Month: November 2017

Vayishlach, the “Me Too” Parsha

Me Too

Am I Allowed To Talk About This?

It’s an odd sensation, clicking your fingers on the keyboard, not wanting to upset anyone but knowing it’s inevitable. I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts on the ubiquitous “Me Too” phenomenon that has smashed our culture from every side, but fear has prevented me. Somehow I’m perceived as disqualified to weigh in, because I’m a) male and b) not a victim of sexual abuse.

However, society falls apart when anyone’s opinion is inherently invalid, and the good amongst us are discouraged from sharing our thoughts and feelings.

I read. I read a lot. And it quickly became clear that something like 80% of the articles I was reading were somehow related to this subject. Every time I felt like there was nothing left to be said, someone wrote an article that caught my attention. I’ve read everything from articles about accounts of nasty public figures, to a woman’s apology for the role she may have played in perpetuating what’s been going on, to an advocate of teaching aggressive self-defense techniques as the best solution. And just last night I finished an asinine article claiming that left-wing rapists should get some latitude over right-wing rapists, because of the good they do. I kid you not, this wasn’t satire!

So here I am. Weighing in. Admittedly nervous, but also happy to put my thoughts and feelings out there. I’m well aware that it opens me up to be criticized or worse, but I’m more than OK with that. It’s my duty to share, and it’s society’s duty to have thoughtful, intellectual discussions.

Facebook Blah Blah

I was initially highly wary of this movement. Mainly because it’s origin was nothing more than people plopping “me too” into their Facebook profiles. Things of great importance should be treated with greater urgency and seriousness than the same methodology we spread the Harlem Shake or the concerts we’ve been too but one is fake. I feared, and to some extent fear, that any campaign whose primary source is Facebook posts, can never make a proper difference, especially if there’s no clear path from where to take things next.

But things are happening. The world is a changing place, and social media is the place where things happen. And even though “me too” is tossed into the same place as that simple test that will tell you if you’re a genius and your cousin’s 7,000th baby picture, this does not disqualify it from being effective or serious.

Personally, I like to compartmentalize. Maybe I was born into the wrong generation.

Naive or White Knights?

Nevertheless, I want to first talk about a common male response I saw following thousands of “me too” posts flooding Facebook. The response basically looked something like this:

“I never imagined that this was going on. I am sickened and horrified to find out that my beloved sisters have been suffering so much at the hands of my gender. And I am shocked and appalled, and embarrassed to be a male.”

If the prevalence of harassment and assault against women in society is a surprise to you, there are only two possibilities:

a) You are a completely ignorant, naive fool. Or:
b) You are a White Knight, coming along to save all those poor lassies out there, with your own underhanded agenda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to these guys. Pardon the crudeness… but they’ve got a point.

Fact is, every guy is aware of what happens, and has, in some capacity or another, participated in behavior that’s been criticized all over the internet, ranging from the most heinous of crimes to ogling the girl in cute yoga pants next to you at the gym.

Which leads to my next point.

A Cavern of Difference

I have never liked when different actions are bundled together. And I am very bothered by the fact that rape and harassment are being categorized together. This is by no means to say they are not both reprehensible, and that systemic change needs to happen in society to deal with both issues.

But there is an enormous cavern between the girl who was violently raped and the one who was whistled at once.

I think it is unfair to put the actions together, both because they need to be dealt with differently, and because it is disrespectful to victims of rape and sexual abuse to have them categorized alongside someone who has been harassed.

I say this as someone who knows abuse victims. And as a father who will inevitably instruct his daughters how to deal with being harassed (and his son how to not be an asshole).

Harassment and Bullying

Harassment is shameful behavior; however, I believe it is best dealt with the same way one confronts bullying. Those who harass should be addressed, and addressed harshly. Their behavior should be shunned and society should find ways to change the behavior from normative to taboo . However, sadly, like bullying, the likelihood of removing the problem from the world is almost non-existent. (However, I do recommend everyone read the book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. They speak of ways societies went about changing the perception of common, reprehensible behaviors.)

