Thursday, December 31, 2009

Something New

Dedicated to Eric Most, who needs to be healed, quickly and completely, along with all those who need healing.

This week: a challenge, an announcement, and an inspiration.

The Challenge

At this time of year, most non-profits are holding out the hat. Get in that last-minute tax deduction! (who needs more tax deductions THIS year??)

If you are a long-term subscriber, you know that I have a different year-end message for you. I seek your wisdom, rather than you nickel.

Kindly take a few minutes to answer 10 questions - click here.

(all anonymous, so be brutally honest!)

If you are so inclined, this website rates non-profits. You can help us by clicking here and tell them what you think of JSL.

(If you need a reminder of the scope of JSL’s work, click here)

Thank you!

The Announcement

After some six months of labor, I am pleased to announce the launch of the fourth edition of the Art of Amazement. It has been completely revised and expanded, and now includes a study schedule and extremely useful index, not to mention a snazzy new cover. If you have one of the old editions, you’re probably going to enjoy the new. If you know someone who might enjoy it and have been wondering where to get a new copy, search no more. And if you’ve never read it....I, I just don’t know what to say!

Here’s your Amazon link:

The Inspiration

I know that you may not always take the time to watch at the amazing videos I post here, I know they can’t be printed out for sharing at the dinner table, but please make this one of the ones you look at. You will not be disappointed:

It’s so special it isn’t even on youtube.

You can tell the folks at your table about it and ask them this question: Why do you think people were so inspired by Alon Nir?

Shabbat Shalom and l'chaim in 2010

Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old. - Churchill

Friday, December 25, 2009


Thank you for all the good wishes on the birth of our daughter Tehila Yehudis.

There was a blind girl who hated herself because she was blind. She hated life and everyone except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her.

She told her boyfriend, “If I could only see the world, I will marry you.”

One day, someone donated a pair of eyes to her. When the bandages came off, she was able to see everything, including her boyfriend. He asked her, “Now that you could see the world, will you marry me?”

The girl looked at her boyfriend and saw that he was blind. The sight of his closed eyelids shocked her. She hadn’t expected that. The thought of looking at them for the rest of her life led her to refuse to marry him.

Her boyfriend left her in tears and days later wrote a note to her saying: “Take good care of your eyes, my dear, for before they were yours, they were mine.”

This is how the human brain often works when our status changes. Only a few remember what life was like before, and who was always by their side in the most painful situations.

What’s the antidote to this kind of blindness?

+ + +

Try this: before you complain about the taste of your food – think of someone who has nothing to eat.

Before you complain about your husband or wife – think of someone who’s crying out for a companion.

Today, before you complain about your life – think of someone who left this world too early.

Before you complain about your children – think of someone who desires children but is barren.

Before you argue about your dirty house someone did not clean or sweep – think of the people who are living in the streets.

Before whining about the distance you drive – think of someone who walks the same distance with their feet.

And when you are tired and complain about your job – think of the unemployed, the disabled, and those who wish they had your job.

When depressing thoughts get you down – try smiling and being thankful you’re still alive and still around.

Shabbat Shalom

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. - Churchill

Friday, December 18, 2009

Darkest Before the Dawn

In honor of my beloved wife, who delivered a healthy girl to the world
Wednesday night (sorry, big-brother Avrami!). Holding her for the first
time, I was thinking, "How could anyone hold a newborn baby and not consider
this a complete miracle?"

Here's a trivia question you can ask at your table:

What is, quite literally, the darkest time of the year?

Most people who know a little bit about astronomy would say Dec 21/22,
because that's when we have our longest night and shortest day in the
northern hemisphere.

Those people would be wrong most of the time.

Why? Because sometimes Dec 21 is accompanied by a full moon. The full moon
is quite bright.

Rather, the darkest time of the year is around the new moon CLOSEST to the

Think about it.

And that's exactly when Hannuka falls on the luni-solar Jewish calendar.

That's Hannuka: At the darkest time of the year - light a candle.

When times are dark, be a candle.

Light a candle, be a candle.

Think about it.

We haven't named our daughter yet, but we are thrilled that she joins us
during Hannuka. We hope we'll be able to give her what she needs (including
an appropriate name) to grow up worthy of the auspicious timing.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hannuka!

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to be a conversation-starter for the dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sorry, Charlie

In honor of the birthday of Daniel R., a friend indeed.

What is the hardest phrase to say in the English language?

"I'm wrong."

What's the second hardest phrase to say in the English language?

"I'm sorry."

Question 1 - Why is it so hard to say these two phrases?
Question 2 - How important is it to say these two phrases?
Question 3 - How can a person become better at saying these two phrases?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hannuka!

“I am right, you are not. But for your freedom to be wrong I will fight to death.” - Churchill

Friday, December 04, 2009

How to Win and Influence

What do the following items have in common:

Red paper clip
Pen shaped like a fish
Doorknob shaped like a face
Keg of beer
Holiday in Yahk, BC
Small truck
1-day recording deal
1-year home rental
Day with Alice Cooper
Kiss Snow-Globe
Speaking part in a movie
House in Kipling, Saskatchewan

You may have seen this story back in 2006, or maybe you missed it.

You can watch the 8 minute report from ABC, and then get a lot of mileage from it at the dinner table:

Try telling the story over at your dinner table. You can print this page to remember the colorful details.

The question is... What’s most impressive – his creativity, his resourcefulness or his altruism?

Shabbat Shalom

“If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another.” - Churchill

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Marshmallow Test

Today's question looks like it's about kids, but it's really about you and me.

First, watch this video, then you'll understand the question below.

Question for your table - I'll bet that most people reading this blog would pass the marshmallow test. But we all have our own marshmallow test. What's yours?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Every heard Jewish country music? Try this:

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. - Churchill

Friday, November 20, 2009

Was He Good or Bad?

Often in this space I have told you personal stories.

Occasionally these take place in Paris. (E.G., E.G.)

Here’s another one for you.

I was living in Paris trying to write a Great American novel” and my best friends were a French couple, Pierre and Veronique. Pierre was a computer programmer and Veronique an aeronautical engineer for French Aerospace. I visited them every Thursday (and they insisted I bring my laundry).

One such Thursday I found Veronique sitting in the blue beanbag chair in the corner, reading a very thick book.

She looked up at me and said, as if making an excuse, “All these years I’ve never read the Bible, so I decided to read it, the whole thing.”

She was obviously pleased with her new goal. She was reading it in French, of course, and she simply started at the beginning.

