Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - Part II

From Rabbi Morris Allen of Minnesota:

"These last two days have been filled with many phone calls, and the work of [our] committee has gotten off to a good start. I want to particularly thank Suzanne Bring and Jewish Community Action for [their] work in developing our phone protocol as it relates to our gathering of information, and in compiling a list of folks with whom we should be in contact. I encourage you to continue to be involved with our Social Justice Committee and the work which will continue most probably after our USCJ/RA report is completed."

For a refresher, please see the first entry on this topic.

The following are links to all of the major Forward articles regarding Postville and AgriProcessors:

News - Kosher "Jungle." The Forward: May 26, 2006

Editorial - "Slaughterhouse Rules." The Forward: May 26, 2006

Editorial - "A Kosher Storm." The Forward: June 16, 2006

News - "Religious Bodies Move to Probe Conditions..." The Forward: June 23, 2006

News - "Immigration Battle... in Iowa." The Forward: June 23, 2006

For older articles, please go to http://www.forward.com and type in postville in the search box at the top right of the page.

More to come as it's known.

Life Imitates Art

New neighbors moved in this week. Their first names? David and Sarah. (The same as my protagonist rabbi and his wife, though she spells it Sara.)

Just weird.

Though I won't have a problem remembering their names!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hot Tub Withdrawal

We just returned home from a three-day, two-night vacation (or what passes for a vacation when you have two small children) in Owatonna, Minnesota. It was nice. The kids had their own room, with a door that closed (that's the important part). And in our room, steps away from the bed, was a hot tub.

This was our room:

Now we are home and I'm feeling a little out of sorts. Yes, I can sleep in my own bed, use my own bathroom, cook in my own kitchen, and let the kids play outside. But there's always a letdown after a fun time away, a little downturn after the downtime, and I'm feeling the effects.

Or maybe I'm just missing my hot tub.

And the Awesome Husband Award goes to...

Last week, our local MOMS Club chapter had our end of the year spring banquet, a fun-filled evening when we swear in our new board of directors (and sometimes just swear) and celebrate another [fiscal] year of success.

One of the games this year's planning committee developed was contacting every member's husband and securing a quotation in answer to the question, "Why is [your wife] the best mommy in the world?" We - the unsuspecting members - heard the quotations read aloud and then had to guess which quotation went with which member. No names were involved, but there were the barest of hints. The one who guessed the most correctly won a prize.

The prize was chocolate, by the way, and it is quite yummy. I had some just tonight.

But the real prize was that our husband's quotations were printed out and framed and given to each of us to take home. Mine has a place of honor in the dining room, where I can see it when I work at the dining room table (which is quite often - and right now, as it so happens).

What did Husby say about me?

"Sheyna is the best mommy in the world because...
She always challenges our kids to be the best that they can be, and always knows the right thing to say to comfort them. She's a teacher, a counselor, a comforter, and lets them have the freedom to discover themselves."

It still brings tears to my eyes. I'm not sure that I believe all that, but he insists that he does and that it's true and just knowing that this is how he thinks of me is the greatest gift of all.

What NOT to do as an author

Apparently there is some very bad advice going around and authors are buying it hook, line, and sinker.

The advice is basically this: wherever, whenever you can, hijack someone else's blog by using the comments section or use a customer review on Amazon.com or bn.com to post a lengthy plug for your own book.

This is simply not acceptable. It is disrespectful of one's colleagues - other authors.

It is one thing to post the title of your book or URL to your blog or website as a signature line. I'm cool with that. It is something else entirely to use the space for free advertising without the permission of the blogger or author whose space you're using.

If you want to post a link or synopsis of your book, and you want to use my blog or review section for my book to do it, ask me first. There's a good chance I'll say no, but hey, if your book intrigues me and it seems right and appropriate to link to it or give it a review of my own, I might say yes. But for the sake of all that's decent, ASK ME before you do anything, and be prepared to send me a complimentary copy of your book to review.

In a letter to the editor of the PMA Independent, one author/artist/publisher notes that a similar thing happened to her in the "customer review" section of Amazon.com, and that the author committing the offense said she'd learned it in some workshop.

Authors, think about it: if you're trying to promote your book, and someone else comes along and uses your space to promote their book without your permission - or even your knowledge - and without any sort of reciprocal link or anything that benefits you or your book, would you think it was fair? Or respectful of the time and effort you're expending on your own promotions?

