.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

Powered by WebAds

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cooking for the Freezer

Wanna know how a working mom (ok, me) makes shabbos?
Check out the secret to cooking ahead on the Shabbos cooking blog.


Dear Big Boss of my Department,

I think it's great that you like to keep your office door open.
It means you are accessible and a regular guy... I get it, it's great.

Unfortunately, I sit right outside of your lovely private office, in a
wide open cubical with a mountain of work to do today and the sound of
your constant meetings and calls on your speakerphone ARE DRIVING ME

Shut your goddam door or I'll do it for you!



Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Modern and the Orthodox - Episode Four

Episode Four:
When we last left the Israeli side of our story, Rabbi Mendlewitz, the noted Rosh Yeshiva, was recovering from a fall during Ma'ariv.

Scene One
Setting: Sha'ar Cholei Yisroel Hospital - Jerusalem, Israel 10PM
Outside of Rabbi Mendlewitz's hospital room. The elderly wife of the Rosh Yeshiva looks tired and shaken but is keeping herself as composed as possible.

Doctor: Mrs. Mendlewitz, why don't you go home now? Your husband is resting comfortably and all the test results are looking good. I know it's very upsetting that he's not recognizing anyone yet but he did have a hard fall. All his cognitive skills seems to be in tact, sometimes the memory though is a tricky thing. Let's let the Rabbi have a good night's rest and we'll see if things look better in the morning. Maybe bring some pictures with you when you come back, we'll see if we can bring him around....

Mrs. Mendlewitz doesn't want to leave but is quickly joined by her sons Yosef and Benyamin who gather her things and take her out to a taxi. The two sons along with a few other bochrim from the yeshiva stay and say tehillim all night outside the RH's room.

Scene Two
Setting: D.O.U.B.T.S. headquarters Ontario, Canada
After making his presentation on the progress of his plan to disprove God and overthrow Orthodox Judaism, Dr. Idstein opens the floor to questions.

A tall, devastatingly handsome man with sapphire blue eyes and anchorman perfect hair- known only to this band of heretics as "Number 2" - rises from seat at Dr. Idstein's left.

Number 2: A truly excellent presentation Dr. I, but as usual I see you have neglected to consider it's implementation. Even the most compelling research paper cannot be read in complete darkness. These people have closed their minds to reality, they don't think they "feel" they "believe" we need to break down that barrier.

Dr. Idstien: Number two, you know I've come to rely on you for such matters and generally I trust your judgement implicitly... but if this is about your plan for drugging the water supply in major Jewish areas, we have already discussed it numerous times, I just don't see how that's going to work.

Number 2: Project Mayiim Genuvim is still a viable option as far as I'm, concerned, but no, this time I have something much more subtle in mind...

Scene Three
Setting: Outside the the home of the Rosenberg Family (senior)
Unable to absorb the tragic story of his mother's death and his adoption by the Rosenberg family Baruch excuses himself from the living room and steps outside onto the front porch for some air.
Unfortunately it's freezing and he neglected to grab his coat on the way out.
He turns the knob to go back into his parents' house but it's locked.
Unwilling to speak with his family until he's calmed down he finds his keys in pocket and sits in the driver's seat of the mini-van and waits for it to heat up.

Mrs R- Oy I knew this wouldn't go well...

Malka Rosenberg (looks around and waits for someone to say something, then looks out the window and sees her husband resting his head on the steering wheel)
It's...It's... a lot to take in at once Ma. You know Baruch loves you, everything will be OK, just give him a little time to adjust. Ummm maybe we should go now.

While Malky gets the kids in their coats and helps them gather up their gifts, Mrs. Rosenberg packs up plastic containers of leftovers from dinner and puts them in a shopping bag.
When no one is looking she throws in some Shabbos leftovers too and a five roll pack of no-name scotch tape she got at Amazing Savings (because you never know.)

The kids hug their Bubby and Zaidy and Malky prompts them to thanks them again for the presents which they do happily.

Avigail Rosenberg (Baruch's second child): Where's Abba?

Malky: He's not feeling so well he went to warm up the car. Let's try to be quiet in the car OK?

