Sunday, June 29, 2008

Responding To Hate Speech

I am grateful that we live in a society that tries to be politically correct. It is important to take the feelings of others into consideration. There are some negatives, however, to a politically correct society. The first is something that we have heard about for quite some time, that sometimes we go overboard (people aren’t fat or even heavy, they are horizontally challenged). Sometimes when we try to be so considerate of others feelings, we end up saying nothing. It does not mean we should not try, just that sometimes we go too far.

There is another problem as well. Sometimes when we are so politically correct, people do not know how to handle certain situations. When there are seventh and eighth grade religious school students who do not know about hate crimes and hate speech, perhaps we have taken things too far. When groups like The Progressive Action Alliance are looking to spread false information, we need to know how to respond. When this group in Houston Texas takes to Freeway Blogging , standing on highway overpasses and holding signs that say such things as “Israel out of the Middle East,” we need to know the appropriate way to respond.

Fortunately there are websites out there that look to let people know what is going on, let people know the truth. The internet can make it easier for groups like Progressive Action Alliance Houston to spread their hate speech. Fortunately the internet also makes it easier to get the accurate information out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Computer Position

I recently met with the director of a Jewish Day school to find out about a teaching position that was advertised. It was an interesting position and an interesting interview.

The job itself has nothing to do with Jewish education, it is teaching in the computer lab. I would be teaching Microsoft office products as well as computer usage, internet and internet safety. It would also involve working with other teachers, especially if the student had an assignment which involved putting some kind of computer presentation together.

I like the fact that it would be with a Jewish Day school. While the position itself might not involve teaching Jewish subjects, it would be with a school that clearly understands the importance of that. Certainly I have the knowledge to teach such a class and being able to do it while showing support for Jewish education would thrill me.

I think we need to do whatever possible to get children, students, and even adults, interested in Jewish learning. Education is crucial and being able to be involved with any facility that understands its importance, that looks to educate people about Judaism is crucial.

The position is actually still being defined but certainly I am excited and look forward to hearing what happens.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Conversational Hebrew

My son finishes school this week and is excited about summer plans. He will be attending a few different summer day camp programs; a week here, two weeks there, that sort of thing. He has, however, added something new to the mix.

Towards the end of Hebrew school, one of the teachers, an Israeli who teaches Hebrew, asked my son if he would like to be tutored in Hebrew over the summer. It is not that my son needs extra help in this area, but this teacher thought he might want to keep his skills sharp during the summer and have more of an opportunity to influence the material he is studying. I am sure from the teacher’s point of view as well, it is a good way to earn some extra income over the summer.

My son is very excited about this and wants to start the day after school ends. His father, on the other hand, has mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am thrilled that learning Hebrew is so important to him that he wants to do it when school is out and wants to keep his skills sharp. On the other hand, I question if he truly realizes the commitment he made and will put the time in to this. He wants to learn conversational Hebrew and he will be meeting with the tutor once a week for an hour.

The tutor has already tried to caution me that when it comes to conversational Hebrew, for many weeks it may look as though he is not learning much and then all of a sudden everything clicks. I question that. To expect to learn this while only putting an hour a week is seems unlikely, even if my son follows through with his “homework assignments”. I fear that he will get frustrated and fed-up and refuse to do the work outside of his meeting with the tutor.

Certainly it is worth an attempt. I hope that this does meet his needs and expectations and I hope it does help him learn to speak conversational Hebrew. And, given a choice between my son wanting to do this over the summer or do a number of other things, certainly I approve of his choice.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Double Standard

It is amazing, after all this time, how a double standard can still work. I am not referring to the traditional double standard but I am talking about how it works when one examines religion and the attitudes of society.

I am involved with a civic organization. In fact, I am the incoming president. We meet every other Wednesday and I noticed that based on the calendar, we are scheduled to have a meeting on Yom Kippur. I told people I was not going to schedule a meeting on this date as I did not feel it sent the right message. Moreover, I argued that if I were just a member and a president scheduled a meeting on this date, I would be furious so, I refused to do what I would object to any other club president doing.

The rest of the Executive Committee objected and fought with me. I heard all sorts of excuses and reasons why it could not be done and basically, I was told with the exception of Christmas day, we do not move meetings, and that exception occurs because there is no place open where we could meet.

I then noticed that we had a meeting scheduled for New Years Eve. Certainly establishments are open yet I told the board I did not think we should meet on this day either. They were all quick to agree. Then when I pointed out that if we just switched it with another date, we would end up meeting on Christmas Eve (Not day) and I did not want to do that. Everyone agreed and worked with me on getting creative to avoid that conflict.

