Monday, July 16, 2007

Ending the Madness

There is an organization called End the Madness whose goal it is to help those orthodox singles find a mate. The organization bemoans the fact that the traditional means of finding your "bashert" currently employed by the orthodox Jewish community does not work. Part of the main problem is that the singles and their families are often more concerned with the things that don't count more than the things that do. Chananya Weisman, who is the founder of End the Madness just wrote an article that was forwarded to me this morning, that really hits home on this. While I don't like to take up lots of space with pasting someone else's articles, since I cannot find a link to it yet, I post it here: (below the article is the actual message of today's blog)

Living a Contradiction: By Chananya Weissman

You work for a living, and you work hard for your living, at that. You spent many years and many more thousands of dollars to receive a higher education, and you value the fact that you are a worldly, well-rounded person. You follow the news in a variety of media. You enjoy the many wonderful advances in science and technology of our modern world.You have a variety of hobbies and interests that may include sports, literature, art, music, travel, and so much more. You are politically informed, place a premium on independent, critical thinking, and believe that every person is and should be unique. You send your children to schools that reflect this understanding of the diverse needs of every individual and that prepare them to have a variety of options as they prepare for adulthood.In your professional life you often have to deal with members of the opposite sex. You ride buses and trains that carry both genders, and frequently dine in restaurants in which men and women stand on line together and sit at tables together. Occasionally you encounter someone who is not dressed appropriately and you avert your eyes, but you recognize that such experiences are normal and don’t feel any religious obligation to eat only at home as a result. You or your children may have even attended schools in which males and females are not completely separate.Your wife either does not cover her hair, covers it grudgingly, or covers it with a very expensive shaitel that is designed to make her appear stunning and the envy of all who see her.When you grew up, and certainly when your parents grew up, it was normal for people to meet and go out on dates. You met at school, in camp, in shul, at chessed projects, at political rallies, and in general through being open to meeting new people. Friends introduced one another. Shadchanim offered their services, but you hardly knew anyone who wanted or needed their services. Personal ads were something you would get a chuckle out of. It was generally pleasant to meet people, go out on dates, go steady with someone, and ultimately find someone to marry. The men were gentlemen, the women were ladies, and people acted appropriately. This was how rabbis met their future rebbetzins, too. It was nice. One glorious day your child announces that he is getting married. Chances are that his dating experience was far less pleasant, and that he relied primarily on shadchanim and online personal ads to find people to date. You understand now that this is more religious, this is what Hashem wants, and this is in fact the way it probably was throughout Jewish history. You accept what you hear. After all, that’s what people are saying, and who are you to question?Your first reaction upon hearing that your child is getting married is not joy, but relief. Your darkest nightmares – which have come true for so many others – have been averted. Your child will get married after all.You plan a wedding. And plan, and plan, and plan. There are lots of details to consider, but one thing is certain from the outset: the husbands will not sit with their wives, and the single men will not sit with the single women. First of all, you have suddenly become concerned that someone may dress or act inappropriately, despite everything else about your upbringing and background. Second of all, you heard that some rabbis with a mystique about them, a certain aura, and a large devoted following are against the idea of men and women interacting unless they are married or planning on marrying one another very soon.Third of all, you don’t want to fight over it. Your kid is getting married. So what if the singles at the wedding would like the same? Besides, maybe someone of the same gender will set them up, or something like that. That’s right. Hashem can work it out if He wants. They just have to daven and believe. It’s not your headache.Fourth of all, you want your chassidishe cousins to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing.You don’t ask yourself why you are suddenly taking an extreme approach regarding the separation of the sexes, one that does not manifest itself in any other aspect of your family, social, or professional life. You don’t ask yourself why you are so vitally concerned with what certain rabbis think about this issue when these rabbis are not your poskim, do not share your philosophies and values, and in fact would consider pretty much your entire lifestyle to be outside the pale. They would accept nothing about you and how you live, they would hurl insults at your religious outlook, and they would accept your children only as reclamation projects, not as good Jews. All they would accept of you is your tzedaka dollars and that you have a yiddishe neshama. But you don’t ask yourself why their opinion on mixed seating at weddings is suddenly so important to you.You don’t ask yourself why you don’t follow these same rabbis when in comes to watching an occasional movie, having an Internet connection, reading a newspaper, reading a book, having colors in your wardrobe, working for a living, allowing your wife to pursue ambitions outside the home, and so much more. You don’t ask yourself why your local rabbi is suddenly no longer good enough to rely upon.You don’t ask yourself why you aren’t living in Bnei Brak and learning in a kollel, if that is what you REALLY believe Hashem wants of a good Jew. You don’t ask yourself why you are being so inconsistent by following these extreme opinions on matters like mixed seating, shidduchim, certain matters of kashrus and the like, yet live a lifestyle that suggests you have a religious outlook that isn’t always black and white, one-size-fits-all, don’t ask questions, just say no.You don’t ask yourself any of these things. Maybe then you would realize that your religious observance is based more on social expectations than religious values, tradition, and compelling teachings. Maybe then you would realize that you are dancing from doorpost to doorpost, desperately hoping only to be accepted by your neighbors. You have separate seating at your child’s wedding because that’s what some people expect of you, not because you really, truly believe it’s right. But you say nothing. After all, you want your grandchildren to be able to get a shidduch.
All of this brings me to the original reason behind this post, which is, of course, "the Boy." The 20 year old daughter of a friend is (make that "was") dating a nice young man from England while she studies in Israel. They met a few weeks ago, and "the Boy" as she liked to refer to him, seemed to be having a very nice time with her. Clearly she liked him very much, and was very infatuated. In fact, she even started changing her behavior for him, like not wearing pants when they went out, but wearing a skirt instead. He was thoughtful, attentive, bright, handsome and liked her very much. Or so he said. He would email her after the dates and tell her what a great time he'd had. and looked forward to seeing her again. And then, apparently, last night, the Boy told her that he came from a family that only used shadchanim, (matchmakers) and that things between them could never work out. And with that, unceremoniously, the relationship ended, and "the Boy" was gone. Just like that. I won't bother to go into the obvious social gaffes here and the feelings involved. Perhaps a different time. It just struck me as amazing that here, the night after this awful event, I am sent Rabbi Weissman's article that seems to me to fit this to a tee, and felt that I had to share it with you. Maybe he, and his organization will be successful in helping other "Boys" or girls who have to deal with them make better choices with fewer outside influences.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Virgins get in free

I had intended to go on about the trials and tribulations of my vacation, but this was too ridiculous not to pass on. I am really not much of a prude. Nor am I shy about many things, but having been raised in a small town in PA, I am still taken aback at times by what passes for normal in New York City. It is a great town, with much to offer, but at times, you have to scratch your head, and say, geez........ In this morning's paper, there was an Associated Press article about giving free tickets to a new off-Broadway show called "My First Time," a comedy, to anyone who can demonstrate their chastity. The show, based on a 1o year old website inviting users to anonymously describe their losing their virginity.
Which, as the article goes on to ask, begs the question.... just how will the theater know?
Well, enter Sebastian Black, the human lie detector. Black is a self described mind reader/hypnotist who is a "master of body language." He will conduct interviews and determine whether or not those before him have ever done the dirty act. Apparently he is pretty good at figuring out who is telling the truth. The producer, Ken Davenport would not say how many virgin tickets are available, but commented that "there are not that many virgins in New York. What can you expect from the town that spawned "Sex and the City?"

