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An Exchange

A brilliant take on the Haredi protests against conscription.

Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an old friend who now lives in Israel, part of the Chareidi world. He sent me his thoughts, and I responded, and the exchange is reproduced below, with minor editing. I have deleted the friend’s name.   -RSP

6 Adar II 5774, March 8, 2014

Dear Steven,

Ahead of the mass gathering of Torah true Jewry scheduled to take place tomorrow in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you, our brothers in America, to share with you the sad truth: here, in the State of Israel, Torah Jewry is subject to religious persecution.

To classify Torah students as “criminals,” subject to imprisonment, is only the latest and most absurd of anti-chareidi laws enacted recently by the government. In addition, they have  drastically cut education and welfare budgets, aiming to choke our yeshivos and schools, and even our individual religious freedoms, so prized by Americans and…

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Just Do Nothing for Two Minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? When I saw this “challenge” on my Facebook page, I clicked, and received a full screen picture of the sea with the sound of the waves in the background and a two-minute countdown clock.

Two minutes – that’s nothing.

Or so it seems. Turns out that as I watched the seconds tick by, in my head I was running through the list of to-dos that awaited me for the morning instead of enjoying the nothingness.  I waited for the countdown to end so I could rush to my online chores and get ahead for the day.

We are trapped in a vortex of having to fill our minutes, hours and days with constant activity. We’ve lost our ability to stop and do nothing, relax…meditate. Remember the seventies when people took time out to meditate? I remember my older brothers, who were teens in the hippie era, “indulging” in mediation, stopping for half and hour a day to do nothing but meditate. I don’t know anyone today who does that. We are all too busy “doing”.

Of course living in the technology age doesn’t help. In addition to our regular jobs and chores, we find ourselves stuck in this constant race to fill our minds with more and more information so that we don’t “fall behind”. We’re pushed to keep up with the latest technologies, news, updates, information, so heaven forbid we don’t hear comments like: “What, you didn’t hear about what happened in X?” Or “You haven’t tried the latest version of Y?” Or, “Didn’t you see what I just posted about Z?”

I confess that I fall into the trap of trying to keep up with all the above on a daily basis. So I would like to take up my own challenge of taking a deep breath, stepping away from the info race every now and again, and just doing nothing for a little bit. The world will certainly keep turning if we all give it a go, and we’ll probably all be slightly less stressed for it.

 

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Notes on a Blog-worthy Conversation

I was chatting on the phone with my friend Jo. We met through work years ago. We’re both mothers of three kids who are all still young enough to be our free-of-charge taxi “fares” on a daily basis. We’re both freelance business writers. After a little catching up and some work-related chat, we starting talking about how we can step back from work whenever we need to and focus on home, the kids, and even (occasionally) our own sanity.

“When we’re old,” Jo said, “we’re definitely not going reminisce about our jobs – we’re going to remember our families, the fun we had with our kids, the great vacations together.” What clarity! (It does help that she’s British, so everything she says sounds clearer and more intelligent).

We professional/working moms who do the “juggling” so often look at our careers, or what’s left of them after giving birth and working in jobs allow us to be mothers, and wonder what could have been.

How often have I thought about how much further I could have gone had I been able to work until 11 at night, had I been available to travel, had I not taken days off for doctors appointments, school trips and school holidays that aren’t public holidays? How often have I been torn between finishing an assignment on time and rushing off to take the kids to dancing/ karate/tennis/roller hockey/ceramics/friends, baking a cake for tomorrow’s bake sale, rushing off to buy a text book that’s need for…tomorrow? Too many times.

So the conversation with Jo presented me with a “Eureka!” moment. Amidst thoughts of friends, who put having kids on hold so they could build their brilliant careers and are now wondering why in their early 40s they have missed the family boat, we came to a very clear conclusion: What we do is worth it.

Do we think we’re managing? Does anyone? Not really. But the fact that our children see us enough during the course of an average week to be blasé about our presence is a way bigger achievement than a corner office and a six figure salary. The fact that we can keep our brains from turning to mush while also ensuring that our children know that they won’t be handed excuses for why we’re not available for class trips, homework help and baking cookies may not quite equal finding a solution for world hunger, but it does mean that our families are priority Number 1, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

Thanks, Jo, for putting life into the right focus.