Well, the next Thursday Veronique was back in the corner reading and suddenly said, “How is it possible to use this as a source for teaching morality to children? Here you have two brothers, one who is older and has rights to a certain inheritance, and his mother tells his younger brother to trick their father into giving the inheritance to the younger! Okay, I understand that the older brother sold the birthright to the younger, but trickery isn’t the way to right a wrong, is it?”

Her question stirred some deeply-buried ethnic defensive mechanism in me and I tried to come to Jacob’s rescue. “I think that the older brother was bad, wasn’t he?”

“It doesn’t say so.”

“Didn’t you read that when they were in their mother’s womb, Jacob was going to be born first but Esau threatened to kill their mother if he didn’t get to be born first? So Jacob really was supposed to be firstborn.”

Veronique didn’t recall reading that episode, so I took the Bible and thumbed through it almost frantically. I was sure I’d learned that story in Sunday school, but she was right: it wasn’t there.

I was pretty darn sure that Esav was bad, but this episode frustrated me and reminded of my own ignorance. It wasn’t hard to decide to go to Israel for a month. I figured that:

a) Judaism is 3000+ years old and I’m mostly ignorant of it
b) It would be silly to throw it out without learning what it is I’m throwing out.

So I went to Israel.

Well, not directly, but that’s another story.

I am supposed to leave you with a question for your table, so here it is: What’s the better way to learn Jewish wisdom – to take a class every once in a while or wait until you retire and can study seriously, or to begin with 5 minutes a day right now?

Shabbat Shalom

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” - Churchill

+ + + +

The goal of this blog is to be a conversation-starter for the dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Change Your Mind

It's amazing to watch a child learn. It seems miraculous how they are wiring their brains from scratch.

On this episode of "The Infinite Mind", the claim is made that meditation is an effective tool to continue rewiring your brain even as an adult.

Question for your table:

Is there such thing as "meditation" in Judaism?

A lot of Jews do something called meditation. But are they adding something new to Judaism?

Maybe we should first ask, What is meditation?

There are many books about "Jewish meditation". I've read most of them.

Most claim to be inventing something new.

There is no need to. It's already there, always has been.

It's everywhere you look - in the Torah, Talmud, Kabbala, Rambam (Maimonides), Shulchan Aruch, etc. etc. Name a Jewish text and I'll show you where it teaches about meditation.

Not only that, but there are numerous types of Jewish meditation.

So here's the real question for your table: Why didn't they teach us about it in Hebrew school?

If you think you're too old to change your mind, click

Shabbat Shalom

(If you would like to learn more about this topic in a live online class, pop me an email.)

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” - Churchill

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Life is a Test, Revisited

Please help support the victims and the families of the mass shooting by sending a check here:

The Central Texas-Fort Hood Association of the U.S. Army
Attn.: Community Response to 11/5
P.O. Box 10700
Killeen, TX 765478-0700

God said to Abraham, want you to kill me a son
Abe said man, you must be puttin' me on
God said No
Abe said What
God said you can do what you want Abe but
Next time you see me comin' you'd better run....
Abe said where do you want this killin' done
God said out on Highway Sixty-One....

- Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

(If you want to hear the song, link below.)

When a great tragedy occurs, some people sometimes ask me, "What does Jewish wisdom have to say about this?"

As if that question weren't hard enough, there's usually some smart-alex who adds, "Doesn't the Talmud say that wisdom is the ability to learn from everyone? What can we learn from this mass murderer?"

Maybe that's the question for your table - what can we possibly learn from Nidal Hasan?

You know, he was a religious person of a certain persuasion, who in all likelihood believed he was doing a religiously meaningful act.

Here's the thing - we all have books. They have their book, we have our book. Even the secular humanists have their book(s). We all turn to our respective books for wisdom.

His book tells him that he is a descendant and disciple of Abraham. That means submission to God's will.

My book tells me that I am a descendant and disciple of Abraham. My book also tells me that one of Abraham's greatest traits was submission to God's will. But my book also tells me that Abraham was a complex person, and emulating him includes acting with compassion towards all people.

Hmm.... So if you want to be a good disciple, what do you do when you believe that God wants you to hurt someone?

My book tells me that we look for every loophole to avoid hurting someone (when not in self-defense).

My book also tells me that being a vigilante (acting on my own, without consulting a higher authority) leads to evil. Not just in the area of violence, but in all areas.

So whose book is right? Can they both be right? Maybe his book is "right for him" and my book is "right for me"?

But the deeper Jewish wisdom on this subject is to turn the spotlight on myself: Am I pursuing the wisdom of my book with the same passion that he is pursuing his?

We are slumbering....time to wake up.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, October 30, 2009

Life is a Test, But What Kind of Test?

In memory of R. Chanan Feld, the great Bay Area mohel, who passed away Wednesday. May his memory be for a blessing.

Did you ever make a plan to change your life but then things didn't work out as planned?

I know this woman who made a plan during Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur to start a daily 5-minute session of reflection. She decided to spend 5 minutes every evening before going to bed thinking about the purpose of her life.

The problem is, ever since then, she has barely done it. Almost every night, something has happened to prevent her from putting in her 5 minutes. It could be the telephone rings and her best friend needs to talk to her for an hour and then she forgets. Or one of her children is sick, and after taking care of him, she's just too tired. Or she had a "disagreement" with her husband and felt too emotionally strung out.

Question for your table: Would she be correct to feel disappointed or frustrated at her inability to accomplish her 5-minute-a-day goal?

After you think about that for awhile, read on....

Judaism would say to her: Who says that you know what's best for your spiritual growth? The fact that you made this commitment is what is important. When things happen that are out of your control, they are happening for a reason. It must be that this is what is best for you. Your real spiritual growth is in how you react to them:

Do you get frustrated?
Do you get angry?
Do you remain calm?
Do you remain happy?

The events are out of your control. Your reaction to events is 100% in your control.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This amazing film shows what can be accomplished by someone who sees obstacles as challenges rather than barriers (literally!):

“I like a man who grins when he fights.” - Churchill

The goal of Table Talk is to foster meaningful conversation at the Friday night dinner table. Please consider printing and sharing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Change for a Change

Dedicated by a friend in California to Dora bat Yosef. May her memory be for a blessing.

OK, so there’s this guy, let’s call him Steve (not his real name). This is a true story.

Here’s the conversation Steve recently had with his wife, Debby.

Debby: “Hi Steve, how’s it going?”
Steve: “Hi, fine, how about you?”
Debby: “Not so great. I have this major deadline at work and I’m behind. Is there any chance you could take our daughter to her appointment?”