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Summertime, and the blogging is slow

During the summer my time to blog is somewhat more limited as I imagine most of yours is as well. Couple that with the occasional vacation, and you are in blogging limbo. I have just returned from such a vacation, and have not had a chance to sit down at the computer to write since work and life have gotten in the way. Today's post is short, a warm up to tomorrow. Having just returned from Florida I will issue one piece of advice that I am sure many of you already know about this time of year.... (with apologies to all the Floridians out there) DON'T GO!!!!!!!!! I really like the Sunshine State. I have been there many times. What I don't like is the Sunshine State, or at least the lower part of it, in the summer. Hazy, Hot and Humid takes on new meaning. And if you are like me, it is impossible to go outside without your eyeglasses fogging up. I think someone should, if they have not yet, find a way to make glasses that don't fog when you go from the air conditioning to the steamy Florida outdoors in the summer. Thankfully, most of the places you go in southern Florida are close to the water, so at least you can take a dip. It was even too hot for the Florida wildlife. Being the adventurer that I am, i dragged my wife to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla. Expecting to see alligators, herons, frogs, turtles and birds of all kinds, what we found was a beautiful gift shop with a proprietor who said "don't expect to see too much wildlife out there. The drought is keeping them away." Well he was right, except for one thing that I found in abundance. Mosquitoes. Or should I say they found me. You see, I obviously emit whatever chemical that says to them "come bite me" and they do. By the time we left, I had seven bites and needed a drink. No gators or wildlife of any kind we could see. Despite all the complaining, my first trip to southwest Florida showed it to be at least as beautiful as its eastern cousin. The gulf is amazing. Incredibly warm, with calm shores and waters. The sunsets, as we were told over the phone when we booked our hotel, were not to be missed. They are truly an awesome sight. Sometimes, however, life interrupts, and vacations, while pleasant, turn out to be something different from what you expected. But more about that tomorrow......

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

You can't take it back - family and other hazzards of life

As a therapist, I often have to live life looking at it from several perspectives. There is the one perspective that wants to be like most people and just react to life. Then there is the other one that says "you have to have empathy, compassion, understanding" when all I really want to do is shake the people in front of me so hard that their eyeballs pop out. The latter persona (calm, empathic and compassionate) is usually the one that wins out in the end, so you can feel free to visit me at the office and I won't shake you too hard.
Recently I had such an experience in my own family. My niece got engaged. There was just one tiny little problem. She had neglected to tell her parents about it. A tiny little problem which loomed much larger as the engagement party, hastily put together, was to take place. (A mere three days after the announcement) Well, you can imagine the mayhem that ensued as it turned out that her parents were not too keen on the engagement, given the length of the dating period (less than two months) and the daughter, determined to marry said young man, did not intend to seek her parents' endorsement. Enter the uncle....... which would be me. I was asked to support the young bride and her intended (emotionally) which I said I would gladly do. That was until I found out that the parents were a negative request at the upcoming party. My lovely niece decided that it was best for all if her parents did not attend given their marked reticence. She was concerned that there might be "a scene" despite the fact that is was not at all their style. And so began a flurry of last minute negotiations between uncle, fiancee, siblings, parents. Everyone who was going to go originally had now opted out, turning what was to be a joyous occasion into something that was going to leave many of us with hurt feelings, and irreparable rifts. I am not exactly sure how, but in the end, my niece changed her mind, and we all went and had a wonderful time celebrating what we hope will be a long, terrific life together for these two young people.
One of my wife's mantras to anyone who will listen is that "you can't take it back", one of the things of which she reminds me regularly, that I have come to experience again and again. (luckily not between us.... yet!) What she means by this is that there are things in life, once uttered, or performed, that are indelible, unchangeable and damaging beyond repair. No matter how much we didn't mean it when we said ____ (fill in the blank) we can never take it back. We may forgive, we may overlook, we may say we will forget, but more often than not, we can't. And this is why we have to be so careful in the first place. I told my niece "this is one of those things you can never take back." I don't know if she heard me, listened to others, or listened to her inner voice, but in the end she did what was right. Even if it didn't feel right at the time. And this is what we all need to do a bit more. Don't do or say things that we can not take back. There are no (or at least very few) do overs in life. Why chance it?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Frummer (more religious) than the Torah

When I was in 11th grade, I had a Rebbe (teacher) who used to say "you can't be frummer, or more religious, than the Torah. The implication was that the Torah has a set of requirements, and the custom of going above and beyond was unnecessary. And while you might disagree, his prime example was the custom of 10 and 11 year olds fasting. There is precedent in the literature for young kids doing this, but his contention was that "when you reach bar/bat mitzvah age, you have to fast." You can practice if you want, but it is not necessary.
All this leads me to the news stories yesterday regarding Eliyahu Chaim Fayzakov, a religious 20 year old talented singer, who happens to have a voice that sounds like a woman. (Listen to the link here) Here is a nice young man, with a large black yarmulke whose recorded music which is played on radio stations has been banned by charedi stations for fear that the listeners would feel that the station was (g-d forbid) playing recordings of women singing. Now I won't enter into the debate over what they call "kol isha" the prohibition against listening to a woman's voice. (read this link for a DETAILED explanation) But the overriding thought that kept coming to my mind was Rabbi Hochberg, in 11th grade saying, "you can't be frummer than the Torah." I mean, here you have a guy, for crying out loud, and they are unwilling to play his music because someone might THINK it is a woman singing? Cut me a break. I have often argued for the rights of those to the right of me to be left alone to do what is best for them, but this time, even I can't defend it. In the meantime, enjoy listening to Eliyahu's music. I have to admit, he does sound like a woman, but he also sounds pretty good!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is Facebook Good for the Jews?

Well, I guess i could apologize for being away for a month, but it would just be lame. I just plain ran out of steam for a bit, but I am back. Especially after i see that my pal, and blogger par-excellence Treppenwitz linked me to his page. And by the way, Dave, if you are reading this, one of my board members is now a religious reader of yours, and passed along the post that included a reference to the Case Foundation. I now have board members telling me about your posts!!!
Anyhow, I wanted to know how many of you are on facebook? It is a kinda new phenomena. Not that facebook is new, it is just that everyone seems to be using it now. I have been "friended" by three new people this week, including one that I was sure I did not know. For the un-initiated, although I imagine that is not many of you, facebook was created to allow college students to interact and find each other online. As it became more popular, it spread to non-college students. Today, professionals, students of all stripes, and kids are using it. It is supposed to be limited to those over the age of 18, but in reality, no one checks the ages. My son's 12 - 14 year old friends all have a facebook page, and they spend all day (when they can) talking on it, updating it, putting photos on it. On the one hand, it is very scary. On the other hand, it is great. I have been aware for many years of the potential danger of the internet. People expose themselves in ways unknown to us just a mere ten years ago. Horror stories are legion, and more than one death has resulted from chance internet meetings that went bad. On the other hand, it allows us also to connect in a way unknown before. And in these scary, wondrous times in which we live, that can be a great thing.
Facebook allows people to join common interest groups. I have to admit, I am not a facebook pro, so i have not joined any, but i have looked around at them. This morning, i noticed that one of my young "friends" joined a group called Kehana Tzadak, which is really the ramblings of adolescents on the thoughts of Rabbi Meir Kahane an activist Rabbi who was assassinated in 1990 for his radical thoughts that have become more in vogue as the Arab - Israeli conflict has continued. Like him or hate him, the fact that there is a forum for kids to talk about these ideas online is a good thing. We have a generation of kids who will not know what a record is, or an eight track, or a beta vcr. But they will know how to use a computer, and will be able to access people and information all over the world. That is a great thing. The hope is that they will come to use it responsibly.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Holidays by the sea

I went away for Shavuot. What a fascinating experience. Our family was invited by friends from the DC area to Bethany Beach, Delaware. Apparently, this is a tradition amongst people from the DC/Silver Spring area that has been around for over 20 years. Who knew? Obviously, wanting to be sure that I would be able to observe the holiday on which we celebrate receiving the Torah, I wanted to know "will there be a minyan? Will there be a Torah? The reply from our friend was "not only is there a minyan, but there is a break - away as well. For the un-initiated, in many communities, for political and/or religious reasons, synagogues find it necessary to break away from their founding institutions. Hence, the term "break - away." This phenomena is usually much more prevalent among orthodox congregations, but in recent years, the trend seems to have spread. In my community, I am aware of at least one conservative and one reform congregation that have had this happen. In any event, Bethany's break away is not exactly that. It seems that there is a small congregation in the town, but far away from the beach resorts that people go to for the holiday. In order to ensure that people had a place to go, apparently the Chabad of Wilmington rents out space in a nearby hotel, and people who come for the holiday self -organize the services and the very elaborate kiddush that follows it. It is an amazing thing. 200 people show up at a resort community for the holiday. No Rabbi. No Gabbai. (officially, anyway) But it all happens. There is a large minyan. A fairly large group of people stayed up all night on the first night of Shavuot to learn, as is the custom. The people who come to this shore community are a modern orthodox group, but very laid back by normative standards. No suits or ties. The men wore sandals, no socks.
One of the thing that I thought was amazing, was that the the megillah of Ruth, traditionally read in synagogues on Shavuot, has been read the last few years by different women in the congregation. A beautiful custom that I have never had the opportunity to have because of my participation in traditional orthodox services. I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the women who have done it in the past did not come this year, and yours truly was "forced" to read Ruth for everyone there.
I guess I will have to go back next year.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A little bit of holiness... even on a rainy weekend

