Friday, August 26, 2016

How You Play the Game

The goal of this blog is to cure the world of who's-the-greatest-ism. Please share, share, share.
In memory of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, 1936-2016.

DunfeeToday, 2 questions for your table.

1. What's the hardest Olympics event?
2. Who's the greatest Olympics athlete?

Let's start with #1, the hardest event.

In my humble opinion, the 50K walk has to be up near the top of the difficulty list.

That's how many miles?

50 ÷ 1.6 = 31 miles.

That is 5 miles longer than a marathon.

The top walkers completed it in 3:40.

That means that they did a marathon in three hours, then walked another five miles.

Think about that.

Another fast fact: 3:40 ÷ 31 = an average mile of 7:10.

(In the men's 20K/12.5mi race walk, the winner's average speed was a 6:31 mile. Think about that.)

Now let's look at the top four walkers in the 50K event:

Matej Tóth, Slovakia, 3:40:58
Jared Tallent,
Australia, 3:41:16
Hirooki Arai,
Japan, 3:41:24
Evan Dunfee,
Canada, 3:41:38

Note that Dunfee finished only 14 seconds behind Arai.

Some say he should have beat him — here's what happened:

With only 1 km to go, Dunfee was in third place, mere seconds behind Tóth and Talent.

Arai tried to pass him, and bumped him enough to throw Dunfee off-balance.

Arai tried to pass him, and bumped him enough to throw Dunfee off-balance.

That bump disqualified Arai and give Dunfee the bronze. 
But Arai's team appealed and won.

Olympics rules allowed for Dunfee to appeal as well.

But he chose not to.

Here's why:

"Not many people can understand the pain athletes are in three and a half hours into such a grueling race. I believe that both the Japanese athlete and myself got tangled up but what broke me was that I let it put me off mentally and once I lost that focus, my legs went to jello. Contact is part of our event, whether written or unwritten and is quite common, and I don't believe that this was malicious or done with intent. Even if an appeal to CAS were successful I would not have been able to receive that medal with a clear conscience and it isn't something I would have been proud of. I will sleep soundly tonight, and for the rest of my life, knowing I made the right decision. I will never allow myself to be defined by the accolades I receive, rather the integrity I carry through life."

(By the way,
earlier in the race, world-record-holder Yohann Diniz was in the lead, with Dunfee a close second. Diniz had to stop due to some severe pain, and while any other racer would have gladly sailed ahead for the lead, Dunfee slowed down and encouraged Diniz to continue, sharing the lead spot with him.)

Dunfee and Diniz

So now you know my choice of the greatest Olympic athlete, possibly of all time: Evan Dunfee.

What say you?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Thanks to NPR's Bill Chappell for telling this story.

PPS - Got the school-supply blues? Looking for a gift for that new teacher? Try
our free kid-friendly resource for parents, grandparents and educators.

PPPS - Not one but two hidden links for you this week... can you find them?

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Friday, August 19, 2016

When the Stars Allign

The goal of this email is to cure loneliness in our times. Please print and share.
Happy Birthday shout-out this week to Shelli in SF.
(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.)

hippocratic-oathThis title may seem more appropriate for last week's Persistence of Memory.

But that would be a hyper-literal reaction, wouldn't it?

Today it is (of course) meant figuratively, as in, "When things seem to be going the right way, or the desirable way, or in some divinely-guided way".

When is that?

According to our ancient tradition, whenever a couple get married.

When two souls, who have been separated for some 20-odd (or 30-odd, or 40-odd, or more) years, reunite, that can only happen because it's a match made in Heaven.

(No, marrying your soul-mate does nto mean that it will be blissful, merely that it could be blissful.)

First question for your table: If that's the case, why do people - even religious people - go to so much trouble and heartache when it comes to getting married (or helping a child get married)?

The answer should be obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary Jewish education. We are not Christian Scientists who don't take medicine because trusting God is sufficient to heal us.

We take the medicine, because we understand that we were given a hurting world in order to get involved and be a godly partner in the tikkun.

There is no greater need for tikkun than the feeling of loneliness.

I just read that loneliness is one of the allowed justifications for euthanasia (i.e., legalized murder) in Belgium (where it is now possible for a child to be put out of her or his misery upon request).

Let's put aside the ethical side of that topic for a moment and consider the emotional background. The good people of Belgium have decided that persistent, incurable loneliness is so terrible that it justifies empowering doctors (who have taken the Hippocratic Oath) to inject a shot of barbituate so potent that it kills the patient within two minutes.

The best cure for loneliness, I'm told, is the company of other people.

