Dependence on disposables, or should the government impose a plastic tax?

Israel’s new government is about to cancel two consumer taxes the previous government has put in place: a tax on disposable plastic tableware and a tax on sugary drinks (which also go out onto supermarket shelves in plastic bottles). Many people see this recent move as pandering to the Israeli ultra-Orthodox population and have a lot of things to say about those nutty religious fanatics who can’t bother to wash their dishes.

I’ve often said that large families have a huge environmentally friendly potential. Modest lifestyles, a limited amount of car and airplane travel, and lots of using hand-me-downs make religious families with many kids a lot less wasteful than many families with just one or two kids who burn up gas like there’s no tomorrow and order huge boxfuls of cheap stuff from Shein that’s going to end up in the landfill after a couple of wears.

Basically, I believe there are two elements that keep most large families in Israel from becoming truly environmentally friendly: time and brain-space.

I know what it’s like when you have a bunch of kids come indoors from playing, look into the sink, and discover it’s still full of last night’s dishes. Then you desperately reach for the stack of disposable plates and cups on the upper shelf, promising yourself you won’t procrastinate with dishwashing next time (or, in my case in the past, telling yourself you’ll have to wash those dishes the moment the running water supply resumes!)

Sidenote: As far as I know, most Haredi families in Israel don’t use a dishwasher. One reason is Jewish dietary restrictions: most strictly observant families would use the dishwasher either for meat or for dairy dishes, which would still leave them with huge amounts of kitchenware to wash by hand. Another reason is that the initial investment would seem daunting to many large families on a shoestring budget. And, finally, a dishwasher takes up space, and many Haredi families live in cramped apartments with tiny kitchens.

Another thing is brain-space or, if you prefer, lack of awareness. Ultra-Orthodox schools and society rarely emphasize environmental studies (although I definitely believe they should). Some even disparagingly call caring about the environment “the secular religion” and go on a tangent, saying that people “worship” the environment instead of caring about the “really important things”, like helping people in need. Of course, it’s a false narrative that often covers up one simple truth: when you have five kids under six, it’s hard to care about anything but day-to-day survival. You do what you need to do to keep your head above the water, even if it creates bigger landfills – which is ultimately one reason I chose not to cloth-diaper. I do try to improve and make more environmentally friendly choices, though.

A friend who lived in the U.S. for a few years told me that in her opinion, the Israeli reliance on disposables is unprecedented in the developed world. I think it’s a shame, especially since, in my opinion, disposables don’t really save as much work as people think.

First, you need to remember to buy them, and then you panic if you don’t. And sometimes you end up running out to the store just because you’ve run out of plastic dishes and you haven’t geared up with a “real” dish set for the guests that just arrived at your doorstep.

Also, since plastic kitchenware (especially the cheap kind most Haredi families use) tips over, tears, and breaks easily, it will create more spills and messes when children use it. And finally, disposables clog up your garbage can so you need to empty it more often.

Plus disposable kitchenware is just plain yucky. Food both looks and feels so much nicer when served in glass or crockery.

The second tax that is now being revoked involves sugary drinks. My feelings about this one are more mixed. On the one hand, I don’t believe in a condescending, paternalistic attitude that tries to teach people what’s good for them by punishing unhealthy food choices through their wallet. I also have great faith in a free market. My suggestion is that, instead of revoking the tax, it’s time to roll it to the bottled drink manufacturers who destroy public health with their sugar-loaded offerings.

Finally, we should all remember that the consumer’s power is in our hands. Whatever taxes the government imposes or cancels, we can all choose to make an informed decision about what we eat, drink, or use in our kitchens. We can all take responsibility for our food and consumption habits and work towards making our own private household healthier and more environmentally friendly.

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Happy Hanukkah and Best Wishes for 2023

Just taking a few minutes in the midst of this delightfully busy time of the year to wish all my friends a happy Hanukkah, a joyful holiday season, and a terrific 2023.

My goals for 2023:

  • Spend more fun and memorable times with my kids
  • Keep up my productive routine of an early workday that ends by noon
  • Get more creative writing done
  • Carve out more opportunities to get out into nature
  • Finally do that big closet sort-out
  • Catch up with housework

Whatever your 2023 ambitions are, I hope you have a happy, healthy, safe, and productive new year, surrounded by family and friends and enjoying all this messy crazy world has to offer.

See you all in 2023!

Should she ask her husband’s permission to buy a new dress? Part 2

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In my last post, I responded to a question I saw in a Shabbat leaflet. It dealt with a woman whose husband opposed her buying a new dress for her sister’s wedding. I raised my concerns over the potential red flags of such a situation – namely, financial helplessness and covert abuse – and one reader suggested that I might respond to the woman by writing to the newsletter.

Well, I did it. I wrote to the editor, and today I received a response, along with a copy of this week’s leaflet, in which my comment (abridged for reasons of space) and their answer appeared. I’m copying and pasting their answer here.

“Thank you for your comments!
Financial abuse is not only extremely harmful, but can be used as a tool to trap a victim in an abusive relationship. As with emotional abuse, financial abuse is generally not about a specific situation. In most relationships, there are periods of financial stress wherein the couple must reduce their spending
or make other decisions and adjustments.

