Friday, May 25, 2012

A few steps forward, so far none back...

New post up at Too Cool for Shul about adjusting expectations and trying to engage more with Beth Elderly. Check it out and feel free to comment here, there, or anywhere. Wishing everyone a good Shabbos, meaningful Shavuot, and a happy and mindful Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Forgiveness is a tricky thing

I saw two articles on forgiveness recently that didn't sit well with me. Let's compare and contrast, shall we?

First up:
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. -- The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is offering forgiveness and a funeral service for a homeless man who killed himself after fatally shooting a priest and church secretary last week.
Oh my crap! Um, not to tell other people how to run their religion, but... ew?
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and an academic expert on forgiveness likened the diocese's attitude to that of an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pa., that forgave the man who fatally shot five school girls there in 2006.
I most strenuously disagree, guys. Forgiveness doesn't require you to honor the perpetrator on top of everything else.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and an academic expert on forgiveness likened the diocese's attitude to that of an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pa., that forgave the man who fatally shot five school girls there in 2006.
The bishop said at Kohn's funeral service Tuesday that Jones was a victim of the same societal attitudes toward handgun ownership and "throwaway people" that led to the violence in the church office.

Excuse me, I'm all for looking at the big picture and all that good stuff, but societal attitudes didn't make this guy pick up his gun and shoot two people at the church that had been helping to feed him. That pat BS argument is so smug it's making my eyes water. And I can't help but notice that the priest of the church, who was doing the exact work you castigate "society" for not doing, is the one who got gunned down for her troubles.

Psychologist Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and author of "Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Healing," said it was unusual and "quite beautiful" for a wronged party to offer forgiveness so quickly. The most famous example, he said, was Indian civil rights leader Mohandas Gandhi, who appeared to make a gesture of forgiveness toward the assassin who shot him in 1948 even as Gandhi fell. 
"It's a wonderful counterpoint to the more prevailing hardness in response," Luskin said. "We certainly live more in a payback culture than one of graciously offering to host a funeral for somebody who has just murdered somebody."

So we get to choose between executing criminals or giving them hugs? Swell. At least the people who feel just fine burying this guy can pat themselves on the back for being so wonderful, beautiful, unusual and even Gandhi-like, compared to their common, unenlightened counterparts who just feel grossed out by this. 
Some church members and victims' family members may not forgive Jones so quickly, said Everett L. Worthington Jr., a Virginia Commonwealth University psychology professor and author of "Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope." 
Um, no crap?

The emotional process of forgiveness is more complicated than making a statement or decision to forgive, he said. 
"They can feel like, `Well, I didn't ask them to speak for me. I'm not ready to forgive. I don't feel any forgiveness,'" Worthington said. "On the other hand, bodies say things with some authority and what they say can influence the attitudes of the people within in a positive way, too. It can bring about forgiveness."

Yes, that's right, clearly the bishop and parishes shoving this down the parishioners' throats will lead everyone toward true forgiveness! How... enlightened?

Ok, fine, so that's the Episcopal Church for you. But you know Episcopalians; they're kind of loopy to begin with. Surely Orthodox Jews, my mishpoche, will have an attitude towards forgiveness that I can at least relate to.

All right, let's see here... so apparently some baseball player yelled some slurs at a Jewish panhandler. I guess I'm supposed to be outraged or something, but compared to priest murder, it's just not doing it for me, sorry. Good thing we have this rabbi to speak on all of our behalves.

While the hurt in me thinks that Young and his number should be ejected from baseball, on further contemplation, that would be wrong. 
Rather, let's give Young a chance to learn from his mistakes, become a spokesperson for tolerance and most importantly, let him become an ally of the Jewish community.

Ok... How?

Here are some of my suggestions: 
  • Immediately make a donation to the Michigan Museum of the Holocaust, where children learn about the importance of tolerance

  • Offer to visit Jewish institutions in the off-season, letting the Jewish community get to see who you really are off the field

  • Make a visit to Israel: Your faith will be inspired and it will give you more strength to fight your addiction

  • Take some classes on Judaism

Delmon, I am sure that you can become not only a friend to the Jewish community, but that you can become a shining example of the power of teshuva, the power of the individual to transcend their shortcomings and become great.
We as a Jewish community will forgive you, and make sure that you are remembered as a great friend of the Jewish people.