Now it all comes together. Today is not merely the 15th of Av on the Jewish calendar - it is Tu b'Av - the festival of matchmaking, of participating in that divine tikkun to end one kind of loneliness.

How you can get involved:

1. Today, make a list of singles who you think would prefer to be a little less single (the act of making a list boosts your memory).
2. Print your list and tape it to the dashboard of your car.
3. Keep them in mind every day so that you will be on the lookout for their soul mates, enabling you to become God's messenger, as it were.

Do this today and I guarantee you will have a much richer and happier life.
Shabbat Shalom

PS - Whether you find school-supply shopping fun or infuriating, try using
our free resource for parents (try searching under category: school supplies)

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As always, this message can be read online at

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Persistence of Memory

The goal of this blog is make everyone a star at the Friday night dinner table....

the_persistence_of_memory_1931_salvador_daliEvery 133 years, a 26-km (16-mi) diameter rock called Comet Swift-Tuttle flies right though Earth's orbital plane.

(Fortunately, the Earth has always been far away from that part of our orbit when it passes by.)

It leaves a trail of debris, tiny particles of dust. When the Earth wanders around to that part of our orbit, that dust hits our atmosphere "windshield", each little bit burning up in a brief brilliant flash.

Perhaps you were lucky enough to be outside last night and happened to turn your gaze to Heaven at just the right time to enjoy one of these so-called "Perseid" shooting-stars.

(If you missed it this global fireworks show, tonight should be pretty good viewing too. Just make sure you're looking in the right direction. And if you miss it tonight, mark your calendar for next August 10 or 11).

(And if you see one, you can say a bracha.)

So yesterday when I asked someone, "Are you going to go out and look for shooting stars," he dismissed the idea, saying, "I've seen them before."

Hmm... Let's think about that a bit.

"Want to go watch the sunset?"
"Naw, I've seen sunsets before."
"Want to go snorkeling?"
"Naw, I've seen fish before. Ate my share of 'em too."
"Want to go to a ball game?"
"Naw, I've been to ball games before."
"Want to play frisbee?"
"Naw, done that before..."

(BTW, just looking out the window last night, I saw a huge one that must have covered 20° of sky.)

In a separate conversation this week, I mentioned to someone that Rosh Hashana is six weeks away.

Response: "Six weeks? How could it be so soon? It feels like we just finished Pesach!"

(At least she didn't say, "I'm skipping Rosh Hashana this year. I've done it before.")

Question #1 for your table: What do Jewish holidays and the Perseid Meteor Shower have in common?

Well, they each come once a year.

Question #2: Why do we need holidays once a year, and why a person who saw the Perseids - even as recently as last year - should get off the couch and go see them again?

A: We forget.

We think we remember, but we forget.

What we think we recall is actually a fuzzy approximation. It's a persistent memory, but is like the clocks in Dali's painting, warping with time.

That's why we need, for example, the 9th of Av again (this Saturday night - Sunday). Lest we forget.

That's why we need to put away the phone and seize those amazing encounters with nature.

Yet I imagine most of us have our experiences that we did enjoy but would not choose to have again.

Question #3 for your table: What's yours?

Shabbat Shalom

PS -
In addition to our for teachers and schools, we have this free resource for parents (try searching under category: school supplies)

PPS - The New Yorker has become a notable source of interesting, succinct science writing.

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Friday, August 05, 2016

The Honest Abe in You

The goal of this blog is to bring some straight-talk to the Friday night dinner table....
In memory of my father - Dovid ben Eliezer - who's 11th yahrzeit was observed this week.

Dad as LincolnI hope you and your table enjoyed the Abe Lincoln riddle last week.

To the left is a glimpse into the past - my father back in the day.

For years, people told him he looked like Abe.

After years of people needling him about it, he made himself a cardboard stovepipe hat and played the role.

What do you think?

Here's the thing.

They didn't just resemble each other physically. My father also could have easily had the nickname, "Honest". He was simply a straight shooter.

Here's an example:

If he made a mistake, and realized it, he had no problem uttering the three hardest-to-say words in the English language:

"I was wrong."

Nor the two runners-up:

"I'm sorry."

In his memory, I would like to challenge you to this one tiny challenge.

Sometime this weekend, lock yourself in the bathroom, look in the mirror, and practice saying those two phrases over and over, until they roll off your tongue as naturally as leaves to a tree.

Seriously! Try it.

"I was wrong. I'm sorry!"
To err is human, to own up to it is divine.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Hidden somewhere in this message is a link to a great Lincoln book for summer reading.

PPS - Have you thought about sending your favorite teacher or school one of these:

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