Friday, December 29, 2017

Deadline or Dead Line?

The purpose of this blog is to meet deadline at the Friday night dinner table.
Mazal tov to our daughter Devorah becoming bat mitzvah this week.

Melting clock There is an ancient Jewish custom to bless our children Friday night. Girls get the blessing, "May God make you like Sarah, Rivka (Rebecca), Rachel and Leah. Fair enough, those are four of the greatest.

But boys get the blessing, "May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe."

Not like Avraham, Yizchak, or Yaakov. Not like Yoseph or Moshe or Aharon nor even like King David.

Rather, be like Ephraim and Menashe, the two sons of Yoseph, who were famous for ______?

Try using that as your first question for the table this week.

If everyone responds with a bewildered stare, you can say, "You're all right! Ephraim and Menashe didn't do anything worthy of inclusion in the Torah!"

So what's the point of the blessing? Because unlike so many who came before and after them, they lived with zero envy, despite their inequality.

Second question for your table: Do girls in general need such a blessing as much as boys?

Our daughter Devorah is the kind of girl who does not need it. She is way beyond petty envy or rivalry. She is genuinely happy for the success of others - even her sister.

We are proud her for this and many other qualities she has developed in herself, and in honor of her becoming Bat Mitzvah this week, here is her original Dvar Torah.

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This week's parsha, Vayechi, is mainly about Yaakov Avinu’s (Jacob's) death in Mitrayaim (Egypt) and burial in Eretz Yisrael (Israel).

The parsha says:

“Va'yickuru y'may Yisroel lamos v’yickra l'veino l'Yosef vayomar lo sim na yadcha tachas yrechi usisu imadee chesed v’emes: al na tik'b'rni b'Mitzraim.”

When Yaakov realized his end was near he called for his son Yosef and said, “Swear to me that you will do me a kindness and truth, and do not bury me in Egypt; bury me in Eretz Yisroel with my fathers...."

It’s strange the way Yaakov says chesed v’emes —  “kindness and truth”. Why does he say it like that?

Rashi says we should read Yaakov’s words as if he says, “Chesed shel Emes” — Kindness of truth, because that's a well-known expression that means to bury somebody.

In other words, Rashi is saying that it makes more sense for Yaakov to say “kindness of truth,” than “kindness and truth.”

But that’s not what Yaakov says. He says “chesed v’emes” – kindness and truth. If he means 'kindness of truth", why doesn't he say it? If "kindness and truth" doesn’t make sense, then why does he say it? Why not just say “chesed” — do me a kindness?

What is he adding when he says “and truth”?

Rashi then quotes a Midrash that gives three reasons Yaakov insisted on being buried in Eretz Yisroel and not in Mitzraim. The reasons have to do with both the merit of being buried in the Holy Land and the detriment of his body remaining in Egypt.

But why does it really matter? Why does he care so much about what will happen after he has died?

The Ohr HaChaim provides a mashal (parable):

Once there was a king, he decided to appoint people to make a piece of jewelry out of diamonds, so he appointed the people to do the task. Each person got its own amount of diamonds and time limit. Finally the day came, and all the people came with their “piece of art.” but it wasn’t really a piece of art so the king was not so happy, he saw that nobody put time and effort on this task that he assigned, it either wasn’t finished, or the pieces were was just not nice looking, it was just looking like junk. So the king was furious about this, and ordered for them all to be killed!

The nimshal (the meaning of the parable) is:

God is the king, and we are the people who are making a piece of jewelry. And our jewelry is each day of one’s life. Each day is another step up to be closer to God.  But we have a deadline when we move on to the next world. After that, we can’t get any closer to God.

A tzaddik like Yaakov works to be closer to Hashem in everything he does. Even in his burial, which is after he’s dead! So that is what he means by asking Yoseph to act with truth and not with mere kindness. Yaakov is trying to be truthful about every detail – even about where he is buried. It is not just a favor he is asking his son. He is not just asking for respect. He is asking for something based on truth and holiness.

We should learn from this that even in our daily lives, we should be careful with the details and make every day a jewel. We should always choose what’s best for us, meaning what is true. And that's why we need Torah. To bring us closer to truth, before our deadline.