The Christian holidays still carry much more weight than even a holiday like Yom Kippur. People do not understand its importance. Still, once I led the discussion about Christmas and New Years, everyone was more willing to work with me on avoiding a meeting on Yom Kippur. It just surprises me (although it shouldn’t) the double standard when it comes to holidays.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jewish Jeopardy

I made reference to a Jewish Jeopardy game in a post yesterday. The game took place on Shavout. The tradition is to stay up all night and study. While I have done this a few times, it always seems that the shul (synagogue) I am affiliated with at any particular time has older members and they do not go through the night. This is true of both the Conservative and Orthodox shuls where I have gone. Still, they want to do something, so for part of the evening they have a study group.

This year, the synagogue had two things going on. First was a discussion about Judaism and the environment. It sounded interesting but not necessarily fun. The second thing was the Jewish Jeopardy game and the rest of the family was into that (so was I), so I decided to attend that session.

The first game was a kids only game and the kids teamed up in groups of two. My son showed that he has paid attention and that he understands his Judaism. It makes a father proud. The second game was Adults only, also in pairs of two, and the third game was also supposed to be adults only.

For the third game, many adults did not want to play so the third team was made up of kids only. I think I saw my son raise his hand for every question, well just about every question, for that game. Again, it is nice when you can see your hard work pay off. And, I certainly have put in my share of hard work. My wife is not nearly as much of a shul goer as I am so, when he was an infant, I used to get him ready and have him there every week, and deal with the dirty looks of the adults and comments because, as much as they like kids, they want them perfectly quiet. Still, I wanted him to understand right from the beginning that on Shabbat, this is what we do and where we go.

He may not go as frequently now as he did in the past but he still goes more often than not and enjoys it and, as I said before, he learns and he remembers.

Congratulations on your Jeopardy game.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Forgotten Holiday

The holiday of Shavout is now behind us. It is the last Biblical holiday of the year. Arguably it is one of the most important ones as, without it, the Jews never got the Torah and then there is no need to keep any of the holidays.

I wonder how many people know little about this Holiday. Certainly it does not get the notoriety of Channukah, the attendance of a Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service, or the appreciation of Passover. To make matters even more confusing, there is not a symbol that is simply and solely associated with Shavout.

You could argue the Torah is such a symbol but we use that year round. Certainly the other holidays have their symbols. This is an important and beautiful holiday and it does not get the recognition. Most people, Jewish and non-Jewish, are probably not even aware that there was a holiday at the beginning of the week.

I am glad that my son is familiar with the holidays and enjoys them all. I had a chance to watch him in action in a game of Jewish Jeopardy and he knew a lot, but that is a post for another time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Last Day

In the past, I have blogged about the first day of Hebrew School for my son, how they have a festival outside and a barbecue as a way of trying to set a positive tone for the year. It has been successful in the past and I think it is a great idea. It is interesting then that the first day of school is a fun experience but the last day of school, traditionally one that everyone looks forward to, is a negative experience.

The concept is good. The want to do a schoolwide arts festival. It starts with a schoolwide T’filah (paryer service) with each class leading a different prayer. While praying is not an art, based on the poetry you find in the prayers and the singing and different melodies, the feeling is there are aspects of the arts in prayer, so it is appropriate. I have no problem with this part.

After the service is over they leave the sanctuary and go to the auditorium where some of the different groups perform. The sound system is always terrible. It is hard to understand what is going on and while parents might enjoy watching their kids perform (even if the performance is not that great), the kids are bored. Even those who perform are bored once their part is finished.

In addition, the teachers are supposed to meet the kids and sit as a class and the parents are supposed to sit with the kids as well. The teachers do not take this seriously, and some of them, at times, are leading various groups in performance. Some teachers do not even meet the kids but just let the parents bring their child(ren) upstairs. Still, the parents have to figure this out. It is utter chaos.

I have seen it gone down hill every year. Every year my son gets more agitate and frustrated. What is supposed to be an enjoyable event is really anything but. The program also goes longer than a regular day of Hebrew school.

This year they sent out an e-mail, almost begging parents to bring the kids to the program and not have them miss the last day of school. Still, each year less and less kids show up. My wife and I have always made sure to bring our son but we both feel that next year, we are just going to skip it.

As a side note, often times when someone complains, the feeling is don’t just complain, offer an alternative. So, here goes: They should continue to keep the school wide T’filah and they should continue to have the band play a few selections. Beyond that, each teacher should be responsible for teaching their class once Israeli/Hebrew song (it can be coordinated by the principal if so desired). The song should be no more than five minute. Each class performs their song and when finished, have a hotdog roast (as they do now) and let the kids out early. That’s my suggestion!