So if you read about this tactic in some "how to promote your book" article or book, or if you hear it in a workshop or at a writers gathering or wherever, understand that using this tactic does not endear you to other authors, and may well lose you some readers, too. Just don't do it.

We now return you to our regularly (ha!) scheduled (ha ha!) blog.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Super Eema

She writes, she mothers, she teaches, she does Windows (and Mac, but don't tell anyone)... she even designs web sites!

Gone are the days when I used to think that writing a book was hard work. Compared to everything else that goes into getting a book published, writing's the easy part.

I spent pretty much all day yesterday, with the exception of an hour when some MOMS Club friends came over and I remembered what it was like to talk with other adults, programming in HTML to get the Yaldah Publishing web site redesigned, rewritten, and online. This completes (mostly) a two-month-long programming project. Whew!

Check it out - I'm rather proud of it.

And yes, I will get back to finishing As in Days of Old. Honest!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bird Bird Bird Bird Cow Cow

A million things to do today, before I even prepare for Shabbat. It's been a difficult week for me personally and I've had to let some work and home duties slide for a bit. So I'm trying to get at least some things done before turning my attention to tonight and tomorrow.

Keeping me company is a recording recommended to me by my neighbor Demi, titled "Bird Bird Bird" and sung by Madison, WI folk singers Peter and Lou Berryman.

I love this song. By using only single words and short phrases, they describe what one would see from the car while driving from a rural area (bird bird bird bird cow cow tractor tractor plow plow), into a town or city from the outer suburbs (speed zone 30 Wal-Mart) to the inner urban area (discount liquor strip club empty building dead shrub), through the other end of town (house house trailer yard sale), and back into rural land (silo tractor barn plow end construction cow cow).

Click on the post title or the song title to hear the song, and even better - click on Peter and Lou Berryman to visit their web site and hear more.

And now back to work...

Shabbat shalom!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Aboriginal Orthodoxy

I'm currently reading two books on Judaism. Simultaneously, which makes for some very interesting juxtapositions, especially considering what I'm reading.

The first book I picked up was One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them. This book is a series of e-mail letters between Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch and Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman, attempting to explain their own religious world views and convince the other of its importance and legitimacy in Jewish thought.

It's been a very interesting book so far, though I find myself once again in the middle (and often somewhat more on the Orthodox side of "middle" on many halachic issues). On the other hand, I left off just before they began talking about the role of women in Judaism.

The other book, recommended by a good friend, is Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism by Rabbi Gershon Winkler, a "former" Ultra-Orthodox rabbi. In this book, Rabbi Winkler delves back into the Jewish practices common in the Torah and more specifically, frequently referred to in the Talmud. It's an intriguing mix of modern Judaism, Kabbalah, and Talmudic mysticism.

My favorite section so far has to do with acknowledging - and seeking - the Source of All Blessing in everything from the subtle "pull" toward a stone that catches our eye (and attributing the vibrational energy in that stone to the Creator of all) to the food we eat. [And I suspect the energy of those who work in the plants that process our food - espcially meat - is also absorbed by the animals who become our food, and eventually absorbed by our bodies.]

On page 39, he writes, "It is therefore not enough to recite a blessing over a pizza as a way of thanking G-d. It is also important to hear in every bite of the pizza a divine ‘Hello,’ the Creator reaching out to the Creation."

So the first book is confirming my stand somewhere in the middle. And the second book is taking me in an entirely different direction - neither right nor left, but perhaps both inward and outward.

They seem appropriate choices for this immediate post-Shavuot time, when the memory of accepting the Torah is still fresh, and the divine invitation to join the Covenant echoes endlessly from Sinai, making that choice not something we do once, or even annually on Shavuot, but every moment, with every breath praising HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - Part I

By now, many of you have read or heard about the Forward's article on the kosher meat packing plant in Postville. By all accounts I've read, we are unanimously appalled.

What can we do? What choice do we have? Doesn't - or shouldn't - kashrut have to do with more than just the treatment of animals? What is being done about this?

There is something being done.

I received the following e-mail from Rabbi Morris Allen in Saint Paul, Minnesota, not too far over the border from Postville, Iowa. With his permission, I am reprinting the body of that e-mail here:

"[This is] a very distressing article regarding the treatment of workers at Rubashkin's. I met with Rabbis Zeilingold and Rubenfeld first thing this morning [5/26/06] regarding this, and all three of us share a common concern regarding this article and the facts it reports. None of us can tolerate a situation where the mistreatment of workers is permitted. We are committed to finding out as much as possible regarding this story, and working in any ways possible to us to help correct these attitudes and behaviors towards their labor force.

