Friday, January 25, 2008

Carb Lover

Dedicated to the speedy recovery of “Tinok ben Akiva” - a newborn baby in critical condition.

Why do we homo sapiens types love carbon so much?

This week on Tubishvat (Tuesday) I made my annual foraging trip to Whole Foods Market to see what kinds of exotic fruits I could find to wow the family with.

First I loaded up the staples: pineapple, coconut, blood oranges, giant grapefruit, kiwi, persimmon, kumquat. I searched in vain for dragon fruit which I've only seen on the West Coast (from Vietnam).

But I did find two fairly exotic species. One looked and smelled like a deformed citron, called “buddha’s hand”.

The other looked like a really ugly grapefruit, and is indeed a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine:
What would you call it?

It makes you think that this is definitely not what God intended...

Indeed, it is called "ugli". I kid you not. Even has it's own website.

I kid you not.

The kids helped create a centerpiece on the table of all of these fruits, and then we sat down to taste everything. It’s been a year since they saw a coconut, and they had all forgotten what it tasted like! Just a little reminder what a wonderful world we live in with such bountiful goodness. Safe to try at home!

And if you didn’t have a chance to do this on Tuesday, it’s obviously never too late.

What's the most amazing fruit that you ever ate?

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Speaking of this wonderful world... once a year or so, I ask people to move a step closer to making our lives carbon-neutral. Every mile you drive or fly accounts for some more greenhouse gasses.

If you have not yet got on this bandwagon, time to catch up.

If you have gotten on the bandwagon, the next step is to tell your friends about it. Feel free to plagiarize this email – you don’t even need to credit me. Let’s just get the job done.

And if you are not planting trees to replace the tons of carbon you are dumping into the biosphere (especially when you fly), your excuse is ...?

One excuse may be that the various websites for calculating tree-offset equivalents vary widely in their estimates. Here are some examples:

Some sample equivalents:

One-way flight from NY-SF => 0.5 – 17.5 tons CO2 --- that’s not a small discrepancy!

50 miles of weekly driving with a medium-size car => 0.9-1.3 tons CO2 per year — that range is a little more reasonable

The problem with the flights is that airplanes vary in their efficiency. But everyone seems to agree that they take the CO2 booby prize hands-down.

What they do seem to agree on is the approximate number of trees to plant to compensate share of the pollution. The magic ratio seems to be about 5 trees per ton of CO2, or about 10 trees per transcontinental round-trip.

Another excuse for not planting trees, those in the know tell me, is that buying carbon credits is evidently more effective than planting trees, because these lead to reduced emissions.

A site that will let you calculate and purchase carbon credits (they also have a carbon calculator including a wedding calculator)
Another site that calculates your total household carbon footprint.
This one will calculate and plant trees for you.
A site for planting trees in Israel.

Speaking of Israel, it has been suggested that I blog about the amazing Land of Israel this week. Stay tuned for next week’s installment, 10 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Israel.

In the meantime, consider asking each person in your family and at your table, old and young, to take a non-binding pledge to make one new change next week for the planet. It could be a simple as making sure those lights get turned off when you leave a room. I myself recently started walking to work.

Even if that change is to send a link to this blog to your friends, we’re in the end-game here – every inch counts.

Shabbat Shalom.

Travel/speaking schedule:
January 28 – Baltimore - “Judaism and Islam”
February 5-7 – San Francisco and Los Angeles
February 18-20 – Chicago and Deerfield

For details, send an email!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Free To Be

What is multiculturalism?

Is Barak Obama multicultural because he has a Kenyan-Kansan-Indonesian-Moslem-Christian background?

Can a person become multicultural by merely traveling to many different countries? Can you become multicultural through books?

One of the great themes of Jewish life in America is the transition from “old country” perspectives to American culture. The pattern is that the first generation to grow up here find themselves at odds with their parents’ values. Al Jolson’s semi-autobiographical Jazz Singer is the great archetype of this clash – the American-born son of an immigrant Orthodox cantor runs away from home to sing popular music.

Here’s one of his great clips from the film:

Here’s a 2-minute clip from the new documentary about Jolson:

I was in sunny Los Angeles yesterday speaking with a young man who is currently living his own jazz singer saga. The difference is, rather than trying to break away from Jewish tradition, his attempt to break from his family tradition is actually toward Jewish tradition. The problem is that his immigrant parents not only want him to be like they are, they want him to respect their authority (he’s 29).

“You have to understand, Rabbi, it’s our culture,” he admonished me, as if I’d never encountered such values before.

So what do you suppose that I, the card-carrying rabbi, advised the young man? After all, it’s not only a mitzvah to honor your father and mother – it’s one of the top ten!