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Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Thousand Years

The purpose of this email is to find all the pintele-Yids at the Shabbat table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).

3,000 yearsOnce upon a time, in the early 90s, I was visiting some Israeli friends in Tel Aviv named Yoav and Tami.

Picture your stereotypical "hilonim" (secularists).

Floppy sandals, short pants, strong sense of irony.

They'd already traveled the world. Their English was flawless.

Now they were very happy in Tel Aviv and ... this is the important point: they said they felt very little desire to visit Jerusalem.

But as the conversation continued, it came out that they were upset about what they perceived was going on in Jerusalem.

Specifically, some religious people's attempts to close Jerusalem roads on Shabbat.

"If they want to have a religious city, let it be in Bnai Braq!" Tami said.

Yoav nodded his head in agreement. "Israel already has a religious city. Jerusalem is for everyone."

First Question for your table - What was bothering these hilonim who rarely set foot in Yerushalayim?

Three thousand years ago, King David conqured Jerusalem and made it the capital of the Jewish People.

2,500 years ago, the Babylonian empire destroyed Jerusalem and exiled us from there.

1,948 years ago, the Romans did it again.

Since then, Christians and Muslems have battled over hegemony there. Why? Because they know that Jerusalem symbolizes the eternality of the Jewish People.

And the eternality of the Jewish People implies there is something deficient with Christianity and Islam.

Tami and Yoav know that they're Jews and there isn't a snowball's chance in Mecca that that will ever change.

Question #2 for your table - Are they right?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Interested in a comprehensive course in Jewish history? Click on the image above.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Your True Value

The purpose of this blog is to peel back the foil at the Friday night dinner table outward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
chocolate CoinsThis week's Story Corps has one of their best 2-minute ever.

It's Dr. William Weaver telling about the most memorable December 25 of his life, when he was a teenager, "That made me feel better than any Christmas I’ve ever had."

First question for your table: What would you guess happened?

(Better to hear his 2-minute telling, but in a nutshell, his family gave their turkey dinner and a bicycle and a wad of cash to a family poorer than they.)

Is this more than superficially connected to Channukah?

Hannukah has obvious layers. But the top layer is surely this:

A tiny group of zealots take on a mighty army, and with persistence they succeed.

The basic message is our latent potential — far beyond our usual self-image.

So ask your table: What does Chanukkah teach about unlocking that potential?

Answer: You have to analyze how the Maccabees succeed:

A. They're persistent for years because they understood their mission to be sacred. They keep their proverbial eye on the prize. It's never about me.

B. The story of the oil comes after years of blood, sweat and tears. What precisely triggers the miracle? They are victorious and finally rededicating the Temple and decide to make that fresh start as beautiful and pure as possible.

Once a year, we become givers - "masters of chesed".

Some people I know are masters of chesed year-round.

But here's Question #3 - Can a master of chesed become a bigger master of chesed? And if so, how Channukah teach that?

(Hint: look at the candles.)

Happy Channuka


Shabbat Shalom

PS - Just heard that new IRS itemization rules have incentivized giving charitable contributions in 2017 - if this fact or any other reason inspires you to support this email and JSL's overall mission, please click here.
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Friday, December 08, 2017

Great Men

The purpose of this email is to turn the Friday night dinner table outward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
In memory of Raphael Shachar ben Aharon.
WeissbergRaise your hand if you're tired of hearing about, and talking about, failed men?

So let's talk about a great man who died this week at age 37.

His name was Shachar Weissberg.

Shachar was born in Baltimore on March 25, 1980, one week before Pesach.

At age 7 he was first hospitalized with a neurological disease.

Here is one story from that time that shows you exactly what kind of person he was - and man he became:

At Channuka time, he asked his family to please bring him presents to the hospital.

And how they did! Their beloved brother was stuck in the hospital while other kids his age were going to school, playing in the snow, and so on.

What was his reaction to all the gifts?

He went down the hallway and gave them to all the other children in the hospital.