The Rosenbergs (junior) get the van and Baruch starts driving home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Constanza'ed! (TM)

Cos-tan-za'ed - the state of being flummoxed entirely by the collision of two worlds - such as the real world and the blogging world.

Originating from the television series Seinfeld in which the angst ridden George Constanza finds his girlfriend has become friends with one of his friends - causing him to become even more filled with angst, as evidenced by the repeated screaming of the phrase "WORLDS ARE COLLIDING!!!"

Monday, January 23, 2006

My kids suprise me

My kids are on vacation this week.
It's very complicated since my husband was off for winter break already and I used my vacation days to spend time with my brother in the hospital.

Basically we are splitting up the days and taking turns showing the kids a good time.

I was feeling sick with guilt because for the last three weeks they've been listening to their classmates talk about all the fun and exciting places their families will be visiting over the break- Israel, Miami, California, Mexico... I felt pretty crummy that I couldn't promise my kids we'd EVER be able do anything like that.

So to make up for it my husband and I drew up a plan for a week full of day trips and today was my day to take them down to Philly. We were going to hit the museums and the liberty bell, and maybe go out to eat in one of Philly's fine kosher establishments.
This morning however my girls told me they'd rather just hand around town, have friends over, go out for ice cream and maybe go to the library...
"Are you SURE?" I asked them... "We could go to the Franklin Institue and see that giant heart you can slide down..." They thought about it and decided they'd really rather just do things around town and they are having a great time! Just five minutes ago they told me this was "the best day ever." I certainly feel a lot less guilty now.

Hooray for my kids!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Personal and the Universal

Well yesterday sure was interesting!
I really enjoyed writing yesterday's post for The Muqata, but the reaction people had to it surprised me even more. I THOUGHT I was writing an incredibly revealing personal piece on my my Friday experiences only to find out the EXACT SAME THING is happening every week in Jewish homes all over the world.

A non-Jewish friend of mine cleverly observed: "It sounds pretty difficult to jump into an ancient tradition from a fast paced modern world." And it's true! When you are driving at 100MPH and need to take it down to zero in a hurry there is bound to be some screeching of brakes and a little rocking and bumping. Just keep your suspension tuned up and you should be OK (alright, the car metaphor went too far, I apologize.)

The next edition of the Modern and the Orthodox will be delayed a bit.
My paying job requires my attention today.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Follow me!

Want a much too personal glimpse into my home life?
Come on over and check out my guest post over at the The Muqata.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mothers and Daughters and Shiurim and Pettiness

Okay, Shifra, here's my question!
I am setting up a shiur for mothers and daughters. One of the mothers, who helped me organize it, told me she doesn't want to have anything to do with a mother of one of the girls in our daughters' class. I don't know why and don't want to know. This has been going on for several months. She told me that if the other girl and her mother participate, she will drop out. I had mentioned it to the other girl's mother long before the shiur became a reality, but I didn't follow up and the shiur is taking place soon. I know my friend is being immature, but I don't have the guts to tell her so. I'll feel bad if she drops out because she helped me so much in setting it up. I figure it's a matter of time before the second mother finds out and calls me to ask if she can join. For the record, I set it up so there would be girls from several different schools so not all the mothers in the class know about it (but most do). Help please!

Mother of a daughter

Dear Mother of a Daughter-

Oy Vey that's confusing!
To sum up you have a mom with issues (we'll call her Pettimom) helping you set up the shuir but if a mom she doesn't like (we'll call her Cluelessmom) gets involved, you think Pettimom will bail on you. That's a crummy situation and I don't envy you for being stuck in the middle.

Although my advice to you may be too late to help you this time around, hopefully this experience will not put you off of volunteering on other projects in the future (for the record I think a mother-daughter shuir sounds great!) and maybe it will come in handy next time.

Firstly, stay out of it, but speak your piece- You said "I don't know and I don't want to know" I think that's the right attitude but at the same you can't really condone that kind of attitude and not expect to run into problems. While I fully understand your desire not to confront this woman you have to let her know that this pettiness doesn't fly with you. You don't need to be judgmental either just state the facts.