Um, maybe it's just me, but all of these sound less like the genuine actions of someone interested in or even trying to reach out and connect with the Jewish community and more like blatant attempts at patronizing people too stupid to know they're being patronized. This guy can't dislike Jews, he went to Israel! He's not an anti-Semite, he took a class... of some sort!

Rabbi, you may have the best intentions in mind, but honestly, the best thing this guy can do is to reach out to the Jewish community for some friends and work slowly at trying to show that he's not a dick. Don't make things worse by encouraging him to engage in obvious and silly damage control. Let's go for substance rather than style on this one, please.

Little help, readers: what's going on here? Am I becoming a crotchety conservative-ish crank in my old age? Or has everyone else gone off the deep end?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I know, the blog goes dark for a month and now I'm back like gangbusters. What can I say, this is what happens when Mrs. Yid works late.

Did I mention I got a new job? It's true. I am finally leaving the school I haven't liked much and only took because they were the only one hiring and then couldn't get hired anywhere else. It only took four soul-sucking years! But they weren't all bad, because I feel like I've learned a lot of important lessons from this place.

  • I've learned that I have a real passion for my job. If I didn't, I would have quit by now.
  • I've learned that planning ahead is always worth it.
  • I've learned that kids can tell when you really care about them.
  • I've learned that there is a difference between sucking up to your bosses and cultivating relationships with them.
  • I've learned how to talk, and how to listen, and how to sometimes do both without doing much at all.
  • I've learned that teaching is not for everybody, that not every teacher is a great match with every student, or every grade, or every assistant. I've also learned that in life there are going to be people that, try as you might, you can't get along with, and you just have to do your best to move past them and not let them get in your way.
  • I've learned that I'm not afraid of hard work, or trying something new, or aiming too high and having something not work out perfectly. And I've learned how to ask for help and feedback.
  • I've learned that when it comes to teaching, I will pick substance over style every time. Though I'm learning how to do that style thing, too.
  • I've learned I'm better at teaching some things (English, Reading, History) than others (Math, Science). And though I need to work harder at being more comfortable with those other subjects, it doesn't mean I need to feel guilty or uncomfortable when teaching the subjects where I can really shine.
  • I've learned that I can do more than I-- or other people-- thought I could. And that if my kids are engaged and interested, they'll follow me anywhere.

This past year has been challenging but rewarding, too. I've struggled with lots of school politics, I've overcome disappointment with my grade and partner teacher assignment, I've dabbled with being the Jimmy Hoffa of the Teaching Assistants (no thanks!), I've taken on new responsibilities no one ever asked me to do, and I've thrown myself into my job with as much enthusiasm as I could given that some days I wanted to burn the place down (sans children, of course). I've led counseling sessions, directed plays, and shared my love of books, reading, and justice with dozens of small children.

There were lots of times over the past few years, particularly as I kept applying and getting passed over for lead positions, where I felt pretty low, undervalued by the administration, ignored by colleagues and parents. But as I stopped feeling bitter and sorry for myself and lost myself in the work, my work started getting better-- or rather, continued to get better. Sometimes something I did would get noticed by an adult, which was nice. And sometimes the only ones who knew or appreciated it would be me and my students. Which, eventually, I became ok with.

Now that people know that I'm leaving, compliments are coming out of the woodwork. Parents have been emailing me letting me know how sad they are to lose me but how grateful they are that I taught their kids. Students have been begging me to stay, telling me they love me, hopefully asking if I might come back if I decide I don't like my new school. It's bittersweet, but I'm happy to have a chance at something new, and hopefully more functional.

So: next school year, new school, new grade (Middle School!), new commute (stay tuned for our new series, the Yids shop for a car and a place to put it). I feel like I've exchanged one big ball of stress for a new one. But at the same time, I can't stop smiling. Mrs. Yid told me at the beginning of my job hunt this year that she didn't care if a new school I wound up at had problems, too, as long as they were "new problems." "I'm sick of hearing about these problems," she said.

So, here's to some new problems. Here we go.

Give Kids More Credit, Please

Since we no longer have TV, I often forget how mind-numbing news coverage can be. The power of news aggregators and The Daily Show mean that I never have to see or read "mainstream" news unless I seek it out. And when I do, I'm often reminded why I don't do it often.