For Shachar, life wasn't about getting his needs or wants met. It was about looking for opportunities to do chesed.

Here is one of the only blog posts he managed to write:

On the first night of Chanuka, 2011, I arrived in Israel with my mother for what was going to be a three in a half week vacation to visit my dear siblings and their families. We also came to see what our options where in order to make aliyah that summer. I will never forget that night when I arrived in Israel and how excited I was to finally be here. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new chapter in my journey in life. Two weeks later, I was hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia and a collapsed lung, and I spent the next three in half months in Shaare Zedek. It was a very difficult time and I will write the many stories of hashgacha pratis that accompanied me and helped me pull through. I am currently living in Yerushalayim where I have always wanted to live. Although it was not the way I dreamed of coming and settling here, but it was definitely the hand of God that brought me here.

ShacharQuestion for your table: What's more important - being happy right now or making someone else happy right now?

May his memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom
and Happy Channuka!

PS - 4 days to Channuka? Here's our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?

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Friday, December 01, 2017

Our Biggest Problem?

The purpose of this blog is to turn the Friday night dinner table inward. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
PogoHow did you do on last week's "5 Thanksgiving Questions"?

Current events have brought up a long-forgotten memory.

In college I spent a semester in Rome, the so-called "Eternal City".

Every day we had a field trip to some part of the city or around Umbria, to look at something Classical or Baroque.

On our big trip to southern Italy, this incident occurred on a bridge in Naples.

We were waiting for the bus to fetch us when a couple of Italian guys came up to me and wanted to negotiate a price for being intimate with one or two of the women in our group.

At first I assumed they were joking and so I played along with it.

But then one of the women became suspicious and asked me what they were saying.

Only then did it dawn on me that they were actually serious.

And that it didn't really matter.

What mattered was that, the entire premise of the conversation, joking or not, was highly offensive. But it was so absurd that I played along with it...."guy talk".....

Q1 for your table: That kind of "guy talk" is bad, but how bad?

And let's flush this out with a few random comparisons.

(Q2 for your dinner-table conversation.)

We all have limited time and attention spans, so we should focus on the most urgent problems, right?

Therefore, what's worse?

Guys talking guy talk, or guys like Matt Lauer having a secret button?

Guys like Matt Lauer, or plastic choking our ecosystems?

The steady destruction of marine ecosystems, or the loss of young people to opioid overdose ?

The opioid epidemic, or the technology-depression-suicide epidemic?

It is interesting that Judaism addressed some of these issues thousands of years ago.

For instance, there is a millenial-old prohibition against a man and woman who are not family to be secluded together. Even to touch each other beyond a formal handshake.

This is not the path of "orthodox" Judaism. It is Jewish wisdom. Just like you don't have to be "religious" in order to decide not to speak lashon hara and to practice shmirat halashon, you also don't need to be religious to practice shmirat hanegiah and save your hugs and kisses for your family.

But don't we live in a culture that expects hugs and kisses at every social gathering?

We also live in a culture that honors lashon hara.

Think about it.

They said the following story of the late Dayan Erintroy - he was once visiting a factory in Germany for a kosher food inspection. The manager was a woman who extended her hand. He said, "I'm sorry, the only woman I touch is my wife."

She smiled and said, "If my husband had had that attitude, we'd still be married!"

Q3: Maybe some habits simply too engrained to make it worth the fight?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Counting down the days to Channuka? Have you seen our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

5 Thanksgiving Questions

The purpose of this BLOG is to appreciate the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward).
Thank-you-word-cloudHere are a five questions for your thanksgiving table:

Q1. Why is it that every year, someone asks me, "Do you guys do Thanksgiving?"

What I think they mean is, "Do you guys eat turkey on the 4th Thursday of November?"

Well no, we don't. But just saying "No," sounds sour, even dour — not to do Thanksgiving? That's more austere than not doing the 4th of July.

I don't want to be a spoil-sport, so I asnwer the question that I wish they were asking: "Do you guys ever pause as a family to eat a special meal and talk about what you're thankful for?"

And the truthful answer to that is of course, "Yes, every Friday night!"

