Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Selling schools - boon or bust?

Allow me to divert from Orthodoxy to local politics for a minute. At our shul dinner the other night, I was having a conversation with one of our city councilmen. We were discussing how White Plains is a good value amongst its neighbors, as its schools are rated very highly (although not as highly as Scarsdale, for example) its taxes are relatively low giving us good bang for the buck when it comes to education.

As we talked about how the number of families in the district have grown, we also addressed the idea of school expansion - one of our 5 elementary schools is being rebuilt, and another is being expanded - he mentioned that its a shame that when enrollment was down that the city sold two school buildings outright to two private schools - namely Solomon Schechter of Westchester, and the Deutsche Schul - a school for German expats. I thought about this for a while. Was it really a bad idea to do that? Yes, the school district will need to raise some extra capital for meeting the reversing enrollment trend, but was it a bad thing to sell of those old building to private schools? I think that the answer is no, and here is why:

  • First and foremost, at the time, the schools were not needed and an extra burden on the school system. By selling off these buildings the district not only got cash from the sale, but it also saved cash in not having to maintain buildings that weren't being used.
  • Secondly, by enabling the private schools to exist within city limits, it gave the school district something else - more found money. Ultimately, those communities served by these schools will bring their constituents to live in town, and even though certain services are afforded to local residents who's kids go to private school, nonetheless, there is a nice portion of the school budget saved by families who's kids opt out of the school system, freeing that budget money up for somewhere else.
  • People like choices. Even if they move into a community on the credibility of its private schools, those people might ultimately opt to send their children to public school. In either case, as the reputation of the community grows, so does its popularity, housing prices increase, which also drives tax rolls, and enables the school's budget to grow as well.

All told, I think having local private schools in old city school buildings is a win-win situation for local school districts.

Friday, March 21, 2008

PBC - the Persian Broadcasting Service New Lineup

From all of mine to all of yours - best wishes for a Chag Purim Sameach - A Freiliche Purim - a Happy Purim. In honor of the Holiday, some Purim Humor - a hypothetical look at what the Persian TV service's lineup would look like if the Purim story happened today:

Persian Broadcasting Service New Shows:

Hadassah Montana - Mild mannered Hadassah Yehudi leads a double-life. Normally she is just a regular student at Shushan's Hebrew Institute of Torah, but only a handful of people know her secret - she is really the Queen of all Persia and Media - Queen Esther. This young girl truly has the best of both worlds. Follow Hadassah/Esthers Foibles as she tries to keep her identity secret, along with her Confdants - Uncle Mordechai (Billy Ray Cyrus), Leah, and Hagai, the royal Eunuch.

Persia's Next Top Queen - This reality Show, invites girls from all over the kingdoms 127 countries (from India to Ethiopia) to vy for a spot at becoming the next queen. Contestants are given six months in the palace with all of the cosmetics and clothes they need and are judged by a special panel - the king himself. Celebrity stylists include Tyra Banks, Twiggy, and Zeresh.

Hangman - This twist on the classic game challenges contestants wits to see how many sons of Haman can they hang in just one breath. Hosted by Howie Mandel.

Persian Idol - 24 gods, only one survivor. Pagans promote their deities in a competition of graven images. Hopefully, Jews won't bow to peer pressure.

On The Record - Late night news show, where the king and his servants read from the royal record to see who's good deeds have gone unrewarded. Tonight's Special Guest - Haman, live from the Garden.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Communicating the Old-Fashioned Way - A rant or two

Okay, so here comes two rants - both of which are inter-related. First and foremost, it all turns back to the sign that hangs (and to the best of my knowledge still hangs) in my parents shul. The sign was a picture of a man in his Tallis and Tefillin surrounded by all kinds of electronic devices - pagers, cell phones, etc. - each of which was circled in red with a line across them kind of like a 'No-Smoking' sign is, and the caption beneath it read something like this:

Please turn off your Pager or Cellphone, You're interfering with my 'Communication'.

A cute, but blunt reminder that we are to only be communicating with one entity during davening - G-d in heaven. I've opined in this space time and again about how beautiful it is to have this notion that every individual - even involved in group prayer - is communicating individually and directly with G-d. This is our quiet time with the man upstairs - how dare we talk, or check our incessantly buzzing BlackBerries, etc. I could go on a rant, but in the past few weeks, it dawned on me that I am just as bad as anyone out there. I check my BlackBerry during Chazarat HaShaT"Z and I talk during davening just as much as the next guy. And then I became the Gabbai.

Standing at the Bimah during the Torah reading, one gets a different perspective on how Noisy a shul can get. I also caught myself looking at my BlackBerry during our office Mincha Minyan. I was wondering how to improve my davening, and the answer was plainly obvious - I am going to start with the man in the mirror, and I ask that those of you who read this do the same.

But that's just one rant - the other rant is that improving your davening in the presense of a minyan only works when you show up at the minyan. In our shul this week, it seems that every night we have a hard time getting our 9:15 ma'ariv minyan together. Granted, both of our local Day Schools were off this week (or at least partially) but at the same time, we had to make phone calls every night to get a minyan. I'd like to think that in a community with a 100 families 10 people can show up on most nights for Ma'ariv, but alas that's not the case.