How do you think Steve should reply?

Before you answer, some background:

Steve has been very critical of his wife Debby. He feels that she could do a better job at being a wife and a mother.

Debby has been very critical of Steve. She feels that he could do a better job at being a husband and a father.

Steve is also very busy. In fact, he feels that he really can’t do it. But he’s also feeling a little ticked-off. Debby always is telling him how she wants to put family first, but she’s constantly pushing off the family for her work. Not only that, but she has told Steve that she wouldn’t respect him if he weren’t working full-time. Being a stay-at-home dad is not an option.

Question for you and your table – when Debby calls Steve to ask him to take the child to the appointment, how should he respond?

+ + + +

Here’s how Steve actually responded: “No, I can’t do it. I thought you said your family was your top priority.”

Here’s what he should have said: “Wow, you sound overwhelmed. I so wish I could help you! Unfortunately, there’s no way I can make it on time to that appointment. Do you want me to call and cancel it?”

Habits are really hard to break. Some smart Swedish people came up with a brilliant model for helping people do the hard work of changing a habit:

Shabbat Shalom

PS – Speaking of putting kids first, in case you missed last week’s announcement, the first set of j-wristbands have arrived! See

(They are intended to be used with the lesson on speaking nicely – lashon tov.)

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often listen.” - Churchill

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spiritually Speaking

Dedicated to two California "girls" who celebrated milestone birthdays in S.F. this week, Susan D. and my dear mother. May you live till 120! as the saying goes.

Do you know any 5-15-year-old kids?

If so, I have a special announcement for you, after the story.

The Story:

I walk into the play room. There are three children there. One (7 yrs old) is looking at a book on the couch. One (5) is playing with cars on the floor. One (3) is doing a puzzle on the floor.

I see bits of paper scattered over a large area of the floor. It looks like someone went crazy with a pair of scissors.

"Oh," I remark. "Look at all this paper."

"I didn't do it!" says the 7 year old.
"I didn't do it!" says the 5 year old.
"I din do it!" agrees the 3 year old.
"He did it," says the 7 year old.
"She did it," says the 5 year old.
"I din DO it," says the 3 year old.


Question - How do you teach children to speak truthfully and to take ownership of their actions?

Perhaps today's announcement is a step in that direction....

+ + + +

The Announcement

Our humanity is defined largely by what comes out of our mouth. All animals communicate with each other, but we alone have speech. This is why spiritually-oriented people tend to be attentive to what goes in and out of their mouths.

(Drum roll please…)

Today we are launching a national project called "I guard my tongue!" We think that the best way to teach elevated speech is to make it a positive, happy thing that children can proudly wear on their sleeves.

We have created the first of a series of J-Wristbands. One side reads, "I GUARD MY TONGUE" and the other side says "SMIRAT HALASHON" in Hebrew letters.

You can order them here for all the kids you know.

But it won't be meaningful just to give a child a wristband. You first have to teach them the beauty of the mitzvah of positive speech (and avoiding negative speech). Get them excited about it, then ask them if they would like to have a wristband to help them remember to do it. The price (for them) of the wristband is to commit not to speak negatively about anyone else.

(If you would like to use our formal lesson plan on this topic, send an email.)

Shabbat Shalom

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. - Churchill

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Oblige

Dedicated to our friend Eric Swergold, who recently raised $60,000 for cancer research with “Swim Across America” - way to go Eric!

+ + +

Since the Norwegians have turned the Peace Prize into a political tool, is it food for Table Talk?

After they gave the Prize to Arafat, maybe we should just try to ignore them.

But maybe we could add one thought.

People are saying that this award for the President’s rhetoric is equally a rebuke of the former president.

How does the President's diplomatic rhetoric look from a so-called “Jewish” perspective?

George W., who was touted by some Israelis as “the best friend Israel ever had”, was the first president to use the term “two-state solution.” Even though a Palestinian state would be disastrous for Israel, thanks to him, this goal has become official US policy.

Barak O. has reiterated that policy and further declared that the Jewish People’s connection to the Land comes from our suffering in the Holocaust (see his Cairo speech).

So here’s the Q for your table
: Do you think that the President’s rhetoric will have any impact on peace in the Land of Israel? If not, what will?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Simchas/t Torah

PS – In honor of Simchas Torah (Sunday), here is your happiness video of the week:

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” - Churchill

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Week That Is

Sometimes, so many things happen, it’s hard to digest them.

Yom Kippur, earthquakes and tsunamis, births and deaths, and on and on.

There is this idea that the 6 days of the week – Sunday thru Friday – are “unified” on Friday night.

Meaning, each day has a different energy, a different wavelength, a different set of challenges and rewards.

On Friday night, these 6 units of time coalesce into a single unit, “the week”. The opportunity to let these 6 gel is called “Shabbat” or “Shabbos”, which literally means “stopping to run around and do things in order for all that you’ve done the past 6 days to be able to coalesce and be digested.”

So much has happened this week. So little has happened.

I don’t know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with NPR. They have had some stories that have been so anti-Israel it makes some people think of them as “national Palestine radio”. But mostly they have some real gems.

Here are two stories from this week that I wanted to share with you.

The first is about Jennie Litvak, who learned to play trumpet from Dizzy Gilespie, and now plays shofar: Click here.

The second is my brother’s story this morning, on health care co-ops: Here.

Here’s the question for your table: Can you remember one thing you worked on or accomplished each day this week?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot

PS - This US Army broadcast from Nazi Germany stirs the soul:

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” - Churchill

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I know of several people who are terribly ill right now. This week’s TT is dedicated to them all. Please consider printing this page to share at the dinner table tonight.

+ + +

There is this story, it’s a little hard to believe it’s true, but still a good story for the season….

So this couple are going on vacation to Florida. George and Louise. Only Louise has a crisis at work and has to delay her trip by a day. George goes down as scheduled and that evening sends her a quick email from the hotel computer.

The problem is that in his haste, he mistyped her address. Instead of he wrote

By an amazing coincidence, louise43 ALSO had a husband named George, who had passed away just the day before. When she received the email from a “George” she was shocked but when she read the email she fainted. Out cold.

His email read:

“My darling wife – Arrived safely, everything fine and prepared for your arrival tomorrow. xoxo George. PS – sure is hot down here!”

+ + + +

Why is this a Rosh Hashana / Yom Kippur story?

Because it’s healthy for us to remind ourselves once a year that the end could be at any time. Literally. We all know people who passed away suddenly. Could happen to anyone.

