Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Overwhelmed? Here's what to do.

The goal of this blog is to inspire a new year of engaging dinner table discussions with the whole family. 
Dedicated in honor of Kyle and Shelli's anniversary - mazal tov! You are true roll models for how to create an amazing family.

I would especially like to wish
you and yours a healthy, happy and sweet new year. As many have noted, 5774 was a challenging year for the Jewish People and the world. May 5775 be a year of true peace.

bigstock-The-word-Everything-on-a-To-Do-45656401Last Friday, I asked, For you, what's a good life?

By now, I assume you've had deep meaningful discussions around that question. Therefore the goal today is to create some action points for Rosh Hashana, to turn theory into practice.
Let's make it global in perspective, local in action.
Globally, there's some highly disturbing news. So much so that it can be overwhelming.

First, there's global warming. It's happening too fast and is alarming. 

Second, the incredible rise in violence by the anti-idolatry group in Syria and Iraq (who named themselves after an ancient Egyptian goddess by the way).

Third, let's add the ebola tragedy. Some of the world's experts in infectious diseases are quite worried about this one. It is becoming an historic pandemic of biblical proportions.

To call the suffering heart-wrenching seems like an insultingly huge understatement. Is this what it takes to get Americans to wake up?

Fourth, let's not forget about the new reality of Big Brother. He appears here to stay.
( : -  ( >

What does all this have to do with Rosh Hashana?

More important what does it have to do with you and me?

Most important, what does it have to do with me?

The connection is through a little tidbit of rabbinic wisdom.

The rabbis tell us that in order to live a meaningful life, don't just absorb the news passively. Don't just react as if it's happening somewhere "over there".

Instead, react as if you are living in a Matrix-like virtual reality where everything that happens is custom-designed for you.

For example, take the ISIS stuff. A historian will react with detached historical question, a sociologist with a detached sociological question.

A Jew entering Rosh Hashana will ask a very attached question: What is the message here for me personally?

It is interesting that the ancient Pirkei Avot - the Jewish book of ethics, deals with these very two issues - an increase of knife violence and an increase of infectuous disease. The rabbis who wrote Pirkei Avot transmitted two very specific, very attached interpretations of these two news events.
The sword comes to the world for the procrastination of justice, the corruption of justice, and because of those who misinterpret the Torah.

Plagues increase....in the fourth year [of the seven-year cycle], because of [the neglect of] the tithe to the poor that must be given on the third year; in the seventh, because of the tithe to the poor that must be given on the sixth; on the year after the seventh, because of the produce of the sabbatical year; and following each festival, because of the robbing of the poor of the gifts due to them.
In other words, to use the current news as a call to action should mean increasing the learning and teaching of Torah, and increasing tithing (giving 1/10 of your income to charity).

What's the connection to Rosh Hashana?

Rosh Hashana is our annual chance to recalibrate. Where are you going? What kind of person do you want to be? Patient or impatient? Giving or selfish? Warm or cold? Energetic or lazy?

And why?

Rosh Hashana is an amazing day for revisiting yourself. My handy one-page sheet may be a useful guide (see below).

That said, Rambam (Maimonides) says that one of the best ways to change your personality is to start by changing a habit.

For example, a person who wants to become more friendly but doesn't feel like it could start by trying to smile more. That smiling will lead to a greater inner sense of friendliness.

I have a worksheet to help you think about these big questions on Rosh Hashana. I'd like to send it to you.

But the news is telling us - screaming at us - to do more: to increase Torah and increase tzedakah (charity).

Hey, great timing! There happens to be an ancient Jewish tradition of increasing Torah and tzedakah at this time of year. Giving tzedakah is the action Rambam was talking about - its a selfless action. Most of my shortcomings are rooted in selfishness! What a smart tradition!

In fact, there is a present need. As long-term subscribers know, I rarely ask for anything. Although there are expenses involved in creating this weekly email, it comes to you every week like public radio, free of charge. Once or twice a year I ask for your support. For the above reasons, this is the best time of year for you to become a partner, or to renew your partnership.

To thank you for your one-time or monthly donation to support JSL's teaching of Torah wisdom, we'll send you these new 2014 materials:

1. 25 Questions to Think About From Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur (2014 edition)
2. Traditional Simanim-Omens for Rosh Hashana Dinner.
Here's a sample.

3. My Rosh Hashana prep class (audio) from last week

Here's the organization website: jsli.org.
Here's the donation link: jsli.org/donate.

Finally, I'd like to end with an update on our friend Harmon, in San Francisco.

Harmon loves to sail. So much so that when given the opportunity to put his life on hold and jump on a world-class sailboat in Alaska as a voluntary crew member, Harmon signed up. It was to be a month or more at sea.

Think of all the preparations you'd have to make to leave your family and business for a month. Not to mention the sailing-specific prep.

Think of the disappointment when the trip has to be cancelled due to weather etc. Docking for the winter. Yada yada yada.

The reason that Harmon's story is an inspirational Rosh Hashana story is because he dared to dream big. BIG. It didn't work out this time, but the dream is still there. The prep work, that's all the hard work, but it has to start with a dream, a vision.

