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.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible tzeddaka donation to support this weekly email among our other programs, please visit Become a JSL supporter - or renew your support - and know that you are helping us foster a paradigm-shift in Jewish education around the world.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Dreaded Question

The purpose of this blog is to bring some color to the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

Last week's hurricane post (if you got past the dad-jokes) made a surprise connection between hurricanes and Rosh Hashana.

This week begins with a question that our 11-year-old daughter asked me last night.
She asked the Dreaded Question.

It's that question that parents know is coming sooner or later and hope that it will be later rather than sooner.

Some parents are pro-active and don't wait until they're asked.

But many parents put it off as long as possible.

On any other subject, we're the experts we have all the answers.

But when this one comes up - especially when we're not expecting it - it catches us tongue-tied.

The question I'm referring to of course is:

"Abba, why is the sky blue?"

Try asking that one at your table. How many people can answer it?

How many think they can answer it, but when you press them on it, they clearly don't understand?

How many are willing to admit, they really have no idea?

So to save you from any further awkwardness, here's your "blue sky for dummies" crib notes:

Sunlight looks white, but it is actually made from a mixture of colors (like a rainbow). See (picture above) how each color has a different wavelength?

This white sunlight travels super fast — it leaves the sun at 186,000 miles per second, racing towards us across 93 million miles of space.

But just before it reaches us it crashes into something — can you guess what? The atmosphere! When it hits those tiny molecules of air, the shortest wavelengths don’t make it through – they bounce off those air molecules and scatter, like rain splashing off your windshield. Look at the diagram: What color has the shortest wavelength? Blue! The air is just dense enough to scatter some of the blue, causing the sky to look blue.

Did you get it?

Let's see: If you were on the moon, where there is no air, what color would the sky be?

Here's a trickier one - How does this knowledge explain why sunsets are so beautiful?

(As the sun gets lower and lower, that sunlight has to pass through more and more atmosphere; so more wavelengths get filtered: first green, making the sun look more yellow; then yellow, making it look more orange; then finally the orange, leaving only the red. Sunrise is the opposite – it’s getting higher and higher, red to orange to yellow.)

Last question for your table: What does this topic have to do with Rosh Hashana?

The best way that I know to experience Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar and concentrate on the end of the year - not concrete resolutions but a bigger picture vision of what kind of person you want to become - you know you can become - in the next 12 months.

If you'd like this year's edition of our "Questions to think about from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur", shoot me an email. Or our "Significant Omens for Rosh Hashana". Or anything else.

As the year ends, I know that I haven't pleased all the people all the time, but I hope that I've pleased all the people some of the time. If any of my missives fell short for you, please forgive me.

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy, connected and uplifting 5778!

Shabbat Shalom

L'Shana Tova — May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life!

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Friday, September 08, 2017

A Cone, a Levee and a Hurricane Walk Into a Bar...

The purpose of this blog is to shoot the breeze at the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

Irma-coneToday's question for your table:

What do these hurricanes have to do with Rosh Hashana?

We're supposed to be happy on Rosh Hashana, right? As in, "Happy New Year"?

So maybe this is an opportunity, among the stress and concern, for some hurricane humor?

Why was the hurricane so relaxed?
It was under very low pressure.

Why did the hurricane turn and go out to sea?
It was under a lot of pressure.

What did God tell the hurricane that wanted to speed up?
He gave a categorical denial.

How did the Category-1 hurricane feel about slowing down?
It went into a depression.

That Category-5 hurricane was so impressive! It blew me away.

They voted on whether or not the center of hurricanes is the scariest part - what was the result?
The eyes have it.

What do they call sugar that grows faster in a cyclone?

What do they call a misspelling at the National Hurricane Center?
A typoon.

(Please be sensitive when forwarding these excellent original jokes. While I'm sure Houstonians appreciated last week's General Zod tribute, it wasn't while they were still in the grip of terror.)

Irma, by the way, is a German name, from Irmin, the god of war. The ancient Germans had this giant pillar of Irmin where they would bring sacrifices after every victory.

José is of course Spanish for Yoseph (Joseph), who is one of the Torah's greatest peace-makers.

So if they got the names right, expect Irma to do major damage and José to do no harm.

But let's take a deeper look at these storms.

Look at these images. The one above is what the NHC calls Irma's "cone" - the statistical projection of the storm.

Here's Harvey's cone:


Here's José:


These are the images projected around the world — "cone" after "cone".