Once a year, justify why you deserve another year of life.

The fasting on Yom Kippur is supposed to help us concentrate.

Q for your table
: How do you concentrate when you’re hungry?

My answer: you can’t, until about 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. At that point, you get beyond the huger and thirst. You transcend your body, as it were.

Then you can truly get in touch with that inner self that we call “soul.”

My recommendation, for a Yom Kippur that will really stick….The 1-2-3 method:

1, Get in the mood by saying “sorry” to everyone especially your family, forgiving everyone else, and giving tzedaka. (The idea of tzedaka is generosity. This includes, but is not limited to, giving money.)

2, Before Sunday night, identify a single personality trait that you know you could fix if you really tried – impatience, lateness, laziness, anger, jealousy, you know which one.

3, On YK afternoon, close to sunset, make a commitment to work on it for 5 minutes a day. That’s all it takes. But you have to put in the 5 minutes. That means really really really committing to it. Really.

1: Apologies and tzedaka
2. ID the personality trait
3. Make the 5 min/day commitment. (you can email me for suggested readings)

If you want it, you can get it. But you have to really want it.

And how do you tell if you had a good Yom Kippur? By how you behave the next day.

It’s hard work. Really hard. But it’s the best way to break out of our shells and to start living on a higher plane.

Shabbat Shalom

PS -

“If Not Higher” is a classic Yiddish story by I L Peretz. Worth printing and sharing with anyone, young or old, who enjoys being inspired. Here’s the link.

Also includes an audio link there if you prefer to listen or download to your ipod.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential. - Churchill

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thank You

This is to wish you and yours the sweetest, most successful, beautiful year ever.

Yom Kippur is easy – fast, regret, say you’re sorry.

Rosh Hashana is hard – what are you supposed to think about?

A: Dream big – really big!

Believe in yourself.

Believe in your potential.

Believe in what you could accomplish.

Believe in what you could overcome.

Believe in the relationships you could fix.

Believe in the good you could do.

And be happy. Give yourself permission to be happy.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova

PS… If you did not receive this year’s completely revised and expanded “24 Questions for Rosh Hashana”, click here.

And what would a TT be without a relevant video?

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

+ + + +

If you enjoy this weekly blog, or if you share our goal of a paradigm-shift in Jewish education, please consider becoming a supporting member of JSL with your tax-deductible donation (link). Members receive awesome thank-you gifts and other perks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You're Late, You're Late, For a Very Important Date

Dedicated to Batya bat Kayla who is having surgery and needs a speedy recovery.

It's almost Rosh Hashana.... So what?

I am completely revising my 1 page guide, "22 Questions to Think About On Rosh Hashana". The 2009 edition is more meditative, linked to hearing the shofar. It should be ready by Monday or Tuesday. If you would like a copy, send an email.

In the meantime, I recommend the values analysis for you and your table.

Here's how it works:

On a scale of one to five (five being the highest), how important are the following to you? You cannot have more than three 5s or three 4s, and you must have at least two 3s, two 2s and two 1s.

1. Family
2. Being well educated
3. Making a contribution to my community
4. Marriage
5. Spirituality
6. Being well-liked
7. Having a good reputation
8. Financial success
9. Being Jewish
10. Peer recognition in my career or profession.
11. Personal fulfillment\
12. Helping other people
13. Having a good Jewish education
14. Making a contribution to humanity
15. Achieving peace of mind
16. Having children
17. Living in the home of my dreams
18. Acquiring self-knowledge
19. Giving my children a strong Jewish identity
20. Living a long, healthy life.

From Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur Survival Kit by Shimon Apisdorf.
Used with permission.

Here's a light-hearted shofar clip to get you in the mood:

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Figuring Out Rosh Hashana

Dedicated to Chanan Velvel ben Bryna who needs a speedy recovery.

We have had a great response to the live, interactive web-based Rosh Hashana class on Labor Day. The primary topic will be relationships - How RH and YK can be used to fix 'em. Send an email to sign up.

The other day I was visiting a friend who recently moved into a new home.

As I was leaving, stepping outside into the sunshine, a woman happened to be walking down the sidewalk.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” my friend said.

“I’m Mrs. So-and-So from across the street.”

“Pleased to meet you…”

“You know, I seem to be locked out of my house. I went for a walk and I think my husband may have locked the dead-bolt. May I possibly use your phone?”


Moral of the story: You can’t choose your neighbors, but you can choose your neighborhood. Some people choose a home based on the house. Others choose to live in a neighborhood with soul-mates around.

(Do you know what I mean by "soul-mates", as opposed to "nice people"?)

If you were reading this blog last year (or even last week and clicked on the video), you heard me make the radical suggestion not to go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana (if going there is not uplifting for you).

Some people thought I was joking. I was not.

Someone objected that if you stay home, you miss out on the social part, the once-a-year chance to feel like you belong to some kind of Jewish community.

Here is your double-header TT question of the week –

1) On a scale of 1-10, how important is the personal spiritual experience of Rosh Hashana?
2) On a scale of 1-10, how important is the social-communal experience?

Don’t tell me they’re equal – Most people have to choose one or the other.

If you would like personalized suggestions on where to go in your community that may nurture both needs, send an email.

If you answered higher than “5” to either question – what are you going to do about it in the coming year (5,770)?

You have exactly 2 weeks to decide.

Shabbat Shalom

PS – Part 2 of the Seinfeld Rosh Hashana series:

Thomas Edison Quote of the Day:
I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

Friday, August 28, 2009

You, Alone

Rosh Hashana is 3 weeks away and counting. Getting ready? Didn't think so. Read on.

Interesting pair of sailing stories in the news today. Over in England, 17-year-old Mike Perham is back in Portsmouth, England tomorrow after sailing for nine months and 30,000 miles around the world.


He told the BBC last night that despite the massive storms, equipment failures and the purely grueling physical challenge, the hardest part was….being alone.

The other sailing story is from over in Holland. 13-year-old Laura Dekker wants to challenge Mike's record, with the full support of her parents, but Child Protective Services achieved a court order to remove her from her parent's custody. The judge agreed that an 11-year-old is not up for such a challenge.

My first reaction was relief that Laura is being saved from herself. What could her parents be thinking?

Well, it turns out she was literally born and raised on boats and has been sailing solo for two years already. Maybe she could handle it?

Here’s the simple question for your table:

If there were no physical or material problems, could you mentally handle 9 months in a small yacht alone? Do you know anyone who could? Do you know anyone who couldn’t? Next to food, water and shelter, is there anything so vital as companionship?