However, with financial abuse, the abuser usually wants to control, manipulate, trap and dominate the other person. Some examples involve controlling the victim’s acquisition and use of money and assets, preventing the victim from working, putting the victim into large debt and/or ruining their credit, creating legal issues for the victim, controlling all the spending, refusing to work, withholding basic needs and hiding assets. Even if they are only using one of these tactics, their behavior may still be financially abuse.

While there may be indications of possible abuse in the woman’s question, it might also be simply a tight financial period. A good idea, as you mention, would be for the woman to know the finances. Her husband not agreeing would be a red flag. However, assuming he agrees, she should also participate in financial decisions, hopefully lessening her resentment.


Shalom Bayit (for my non-Jewish readers: this refers to marital relationships, literally “peace in the home”) counseling is delicate. The goal is to bring the couple closer while also being attuned to the individual needs and vulnerabilities of husband and wife. Before introducing a label such as emotional, verbal or financial abuse, it is important to gather as much information as possible.

Targeted questions, involving the subjects mentioned above, will enable both the counselor and the counselee to understand whether it is abuse or not.
If a person feels their situation might be abusive, they should speak with a professional who can help them assess their situation and move forward with a healthy, successful and normal life.”

***

I have just a few words to say in conclusion. First, I appreciate the editor’s attention to my concerns, and I am thankful they chose to give space to the subject of financial abuse, often subtle and not enough recognized in Orthodox Jewish circles. I also agree that it is impossible to find out, just on the basis of what we know, whether the writer of the original question is going through financial abuse or just a period of financial strain and faulty communication.

However, there is one thing I just wanted to note: “If a person feels their situation might be abusive” may be hard to pinpoint. Many people live in a financially abusive situation for years without being aware of it. They might feel it’s normal, or it may happen so gradually that they look back one day and realize they have given up all their financial freedom and capability.

I guess what I’m trying to say is just that I hope people will gain more awareness of financial abuse. A couple of years ago, a few Israeli Knesset members tried to pass a law that would protect victims of domestic financial abuse. I am sorry to say that Orthodox and right-wing PMs were the ones who stopped this law from passing. They ridiculed the suggestion of giving more legal protection to financial abuse victims and claimed this law “interferes in family dynamics.” I found a brilliant article that discusses it here.

Also, for whoever is curious, the leaflet that prompted me to write these last two posts is Living Jewish.

Should she ask her husband’s permission to buy a new dress?

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A question that appeared in one of the Shabbat leaflets I read: “My sister is getting married. I want a new dress for the weddin, but my husband says we can’t afford it. He manages all our finances so I kind of don’t know if it’s true. What should I do?”

The answer (in many more words) was approximately, “Try to explain to him how important this is to you, but if he still says no, submit to his opinion.”

Oh boy. So much to unpack here. I see at least two big problems with the situation above.

I don’t know the financial situation of this family and I don’t know what type of dress she wants to buy. If it’s a super expensive designer dress, then maybe “can’t afford it” is a thing. But if she just wants something new to wear, she can find cute dresses at about $50.

And if she has to ask permission to spend $50, then, Houston, we have a problem.

Whether she works and earns money or not, if she and her husband are on a footing of a daddy and his teenage girl who’s begging for some spending money, it’s not a real marriage partnership. When two adults are married and manage a household together, neither of them should beg and plead to buy a dress or a pair of shoes.

Does this husband, I wonder, consult his wife when he buys a new toolbox or a gadget for his car? Somehow my guess is that he doesn’t. So that’s the first problem.

The second, and perhaps more serious one, is that she has no idea what goes on with their finances. She doesn’t know how much money they have or how much is too much to spend.

Maybe she entered this arrangement willingly because she doesn’t like to handle money, finds bills and taxes tedious, etc. Entirely understandable. But this, again, puts her in a childlike position, depending on Daddy’s discretion.

The other possibility is even more sinister. This woman may have been manipulated and gaslit to such a degree that she no longer trusts her judgment regarding whether their budget can support a new dress.

Either way, I think the advice she got was stupid and dangerous. It confirms her situation of dependence, and it ignores the very real possibility of something bad going on.

If I could speak to this woman, here’s what I would say: it’s totally normal to have role division. It’s normal for one spouse to do the lion’s share of bills and bank account statements. But since you are an adult, you should still have at least some idea of your finances and how much money you have in the bank. Otherwise, you are making yourself extremely vulnerable in an event that, say, the husband gets sick and can no longer handle the finances.

Second, if you can’t spend $50 at your discretion, raise a giant alarm, because something here isn’t right.

What to do when you’re starved for time

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Ironically, right after my last post, which talked about how to use stretches of low-intensity time productively, a heap of Things landed on the top of my head. Tons of work. New clients. Sick kids. A house in shambles.

