Friday, May 30, 2014

What's Your Burning Question?

The goal of this email is to light a fire under your Friday night dinner conversation. Please print and share.


One way I enjoy getting to know someone is to ask, What's your burning Jewish question?

Usually, they have one. They might have to sift some of that gray matter, but they usually already have one.

Today marks the beginning of Jewish Burning Question Month.

So the first question for your table: What's your burning Jewish question?

(Parents - one of the best answers to any burning question is, "That's a great question, I don't know!")

A couple days ago I had one of those burning quesiton moments with a nice Jewish boy in San Francisco.

His burning question led our conversation to a fascinating bit of Jewish wisdom.

In 1565, a scholar in Tsefat, northern Israel, named Rabbi Yosef Caro published an encyclopedia of Judaism called The Set Table.

It covers everything from ritual to business ethics to basics of philosophy.

Unlike some attempts before and after Rabbi Caro, his book was immediately and universally accepted as authoratative. No small feat!

Now, would it be interesting to know how the universally-accepted encyclopedia of everything Jewish begins?

How would you guess he starts this great opus? What area of Judaism will set the tone for the entire work?

The Shema? The Golden Rule?

Here's the opening line:

"A person should get out of bed in the morning like a lion."

Huh? What does that have to do with Judaism?

Ever see one of those nature videos on lions? Remember how they get up in the morning?

They yawn. They roll over. They hit the snooze button.

Is that what the good rabbi had in mind?

Or did he mean we should get up in the morning like a lion attacks!!!

Fine, but wha't so Jewish about that?

Evidently there has been new research in pyschology into the causes and consequences of procrastination.

Says DePaul University Professor Joseph Ferrari (great name for a procrastination researcher, no?):

“It’s an existentially relevant problem, because it’s not getting on with life itself. You only get a certain number of years. What are you doing?”

More on this next week.

In the meantime, even if you don't normally print this email, just do it. Share it with your dinner table. You only get a certain number of chances to engage everyone in meaningful conversation. Go ahead.....

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot

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Friday, May 23, 2014

How's Your Attention Span?

The goal of this blog is to add some attentiveness to your Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Our "8 Habits of Lucky People" post two weeks ago generated enough buzz for a sequel.

Twenty years ago, British psychologist Richard Wiseman ran a creative experiment.

(By the way, Wiseman holds what must be the most interesting title in his field: Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology.)
Here's how he describes his experiment:

I placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research from all walks of life: the youngest is an 18-year-old student, the oldest an 84-year-old retired accountant.
Jessica, a 42-year-old forensic scientist, is typical of the lucky group. As she explained: "I have my dream job, two wonderful children and a great guy whom I love very much. It's amazing; when I look back at my life, I realise I have been lucky in just about every area."
In contrast, Carolyn, a 34-year-old care assistant, is typical of the unlucky group. She is accident-prone. In one week, she twisted her ankle in a pothole, injured her back in another fall and reversed her car into a tree during a driving lesson. She was also unlucky in love and felt she was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Over the years, I interviewed these volunteers, asked them to complete diaries, questionnaires and intelligence tests, and invited them to participate in experiments. The findings have revealed that although unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune.

Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.
I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.
For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: "Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250." Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.
Wiseman's eight-year lucky study lead to his book, The Luck Factor (note: some reviewers prefer Max Gunther's earlier book of the same title.)

In a nutshell, living a "lucky" life seems to have a lot to do with certain attitudes as opposed to actual random luck. (It turns out that true randomness in the universe is rare, and much that appears random, ain't. See also here.)

But let's say the point about attitude is true - how, then, do you change your attitude?

In a more recent book, Wiseman promotes what is actually an ancient Jewish concept, that if you're having trouble changing your attitude, start by changing your behavior.

So here's this week's question for your table:

Will acting lucky make you luckier? Will acting calm make you calmer? Will acting happy make you happier?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Thank God for Inflation!

The goal of this blog is to add some mind-expansion to your Shabbat table. Please print and share.

The other day Yosephi asks me,

Abba, was there 7-11 when you were a kid?

Yes Yoseph we had 7-11.

But was it open from seven o'clock til eleven o'clock? Or was it open 24 hours like today?

It was open 24 hours.

But did they have Slurpees?

These poor kids want to hear horse-and-buggy stories and what can I offer them?

Well, we didn't have cell phones...Boring.

But this always gets them: the prices.

You could really buy a candy bar for ten cents? That's crazy!

(You think I remember that far back? I use, sonny.)

Thank God for inflation! It validates my gray hair!

Now let's talk for a minute about another kind of inflation, the cosmic kind.

Remember a few short weeks ago when the new report came out of proof of inflation?

Remember how you read a bunch of stuff trying to understand what the heck they were talking about?

Remember how crazy it sounded, that in less than a second, the universe expanded from smaller than a crumb to the size of, well, the universe?

Now, if inflation is true, then the universe as we know it is far more amazing and mysterious than we ever thought.

And that should be humbling.

Unless you're Professor Brian Greene, who wrote the excellent Smithsonian Magazine article. He does a great job explaining the theory, but....

How do you end such a story? With a comment on the wonder? With a moment of awe?

Not Greene:

If inflation is right, the visionaries who developed the theory and the pioneers who confirmed its predictions are well-deserving of the Nobel Prize. Yet, the story would be bigger still. Achievements of this magnitude transcend the individual. It would be a moment for all of us to stand proud and marvel that our collective creativity and insight had revealed some of the universe’s most deeply held secrets.

In other words, the real marvel is us! How clever we are.

So here's this week's question for your table: 
What's more amazing: that we're here, or that we know we're here?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - We keep adding and updating - look there for graduation gifts and more.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The 8 Habits of Lucky People

The goal of this blog is to add some unpredictability to your Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.
Why is it that some people seem to have all the luck?

So is the lead for a new perspective on being lucky by Dr. Mark Banschick published in Psychology Today.

Banschick argues that lucky people aren't lucky, they live life in a certain way that makes them appear lucky.

Want to be lucky? Here are the 8 habits:

1. Time: Lucky people don’t say; “Not today, there’s always another opportunity.” When opportunity knocks, answer!

2. Optimism: Lucky people engage opportunities with optimism and good will.

3. Openness: Lucky people are prepared to be in awe of the world. Breathe deep. Each moment is precious.

4. Generosity: Lucky people understand that sharing often makes for more good energy and more connections.

5. Flow: Lucky people are easy-going. They are ready for the unpredictable, the opposite of obsessive compulsive.

6. Skill: Lucky people develop skills…. Said pro golfer Gary Player, “The more I practice the luckier I get.” This is the opposite of flow: this is developing good habits.

7. Flow Again: Lucky people stay easy-going, even as they buckle-down and work on skills.

8. Going Home: Lucky people discern when to declare a bust or a wash.
So here's this week's question for your table: 
Based on the above, are you lucky?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, May 02, 2014

Are You Your Father's Son? A Coming-Out Story

The goal of this blog is to add controversy to your Shabbat table. Please print and share.


A couple years ago, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger’s 14-year-old son wanted to know his saba (grandfather).

For the first time Bernd shared the story of his life.

He was afraid of rejection but his son thought his story was cool.

Three weeks later was Family History Day their Miami Jewish school.

The Principal and the Rabbi called Dr. Wollschlaeger in for a meeting. They suggested that his son was delusional and was making up a story about his grandfather the famous Nazi. Bernd related the whole story to the enraptured school leaders.

Since that time he has been sharing the story regularly and finds a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

World War II was a verboten topic in the Wollschlaeger home. Any questions were met with silence, with one exception: It was permitted to mention that Bernd’s father was a hero, decorated with the Iron Cross by Hitler himself.

There had been mysterious clues.

Like why his parents wouldn't tell him the purpose of a six-pointed star on a city building.

Or why he wasn't allowed to speak to a mysterious tenant upstairs.....

Bernd was 14 during the Munich Olympics, meant to reinstate Germany amongst the civilized world, but where the Israeli team was massacred by Palestinian terrorists, aided by German neo-Nazis. The headlines read Jews Killed in Germany Again.

Young Bernd was confused -  It happened before?
His teacher told the class that the Israelis had "brought it upon themselves."

That seemed an odd response to a terror attack.
His parents wouldn't talk about it, but he finally found out.

Munich was a watershed event for Germany. It spurred Germans to talk about the Holocaust.

Horrified by what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Germans, he needed to find out his father’s involvement.

An alcoholic, his father could be tricked into opening up at a certain point of drunkenness. Finally the truth came out:

"We are German, representatives of a pure race, with a historic obligation to clear up the riff raff in the east. The only mistake was in using the train capacity to transport the Jews to the camps, instead of bringing supplies to our troops. The Jews made us lose the war.”

The more Bernd learned, the more he felt drawn towards the Jewish People and Judaism.

He ultimately converted, moved to Israel and served in the IDF.

"This was, and is, very difficult to deal with. I never saw my father again."

Now that the cat is out of the bag, he has begun to speak at Jewish schools and centers, and also tells his story in a well-received book.

"I’m not the son of a survivor, I’m the son of a perpetrator," Wollschlaeger said. "And if I am my father’s son, I am guilty, too."

2 questions for your table: 

1. Do you agree?
2. What kind of soul does it take to make such a journey?Shabbat Shalom