Here we are less than two weeks before Rosh Hashana, and we're sleep-walking.

Do you see the same Jewish message that I see?

Let's look at them again:




So now we can finally ask this week's question for the table:

Is it plausable, or is it fanciful, that the hurricane cones should remind me of the shofar and its message?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you're looking for a shofar, click on those pics to find them on Amazon - and you may also be interested in this.

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Friday, September 01, 2017

So This is Planet Hooston

Zod in lakeYou never heard of Planet Hooston?

(If you know where it is, you might have a super memory.... If you don't, maybe this will jog your memory.)

Besides the eeriness (today) of General Zod mistaking a lake for Houston, it's somehow comforting to hear him call water "a very strange surface."

That's our cue that he's an alien. It's OK to fear and loathe him.

And so Hooston in the movie stands for Planet Earth - we're all on this spaceship together.

If you're not in Texas, the real Houston seems so far away, it might as well be another planet.

But the people there are suffering majorly, and it's super easy to help them:

Houston Federation
Texas Chabad

Be generous. Many of these families have lost everything but the proverbial shirts on their proverbial backs.

They're drained, they're sad, they're scared, they're hugely uncomfortable, they're in shock.

You know, when your street turns into a river and there are fish swimming in your living room, you might just pause and say, "Is this really happening?"

There's your question for the table: Did you ever experience something so strange that you said, "Is this really happening, or am I dreaming?"

If not, what would it take?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Hug a Tree?

The purpose of this blog is an ecological Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

leafy treeDid you know....

Methane is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2?

In fact, CO2 isn't altogether bad. CO2 feeds our trees and plants. They love CO2, and the more CO2 they get, the more oxygen they make.

But methane is the bad stuff. And a lot of it comes from cows.

Now, it has been discovered that if you add a tiny bit of a certain type of seaweed to cow fodder, the cow will produce 95 percent less methane.

That's interesting.

It has also been recently discovered that Israelis have the world's worst iodine-deficiency. This is because they drink artificallly-produced, iodine-depleted drinking water (desalinated) instead of relying on the rainfall....

That's also interesting.

The Torah says we should protect our trees, and by extension, anything that has value.

Now that we know about food webs and ecosystems, what doesn't have value?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, August 11, 2017

What's Your Milk and Honey?

The purpose of this blog is a nourishing & pleasing Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

Mmm FetaDespite my previous post about the quest for falafel, Israel is not called "the land of falafel."

It's well-known that the Torah calls it, "the land of milk and honey."

What is that supposed to mean, really? Abstract bounty?

As you know, I'm always looking for the deeper meaning, so last week I went on a quest to find the holy source of one of my favorite milk-products:

Pastures of Eden Feta.

To the uninitiated, this Trader Joe's staple is one of the best fetas ever.

And I'm not the only one who says so.

And it happens to be kosher.

From Israel.

(And you can even buy it online if your local TJ's is sold out, which they often are.)

All that you will glean from the packaging is that it's made from sheep's milk on a farm .... somewhere in the Land of Israel.

But where?

It was really hard to find information about it. The online info is out of date. After several unanswered emails and phone calls, I was about to give up, when I hit the jackpot. I reached someone named Avi who was indeed the exporter of Pastures of Eden.

Now, he couldn't set up a tour for us on such short notice, but he did reveal to me the region where it is made.

Guess what? It was right where we were staying in Tzippori.

(BTW, this was our guest house - another story for another time), but here's a picture of how we felt when we arrived after a hot day of driving:

Happy campers

See the pool? It's a work of art. Fed by a natural spring, decorated with beds of fragrant mint.)

Mitch, the owner, has a few acres of olive trees which he makes into oil, vines from which he makes his own wine, and so many pomegranate trees he doesn't know what to do with them.

I Mitch if he knows any sheep dairy farmers nearby.

Sure, two doors away.

Picture this - an American family moved to Israel 30 years ago and started their own sheep and goat dairy farm. Selling their wares at farmer's markets. Pretty simple.

No, it wasn't the TJ source. But we tried their feta and it was just as good. (Better, actually - because it was fresh.)

In a word: amazing.

So that's the milk. What about the honey?

We criss-crossed the northern part of the country, throughout the Galil (Galilee) and Golan.

Everyone talks about how small the country is, "about the size of New Jersey."

But when you drive around you get this feeling, "Wow, it feels so spacious."

You see forests and mountains, many small and large towns, countless fertile farms; but even more barren hills awaiting creative Americans to come and build their own towns or sheep farms....

