Friday, February 28, 2014

What's Your Perfect Day?

The purpose of this email is to promote conversational perfection at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
In memory of Hershey ben Natan (Ramis). (To dedicate a Table Talk, send an email.)

Groundhog Day Have you ever heard of a "philosophical comedy"?

That's what Wikipedia calls the 1992 film, Groundhog Day.

There are far more films that I haven't seen than I have, so my opinion carries no gravitas, but it seems to me that this is one of the few films I could watch repeatedly and not get tired of it.

Not only is there no gratuitous anything in this film, there is a lot of good writing, intellectual comedy and this deep philosophical question:

"What would it be like to have a perfect day?"

It's on my mind this week because the writer-director ( passed away this week.

His name was Harold Ramis.

Wikipedia and most of the eulogies focus on his creative career. What they don't tell you is the influence of Judaism on his life and work. As he said in 2009:
Here's my religious creed in a nutshell: The Universe is in a constant state of becoming — an ongoing miraculous creation. And every day we awaken to that miracle with gratitude, respect and compassion for all who share the gift of Being.

(BTW, the LA Jewish Journal eulogy takes that quote as evidence of his disconnection from Judaism! Someone needs to talk to the folks in LA about this....)

What I'm not going to say here is how Groundhog Day answers the question of "What would it be like to have a perfect day?"

In my humble opinion, the film's answer to the question is about as Jewish as you can get. But if you haven't seen it, pick up a copy here for 10 bucks and enjoy.

In the meantime, here's the obvious question for your dinner table:

What would it be like to have a perfect day? Describe it in detail from morning to night.

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, February 21, 2014

A Vote for Ignorance?

The purpose of this blog is to promote friendly Q+A at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Ignorance+is+Bliss Calvin and HobbesRecently I joined the Q+A site,

What I like about it:

1. People use their real names. No anonymous handles. Stand behind what you write.

2. There are some truly interesting questions and answers. On all subjects.

They range from religious:
How would you summarize the core message of the Koran in a single paragraph?

To the political:
What's the best solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict?

To the practical:
Is it safe to take a shower during a thunderstorm?

To the fanciful:
Given our current technology and with the proper training, would it be possible for someone to become Batman?

To the provocative:
Whats the most counter intuitive thing you've learned?

To the scientific:
What is fire physically made of?

To the entertaining:
What are the best Jewish jokes?

3. People tend to answer questions they have  some knowledge about and care about. That means interesting answers.

4. Better answers tend to get more votes, so it's pretty easy to find the better answers fast.

The top vote-getter of all-time was somebody's answer to the question,

How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?

So speaking of questions, here are two for your table:

1. If you could get the greatest answer to a single question, what question would you ask?
2. Is there any (non-personal) question that you'd rather not know the answer to?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Right to Death, Left to Life?

The purpose of this blog is to resuscitate the conversation at your Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Belgian Parliamant / ReutersTo the left is a photo of the world's newest Death Panel.

The photo illustrates this Reuters article on the Belgian Parliament's action this week to permit a terminally-ill child to request euthanasia (with parent consent of course).

Forget the slipperly slope (unless you've been in the South or NE this week).

Forget the long-term implications.

Quite simply: According to every Jewish ethical writing with which I am familiar, euthanasia is a euphemism for murder.

(Granted there may be some gray-area cases, the basic ethic remains.)

So now a Belgian child who is suffering and terminally ill may request that doctors murder him.


Here's the question for your table:

Which is more disturbing:

1. The law itself

2. The following comment in the Reuters article:

The vote has attracted more attention abroad than in Belgium, where none of the major newspapers carried the news of Thursday's vote on their front pages, and television news concentrated on Belgium being in the international spotlight.

3. The apologetic line that "In practice, supporters of child euthanasia say, there are likely to be few minors who will be allowed to die."

The comment from a nurse who has cared for some 200 children in the final stages of their lives that, "In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to end their life. But requests for euthanasia did often come from parents who were emotionally exhausted after seeing their children fight for their lives for so long.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Euthenasia is currently legal in three countries; assisted-suicide in three as well, but not in Belgium!

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Saved by the Jar

The purpose of this blog is to rescue the conversation at your Shabbat table. Please print and share.

01A reader confessed to me the other day that he doesn't usually print out Table Talk to share with his family, rather he relies on his memory.

I know that's hard to believe.

I mean, is he really able to recreate the eloquence and brilliance of thought from memory?

Perhaps he thinks that I just write the first thing that pops into my head?

Perhaps he doesn't realize the laborious hours I spend researching and writing this email every week?

Is it possible that he just scans the email on the screen so quickly that he doesn't see the profound depths of thought and vibrant humor?

OK, so this week I have a story that you really must print out if you want to do it justice to at your dinner table.

I'll begin with this question for your table: Who is the woman in the above photo?

Hint: She was born 104 years ago next week (yesterday on the Jewish calendar).

Still can't guess?

One more hint: Her nom de guerre was Jolanta.

Still don't know?

OK. Here's her story.

In 1939, she was a 29-year-old social worker at the City of Warsaw Welfare Department.

She recognized that the Jews were particularly vulnerable and wanted to help them, but this became impossible when the Germans sealed the ghetto in November 1940.

In case you forgot, the Warsaw Ghetto was a mini-Concentration Camp of 400,000 men, women and children living in an area of 1.3 square miles. That's a population density of 308,000 per square mile.

That's four times the population density of Mumbai/Bombay, currently the world's greatest.

Imagine the hygienic conditions, the lack of food and medical care, the high death rate.

Our heroine managed to obtain a permit to enter the ghetto to inspect the sanitary conditions.

Once inside, she contacted Jewish activists and personally became the smuggling conduit for Jews.

As you can imagine, she often had to plead with parents to permit her to take their kids.

In 20 October 1943, the Gestapo arrested her, tortured her severely, sentenced her to death and sent her to the infamous Pawiak prison for execution.

On her way to the gallows, in February 1944, her friends in the underground got her out with a bribe.

And what do you think she did?

She rejoined the resistance of course!

Sendler and 30 volunteers working with her helped rescue about 2,500 Jewish children and she personally saved about 400 children.

Now, where did these children go?

Most of them went to Catholic orphanages or families. But she promised the children that they would come for them after the war.

So she and her co-workers buried names and addresses of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities.

After the war, they dug up the jars and gave them to the Central Committee of Polish Jews. (Most of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or gone missing.)

She was the first person honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Here is the most moving and heart-wrenching quote:

"Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported."

I was going to end with the easy question for your table: What would you do?

You could try to answer that one, but I have an even better one.

Some people find this story so unbelievable, they asked Snopes to confirm it.

The question is - Why is it a story worthy of Snopes?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here is a short video of her at age 95:

PPS - Her story has inspired some kids in Kansas to create the Irena Sender Project (a project of the Lowell Milken Center).

PPPS - The New York Times obituary tells of some of the ingenious methods used to smuggle children from the Ghetto.

Shabbat Shalom

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