At this stage, the victim’s reaction is more vital. The victim must learn how to defend herself and how to remain strong and healthy in the face of mistreatment. Not to belittle one who has been harassed, but the ability to move forward is the greatest strength you can have.

But this is not the case with abuse. Abuse leaves indelible imprints that ruin lives, for the victim and those close to the victim as well. Abuse is a violent and sick crime, and should be dealt with in strongest and harshest ways possible (I will get back to that in a moment).

A Human Problem

I have seen commentaries that speak about these issues in terms of where one stands on the political spectrum.

This is hurtful, inane, and blatantly misleading.

It is not a liberal or a conservative problem. This is a human problem. The mistreatment of anyone amongst us is wrong, and every good person should do whatever is within their power to help make the world a better place.

To those who see these issues as belonging to one group or another, I say: Grow the hell up.

If anything age and experience has taught me along the way, there are only two groups of people who matter: Good people and bad people. And every race, religion, political group, sexual preference, and both genders are filled with a whole lot of both. Positive change only happens in the world when the good people amongst us work together to make a difference.

What would Dina say?

This week’s Torah portion has a horrific story about Jacob’s daughter Dina. To summarize, she is taken captive and raped by an important figure. Said figure attempts to make peace with Dina’s family, which they presumably accept. However, two of Dina’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, have different intentions. They sneak into the village, and massacre the perpetrator and everyone else living there.

After the incident, Shimon and Levi’s father, Jacob, rebukes the brothers’ actions, since the overall effect would result in provoking the surrounding communities to join together to harm the nation. The brothers’ response (essentially): It’s our sister. What the hell did you expect us to do?

And the story ends there.

Me Too vs Vayishlach

Looking at this tale in the modern era, we can see some bizarre parallels. Dina was out and about and a terrible tragedy occurs to her at the hands of an important individual (politician, celebrity, producer, etc). Who is to blame? According to Shimon and Levi, the blame falls not just upon those who commit the actions, but the society that surrounds them and continues to allow those actions to occur (those who know it’s happening the whole time, but remain silent). They are not just to blame. They are equally to blame!

Jacob, though, takes a cautious route, fearing reprisals for taking actions against wrongdoers, similar to the many in society who choose silence or diplomacy, rather than take aggressive or risky stands.

Traditionally, Shimon and Levi are criticized for their angry and aggressive approach.

Baltimore Jewish Times

Many years ago, well before these topics were hotly debated, I wrote an article for the Baltimore Jewish Times, where I sympathized with the approach of Shimon and Levi. My basic view was: How could a normal person not respond, at least emotionally, the way they did? I don’t even want to think how I would respond if, God forbid, someone harmed one of my precious daughters! I would certainly not be thinking restraint and diplomacy. And I would certainly be infuriated with those who tried to cover for the sick bastard who did this.

And for the next several weeks I watched as people debated what I wrote. The overwhelming majority were upset with me. One even questioned why a school would employ someone “like me”, with my revolting and violent attitude. The bulk of negative response I received were from liberals, which I find ironic considering they are usually the champions of the rights of the downtrodden.

I wonder if I were to get a different response if my article were published now, in the wake of the world somehow magically discovering that Dina’s story was not some isolated legend of Biblical history, but something that still happens to this day, and with alarming frequency.

So, many years later, I ask again: Were Shimon and Levi justified in their actions? If not, were they at least justified in wishing to react the way they did? If so, were they justified in placing blame on both the criminal and the accomplice? And for God’s sake, what would Dina want us to do!?

For most of my adult life, I’ve advocated an extremely aggressive approach to those who commit the basest of actions.

Am I wrong?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, 0 comments

The Permitted Discrimination

discrimination
I recently heard a brief talk. During the talk the speaker said a few sentences that irked me, despite receiving no complaints from the crowd.

“Someone who is single is incomplete.”

“Someone who is unmarried can never really accomplish anything in life.”

“Life cannot be properly fulfilled without a spouse.”

Listeners nodded in agreement. And I stood there, nauseated at yet another example of the permitted discrimination.