Q2. Is there any way to answer that without (a) giving a speech and (b) sounding smart-alecky (c) just saying "no"?

Because I actually mean it. We really do eat a special meal every Friday night and talk about (among other things) what we're grateful for.

Oops, I said "grateful" not "thankful".

Q3 - Is there a difference?

Q4 - Why turkey? They ate turkey so we have to eat turkey?

Would it be so bad to have a Thanksgiving pizza? Or Thanksgiving hamburgers? Or a red beans and rice Thanksgiving? How about a Chinese Thanksgiving? Or in the spirit of the times, an African Thanksgiving?

This is a serious question: Why do Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving like Jews eating matzah on Pesach?

The answer goes like this....

First of all, they probably didn't eat much turkey. At that original Thanksgiving in 1621, they apparently ate mostly venison.

Imagine you are on the boat with Columbus.

(Maybe you're even a Jewish refugee
from the Spanish Inquisition.)

Of course, you and all your geographically-challenged buddies think you're in Asia.

It's a strange world! Strange people, fauna and flora.

And you see this funky chicken.

The Wampanoag Indians call it neyhom.

What do you, O Spanish sailor, call it?

Remember, it looks vaguely like a chicken and you think you're in India, so you call it "Indian chicken."

Are you with me so far?

French explorers agree that it looks like a chicken and they call poulet d'Inde (Indian chicken), later shortened to dinde (pronounced "dand").

English settlers think it looks more like a Turkey pheasant than a chicken, so they call the bird turkey.

Jewish explorers side with the French and call it tarnegol hodu — "Hindu chicken" — later shortened to hodu.

What's interesting for us is that the Hebrew word HODU also just happens to mean "give thanks."

So back to our question: What food should you eat on hodu-day? Hodu, of course.

Now ask somebody Jewish: You're Jewish? Can you explain what "Jewish" means?

I don't mean the religious or cultural meaning; I mean the etymological meaning of "Jewish".

Look it up. It means "a state of being thankful".

If you're living up to the name "Jewish" then you are living in a state of being thankful.

I assume that means every day. Make that every moment.

That's a lot of hodu to stuff yourself with.

Question for the table: How do you do it? Every day, every moment?

Say the rabbis: every moment is too hard, but once a day is not enough.

Try this compromise: try to pause 10 times a
day and say, "Wow, thank you."

Q5 - Could it be that simple?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - I'm sure you're still counting down the days to Channuka.... Have you seen our recommended books and toys for kids of all ages?
PPS - Yes, once again this week this message contains a new easter egg....

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Fool me 30 times, shame on?

The purpose of this blog is to wisen up the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward)
Dedicated by friends in San Francsico to the memory of Yermiyahu Matan (Jeremy Dossetter),
alav hashalom whose Shloshim ends today.
Einstein quoteFirst question for your table: Should this email be used for commenting on current events?

I'm sad to admit that scandalous, horrid human behavior doesn't shock me. I'm guessing you may agree.

Saddens, disappoints, but does not shock.

Personally, the biggest shock I received recently was the email last week from a subscriber to this very list.

If you recall, last week I eulogized Rabbi Mendel Freedman, contrasting his outstanding character with men in recent news.

My comparison displeased a certain reader. Here is her reply, in full:

Where was this chat when a man who is NOW PRESIDENT was accused by more women?
When FOX News elite were ousted?
Why are you not mentioning the GOP politician in Alabama?
Is your bias showing?
I work in Hollywood and it has always been a “boys will be boys” land or horror.
But I have also worked for Jewish Federations that were JUSt as horrific for me, as a woman!
But when members of the tribe VOTED FOR THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD despite his atrocities, they lost ALL RIGHTS to this discussion.
And your silence on THAT side of the issue is making me ask you to unsubscribe me!

I am disappointed and disgusted!

First question for your table: How would you respond to her?

Acknowledge her pain? Check.

Sympathize with her mistrust? Check.

Agree with her analysis? No way.

Check the archives — this blog usually steers clear of politics and other over-reported current events.

