Beware of Italian teachers with scissors

If you have yet to eat your breakfast, dinner, or lunch, do NOT read on. Save this for a moment when your digestion is sturdier.

A teacher in Milan was suspended for cutting off her seven-year-old student’s tongue with a pair of scissors because he was “lively”. No, folks, this isn’t a Purim joke, you can read more about it here. The understated tone of the article makes it sound as if cutting off a child’s tongue is commonplace and happens almost every day. (I shouldn’t joke, it probably does.)

The child is apparently scared to go back to school (no kidding, Einstein) and now has a fear of knives. The 22-year-old teacher, who warned the child, “Pull out your tongue. I’ll cut it, and you’ll no longer talk,” has since apologized and claims it was an accident. An accident?

It’s a crazy, crazy world we live in. Reading articles like these makes me want to break into my daughters’ daycare in the middle of the night, and install webcams EVERYWHERE. I do fully trust the women who take care of my daughters, but then I say to myself, I bet parents who sat down with this female teacher in Milan for parent-teacher evenings would never have guessed that she is the tongue-cutting type. 

Pesach – Enforced Slavery?

The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is fast approaching, and this year, the concept of deliverance from slavery will take on a new personal meaning. I have to meet three deadlines in the week before Pesach, so when Seder night comes round, I will not have to work very hard to summon up emotions of relief as I experience my own delivery from bondage.   

I do feel pangs of guilt when I speak to my family abroad. While they have been slaving away, and cleaning their houses from top-to-bottom since January, I have spent more time on the computer than I have taking care of my husband, my girls, and my home. (Luckily for me, my husband is actually far more domesticated than I am and actually enjoys cooking, cleaning, etc. – I know, he was a rare find.)

I thank G-d for giving us the holidays, because we are not just celebrating historical events, but are reliving the highs and lows that accompany each festival on a personal level. Each person, on whatever level, has experienced in their lives their own Exodus, and it is in this way that we can infuse personal meaning into each chag (holiday).

The holidays enable me to stop and smell the roses. Lately I have found that time has been passing by too quickly for my liking; I am not sure why this is, but before I catch my breath, another weekend is upon us. The presence of the Jewish holidays on my calendar force me to stop and think about myself and my connection to G-d.

Over the last seven years of my career, I have edited a number of works about Pesach, two haggadot and various compilations of thoughts on Jewish holidays. One perspective on Pesach which I found to be particularly refreshing was provided by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner in his work, Moadim LeSimcha: Explorations into the Jewish Holidays. (No pressure, but if you order the book off my website from Amazon, I get some sort of [monetary, I think] reward.) I very much enjoyed editing this book, because it was a break away from the typical thoughts you hear about the chagim.

Here is a quote from his book that I identified with so much that I decided to place it on the back cover. I think the women out there who are gearing up for Pesach will particularly get a kick out of this:

It shouldn’t take more than a day to clean the whole house, including the kitchen. Anything more than that is a stringency. If we are not capable of dealing with the extra workload we decide to take on, we deplete our energy and take out our exhaustion on our families. Not only is there increased tension between husband and wife, but we show our children a very negative example by shouting at them things like: I told you not to go into this room anymore. Why did you go in?! Eat on the porch! Eat standing up! Don’t touch! The whole kitchen looks like it was overturned by vandals – the husband and children will tremble in fear, eating in some corner, while the woman of the house glares at them like a drill sergeant. Is this preparation for Pesach? Is this educating children? No, it is a reign of terror with the mother as Pharaoh presiding.

So, not only is excessive Pesach cleaning unnecessary, you run the risk of becoming a Pharaoh yourself! I like this man. A lot.

Online socializing – blessing or curse?

Against my better judgment, I got ensnared into joining Facebook. For those of you who are not in the know, Facebook is an online social network that connects you with friends from the past, your next door neighbor, colleagues, ex-flames, you name it….  You can post as little and as much information as you want, and can share an unlimited number of photos, videos, etc.

The reason why I question the wisdom of joining is because I know myself and I do have a tendency to get distracted while I am working, and Facebook provides me with yet another mindless excuse to take just one more tiny break.  The good news, though, is that I reconnected with an old friend from my high school in England whom I have not seen or heard from in over ten years – Dalia, it was great “talking” to you! Thanks to online resources such as Facebook and blogging, the world is getting smaller and smaller by the minute, and in the words of Tom Robbins, “if the world gets any smaller, I will end up living next door to myself!”

From a psychological perspective, I question, though, how beneficial and “healthy” it is to become so immersed in the Internet that we withdraw into ourselves, and forget how to interact on a one-to-one level as human beings. In this day and age, real social encounters, I would imagine, run the risk of becoming awkward and potentially nerve-wracking. It is one thing to express yourself freely in the privacy of your home or office – after all, you don’t need to worry about contemptuous glares from your computer screens – but to reach out to another person in a public setting, such as a party, could be such an intimidating experience that you end up counting the minutes until you can return to the safety of your home, where you can type away on the keyboard to your heart’s content. 

This type of social anxiety brought on by trends in blogging and online chatting might sound extreme, and you may wonder which type of person would really be that socially inept as to experience the above, but my instinct tells me that such social angst happens more often than we think. I have an acquaintance, let’s call her Elizabeth, who seems to have a split personality. When I see her at parties, social get-togethers, and the like, she is withdrawn and quiet. She doesn’t come across as being shy- she just has a distant aura about her. When we chat online, however, it is literally as if I am communicating with another person altogether. There is no point of resemblance between Elizabeth A, who I see every now and again in public settings, and Elizabeth B who is extremely expressive and even eloquent. 

People feel like they can let their guard down in the virtual arena, and while that can be a potential blessing, because they can tap into parts of themselves they may never have discovered, and can access knowledge and information that would otherwise have been blocked to them, it can also be a curse and a vicious cycle. The more you become “hooked” on blogging and online socializing, the harder it is to venture out of your cocoon and face the real world.

I would imagine, although I am not speaking from experience, that this problem applies to the world of dating. You meet a fantastic guy on a dating site – you have so much in common and you count the minutes until you next see him online (you can see where this is going). It gets to the point that you decide you want to take your online relationship to the next level – let’s set up a date. The big night arrives and you are sitting at a table facing a complete stranger, and you are tongue-tied. Suddenly all your mutual interests, likes, and dislikes evaporate into thin air – how do you make the adjustment from writing cute little messages with no real repercussions to interacting with a person face-to-face and establishing a real relationship? Anyway, just some food for thought. As always, I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

Before I go, though, just to present the other side of the coin, I read today that an 107-year-old woman in Australia has just started writing her blog. Considering I never grew up knowing my GRANDPARENTS, let alone GREAT-GRANDPARENTS who reached the 100-year milestone, it is an incredible concept that this centenarian is going to be sharing the pearls of her wisdom with the rest of the world.