Pettimom: I'd love to help out with the shiur but I will NOT work with clueless mom.
You: I'd love your help, but please understand that all the mothers are invited to help.

In this way you can let her know that her help is welcome but you are not going to get involved with her personal politics. Don't let the conversation continue either. Try to work with her but if it becomes impossible then she will just have to step back.

Pettimom: Well I really can't work with that woman!
You: Understood, then maybe you'd like to do some sort of independent task like sending out flyers or setting up the room.
Pettimom: I really don't want to be involved if clueless mom will be there.
You: That's your choice but I need to invite the whole class, you understand.

That "you understand" comes from a Rebbitzen I know. She told me that adding "you understand" to the end of a statement which clearly will not be understood initially by the listener will force them to pause and consider what you have just said.
Once your friend considers that you really have no choice she will make *her* choice one way or the other, and you will have done the best you can to bring her around.

Lastly, If this woman quits because she is unable to get along with another woman for the sake of setting up a shiur you have NO reason to feel badly. Class activities and torah learning are two activities that are definitely not meant to be exclusive. If someone chooses to miss out over petty issue, or an inability to resolve conflicts you cannot be responsible for that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Modern and the Orthodox: Episode 3


Episode Three

Setting: Evening at the Rosenberg Home.

When we last left the Rosenbergs Mrs. Rosenberg was physically preparing a boatload of latkes and mentally preparing herself to tell her dear, sweet, thirty-eight year old son Baruch Mordechai about his adoption.

Let us fast forward a hour or two- Baruch his wife Malky are helping Mrs. Rosenberg clear the table after eating far more than either of them had intended. Their four children are playing with their Chanuka gifts happily in the den while listening to Uncle Moishy's latest release: "Brush your teeth with Uncle Moishy."

Mrs R.: Baruch, Malky let's sit in the living room I have something I want to talk to you about.

Malky and Baruch exchange worried looks followed by a quick raise of the eyebrows from Baruch and a smile back from Malky. They both relax a bit and sit down on the plastic covered couch. Mr. Rosenberg joins them and sits in his armchair across from the couch.

Mrs R.: Oy Baruch, you know I've tried so hard to be a good mother to you always.

Baruch: Of course Ma.

Mrs. R.: We are both so proud of you, you and and your wonderful family. I would never want anything to stand in your way, I only want the best for you, you know that right?

Baruch: Ma, what is this about?

Mrs. R. Well you see there is something that you don't know. Something I should have told you years ago but I never could find a way.
I'll start at the begining:
Your father and I got married in 1957 it was such a nice wedding, nothing like the weddings today with the ice sculptures and the sushi and the chopped liver in the shape of the Eiffel Tower, but very nice.

In the apartment house where we lived at the time our neighbor upstairs had a new baby, our neighbor downstairs had twin boys, the family across the hall had four girls- all in one bedroom. We were surrounded by children but years passed and we had none of our own. I was heart broken. Your father did everything he could to make me happy. He bought me flowers, we went out to dinner when we had a little extra money but I felt to sad and empty. We went to doctors... oh we tried everything.
I bit the pitom of the esrog every year after sukkos, I ate the ends of the challah every shabbos, oy what I didn't try. Finally after nine years I felt that we should just give up. Our tenth anniversary was right around the corner and your father wanted to do something special to lift our spirits. So we decided to take a trip to Israel. It was so exciting, not like today where a trip to Israel is like a trip to Chicago. We planned, and shopped, and packed oh was it exciting it was the best I'd felt in a long time, and when we got off the plane it was sunny and warm- oh it felt so good to be there.

We took a taxi to Yerushalim, it was a FORTUNE I tell you but what could we do. I couldn't ask your cousin Yetta to pick us up (looks over at Mr. R) - she didn't have a car, plus her back problems, oy I don't want to get into it...

Baruch: Ma! What is this about already?!

Mrs. R. - Well you see Boruch.... you are adopted...

Baruch: WHAT?!

Malky: WHAT?!

