Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Toys for Dogs

I have to confess that the writer of this essay is a person who has certain difficulties in choosing the right presents even for his loved ones. A few weeks ago, when I was visiting my home and being visited by my children, I took my two and half year granddaughter to the store so she should have the opportunity to choose something for herself. It is not the first time we have done this together, and as one of the Weisers she seems to have a quiet, mature mindset and she knows what she wants, at least when comes to toys. Part of this mindset is the opposite of it: she certainly knows what she doesn’t want.
We were going from aisle to aisle picking and trying all kinds of toys, but nothing was satisfying my sweet little one. Finally, in one of the department stores which we visited in our search, she picked up a toy like she was actually looking for it. Her decision was made, and even though I still tried to convince her to get something else that looked better to me, she refused everything and stubbornly schlepped the small toy shopping cart for a whole eight American dollars. I gave up, and after choosing a toy for her younger sister, we returned home.
A few days later I was back in the West, but still having the feeling that my granddaughter deserved something more than this, that the shopping cart must be filled with something else.
While traveling (and not only then), I do a lot of my shopping at Costco; even for some smaller items or vegetables, it pays for me to buy there for the quality and price, even if I sometimes have to buy more than I need at the moment.
When I entered the Costco in Albuquerque, New Mexico, right near the door I saw a fantastic basket filled with some plush toys. The most visible were a small teddy bear, a red-and-blue parrot and then three other toys. All five toys were a decent price and the size I imagined would fit in one of the flat rate boxes offered in the post office.
An incredible deal, I thought to myself: within my budget I can make my granddaughter happy by adding something to this cheap shopping cart.
The next day I went to the post office. Unfortunately, the basket with the writing on it saying “My Toys” couldn’t fit in the box. I decided to take the toys out and squish them inside the box. Without the basket they fit perfectly.
A few days later I got this picture and this text message from my son:
Ok, I don’t want you to get a heart attack but why did you send DOG TOYS for your human grandkids?
Recognizing the parrot from the toy set and yet not believing my eyes, I began to laugh almost hysterically. I felt stupid, but at the same time, I was already imagining my great- grandchildren telling the story about how zeidy Matys bought dog toys for his granddaughters. I was seeing the laughter a few generations ahead, and I was fully aware that this is exactly what I deserved for overlooking the white-on-red words: ‘dog toys’ which somehow I unnoticed.
Then slowly my laughter slowed down as I started to think – who got crazy over here, me or the rest of the world?
DOG TOYS? Since when do dogs need something more sophisticated than a stick or something round to play with? Do those countless owners of canine ‘friends’ really believe that their dog appreciates playing with the teddy bear? Do they really believe that they – the owners – are nothing more than friends to their domesticated wolves? Are they aware that ‘appreciation’ is the action of abstract mind which those animals are lacking?
Slowly I felt my heart picking up in my head and back, as I was going through one of those experiences when extreme surprise could cause such a reaction in your body.
Toys for animals… people actually spending their sometimes hard-earned resources on animals. Again, I don’t say to appease their animals because appeasement is a human feeling and cannot be applied to animals.
We, humanity, have a huge problem. I wouldn’t blame only the Darwinian view of the human being for this state of mind, as zoophilia was not something unknown before Darwin, but perhaps more than ever, people think about animals as humans and about themselves as animals. Well… if they think so...
I personally don’t keep or have ever kept any pets, as they give a bad smell and in general are very unhygienic. But I can have some understanding for those people who for some reason may need the company of a dog or another pet for their hobby. But what has happened to humanity if a human being must look for a companion in the form of an animal? Where are the children and grandchildren of those elderly citizens who can talk only to their dogs or cats? Are some of those young people fighting perhaps for animal ‘rights’? What has happened to humanity where some are spending millions of dollars and a great chunk of their human lives on fighting for animals? Somewhere in their country or even in other countries, people – human children – are dying from hunger or an epidemic, lacking basic human living conditions, while some of those animal defenders call their effort 'humanism’.
Sure – adopting a human child may not be more expensive than buying food, medicine, and TOYS for DOGS, but it does require some greater responsibility. But what about spending the same money by giving it to some legitimate charity helping under-developed human societies to survive or even to develop? Why do dogs deserve better in their minds, and why do those people see themselves as more humane than others? I’m sure that if they would look harder they would find some fellow human beings in need on their street, around the corner, somewhere in a close neighborhood. How crocked is a society that spends billions of dollars a year for treating animals better than humans? Is there any hope?

Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite presidents, President Lincoln himself.
While without a doubt he was a man of higher conscience, my story will illustrate something that the Tanya describes in one of its chapters – go and see.
President Lincoln was traveling in a horse and wagon through heavy rain. The road was muddy and streams of water and mud were flowing from the hill on the side of the road. He spotted a sow trying to help her piglet to climb up the small mound, but every time the piglet was pushed up by his mother it would slide down on the liquid mud. President Lincoln jumped out of the wagon and ran through the rain,  picked up the piglet and put it on the top of the hill.
When he returned to his wagon he was asked by the driver of the wagon –
-         Mr. President, you must be a very altruistic person to do such a thing for that animal, especially in such harsh conditions.
-         No – answered President Lincoln – not in this case at least; I did it for myself. I couldn’t watch this struggling animal, and that’s why I did it.
This nice story shows us perhaps something greater about President Lincoln than most people can see in it. He admitted that it was HIS bad feeling which was discomforting him and not exactly caring about animal.
This story happened around the time when Charles Darwin, with his book “Origin of Species,” initiated a new epoch in the history of mankind – an epoch when people began to think about animals as humans and themselves as animals. This time the idea was not part of some morally declined animistic culture or religion, but a part of society considering themselves the leading moral force of humanity, coming, however, with nothing more than a self-pleasing, egocentric approach. Since then it only became worst.

