to them, just as she does on her personal blog. While she maintains close friendships with atheists, she encountered what she refers to as “extreme atheism” while reading angry comments to her posts: “It felt like I was volunteering to put my hand in the meat grinder. I noticed quickly that I slacked off in my writing, and I began to lose my voice. You know, I'm smarter than Pavlov's dogs, and if I get hurt every time I do something, then I stop doing it.”

But the pastor persevered and continues to write articles today. “It made me curious. I mean, there are a myriad of things that I don't believe. I don't believe in horoscopes, but I don't feel compelled to hang out on horoscope sites and tell the readers how foolish they are. I decided I needed to get tougher.”

She had great things to say about Alex Wilhelm, an atheist who also blogs for the religion section of The Huffington Post, so I contacted him.

“I must admit that I read the religion section partially for a laugh,” Wilhelm wrote to me, “Why else? To keep an eye on things that I am wary of: anti-intellectualism, pseudo-science, lying to children, extremism, scriptural literalism, anti-blasphemy laws and the like. If you don't know what you are up against, you can't fight it as well as you could or should. I am for a free and secular society where the individual is protected from not just the majority, but from the moral laws of the religious. And so while I do read the oddest articles for a cheap chuckle, I tend to read to gird myself to protect individual liberty.”

Clinical psychologist David Sabine, PhD first joked to me that atheists read the religion section for the same reason the CIA listens to Al Jazeera, but then he gave me the more professional response: “The late theologian Paul Tillich views atheism as a legitimate way to express one’s ‘ultimate concern.’ This refers to seeking answers to depth and mystery in life. Atheism, far from being faithless, is a powerful expression of some people’s view about ‘what it’s all about.’ So it makes sense for one with ‘ultimate concern’ to read the religion section and know how others are addressing the question, albeit in different ways.”

From a personal standpoint, I look forward to comments from those who challenge me. I look forward to answering questions and I’ll willingly admit there are some I can not answer. You could say there’s an agnostic in me – I don’t always know what to make of what I was taught. Of course, it is easier to welcome opposition when it’s delivered in a “with all due respect” tone.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (The Michael Jackson Tapes, Kosher Sex) says there are two kinds of atheists. One kind is what he refers to as “an ‘atheist out of complacency’; they can’t be bothered to believe in God and so are atheists out of convenience.” The second, he explains, is the ‘professional atheist.’ Rabbi Boteach says that the latter “maintains a deep dislike for religion. ‘Professional atheism’ is far more about attacking religion than it is about non-belief in God. So they follow religion sections, obsess over them, joke about them, put them down and mock them.”

My feeling: anger does not discriminate. While some atheists read the religion section to keep current, some do so because religion incenses them and they feel the need to let people know. And that’s ok. Jews get angry, Christians get angry…Humans get angry. It’s an individual’s right.

If a priest, a rabbi, and an atheist walk into a bar, there’s no telling who will be the first to lose their cool (...or who’ll go on to pen the joke)!

[cartoon by Elie Hirschman]











Monday, January 10, 2011

Coerced into Confession

For days, we could not find the iPod my husband had bought. Immediately, the culprit was my cherubic, bright and curious child, who at a significantly young age, was navigating the device seamlessly.
"Where did you put the iPod?" we asked repeatedly for several days.
"You can't do X, Y, Z until you find that iPod."

"Are you kidding? You want to go to Toys R Us? Not til you find that iPod!"

And then we tried a new strategy: "If you tell us where you put that iPod, we promise we won't get angry. Is it possible you may have put it somewhere, anywhere...?"

Forehead strained pensively, the child said "I may have put it in the garbage...I guess..."

On went the plastic gloves and off to the outdoor garbage cans my husband went, hunting and fishing and hoping that it was there.

To no avail.
"The dump probably has it." We were resigned to the notion that the iPod was gone forever. "And we won't buy a new one. The kids need to learn a lesson from this."

A few hours later, after the children were fast asleep, my husband came upstairs holding the green plastic encased object in question. "Found it."

And you know where it was? Where I had hid it when I was trying to get the child to stop playing and off to school, on top of the refrigerator.

"Oh," I said, smacking my forehead, "I completely forgot...I can't believe it!"

"We'll have to apologize tomorrow."

Though my husband said I watch too much television, I likened the confession about the garbage to those wrongfully accused and interrogated by police - They feel forced to make some sort of divulsion and will go to jail for a crime they didn't commit. Alas, this was only an iPod and a little kid, and although I had forgotten about taking it away, I was in fact the guilty party.

But when it comes to detective work, be it an item misplaced by a child (or parent!) or work conducted by law enforcement: No stone should be left unturned before one is thrown.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Re-examining the Evil Eye

My husband heard a rabbi say he was talking to a congregant and she asked about his daughter.