So let’s flip the coin. How do you cope when there simply aren’t enough hours in a day? Everyone has their tricks, but here are mine:

#1. I get up early. And I mean, really early, like when it’s still dark and the roosters are crowing. I know, I know, I’m not really THAT much of a morning person either, but I figured out my day is a lot more productive if I get the most difficult tasks of the way before the kids are even up. Which brings me to…

#2 Save your productive time for the important stuff. If you know that your energy and concentration ebb in the afternoon, don’t plan anything big for that time of the day. Complete the large tasks (whether it’s major work assignments or cleaning out the refrigerator) in the morning. I allot time in the afternoon mostly for mindless stuff like picking up around the house and maybe some admin tasks.

#3. Get the most out of your time. We all know what this means, right? Set the phone aside. No quick peeks at social media. No glimpses of the latest yarn arrivals at Woolstack (guilty here). And no hopping between tasks – if I’m writing an article, I don’t stop in the middle to answer an email (unless I’m convinced it really can’t keep an hour!). I don’t answer most phone calls, either, because an interruption of even a couple of seconds gets me out of the loop and makes me spend more time on whatever I’m doing.

#4. Get enough sleep. I don’t always follow that rule to the T, I admit. I used to work nights after the kids were in bed, but I don’t do that anymore, because I realized my health and sanity pay the price. If you overdraft on your “sleep batteries”, your brain becomes sluggish, everything takes more time, and eventually, you have to take a nap. I’m typically in bed by 10 p.m., which allows me to feel rested and ready for another day by 5:30 or 6 a.m.

#5. Reevaluate. How much of the strain is temporary and unavoidable, and how much is because of choices? I had to let go of clients and pare down some other commitments because they didn’t work into my schedule. Living under constant stress is unsustainable and not worth it.

Happy Passover (my least favorite holiday)

Pure loveliness

At this time of the year, I always wish I had the means to reach whomever set up the counterproductive tradition of combining the Passover chametz hunt with spring cleaning. That, and the founders of the waaaaaay overboard chumrot (unnecessarily tricky practices) like covering all the kitchen surfaces. Hello, aluminum foil, how nice to see you – NOT.

I’d file a collective lawsuit against them or something. Because when I toll the accumulated stress, chaos, frustration, exhaustion, and pangs of hunger of hundreds of thousands of Jewish children unable to get a proper meal in a disordered pre-Passover home, the mental damage is just unimaginable.

Jezreel Valley in spring

If my children grow up and decide to part ways with Jewish tradition, I’m laying the charge at Passover’s door. Yes, it’s that bad. I envy the rich people with holiday homes they can use just during this week.

But, on the up side, this year I managed to lower the level of insanity a tiny bit. I left ALL the bookcases and closets alone (other people in this house who are unhappy about it can roll up their sleeves and get busy – I never told them not to), and in the week before the holiday, I peeled off my scrubbing gloves and went with the kids on a hike through the woods.

Such lovely weather. So many different kinds of vegetation, especially lush after a generously rainy winter. This most beautiful time of the year, totally wasted on cleaning.

Chickens on a stroll

And here is just a random pic of the backyard flock roaming while I was cleaning out their coop. The rooster just showed up out of the blue over a week ago. Isn’t he a handsome boy?

Why burning bridges isn’t a good idea

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Back in the day, when I was a starry-eyed young mom, I received an email from an equally young reader, a newlywed who wrote, “My husband landed an amazing position and I will never need to work again. Please give me suggestions on ways to fill my time until we have our first child.”

As far as I recall, I came up with various ideas for charity work, gardening, crafts, and housekeeping. Today, however, I would give that sweet lady – and my own daughters, when they reach the proper age -a completely different outlook.

I would say, Congratulations on your husband’s new position. I hope he will retain it throughout many years and provide the necessary financial stability for your family.

I also hope that your marriage remains healthy and happy, and that your spouse never makes you feel like ‘less than’ for not bringing in an income.

If you plan to stay home with your children, I applaud your choice. Children thrive when there’s a parent to be with them in their early years. Families thrive when one spouse has enough flexibility to keep the common ship sailing smoothly.

But no matter what, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ve burned your bridges and locked yourself in. Keep something you can fall back on.

Whether it’s a flexible profession, a business you can upscale if necessary, or a degree that allows you to work from home, always have something to give you financial security in tough times.

This isn’t negativity or pessimism, any more than purchasing an insurance policy is. It’s just common sense.

We live in a hugely unpredictable world. Businesses fail. Wars rage. Global pandemics flare up. Economies flounder. People lose their health and earning capacity. And, sadly, sometimes marriages fail as well.

I have lived through this. I gave up on the ability to support myself, on the security of a husband’s good job and a house purchased outright. Then, when the job was lost and the house swallowed by a black financial abyss, I found myself in an isolated outpost, with no transportation, no stable internet access, and not even secure electricity or running water supply.

Eventually, I rallied and started fighting for financial independence (a process that’s still ongoing). But it was hard, and knowing that I put the torch to my own bridges didn’t make it easier.

You aren’t a less devoted wife and mother for having a plan B. Do what you must to protect yourself and your children. If you are lucky, you may never need it.

But if you do, you will be glad you prepared for every scenario.

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