(Bonus Q - If you had to make the trip - what book(s) would you take?)

There is a Yiddish saying that seems to fit here:

A werm geit a rein in chrein maint er a das iz ziss - A worm enjoying horseradish thinks this is sweet.

In other words, you can probably get used to almost anything, but then you don't know what you're missing.

+ + + +

For Rosh Hashana last year, if you were reading this blog, you may recall the series of “Joo-Toob” videos I made to help people start thinking beyond the apples and honey.

The first one turned out to be controversial – the part where I suggested you might be better off staying at home on Rosh Hashana:

This year, a new technology will allow me to offer a live web-based interactive class that only requires you to have a browser. The class will be called:

“How to Use the Holidays to Figure Out What’s Broken, and then Fix It”

When: Monday September 7 (Labor Day), 9am Pacific / 12pm Eastern

We’re limiting participation to 25. Sign up by sending an email.

Shabbat Shalom

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Question for your table: Do you believe in reincarnation? Do you want to believe in it?

This story is either proof of reincarnation or a very elaborate hoax:

Either way, every reader should know that it is not inconsistent with Jewish tradition.

Question #2 – if it’s for real, what’s the point?

Shabbat Shalom

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

+ + + +

Friday, August 07, 2009

Kosher Talk

Dedicated to Yaakov ben Ora Belka, may he have a speedy recovery.

This guy brings a small bottle of milk to the yeshiva to enjoy with his coffee. He puts a note on it: “Enjoy this milk, but please do not use last quarter-inch.”

When he goes for his 11 am coffee, to his dismay he finds the bottle empty.

The next day, he makes a larger note, so it will be crystal-clear.

Same thing happens – someone finishes the milk.

The third day, he tries a different note: “You may enjoy this milk but not the last quarter-inch – doing so constitutes geneiva (theft).”

Guess what happens? At 11 am the bottle is empty!

The fourth day, he tries an entirely different tactic. He puts a note on the bottle: “CHALAV STAM” (unsupervised milk).

Guess what happens?

At 11 am, he finds the bottle full.

Some of us are more careful about what we put into our mouths than what comes out of our mouths, or how we treat others.

If you keep kosher and dress and act religious but knowingly gossip or cheat or steal, you are a fraud.

On the other hand, if you don’t keep kosher but never asked what that means, then you are not living up to your potential.

Shabbat Shalom

PS -

Here is a short video about the Land of Milk and Honey:

Here is Ambassador Yoram Ettinger speaking plainly about reality in the Land of Israel:

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

If you enjoy this weekly blog, please consider becoming a member of JSL with your tax-deductible donation. Members receive awesome thank-you gifts and other perks.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Do You Hear Me?

Dedicated to Yaakov ben Ora Belka, may he have a speedy recovery.

+ + + +

Adults - How many times have you said to a child, “You’re not listening to me”?

Kids – How many times have you heard an adult say this?

Tip for parents – When a child complies with a request (especially cleaning up), give copious praise: “What a great listener you are!” This works until about age 8 or 9. After that, say “Thank you for doing ____.” At any age, it helps to add, “You did a great job.”

2 Questions for your table:

1. Does “listen” mean the same thing as “hear”?
2. How many meanings can you think of for the word “hear”?

In Hebrew, “sh’ma” can mean:

- receive the information with your ears
- understand (as in, “are you hearing me?”)
- accept or internalize (like parents sometimes use the word “listen”)

The Sh’ma Yisrael that is customarily said first thing in the morning and last thing at night, has all three meaning. The problem is that most of us adults never got past the first meaning because we never learned.

It was to address this problem that I wrote Chapter 6 of the Art of Amazement, which also has a bit of Jewish wisdom about relationships.

The book is sold out but you can find it used, and we are preparing a new edition for this fall.

In the meantime, here are two resources:
(note the other recommended books too) (click on the second title there)

Shabbat Shalom

PS – daily routine can sometimes dull our listening skills. Here’s a short (2:30) video to wake you up:

And if you're looking for a summer book for a young child, may I recommend Aliza in Mitzvahland. Here is a video of someone reading it aloud:

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

+ + + +

Know someone who might enjoy this message? Please spread the word. Want to be added or removed from the mailing list? Send an email (directions at top of page).

If you enjoy this weekly email, please consider becoming a member of JSL with your tax-deductible donation (click here). Members receive awesome thank-you gifts and other perks.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Dedicated in honor of Leah bat Chavah Genya’s completed and speedy recovery, by her cousin Bronia.

Yesterday on the nationally-syndicated radio program, the Diane Rehm Show, the lead was, “Each year, more than a thousand people die because not enough kidneys are available.”

The guest was Daniel Rose, author of Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant--and Save His Life.

A book, book tour and press adulation for a man who openly broke the law in order to get his cousin Larry a life-saving transplant.

Then last night came the news we all heard: 40 people arrested, including 5 rabbis, etc. etc.

And something about illegal trafficking in body parts.

One of the guys they arrested, say the police, boasted on tape how many hundreds or thousands of kidney transplants he has facilitated (for a fee).

Most people I know think that organ donation is an ethical practice. The Jewish view is, like most ethical issues, nuanced.

- If you can save a life without endangering another life, it is not only a good thing to do, it is imperative.

- If you can save a life with some risk to another life, it is not imperative, but still a good thing to do.

- If you can only save a life by taking another life, it’s unethical.

For live donations, thanks to modern medicine, the risk to the donor is small.

For posthumous donations (what happens when you check the box on the back of your driver’s license), there is another issue: when does death happen? The medical community considers brain-death as the cut-off. Some Jewish ethicists define death as when all brain activity has ended, including in the brain-stem. According to them, if organs are removed before that point, the procedure is effectively killing the patient.

The second issue, and one which may connect us back to this week’s news, is the concept of kavod or respect for the body. An organ that is donated and for some reason not used should be buried respectfully. The trafficking in organs may lead to a degradation of this respect for the body (not to mention for the donors who risk being mistreated if organs become a market commodity).

One of the callers to the talk-show was in tears, for her 9-year-old son needs a kidney, and she was offended by the Daniel Rose’s back-door, under-the-table (i.e., illegal) pursuit of a kidney for his brother.

So here’s your question: Is it ever ethical to break the law in order to save a life? Does it make a difference whether it’s American law or Chinese law?

Shabbat Shalom

+ + + +

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Friday, July 17, 2009

My Way or the Highway

In memory of my father, Dovid ben Eliezer, whose 4th yahrzeit is tonight.