Mr. R: Gevalt! Just let me tell it. Here. When we were in Eretz Yisroel we happened to meet a a woman on our way to the Kosel for the first time. She didn't look well. She was selling red strings for Money. Your mother of course was still hoping for a miracle in those days and wanted to buy one, but when we approached this woman we could both see right away that something was terribly wrong. She looked like she was about to faint so your mother took her into the shade to sit down and I brought her a drink.
As she drank she suddenly spilled out her whole story to us half in yiddish half in hebrew. She spoke so quietly we didn't catch it all but basically we came to understand that her husband had passed away suddenly eight months earlier leaving her pregnant and with a young son. Poor and desperate and in a panic she went to a Rav for help. He introduced her to a wealthy family visiting from Canada who gave her enough money to pay up her rent and put food on the table. They promised her they would give him everything he needed and raise him to be a torah-true Jew, but she knew in her heart that wasn't true. She could tell they were Kalt Litvaks, strict and serious with no joy in their hearts. Still, she knew her son would be well educated and taken care of- she would never have to worry for him. She felt she had no choice. It broke her heart but she couldn't feed him and she was feeling weaker by the day. She gave him up.

Now she was due to have a baby, her parents had passed away, she had no one- she barely looked pregnant, well who could tell under all that clothing- and she didn't know what to do... As she talked she was getting paler and paler and then she just fainted I guess, right on to your mother's lap. I called a taxi and we went straight to the hospital. We never left her side, the woman was in and out of consciousness. As we waited for the doctor the woman thanked us over and over although we kept telling her not to - she seemed very weak but not fearful. If I don't make it, she said, please take care of my baby. I know he will be well loved by people as caring as you. The nurses took her from us and we waited in the waiting room for hours and hours. Your mother said Tehillim the whole time. The doctors performed a C-section to get to the baby, a boy, born tiny but healthy.
The mother didn't survive, she was too weak. She lost a lot of blood they told us, it was very sad. Things were different then today it would be another story. The nurse told us that as she was fading away she told them to give the baby to us. That we were sent to her by the angels. That baby was you, Baruch.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ask Shifra: The Miss Manners Edition

Dear Shifra,

My Grandfather (obm) died a couple of weeks ago. Some people have expressed their condolences to me directly (at shul and on the phone). Should I send them Thank You cards/notes?

On a lighter note, what is the proper etiquette for Chanukah gifts if the receiver isn't a give-gifts-for-Chanukah person? Is it OK to just send a Thank You card/note?

A continued refuah shleima for your brother and thank you for your time.


Dear WBS,

Thank you for your good wishes for my brother.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm am not an etiquette expert. However, I have the whole internet at my disposal a headfull of common sense plus a panel of excellent commentors with varied life experience so lets see what I can come up with on these ones.
Actually, I often find the kinds of etiquette advice dispensed by the so-called experts to be less than practical. Unless you plan to live in an etiquette book you have to figure out the way things work in the real world so that's the approach I'll be taking here.


In Judaism it is a mitzva to comfort someone who is in mourning. Surely the people who called or came by to speak to you are not expecting anything in return, they just want to be there for you. The best thing you can do in return is to be there for THEM in THEIR times of crisis as the cycle of life continues to revolve. I have heard it is customary to send thank you cards to people who have gone out of their way to help during the shiva or with funeral preparations but even those can wait a bit. People are not going to have high expectations from someone who just lost a loved one. May your memories of your grandfather always be a comfort to you.


Chanuka is over, now but these kind of sticky gift giving situations come up all year long.
I too an not much of a gift-giver. Some people have a real knack for choosing just the right gift for someone (like my sister-in-law who somehow always knows just what I need) or my grandmother who always got me just what I wanted when I was a kid. Not me though. Plus I'm usually broke, oh and did I mention cheap? Those last two kinda go together.
But enough about me.

There are some situations where gifts are expected - the birthdays of close relatives, kids' birthday parties, weddings, showers, etc... In those situations gifts really are required even for non-gifters like us. For the other more optional gift like holiday presents from co-workers or unexpected birthday gifts from friends who are just sweet and remember these things: I don't think that things necessarily need to be exchanged tit-for-tat. Certainly a heartfelt thank you and a nice thank you card would be warranted but I don't think you are obligated to return a gift of equal value. Perhaps there is something else you could do for this person like invite them over for a nice dinner sometime, or pick them up for work when their car is in the shop.
If there is good will between people these things have a way of working themselves out.

