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Friday, April 09, 2010

Perfume Shops Vs. Garbage Dumps

I was joking with my husband about just how long it would take for someone to pen a letter to some frum publication about the horrible behavior witnessed on a Chol Hamoed trip, and it didn't take long for the subject to rear its ugly head. YWN has a letter regarding bad behavior witnessed at Great Adventures. It is all the regular stuff: trash strewn all over the place, pushing and cutting, general rudeness, disregard for safety rules, leaving a 2 year old to watch a baby. . . .you know, the regular fare. Likely those who can't function within society in a manner that doesn't draw negative attention and reaction are in the minority, but they are a very loud, seemingly large, and annoying minority.

And this is exactly why we pass on large organized chol ha'moed trips! That, and the fact that I prefer to spend family time with my own family, not with my neighbor's brother's nephew's Rebbe's mechutanim's grandchildren.

There is a commentary on on sentence in Dayeinu which I have seen in numerous places and which probably came home in a Haggadah produced in school about the value of simply being in an environment of taharah (i.e. the perfume shop) rather than being seeped in an environment of tumah (i.e. the Garbage Dump). At the sedarim, each elementary school child repeated this commentary and the pshat that I believe your average Yeshiva/Bais Yaacov student walks away with is the importance of insularity within the klal and the importance of avoiding the contamination of the outside world. Organized Chol Hamoed trips to the amusement park are attractive if you are concerned about short shorts, bikini tops, and teenagers that can't keep their hands off each other. But I have plenty of concern about the environment within our own klal which keep me passing on such trips, to say nothing of more regular activities.

I wonder if the kids who are learning such commentaries will ever consider the commentary beyond the message of inside=good, outside=bad. But within the inside, there are plenty of messages, subtle and not so subtle, that our kids are picking up and that I believe has resulted in a lot of the mess we see too often see today. I don't spend a lot of time at this point in my life worrying about the outside world. Simply put, my children's access is rather limited, and just like my parents who have turned off a movie right in the middle when an unexpected scene popped up, I'm more than happy to "pull the plug" too. But what about the messages that they are getting that we might not even know about? For example, I read a book in a family member's home that I believe is marketed to the pre-teen girls which was, quite frankly, appalling and age-inappropriate. (In the unnamed book's defense, my husband believes it is perhaps targeted to an older group, which doesn't exactly instill confidence in the reading level of whatever group is targeted, nor would I care for my teenager reading the book either). Nonetheless, just because something is published by a known frum company, doesn't put it in the "Perfume Category" by default.

Back to just downright pushy and rude behavior (I've been on the receiving end of plenty too), many would like to blame the outside world, but I think these issues are mostly internal issues and those of us who are concerned about the underlying issues that lead to "chillul Hashem" should start by taking a look at the Perfume (and the Garbage) in the shop. When we got married, we didn't know too much about the local schools, but there was an assumption that we would probably take one path over another. But along the journey to enrollment, I've seen a lot and had numerous interactions that led to a different path. While there will always be issues with students no matter what the environment, my main concern is how issues are dealt with. E.g., at some point, a student will damage or deface property, but how will staff react? Will staff and administration ensure that those responsible for the damage be responsible for rectifying the situation, or will they take a "boys will be boys" (and there is nothing we can do about it) position? Does the administration treat each subject and each staff member with the authority they need to manage a classroom, or are certain teachers treated with lesser importance? Are students expected to keep the school clean and neat, or there an assumption that this is what the janitor is for? If a student is caught, red handed no less, committing a crime of some degree, does the administration coddle, or make sure restitution is made?

A lot of the behavior that the letter writer notes is behavior I see right in the halls of local schools, in shuls, and in homes. It doesn't surprise me that park workers' instructions are ignored, such behavior is ingrained in too many students as basically have permission to ignore certain teachers, subjects, homework, start times, and deadlines. It doesn't surprise me that trash is left everywhere, too many schools and homes for that matter are treated like a trash dump. I was once at an event in a public school where the kids literally threw their trash on the floor. When the kids were asked to help clean up, some of the mothers took their daughters by the hand and left! Lots of parents talk about just how difficult it is to have guests with younger children for Shabbat because their parents are unwilling to discipline and it always results in a big mess, broken toys, and sometimes even broken bigger ticket items.

The letter writes notes " a park show was cut short because the people in the audience were speaking very loudly, and walking around incessantly." Spend 5-10 minutes within some of our schools, camps, or extracurriculars and I guarantee you that you will find students who feel free to just up and leave. Walking around incessantly, that too is being ingrained in their muscles! I can't find the link, but there is a blogger who had children in public schools and then enrolled them in a day school and found the just up and leaving in the middle of class to be a most shocking difference. I couldn't agree with her more just how shocking this is, and nearly everyone I know who attended a regular public school also finds this to be an issue. But, when I've had the chance to speak with administrators and teachers about the up and leaving issues, as well as open truancy, it is as if I live on a different planet.