But bias is a serious accusation, especially within the realm of news and education ,it better be backed up with a modicum of invetor. Here is some of the evidence:

Question for your table: Is there a pattern?

Maybe the pattern depends on how you answer this question:

What gets you out of bed in the morning — t
o feed your desires, or to leave a legacy?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Rock of a Role Model

The purpose of this blog is to shake up the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share (+ like it, tweet it, forward)
Dedicated by friends in San Francsico to the memory of Yermiyahu Matan (Jeremy Dossetter),
alav hashalom.

Dedicated also to the memory of Rabbi Mendel Freedman, a mentor-colleague-friend who passed away this week.
Dedicated also in honor of Yehuda Simcha, a great soul who just joined the Tribe.
Happy Birthday to Stuart in California, and Harmon on a clipper racing across the South Pacific.

(To dedicate a future Table Talk, send me an email.)

DiamondMy relationship with Rabbi Mendel Freedman was formed and nutured entirely within a few square cubits in the JCC locker room.

By luck or fate, we both preferred a specific row of lockers and a specific time slot on Sunday mornings.

How meaningful can a locker-room relationship possibly be?

"How're ya doin? How's the family? Nice weather we're having."

But Rabbi Freedman was different. I can't recall one time that he chatted. No small talk, no gossip. Not only was he focused on substance ("tell me what projects you're working on right now"), he always went straight to the point, and picked up the conversation from where it left off last time.

If he could think of a connection for you, or any other advice, he would offer it on the spot. And you had better follow-up, because the next week he would ask you, "Did you contact so-and-so?"

(He was also an extremely refined person, who somehow blended a great dignity with great humility. His soft speech masked a tack-sharp mind. And through the years, after a surgery, and then the onset of his final illness, I never saw him appear other than happy.)

May his memory be for a blessing.

The contrast between him and men in the news lately is like that proverbial diamond in the rough.

In light of recent scandals, someone posted this comment on a social media website:

"Maybe little kids have it right when they worship the garbage man, the postman, the guy who drives the semi and cranes, instead of admiring the cesspool of Hollywood that we adults seem to."

I don't know about you, but my first reaction to such a statement is, "Maybe?!!"

Question for your table: What kind of person would have any doubt in their mind?

Maybe someone described by Professor Bloom's famous/infamous book?

(Yes, that's 2 separate links.)

When it was the talk of the town 30 years ago, we laughed at his caricature of youth and young adults.

But I loved his love of wisdom.

But (question #2 for your table) — what about his conclusion:

"One should never forget that Socrates was not a professor, that he was put to death, and that the love of wisdom survived, partly because of his individual example. The gravity of our given task is great, and it is very much in doubt how the future will judge our stewardship."

Is it such a grave task? Is it so much in doubt?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, November 03, 2017


IcelandIf you read this email last week or the week before then you know about Jeremy.

This week, hundreds of family & friends gathered on Sunday for his Memorial Service. Among the uplifting eulogies, the quote that sticks with me is his mother's comment about his flying helicopters:

"If we had tried to stop him from flying, it would have been like caging a bird. He had to fly."

I mentioned that he had been interested in touring Israel as an adult. His last trip there had been when he was 13. Similarly, there was a man at the Memorial who told me that he hadn't been to Israel for 40 years, but now cannot go because it's too expensive.

Too bad I didn't know on Sunday what I know now — I'll make this a trivia riddle for your table:
What's the hottest cold way to get to Israel right now?

Hint: Name the country in the above photo.

Hint: Airport code KEF.

Still not sure?

Here's another image, maybe this will help:

AuroraIf you're protesting, "But I've never been to Iceland!" - neither have I. But where else in the world could look like that?

Second question: Did you ever think about going?

Too cold, right? Low on your list right?

There's a reason why the median home value in Los Angeles is $500,000. Someone I know was visiting LA this week. He said, the weather is so beautiful, he feels sorry for Angelenos who have to move to the East Coast.

But don't feel too bad for the Icelanders. They are (along with their Nordic cousins) at the top of the world happiness index. California doesn't do too shabby, but not as well as Minnesota. What's going on here?

