The Bintel Brief

I Never Give To Beggars — Am I a Bad Jew?

By Steve Almond

Dear Bintel Brief,

Hardly a day goes by without homeless and less fortunate people begging on the transit system. They ask for money and sometimes food, and I feel sorry for them, but never give to them, or engage at all. I value tzedakah, I volunteer and give to numerous charities, but I’m conflicted about giving to these people because frankly, I’m unsure what they’re going do with my hard-earned money.

Does this make me a bad person? Or a bad Jew?

Yours,

Closed Pockets

STEVE ALMOND RESPONDS:

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My Friends Who Want To Host Me Have Bedbugs!

By Steve Almond

Dear Bintel Brief,

I’m traveling to visit friends who have just discovered that they may be harboring a bedbug infestation in their new home. They have called an exterminator but he hasn’t come yet, so they have no idea what type of problem they’re dealing with. I’ve read that bedbugs cause lots of trouble and that they can travel on people, too. I’ve been dying to see my friends’ new place, and I’m afraid that they will be insulted if I stay in a hotel. I don’t want to be rude, but how can I get out of this?

Going Buggy

Steve Almond Responds:

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Help! The Times Square Car Bomb Plot Makes Me Scared To Leave The House

By Steve Almond

Dear Bintel Brief,

With the recent events in Times Square (the foiled car bomb plot) I’m feeling anxious about leaving the house. I know that no one can control for these kinds of things, but do you have any advice about what I can do to calm my nerves?

Nervous North of Times Square

Steve Almond Responds:

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Lab Labor: Who Deserves Credit For My Research Paper?

By Steve Almond

Dear Bintel Brief,

I am a recent college graduate, and have spent the past year working in a research laboratory on a paper that is just about to be published. When I saw the final draft this week, I was shocked to notice that the paper said it was co-written by myself and another young women who works in the lab — although the other girl has barely been involved in the project. I’m angry, but also afraid to mention this to my supervisor for fear of looking petty. After all, it doesn’t actively hurt me to share the space. What do you think?

Lab Lady

Steve Almond Responds:

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Steve Almond Has Some Advice for Forward Readers

By Bintel Brief

Steve Almond is the author the story collections “My Life in Heavy Metal” and “The Evil B.B. Chow,” the novel “Which Brings Me to You” (with Julianna Baggott), and the non-fiction books “Candyfreak” and “(Not That You Asked).” His most recent book, “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life,” came out in Spring 2010. He is also, crazily, self-publishing books. “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” is composed of 30 very brief stories, and 30 very brief essays on the psychology and practice of writing. “Letters from People Who Hate Me” is just plum crazy. Both are available at readings. In 2011, Lookout Press will publish his story collection, “God Bless America.”

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email bintelbrief@forward.com. Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Steve Almond, will be published Mondays at www.forward.com.


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Germs and Manners at 30,000 Feet

By Ariel Levy

Dear Bintel Brief,

On a plane recently in the row in front of me sat a mother and a young child. The child was sick and suffering loudly. She coughed and sneezed on the window, and the mother didn’t bother to wipe the germs. I debated with myself over whether or not to tell the flight crew after we disembarked, since the next person to sit in the seat could get sick. I said nothing, and then felt guilty. What should I have done?

GUILTY OVER GERMS

Ariel Levy responds:

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Help! I Define Myself By My City Life

By Ariel Levy

Dear Bintel Brief,

I’ve spent the past 7 years living in New York City. Like many New Yorkers, I am a transplant originally from a small town in a flyover state. Living here was always my dream, and it offers tremendous opportunity. Food, culture, and interesting people and ideas are at my fingertips here, and there are numerous jobs in my field of employment. However, as all New Yorkers and big city dwellers know, living in an urban center is not always easy. It is competitive, expensive, crowded, and noisy. Lately I find that I am often on edge. I often consider what I imagine would be the “simpler life” elsewhere, but I can’t seem to picture myself as someone who lives somewhere other than New York City, as it is how I’ve come to define myself and my life.

How can I get over defining myself by my urban existence? Should I get over myself and just move somewhere easier? Or should I give up on leaving all together, and reside myself to my city life?

AFRAID TO LEAVE CITY LIFE

Ariel Levy responds:

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How Do I Handle 'Idiot' Coworkers?