"She's 2 years old now," he told her.

"Poo poo poo," said the congregant, uttering the words that often accompany "Kneine harah" ("without the evil eye"), the popular Jewish concept that even my non-Jewish friends know about.

"She does that too," said the rabbi.

I laughed when my husband told me this, but the congregant in the story did not. She was offended. The rabbi apologized to her and explained how ayin harah, as it was first mentioned in the Torah, refers to jealousy: We do not want to make others jealous of us (which causes their "evil eye" to look at us), so we need to be humble and not flaunt our blessings. However, it also doesn't mean we must go overboard chanting words to prevent the blessings from becoming curses.

There are so many different schools of thought in Judaism about the ayin harah. If you go to a mekubal, a Jewish mystic, one who often impresses others with seemingly supernatural insight and foresight, he may give you a blessing to protect you from it. If you speak to some Modern Orthodox, Lubavitch or Traditional Jews of a certain age, you may see that they -- more prevalently than others -- use the phrase "kneine harah" (Yiddish) or "bli ayin harah" (Hebrew).
One friend of mine has her own take: "Ayin harahs are only true if you believe in them."

I think that what the Rabbi was trying to say is that it's best to behave modestly and with a heightened concern for the feelings of others. You really can't go wrong with that approach -- regardless of what you believe.


***This article of mine was published on The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shira-hirschman-weiss/reexamining-the-evil-eye_b_798855.html

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why I'll Watch Brad The Bachelor (This Time Around)


There are two seasons of The Bachelor that I didn't watch, Brad Womack's and Andrew Firestone's. Neither of them struck me as particularly interesting and Brad just didn't stand out to me. As far as each installment of The Bachelor goes, I liken it to my friends' Farmville fascination. I don't play games on the computer (although I'm a Facebook-er) and National Geographic's Amish: Out of the Order and CBS's 48 Hour mysteries are definitely more intriguing than Bachelor host Chris Harrison. But fast forward to the drama of Crazy-as-Hell-Michelle or Under Control-Controlling Jake and voila, while my husband catches Steeler highlights (yawn), there's something utterly mind-numbing to tune in to. I look forward to those Monday rose ceremonies that conveniently air after the kids have gone to bed (or if they haven't, I can catch episodes online the next night. Don't you love that everything and anything can be watched on the Internet?).

So, here's the deal with Brad Womack: I wasn't watching the last time he was on as "The Bachelor" in '07, but Brad did something "shocking" and according to viewers, potential suitors and show producers, he did something wrong, wrong, wrong! He made a decision that he would later need to seek therapy for! The horror? He left choosing no one. (GASP)

Yes, that is the real deal. I remember when I was single there were men who chose no one. We called them picky, commitment phobic...I hope they all sought therapy to sort their sorry selves out jus like Brad. Apparently, Brad wasn't clued in to the success rate of The Bachelor. We're talkin' 2 or 3 of the couples still together after 13 paired up on the show - and that number keeps dwindling. Brad, stop feeling so bad for yourself! But this is exactly the "masochism," as Us Weekly dubbed it, that show producers were hoping for. Brad will be confronted by DeAnna Pappas and Jenni Croft, the 2 women he rejected last time around, at the start of this new season. One of the women (er, girls) who gets out of the limo will slap him and say "This is for all the women across America." Ouch. Brad will need some serious psychotropics to get through this turbulent ride.

When I think back to my single days and consider the guy who brought me a dozen roses, told me he would take me to Niagra Falls on our next date and professed his undying love to me only to dump me after 2 weeks, claiming I wasn't religious enough (I ran into him recently, he didn't remember me) or the guy who told me I was the love of his life and chased me until I decided I too was fully on board with the relationship (he's still in the closet), I just don't think they saw shrinks for their seemingly irrational - at the time - decisions. If only 15 million harsh and judgemental viewers had gotten to them! We've all moved on with our lives today, but everyone could use a good dose of psychoanalysis at some point.

It is this "masochism," having Brad Womack woefully regret his bachelorean antics on national television, that will be endearing to viewers this time around. Having the women he turned down confront him? Brilliant. Having a potential suitor slap him on behalf of all women watching? You can't make this stuff up (..?). If they bring back the chick with the fake fangs, crazy-as-Hell-Michelle or even better, Rosalyn Pappas (no relation to DeAnna, but you know, the one who had an "affair" with one of the show's producers)? Perfection.

The best part is that it is 3 years later folks. Brad has quite possibly undergone 3 years of intensive therapy to get over what others don't flinch at, what some consider their "elusiveness" or proudly, "being a playa."

Brad Womack is sorry. I sure hope I won't be for tuning in.

(Check out http://youtu.be/ilLUQZtUi58 for a preview of Monday's The Bachelor)