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Ask Shifra

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

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tznuis Showdown at SuperCuts

Last week I my daughter and I went to get get haircuts at a local (but not too local) discount hair cuttery. Although I cover my hair most of the time my faithful readers know that like to keep my "real" hair looking good, and short enough to keep covered easily and comfortably.

Now I know that many frum women would never get their hair cut in a public place, prefering to go to their local sheitel macher (wig maker) for trims or perhaps they have their husbands lop off their ponytail with their child's safety scissors but alas I am too cheap and vain for either of those options. I go for the quick, cheap, anonymous back of the salon hair cut and I'm OK with that.

This time, however, there was a bit of a twist. When it was my turn to have my hair cut my stylist turned out to be a sweet young muslim woman in a hijab. For those of you from the midwest or living under a rock, a hijab is that head scarf that muslim women wear, covering their heads and necks. I, on the other hand, was wearing a mitpachat (hebrew for headscarf) or tichel (Yiddish for a headscarf- also known as a shmateh if you ask my mother) covering only my hair.

It was a tznius showdown.

When I uncovered my hair I did feel more self-conscious about it than usual. Would this woman uncover her head for a haircut? I wondered. Would she consider ME immodest or worse a hypocrite? Did I care? If so why? I sat kind of lost in thought in the chair for a moment until the woman asked "Are you ready?"
When I did uncover my head the woman was surprised to find my hair was already fairly short. I told her I like to keep people guessing. She replied that friends were always surprised to find that she often changes her hairstyles and colors despite the fact that she keeps her hair covered up in public. As she washed and cut my hair we chatted about religion and head coverings (the when, where and how but most interestingly not the WHY.)
I learned that her tradition was to begin covering her hair at puberty (in her case around seventh grade) and I explained to her the tradition of covering one's hair after marriage and the different opinions regarding divorcees and widows. Neither of us covered our heads in the privacy of our own homes (sans guests), or among women, and close relatives. She asked me about wearing skirts (she herself was wearing loose modest pants... one point for Shifra?) it was a very interesting conversation and a good haircut too!

Typically the end of the haircut is the akward point for me. Someone has done their best (hopefully) to make my hair look good and how do I thank them? By jamming a hat on my head as quickly as possible! I always tip more than generously so the stylist knows I'm happy with their work despite the fact that I have done everything possible to hide it the moment that it is completed.

This time however, it was quite easy. As I tied up my tichel the stylist readjusted her slipping headwear. I was very curious about how it stayed on at all and she explained that there is a long pin that goes through the top of the scarf and through her hair which is tied up underneath it keeping it in place. (I think I should start marketing those to the frum community but I'll need a name that sounds better than "hijab pin.") In return I showed her how I tied up my scarf Israeli style and we both smiled as I left the store so I guess it was a draw.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Well *I'M* Offended!

Warning: Rant Ahead

Do you know anyone who salt and peppers his or her conversations with the phrase “no offense?” Well I do, and frankly I find it quite ineffective to say the least!

To me the phrase “no offense” means that while you are aware enough to know the statement you are about to make may very well offend the person to whom you are speaking you still feel the need to plow ahead, damn the consequences! You’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet and if feelings are going to get hurt and people are going to be offended by your remarks then they should just suck it up because what you have to say is just that important.

Here is a helpful hint:
If you find yourself using the expression “no offense” as a preface to your statements more than say... once a week (rather than as an apology after realizing that you said something that might have been hurtful) you may want to consider editing your speech a little more carefully…um… no offense.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Well it's about time... The Modern and the Orthodox Vol. 6

Setting: 6:30AM the following morning at the home of Baruch and Malky Rosenberg.
Malky wakes up with a start. It's late and the kids are not up yet.
She looks over at Baruch's bed - already made but that's not unusual, he's a morning person, whereas Malky is more of a coffee person.

She quickly gets dressed, puts up the coffee and makes the rounds waking the kids - last night's latke/sugar rush party at Bubby and Zaidy's and yields two complaints of stomachaches and one headache (which may have something to do with a chumash test but it is not clear.) Between all the medical complaints, missing workbooks, breakfasts and bagged lunches Malky doesn't even notice that the minivan is still in the driveway until she goes out to walk her kids to the bus stop.