By Ariel Levy

Dear Bintel Brief,

Some of my male colleagues make tasteless office jokes about women. They focus on something inappropriately sexual in nature, or say they think women should tend house rather than earn a living. This is hard for me to understand — I grew up valuing gender equity, and those values have yet to be challenged like this. I need (and otherwise, enjoy) my job and can’t afford to go looking in this economy. What should I do?

EMBARRASSED IN THE OFFICE

Ariel Levy responds:

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Should Jews Support the Tea Party Movement?

By Ariel Levy

Dear Bintel Brief,

I am a Jew who rarely delves into political matters, but I can’t help but take notice of the Tea Party movement. They are all over the news with their anger and rebellion. I’m attracted to some of the things that they stand for, like constitutionally limited government, and fiscal responsibility, but they also oppose taxes and health care, which I think is wrong. And didn’t the Obama Hitler comparison come out of their town hall meetings this summer? Their values don’t appear to be Jewish ones at all.

Can one be both a Jew and a Tea Party supporter?

FEARFUL OF DRINKING TEA

Ariel Levy responds:

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Ariel Levy Has Some Advice for Forward Readers

By Bintel Brief

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy will be the Forward’s next guest Bintel Brief columnist. At The New Yorker, Levy has profiled the intersex South African runner Caster Semenya, the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, the director Nora Ephron, and Cindy McCain, wife of former Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain.

Previously, Levy wrote for New York magazine for more than decade. Her work has been anthologized in “The Best American Essays” and “The Best American Crime Reporting.” Levy is the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Free Press, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email bintelbrief@forward.com. Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Ariel Levy, will be published Mondays at www.forward.com..


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A Lesson in Finding Your Funny Bone

By Rob Kutner

Dear Bintel Brief,

I aspire to be a comedy writer, but I am told that my work is just not funny enough. I have taken classes, watch comedy television and attend improv shows, and I can recite certain “Simpsons” episodes by heart. But something is missing.

I know humor can be subtle, and that figuring out what works and what doesn’t isn’t a science. But I’m looking for some tips on how to have a better barometer for what’s funny. Any advice?

COULD USE A FUNNIER BONE

Rob Kutner responds:

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Help! I'm Losing Touch With My Nesting Friends

By Rob Kutner

Dear Bintel Brief:

I a single (and searching) woman in my early 30s. I have many cherished female friends, some of whom I’ve known for decades. Recently, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay in touch with many of my girlfriends because we’re at such different stages of our lives. While I’m out there JDating, I have close friends who already have two children. I understand that they are busier now than before they had children — that they don’t have as much time or inclination for after-work drinks and the like. But their friendships remain important to me, and I very much want to remain close. What can I do to ensure that differences in “family status” don’t spell the end for such friendships?

Thank you!

THE STILL-SINGLE FRIEND

Rob Kutner responds:

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Breaking Up With My Hebrew School Carpool

By Rob Kutner

Dear Bintel Brief:

Last year and this, we had a Hebrew school carpool with another family — old friends of ours. This year, parents of a boy in the area offered to participate and, hoping to have to do the driving every third week instead of second, we all agreed. Problem is, their son is DRIVING US NUTS, no pun intended.

He aggravates everyone around him, kids and adults alike. Frankly, we would like to drop the other family from the carpool, but don’t know how to present it to his parents without totally alienating them. And we have to see them in synagogue, so we’d like to be able to do this and all remain friendly.

Oh wise Bintel Briefer, what light can you shed on our predicament? Please tell us how to drop them — politely.

Sincerely,

Being Driven Nuts in the Bronx

ROB KUTNER RESPONDS

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Comedy Writer Rob Kutner Has Some Advice for Forward Readers

By Bintel Brief

Emmy-winning writer Rob Kutner, who has written for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and who — until very recently — wrote for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” will be answering readers’ questions during the month of February, as the Forward’s guest Bintel Brief advice columnist. Kutner is the author of “Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times” (Running Press 2008). His annual New York Purim spiel, “The Shushan Channel” — starring Liz Winstead and Joel McHale — goes live Saturday, February 27 at the 92Y Tribeca.

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, e-mail bintelbrief@forward.com. Questions selected for publication will be printed anonymously.


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How Can I Regain My Confidence of Yore?

By Robin Epstein and Amy Feldman

Dear Bintel Brief,

When I was growing up, and throughout college, I would characterize myself as a pretty confident person. I felt excited by the world, and all the possibilities in it; almost nothing seemed impossible. But a couple of years out of school, and into the working world, my faith in my own abilities has diminished. During meetings at work, for example, I’m often silent — having convinced myself that whatever question I ask or statement I make will sound silly to my colleagues. Where I used to see possibilities, I now see limitations, and that’s holding me back. What should I do to become a confident person (and therefore, a happy person) once again?

YEARNING FOR MY OLD SELF

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How Can I Gently Encourage My Daughter To Lose Weight?

By Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein

Dear Bintel Brief,

My single, adult daughter is about 40 pounds overweight. I really want her to lose weight — primarily for health reasons, but also for more superficial reasons. I raised her and her siblings to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and I really do believe that. However, I also believe that losing weight would boost my daughter’s self-esteem, and make her more inclined to socialize and, yes, to date. (I’m a Jewish mother, after all!) Whenever I’ve brought up subject of losing weight, however gently (in the past, I’ve offered to pay for a nutritionist or a trainer or a therapist), she’s accused me of being ashamed of her. I’m not ashamed of her, at all; in fact, I’m very proud of her academic accomplishments and altruistic nature. So how should I go about encouraging healthy behaviors, without offending her or damaging our relationship? Thank you.

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS

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The Legal Implications of Cohabitating Out of Marriage

By Robin Epstein and Amy Feldman

Dear Bintel Brief

I know plenty of couples who have, for various reasons, chosen to partner instead of marry. These couples love each other, spend holidays with each other’s families, own property and pets together and some even procreate —  all without the legal contract. Some couples claim their reasons for doing this are financial, or that prefer not to be bound by an institution, while others value marriage equality so greatly that they wouldn’t think to marry until gay couples across the country can legally do so, too.

The recent split of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins after more than 20 years together got me thinking: What are the legal ramifications of a non-marriage partnership ending? Are some of the couples I know perhaps destined to face troubles in court if their co-existing, non-state sanctioned relationships ever fizzle? Or, are these couples avoiding potential future legal issues by not walking down the aisle?

TAKEN BUT NOT MARRIED

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Help! I Don't Want My Daughter To Be a 'Coastie'

By Robin Epstein and Amy Feldman

Dear Bintel Brief:

My 18-year-old daughter is applying to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. We are Jewish and I understand that approximately 14% of the university’s roughly 30,000 undergraduate students are Jewish.

Our daughter is not a Jewish American Princess. However, she does don some of the stereotypical trappings: Ugg boots and North Face outerwear.

I read on the Internet that the University of Wisconsin students are using a new slang word, “Coastie” It represents a wealthy, Jewish out-of-state student who wears East Coast fashion. I dislike thi social label. There’s nothing funny about these putdowns of Jewish women.

Should I suggest that my daughter apply elsewhere? My choice: Brandeis.

WORRIED JEWISH MOTHER

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A Precarious Cocktail of Friendship and Real Estate

By Robin Epstein and Amy Feldman

Dear Bintel Brief:

My husband and I live in New York City and are getting ready to buy our first apartment. We realize that a home purchase is a sizable financial commitment, and we are preparing to take the plunge.

Adding to what is already a tremendously stressful decision-making process, we are considering buying a building with friends that we would then split into separate apartments. A decent amount of actual livable square footage is hard to come by in a large city when working within a budget, and we feel this would be a smart way to each get more square feet for our hard-earned dollars. I’ve been told we could essentially condo the building or turn it into a cooperative so that each family is only liable for their own apartment. What contractual precautions should we take to ensure everyone is protected? Is this as good an idea as it sounds? Or are we entering into a minefield that could potentially blow up our friendships?

MIXING REAL ESTATE WITH FRIENDSHIP

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Help! My Fiancé's Parents Are Insisting on a Prenup

By Robin Epstein and Amy Feldman

Dear Bintel Brief:

I just got engaged to the man of my dreams. He is five years older than I am, and he comes from a family of means. He also earns a much higher salary than I do. My fiancé recently told me that his parents, whom I adore, want me to sign a prenuptial agreement. I could see that he was really nervous telling me about his parents’ apparent wishes. He also told me that our relationship is more important than money — adding that if I strongly opposed the idea of a prenup, he wouldn’t force the issue (but that could, in turn, cause problems with his family).

In theory, I think all married couples should have an agreement like this. But in practice it’s feels terrible to be asked to sign one. It also makes me wonder what my fiancé’s parents think of me.

What should I do?

PERPLEXED BY PRENUP

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