And maybe I do! On my planet, I take standing in line and waiting your turn patiently, treating people and property (!) with respect, and sitting on your rear in class for respectable stretch of time to be absolutely imperative. I know I'm out of step.

And on a final note, perhaps what Great Adventures need is my parents to monitor! I remember a trip to a well known park when I was right around middle school age in which a few unsupervised teenagers cut in our line. My parents told them in no uncertain terms that they were to step to the back of the line immediately, and (today this might be surprising), but they did so pretty quickly. Today, kids as young as 3 know how to say "you can't make me." I said a lot of snarky things growing up, but that wasn't one of them, nor was "you can't tell me what to do, your not my Mommy" because, uh, whatever another adult or teacher could dole out would be nothing in comparison to what might happen at home, so it was best to avoid finding out. Naturally, I was as embarrassed as could by some of the more memorable moments with my parents (how uncool they were), but as an adult I really respect parents, adults, and teachers who know that they are in charge. I wish I could be stronger, but today, asking a kid who knocked right into you (7 months pregnant, mind you) right in front of his mother because he was running around wild right under her nose, just garners you a nasty look from the mother that says, "how dare you?" So there is a real uphill battle. My father used to tell me that when he was a kid, other parents felt free to take a hand to the rear of their son's friend and then walk him back to his home where his father could take care of the rest (this really happened to my father on an occasion or two, but likely not three). Today, we parents (and teachers) live in fear of even saying anything, much less doing what I am told is completely improper (disciplining your own kid in a public place). Until that changes, look forward to a repeat letter come Sukkot.


Mike S. said...

Nothing to do with your point, but my father once worked under a perfume company where a vat of an undiluted scent compound broke. The results were not pleasant; far less so than a garbage dump might have been. He couldn't bring his work clothes into the house for months. You can have far too much of a good thing.

Orthonomics said...

Actually, Mike S, I'd say that your comment is exactly on point. . . . .

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Your comment about perfume shop or garbage dump is very close to the Bartenura's comment about the mishna's injunction to distance oneself from a bad neighbor. Don't have it in front of me just now, so I can't cite it.

LeahGG said...

Interesting. When I went with NCSY (by now almost 20 years ago), I don't remember that kind of behavior. Maybe I wasn't aware, or maybe it was better back then...

dvorak613 said...

I feel a little silly saying "kids today" (I am only 21 after all) but I truly believe that there is a problem with "kids today", both in the Jewish world and the general world. Even my 16-year-old sister seems to be part of a totally different generation! I can't exactly say my peers and I were so perfect- we did elicit many admonitions of "when I was your age, I would have been already dead over that!"- but the level to which kids sink gets worse each year. And as a parent of 9 days, I must admit that I am now super sensitized to any issue of parenting, even though it will be some time before my son will be physically and mentally capable of misbehaving.

Miami Al said...


Younger siblings grow up with "different" parents. The parents of younger siblings are older, more experiences, and generally higher income than that parents of the older siblings.

Especially for families with private schooling all the way, there are huge disposable income jumps as the kids move out. A 5 year difference can be huge in that regard.

Regarding the entitlement, there is also a HUGE difference in the state of the economy when you were in high school. If you turned 13/16/18 in the dot-com boom, you no doubt had bigger celebrations of the Bar Mitzvah/first car/high school graduation. The same family 4 years apart could be doing well in the dot-com boom with one child's high school years, and the next one in the jobless recovery feeling poor, that could be a big difference.

Mazal Tov on your young son!

Anonymous said...

Sephardi Lady, your comments about behavior are so apt. I know lovely parents who cannot discipline their small children. For example, in-laws have 3 children who are terribly chutzpadik, very badly behaved. One beautiful little 3 year old girl even threatened her mother that she would soil our home if her mother didn't take her to the bathroom personally. The mother, intimidated by this threat, complied. And she is a truly well meaning, lovely person. They both work very hard to pay tuition and keep home and hearth together, and they are certainly frum. But the children are without instruction. When I brought out dessert, the children grabbed the lion's share without compunction, then grabbed more. I had to actually remove the plate to the other end of the table to escape their greedy little hands. The parents watched seeing nothing wrong. I try to avoid any occasion where these relatives will be present with their children. Can it be that the mother is so enamored of her beautiful children, and so guilty that she works full time (has to to pay tuition) that she can't bear to correct them? The mother is certainly authoritative at work. But not at home.

dvorak613 said...

MiamiAl- Thanks!

It's a nice explanation, but when I said we're a generation apart, I meant that I find that my sister's peers are even MORE bratty, rude, annoying, and generally undisciplined than mine were (and yeah, we were pretty spoiled). You would think that given the events of the past 2 years that they would be better, tougher kids for it, but they're not. They're just more whiny and demanding. Do you have an explanation for that?

dvorak613 said...