That's Rosh Hashana - a day to clarify your dreams. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live? Get my 25 Questions sheet and start to work it out, and use Rosh Hashana to set sail to a great year.

  Positive thinking can only get you shofar 
L'Shana Tova!

May you and your family be inscribed and sealed for life, health, happiness and peace in 5775. 

Have a sweet year.

PS - If you search youtube you may find my experimental RH/YK videos from a few years ago.

PPS – To find High Holiday books and activities for kids, or gifts for teachers (and other thoughtful adults), please use bestjewishkidsbooks.com.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

For You, What's a Good Life?

The goal of this blog is leverage the last Shabbat of the year to steer us towards a meaningful Rosh Hashana.

We are working hard on a special Rosh Hashana Table Talk for next Wednesday. In the meantime, if you are still looking for books, activities and gifts for all ages, see our suggestions and links at bestjewishkidsbooks.com

I gave at the synagogueThis is the final regular Table Talk of the year, folks.

For today, to prepare you and your family for next Wednesday's Rosh Hashana email, I have three questions.

First, take a moment to look at the photo to the left then read on.

What was your first reaction to the photo? Did you see a poor sheep missing a horn, or a sheep that thankfully has a horn?

Think about your reaction for a moment and how that may reflect your general attitude towards life.

Second is a simple question that doesn't get asked often enough:

If you had to choose, what would you rather have:

A) A long and comfortable, healthy life devoid of meaning.
B) A long and uncomfortable life full of meaning.

Think before you answer.

I know you want to say an answer that isn't one of the choices. Stick to those two choices.

Now for today's third question, after everyone picks between those two choices, ask them to choose between their answer and option C:

C) A short and comfortable, healthy life full of meaning.

In other words, in the first round, you're asked to choose between comfort and meaning, and in the second round between comfort and longevity.

What do you choose?

Shabbat Shalom

To find Amazon's best High Holiday books, activities and gifts, please use bestjewishkidsbooks.com and help support JSL's work.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Could You Come Out of the Closet?

The goal of this blog is to get some honest talk going around your Shabbat table. When are you going to admit to your family that you're reading this stuff?

Szegedi_CsanadCould you imagine having your most fundamental beliefs about your life shattered?

Could you imagine discovering something about yourself so radical that, if it became known, would probably cause you to lose most of your friends, and your job?

How would you respond?

Would you adjust? Or deny?

Or cry?

Meet Csanád Szegedi, Hungarian member of the European Parliament.

He was a leader of the extreme-right Hungarian Jobbik party.

Extreme-right as in jingoistic, xenophobic, antisemitic.

Then (two years ago) he discovered the truth.

His maternal grandmother - then 94 - was an Auschwitz survivor.

And she and her extended family who were murdered weren't there because they were gypies.

"She opened up and she talked about her life and how she was sent to Auschwitz and how our family was annihilated. I was shocked. First of all because I realized the Holocaust really happened."

You can read more of his story here. As you can imagine, it has generated some headlines in both Germany and Israel.

For now I'd like to share with you his most inspirational quotation:

"It has changed everything. It is like being reborn, and the changes in my life are still happening. I had this set value system that I ahd to change completely. I had this value system until I was 30 and I had to admit that it was all wrong and to find the will to change."

There's the question for your table: That amazing ability to admit that he had been completely wrong, why would anyone want to do that?

Shabbat Shalom

PS – The new apple: parents and grandparents in the know are sponsoring a 1-year subscription to amazingnature4teachers.com for their children's and grandchildren's teachers and schools. Click now while the school year is still young and there is still time to facilitate the adoption of this amazing, no-brainer curriculum.

PPS - Happy birthday Scarlett!

To find High Holiday books and activities for kids, or gifts for teachers (and other thoughtful adults), please use bestjewishkidsbooks.com.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

The goal of this blog is to up the ethical ante around your Shabbat table. Please print and share.
zip-itA reader of this blog, in response to my Deadliest Weapons post a few weeks ago, replied with a list of practical questions about ethical speech.

These issues are so interesting and relevant, I thought you might find them great conversation-starter for your table:

1. What to do if one is asked for an opinion about someone for the purpose of a job, as service provider, participation in a project or an activity, etc.?

2. What if one knows something negative about the person’s professional abilities or personal conduct?

3. What if one heard from someone else something negative? Say, someone asks me about a doctor or lawyer or gardener or plumber etc. and even though I don’t have personal experience with this doctor, lawyer, etc. I heard from someone else negative things (professional or personal) about this person. Should I provide the information I heard to someone asking me about that doctor, lawyer etc.?

(I don't want to spoil your fun by telling you my answers, but if you'd like them, I'll swap you for yours!)

Shabbat Shalom

PS – To find High Holiday books and activities for kids, or gifts for teachers (and other thoughtful adults), please use bestjewishkidsbooks.com. For the amazing teacher in your life, we recommend a 1-year subscription to amazingnature4teachers.com.

Like this email? How about putting your mouse where your mouth is: Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.