Matys Weiser

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jewish Butchers


A butcher according to the dictionary:
- A person who slaughters certain animals, or who dresses the flesh of animals, fish, or poultry, for food or market.
- A person guilty of brutal or indiscriminate slaughter or murder.
It is self-understood that the second definition comes from the first one, as both definitions are associated with the spill of blood. But there is something more about it, I believe: in all languages in which I communicate, butcher is synonymous with a rough, uncultured, almost primitive individual. Perhaps because that’s the type of man butchers are usually recruited from? Well… as I remember from my youth, most of the butchers working in the meat plant were convicts. I don’t say all and I don’t say everywhere, but that was the situation back then.

In my traveling I meet all kinds of people, but I always look especially for fellow Jews. I have spent Shabbosim in many towns, cities and types of communities. Most of what I see and experience teaches me humility, as I see Jewish children struggle for their Yiddishkeit in a way unknown to most of us Monsey-ers or Boro-Parkers.
Not that long ago, I got halfway between big cities with organized Jewish communities and had to spend Shabbos with Shochtim – in Hebrew, people occupied with slaughter of certain animals, who also dress the flesh of animals for food.
I got the phone number from my office, and on Friday I called to ask for directions and when it would be good to come. I also asked if there was a minyan and a sefer Torah. The answer for the last questions was negative, but nevertheless I was happy to see at the end of the week some yidishe punim – my fellow Jews.
The yid on the other side of the line told me in a characteristically “hasidishe” way how to get to him:
- You get out of the highway and after a mile or so you will see the gas station on the left, and soon after on your right there is a company of such-and-such a name. You will make a right and I will wait for you at the back of the building.
Regrettably I couldn’t put anything in my GPS, so I began to follow his directions, which I had already put on a piece of paper.
Soon I encountered the yid, with a white helmet and galoshes all the way to his knees. A bloodstained white apron complemented the picture. But, like mine, the big smile expressing his happiness from seeing another Jew in this remote place was one of the warmest I have seen for a long time.
He told me how to get to his apartment, which was not so far away, and that he had left it open for me and I could use it as my own, as he still had to finish some work in the plant.
In fact, there were five yidden working in the plant, and soon after Shabbos began I met them all: two Hasidim, two Litvaks and one modern.
After davening we came to hear kiddush from the eldest, who happened to be not only a shochet, but also a rabbi ( not a convert himself) who wrote commentaries on , well…Targum Onkelos in few volumes.
Surprisingly the flat challah baked by one of the men was tasty and soft. We enjoyed the rest of the food as well, which was all prepared by my hosts with meat from their own shechita. It was fantastic to find well-prepared and nicer dishes in a place where I hadn’t expected anything sophisticated.
But soon after the fish they began to discuss what yidden are made for – the Torah. It started with Chumash, but soon they were discussing mishnayos with some early commentaries, and not that much later it was the Zohar itself which was used to explain certain higher ideas from the parsha. I could only listen and try to follow, as the discussion was way above my level of knowledge or understanding.
It was fascinating to see those butchers engage in discussions which you can maybe hear somewhere in Lakewood, but not here in the plains. Soon I found that indeed Lakewood was the place where their Torah had originated, at least for some of them. On the other side of the table, however, we had Chassidim, and the least I can say is that they were not am-ha'aretzim at all. The discussion went high, and the dialectics of the discussed Gemaras was on the level which Hegel may have only dreamed about (dialectics not Gemara of course :) ).
Here, in a cheap neighborhood, by a PVC table covered with a white plastic sheet, a few butchers were bringing the heavenly realm down to earth, while taking the physical realm of fish, fleish and shnapps to the heavenly realm.
Soon the Chasidim had had a few too many shnapps, and the Litvishe Rav declared that at that moment we could discuss everything but halachic issues, the matters of the Jewish law. That’s how the rest of the evening went.
Later I heard them talking about some fascinating details of their profession and how they were making sure that their Kabbalah – the tradition which they learned from their teachers regarding shechita – was being kept to the last detail. After Shabbos  they showed me some of the chalafim, the huge knives, some of them hundreds of years old and valued at thousands of dollars. Even the sharpening stones can have a value of half a thousand or so if they are made from a unique stone. Language, law, philosophy, spirituality and psychology were discussed by those butchers, occupied all week long with making sure that rest of klal Yisroel, the Jewish people, have on their tables kosher meat from animals slaughtered according to 3300-year-old regulations and traditions.
If we have butchers like this, what should the rest of us be like?
Matys Weiser