Well, I suppose it means that happiness doesn't have as much to do with the weather as previously reported. In fact, psychologists have studied this alleged correlation and found it either weak or even negative.

So why isn't the world beating a new path to Reykjavik?

Maybe we are: on Wow Airlines, it is now possible to get to Iceland from most corners of the US for a hundred bucks.

More important, they also fly nonstop
Reykjavik-Tel Aviv and it turns out that traveling to Tel Aviv via Reykjavik is cheaper than flying to Mexico.

Bottom-line: go. Don't wait for an occasion. Book it now.

Question for your table: When you go to a new place, is it better to get a general overview at the expense of depth, or an in-depth encounter, at the expense of breadth?

Shabbat Shalom

The purpose of this email is to set loose the conversation at the Shabbat table. Please like it, tweet it, forward ....
Dedicated by friends in San Francsico to the memory of Yermiyahu Matan (Jeremy Dossetter), alav hashalom.
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send me an email.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Game of Go

The purpose of this blog is to add a nugget of inspiration to the Friday night dinner table
Dedicated by Lily Kanter and Marc Sarosi to the memory of Yermiyahu Matan (Jeremy Dossetter), alav hashalom.

JeremyJeremy is the young man I wrote about last week who disappeared into the warm waters of Molokai.

Hundreds attended Shiva at his family's San Francisco home this week, all feeling the same thing — how can there be comfort for losing a son and brother?

Even more so when you can't have a funeral.

If you had met Jeremy, I know that you would have loved him.

I know that because everyone loved him. There was absolutely nothing about him not to like.

No trace of anger, impatience, laziness, jealousy, gluttony, greed, pride or vanity.

He was calm but passionate about life and everything he did. He seized the day.

One of his emerging passions was the weekly pursuit of Jewish wisdom.

He intuitively understood "Torah" by its full name, "Torat Chayim" - instructions for living. In every topic, in every discussion, he calmly probed until he found a life lesson.

So this week I was thinking back to those past few years studying with him, trying to recall what "Torah" Jeremy found most meaningful or uplifting.

What came to mind was a chapter he particularly enjoyed.

It was last January, as he was preparing to move to Hawaii. We happened to be learning this week's portion (Lech L'cha).

It begins:

Go for yourself from your land, from birthplace, from your family....

The protagonist (Abraham) is obviously on a quest or spiritual journey of self-discovery. What Jeremy found so moving is the tightening circles of leaving: land, then birthplace, then family.

His interpretation:

- It isn't enough to travel physically from your land, if your head is still in your hometown.
- It isn't enough to unchain your mind from your hometown, if your heart is still preoccupied with your family.
- Self-discovery sometimes requires leaving the familiar and comfortable, and venturing out into the world.

Before leaving to Hawaii, Jeremy embraced the idea that physical, mental and emotional distance would help him discover himself. To discover his true passions and ambitions.

He also knew that going doesn't mean you can't come back....

But maybe you won't.....

Question for your table: Even if you do, will you still be you?

May his memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Into the Wind

  The purpose of this blog is to bring some closure to your Shabbat table. Please like it, tweet it, forward it or print and share.

JeremyD3This smiling face will forever be etched in my mind.

For the past couple years, it has appeared (sans helicopter) on my computer screen every week, usually Friday.

Always smiling, occasionally groggy (he was six hours behind me - guess where that may be?)

Both of us with our copies of the best-seller

He was proud of his copy of the Book. He knew that it was a source of wisdom.

And as much as he loved the internal experience of the pursuit of wisdom, he also loved the external experience of
the wind.

The wind made him feel something.
When he cycled around a sharp curve, flying down a steep hill, the wind in his face, he felt something.

When he was catching a wave early in the morning on one of his five surfboards, he felt something.

But it wasn't until he started flying helicopters - which coincided with his learning Torah - that he could articulate that feeling.

He said it made him feel connected to God.

Here is a photo he sent me from one of his first solo flights in northern California:
Jeremy Solo

But the California skies were not high enough. He moved to Hawaii to train under tougher conditions with the best of the best.

There, one of the bread-and-butter flights to master is to Molokai, "the Friendly Isle".