The JIBs

Ok so yeah... I've been nominated for a couple of JIBs.
I'm frankly almost embarrassed to mention it because I know I don't deserve them but I wanted to thank whoever was generous enough to nominate me and my little blog-ette.

For me the nicest thing about being nominated is that there is a link to my site in a place (other than DB's megablogroll) where a wide variety of Jewish readers can find my blog.

So if you are a first (or second or third) time visitor here- go ahead and browse the archives.
See if any of my posts appeal to you- try 'em on in front of the three-way-mirror and see what you think.

Just one more request: If you've got problems (and I KNOW you do) go ahead and send em in - a sincere and humorous reply awaits.

Thanks and happy reading.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Quote of the Day

My younger daughter looked up from her breakfast cereal this morning and said to me:

"People think that skunks are dumb, stinky animals- don't they realize that Hashem gave them that smell to protect themselves! They are not dumb they are very cute. If I was a skunk and people said that to me I'd spray 'em all!"

Amen sister.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Modern and the Orthodox: Episode 2

(I'm going to be pretty busy today and tomorrow so I decided to post this week's episode early... Enjoy!)

Episode Two:
Setting: An Israeli Hospital late at night.
Several women including the Rosh Yeshiva’s elderly wife are sitting on chairs in the hallway outside a hospital room while a doctor converses with the Rosh Yeshiva’s son (who is a rosh yeshiva himself), and his talmid muvhack (who is also ALSO a Rosh Yeshiva himself) about the man’s condition.

Doctor: It’s too soon to tell but according to the cat scan it appears that there is only a slight concussion. I believe he will make a full recovery. It’s really quite astounding for a man of his age to take such a hard fall without breaking any bones. In fact he is barely bruised! Tell me, did someone catch him?

RH’s son: Well I wasn’t there at the time, I was at my own yeshiva, but I was told that when my father hit his head on the shtender his hat flew back and when he fell, he landed with his head on the hat!!! It’s a miracle! The most amazing part is that he never wears his hat for maariv but only put it on in honor of Chanuka! Nissim v’ neflaos b’Chol yom!
Doctor, maybe you'd like to make a donation to my yeshiva? You know, in honor of this Nes?

RH’s Talmid: This is no time for shnorring! Look! The Rosh Yeshiva is starting to open his eyes!!

Doctor: (in a loud, clear voice) Rabbi, Rabbi Mendlewitz can you hear me?
You are in the hospital. They tell you me you had a bit of a fall. Can you follow this light with your eyes? OK, OK take it easy, it’s alright…

The Rosh Yeshiva begins to look about the room nervously moving only his eyes from side to side.

Doctor: (softly) He may be a bit disoriented (motions to the son) see if you can get him to relax.

Rabbi Mendlewitz Jr. Steps toward his father.

Rabbi M Jr: It’s me, Yosef, is my father still alive?

Rosh Yeshiva: (weakly) Of course I’m alive, what kind of a question is that you idiot?! And who are you?!

Rabbi M Jr: I’m your oldest son, don’t you recognize me?

RY: (whispers) No, you must be mistaken. (Closes his eyes)


Setting: Somewhere in Canada, in an unmarked office building.
A think tank of roughly twenty men and women of various shapes and sizes comprising the secret Downtown Ontario Underground Bittul Torah Society (or D.O.U.B.T.S. as it is known to its members) sit around a wood laminate conference table. At the head of the table stands an unremarkable looking man (well, except for the eyepatch and the lab coat) in his early 40's who speaks enthusiastically as he points his stick at a powerpoint presentation on the wall behind him.

Dr. Idstein: Finally, after years being called "weak" we are at the cusp of finally disproving "God" once and for all and thus ridding ourselves of the plague of Orthodox Judaism!
No more will we be made to feel inadequate, no more will these OJ's be able to lord their "chosen-ness" over all the peoples of the world! Finally, with a combination of advanced particle physics, these old Tradition articles, and with the help of this rusty butter knife, it will be DONE once and for all! BWHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

To Be Continued...

