Friday, June 24, 2011

The Purpose of a Museum

Mazal tov to Marc and Lily who just celebrated their anniversary. You are one year closer to bliss....

First question for your dinner table: What's your favorite gem or mineral?

Marc gets credit for introducing me to the wonderful world of gems and minerals.

Maybe not for introducing me, but for helping me appreciate them in a new way.

I met them yesterday with a couple of my kids and a couple of their kids at the Smithsonian's gem and mineral gallery.

If you haven't been there, you really don't know what you're missing. You may have seen some pretty rocks, but there is no collection quite like this.

Pick your favorite artist or artists. Imagine a single gallery filled with all of their paintings. That's what this place is like.

Room after room.

One room has meteorites. Space rocks! Of all shapes and sizes.

Another has the best displays I've every seen on how rocks and minerals are formed.

Then you get to the good stuff. Emerald, rubies, diamonds, all that precious and semi-precious stuff. Then you have your azurite, benitoite, cerussite, danburite, emerald, fluorite, goshenite, helenite, iolite, jasper, korite, lazulite, moldavite, nephrite, olivine, pectolite, rhodolite, spectrolite, titanite, uvarovite, variscite, wulfenite, and don't let me forget zoisite. (When you read this at the dinner table, try saying that list in one breath.)

Notice what letter I left out?

There's only one Q mineral that I recall - good ol' quartz, and almost nothing compares. There are so many stunning varieties of quartz they could have their own gallery.

Here's an image of Abswurmbachite.

And check out this Wulfenite!

So over lunch, Lily asks, "You live in Baltimore, you must get down here a lot."

With such a resource only an hour away, you would think, right?

I think the last time I was in the Smithsonian was five or six years ago. How can I justify that?

"Well, you know, there's not a lot of time, with school and summer camp and so on."


Look at the enjoyment on the kids' faces at seeing this natural beauty. Forget the kids, what about my own enjoyment?

It was only on the drive back that I remembered the real reason why we don't pop into DC at least once a year to enjoy these museums.

Traffic. The easy one hour door-to-door trip down became two hours on the return.

All this leads to my first question for your table (remember to print this out and read it, it's much more effective)....

Some people say it's the goal that matters most (visiting the museum).

Others say that it's the journey itself that matters (learning to be present at all times, even stuck in traffic).

What do you say?

More important, what do you practice?

(Incidentally, the word for pleasant in Hebrew is “arev” which shares the same root as in to “mix”. What we enjoy mixes with us; and opposite it true.)

(Bonus question - where in Jewish tradition do we find the use of beautiful gems and minerals? Name at least two.)

Shabbat Shalom

(Did I mention printing out this message and reading at your dinner table? Try it, your family/friends will love it.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where's Your Utopia?

This week, dedicated in memory of my paternal grandparents - Sylvia and Les Seinfeld - whose yahrzeits both fell this week, Sima bas Mordechai Yaakov and Eliezer ben Zelig.

I was lucky to grow up with grandparents around.

My grandfather ("Pop") used to tell us stories about his childhood. Sometimes he would talk on and on until it felt like your mind was going numb, but he was always so caring and always smiling. Nevermind that we'd heard the same stories over and over, we had a sense that it would be wrong to say so, or to appear disinterested.

Here's the kicker: Every story had a point, some kind of moral.

As I reached adulthood, Pop's monologues became more brief, until he was able to distill the moral wisdom in a single sound-byte.

One of these was his attitude towards intermarriage.

He never said that it mattered to him whether or not I married someone Jewish. But he did have a firm opinion:

"Every family should have a religion" with a strong emphasis on the "a".

He told me this at least 6 to a half-dozen times.

Pop explained that having a single religious/spiritual/however-you-want-to-frame-it tradition in the family is important for "shalom bayit" (harmony).

Both he and my grandmother excelled at shalom bayit, that was one of their highest values. They were amazing at modeling how to care for each other. Family meant everything to them. So you can imagine how they felt about my failure to settle down nearby.

But if you had asked me back then to list the top places where I might settle down, my list probably would have looked something like this:

1. Paris
2. San Francisco area
3. French Riviera
4. Rome
5. New York

(not necessarily in that order)

Note that Israel is not on the list.

It wouldn't have even made it into the top 10.

Farthest thing from my mind, absolutely nothing pulling me there.