And then there are the endless orchards.

And date palms nearly everywhere you look, such as this one (those are unripe dates he's holding):

Unripe dates
To me, that's the meaning of honey.

It's the sweetness that you don't need to live, but makes life so, well, sweet.

Question for your table:

What's your milk and honey?

Shabbat Shalom

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Feel awful? Felafel!

The purpose of this blog is to provide some comfort at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
 ComfortFirst question for your table this week:

What do people mean by a "comfort food" and do you have one?

Take a look at the kid in this photo.

That's our 13-year-old enjoying his first Jerusalem felafel.

(If you want to know the secret for finding the best felafel in an Israeli town, send me an email.)

The second question for your table:

Why do so many Jews traveling to Israel make a bee-line for the felafel stand?

Is it just the palate, or is there something Jewishly comforting about felafel?

If you can answer that, maybe you can answer the third question of the week:

The experience of food becomes a mere memory, so how great a comfort can it be?

More comfort?

Some people therefore seek comfort in familiar books of wisdom, because wisdom is forever.

But, wouldn't that get tiresome, to revert to the same books again and again?

Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim

PS -

PPS - I mentioned last week that I was going to try the popular Travelrest on the plane. Thumbs-up - it performed as advertised.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Sticking Your Neck In

The purpose of this blog is to keep them from nodding off at the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or like it or tweet it.

travel-pillowsDo you travel good?

Is that poor grammar?

OK, let's make it the first question for your table:

What's the difference between "traveling well" and "traveling good"?

If you travel well, you bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.

If you travel good, you offer your extra Southwest drink coupons to the people in your row.

So imagine you're on a long flight headed East. You've got to get some rest because you're losing time and in just a few hours it's going to be morning. Oy, just thinking about the jet lag is already making you tired.

If you travel well, you have figured out how to sleep on the plane.

If you travel good, you have figured out how to sleep on the plane without disturbing anyone else.

Big fan of sleeping on the plane here. Nothing like a window seat with a pillow and eyeshades.

But what about the 99% who don't get a window seat?

My father (z'l) used to say that half of jet lag comes from not getting enough sleep while traveling (and the night before).

(Others say that's a myth, but Dad knew all about circadian rhythm, and research suggests he may have been on to something.)

If so, then inventing the perfect vertical sleeping device would help millions of people (not counting college students) and save the economy hundreds of millions of dollars.

(You thought I was joking about college students? Weren't you ever sitting in a long boring lecture and just wishing you could close your eyes inconspicously? I used to fantasize about an L-shaped device that you could sit on and lean back against, giving you a tiny Y-shaped bar to rest your head on. Still looking for that one!)

Here are some contenders for the best vertical sleep tool:

1. The $20 ZZZ-Band (not to be confused with the ZZ-Top band) straps your head to the seat. Sounds funny, but over 2/3 of reviewers think it's great.
2. The $20 Double-Decker inflatable - I'm rather intrigued by this one.
3. I have personally tried this $18 Caldera Releaf neck wrap and like it.
4. Have not tried the somewhat similar $30 Trtl Pillow.

5. Am also intrigued by this interesting $24 Elenker pillow.
6. Moving up to $37, if you don't mind people's stares, try the Cloud Nine.
7. The most highly-engineered is the $56 Kaz Headrest - you have to check this one out.

Well, in the end I decided to try out the popular Travelrest this summer. Will let you know how it goes.

What's your best advice for beating jet-lag?

Finally, for your table:

If you travel well, you ___________________________________.

If you travel good, you __________________________________.

Shabbat Shalom

(PS - yes, the picture above is for real and is clickable if you really must ask)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Just Say Nu?

The purpose of this blog is synthesis at the Shabbat table. Please print and share, or forward or...

In memory of my father, Dennis Seinfeld, whose 12th yahrzeit was yesterday, a master of the art of friendly negotiation.
and wishing happy birthday to Pinchas in Jerusalem - until 120!

negotiatingLast week's theme ("Yours, Zealously") came with the great Hebrew phrase, bein adam l'chaveiro - anyone remember what that means?*

*Interpersonal ethics.

Here's a follow-up question to stump friends and family.

I like this question not just because it's a stumper - but because the answer teaches you something.

Try asking this question at your table: What's the etymology of "negotiate"?

Here's a clue: the online dictionaries are wrong.

They all say:

Latin for "lack of leisure," from neg- "not"  + otium "ease, leisure."

