Friday, July 31, 2009

Do You Hear Me?

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

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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:

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

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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

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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 –