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