David, from life on the far side, (see link on the right) talked about spending Shabbat in Saratoga Springs. For him, it was a different kind of Shabbat. One where he did not get to do all the things he usually does. It was a Shabbat that was somewhat devoid of the spirituality he has come to expect. I can relate, but my experience was the exact opposite. This Shabbat, our synagogue sponsored Rav Avi Weiss, one of the most inspiring, spiritual men I have had the privilege of meeting. For the most part, I am a cynic. I have struggled to find the spirituality in religion for the last 20 years. I have had a measure of success in finding it. And it is because of Rav Avi, and others like him, that I have been able to capture some of these feelings. For those of you who don't know Rav Avi, (as he likes to be called) his touchy -feely ways can be off putting for the cynics among us.Until you watch him. Until you see him. Until you experience him. Until you get hugged by him. For you see, Rav Avi is a Shlomo Carlebach emulator. What I mean is that like Reb Shlomo, Rav Avi wears his heart on his sleeve. But he wears it sincerely. Every time I see him, I am greeted by a wide smile, and a hug. And it feels good. I used to wonder, "is it real?" I know Rav Avi for more than 30 years. It is real. It has withstood the test of time. Rav Avi took the "bayit" which began as just that... a small house in Riverdale, NY, and transformed it to a synagogue with 850 families. Innovative, modern, pushing the limits of modern orthodoxy, Rav Avi has created a community that strives to find the Holy. He has created an environment that teaches love, respect, and learning above all. He has created a Yeshiva as well, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah the open modern Orthodox Yeshiva, that tries to create Rabbis like Rav Avi, who are passionate and care about Judaism and our people.
Most people came this Shabbat to hear Rav Avi speak. I got so much more out of watching him. When few others were. Rav Avi led the Kabbalat Shabbat last night. Before he started, very quietly, he walked over to one of the adolescent boys in shul, who is developmentally delayed. He rubbed his cheek and spent a few moments talking to him. While he was leading the prayers and he broke into song, he invited the boy to join him at the pulpit, where he remained, standing next to Rav Avi, singing and ultimately dancing in the Shabbat. What a beautiful sight that he cared to involved this boy, who is usually ignored by those around him.
And this morning, when no one was looking, he walked over to the one homeless man who is a regular in our synagogue. I heard Rav Avi ask him, "did you eat something?" Then Rav Avi said to him, reb "ya'akov, what is going to be with you?" He really cared and wanted to know. These were the things that were done when no one was watching. These were the things that were done when no one was listening. And these are the things that are done that bring holiness to our congregation, to our community, to our world. Even when it is raining outside. And when it does enter, the rain outside is unseen due to the light shining in the Synagogue.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poof, you are not Jewish anymore

A judge in an Israeli court ruled yesterday that a woman who had converted 15 years ago was not Jewish due to her lack of observance of Jewish law and custom. In an article by Rivka Lubitch, who is head of the Haifa office of The Center for Women's Justice, wrote that not only was the woman declared not Jewish, but her marriage was considered invalid, the couple did not need a get, and get this......... THE CHILDREN ARE NOT JEWISH!!!!!!! (link here)
C'mon, give me a break!!! This means that every person who converts who does not observe Judaism to the level that the particular court they are in determines is appropriate, will no longer be considered Jews, be able to get married in an orthodox ceremony, or be buried in a Jewish cemetary. This would apply to their kids as well. I wonder if the court has considered how many thousands of Jews they turned into non-Jews yesterday?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yom Yerushalayim and Violence in Israel

Today we celebrate Yom Yersushalayim, the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the six day war. It should be a joyous day, Here is a picture from the Jerusalem Post showing this morning's celebration:

This celebration comes on the heels of the launching of 30 Kassam Rockets into S'derot and other towns in the last 36 hours. I have not often discussed any political ideologies here, but today, I feel both elated and sad. It won't be hard to figure out where my political stance is, but I hope to share mostly facts. 18 people were wounded in these latest attacks, with one woman from S'derot being injured moderately. I wrote once before in one of my earliest posts (here) about how hard it is to feel the pain of those who are lost in Iraq, despite the fact that we have over 3300 Americans who have been killed. For a real close up, difficult to read article, read about Darrel Ray Griffin, Jr. in the current issue of US News and World Report. It is an article written by an infantry commander who was shot and killed by a sniper in Baghdad about two weeks after he was interviewed by the reporter. There are emails to his wife talking about life as a soldier in Iraq. And why do I bring this up? Because as we celebrate the wonders of having a united Jerusalem, the ynet and others reported that the Israeli Air Force has retaliated against Hamas killing 4 terrorists and injuring 20 more. I say it is about time. How long should we suffer this degrading, erosive kassam barrage and violence. I think it has gone on long enough.
On this, the 40th anniversary of a United Jerusalem,I hope and pray that the IDF and the IAF will not have to continue their defense of our Holy Land, since it will have become unnecessary.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I was right..... Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah - JOFA and The Milgraum story

Got another email from JOFA today. Turns out I was right about Michael Milgraum and the plight of his sister - in- law Sima Milgraum.When I got the first email from them telling us to boycott Michael Milgraum, I was upset at what I thought seemed a pre-mature, unexplained boycott of Mr. Milgraum, and I said so. Below is the email I received today. I think it speaks for itself.

Update on Sima Milgraum

JOFA was recently in contact with Michael Milgraum, the brother-in-law of agunah Sima Milgraum. He shared with us his efforts to help his sister-in-law receive her Get and his desire to see this issue resolved. He has assured us that he will continue to make every attempt possible to facilitate a solution to this matter.

At this point, we are no longer calling for our members to contact either Dr. Milgraum or the newspaper "What, Where, When." We believe such communication will detract from potential progress in this case.

520 8th Avenue, Fourth Floor, New York, NY ● 888-550-JOFA
Forward email

The threat is over - Except to the state of Israel

I find blogging interesting. People come by for all sorts of reasons, but unless you write about sex, few people others than those who are regulars, or those who stumble upon you accidentally, read what you have written. I guess, to paraphrase what someone said recently in a different context, blogging is very self - indulgent. It is about you. Some may find that interesting. Most, I imagine, don't really care. There are, however, some exceptions.
Some of you have seen the JIB Awards voting that is going on right now. It give you an opportunity to see some of the really good blogs out there. One of my favorites is Treppenwitz, my old friend Dave, who is in the running for a few awards. Log into the JIB website and vote for Dave's site by going to "best all around finalists" (here) and clicking on the link for large blogs, and find and vote for Treppenwitz. There are other categories that Dave is running in so look around and enjoy. You will also see links to others in the Jblogoshpehere who are great. Dave has had some great posts. One of my favorites was the one he wrote a while back called the rental cello. Go read it, it is very heartwarming. That post is about what makes what I am going to point out so awful. It seems that there are organizations, most notably Hillel that are "having a problem" displaying the Israeli flag. (See article here ) I don't know what your take is, but I think it is awful that we have to have open discussions at flying the Israeli flag at our college and universities because of what it represents? The article leads off with how Brown University students gave the new Hillel director a hard time when she wanted to know why there was no Israeli flag in the building. I am very supportive of Hillel. I am now having second thoughts. The fact that this has become something open to debate, boggles my mind.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The threat comes true - part two