Replace any of these statements with a race, religion, or sex, and you are vehemently shunned, and disgraced for your lack of values and your crude insensitivity.

Someone who hails from an Arab nation is incomplete. A woman can never accomplish anything in life. Life can never be fulfilled as a black person. Say any of these statements, and the world over is outraged. Replace them with “single” and no one really cares.

Singlists, the Permitted Discrimination

Many members of my community, and in particular in Jerusalem, are rampant singlists. Yes, the word is ridiculous. I din’t even know it was a real thing until I Googled it.  135,000 hits, by the way. (And WordPress, for the record, puts a red line under “singlist” but not under “Googled”) I was actually hoping to either coin the term, or come up with something more creative that sounds a lot nicer.

But I digress.

I want to address this phenomenon from multiple angles.

First of all, all of those earlier statements are absolute crap. And the only reason someone can publicly state them, is because this is a culture where people have been blindly accepting them as true for ages.

A person who is single can most certainly be complete. And a married person can be outrageously incomplete. I was married for 13 years and felt broken throughout those years. I feel more complete at the moment than I have ever felt before. We’ve arrived at a point in history where we cannot continue to perpetuate this lie that life can only be fulfilling if one is married. In the worst case scenario, you are pressuring  your listeners into rushing into this promised fulfillment, only to find out in the worst way possible that the promise was nothing more than a manipulative, gargantuan falsehood.

How long will we allow people to perpetuate this lie, to rush people into situations that will ultimately harm them, in order to substantiate a narrative that is continuously disproven?

Single By Choice

I am in an odd category in this city. Everyone here, it seems, is either married or working tirelessly to become so. And me, I’m SBC (Single By Choice). (I hoped to coin that one too. No such luck–see here). Yeah, I suppose there’s a small part of me that would like to get married again. Or at least that wants to want to get married again. But life is good, life is fulfilling. And it comes from within, not from trying to please another.

And this really is the heart of the matter.

When I was young, I was miserable as a single person. Then I got married… and I was miserable as a married person. Now I’m single and happy, which I believe to be a prerequisite to being able to be married and fulfilled. That is not to say one needs to be complete and entirely fulfilled in order to marry successfully. If so, no one would ever get married! This is an ideal we should strive for our entire lives, and we should never be fully satisfied, and always growing.

However, there is a certain level one must get to.

Independent Happiness

If you don’t know who you are, you end up identifying too much with who you believe your spouse wants you to be. If you are unfulfilled and believe marriage is the answer, you leave yourself vulnerable to rushing into situations that are inappropriate.

The best solution to both of those is to learn how to lead a happy and fulfilling life on your own, thus preventing you from desperately leaping into a bad marriage or opening yourself to hopelessly being changed by another person. Only a complete person can successfully allow someone else into their lives.

And when the society constantly pushes its members to make important decisions before they’re good and ready, they’re doing everyone a disservice.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

When To Leave A Job

job
Unfortunately, I have had to make the decision to leave a job more times than I would have cared to. I’ve even had to switch career paths.

Thankfully, through adversity grows wisdom. I’ve developed an easy three-part system (currently in desperate need of a catchy title) to decide whether or not the time has come to hang up your gloves and move on.
You need to ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does my job comfortably pay the bills?
  2. Am I happy and enthusiastic to go to work in the morning?
  3. Am I making a positive difference in the world?

Let’s talk about each question and really get to the heart of things here:

1) Does my job comfortably pay the bills?

There’s a difference between making a base salary that needs to be supplemented by three other time-consuming, mentally draining jobs. What I mean by “comfortably” is your job is taking care of the basic necessities and generally removing financial concerns from the problems that may fill your life.

If you are making 3 million dollars a year from one job, even if it’s eroding away at your life and it’s consuming a huge portion of your day, you can most certainly answer an enthusiastic “yes” to this first question (unless you are insanely bad at handling your finances).

