Friday, June 29, 2012

What's Inside of You

The purpose of this email is to provide something provocative for dinner table conversation. Please print and share.
Dedicated to the memory of Stessi Boyd, who passed away this week. (To dedicate a future TT, send an email.)

 I was speaking this week to a man who can be described as follows:

- Graduated at the top of his class from a top university
- Married to a wonderful, caring woman
- Has great kids
- Has a great home to live in
- Is depressed because his income doesn't match his image of "successful"

Question for your table:

What can you tell a guy like that to cheer him up?

I suppose you could ask him to watch this inspirational video of the guy with no arms and no legs:

And then watch this one:

Or you could ask him to read this note from a friend of a friend who is in medical school:

So as you may know, a large component of our immune system consists of specialized cells which can recognize cells of the body which have been infected (perhaps by a virus) or are doing something faulty (i.e. a cancer cell) and terminate them. These are colloquially called "Killer T cells." It's amazing how the body makes them.

First some background on the process. All cells in the body put pieces of the proteins they are producing on the outer surface of their cell membranes. These are presented on the surface by a special "carrier protein" called MHC. Try to envision a cell of your body, with thousands of MHC molecules on its surface, and each MHC molecule is holding a small piece of a protein that is being made inside the cell. Killer T cells recognize these MHC-protein complexes. If the protein is "self" the T cell does nothing; if the protein is "foreign" the T-cell binds to the cell and induces a pathway that results in cell death.

What's amazing is that T-cells have the ability to recognize self vs. non-self. This is created via "T-cell selection." Immature T-cells go to the thymus (located just above the heart) to learn this ability. At first, the body makes T-cells of amazing variety, in fact this number is estimated to be 10^18. That number is beyond comprehension. Essentially the body starts by making a T-cell that would bind to and destroy a molecule of any possible shape.

But we must ensure that mature T-cells only bind and kill cells with MHC bound to foreign objects. The first part of this process involves the T-cells attempting to bind specialized cells covered in MHC molecules. If the T-cell binds to the MHC molecule, it survives; if it does not bind to the MHC molecule it is tagged for destruction. About 90% of the billions and billions of immature T-cells die in this process because T-cells which do not recognize MHC are useless. The second stage of selection occurs by having the T-cells interact will specialized cells which produce random proteins in all parts of the genome and which put these proteins on its surface via MHC molecules. If T-cells bind to the MHC-protein complexes, they are tagged for destruction and if they do not bind they survive because we do not want T-cells which bind to and destroy cells which are producing "self proteins." Another 7-9% of the original T-cells die in this process. Only the select few make it out of the thymus and enter the circulation on the lookout for invaders.

The structure of the thymus is specialized so that no foreign objects may enter. This would be disastrous-- we would program T-cells which thought certain foreign proteins were "self" and could not defend against these foreign invaders. Of course sometimes mistakes (such as in autoimmune disorders) are made but it is amazing that we have a system that provides protection against foreign molecules of essentially any imaginable shape. The body is even protected against molecules which do not exist, but could in theory exist."

Wow. And that's just a tiny slice of what is amazing in this wonderful world we live in.

Question for your table - The Talmud declares that wealth is not measured by how much you have but by how satisfied you are with what you have. Sounds good on paper, but how do you get there?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Speaking of a wonderful world, check out this rare recording of Satchmo - and try not to smile:

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).

Friday, June 22, 2012

If It's Free, Is It Worth It?

Let's start this week with a question for your table right off the bat:

Why does the word "free!" sell?

Haven't we figured out yet that there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Below is a link to an article about value and cost in Jewish education. It includes a provocative speech by Dr. David Bryfman which I encourage you to watch.

In the video, he quotes author Dan Ariely:

"Free! gives us an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is. Why? I think it's because humans are intrinsically afriaid of loss. The real allure of FREE! is tied to this fear. There's no visible possibility of loss when we choose a FREE! item (it's free)." - Dan Areley, Predictably Irrational

Here's the link to the full article.

In case you don't have time to watch the video, or if you are printing this blog to share at your dinner table (recommended), I'll summarize his thesis:

When we give away Jewish educational experiences (classes, books, trips to Israel etc.) the fact that is free will draw more participants in the short-term but will often cheapen the experience in their eyes in the long-run.