Imagine my surprise, then, in the mid-90s, when I find myself not only living in Israel, but enjoying it!

...except for one thing: the bureaucracy.

Every country has bureaucracy, but I'd never experience anything like this. My new wife and I would show up at the city office to deal with my property tax (charged to renters) and after an hour in line find out that I needed some document that we'd left at home. So I'd return the next day with that document only to be told by a different clerk that I needed yet another one that we'd left at home.

It would the same routine at every government office.

We finally figured out that we needed an "everything folder" in which we kept triplicate copies of absolutely everything - American documents, Israeli documents, photos, bank statements, water bills, phone bills, insurance documents, rental agreements, letters of reference, etc. etc. etc.

This maddening experience was the one thing that really made life in Israel unpleasant.

In late 2000, we moved to America. Guess what we discovered?

American bureaucracies can be just as maddening. (Especially with the growth of computerized phone systems - invented in Israel by the way - where you never can get a real person on the phone.)

So it took coming to America to feel shalaym (complete) about living in Israel.

Question for your table: Chances are, Israel isn't very high on your list of places to live either. What would it take, hypothetically, to get it into the top 5 or 10?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Drives You?

Tornadoes, fires, scary stuff.

We had a tornado watch here a couple weeks ago and had to explain to the kids what that meant.

Last night a severe thunderstorm with awesome lightning passed over, giving the thirsty garden a great sprinkling.

While everyone else delights in the lightening, 5-year-old Devorah is sobbing.

"What's the matter, are you scared?" asks Mommy?

She nods her head in tears.

"What are you scared of?"

"I'm scay-wed there might be a potato!!!"


These videos tell their own story. Each one is only a few minutes. They make great discussion topics for the dinner table, followed by 2 questions....

Question for your table: What drives these people (pardon the pun)?

Question #2: What drives YOU?

Shabbat Shalom

PS -

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

Friday, June 03, 2011

Two Feets

What I'm about to relate may sound a little trite.

This week I did something that I've never done before, but some people I know have done it many times. (I wonder, now that I've done this, am I in the majority or the minority?)

Let's call it the peat-feat.

In addition, I managed to do something else that I haven't been able to do since I was about ten. Let's call it the feet-feat.

In this, I know for sure that I am now in the minority.

The first for me this week, the peat-feat... Believe it or not, I planted a vegetable garden.

Hard to believe, I know (that I'd never done this before).

Well, it always seemed such a chore, especially compared to going to the supermarket.

Inspired in part by our friend Marc in California (who could sell tickets to visit his garden) and in part by a need to give the kids something to do on Sunday afternoon, we trekked over to The Home Depot to pack the minivan with soil, manure and lumber to build a planting box.

Now, here's the best part of the story. Devorah (5 years old) has had her eye on a packet of flower seeds that has been sitting on a counter for who-knows-how-long. She asked me, "Can I plant these flowers too?"

"Sure, that's a great idea! Now let's go to Home Depot to get the soil."

So we get into the car and head down the alley when Devorah suddenly gets very agitated... "Oh no!!! Abba!!! We have to go back! I forgot something very important!"

She's practically in tears.

(Well, she's at that age where she's often practically in tears.)

"What did you forget?"

"I forgot the flower seeds!!!!"

And that's why it was so important that we plant a garden.

Question for your table: How important is it for kids to plant a garden? How about adults?

(Remember that kids' riddle - what's the first thing you plant in a garden? A: your foot... How does that go if you are using a raised bed?)

Achievement of the Week #2: The Feet-Feat

For the first time in at least 30 years, probably more, drum-roll please.....

I touched my toes.

Yes, that's what I mean - feet together, legs straight.

I've been working on this only three times a week for 5 months. If you want to know my technique, pop me an email.

Question #2 for your Table -

A. On a scale of 1-10, rate the importance of:

- a healthy, fit body
- a healthy, fit mind
- a healthy, fit soul

B. Then ask each person to rate themselves on their own fitness in these 3 areas.

C. Are you living according to your values?

Next week is Shavuot, which is the holiday that celebrates the idea that Jewish wisdom can teach us about all three. Best way to celebrate? Print out the Jewish book of wisdom and read it on Tuesday night.

(Email me your favorite quote from the above download and a reason why, and I'll send you a gift.)

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

PS - if you haven't seen this recently, take 2 minutes and be uplifted: