Wednesday, March 14, 2007

If you had brothers like these, you'd turn to a stranger halfway around the world too

The Jerusalem Post reported today that senior Israeli and Palestinan officials met with their Japanese counterparts to discuss Japan's plan for Economic growth and development for Israel and the Palestinian territories. (The picture and article are from the AP, l-r Saeb Erekat, Shimon Peres, and Shinzo Abe)

While we tend to approach any of these initiatives with several grains of salt, if you read between the lines a bit, there are some interesting things going on.

  1. Israel, already a partner with China and India, is looking to Japan as another avenue of growth.
  2. Jordan is at the table too, and at least Jordan and Israel are serious partners with one another
  3. Given the fiasco of poverty and unrest since Hamas took power, its quite plausible that the Palestinians would look forward to some economic opportunity.

What bothers me the most is, why is Japan the partner? Why not the Saudis or the Kuwaitis? Think about it for a minute, just from an economic and logical standpoint, there is no reason that the Palestinians can't do for Arabic-speaking customer service what India did for english-speaking customer service. Labor is cheap, which means that a decent living wage for a Palestinian is still probably more cost-effective than hiring a saudi. The bottom line is that Arab nations haven't done a damn thing for the Palestinians economically, short of rewarding the families of suicide bombers. I hope that this Japanese plan works out, and that it becomes the model for future development in the region.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Day Schools and Financial Disclosure

It seems that no matter where I am, whenever I get together with other Jewish parents at some point the conversation gravitates towards the subject of Day School tuition. The thought came to me recently to look up schools on Guidestar (a service that rates charities. Since most Day Schools in the US are registered as tax-exempt organizations, they are listed here), but, it would seem that Day Schools and other religious institutions are not required to file the same IRS form 990 that charities are. Primarily because they are faith-based and don't need to.

It's funny, each year, my kids school sends me a lovely letter to accompany the next years tuition schedule. It seems that the year is the same year in year out. Save for the date and dollar values, there is always the same story about why they are justified in raising tuition.

While I don't doubt their motives or analysis, I find it insulting to my intelligence that they don't provide us with some sort of summary financial data.

To be frank, I am not looking for detailed salaries for every last staff member, but it would be nice to see the breakdown of salaries between administrative, teachers, and managerial staffs. A breakdown of maintenance and other costs would be nice as well.

Truthfully what are schools afraid of? The number should tell a story - a story that justifies tuition increases, and that should be evident from some simple numbers. If it's not, the school has some explaining to do.

As a parent, seeing the numeric justification will enable me to have confidence in the value I am receiving from the school, as well as compel me to potentially give more. It will also empower me as a person to feel as if I have some more disclosure and input as to the direction the school is going in.

It is well played out that parents who ask for scholarships need to bare their lives and finances to school administrators - why should those administrators be forced to share the same data with us?

Friday, March 09, 2007

My little one, now Bigger

My little guy Mikey sure grew up fast. He is now 3! And we just cut his hair. When my wife was pregnant with our first son, I was not totally convinced that I would like the whole Upsherin concept. Truthfully, while my family has very Chasidic roots, my parents never followed suit with any of us. (Although one of my cousins did have an Upsherin with the Bovover Rebbe Z"L and, as my Dad tells it, it is a very humorous story). My wife doesn't have any brothers, so at least in our generation we hadn't really participated in an Upsherin for members of our own family.

Still Faigy insisted, and before I jumped in wholeheartedly, I wanted to study it some more. So I did the research and discovered that the custom has very strong roots in the Kabbalah and is commonly practiced amongst Sefardic and Chasidic Jews. The gist of it is that man is compared to a tree, as it says in the bible -"..Man is like the tree of the field (Deut/Devarim 20:19). In Judaism, trees have very special meaning as well as their own laws and customs. For one, they have their own new year (Tu B'shvat) and when one plants a fruit bearing tree, we cannot derive any benefit for the fruit for the first three years. So too, a little boy is just like that tree. For the first three years of his life we follow his cognitive development (his fruits). When he reaches three, the age of Mitzvah education, his fruits (his mind) are ready for consumption with Torah thought and religious education.

This is such a beautiful custom, and I am glad that I agreed to follow suit. But even more than that their is a much greater psychological effect on the child as well. In his new look, my son now equates himself as a 'Big Boy' and proudly states "I am not a baby!".

As much as I miss my 'Goldilocks', I now have another big boy to bring into the world of Torah and Mitzvot, and I am eternally thankful to G-d for that every day.