(You can read Jo’s blog – http://jofrankel.spaces.live.com)

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Wishing an Earthquake on Africa

At the height of the news flurry about the earthquake in Haiti, my neighbor showed up at my door. She was visibly depressed. She lamented about the horrific pictures that were coming out of the devastated area, about the growing number of earthquake victims.

Then I asked her a question: Are you also upset about what’s going on in Africa?

She looked at me with a blank stare. So I enlightened her. Thousands of people are maimed, raped, killed and forced out of their homes in countries in Africa on a daily basis as a result of civil and tribal wars. The fact that the Western media chooses to focus its cameras and column inches away from that God-forsaken continent is part of its successful mission to set the agendas of the media consuming public around the globe. It’s too far away from the US to be noteworthy; there are no oil fields in Congo or Rwanda. So who cares if tribal violence has resulted in millions of deaths over the past decades?

With that, I made her even more depressed. But that’s OK. I am appalled by the death and destruction that has been visited on Haiti, and I am shocked when I read about how that country was so poverty-stricken to start with, and now has been left even worse off than anyone could have imagined. Still, we jump to donate via telethons and website pop-ups the minute the mainstream news media tell us what’s “really” important. We conveniently forget that there are also other areas of the world that experience daily horrors that don’t find their way onto the screens on CNN or onto the pages of YouTube.

So I was heartened to read Nicholas D. Kristof’s op-ed piece “Orphaned, Raped and Ignored” in The New York Times, reported from Congo. He so rightly points out that Congo’s civil war has claimed 30 times as many lives as were lost in the Haitian earthquake, and that as odd as it sounds, maybe a massive natural disaster would turn the world’s focus onto this untenable situation. It’s sad to think that this is what it takes to get some attention, but if wishing an earthquake on Africa is what it takes to get the world to throw some focus on those horrors, then why not?

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Spinning 2.0

As I was huffing and puffing this morning through my weekly spinning class, I had a “guffaw” moment as our goddess of an instructor announced: “This section of the class is made up of three stages…warm-up, sitting and standing.”

“That’s amazing!!” my thoughts dripping with inner sarcasm.

“Why?” you may ask.

Let me first debunk the myth of spinning (spoiler alert). Here’s the news: Spinning is, well, brainless. Your average Joe/Jane tends to be quite intimidated, probably as a result of watching too many movies in which the heroes are quite literally brought to their knees after spinning classes from hell, making for great  comedy moments.

But the joke is that there’s nothing to it: There are a total of two positions in spinning: Sitting and standing (hence my guffaw moment). There are two grip positions: #2 and #3, where #2 is where your hands are parallel to your body on the handlebars and #3 where your hands are perpendicular and further down the handlebars. (One upon a time, in the early 2000s, there used to be #1, where your hands were squished up together in front of you, but that’s fallen out of fashion, and no instructor would be caught dead calling for position #1 today).

Then there’s the resistance. A little knob twists clockwise and anti-clockwise, increasing and decreasing pedaling difficulty. You’re told to be at 70 percent effort, 80 percent and sometimes 85 percent, which you base on your own level of breathlessness – at 70 you can breathe, at 80 you are gasping for breath, at 85 you’d rather be home watching TV with a bag of potato chips on your lap. For some reason, unknown to me, 90-100 percent and under 70 percent are never options – go figure.

So as I was silently chuckling to myself, my mind carried on wandering. This is mainly because as you have learned above, spinning doesn’t require too much skill or brain activity, in fact, men flock to spinning classes because no coordination is required. As I listened to the ripped, zero percent body fat instructor filling the air with innocuous banter, and irrelevant commentary that included nonsense like, “as one foot goes down the other goes up” (Really?!! It’s a stationary bike, what else can your feet possibly be doing?), and “first the left foot then the right foot” (what others are there?!! Is there any other order?!!) I had a non-sarcastic thought…

In today’s Web 2.0 social media era, what do we need spinning instructors for? Think about it. All you really need is the music, which can be pre-selected by participating spinners on a voting basis. This way us 35-50 segment members don’t have to suffer through the horrors of hip hop thumping through our heads as we sweat, and in the spirit of social media, we can democratically choose our music. Then you just need a laptop screen that shows instructions, based on the permutations of sitting/standing; #2/#3; 70%/80%/85%. Gym overheads reduced; and spinners saved from the brainless nonsense instructors feel they have to blurt out incessantly.