Also directed at Miami Al- an interesting thought just occurred to me. There IS a big difference that might account for 21 vs 16 in terms of the spoiled brat factor. Technology. I remember a pre-cell phone and pre-internet existence. Not well, but I remember it. I remember a time when if I wanted to reach a parent during work hours, I had to call the office; how when my parents went out, they would simply tell the babysitter where they were going, when they would be back, and it never occurred to anyone to bother them unless there was a real emergency. I got my first cell at 15, and even then, I had only 60 minutes a month- just enough to tell my mother where I was going if not straight home. There was no texting. People still sent regular mail- thank-you notes too! There was no facebook or youtube and stuff took forever to download.

I just realized that my sister doesn't remember any of this! By the time she was 5, my dad had his first cell; I was just starting to figure out email around then, so by the time SHE was 10, it was old news. She got her first cell after her Bat Mitzvah, family plan, free nights and weekends, and full texting capability. I got facebook in college, she got it last year; when I wanted to procrastinate in high school, I had to rely on Family Guy reruns while she has youtube. I know how to do research in a library with real books. She doesn't remember dial-up. And she wonders why you need to send a hand-written thank-you note.

I haven't even gotten into my 3 younger brothers, ages 12, 8, and 5. They were born into a world with all the stuff. The 5 y/o can navigate a computer much better than I could at 10. I love all the cool stuff we have, but my parents say it does kind of dumb us down, and it makes us slaves to instant gratification. Kids want it all now, and even parents, who ought to know better, want the quick fix. Maybe that's why kids today are so bratty.

mlevin said...

This winter we were on a plane full of frum families with children. The flight was nice and quite and no one misbehaved. On the way back we happened to get a ride with the same group of families. We boarded a plane, but it did not move for over two hours until they let us go back to the airport to wait there. We finally boarded the plane four hours late. Everyone was tired and hungry (there was no kosher food on that flight), but except for one small baby there was no crying or whining or misbehaving.

My point is, that majority of frummies know how to behave themselves, it's just a few rotten apples that make the rest of us look bad.

megapixel said...

first- I hate it when the garbage flying around the park says golden fluff and oberlanders.

second- the couple of times we splurged and went to circus/concerts thingies i have been MORTIFIED by the rudeness-a singer is nebach trying to entertain the crowd and people constantly get up, turn their backs on the guy and walk away!
at one point there was hardly anyone left in the audience!

and another point to ponder- what is it about frummies that they never applaud the singer and never clap along and get involved- rather they just sit back with their arms folded and glare at the singer?
i dont want to go to these events anymore. i just feel disgusted when i get home.

efrex said...

I had a guest post at another blog on this type of thing a while back. To be somewhat fair, I don't know that frum children are necessarily more rude than their non-frum/non-jewish counterparts, but they certainly are much more visible, particularly on chol hamoed trips when they show up en masse.

Critiquer said...

Thanks for that comment mlevin. I read the following at :

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you on Isru Chag to share how proud I was on Chol Hamoed to be standing with hundreds of other Yidden in Astroland Amusement Park in Brooklyn, NY. (Actually, it was the park next door, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, since Astroland, except for the Cyclone roller coaster, has closed down.) It was a beautiful site of frum Yidden enjoying the chag, demonstrating great respect for each other, and showing why our nation is as special as it is. There was no pushing, no cutting of lines, and no loud talking.

To be sure, it was a crowd that was quite diverse. There were yeshivaleit, chassidishe families, Modern Orthodox families, and everyone in between. It was a beautiful mosaic which I observed and appreciated.

So often, we take for granted how fortunate we are to be born into a nation that is as unique and special as ours. And it is easy to take it for granted or to even forget that we are a people of special character. Unfortunately, news headlines and stories are usually filled with the negative - what someone, somewhere, witnessed being done wrong by one of our people. Not often enough is it that we read about how caring, and sensitive, and truly remarkable our people are.

On Thursday, the first day of Chol Hamoed, I know that the Ribono Shel Olam was shepping nachas from the wonderful camaraderie and mentchlichkeit that was on display at Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the adjacent boardwalk in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

It was no surprise to me when the gentleman who was manning the pop-the-balloon booth at the park remarked to me the Jewish holidays are one of his favorite times of the year to work at the park. People are respectful, he told me, all the children are dressed in their finest, wholesome and well-educated families gather together for some lighter moments… It is a breath of fresh air in a world filled with unpleasantries.

So to all of you reading this, smile and take pride in our beautiful nation of Klal Yisroel.

And to those who made a Kiddush Hashem on Thursday, thanks for infusing me with such joy, pride and chizuk.

A Proud Yid

Brooklyn, NY

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