When she returns home she walks downstairs to find her husband in his office looking bleary eyed but hopeful.

Malky: Baruch, were you up all night?!

Baruch: Yes, I'll explain it all to you after Shachris and a stop at my mother's. I found some cheap tickets to Israel via Texas, Toronto, and Madrid. If it's alright with you I'd like to leave on Monday, it's very important to me.

Malky: Ok, if that's what you need to do, I'm with you.

Baruch: (elated and exausted) THANK YOU. I love you. OK I have to run, I'll call you later.

Malky packs up her bag for work (as an occupational therapist of course, what did you think?!) and eats the remaining toast crusts her kids left behind, as Baruch quickly washes up and heads out the door.


Setting Shaar Choli Yisroel Hospital the next afternoon.

Doctor: Mrs. Mendlewitz, I'm happy to report that your husband is physically in fine shape. Truely he has the physique of a man who has never worked a day in his life! We'd like to release him today.

Mrs. M: But doctor, his memory... I'm very concerned...

Doctor: I wouldn't worry, I believe this is just a case of traumatic amnesia, you know, from the bump to the head. These things generally don't last more than a day or two. Keep an eye on him, he will probably recover more quickly in his own environment. He may not remember his fall but he seems to be thinking quite clearly otherwise. I can't see any reason to keep him here.

Mrs. M: But...

Doctor: Have a nice day, the nurse will be around with the release forms shortly.

Mrs. Mendlewitz frown at the floor and nervously returns to her husbands bedside.
Rabbi Mendlewitz instinctively opens his eyes although the rebitizen's rubber soled shoes make no sound as she enters the room.

Rabbi M: Sheindy! You're here... Where have you been?

Mrs. M: (gazes upward) Oh, Oh Boruch Hashem!!

AND BACK ACROSS THE OCEAN AGAIN (racking up those frequent reader miles eh?):

Setting: Toronto Canada the meeting of D.O.U.B.T.S (The Downtown Ontario Underground Bittul Torah Society) is coming to a close.

Doctor Idstein: Thank you all for coming out here again tonight, I know it's hard to get away two nights in a row but I think we've done some really good work here these last few days.
Now if there are no more questions let's pass around the shnapps and kugel - Number two? Did you remember to pick up the plastic forks this time? OK Great.

Now remember this week is critical - we need to seek out the weak links, they won't always be easy to spot- be subtle in your line of questioning and remember that next week's meeting will be canceled as I will be scouting Jerusalem for new "recruits" (laughs evilly, chokes on kugel until Number Two whacks him on the back.)

Everyone's an Expert (except you)

Dear Shifra,

I was walking home from the park with my 2 and 4 year olds. My 2 year old likes to pretend to talk on the public phone. I give her the receiver and push a few buttons. An old woman who was at the bus stop started yelling at me and told me that the phone wasn't a toy. I told her that I didn't think she was damagine the phone. I should have told her that it's hard enough to raise children without being yelled at for every little thing. What's your opinion?

Harrassed Mom

Dear HM,

Like all mothers I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. Somehow no matter how hard we try there is always someone who knows better than we do. As usual, however, I can see both sides of the issue- part of me wants to tell you that people should mind their own business while the other side wants to tell you that if you let your kids pretend chat on public phones you really should bring along some sanitizing wipes because those things are FULL of germs.

Ahem, where was I?

Public pay phones are built to endure some serious abuse and I highly doubt your baby holding the receiver will cause any damage especially if it's you pressing the buttons. It's not such a strange thing either. I recall that when my brother was a little boy he had an imaginary friend who could only be reached via payphone and whenever we passed one we had to stop so he could ring her up! We once almost missed a flight because my mother couldn't get him off the phone and my father had to carry him crying onto the plane (he was three at the time, and no, he doesn't read my blog B'H.)