There must be a computer geek out there who can punch in the numbers and spit out some code to eliminate the spinning instructors out there who anyway, just make us sick with their ridiculously lean and perfect bodies and who look like they’ve never enjoyed a good meal in their lives. Instead, as I spin, I’d like to imagine that instead of the perfect 10, the actual brains behind my spinning class is an overweight bloke named Neil who’s only ever set foot in a gym to research spinning so he could develop the program. That while Neil was programming Spinning 2.0, he was happily munching on donuts, Snickers bars and knocking back full fat vanilla lattes. That I never have to face another smug spinning instructor again whose muscles ripple and whose last jeans size increase was between the age of 15 and 16.

Bring on Spinning 2.0, its Facebook fan page, its YouTube uploads and its happy spinners.

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Take me out to the (Israeli) ball game

If you had told me three years ago, that I, a born and bred in South African, was soon to metamorphose into a die-hard baseball fan living in Israel, I would have laughed. But three seasons after my 10-year-old son started playing baseball in our small town in the Sharon region, I’m a huge fan. Not of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, or the LA Dodgers (and I actually had to Google that!), but of the Tel Mond Nationals.

Nationals? Yes, you read right. An enterprising father/coach organized sponsorship from the “mother” team in Washington and the local boys are making their big brothers on the other side of the ocean proud. On Friday June 19 they play the Ra’anana Jumbo Pretzels (actual name) in the championship game of the regional juvenile league playoffs.

I love it that this true-blue American sport is being played all over Israel with huge enthusiasm. In their classic baseball pants, helmets, batting gloves, baseball mitts and Nationals team shirts, the boys play on our weedy, sandy, uneven field, where horses, donkeys and goats frequently roam free, bringing cricket in the times of the Raj to mind.

My son on third base

My son on third base

We’re a stalwart group of parents – Israelis, English, South Africans, and even Americans – who support the team, home or away, often arguing about baseball’s tenuous connection to the British pastime of rounders and constantly complaining about the intense heat (Raj again?). We heckle and cheer and enjoy every minute of watching the kids playing their hearts out every Friday afternoon.

I have to give credit to The Israel Association of Baseball (IAB), which has been active since 1986 in promoting and developing baseball in Israel and ensuring that the rule book is adhered to in good Anglo-Saxon fashion.

Now, not only is my half-South African son on his way to becoming a pitcher, and can actually hit that little, painfully hard ball with that narrow sliver of ash, but I am also proud that I have learned about RBIs, line drives, pop-ups, foul balls and strike zones so as not to embarrass my American-born husband too much.

Go Nationals and go Israeli baseball.

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An unexpected error has occured

I had pressed the “send” button on an email to many of my Outlook contacts announcing that I am now a fully-fledged member of the blogosphere. Only, I received a prompt saying: “An unexpected error has occured” and I couldn’t send the email.

This made me laugh because as I was adding names to my Bcc list, I started getting intimidated. While I am having a generous helping of fun writing my blog (I am a writer by profession, but I write in the business world, which tends to hamper my creativity on occasion), I am also a little nervous as I realize that I have a lot of very smart and very talented friends, many who can write me under the table. Not that I am trying to profession drop, but in the mix are a few academics with PhDs plumping up their resumes, others who also make their living out of writing and do a great job of it, doctors, a few lawyers (but that’s a whole other story), etc.

So I am taking a deep breath, and relying on the fact that in addition to their high IQs and over abundant achievements they are also wonderful people and hopefully they’ll just chuckle along with me as I roll out my personal take on life in the Israeli medium-speed lane. Bear with me as I find my feet among my fellow bloggers.

And hopefully MS Outlook isn’t sending me a “LA Story”-esque message from the universe telling me to stop this folly.

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