There are several transformative experiences that I have had that have not only impacted my spiritual development, but have changed the way I view and live Judaism. After a fairly long career in civil service in metropolitan Philadelphia, I took a job at a Jewish agency in a relatively nearby shore community. My boss hired me because, as an "orthodox" Jew, I could provide the "Jewish face" or point of view to the community and the agency. Of course, as a yarmulke wearing Jew, you are always open to those who either feel threatened or embarrassed, and my boss, whom I adore, was no exception. We would walk daily on the boardwalk, which we were fortunate to have only two blocks from the office. Often, these talks would take on a question and answer session about religion. My boss, being a secular cynic, would always playfully (sort of) accuse me of inflexibility and being locked into archaic ways of doing things. I would of course respond defensively, explaining that without observant Jews, there would be no real Judaism, and other "party line" responses that I learned over the years. Internally, I would question myself, and did not have any real good answers. One of the most interesting dialogues I had with my boss was to come several years later, and i will discuss that in a later post.
One of the duties of my job at that time was to speak at synagogues to promote the agency. My first such engagement was at the local Reform Temple. Since it was early on in my enlightenment, if you will, I had some pretty strong feelings about the matter. I went about preparing a d'var torah, and said to myself, "it will be the only Torah that this congregation will learn, so I better do something good for them." It was the dead of winter, so I figured that no one would be there anyway, so who really cared. It was a 2 and a half mile walk from where i was staying to the Temple, so I started out in the freezing cold, and cursed my job. About 45 mins - hour later i arrived at the Temple. There were people bustling around, wearing talitot, and wishing everyone a "shabbat shalom." I could not believe it. People in shul on a Friday night, and they actually wanted to be there. They looked happy. Not like in my shul on Friday night where everyone looks bored and tired, and wants to get home as soon as possible. Granted, this was a late service, and they had all eaten already, whereas in my shul we pray before dinner.
They invited me up to the Bimah to occupy a chair of honor, and the Rabbi got up to deliver his remarks. To my shock and dismay, he gave MY D"VAR TORAH, which of course set up the whole rest of my speech for the night. I had no idea what I was going to do. In the end, I spoke pretty well, was well received, and roundly applauded by the congregation. I could have lived without the organ and the selling of Shop - Rite scrip for the ladies auxiliary after services, but in the end, i walked away and said to myself...... You have 75 people who came to service on a Friday night because they WANTED to, not because they had to. They were enjoying themselves, and finding spiritual meaning in what they were doing. How can this be bad????


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The threat comes true - part one

Once upon a time, ok, maybe more than once, I threatened to write a bit about the things that influenced my thoughts about Judaism. A post today by DJ Singer (life on the far side... link here and on the side) got me thinking that maybe it was time to do just that. On his blog, he talks about the people that pass his way (in the blogosphere) and who they were and did he know them. I don't know him, but got to thinking that his blog has influenced some of my recent thinking about yiddishkeit (positively) and I got to thinking about others who have influenced me. (or not) The other day, I posted a link to an interview of Marc Shapiro. If you did not read that interview, you should do it. It really defines, in my way of thinking, someone whose ideas are right on the mark. In the article, Professor Shapiro explains that in "modern Orthodoxy" many of the things that were once done in our communities are no longer acceptable, and he laments these changes within contemporary Orthodox Judaism. This is why I enjoy reading Singer's blog. You see, it is written by a reform rabbinical student, someone with whom once upon a time, I would have had nothing to do. Having been raised in an orthodox home, with a small orthodox group of acquaintances, I lived a pretty sheltered life. Not only was it sheltered, but I felt it was the only lifestyle in Judaism that had meaning. True meaning. Imagine my surprise when I began working in the Jewish Communal field and found that there were other forms of Judaism that worked for many people and maybe even had some legitimacy. Imagine my greater surprise when I learned that these people, conservative, reform, reconstructionist actually KNEW SOMETHING. Now please don't misunderstand me. I mean no disrespect, nor is this how I feel today. I am merely trying to explain my spiritual travels. They began in a place of judgement. A place that says there is only one right way, and it is my way. And as many of you know, that thought process continues today for many people. It is, what I call, the Frummometer. Anyone to the right is a fanatic, anyone to the left, is a heretic. Frum is a yiddish term that means observant of the mitzvot. Of course in my world, my level of Frumkeit was always right. Today, I realize that the Singers and Shapiros of the world might actually have it right, at least for themselves and for those who share similar thoughts. I have evolved a position in life that Judaism has many legitimate "faces" (from the expression shiv'im panim l'torah - the Torah has seventy faces - meaning there are numerous way to look at it) and while I practice, observe, or believe in one way, it does not mean that other ways have no merit. They are just not for me, but they deserve respect.


Sfirah smile.

I admit it. Even, my friend Dovid yelled at me. I got lazy. Truth is, that I have been very busy, and have not been "inspired" the last few days, so I have not posted. In the interest of new content, I am posting a fun picture. It is my intention to get back here later and put up a quality post. By the way, we submitted some of the photos from my trip to the Fairchild to their photo contest. Wish me luck!!!!

In the meantime, here is a little picture from a friend that should make you smile.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Things once taken for granted, are now unnaceptable

The title of a great article in the Jewish Press that will make for good Shabbat discussion, by Prefessor Marc Shapiro.

Photo Friday

With apology to my friend Dave Bogner, (treppenwitz) who inspired me to start writing this blog, I have stolen, at least for today, his Photo Friday feature (that I have missed) that he stopped doing for some reason. (Why'd jadoit, Dave?) Read his recent post on the incident with his son and his bike. It was terrific!! So here, as promised, are some, what I think are amazing pictures from the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Fairchild Botanical Tropical Gardens in Miami, and one or two others.
This is one of the Main buildings with a signature Chihuli piece that is breathtaking:

This is a shot of one of the many beautiful tropical plants growing on the grounds.

Note how the pieces blend in to the background!

And finally, the woodpeckers on the trees in the tropical gardens are way bigger than those up North!!!

And Lastly, this was the most amazing sand castle I have ever seen. It was on the Beach in Miami Beach at 39th street.

The Fairchild Botanical gardens is in the Coral Gables section of Miami, and worth the trip. The cost is high, but make sure you ask for the AAA discount! You save a whole dollar!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Agunah Issue....continued

It was my intention today to post some amazing pictures from my little trip to Miami. I went to the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, an ethereal place with plants and flowers that make you remember vividly that there is a G-d. I will leave that for tomorrow.
Today, I want to turn for the final time, I hope, to the post I wrote a few days ago about the Agunah issue, specifically as it related to Sima Milgraum, and Sandy Milgraum. I posted an email that I received from a relative stating numerous things, that are apparently causing the family on both sides continued aggravation, anger, and alleged continued hurt. Without judgement, and being new to the blogging game, I have decided to remove the email portion of that post. I do it out of a sense of fairness to the writer, that it might not have been her intention to publicly say the things she did in the email. I also do it in respect to the son of one of the couple, who asked me to remove it since it was hurting him. He also asked that I apologize. That I won't do. It was my intention to look at the actions of JOFA, who, without telling me why, in an email I was sent, instructed me, (and by extension everyone who received that blast email) to boycott a RELATIVE of the alleged recalcitrant husband. At best, it was an unfair request without enough information, and at worst, it was an awful misuse of the trust that I place in JOFA.
So I will remove the email, but leave the rest of the post, which will be incomplete and jumbled. I want to make some statements/observations about the Agunah issue that have NOTHING TO DO with the case above. I have said before, and I repeat, the agunah issue is an ugly business. Men should not have the right to withhold a get. My wife and I argue about this, but in the end, I have to agree with her in most cases. When we married, we used the RCA's prenuptial agreement which forces the husband to give a woman a get in circumstances where the marriage breaks down. It is something that I believe every woman who gets married should have. I have to admit, I had my own issues to signing it, and even made some handwritten changes, but once you realize that the playing field is not level without it, you have no real smart option but to use it. I believe if every woman insisted on its use, we'd have far fewer agunot. My wife feels that in EVERY case, the man should deliver a get to the woman in a reasonable amount of time. I guess I can imagine legitimate reasons for not doing that, but many might disagree, including my wife, so I won't bother to put them forward.
This issue is one that has to remain at the front of our consciousness since it is something that has to be changed, or that we need to find an halachically acceptable way of dealing with.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Beauty and Godliness

In my wanderings in Miami, i came across the following shop. Obviously, the two (mentioned in the title) are more intertwined that I could have ever imagined. The special, which is first on the sign, was only $20. It looks like a good deal!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Agunot and Broken Promises