Did you ever notice how everyone is right?

Here's what happened the other day - did this ever happen to you?

We have been carpooling with a few families. Recently, one of the drivers, without telling us parents, told the boys, "Next week I'm going to be out of town, so you all will have to find your own ride home."

Now, anyone who carpools knows the rule - if you have a conflict, you call the other drivers and swap days. Not this person - he just decided to let the boys deal with his problem.


Then, a few days later, another driver in our pool didn't show up, and she didn't even pre-warn the boys. It wasn't the first time for her either.

Hmm.... I received a call from another parent who wanted me to phone the absentee driver because she thought if she phoned her she wouldn't be able to retain her composure. She was too upset.

I phoned, guess what I found out?

The woman's mother, in another country, had taken gravely ill and she had left in such dire haste she had completely forgotten about carpool.

Could happen to anyone, right? And it had nothing to do with the first driver's nonchalance.

One of the many things my father excelled at was seeing both sides to a story. Most people get into their own camp, politically, religiously, ethically - and have zero ability to see the other side of the story. My father was a great peace-maker because he had this gift of perspective.

Do you have an "other side of the story" story? Send it in or post it in the comments on the blog version of this email. Here is a Jewish website with a whole catalog of short “other side of the story” stories that you might enjoy printing and sharing. The site is based on this book by the same name.

Shabbat Shalom

PS – Here’s another Jew who had a lot of fans when he died young

(Didn’t know the King was an MOT? See

The goal of Table Talk is to give you a conversation-starter for the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

(I previously blogged about other aspects of my father’s memorable personality here and here.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

What's Your Name?

In memory of Evelyn bas Alexander, the second daughter of my great-grandfather and namesake Alexander Maslow, who was laid to rest in Los Angeles this week. Her sister, my grandmother, predeceased her 3 years ago.

I have three questions for your table.

Question 1: What would happen if we all agreed to call felines "dogs" and canines "cats"? Would it make a difference? (you'll understand below why I'm asking)

Q2: While dogs can live up to about 15 years, and cats up to 30 or more, humans can live into the 100s, or even past 120 (world record). What's the secret to a long life?

Aunt Evelyn had one thing that seems to escape a lot of people: she was happy. She wasn't living in a bubble - she knew what was going on in the world, yet she was a happy person. She cared about Israel rejoiced in its successes. This type of story made her sick. Well, I suppose it would make any normal person sick.

According to scientists at the University of Wisconsin, cutting calories is not only good for your health, it can extend your life and the quality of your life.

Well, if you're a rhesus monkey anyway (the scientists cautioned that these findings don't necessarily translate to humans).

You can read the Scientific American article here.

OK, so maybe that's a secret to a long life. But what's the secret to a successful life? (Q3)

There is a an ancient Jewish tradition that after a person dies, the first question they are asked in the next world is, "What's your name?"

According to this tradition, most people can't answer.

In Jewish wisdom, your "name" means your essence, the core purpose of your life. That's why Hebrew names all have denotations. Unlike English, which uses somewhat arbitrary sounds, Hebrew names signify the essence of something or someone.

If we all started referring to felines as "dogs" and canines as "cats", what would be the big deal?

But in Hebrew, "kelev" means canine because it is "k" (like) "lev" (heart) - "man's best friend".

Get it?

Want to find out your spiritual name? Later this month, I will be having an live web class on this topic. If you'd like to sign up, send me an email.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - trivia question - who said, "Can I mombo dogface to the banana patch?"

Friday, July 03, 2009

Once Upon a Time in Cave Creek

In honor of Yoseph Seinfeld who completed his aleph-bet and received his very first sefer (Hebrew book).

Did you hear what happened in Cave Creek, Arizona last week?

In the election for Town Council, one race was a tie vote, 660-660.

In the old days, they might have broken the tie with a shootout, also known as a draw.

In the new days, the local law requires a different kind of draw: break the tie by chance.

Here's how reporter Rene Gutel told it:

Cave Creek Magistrate George Preston, dressed in his black robes, shuffled the deck of cards Monday night that would finally decide the race. About 60 people crowded council chambers, including a few lawyers who had hashed out two pages of rules for the drawing.

The candidate drawing the highest card would be declared the winner.

"Here's to the good citizens, the town of Cave Creek and a Western tradition," said Thomas McGuire, the incumbent in the race. McGuire drew the six of hearts.

Then challenger Adam Trenk stepped forward for his turn. He pulled the king of hearts, and McGuire politely conceded. Trenk pocketed the card as a keepsake.

"It's a little disheartening that seven months of hard work would be decided by a game of chance," Trenk said. "But I understand that that's the law of the state."

3 questions for your table: What makes a law fair? If it's the law (and let’s assume that constitutionality), does that mean it's right? And are you morally obligated to follow a law that seems unfair or that you don’t understand?

Shabbat Shalom

PS –

Friday, June 26, 2009

If it isn't, should it be?

Dedicated to Yaakov ben Suzanne - may he get well soon.

Two stories that happened this week, both of them point to the same question.

I was back in San Francisco / Bay Area. What a great place.

While I was gone, our five-year-old Yoseph went to bed nicely every night in anticipation of receiving a reward from me today - a toy jet plane. There were not a lot of options in the Oakland toy store, so I hope he likes it.

Even though I told him on Monday that he'd get it Friday afternoon, this morning he was begging me for it and using just about every argument in the book to convince me.

He first started off trying to be discreet because he was within earshot of his 3-year-old sister Devorah.

"Abba, can I have the thing?"
"Yes, after school today."
"But I want it now!"
"Sorry, I said you would get it this afternoon."
"But I went to bed nicely for five nights!"
"But I want it now!"
"Can I at least just see it? I just want to see it!"

This was too much for Devorah. She got between Yoseph and me and looked up at me with her big brown eyes, "Can I have a thing too?"
"No, this is for Yoseph."
"But I went to bed nicely for five nights!"
I tried to ignore her.
"It's not fair..." (never heard that expression from her!) "I should get something too!"

Among my meetings in SF were two guys who are not content with being single.

Both of them are gentle, soft-spoken men over 40. Both are highly intelligent. Both are financially stable. Both are good looking and fun to be with. One of them is on the fast-track to getting married, the other isn't, and I'll tell you why I think so.

The one has made marriage a priority. He has had serious discussions with experienced match-makers on what steps he should take to fund his soul-mate. He has made the crucial "A" list and "B" list. But not only is he focused, he is open to feedback and able to adjust his thinking and strategy based on that feedback.

