Friday, August 26, 2011

Vacation Nation


Do you have a travel headache story?

Who doesn’t?

Traffic jams, flat tires, delayed flights, lost baggage, missed connections...

Anyone who has traveled has been there. How many times have I heard, “I’ll never fly on X Airline again”, when all of these problems occur on every airline.

Five years ago when we had to cut short our Israel trip after two days for my grandmother’s funeral, my mom’s suitcase didn’t make it to San Francisco and the airline knew where it was but, maddingly, couldn’t figure out how to get it to us.

But every time I found myself feeling the slightest twinge of frustration, I thought of the next woman in line at the lost baggage claim, who was weeping.

“What’s wrong,” my mom asked her. “Did you lose something particularly valuable?”

“Yes,” sobbed the woman, “My daughter!”

It seems her unaccompanied-minor daughter didn’t show up, and an airline rep had sent the distraught mom to lost baggage for help!

No matter how bad it seems, there’s always someone who has it worse.

Not only that, but the fact that we have a functioning air transport system is a wonderful thing. If I plan ahead of time for contingencies, I don’t mind the delays. I’m puzzled by the fact that while 100 of us waited at baggage claim for 45 minutes, I appeared to be alone in opening a book. Everyone else seemed to prefer watching the pot boil.

Anything as complex and human as an airport is bound to have snafus.

Every experience and every person in our life has a purpose in our life. It seems to me that the purpose usually falls into one of three categories:

A. To make you wise
B. To get you to ask for help or to say thanks
C. For you to give or to receive an act of kindness.

Sometimes a single experience can have more than one purpose.

Here’s an interesting question to ask at the table: Did you ever feel sorry for yourself and then get over it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS: Read a great review of Senator Lieberman's new book. It sounds like a winner! Here's where to find it.

Friday, August 19, 2011


“Think of who bin Laden was. The 17th child out of 54, he could have lived in rich mediocrity and obscurity. Instead, he shook the world, and changed not only the course of history, but the way a hundreds of millions of people would live their daily lives. For a decade, he escaped a manhunt organized by the most capable government on the planet.

"One man accomplished so much in the service of evil! We believe that the power of good is so much greater than the power of evil. Think of how much good one person can do!”

- R. Avrohom Ausband

"If one person could kill 6 million Jews, then one person could save six million Jews!"
- Rav Elazar Shach

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yom Kippur in August?

Here we are, in the deepest part of the summer, when all we NHs (Northern Hemispherites) want to do is relax for a few minutes.

Keep your feet up. I don't want to spoil the moment.

But I'm going to make a radical proposal.

It begins with a story.

At my first summer job as a young adult there was a guy who invited everyone in the office to his "Xmas in July" party.

What made it Xmas-y was that everyone brought a present to give to a random person.

So instead of a bunch of people drinking beer together on a summer afternoon, it was a bunch of people drinking beer and exchanging presents on a summer afternoon.

As I grew older and wiser (after all, I did learn to drink wine instead of beer!) I have learned an ancient piece of Jewish wisdom that for some reason has little cache, even in the most traditional Jewish families and communities.

It's called "Tu B'Av".

No, not Tu Bishvat

No, not Tisha B'Av

Tu B'Av.

"Tu" is the number 15. Av is the month of Av, which corresponds to the constellation Leo, the lion.

This coming Sunday night will be the full moon of the lion. (Don't think it's a random coincidence that Apple released the "Lion" OS this month.)

Tu is spelled "tet-vav" which are the first two letters of "tov" (good). What is needed to turn "tu" into "tov"?

A: the letter "bet", which is...

- the number two, i.e., a relationship
- a house or home (bayit), i.e., harmony

I'm not inventing this. In ancient times, Tu B'Av was celebrated as a day of friendship and love, "the most joyous" holiday (Mishna Ta'anit 4:8).

What happened to it?

Well, you know, destruction, exile, a few holocausts....