Since I am traveling, it might be hard to write, but I am going to try. I know in an earlier post I promised i would not keep on ranting about the Agunah issue. I lied. Sort of. I received a response from "anonymous" who identified themself as a family member. Their email to me was critical in nature, saying that writing about this merely added "fuel to the fire and made things worse". The utter irony is that what i actually did in my post was to defend Michael Milgraum, someone I do not know who is the brother of the alleged recalcitrant husband. I also took the opportunity to criticize JOFA, (an organization that i like very much) for putting out information suggesting that the Jewish community boycott Michael Milgraum. I said then, and i reiterate, that there was something about that that felt wrong, and i wrote about it in the earlier post. I decided to include the email that i received it in its entirety with the following proviso: The Agunah issue is an ugly issue. I don't know the specifics of the Milgraum case. I do know that there are usually two sides to most stories, sometimes, only one side is true. In this case, I don't know which side is the true one. Here is the email that i received:
Note: At the request of family members, I have deleted the email referenced herein. It is out of the concern for their feelings that I have done this, and feel very strongly that the issues raised both above, and in the more recent post of 5/3/07 need to be addressed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baltimore's Response to Allegations of Sex Abuse

With all due respect to my friends from the Baltimore Community, i think I am going to be sick.
The Jewish Daily Forward ran an article today on the ongoing debate over the handling of the publishing of the allegations of sex abuse by a former principal of the Baltimore Talmudical Academy, who is now deceased. I wrote about this a few days ago, and expressed my disappointment in the Torah sage, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, for telling his constituents to boycott the Baltimore Jewish Times, ostensibly because of the article they published about Rabbi Shapiro. The article in today's Daily Forward clears up the fact that some in the Orthodox community have wanted the paper banned for a while, for publishing interfaith wedding announcements, advertising non-Kosher food, and showing pictures of women whose dress fails to meet orthodox standards. While I don't agree, at least those reasons I can accept. Banning the paper for publishing stories about alleged molesters is not an acceptable reason. In any event, here is what made me sick. In the article, the following quote appears: "We were outraged by the way they dealt with the molestation case,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, a prominent rabbi living in Baltimore who heads up the Washington office of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America. “The person who is accused is dead,” Cohen added. “We need to ask what good does publishing his name do and what harm does it cause his family.” OMYGOD!!!! Hello? What good does it do? How about helping dozens of victims heal? Don't we learn anything? A few days ago I made reference to Baruch Lanner, a convicted orthodox Rabbi sex offender and the damage he did to so many. How can we (yes, i mean "we" for I am part of this community) allow this to continue? As someone who witnessed the damage done by these perpetrators, (I worked with children who had been abused for many years) burying the information with the perpetrators merely pepetuates the abuse. All those, and there appear to be many, who suffered silently, can now begin to, or if they are lucky, finish the need to heal brought on by these events.
Many in the Orthodox community of Baltimore have done an amazing job in helping the community deal with this. Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, of congregation Shomrei Emunah, devoted a recent sermon to the need to speak out against sexual abuse. For many, this is an unprecendented step. We need it. Because of people like Abba Cohen (above) who made this thoughtful, caring comment: What are they going to do next? Have a molester of the week feature?” G-d help us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moron (that's "more on") Rabbis, Agunot, and the faulty system

I promise that I am not going to keep ranting about the Aguna issue, or the rampant abuse of the Rabbinical Courts, but I want to follow up on some earlier posts.I will then "give it a rest" for a while. It is also something I feel strongly about, and believe the inequity of the system requires us to do something about it. This inequity is steeped in Jewish law, that on its face, is the one issue that I have always has serious problems understanding in our religion. It puts the entire power for divorce only in the hands of the husband. It is he who decides IF he will grant a divorce, and until he does, there is nothing that the wife can do. She cannot date, she cannot remarry. She is "chained" which is the definition of Aguna. However, sometimes, what we do about this inequity can in and of itself be awful. I will get to that in a few minutes, when I take issue with an email I received today from an organization of which I think very highly. But first, a short lesson and story. The Talmud dictates that under certain circumstances, if a Jewish Court orders the dissolution of a marriage, and the husband refuses to comply, the use of coercion is acceptable. There was a story I was once told about a man brought forcibly before the Rabbinical court demanding that he give his wife a Get (Jewish divorce). He refused. Finally, the Chief Rabbi of the court looked him straight in the eye and said, "in Judaism, there are two ways that a man can divorce his wife.... voluntarily, or if he dies. Which would you prefer?" I am told it is a true story. So we see that our tradition has a long history of trying to help these chained women free themselves where it is appropriate. And to use drastic means. So it comes as no surprise that I received an email letter from JOFA today asking to support a woman by the name of Sima Milgraum, who has been an Aguna for ten years. I don't know Sima's story, but I am sure she is worthy of my, and your support. No woman, for any reason, should be allowed to be an aguna for ten years. However, and here is where I have the problem, they recommend that the public stop using the services of the recalcitrant husband's brother. This brother, Michael Milgraum is a divorce mediator, and recently wrote an article titled Divorce: Individual and Communal Responses to a Difficult Problem. It occurs to me that Michael Milgraum may not have a relationship with his brother. Maybe he hates him. Maybe this is his way of trying to get the community mobilized to prevent what his brother did. Maybe he is an idiot and deserves the condemnation and boycott. But I don't know that, and JOFA didn't tell me that. I would never want to damage the fine work of JOFA. In addition to their work on behalf of Agunot, their education of the community on Women's issues is terrific. I think if they have more information that would convince me that this is an appropriate way to "get to" Sandy Milgraum, they should tell us. If not, they should refrain from harming someone to get to someone else. If you have any additional information, email me, or leave a comment, and i will correct it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

People Do the Dumbest Things..... April 24th edition

There was a short article in my hometown newspaper today about Jasrahel King, a 29 year old, who last month stole a jeep from a lot in Norwalk, Ct. It seems that after test driving a few cars on a lot, Mr. King, and the Jeep, whose keys were left in the ignition, disappeared. Imagine the surprise of the manager of the lot when Mr. King returned with the Jeep on Saturday afternoon, looking to trade it in for a larger car. "I was left speechless" said the manager of the lot, who remembered King from the previous month. I guess so!
Mr. King was arrested.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Reform Movement Responsible for Holocaust

JTA published this news item about Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu's comments on the radio in Israel that the Reform movement is responsible for the Holocaust. A wonderful way to commemorate Yom Hashoa. I wonder how many reform children and babies died because of the sins of the reform movement. Prime Minister Olmert blasted the comments and the media implied that it is precisely this type of behavior that leads the chiloni (secular) Jews to hate the Orthodox in Israel.

Rabbinic Sexual Abuse of Children

My former brother in law lives in the Baltimore area. Over the last week or so, he has been keeping me in the loop regarding the story that broke last week of the alleged abuse of hundreds of children by Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, the former principal of the Talmudical Academy. A few days ago, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, one of the great Torah sages of our day issued an edict calling for the boycott of the Baltimore Jewish Times, who originally broke the story. (below, left) Now I am not the first or only one to write about this, (link here and here) but yesterday, I wrote about the abuse of adults by Rabbis. Today, it is the abuse of kids by rabbis. As a human service professional who spent over a dozen years working with children who were abused, I am appalled by the continuation of "keeping the secret." Didn't we learn our lesson with the Boruch Lanner affair? I can't begin to tell you how many of these cases one finds EVERY SINGLE DAY that go unreported or covered up. To ban a newspaper because they report the truth for fear of lashon hora or some such nonsense is a crime that the rabbis will have to account for in the world to come. What in the world happened to protecting our children? How about the collusion among the institutions that shuffle one abuser to another location only to allow them to abuse again? I once attended a lecture as part of a conference of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists where they talked about sexual abuse of children in the orthodox community. Wanna be scared? Listen to some of those lectures. Frightening doesn't begin to describe it. Like the case of the chassidic child molester who was brought before the Rebbe. His "sentence" was to be "transferred" to the upstate (NY) community where the sect has a presence. His new job? School bus driver. Come on, you have got to be kidding me. One of the best ideas to come along in years is JSAFE, started by a friend of mine, Rabbi Mark Dratch. It is an organization that promotes "abuse free environments" for children. No big surprise, given its voluntary nature, the organizations are not turning out in droves to sign up. It would be great if we could all pressure every Jewish camp, school, synagogue and other organization to sign up with JSAFE to ensure that our children are in safe and protected environments. Then, the Rabbis would not be able to cover it up.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The (Downward) Roller Coaster of Rabbinic Abuse