The other one has paid lip-service to marriage, and is open to finding the right woman, but has not pursued the goal with the same dedication and professionalism that he pursued his job. He has not, in my opinion, made the choices that he must make. He listens to feedback, but rarely acts on it, and ends up spinning his wheels with the feeling that life is a game of chance and not particularly fair.

So here's the question: Is life a game of chance and not particularly fair? Or is reasonable to expect ultimate, Hollywood-perfect justice? Are there any limits to the ethic of giving equal opportunity?

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What is it?

In memory of my grandmother, Yehudis bas Alexander, whose 3rd yahrzeit is on Monday. She epitomized the truism that "you're never too old to learn."

What is it about Israel?

Here's a story, followed by an observation, followed by a question.

The story goes like this.

When I was in Paris way back when, this Jewish family I met told me that you could go study ancient Jewish wisdom in Israel, in English, basically for free.

They called it a yeshiva. I wasn't entirely sure what that was.

Well, I was intrigued, and I went to the Israel tourist office in the center of Paris to find out what my options were.

After sufficient security measures were taken to assure them that I was not a terrorist, I found myself sitting at the desk of a pleasant Israeli woman.

"How may I help you?" she asked.

"I would like to learn about the options for studying in a yeshiva in Israel."

She started to chuckle as if she thought I had made a joke. When she saw that I was not smiling, her eyes widened and she started laughing. Then she called to her colleague, "Chagai, bla-bla-bla-bla-bla-ba-bla-ba YESHIVA!"

Chagai rushed over, blurting, "Bla-bla-bla-bla-bla-ba-bla-ba YESHIVA!?? Bla ba bla ba bla!"

After the laughter subsided and she composed herself, she turned to me. "Sir, we do not send people to yeshiva. We send people to Eilat for vacation. If you want to go to yeshiva you have to talk to a rabbi."

Well, I didn't know any rabbis, not in Paris and certainly not in Israel. But I learned something at least. I learned that Israel means different things to different people.

A couple weeks ago, I challenged President Obama's assertion that our connection to the Land of Israel is based on the Holocaust.

You may have noticed that I didn't offer an alternative - I put the ball in your court.

Any thoughts?

I saw that other bloggers made the same point, but most referred to history - we Jews are supposedly the natural heirs of the Israelites who conqured the land 3,300 years ago and lived there for 800 years before being booted out, and who returned later to settle it once again for 400 years before being disenfranchised a second time by the Romans in 70-135 CE.

This argument is complicated because 600 years later some Moslem Arabs conquered the land, were disenfranchised by European Christians 500 years later, and then some otheSr Moslems reconquered it later, and there are Arab families today who can trace their ancestry back at least several generations.

From their perspective, they belong there more than I do, because my ancestors haven't lived there for nearly 2,000 years.

So the historical argument isn't so cut-and-dry. It feels good for a Jewish person, to feel connected to all that history, but frankly I have as nearly as much history in Eastern Europe as I do in Israel.

So what is it about Israel?

Here's one thought to share at your table. During the seven years that I studied there, and the several trips back that I've made since, I noticed something very strange.

When I'm studying in Israel, I learn more. Rabbis in Israel seem sharper than rabbis here with comparable training. These are subjective impressions, but I've noticed them again and again.

What is it about Israel? The Talmud says that its "air makes you smart".

There's only one way to test this. Next time you plan a trip to Israel, try to set aside at least 1 day to study in some kind of yeshiva (if you need suggestions, ask me - don't ask at the Israeli tourist office!)

Spend a day in some kind of yeshiva and see if it makes you smart.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, June 12, 2009

Going Digital

In memory Chaya Miriam bas Zev HaLevi (Proctor) and Aharon ben Baruch (Dr. Aaron Zeldman). She passed away after a long illness; he passed away suddenly. Both were parents of young children.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

The goal of this blog is to stimulate conversation at your Friday night or holiday dinner table. Please print and share.

A question, followed by a story, followed by a question.

The question: What would you imagine are the qualifications to sit on the Sanhedrin (the Biblical Jewish Supreme Court)?

Answer: Have to have a multi-cultural background, fluent in numerous languages; have to know the Torah so well you can prove that pork is kosher using Biblical sources; and here’s the big one: you have to be a “tov”. A tov means someone who goes to bat for others. Who goes the extra mile to help someone, even a stranger, in need.

Think about that while I tell you the digital-conversion story for your table.

Our family joined the trend (or did we set the trend?) not to have TV at home, not at all. Some people think we must be fanatics.

Recently, someone gave us an older computer that had great software for kids. They quickly learned how to paint, write, learn to type, and play various games and so on. I was pleased.

Then I saw it turning into TV – ie, . Soon the computer was gone.

People with children talk about teaching children the value of money. Why is this important?

Probably because we want them to be successful in business – buying and selling, working and spending and saving.

Here’s the second question for your table: Can you judge a person’s values based on how they spend their money?

Don’t look outward, look inward.

Our country has spent over $800 million to help people convert their TVs. We seem to have decided collectively that TV is a very high value. More valuable than all of the programs that are not being funded.

Now for you – what is your monthly and annual expenditure on TV and high-speed internet. How does this amount compare to what you spend on tzedaka?

You could put the question in terms of time – what is your weekly amount of TV watching and web-surfing – and how does that compare to your time doing chesed?

I just learned of a new children’s book on this topic – Aliza in MitzvahLand (a play on Alice in Wonderland) – teaches kids who are bored that

"When I've got nothing to do,
It's because I'm forgetting...
Our world was made for giving
Not getting!"

Here is a link to the book.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, June 05, 2009

Free Speech

In memory of my grandparents (Eliezer ben Zelig and Sima bas Golda) whose yahrzeits are yesterday and tonight.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

The goal of Table Talk (the Art of Amazement blog) is to stimulate conversation at your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

Ahh, the power of concentrated thinking.

Yesterday, I heard a scientist interviewed on the radio about the development of “ivisibility cloak” technology. There have been recent breakthroughs on bending light around an object, so that a viewer would not see the object. The sharp reporter asked, “Since the light is being bent around, if you were wearing one of these, would that mean that you couldn’t see anything, because the light would not be reaching your eyes?”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” admitted the scientist.

As you know, I generally avoid politics in this forum.

I don't intend to change that practice today.

So I will not discuss, for instance, the way the President's Cairo speech seemed to equate Nazi genocide with the suffering of Palestinians.