"Sadly, stories like this have been part of the American landscape for a century. Upton Sinclair would not surprised to read this story. Kashrut 'holds itself to a higher authority' and we will continue to apply pressure to make that understood at all points along the kashrut food chain.

"As I noted when I visited the plant in March, the intersection between my passion for kashrut and my support for comprehensive immigration reform and feelings for the life of those on the margin was quite evident. The kosher food industry should be at the forefront in fighting for this cause, and certainly those of us who believe deeply in kashrut must therefore be the ones to raise the issue."

It should be noted that this issue crosses all movements of Judaism and concerns not only all who keep kosher - no matter their political or denominational affiliation - but all who are concerned about the humane treatment of both animals and people.

The action in Saint Paul already involves a cross-section of the Jewish population, with Rabbi Morris Allen of a Conservative shul working together with Rabbi Asher Zeilingold of a nearby Orthodox shul.

Today, I received an update from Rabbi Morris Allen, again quoted with his permission:

"On Sunday morning, Rabbi Zeilingold called and informed me that because of our meeting on Friday, he was so concerned about the situation in Postville that he was going down there that very day. He took with him a member of his congregation to help him in speaking with the workers at the plant. I am well aware that such visits can be used in a variety of ways. I am not so naive as to believe that good fronts cannot be put onto almost any frame.

"I could not go on that particular visit; I am planning on making a trip by myself to speak with workers at the plant as well. I want to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears how AgriProcessors treats its workers. I want to do so, not only because of my belief that kashrut must be seen as motivating us to the highest ethical standards, but also because I believe this issue is tied into the entire debate now swirling around us as it relates to immigrants.

"Clearly there are two different versions of events in Postville. Until I have an opportunity to visit, I don't know what to believe, other than I have to say that these past 6 months -- each and every encounter with Rabbi Zeilingold has been frank and above board. I have no reason to doubt that what Rabbi Zeilingold and [the congregant who accompanied him] saw in Postville is true. And yet, without personal on-site verification, I cannot dismiss the truths that may be found in the Forward's article.

"What I do know is that I am proud of our shul, in its measured responses and in the importance it places on kashrut. This entire episode reminds us of both the halachic and meta-halachic issues related to living a full Jewish life in our day and age. Our commitment to kashrut should make us the ones who demand that not only the LETTER OF THE LAW be followed, but the SPIRIT OF THE LAW be upheld as well.

"Kashrut is a difficult obligation for us as Jews to take on; articles like the one in the Forward lead some to suggest that, 'Until compassionate slaughtering and humane treatment of workers occurs, I will not eat kosher food.'

"I would suggest this as a proper response: "Because of my need to keep kosher, I am going to work exceedingly hard to make sure that the most compassionate Shehita and the most humane and civil treatment of workers occurs--for as a a passionate Jew, I have no alternative."

Actually, on Shavuot you do have an alternative: eat dairy."

There was an additional report included in the e-mail that I have not posted yet because I don't have permisson from the author. Having read the report, however, I can say that it detailed conversations between a deeply concerned, Orthodox Jew who also speaks Spanish and AgriProcessors employees regarding their working and living conditions, wages, and medical care. The results of those conversations led the report's author to believe that there is no wrongdoing, that employees have freedom to leave or stay, opportunities for home ownership and quality education for their families. He believes that employees are being treated justly and that AgriProcessors is operating within the bounds of Torah ethics.

I was not there. I'm reserving judgment. I find it hard to believe that two people can have such different views of what are ostensibly the same circumstances. What I do believe is that this is not an issue to which we can simply roll our eyes, make some crack about Iowa or meat-eaters or any particular group of Jews, and go about our lives.

We are what we eat, just as we are what we internalize. And as we celebrate Shavuot, Z'man Matan Torateinu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah), we can use this opportunity to think about how we internalize what is important to us: the sanctity of life, justice and equality for all human beings, and what it really means to aspire to what the Torah teaches us - to be the people that we have the potential of being.

I will do my best to keep you updated as I know more with the latest action being taken in Saint Paul, within the Twin Cities, and across the border in Postville.

Chag sameach.

Update: Two more articles posted yesterday (Wednesday) on this specific trip to Postville:



http://www.canonist.com/?p=871 (thanks, EK!)

Both of these articles also specifically mention the report from Rabbi Zeilingold's congregant who accompanied him on this trip. After Shavuot, I will see if it is appropriate to post the contents of that report.

Chag sameach!