Yesterday was my birthday. On my way into the City (that would be New York, for the un-initiated) for a celebratory dinner at Abigael's , an awesome steak house, my wife received a call from her friend, whom I will call Malka to preserve some anonymity. Malka got divorced not too long ago, but in keeping with her desire to work within the framework of Halacha, agreed with her manipulating, lying ex-husband (no strong feelings here) to allow the beth din to have the power to decide all matters regarding her, her assets and the children. Ok, not the smartest move, I admit, but what has happened is unbelievable. I grew up "orthodox" and am still observant, I was taught, like many, to revere Rabbis, and to trust. We all know from the sensational cases over the last few years, and what is going on right now in the Baltimore community (good link here) I think that some of that infallibility thinking has gone by the wayside. Unfortunately, rabbinic abuse is something that just won't go away.
Our friend Malka is the prime example. She has repeatedly been subjected to totally unfair and Misogynistic rulings and opinions by the Rabbis she has entrusted to deal fairly with her. In the end, they get to do what they want, with absolutely no oversight or review, and she has virtually no recourse. Having signed a legal document empowering the beth din to act as a court, she has limited ability at this point to challenge their rulings. And the rulings, SURPRISE!!! are often in favor of the ex-husband despite their incredibly, painfully obvious bias, lack of judgement and understanding. And she can't do anything about it. It sucks. As a someone who works with people for a living, listening to the "rulings" that these men have made, using "psychology" as a basis, something of which they have little knowledge, makes me ill. Until the issues are resolved, I am sure unsatisfactorily, there is little that can be done to right the wrongs, or publicise the craziness. It will merely end up hurting Malka. They won't even allow her to bring a representative to their kangaroo court to help an obviously intimidated woman present her case fairly. Fortunately, she was able to find one Rabbi, who was able to assert himself and be present at many of the meetings. My understanding is that while he doesn't do much in the sessions, his presence and his knowledge of Halacha is enough to stop the rampant abuse.... sometimes.
I await the day when we can go public with this information. These rabbis have hurt Malka. Financially, emotionally, and impacted her children. I only hold off to help Malka. I wonder how many others there are like her.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Unprepared for the Beauty in Everyday Life

I came across an interesting article by the title above by David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He raises some interesting points on both sides of the coin. Here is how the article starts:

IN THE annals of newspaper tricks and gimmicks this ranks amongst the best. Not, perhaps, as good as when James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald sent Stanley to find Livingston. But a whole lot better than showing how hot it is outside in midsummer by frying an egg on a sidewalk. Earlier this year, the Washington Post asked Joshua Bell, one of the world's most renowned violinists, and a matinee idol besides, to stand at a subway stop, play his instrument, and see if anyone noticed.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Rainy Sundays

While I was at synagogue yesterday, someone was telling me about a tour that a group of Jewish communal professionals was taking in Israel. The first day, they travelled up north. The guide pointed to a spot and said "You see that spot there? It is the burial place of Shmuel" Duly impressed, the group moved on. The following day, they toured the south. The guide again pointed and said "See that spot? It is the burial place of Shmuel" One of the members of the group said "How can that be? You showed us the burial place of Shmuel yesterday!" Silly!, exclaimed the guide. Yesterday I showed you the burial place of Shmuel Aleph. Today, you saw the burial place of Shmuel Bet.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Its my blog and I'll write if I want to.....

My friend Duvid says I shouldn't write about nonsense that goes on in my life, like our move, or whether I have to time to write or not. I say Hooey! With that in mind, I have not had time to write a word in a week. It is amazing how much guilt I have about it. My site meter says people are visiting, but there is nothing new to read, so I am going to try to change that. The next few days are going to be rough since I will be at a conference during the day, but i wilt try to talk about it somewhat. I haven't written a post because of the move I have mentioned... But we did it!!! We finally moved. And what an experience it has been. Funny. You become an expert, but for what? I doubt I will be able to use what i learned in the move since we won't do that again. Hey. I know... I am going to become a move consultant.... yeah, that's it!

Some things ARE funny

Ok, so now you get two for the price of one....... One of the blogs I try to read somewhat regularly is Life on the far side. (No link, because you will find it to the right in the link list) His last two posts are great for different reasons. He has a John Oliver parody that is a must see. Once you have checked that out, go look at his Pesach post, which you must print out and test yourself. It was the most comprehensive list I have seen, and it is really neat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Disappearing American Jewry - Getting our Groove Back

It is a somewhat borrowed title from a book by Scott Shay called "Getting our Groove Back - How to Energize American Jewry" and a combination of Alan Dershowitz' book of a similar title a few years back, which paints a chilling, but IMHO a realistic picture of the fate of American Jews. Shay writes that there are 10 critical "planks" facing American Jewry. One of them is the shrinking of the Jewish population. According to Shay, in 1980, there were 5.9 million Jews in the U.S. Today, that number is 5.2 million, with 2.6 million "committed." He goes on to say that if that trend continues, the American Jewish population will be halved by 2030. He maintains that American Jews contribute greatly to our people hood, and we must find a way to reverse not only this trend, but others as well. He contends that we need to find a way to have 50% of all children receive day school educations. And not only the type found in Orthodox institutions, but we need to also find a way to create sustainable, viable institutions for all Jewish children. And at a fraction of the cost. Day school tuitions today cost in the area of $15,000 - $25,000 depending on the location and type of institution. This puts it beyond the means of some, and the desire of others. If you have three children who attend day schools, you will pay at least $30,000, even after scholarships, if you qualify. That is a lot of money! Shay suggests finding a way to ensure that every child, every family, be given a way to afford a Jewish education.
Shay also points to the "existential crisis" of the Conservative movement. He states that they are losing members at the rate of 2,000/month, and have fallen from the largest of the three denominations to second place.
He suggests that they must re-invent themselves, which they have started to do, in my opinion, with the synaplex concept, and the admission of gay Rabbis, whatever your feelings on that might be. The end of the waffling is a good thing for the movement, even if it is not what some want.
Additionally, Shay suggests that we need to have more children. He says that even if we factor in the Ultra-orthodox, we are replacing ourselves at a rate of 1.2. In 50 years, that leads to a 50% reduction in the population.
Shay has a total of "10 planks", the others I will not go into here. Feel free to read his book. On this holiday of Freedom, he paints a scary picture of the future of our people, who, according to him, will not be here in force in 50 years if we don't do something to change the current trend.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores, in an article published in the New York Jewish Week writes one of the more moving pieces that I have read recently. Instead of giving a link, I include it here in its entirety, with thanks to both Leo and The Jewish Week:

The Fifth Question

Leo Pores - Special To The Jewish Week

“What,” cried Grandpa Samuel, “did you just ask?”I was 8 years old, and it was almost 80 years ago. It was the traditional seder. I had just recited the Four Questions to a round of applause. Terrified, I slumped in my seat.I had asked a Fifth Question: “Why are matzah squares instead of round matzah balls to be served for dinner?”Grandpa Samuel bristled and was turning red. Taking me by the hand, he marched me into the kitchen where Grandma Sarah stood in a defiant mood. She motioned to Grandpa to approach the stove. There, floating in a golden chicken soup, were two-inch matzah squares, about a half-inch thick.“You are not really going to serve this, are you?” asked Grandpa, menacingly.“You bet I am,” replied Grandma, her voice raising an octave.Cousin Marcia entered the kitchen. “What’s all the commotion?” she demanded. “We could hear you arguing in the living room.”Grandpa turned brusquely, grasped my hand and pulled me into the dining room. “I’ll explain it later,” he reluctantly said, his voice trailing over his shoulder.The seder proceeded somberly, and we finally read the page with the ominous warning: Partake of the Festive Meal.Conversation continued to be lively when the gefilte fish and horseradish were served. The usual accolades about the fish ensued. Then came the chicken soup with matzah squares floating majestically to and fro. There was a hush and complete silence.Grandpa could contain himself no longer. Contrary to his better judgment, he was compelled to answer the Fifth Question.“The matzah squares,” he began hesitatingly, “were made by accident.“When we moved here, Grandma and I joined the Orthodox synagogue,” he continued. “We made many friends. Every year I bought a ticket for the High Holy Days and had a reserved seat. Grandma sat upstairs with the women.“Because they were a sisterhood, the women decided to make a communal seder. They would prepare the meals in the shul’s kitchen. The rabbi agreed to conduct the seder. There was much anticipation, and I was eagerly looking forward to it.” Grandpa’s voice trembled with emotion.“What happened next?” asked Cousin Aaron.Grandpa continued somberly. “They served the soup” – and pandemonium broke loose. “What is the meaning of this? Square matzahs!” the men shouted. “Have you lost your minds?”“Please let me explain...” The rabbi’s wife. Rebbetzin Sylvia timidly began the explanation. “We were so busy chatting away that we left the batter in the refrigerator too long. It froze, and was hardly manageable. It would not form round, so we had a tray with two-inch squares and we formed them.”She recited this as if divulging a secret recipe.Arguments erupted among the men. One half said it would by OK – dayenu. The other half gathered their coats, their women, their children and left the shul.Saturday morning was a revelation. Half the congregation, the Squares, sat on the left. The other half, the Rounds, sat on the right.The rabbi was obviously dismayed. In spite of all his efforts, he could nor bridge the gap.So when, a few weeks later, the Rounds announced that they had bought a building and were starting their own shul, the rabbi was not surprised.“We were on the Square side – we became Reform Jews.”Grandpa stopped talking. There was a pause, a lengthy pause, while everyone pondered the dilemma.Grandma Sarah broke the silence.“All those that want matzah squares, raise your hand,” she said. “All those that want round matzah balls, nod your head.“You see,” she said in a spirit of compromise, “I also made round matzah balls for you traditionalists. Even though we differed on some rituals, we Squares make round matzah balls to remind us that we are one people.”“If that is the case,” I said to Grandpa, “What is the answer to the Fifth Question?” I spoke as a precocious 8-year-old.“The answer to the Fifth Question,” replied Grandpa, “is ... it is the matzah that is important, regardless of its shape. It is to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt and to never forget our fellow Jews. Israel stands as our guardian, so that whenever a Jew is threatened in the world, whether Round or Square, we can say ‘Never Again.’”I was so glad I asked the Fifth Question. Leo Pores lives in Brooklyn.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Not your grandfather's Malaga wine - Just in Time for Passover

If you are like me then you have begun to appreciate the new Kosher wines. Today, there are hundreds of varieties from literally all over the world. I just picked up a new one from South Africa, though I have had South African wines before. When I was in Israel two years ago, i had the opportunity to be at a wine tasting that featured Dan Rogov, the pre-eminent wine connoisseur and he told us about the dozens of new kosher Israeli wines that were coming out, and how they were world class. And now we have proof! In the April edition of Wine Spectator magazine, they feature a review of 25 kosher wines. We have truly made it to world class status. It is great. So tonight, at the Seder, no malaga or heavy, sweet wines for me. We can all enjoy a nice Cabernet, or Merlot. It's enough to make an observant Jew intimidated. But in the infamous words of Dan Rogov at that taste testing a few years back, "the best wine, no matter how much it costs, is the wine you like to drink best!"

The Time of our Freedom?

I know this is not an original thought, but it occurs to me that Pesach is anything but a time of Freedom for modern Jews. First there is the enslavement of the cleaning and preparation for the holiday. The spending of hundreds of dollars on new(meaning those items that you have in your cabinets but have been opened) or special food. If you are fortunate enough to be able to go away for the holiday, the spending of tens of thousands of dollars for the hotel in Miami or Aruba. For those who have gone away, at some point it becomes an expectation, and not a privilege, Hence, you become a slave to that experience. It is no longer something that you want to do, it becomes something you MUST do. Then there are all the other things: the cooking, the clothes shopping and all the other things that go along with it. At least since there are so many products for Pesach now it has become pretty easy to maintain the comforts of year-round while still observing Pesach.
But let's assume you can get through all this, and still feel that you are truly free. Not all of us are. Many are slaves to addictions. Slaves to all sorts of negativity in our lives. And worse yet, some of us are truly not free in the literal sense of the word. And all of the above things pale in comparison. We have several Israeli soldiers that many of us have forgotten about: Gilad Shalit, Udi Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and the "other missing soldiers": Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, Zachary Baumel and Ron Arad, our brothers who were taken captive while fighting for the people and the security of the State of Israel. There are those who have suggested that we add some meaningful prayers/thoughts to our seder to remember thise missing soldiers. One is a Passover Prayer to add right after "Avadim Hayinu" Another is to add a "Kos Shvuyim", a cup of wine, right after Elijah's cup for the captured Israeli soldiers. I think they are both great ideas.
Tonight, let us lift up, or pour a cup of wine and recite the readings above (the link) in order to make sure that we do not forget our brothers who
are still in captivity.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Pizza auction after Pesach

I just spotted this post from Life of Rubin about an auction for the first pizza after pesach from Pizza Time in Flatbush. The money goes to charity. I think it a great idea!

Quote for a Friday Afternoon

As I clean for my move, I came across a quote I like that I wanted to share for the weekend:
"Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore, you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any condition...... Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many time as you think is necesssary...(then ask one question.) I will tell you what it is. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.
Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart and one doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong, one weakens you..... a path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with a heart is easy. It does not make you work at liking it.

Don Juan

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Windows and other challenges of moving

Previously, I have mentioned that we are moving our offices in a few weeks. With the deadline looming, and Passover around the corner, things have really begun to heat up. There are so many things that I have learned that I thought I would never need to know. Like what a core factor is. Some of you will know what I am talking about. Some of you will know it by another name. Basically, in our area, a core factor refers to that area in a commercial building that is shared such as the hallways, bathrooms, etc. But the most challenging part of the move is dealing with staff. As the chief executive in a social service organization, I deal with staff every day. They do the most wonderful and complex things day in, day out, usually without a lot of complaining. That was before the move. Now, it is "why do I have to share an office? Why is my office so small? Why is located on the north side? " and on, and on. I am usually a pretty relaxed person. Every day, my associate director will come in, close the door, and say..... so and so has this or that complaint. I have been reduced to shouting, "let them quit." I know, however, that in a few weeks, things will settle down and we will be very happy (i hope) in our new digs, which will be bright, shiny and brand new.
And this is what amazes me, and brought me to the world of social services many years ago. People. They are amazing. Complicated. Wonderful. CHALLENGING! I remember one of my first jobs in this field was for a large municipal agency in a big city. The supervisors got cubicles, the rest of us got desks in a large open room. You were "placed" to some extent by seniority in the room. When a window space opened, if you were there long enough, you got to move your desk. We used to pray for people to retire. We could work with the most difficult cases of child abuse without batting an eye lash, but not getting the window seat reduced us to children. And so it goes. Thankfully, my staff is better than that. Some days, it doesn't feel like it.
I know one thing. I will get the window seat!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smoking Pot on Pesach

What would we do without the JTA to inform us of the cutting edge news that comes to us from the Holy Land? (click here for story) In a nutshell, the Green Leaf Party has announced that since Marijuana contains seeds, it is not permitted to ashkenazic Jews over Passover for fear of its being Kitniyot, which is generally meant to be legumes, such as peas, beans, rice and lentils. The JTA consulted Rabbi Moshe Elefant from the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America who said that since the substance is illegal and would be as unhealthy as cigarettes and therefore not acceptable halachically, he had not even considered the question. However, he continued, if Marijuana was being used for legal medical purposes, it would be allowed on Passover, as are all medications.
Sounds kinda far -fetched to me.

Get on the Bus for Passover

In both my local paper and the Yeshiva World News (photo at left) there was an article about the Passover Matzah Bus in Spring Valley, (Monsey, NY) a small community near here that has a very large population of Chassidishe residents. I love this idea. Essentially, the Rabbi in this story created a Matzah factory from an old school bus, and makes about 100 pounds of Matzah each year for his family and his small congregation. Town officials are not crazy about this because they are concerned about the safety of a blast oven in an enclosed school bus attached to a house in a residential area. Not an unwarranted concern. They have told the Rabbi he needs to change the way he is doing it. In typical Jewish joke fashion, they have decided to give him a few days to "see how it goes." Since today is Wednesday, and the baking will most likely be done by Sunday, sounds reasonable to me. Next year might be a problem. Of course, next year, as we say in the Haggadah, we'll all be in Jersusalem, so baking the matzot will be less of a problem.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Murder by the Sea - And what it means to Israeli Society

Last night I had the opportunity to see a screening of "Blues by the Beach" a documentary by Jack Baxter and others. This powerful film is about the bombing at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv in 2003, where three people were killed, and scores were injured. Mikes Place calls itself "an island of sanity in a region torn apart by conflict." And that it is. A place where people from all over, and from all walks of life get together to listen to American music, talk English, and have a good time. One of the most fascinating things about the documentary is that they began filming a movie set around the bar, with absolutely no inkling of what was to come. They interviewed people that worked there, showed them having their breaks, their cigarettes, their beers. Having a good time. In the blink of an eye, totally unsuspecting, the world is turned upside down. What began as a human interest story, ended as a human tragedy story. And powerful it was. Three people died, but the one that the filmmaker seemed to focus on was Dominique Haas, (Photo at left.... from the Mike's Place website) a beautiful pastry chef from France, who had come to Israel not because she was a Zionist or a religious Jew. Just because she wanted to.
One of the most poignant and sad things about the film was the relationship between Pavla, who edited the film, and Joshua, who was the photographer for most of it. Joshua and Pavla were boyfriend/girlfriend, who seemed to be quite in love early in the film. The night of the bombing, they had different reactions. In the chaos of the situation, they reacted very differently. Pavla, feeling that Joshua was too emotional, and not "strong enough," needing the support of a "strong man" slept with a mutual friend that night seeking comfort and solace. Joshua just needed time alone, to deal with the loss and the hurt of that night. When Pavla told Joshua she had slept with another man she implied that Joshua was not strong enough for her that night, he wanted little to do with her. The movie showed their relationship after this episode, and Pavla's attempt to make up with Joshua, but it was not to be. Pavla returned to the Czech Republic, and their relationship ended.
This is, I believe one of the more tragic results of the terror in Israel. It also reminds me of what I wrote in an earlier post about how hard it is to feel for something when you are not directly involved. At least it is for me. I know there are those who can catapult themselves into other places, start to feel and cry, but for me, I have to be there. And that is what "blues by the beach" did for me. I was IN Mike's place. I met Dominique. She was real. And then she was gone. Just like that. So incredibly sad. It made me angry. The senselessness of it all. The killing of people who were out for the evening on the beach, having a beer, dancing. 29 years old. Gone.
Equally sad was the story of Pavla and Joshua. A young couple in love who were propelled into oblivion and destroyed because of this. Maybe Pavla didn't really love Joshua. Maybe these problems would have surfaced later in their relationship. Maybe not. What I am left wondering is after the thousands of innocents maimed and killed who were out eating pizza, drinking a beer, dancing...... How many Joshua and Pavla's are left in Israeli society? A human tragedy that continued beyond the dead, the injured, the re-building. It makes me angry.

The Return of the Emunotes

Well, they have returned home triumphantly. A hearty Mazal Tov to Shlomo and Friends. We look forward to seeing you on the next trip, and look forward to seeing you on our next trip.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Brotherly (and family) Love

I am off to Philadelphia for Shabbat. It is a strange experience for me. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and lived in Philly for 20 years. When I go back as a visitor/tourist, it is strange to look at the city I grew up in with visitor's eyes. It is also lots of fun. Last time I was there, i visited the National Constitution Center a relatively new (seven years old) museum in Philly. Sounds like a real bore, and truth be told, if you were raised in this country, it is to some extent. The opening exhibit/lecture is fantastic, however, and made the visit worthwhile. They do a multi-media presentation in the round, and the narrator is terrific. The rest of the museum focuses on stuff most of us grew up with.

This time, we will once again visit Congregation Mikveh Israel which is the second oldest synagogue in America. A Spanish-Portugese synagogue that has incorporated many of the pieces from the original synagogue, it was founded in 1740. To this day, not only do they retain the original style and cantorial "nusach", but they offer a communal dinner and lunch on Friday night and Saturday afternoon to anyone who comes in. (They do ask for a donation) The synagogue also houses the National Museum of American Jewish History which, while not open on Shabbat, is a great place to visit. Of course, no visit is complete with traveling a half block from the synagogue to see Philly's famed Cracked bell... The Liberty Bell. Again,this is weird for me because as a native Philadelphian, we used to drive past it all the time, and think, wow... look at the nutty tourists.... Now i are one. Of course, more fun is a trip to the Franklin Institute, which has an exhibit on King Tut. How appropriate before Pesach. Or the Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest zoo in the country.
But the real reason I am going to Philly is for a family Shabbat away. My wife has had a tradition of going away with family members, and reconecting and just spending time together. This year, as a new member of the family I get to come along. Should be (gulp) fun. I'll let you know when I get back.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The agony of "de feet" or Friday's Post on Thursday night

I don't know if I will have a chance to post tomorrow since I will be away for shabbat, so I am posting a little early.
Tonight, my son's school had a father - son basketball game. Being the good dad that I am, I of course had to play. Now understand, I know basketball pretty well, and can coach, teach, instruct. Play? Well, that's a horse of a different color.
But I figure, what the heck, there will be plenty of dads. I can play a bit, and watch the rest. Unfortunately, god had other plans. Only three dads showed up. Worse yet, only one of us could really play. (no, it wasn't me) Now if you have not had the experience of playing sports that require great expenditure of energy against 13 and 14 year olds in a while, let me tell you, it aint easy. I watched a lot of the action from the other side of the court. Slow Down!!!! We kept shouting at the two kids we took to round out our team. Don't rush.... give us a chance to catch our breath. Of course, we did not get the all stars from the kids team, so of course they didn't really listen to us. So i huffed and puffed up and down the court , waiting impatiently and breathlessly for the end of each quarter. I remember looking around to see if they had one of those portable defibrillators. I don't think they did. Not good!!!!!!
At the end of four (verrrrrryyyyyy loooonnggg) quarters, the score was.....

Dads 55, Kids 50. YAY DADS!!!!! And yours truly had about 10 points. Not bad for an old man. However, here I sit, wondering whether or not I will be able to stand up tomorrow. I can already feel everything tightening up. I know one thing for sure.... Next year I am going to make SURE MORE DADS SHOW UP!!!!!

And speaking of insane....

This just in from JTA:

Lebanon war formally named
Israel formally named last year's Lebanon war. The government's Ceremonies and Protocol Committee this week chose to call last summer's conflict with Hezbollah the "Second Lebanon War;" the first was in 1982. The new name is up for Cabinet ratification Sunday.
I don't know about you, but I am relieved. Now I know what to call it!

Some days we are just insane

Over the next two weeks or so, we will be moving our offices. As we try to prepare, keeping a sense of humor is difficult. Here are a few thoughts to keep us sane for the next few weeks. It''s not new, but still funny! Feel free to pass along. Better yet, try one or two of them.........

20 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Level of Insanity

1. At Lunch Time, Sit In Your Parked Car With Sunglasses on and point a Hair Dryer At Passing cars. See If They Slow Down.

2. Page Yourself Over The Intercom. Don't Disguise Your Voice.

3. Every Time Someone Asks You To Do Something, Ask If They Want Fries with that.

4. Put Your Garbage Can On Your Desk And Label It "In."

5. Put Decaf In The Coffee Maker For 3 Weeks. Once Everyone has Gotten Over Their Caffeine Addictions, Switch to Espresso.

6. In the Memo Field Of All Your Checks, Write "For Smuggling Diamonds"

7. Finish All Your sentences with "In Accordance With The Prophecy."

8. Don t use any punctuation

9. As Often As Possible, Skip Rather Than Walk.

10. Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat with a serious face.

11. Specify That Your Drive-through Order Is "To Go."

12. Sing Along At The Opera.

13. Go To A Poetry Recital And Ask Why The Poems Don't Rhyme.

14. Put Mosquito Netting Around Your Work Area And Play tropical Sounds All Day.

15. Five Days In Advance, Tell Your Friends You Can't Attend Their Party Because You're Not In The Mood.

16. Have Your Co-workers Address You By Your Wrestling Name, Rock Bottom.

17. When The Money Comes Out The ATM, Scream "I Won!, I Won!"

18. When Leaving The Zoo, Start Running Towards The Parking lot, Yelling "Run For Your Lives, They're Loose!!"

19. Tell Your Children Over Dinner. "Due To The Economy, We Are Going To Have To Let One Of You Go."

20. And The Final Way To Keep A Healthy Level Of Insanity.......Send
This E-mail To Someone To Make Them Smile. It's Called! Therapy!!!.......