Friday, May 28, 2010

Every Dollar of It

In memory of my paternal grandparents, who passed away 9 and 8 years ago this week.

My grandfather, Lester Seinfeld, was born in Chicago and spoke only Yiddish the first four years of his life.

Yet, I cannot recall hearing a word of Yiddish from his mouth, other than "Why don't you get off your tuchus!"

He once told me that when he was younger, he intuitively knew what someone was about to say before they said it. He also once told me, "You can't argue with religion" and "Every family should have a (meaning a single) religion." When I started keeping kosher, he would chide me, "Haven't you ever heard of 'when in Rome'?"

To which I would retort, "Sure, and look what happened to them!"

And he would laugh.

He met his wife, my grandmother, on her sixteenth birthday. Based on that, I worked out that they knew each other for exactly seventy years and seventy days.

What was the secret to their epic marriage?

I never asked them, but I have vivid memories of how they treated each other.

They married during the worst of the Great Depression, and had very little money, but were always optimistic.
They always put each other first. They were constantly thinking of each other's needs. I never heard them speak badly about each other, but did hear them praise each other in many ways.
Especially my grandfather - he would always check with my grandmother before (for example) changing his routine.
They did things together (bridge and travel is what I remember).
They stayed out of each other's territory.
They made home movies and watched them from time to time.
They played a lot of bridge. I mean a lot. They even went to bridge tournaments to play and watch other people play.

After I left for college, my grandfather would occasionally send me a $100 bill with a note, "Don't mention this to your grandmother."

The day he died, a note was found that he had written, something of a farewell, which ended with "Zeigezunt" - that's Yiddish for "be well". Who knew?

She died 2 days before his first yahrzeit, and we buried her towards sunset on his yahrzeit, when it is said that the soul, having returned to the grave temporarily, departs again. She waited to go until he was available to escort her.

When you've found a soul-mate, and stuck together through thick and thin, not even in death do you part.

Shabbat Shalom

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. - Churchill

PS - one of my grandfather's favorite Johnny Carson sketches:

If you're too young to enjoy that one fully, you can wash it down with this:

(watching it will elucidate the title of this post, by the way)

Friday, May 21, 2010

You, G2

So here's a true story that happened this morning. Can you see yourself in one of these three roles?

A concerned father calls me up. He's frustrated because his son is in bed at his mother's apartment, apparently not feeling well. The father is concerned that the son is taking advantage of his mother and his parents' separation and feigning a malady in order to avoid school.


The father is further frustrated because the mother went to work and asked him (the father) to take the son to school when he wakes up and calls. What if he never calls? Maybe I should just go drag him out of bed and take him to school? But I don't want to offend my estranged wife by taking unilateral action...

He was concerned that:
a. She is nonchalant about the son missing school and therefore is too much a "jellyfish" parent on this issue.
b. She lets him stay up too late, thereby exacerbating the problem
c. The son can stay around her apartment all day playing on the computer, a much more attractive option than school.
So we get the wife on the phone, conference call. She starts off defensive: "I tried numerous times to phone you last night to discuss this, but you had your phone turned off. Do you know how frustrating that is?"

He explained, "I'm not accusing you of anything, or saying you did something wrong, I just want to know what I should do, should I wait around for him to call or get him up or just let him miss school?"

"Listen, I just tried to call him and he didn't answer, so I assume he's still sleeping. When he wakes up, if you're available to take him, fine, if not, I'll go and get him."

"I'm concerned that he's just going to play on the computer all day."

"He can't do that, because he doesn't have the password."

After she hangs up we debrief. The dad tells me he's skeptical that his clever son hasn't figured out the password. I raise a much more profound issue:

"Is this a new issue, her not being able to reach you? Or does it predate the separation?"

"It predates the separation by many years. I originally got a cell phone so that she could reach me. The problem is that I get busy and forget to turn it on."

Ah-ha. There's the rub. Rule #1 for a successful marriage: Your wife must be able to get a hold of you whenever she needs to. If she can't, she doesn't feel cared for.

"But I don't necessarily want to talk to her whenever she calls."

"OK, but then you are not going to be able to co-parent successfully, you will have a lifetime of mis-communications, not to mention she will always feel resentment."

So he hung up the phone and did what every good husband or wife should do when confronted with their own missteps. He phoned his wife and apologized, not just for last night, but for five years of being unreachable.

Your child, grandchild, niece and nephew, as well as your student, mentee, or protege, they are your legacy. It helps to know that there are three types of parents and teachers:
a. The brick wall - way too inflexible
b. The jellyfish - a pushover, no backbone
c. The backbone...
What kind of parents and teachers do/did you have?

Which kind of parent/teacher are you?

This lingo comes from the book, Kids Are Worth It! - a must read for anyone who has any contact with any kids of any age.

Brick wall, jellyfish and backbone parents tend to be brick-wall, jellyfish and backbone spouses, and vice-versa. Think about it.

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, May 14, 2010

Jew for Justice

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

Just about a year ago, I asked, "What makes someone qualified to sit on the Supreme Court?"

The Jewish Supreme Court (Sanhedrin) was disbanded 1,600 years ago, but lives on in the pages of the Talmud.

In 1806, Napoleon convened a "Sanhedrin" in order to emancipate the Jew and assimilate him once and for all into French society.

In 2004, a quasi-Sanhedrin convened in Jerusalem, in order to get the bureaucratic ball rolling for when the real Sanhedrin will be revived.

Why wouldn't these rabbis want to go ahead and make a real Sanhedrin?

One problem is the requirements are quite stiff.

You can read last year's blog for the full scoop, but today I'd like to focus on just one of those amazing qualifications:

All the wisdom in the world won't get you anywhere unless you are first and foremost a "tov" - a person with a good heart.

How can you tell if you're a tov?

So I've designed a short self-assessment. You can print this out and try it at your table.
1. Do you eat the last cookie or do you leave it in case someone else may want some?
2. Do you cheerfully allow others enter traffic in front of you?
3. Do you notice when the cashier looks frazzled? Do you say, "Long day?"
4. Do you look for ways to help your spouse/parent/child/neighbor every day? Or do you wait to be asked?
5. How do you react to someone's help or a gift that you don't want, when given sincerely?
6. When giving tzedaka, are you doing them a favor, or are they doing you a favor?
7. Are you the first to greet, or do you wait to be greeted?
How'd you do? If nominated would you serve?

Shabbat Shalom

“Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed.” - Churchill

Friday, May 07, 2010

Say It Again, Sam

Last week I did something unusual - I asked an open-ended question, and promised a book for the best answer(s). Some people wrote in that the answer is to be a more giving, forgiving person etc.

I would say that self-transformation is a vision for avoiding the rut in the first place.

But it can take years to change one's disposition.

What about when a relationship is in a rut of negativity - how do you get out of the rut?

Here is the answer you've been waiting for....

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll keep saying it until you actually go and do it:

Lock yourself in the bathroom.

Look in the mirror.

Practice uttering the two hardest phrases in the English language:

"I'm so wrong."
"I'm really sorry."

Let's try that again:

"My bad."

Practice makes perfect:

"That was dumb of me!"
"Please forgive me."

Here's something to do at your table that will get everyone laughing and out of their ego-shell at the same time: See if you can come up with 10 different ways to say I'm wrong and I'm sorry.

Everyone who sends in 10+10 answers wins... yes, a free copy of the new Art of Amazement! 1 entry per family!

(Congratulations to last week's winners, I won't name them in public but they'll be getting a book.)

Shabbat Shalom

PS - what do you think of this?

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” - Churchill