Case in point: the lesbian den mother who got kicked out of her troop by the Boy Scouts. Nasty situation, have total sympathy for the mother and the family, no issue there. But the sheer smarm in this article from CNN made me want to scream.

The cubs of Pack 109 are upset.
But none more than Cruz, who is being forced to be away from his friends and is too young to fully understand why.
He's only 7.
He wasn't brought up to dislike people because they are different.
He's too young to understand bigotry.

Who are you, LZ Granderson, Ronald Reagan's Bizarro World speechwriter? Oh yes, children know nothing about being mean or cruel to others. Children never encounter situations that aren't fair or in which peers negatively judge each other based on dumb-ass criteria.

Quick question, LZ: Have you met kids? Like, real ones? Because the ones I hang out with spend the day excluding the hell out of each other, often for reasons so inane they forget them within a few hours (unless, of course, they opt for the other extreme and decide to hold a grudge against each other for the next ten years). My job is to make sure they knock that crap out and don't give each other complexes, and when things get serious, we get serious. But when you pretend kids can't understand hatred or bigotry or even basic hostility, what you're really saying is that you think kids are stupid and live in a fantasy-land of magical butterflies that crap jellybeans.

There are so many good reasons to be pissed off about this case and to encourage people to support the family. You even have a germ of an excellent angle by focusing on the ripple-effect that GLBT exclusion can have on the kids involved in the programs that GBLT adults participate in. So it's entirely unnecessary to pad your article by fake-empathizing with the woman's son. I would have much preferred some quotes from him, or even some random description of him poking something with a stick. At least that would be something reflective of things kids actually do, not BS projections of how adults think they should think or feel. Quit it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No, No, No!

Our [11-year-old] kid is... sheltered...she doesn't know how horrible the world is. She doesn't know about racism, she doesn't know about gender bias, she doesn't know about... religious wars... the biggest problem in her life is, "I've already seen this My Little Pony." And that's a good thing, because one day she's going to realize how horrible the world is... rather than expose her to all that intolerance and stupidity, we just keep her away from it. She doesn't know that anything like that exists. [My wife's] big fear was that she would see this [poster] and be like, "What does this mean?" And we'd have to explain... and you just don't want to have that discussion yet.

That's from director Kevin Smith, explaining why his wife wouldn't let him put a poster from the Westboro Baptist Church on their living room wall. In the end, his solution was not to have an actual mature conversation with his almost-Middle-Schooler, but to hide the poster in the hallway and avoid discussing it until it actually fell over.

And excuse me for being intolerant, but I think that's absolutely ridiculous. First of all, your child is eleven, not stupid. Unless she's been home-schooled, kept in a media vacuum and lives in a giant tupperware made of frosted glass, I think she's probably noticed that not everyone in the world has a famous director father and lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills that was previously owned by Ben Affleck. Does she go to the grocery store? Has she ever visited one of your sets? Does she have eyes? Give your kid some credit, please.

Second, kids can handle much more than adults-- particularly their parents-- usually give them credit for. Many topics in this world are actually not very complicated, if your kid is used to discussing mature topics and being treated like a vaguely intelligent human being-- one of the key points, being, of course, that you don't condescend to them by assuming that they still like My Little Pony despite being in fifth or sixth grade. I talked to my second graders about the Holocaust, you dope, and they understood it, they handled it, and rather than being traumatized, it made them curious and engaged. They wanted to know why people let terrible things like that happen in the world. It inspired some of them to start reading more about history and social justice in other contexts. And that wasn't an isolated class. I've taught fourth and fifth graders about racism and prejudice and genocide, so don't you dare act like the reason you can't bear to explain homophobia to your kid is because "she's just not ready." You don't want to deal with it, you're uncomfortable with it, and you're taking the easy-- and lazy-- way out. Which does your kid no favors, incidentally.

In the same way that Bill O'Reilly and all the other professional blowhards are out of line when they carp about how gay folks shouldn't hold hands near their families so they don't have to "explain" it to their kids, it's a total copout for Kevin Smith to act like he's somehow noble for not explaining to his daughter how the world works. I'm still waiting for someone to say they won't let their kid ride in a car because they don't want to have to "explain" how its engine works.

It's one thing to try to protect your child. It's another thing to (supposedly) shelter them to the point of stupidity, especially when it's more for your benefit/comfort level than theirs. Grow up, so your kid can, too.