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Four Meme

Krum tagged me for this one:

Four jobs you've had in your life:
Librarian, data entry clerk, paralegal, graphic artist

Four movies you could watch over and over:
The Princess Bride, the Shawshank Redemption, Clue, When Harry met Sally

Four places you've lived:
New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Boston

Four TV shows you love to watch:
(Love? TV? I don't know about that, here are some I LIKE)
The Daily Show, Good Eats (a wacky sort of food science show on the cooking channel), Grey's Anatomy, SpongeBob SquarePants

Four places you've been on vacation:
Miami, New Hampshire, Cape May (NJ), NYC

Four websites you visit daily:
Gmail, the J-Blogs, Odd Todd, Yahoo Weather

Four of your favorite foods:
Chocolate, Coffee (is that a food?) kabobs, Godzilla Rolls (from Sushi metsuyan)

Four places you'd rather be:
Right now it's: Israel, California, Florida, Hawaii (I'm cold and tired)

Four books you'll read over and over again:
I'm not a big re-reader since there are so many unread books out there.
I do seem to find myself reading the same children's books over and over though...

Post Chanuka Blues

So there are only minutes left to Chanuka and I'm feeling suprisingly down.
There was plenty of inspiring/creative/funny/heretical stuff to read about Chanuka all around the J-blogs but somehow I just wasn't really into it this year.

Maybe after everything that has happened with my brother in the past few weeks I'm on miracle overload or something. I even waited until the very last night to take pictures of my kids lighting their menorahs but they both caught awful colds over Shabbos and could barely get off the couch to light...not really family album material.

So what's happened all the sudden that's making me so blue?
Is it the fact that I'm stuck here in a cold, quiet, cubicle at work on the Monday after New Years?
No, it can't be just that.
I think it's knowing that when I come home that instead of lighting the menorah and singing with my family we'll be back to the old routine of homework and dinner (and no LAKTES either!)

Maybe I missed the boat this year, or maybe I enjoyed it more than I thought.
Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Sick Days

Dear Shifra,

How can I tell when my kids are sick enough to stay home from school?
Often when I let them stay home they seem fine, and of course on the days I do send them they turn out to be really sick... I end up feeling either like a total sap or an awful mother.

-Can't Win

You know what.... I wrote that question myself but it's one I've hear over and over from my friends with children especially during the winter months.

For me one of the hardest decisions I deal with regularly is determining whether my kids are too sick to go to school. I would never send a kid to school who was obviously contagious or had a fever but beyond that things become very gray for me.

My oldest, Bas-Shifra, is not a morning person. She often suffers from headaches, stomachaches, all manners of aches and pains, and what I'll refer to as a general "malaise" in the early morning hours (only on school days of course!)

My youngest, Chavi Kaufman (not her real name) is also impossible to get out of bed. It's not that anything hurts, or that she doesn't want to go to school, she just cannot wake up.

I put them to bed at a very reasonable hour so I know they are getting enough sleep, but somehow SCHOOL does not seem to be enough of a motivator to get these girls up and running in the morning. As a result I get a lot of requests to stay home due to "illness."

As such, I normally make them get out of bed and get ready for school in spite of their complaining and usually these things rectify themselves before breakfast.

If they persist I try to "treat" the symptoms and see if they improve. If they complain of a stomachache I give them toast, or Tums (a favorite of my younger daughter) with breakfast. Sore throats get tea with honey, maybe headaches get a compress etc... Just taking their complaints seriously seems to make them feel better. Maybe I do spoil them a little but some mornings kids need spoiling. I like it when my husband gets his non-morning-person-self up out of bed and makes coffee for me before I wake up. It makes my day.

If they are still feeling really bad I'll keep them home and if they are borderline I'll send them to school. Their school is quite challenging and I don't like them to get behind. It's a gamble and sometimes they feel better and have a good day (win) and sometimes I have to pick them up a couple hours later (lose). I'm not a doctor, nor am I a psychic who can tell how the day will unfold so I have to make my best guess.... and try not to feel guilty if I'm wrong.