I guess I need to 'Start with me'.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I'll take the Computer over the TV Anytime

For a long time my morning routine had me coming downstairs with my older two boys, and plopping them down in front of the TV every morning while I davened [prayed] (not in front of the TV of course!). Of course, this is both good and bad in many ways and I won't argue its merits or shortcomings here. But what I will say is this - at some point my children discovered the computer and now find it a lot more fun that TV ever was, and as a parent, regardless of what benefits you can tell me that TV has, I think that Computers are way better for kids, and I would gladly swap 2 hours of computer time for every 1 hour they spend watching TV, why? First and foremost, when on the computer, they're Engaged. TV is a passive medium. They sit there spaced-out and watch their show, but they look lethargic and out of it, as if they are in a trance. With the computer, they are moving and active, interacting with the screen. Even the one that doesn't control the mouse is still interacting with the computer by giving his brother advice where to click. Beyond being engaged, they are always learning something. 90% of the web sites they go to are educational, and even the ones that are not, my kids are still practicing using the mouse and keyboard - skills which are vital in this day and age.

Think about how much of a role a computer plays in our daily lives - now quick, when did you get your first computer? When did you first log on to the Internet or get e-mail? How old were you? If you are in your 30's, you probably didn't get a computer until you were in Junior High or High School, and made it to college just in time to discover the Internet. My 4-month old, is already being exposed to the Internet, and my 6 and 4 year olds have been going online for at least a couple of years. I also remember showing my now 9-year-old niece the pbskids.com web site while babysitting her 7 years ago!

Of course then there are the games. My kids don't really have a gaming system (V.Smile from V-Tech and LeapFrog's Leapster notwithstanding). They are not PlayStation addicts or Wii fanatics (although my oldest did play with his Uncle's Wii, and asked if we could get one too), and I know that many parents don't like them and would love to throw them out, but games also help kids, and are better than TV. Yes, keep your teenagers away from GTA and the like, and of course 20-hour marathons and 'LAN Parties' (remember those!, 3-4 of my buddies used to bring their laptops and coax ethernet to have LAN parties in class, but I digress), but a handful of gaming hours a week are beneficial for your kids. They're learning strategy, thinking under pressure, and improving hand-eye coordination. Yes, kids also need to go outside, but if its 30 degrees outside, a Wii Fit or DDR might also prove to be good way to get exercise.

The bottom line, everything is okay in moderation. If you are able to let your kids use computers and gaming systems for a limited time each week, they will definitely benefit - especially if its at the expense of their TV time.

Below is a list of sites that my kids like, and that we like too:

'... healing of the soul and healing of the body...'

Yesterday morning, a friend of mine introduced me to a Rabbi who worked in the area of Grief Counseling. We had a brief discussion about the Mi-Sheberach prayer that is recited to ask for the healing of the sick. He pointed out that our Rabbis, included the phrase '...and may [G-d] send them a complete healing from heaven, a healing of the soul and a healing of the body...'  - to indicate that they knew that sickness of the soul and sickness of the body are independent things that have an effect on one another. He also pointed out the vast disproportionate number of Psychologists and Psychiatrists that are Jewish as an indication that this notion of Mental/Spiritual healing is ingrained in the fabric of our culture.

I also recently had the misfortune of making a Shiva visit to a friend. This friend, as well as many others that I have visited during Shiva - indicated that in being a mourner, it was now clear that Shiva was intended for the mourners to have a healing period for their souls. It is a very powerful and helpful thing to be surrounded by loved ones and sharing in their grief. And at the same time, all of us who visit a house of mourning have that concept ingrained in our heads too. We know that our visiting the mourners (just as visiting the sick) gives them the mental wherewithal to go on, to continue to adjust their mind and soul to accepting the new realities of the situation.

The fact that all of this is perpetuated in our religion, the fact that this message and concept, is seemingly universal, even for Jews of various denominational and religious affiliation and observance, goes to show how beautiful our religion really is.

Maybe, on a day when I am cynical about Day School Tuition, Crazy religious practices, or other stupidity being eschewed by the Jewish Establishment, I will come back to this post and understand why I love being Jewish..... because we care.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fighting Politics with Google Earth

There was an article in the Jerusalem post today about how the Village of Kiryat Yam is suing Google because someone posted on Google Earth that the village was built on top of ruins of an Arab village. Of course, Google's stands behind the notion of user-edited content. While I agree to some extent with Google, there needs to be a line drawn somewhere. For example, in the bible, the Kings of Israel had captured land extending into modern-day Syria. What if I were to go to Damascus and enter in - "Built upon the ruins of a Jewish City - Herod's fortress". Or even better, if I went to the entry for New York, and type - built on the ruins of stolen Native American land?!?

How ridiculous would this sound? Also, are these maps historical, or legally accurate?

It's the same thing with Wikipedia too.