This is what he saw:

The sunsets at Molokai must have been phenomenal from 4,000 feet up.

Maybe that's why, on Monday this week, he and his instructor did a quick run out there, just in time to catch the sunset.

I'm just guessing, but maybe Jeremy had never been there at sunset and since it was his last week as a student before graduation, it was something like a celebration, or maybe a last chance.

Regardless, it wasn't their first time making that trip and it should have been easy enough.

But at 7:30 pm, on a moonless night, that same wind that Jeremy loved so much became unfriendly. 

It suddenly refused to do its job of holding them aloft, dropping the chopper like a tree releases an autumn leaf.
A man fishing on the beach saw their chopper plunge into the wine-dark sea.

And yesterday, after three days of meticulous searching day and night, the Coast Guard has found no identifiable remains, neither of the helicopter nor its pilots.

Jeremy and I should have been studying Torah today - our first session of the New Year.

He was on an upward trajectory in life. He was growing spiritually and mentally, looking forward to completing his training and eventually taking me up on my offer to bring him to Israel. Most of all, he was looking forward to making a difference.

He was truly one of the nicest, most thoughtful, kindest, gentlest, warmest, happiest, people I’ve ever known.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

The questions for your table about this event are as obvious as they are enormous. Are there any answers?

Shabbat Shalom

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Day of At-One-Ment

The purpose of this blog is to bring some clarity to the Shabbat pre- or post-Yom Kippur table. Please like it, tweet it, forward it or ....  print and share?

Jewish Spiritual GrowthHappy New Year!

On Wednesday I took my car for its state emissions testing.

There was a rather simple notice at the testing station:
The VEIP will be
on Saturday
September 30
State holiday

I could not think of a state holiday that occurred between Labor Day and Columbus Day.

A quick check of the state website shows my memory to be correct.

But the attendant, Roger, is of the opinion that it is in honor of Yom Kippur.

How do you feel about that? I asked him.

Pretty happy! he said.

You're welcome! I said.

Roger smiled.

So the Day of Atonement brought you, me and Roger together, momentarily.

Is that the meaning of atonement?

Try sharing this week's title with your pre- or post-YK table and ask them if they believe that this indeed the etymology of atonement. Or is it just meant to be clever or cute?

After you take a vote, let them know that...

In fact, it's the actual etymology.

Maybe I should just stop there, say "Good Yom Kippur" and sign off.

But let's take this a little deeper.

Next question for your table: What does atonement have to do with being "at one"?

And after they answer that, try this: Is there any sin or crime that is so terrible that atonement is impossible?

According to Harvard University there is.

Here's the gist of it:
Michelle Jones was released last month after serving more than two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. The very next day, she arrived at New York University, a promising Ph.D. student in American studies.

In a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation, Ms. Jones, now 45, became a published scholar of American history while behind bars, and presented her work by videoconference to historians’ conclaves and the Indiana General Assembly. With no internet access and a prison library that hewed toward romance novels, she led a team of inmates that pored through reams of photocopied documents from the Indiana State Archives to produce the Indiana Historical Society’s best research project last year. As prisoner No. 970554, Ms. Jones also wrote several dance compositions and historical plays, one of which is slated to open at an Indianapolis theater in December.

N.Y.U. was one of several top schools that recruited her for their doctoral programs. She was also among 18 selected from more than 300 applicants to Harvard University’s history program. But in a rare override of a department’s authority to choose its graduate students, Harvard’s top brass overturned Ms. Jones’s admission after some professors raised concerns that she played down her crime in the application process.
While anyone with even half a heart would be highly sympathetic to Ms. Jones - and rooting for her - is it possible Harvard got it right?

Chag Sameach - a good Yom Kippur to you and yours

PS - Quick YK primer:

It is customary to increase 3 things from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur:

Tefila - prayer. That's the one .
Teshuva - regretting and fixing. Saying I'm sorry to everyone whom you have possibly hurt, including hurting their feelings. When in doubt, apologize. Yes, Colbert got it right, even over the phone.
Tzedaka - increasing one's tzeddaka between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

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