Lack of leisure? So negotiate means, "work"?

We think not.

Yes, despite what google-translate says.

We think that whoever made that up was guessing and forgot their conjugations.

(Maybe he needed the help of a Roman sentry?)

(That was less random than you think, click the link and you'll see what I mean.)

I'm sure you remember conjugations, despite your heroic attempts to forget all about them.

(And I know you've been wondering for years when you would ever get to use all that high school grammar.)

Conjugations, conjugations, what are conjugations?

Maybe this will jog your memory:

amo, amas, amat (I love, you love, he loves....)

(Yes, that's Latin.)

So the -o ending is first person singular.

What's the neg- in negotiate?

That's easy: negate, negative, etc. — it means "not" or "no".

Ergo, nego means "I say no."

Ergo, negotiation is the art of saying no.

"How much is that hat?"
"200 dollars. But for you, one hundred fifty."
"No, that's too high, would you accept fifty?"
"Fifty? You insult me. This hat is worth far more than that. But maybe I could come down to one hundred thirty, but that's my final price."
"Sorry, still too high for me, beyond my budget, thanks anyway."
"Wait, before you walk away, what is your maximum price?"
"I cannot pay you more than 75."
"75? Are you out of your mind? I might as well pay you to take the hat. Listen, I haven't had a sale all day and I need to make quota. Give me 100 and at least I won't lose too much."
"OK, fine."

The experts say, don't be afraid of a "no" - that's when the fun begins!

How do you succeed at negotiation?

First of all, don't fear it.

Enjoy it.

Great negotiation is a dialectic - thesis, antithesis, and if you stick to it, synthesis.

That's Jewish learning in a nutshell - together we arrive at a closer understanding of the truth.

Second of all, according to Dale Carnegie, there is a rule that most people fail at: know your red lines before you enter the negotiation. Know your bottom dollar, define your limits. If you don't start with your lowest offer in mind, you may end up losing.

Attorneys-at-law are sometimes called counselors. Great ones, like my father of blessed memory, are great counselors. We only see them representing their clients. What we don't see is when they counsel their client. A lot of that counseling has to do with helping their client define that bottom line.

Let's apply these lessons to relationships.

Think about a relationship of yours that's slightly or largely on the rocks.

Chances are, one or both of you are fuzzy about that bottom line.

Which of the following would you judge to be true bottom-line needs as opposed to negotiables?

I need to feel loved.
I need you to be nice to me.
I need you to answer the phone when I call.
I need to feel that home is a safe and nurturing place to be.
I need you to clean your room.
I need you to respect me.
I need to feel respected.

Now, how are you going to get to that synthesis?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Yours, Zealously

The purpose of this blog is to let words fly while keeping elbows in check. Please forward / like / tweet or just print and share.

In memory of my father, whose 12th yahrzeit is next week, named "least likely to elbow his way" in his high school yearbook.
(OK, not really, but had they had such category, he would have surely won it.)

Alex Burmistrov fined for elbowing Jared SpurgeonSeveral friends have been in Israel this summer, and one just gave me this report:

On Shabbat we were walking to the Wall from Jaffa Gate, going down the main path that everyone goes down. At the bottom there is a security checkpoint that made everything bottled up. People were lining up to go through. I was really surprised to see these religious families pushing their way past everyone lined up. I guess they felt it was more important to them to get in than everyone else."

What's the take-home message?

So I sent the anecdote to a rabbi-list I'm a member of. I don't know how many rabbis are on the list, possibly hundreds. The responses were interesting.

Some pointed out that there really are two lines, because religious Jews don't have to go through the scanner on Shabbat, and they were simply following protocol. Therefore, they felt that the take-home lesson is to be dan l'chaf zechut - to judge favorably.

Others said that it's wrong even if it was right because it looks bad.

One responded:

We all know their are Jews who don't behave.  If those were my friends who witnessed that, I would explain to them that those people go every single day and are not tourists they have a tight schedule and security lets them right through. It's accepted practice for the regulars to rush through. They may have done it with too much sabra brutality but let it go. It's not right and they should know better but use this as an opportunity to give another Jew a pass.

For your table:

An opportunity to give another Jew a pass, to judge favorably?

Or an opportunity to look in our collective mirror and remind ourselves, "We have work to do, beginning with bein adam l'chaveiro*."?

*Interpersonal ethics.

And if you say, "work to do" - where do you begin?

Shabbat Shalom