That aside, if the woman was WAITING to use the phone that would be another matter, but it she's just butting in I'd ignore her or turn and ask if she needed the phone. Letting this woman have it would probably be counter productive - your kids would see you getting upset and this woman would probably have a whole list of areas in which you could improve yourself.
From one mother to another I suggest you be open to good advice but don't let meddlers get you down- you know your own kids best.

Comment Moderation

Lifted from the comments:

"HEY, what's with the comment moderation?"

Ok here's the deal. As I explained in an earlier post my current job has very restricted internet access. I can hit the "blogger" page to publish and edit posts and moderate comments but I cannot see my own blog or add comments since all "blogspot" sites are blocked. I suppose it is only a matter of time until blogger itself is blocked but we'll see.
ANYWAY, it makes me very uneasy to leave my blog up all day long without knowing what is being said in the comments, plus it makes me feel like I'm left out of my own party.

All that said, I will only keep the moderation up during the work day and I will try to publish comments as soon as I see them. I will not delete or edit a comment unless I find it vicious or innappropriate in the extreme.

Thanks for putting up with me.



Sunday, June 18, 2006


When I was a kid in school I was taught that it is always very important to give others the benefit of the doubt. In fact, to further this point, a teacher once told me that when your number is up and your judgement day is upon you you will be shown your life and and deeds (without the knowledge that it is your own life your are witnessing) and be asked to render judgement on the person. If you are in the habit of judging others favorably you will do yourself the same kindness and so it behooves a person to be in that habit.
While I have no idea if that is true or not I do know that judging people favorably comes easy to me. I like to keep an open mind, I can see the good in most people and try to understand what motivates people to do bad things or treat others poorly.

All that said, I learned of something this Saturday which quite disturbed me and I can't seem to explain it away.

I had the pleasure of escorting my daughter Chavi Kaufman (not her real name) way way WAAAAY across town to a play-date she had made with a friend from school. On our way back we saw a group of filthy looking jewish teenaged boys walking the opposite direction.
They were all sweaty, wearing shorts and undershirts (no tzizis) which were streaked with sweat and covered in dirt and dust. Most of them were wearing kippot and one had his little sister in tow. We exchanged greetings with them and kept walking.

As we kept walking my daughter and I pondered how they could have gotten so dirty. Were they wrestling in the dirt? Did one of them lose something in the creek and they all jumped in to fish it out?

Then we passed some adults (grown men my own age and some older) in virtually the same condition - filthy, sweaty, and dressed for the gym (or worse!) and several with kids along (who looked hot, but otherwise clean) What the heck was going on?!

It turns out that there was a football game scheduled for shabbos afternoon at the local park- just a bunch of Jewish guys getting together to throw the ol' pigskin around... ON SHABBOS.
These filthy fellows, at 6PM on a Saturday afternoon with 3+ hours left to Shabbos, were headed home.

So in my mind I tried to think positively... at least there is an eruv!

But you know what? It was not easy. I was really disapointed. I consider myself to be Modern Orthodox these days, but things like this really make me understand the anti MO bias - I felt pretty naive and disgusted to tell you the truth. Even if the the football game itself was not such a big deal what happens next? I'm sure these guys aren't headed straight for Daf Yomi after the game or MINCHA for that matter.
So what is going on here?

Has Shabbos lost all it's meaning in the MO world or are these people so far away from traditional Orthodoxy that it's not even fair to use the "O" word to describe them anymore.
I'm sure that most of them consider themselves Orthodox but isn't the sanctity of Shabbos one
of the biggies in Orthodoxy.

I feel so judgemental and I hate that but I'm really just appalled.

Follow up: It is very interesting to me to see who feels they agree or disagree with me since I am am very much of two minds on this matter myself. My gut tells me it's not right but my head tells me there must be a way for this to be OK.
Truth be told I was very much on the fence about whether to post this at all (fence.... post... hehe) especially after reading Trep's recent postings which serve as sort of cautionary tales on the matter of not being judgemental. What made me go for it in the end was the knowledge that I would recieve comments shedding light on both sides of this issue and I'm glad to report I have not been let down.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oh no not again! (The Morris Museum)

I think I suffer from an over active imagination. OK, not "suffer" exactly- in fact I rather enjoy it. ANYWAY, my new job has me doing a lot more driving than I've done in a long time- visiting different sites, vendors and soforth. In my travels I happened upon a sign for...wait for it...