But is time we brought it back?

You know how many people try to make amends with family, friends and adversaries before Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur?

Why wait until then? The most auspicious time to heal our relationships and this troubled world is this Sunday night through Monday.

Here is my challenge for you -

1. Try to make-nice this Tu B'Av with everyone you know.
2. Choose a Jewish single over 30 who hasn't yet found Mr. or Mrs. Right and make a commitment to help him or her get married in the next 12 months. Commit to making this goal a priority in your life.
3. Share to this blog to 15 ("tu") people. Let's start a viral campaign to renew Tu B'Av as a day of friendship and love and get a head start on the High Holidays.

"May you be inscribed and sealed for goodness."

Shabbat Shalom

PS - What better way to show someone you care than sending them the amazing Jewish iphone/ipad app?
PPS - Another way to show you care: print this blog and get a discussion going at your dinner table.
PPPS - Our kids' books site now has great school supplies! Browse from the comfort of your home and support JSL while you shop.
PPPPS - Our friend Rabbi Tzvi has a funky new book! Show him you love him by getting it here.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Harvesting Grapes

Four years ago I planted a couple stubby grape vines.

Four years later, they are HUGE, covering our entire deck in a giant embrace.

We have been staring at these luscious bunches, wondering when is the right time to harvest them?

The birds and bees have also taken notice, so the time to harvest got decided for us - now or never!

Yummmm. Sweet white grapes, sweet reds.

It was a long wait, those four years, but so worth it.

What a great way to pass the time on a summer day.

Yes, we know they're starving in Africa. We know that millions are unemployed. But to suckle a piece of fruit after four years of waiting, that's a sweet moment.

It's all going to end next Monday night.

"Next Monday night?" you ask....

If you have to ask, you have to read this.

Next Monday night is the 9th of Av

So what?

It takes enormous effort to connect with this holiday.

Even if you consider yourself "Jewishly connected".

Is it worth the effort?

Here's a story you can read at the table. See how people react.

Imagine the Taliban were to conquer America.

Would our lives really change that much?

Well, we can assume that they would move quickly to abolish Hollywood, destroy museums, dismantle universities. Probably convert all synagogues and churches into mosques.

Now just imagine that you join a few families on a boat to escape. You set sail for the South Pacific. You are hoping that the forces of Good will triumph, but in the meantime, you're saving your own skin. Nothing wrong with that.

But the forces of Good do not get the upper hand so quickly.

Not even in your lifetime.

Nor your children's lifetime.

Not even your grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

So your great-great-grandchildren are born on this South Pacific atoll, they have a decent life with plenty to eat and great surfing. They hear stories from their parents and grandparents about where the family came from, a place called Amerika where there were amazing cities, magical technologies, etc. etc. But that all this was destroyed by the Taliban.

It would be very hard for your great-great-grandchildren to relate to these stories as much more than legends.

That's what Jewish history is for us. We are so far removed from what was, we have almost no appreciation for what was lost.

Why bother?

Because when the Taliban are eventually overthrown, a boat will be coming to offer us passage back home. If we don't appreciate what we lost, we won't want to get on that boat.

Think about it.

The very best things in life often take years of toil and patience before they are ready for harvest.

Three things for your perusal:

1. Here is a packet of Tisha B'Av readings that I compiled for you. I've uploaded it to our teacher-parent resources page.

2. Here is a class I gave in Los Angeles on the topic of how to find a silver lining in any tragedy.
99¢ link .... Free link
(Why a paid download alongside the free one? The first download is for those who recognize the costs incurred in creating and sending you this content and choose to support it. But there will be no hard feelings if you take the latter!)
3. Here is a video by the incomparable Charley Harary:

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Did you know you can send someone my amazing Jewish iphone/ipad app even if you don't use the iphone/ipad yourself? Here's the link.

For the biggest enjoyment of this email, try printing it out and sharing at your dinner table.