What would you have advised him?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, January 11, 2008


A marvelous young man in Jerusalem is fighting for his life against a malicious cancer. His name is Elimelech Dovid ben Chaya Bayla. I would like to dedicate this week’s Table Talk to his speedy convalescence. To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

Last week I promised to write something about Jewish wisdom on choosing a leader.

But first, what do you and those at your dinner table think? On each of these alternatives, choose the one that you think is most important:

1. [A] Wise in all major matters of state v. [B] Relies on wisdom of advisors
2. [A] Upholds the letter of the law v. [B] Upholds the spirit of the law
3. [A] Doesn’t make serious mistakes v. [B] Admits mistakes and apologizes
4. [A] Clean background v. [B] Proverbial skeleton in the closet
5. [A] Commands respect and wields authority v. [B] Walks humbly
6. [A] Multicultural v. [B] Patriotic

OK, don’t peek below until you’ve made your choices...

Now, I’m not claiming there are right or wrong answers, but it seems to me that the weight of Jewish thought would say as follows:

1. B – When King David faced an unemployment problem, he consulted with his advisors on what to do. (He had the advantage of having Nathan, a card-carrying prophet, among them.)
2. A and B. The leader has to be extra diligent in upholding the law in all aspects. Tradition suggests that he or she should possibly keep a copy of the Constitution on hand at all times just as a reminder that not even the King (or President) is above the law.
3. B – no question about this – everyone makes mistakes. If we expect our leaders to be perfect, we are guaranteed to have scandals and cover-ups. If, on the other hand, we let our leaders know that we can live with their errors as long as they own up to them, then we might have both more honesty in government and better role models for us and our children.
4. The surprising answer here is B. now, the Talmud states this specifically about a mayor, but I think it could also apply to a head of state. The idea is that if your leader has something ignoble in his or her background, they are less likely to become haughty.
5. However, the avoidance of pride doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t uphold the great dignity of the office. A head of state, if not lower leaders, must command respect and know how to wield authority. Tradition is highly critical of King Saul for ignoring someone who brashly insulted him.
6. I think this one depends on which leader we’re talking about. On the one hand, the individual Head of State, as the face of the country, must be quite patriotic. On the other hand, he or she must be worldly. The Midrash claims that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were polyglots as a rule. Other leaders, too, including legislators and judges, serve the people better if they a multilingual.

Multiculturalism is undoubtedly an asset in any time in history. In that spirit, here is one of the most intriguing multi-cultural videos I’ve seen, Fiddler on the Roof in Japanese.

Shabbat Shalom

Travel/speaking schedule:
January 15-17 - California
January 28 - Baltimore
February 18-20 – Chicago and Deerfield
March 18-19 – Miami area

For details, send an email!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Magic Touch

Thank you to all who responded to our membership drive last week. Evidently the $5 link is broken, but all others should be working.

If you have not yet completed the 1-minute Table Talk survey, please do and follow the instructions to receive your free gift! Here’s the link.

I don’t know about you but I’m weary of this election. While I’m at it, I’m weary of a few other things too. I’m weary of poverty, disease and killing. I’m weary of bombs falling on Israel every day and nothing being done to stop them. I’m weary of crises. I’m weary of technology and breakthroughs.

Next week I’ll tell you what I know from Talmudic wisdom how to pick a leader. Then I’ll try to avoid the subject for the next eleven months.

This week, a personal snapshot.

This week I finally built (with the help of a skilled handyman) a workbench in the basement. Actually, we built two, one for me and one to distract the kids so they’ll have less interest in mine.

For the first time in many years, I can actually find my tools. For a man, there’s nothing quite like having access to some really useful tools. Now that I’ve got the plumber’s wrench within reach, you can’t mess with me. Guys reading this know what I mean, women just roll their eyes. But when you come to me with a broken anything and I can fix it, you are giving me so much pleasure, you have no idea.

It pleases me to do something constructive.

It pleases me to help.

It pleases me to work with my hands, because working with my hands is really working with my entire being.

It pleases me to work a little magic....

Women reading this, I’ve just given you the secret to getting a man to do whatever you want. I hope you’re taking notes and reading between the lines...

The really cool thing that’s coming is called “personal fabrication”. According to the Table Talk survey, you are enjoying the amazing videos that I send, so here’s another one – a glimpse into a very different future world (thanks to my sister-in-law Beth for the link!)

So here's the coolest tool not yet on my workbench: Rabbi Seinfeld's wishlist

Now, how do you deal with a four-year-old and six-year-old who want to start sawing and nailing their own boards?

Shabbat Shalom.

Travel/speaking schedule:
January 15-17 - California
January 28 - Baltimore
February 18-20 – Chicago and Deerfield
March 18-19 – Miami area

For details, send an email!