(By the way, if you search for the text of the speech, most websites have the AP transcript, which is inaccurate and leaves out most of what he said about Israel. The accurate (searchable) text can be found here and here is the video:

What I would like to suggest as food for discussion is the following line:

"America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."

Is this the basis for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel? Is this a tenable argument from an Arab perspective?

It seems to me that the Holocaust has been used as the basis for modern Israel, but the further it recedes into the past, the less compelling it becomes for Jews and presidents alike (not to mention Arabs).

But...if Israel’s not justified by the Holocaust, then what?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - my grandfather was particularly fond of Johnny Carson, and this was one of his favorite sketches:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hero, Israel

Question 1: Should a religion or philosophy be judged by what kind of people it produces?

IMHO, If a religion or philosophy doesn't make its followers into better human beings, what's the point?

These two short films about two very real Jewish heroes say more than I possibly can:

Tonight and Friday is the holiday of Shavuos/Shavuot - a time to re-think the relevance of this religion-philosophy called Judaism and how important it is to us.

Passover: renew your tribal membership
Shavuos: rejuvenate your religious-philosophical membership.

Question 2: Why do we eat cheesecake on Shavuos? What’s your best guess?

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Year

Just when you thought you knew it all, today I’d like to introduce to you a Jewish holiday that I’ll bet most readers of this blog have not heard about. Do me a favor, after reading this email, click “reply” and tell me if you knew all about this before or if you learned something new.

The holiday is called "Yom Yerushalayim" - Jerusalem Day.

It's often wrongly called an "Israeli holiday".

In fact, it's a Jewish holiday.

Question 1 for your table: Who knows when and why it was created?

Here’s the answer:

In June, 1967, after 1,897 years of saying “Next year in Jerusalem!” at our Passover seders, a united Jerusalem was returned to the Jewish People.

The mystics teach to relate to Jerusalem as the navel of the world. It has been the geographic focus of Jewish thought for about 3,000 years. All synagogues (and churches by the way) face it. There are special Jewish customs and rules that apply to Jerusalem and nowhere else.

Question 2: What is the significance of the Hebrew name, Yerushalayim?

Answer: The “-im” ending in Hebrew denotes a plural. E.g., yeled means boy, yeladim means boys. The name Yerushalayim alludes to the concept that there are really two Jerusalems, the one below and the one above, and one who enters the one below properly can also enter the one above....

Others say that the name means “city of peace”. Ideally or ironically?

I would be derelict in my duty if I did not point you to this:

Question 3: How do you feel about the French vision to re-divide Jerusalem?

Shabbat Shalom

PS – here are photos of the celebration last night in J’lem:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Insult to Injury

The goal of Table Talk (the Art of Amazement blog) is to stimulate conversation at your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share the story and question.
Announcement – we have a new 2-minute marketing video up on - please tell me what you think.

This is a true story: a Holocaust survivor made it to Israel and became a teacher. Unfortunately, she was not able to find a husband. But she was a dedicated teacher who loved her job and her students. One year, however, she had a nightmare class – the kind that every teacher gets once in awhile. A girl in that class wrote her a note, “I don’t like you because you’re an old maid.” The teacher was so devastated by this insult that she immediately left not only the classroom but the school, and she failed to appear the next day. Nor did she answer her phone. The school principal went to her apartment and found her dead. The medical examiner determined that she had died of a heart attack.

This is a dramatic and tragic example of the power of speech. The problem is that when making hurtful comments, we’re usually completely unaware of what we’re doing.

So how do you fix the problem when you’ve insulted someone?

Gotta say sorry.

But not just “sorry”. It has to be from the heart. Something like, “I was being stupid, I was under a lot of stress, what I said wasn’t true, I was trying to hurt you and I feel terrible about it, etc.” You have to convince the victim that you are really sorry. If they don’t forgive you in their heart, if they only mouth the words “it’s OK”, it’s not true forgiveness.

So what do you do if they don’t forgive you?

Try again. The second time, come up with a different strategy. Try a different tone, a different approach.

How many times should you try? Three.

When it comes to hurting someone’s feelings, as R. Avigdor Miller says, “Even when you're right, you're wrong. And when you're wrong, that's right.”

The above is based on a story in the book Walking with Rabbi Miller.

So here's your table-talk question - what do you do about the people who insulted you and never asked for forgiveness, either because they were too proud, or lazy, or simply forgot?

There is an ancient Jewish bedtime practice of verbally declaring “I hereby forgive anyone who has insulted me or hurt me in any way today.”

Shabbat Shalom

PS – chesed opportunity:
Support Sara Phillips! Sara has taken a leave of absence from Michigan State University, College of Law this semester due to extensive time spent in the hospital. Sara’s medical condition, ulcerative colitis, caused her immune system to weaken and sepsis to form in her bloodstream, resulting in her right leg being amputated. Sara had the stamina to undergo three serious surgeries in the span of two weeks, in spite of her weakened condition. In addition, Sara’s colon must soon be removed. Two months later, the fighter, Sara, is staying strong!
Sara’s student insurance policy is limited, her medical bills and medication are now being paid out of pocket, and she needs all of your help. Two months ago, her parents have flown from Florida to care for Sara, meanwhile leaving their jobs. Sara’s friends and family are asking for your support in this time of need. For further information about Sara’s story, please click here. To help out, click here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

May Matzah?

Dedicated to my Mom – What more need I say?
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

Here’s a trivia question for your table – why would thousands of Jews have a custom of eating matzah today, May 8, 2009?

Before I tell you the answer, I would like to share with you a delightful new book that I received as a gift this week.
It’s called Do One Nice Thing – Little things You Can Do to Make the World a Lot Nicer!

Here’s a random example from p. 206:

Donate some of your airline miles
so family members can visit a
wounded service member in the
hospital: visit
and click on Hero Miles.

The author, Debbie Tenzer, follows each suggestion with a short, thoughtfully-written vignette. Every page is like a ray of sunshine, attractively packaged by Crown Publishers. Great Mother's Day present.

Here’s a link:

(disclosure – I created that link so that if you use it, Amazon donates a portion of the proceeds to JSL).

And to answer the trivia question...Did I stump you?

Today is the 15th of the month of Iyar, exactly 1 month after Pesach. In the old days, if someone missed out on Pesach because they were sick or some other legitimate reason (I think you had to have a note from your parent or doctor), they could come to Jerusalem and celebrate “Pesach Sheni” - the 2nd Passover. Lamb, matza, maror, the whole works.

To commemorate this quasi-holiday, many people eat a little matzah.

Shabbat Shalom