Question for your table - Is he right?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Speaking of Jewish education, click here for a view of perhaps the most cutting of cutting-edge innovations to come along in the past 50 years.

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).

Friday, June 15, 2012

"My Gradulations"

In honor of 2 special anniversaries this week - you know who you are!
Also in honor of Devorah (see below)!
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

For weeks, our Devorah has been preparing for what she calls "My Gradulations".

She means, of course, her graduation from kindergarten.

The graduating class of six-year-olds were able to summarize a year's worth of learning in fifteen minutes of song. Very impressive.


If you'd like to compare how she looked just a year ago, click here.

Devorah is the first child in our family to have the dubious distinction to have no memory of the Land of Israel.

I'd hate for her to wait as long as this couple, but I guess better late than never.

By the way, if you are interested in the latest stunning archaeological finds in Israel, bookmark this link.

The flow of discoveries is almost like a river, too many to keep up with. Here is a cool one sent by a TT reader.

Question #1 for your table - On a scale of 1-10, how important is it to instill in American Jewish children a love for the Land of Israel?

Question #2 - What are the best ways to do this?

Shabbat Shalom

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).
Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld
Jewish Spiritual Literacy, Inc.
3700 Menlo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215-3620
Free audio and other resources:
A 501(c)3 organization.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Take a Teacher

Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Lester Seinfeld, whose yahrzeit was this week.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

In my grandfather's memory, and in honor of the end of the school year, here's a story and question for your table.

It was a sunny August afternoon, some weeks before my freshman year of college.

My grandparents were visiting and my grandfather cornered me in the family room.

I remember that I was browsing the old Penguin paperbacks that lined the white bookcase. These were my mother's college texts that she displayed like family heirlooms.

"I have one word of advice for you before you go to college," he announced.

"One word?"

"One word."

I could hardly believe it. This was great. This was going to be one of those moments that I'd be able to tell my own grandchildren about, and better yet, to blog about.

I waited for the word. He had already started to stoop slightly, yet had exchanged his old-man dark-framed glasses for lighter, youthful frames.

He wasn't in a hurry. He was smiling, pausing for dramatic effect. Finally came "the word":

"Don't take courses."

OK, that's interesting. Are we having a senior moment, or is there a punchline. I raised an eyebrow or two and waited. Then came the punchline:

"Take teachers."

"Take teachers?"

"With the most interesting subject in the world and a bad teacher, you won't learn a darn thing. But with the most boring subject in the world and a good teacher, you'll learn everything."

I was thrilled. After 18 years of grandfatherly advice, there was finally something that made sense to me.

I followed that advice, in college and beyond, and it never failed me.

If there was a good teacher in your child's life this year, or even a mediocre teacher, please don't forget to thank them. Gifts are unnecessary, but thank yous mean a lot. Good teaching is hard work. They don't have to be perfect to deserve our appreciation.

Question for your table: Who were the best teachers in your life? Did you ever thank them?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This 11-year-old Miami Hebrew school student was seen in SF this week...

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).

Friday, June 01, 2012

Life Begins @ 40 (Do You Agree?)

In memory of my grandparents, Sylvia Seinfeld (whose yahrzeit is tonight) and Lester Seinfeld (whose yahrzeit is Sunday night). (To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

Somehow I've become an app developer.

That sounds fun, but like anything worthwile, it involves a lot of grueling hard work.

And unlike other projects, it comes with something quite unique to software development:


There was a really pesky bug plaguing my app that was causing it to crash for SOME users. I couldn't get it to crash, but I was getting emails from all over the world, including Brazil and Germany, complaining that "your app do not work".

We've finally, FINALLY fixed it. New version released yesterday (links below).

In honor of the occasion, here's yesterday's amazing Jewish fact.

It's entitled "40 Days (Part II)"

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The number 40 always refers to complete transformation:

- 40 days after conception, the soul enters the fetus;
- It rained for 40 days and nights during the flood which overturned Noah's world;
- Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai when he received the Torah;
- The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt;
- 40 is the "age of wisdom" when one is sufficiently mature to start learning Kabala.

(Sources: Genesis 7:12; Exodus 24:18; Exodus 16:35;  Mishna Avot 5:22; Yoreh De'ah 246.6)

This link is to a scholarly book on Biblical numerology.

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How to use this post for a Friday night dinner discussion:

Skip the first line, but ask, What do these 40s have in common??

Shabbat Shalom

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).