However, life is complicated. And for many people, this question cannot be the only one that matters. Most of us don’t want to dread our days, we don’t want to live for retirement, and we don’t want to go to our graves knowing our sole contribution to the world was having amassed a well-stuffed bank account.

(For the record, I can honestly say that I’ve never really felt the sweet taste of saying “yes” to this first question.)

2) Am I happy and enthusiastic to go to work in the morning?

I gather most of the world doesn’t love getting up in the morning, throwing on their suffocating suits and ties, and driving through sluggish traffic, in order to stare at cubicle walls in between bursts of getting chewed out by overbearing bosses.

If only one’s morning coffee could go on forever!

I enjoy my current job. I’m not saying that I’m pushing over people to make sure I get to my desk on time each and every morning (partially because I work from home), but I do enjoy getting started. And I remember a good, solid 3-4 year period in which I was absolutely ecstatic to get to work every day. However, that leaves a whole lot of time in which getting to work was an abysmal chore.

If you are itching to get to work in the morning, and you’re doing so not because you’re escaping loud children and a nagging wife, but because you legitimately enjoy what you do, you can answer “yes” to this question.

3) Am I making a positive difference in the world?

This one could be complicated. And we could of course fool ourselves into coming up with a positive answer. For example, if you’re selling shoes, and someone walked out of your store with a pair they really liked thanks to your skillful salesmanship, are you making a difference in the world? Maybe.

But maybe not.

Some things are a little more clear cut.

A surgeon who routinely saves the lives of patients. A fundraiser for an organization that helps starving people. A company that manufactures products to assist the blind. You know you’re making the world a better place, and you should sleep soundly at night for doing so. And that’s even if you hate your job!

Selling fake online degrees. Selling overpriced, low-quality t-shirts produced in an overseas sweatshop. Cameraman for low-budget pornography. They might pay the bills, but I think those with these jobs can safely answer a hefty “no” to this question.

Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between these examples, and need to do some serious contemplation to give an honest assessment. But there is an answer to the question

Putting Everything Together

First, let’s look at the easy cases. If you answered a solid “no” to all three questions, get out. Get out now. Run. You’re in a dead-end situation and even in a lousy economy, there’s little to no reason to stick around.

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, your life is a miraculous dream, and barring serious complications, you should probably hold on to that job until the day you die.

However, for most people it’s not that simple. If you answered a completely honest “yes” to even one of these questions, I wouldn’t start overturning desks and telling your boss to “shove it” just yet. In a lot of ways, you’re still ahead of the curve. It’s worthwhile to keep your eyes open for something better, but in this economy, just to have a steady job is already a blessing.

What about a positive answer to two questions?

In one of my earlier teaching jobs, I recall multiple former attorneys who left their field to become teachers. They abandoned a life of financial security for a life where they enjoyed what they did on a daily basis and truly felt like they brought meaning and inspiration to others.

It might not feel like all three questions are of equal value, but I assure you, they most certainly are. Just to have cash in your pocket is worth very little if you don’t make a positive impact and dread your every working minute.

In summary:

If you answer “no” to all  of these questions, run. Run far and fast. You really can do better.

If you answered “yes” to one question, start asking around. Spruce up your resume. Update your LinkedIn profile. Do it all subtly, because you might just need to stay where you are.

If you answered “yes” to two of these questions, life is really good. You’re way ahead of most people. You should cling to your job with all of your might, and you shouldn’t even consider leaving unless some ridiculously amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes around. Even then, be careful and methodical about the decision.

And if you answered “yes” to all three questions, do not go anywhere! You’re among the extraordinarily lucky few of this world. Wrap your arms around the job with all of your strength, and never let go.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, 2 comments

No Such Thing as Celebrity in Judaism (Guest Post)

celebrity
Welcome to my first ever guest post. ‘No Such Thing as Celebrity in Judaism’ was written by my good friend Gabe Lewin. Gabe and I met during my first year teaching in Baltimore. Out of the craziness of that year emerged a wonderful, long-lasting friendship. And I’m honored to post his beautiful and profound words here in my blog.


 

A “Celebrity” Came to Town

Sometime in the year 2003, the new Chabbad Rabbi at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, had invited a new Lubavitch singer to the campus for a small concert, which I did not attend. However, he and his bandmates needed a place to daven (pray) on Shabbos (the Sabbath). They ended up attending Bais Abraham Congregation near the campus. We offered this singer the amud (the opportunity to lead services from the pulpit), but he declined. Instead, one of his associates led, very nicely. We gave the singer an Aliyah (the honor of making a blessing during the Torah reading).

That singer, I later learned and realized, was Matisyahu, who at the time was the Chassidic Reggae pop star that was on the verge of taking over the Jewish world. But to me, he was another Jew in the minyan at the shul (synagogue) on Delmar near the Loop. (A “minyan” is the requirement to have ten adult, Jewish males at the prayer service.)

It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Imagine showing up to the local Catholic Church on Sunday for Mass and sitting next to you is Bruce Springsteen. That just doesn’t happen. But in Judaism, the Maccabeats need a minyan too.

Another story about Matisyahu (before the excising of the beard): My father went to a concert of his a number of years ago at the Vogue Theater in the Village of Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis. They converted this  vintage 1940’s era movie theater into a concert venue. After the late-night concert (attended mostly by non-Jewish or non observant Jews), Matisyahu called to the crowd. He said, “Can anyone help make a minyan for Ma’ariv (evening prayers)?”

Celebrity? Not in Judaism!

Even the famous people in the Jewish world need a minyan.

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to daven with Jewish musicians such as Avraham Rosenbloom (of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band), Yehuda Green, Yehuda Solomon (lead singer of the Moshav Band), Chaim Dovid Saracik (“Yamamai”), Yussi Sonenblick (Dveykus), Eitan Katz, as well as all members of Simply Tzfat (I’ve also eaten meals at their Shabbat tables). This does not include famous Chazzonim (cantors) either. And, certainly, my list is not anything special nor is it particularly remarkable except in its ubiquity.

In Judaism, there are no celebrities. There are Jewish celebrities, but in Judaism, there are no celebrities. Avraham Avinu’s (Abraham the Patriarch’s) fame was widespread, but so was his tent. In Judaism, we are all part of the same congregation. And we all need a minyan despite our hits on YouTube.

This Shabbos I was fortunate to bring my son to a Friday night davening with Gad Elbaz, perhaps the most famous Jewish music star at present. The shul was packed, his voice was in top gear and the tefillah was gorgeous – but it wasn’t a concert. It was opening his heart and voice to Hashem (God) and the rest of us followed in turn. This is the special nature of the Jewish community and the Jewish spirit. That even our most famous members are still connected enough to shake an 8-year-old’s hand and wish him a Shabbat Shalom.

 


Thanks Gabe! If anyone would else has some beautiful, inspiring, controversial, or interesting words you’d like to get out to the world but you’re lacking a platform, feel free to reach out to me: jaffeworld@gmail.com

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in guest post, judaism

Why I Left Jewish Education, Part VI: The Nail In The Coffin

Jewish Education
After seven years of living in and working in Jewish Education in Baltimore, I moved to Kansas for very personal reasons. There is one Jewish day school there, and I was offered a job.

My job description changed my first week. It was someone else’s miscommunication, but I was faulted for it. New classes were added into my schedule right away. Not because I was the right person for those classes, but because they needed fill gaps, and teachers’ time was considered dispensable.

It’s traumatic to come to a new institution knowing nothing you did before you arrived mattered at all. No one in the school seemed to care that I had been teaching and teaching successfully for seven years, nor that I was inches away from finishing a Masters in Education with a near perfect GPA, nor that I was awarded the “Teacher of the Year” distinction from a far larger and much more prestigious and impressive institution.

No, I was starting over. Again. Because it just wasn’t hard enough the first time around.

Jewish Education in Kansas

My time at this school was short, but long enough to seal my fate as an ex-Jewish educator. We’ve all had bad employers in our lives. We’ve all felt the sting of wanton disrespect. But this was on a level I still can’t comprehend.

My first taste of who I was dealing with was very early on. I erred, I’ll admit that freely. But there are errors, and there are errors. And there are certainly appropriate responses to the mistakes of employees.

One day, I was late for work.

My wife was out of state, I was brand new to Kansas, I had to get four kids out the door on my own, and despite that, I made it to work just five minutes late. It was the first and last time this happened, another teacher seamlessly hopped into my spot to make sure there were no issues, and life went on.

Or it least it should have in the world of a reasonable employer.  But no. I was crapped on, for several days, by multiple administrators.

Should I have been late? No. Despite being new, should I have gotten in touch with the school to inform them of my tardiness? Likely.

What to do?

But what would a reasonable administrator have done?

They would explained to me why my lateness was complicated, instructed me what to do if this were ever an issue in the future, and then–and this is key–they would have moved the hell on.

But these were hardly reasonable people.

And that was just the beginning of the joy and pleasure I would get from working at this lovely institution.

My most vivid memory was of a meeting with the Head of School. I had an initial meeting with him to discuss my sour relationship with my principal. She and I did not see eye to eye and I didn’t understand why things were so bad and only getting worse, so I sought the advice and perhaps intervention of the head honcho. He smiled. So, so warm and friendly. He looked me in the eye, placed his hand on my shoulder, and assured me he would take care of everything and it would all be fine.

But what actually happened?

A few days later I was called into his office. He sat across from me, with the principal in question and another administrator. They then proceeded to rip me to shreds in every way conceivable for about an hour. I was not given any opportunity to defend myself. Efforts on my behalf to speak were met with a dismissive wave of the Head of School’s hand, as if to say, “Pion, you will speak only when I deem your word’s worthy. For now, you must listen to the pronouncement from on high.”

I walked away from that meeting fuming. I hacked another year and a half of that institution before the excrement finally hit the air conditioning. But it was never the same after that meeting. I knew at that moment that I would eventually leave the school. The question was when, not if. In my forty years on this earth, I have never felt less respected than I had in that meeting. This is how a school creates employees willing to put in 30% effort, at best.

But something else happened that day. It wasn’t just the knowledge that I was one foot out the door of Kansas’s premier Jewish day school. I knew that this was the last time I would be leaving any Jewish school.

The fat lady had sung. My career as a Jewish educator was veering toward it’s final day.

RIP

This was the nail in the coffin.

Who knows? Maybe if it had been my first job, I would have pushed forward and stuck it out longer. But the collective experiences had taken their toll.

My time in educational technology had taught me about a world of employment out there. A world with limitless room for growth, tons of available jobs, massive income potential, and most importantly: No. More. Friggin’. Ties.

And two years later, I haven’t looked back.


Where we go from here?

I’m not bitter. Not toward Jewish Education as a whole, nor toward the school that gave me my final push out the door. To them, I’m actually grateful. They helped me get where I needed to go ahead of schedule.

I am sad, however. I know what’s at stake here, and it’s terribly upsetting.

The world of Jewish Education could be doing so much better. And it’s been my refrain from the beginning: The ones who lose out the most from our perpetual mediocrity are the students. And that’s not acceptable.

We should be able to provide our children with a quality Hebrew curriculum, one based on research and intelligent implementation, rather than just tossing random Israelis at children and hoping for the best.

Administrators in Jewish Education should be held to a higher standard, and should be carefully selected and monitored to ensure they’re acting in the best interests of the school.

Schools should behave according to what is right and proper, rather than cater to money and influence. Jewish Education should have a standard that transcends financial concerns.

Parents should demand the religious schools take the general studies courses with the highest levels of seriousness, and boycott the ones that do not.

Teachers should be compensated better than they currently are. They should have better contracts, more job security, greater access to quality professional development, ample possibilities to use technology in the classroom and learn about the most recent educational technology advances, more freedom in their classrooms, more room to breath from their employers, opportunities to advance in their careers, and generally be encouraged to have a healthy longevity at their institutions.

And schools should call themselves families. And mean it.

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, education, jewish education, 0 comments