Now don't go spoiling my fun by googling this one, your attempts to prove me wrong about the Bruce Museum were completely ignored by the part of my brain responsible for separating fantasy from reality.

Let's see now... who would be celebrated in the Morris Museum...
Morris the Cat for sure - I mean come on he's a TALKING CAT for crying out loud.
Jim Morris-son?
Philip Morris? (is he even a real person?)
Depressing alt rockstar Morris-sey?

This is a lot harder than the Bruce Museum that's for sure - maybe it's a really small place.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What all the cool moms are drinking...

My good friend Orthomom and I were talking after a pretty trying day.
"You know what's good?" she said "Vodka and crystal light fruit punch."
"Oh" I replied "a Mom-o-politan!"

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Unm-ask Shifra

As I've mentioned in the past I'm one of those bloggers who is only semi-anonymous.

I'm no one famous.
I don't have a high profile job or prestigious relatives to protect.
My blog is pretty pareve - and I've not received one death threat to date.
So why do I worry?
It's not because I want to keep my identity a secret from strangers, but rather because I don't want my friends and relatives to know it's me behind this keyboard.

Lately my world has been getting smaller and smaller and all of the sudden I have much reason to believe that many more people in my (real) life know that Ask Shifra and I are one in the same. While it's true that the things I write here are my true thoughts and feelings, it's somehow a lot harder to put myself out there when I know that people I will see everyday/week/month are reading what I'm writing.

Who do I think I am after all - giving out advice, blabbing about my family, friends, coworkers and neighbors?! It's just so much harder (not to mention more restrictive) when you know that people that you will need to answer to are reading what you write.

So I've got to consider my next move:
Do I proceed as if I don't know that my friends and relatives know?
Do I go a less personal route online?
Do I give it up?

I've heard from other bloggers (who apparently are better at this that I am) that they are often engaged in conversation by friends or relatives about their very own blogs where the other party doesn't not know they are speaking to the author.
That's pretty scary too.

Anyway it's a lot to think about but writing and helping others are two of my favorite things in the world and it won't be easy to give this gig up.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Access Denied!! (and a random bonus question)

I'm happy to report that things are picking up at my new job.
The other day someone asked me what I thought about something important- I don't think that happened the entire time I worked at my last job so things are looking up!

Between not being able to access my blog and my email at work, and my home computer suddenly dropping dead last night I may be a bit quiet over the next few days.

Oh and before I sign out for the weekend here's something random from the mind of Shifra:

A few weeks ago I drove out to Connecticut where I have driven many times before. Each time I drive up I always notice a brown sign indicating the location of the "Bruce Museum." I have never been to or heard of this museum (except for on its official brown highway marker) so my husband and I have made a bit of a joke of it over the years. In our minds it's a museum that pays hommage to famous "Bruces."
For example: there would be a sport/athletic wing featuring the likeness of Bruce Lee and Bruce Jenner, while Bruce Springstien and Bruce Hornsby would help to round out the music section.

Which famous Bruces would you add to my fanciful "Bruce Museum?"

I'm sure that if I visitied the real one I'd me sorely dissapointed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Job - Big Changes

Well here I am at the new job.
It's a little scary - OK a lot scary- and I haven't even gotten started yet.
I cannot access my Gmail or any free email from work since they are all blocked as non-work sites (but who knows, maybe I'll be able to find some obscure one somewhere) but oddly blogger seems to work - at least for now.

OK back to sitting around waiting for IT to give me access to the rest of the things I need to get my job done- don't want to attract too much attention on my first day.

While blogger itself is not blocked all blogspot sites are (including my own!)
Not being able to check in on my blog or email all day is going to make this pretty tough.
I'm feeling pretty lonely already.