Friday, November 30, 2018

The Bearable Bareness of Being

The purpose of this blog is to enable some soul-baring at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

A deep thank you to all those who helped make our "Giving Tuesday" appeal (here) a great success. PS - It's never too late to join the party.

In memory of Marshall Bach, Moshe Topas and others who have recently left us.

And in case you got distracted, here is a reminder of the days, hours and minutes until Channuka.

Medical loveThis morning I paid a shiva call to a family who lost their son a few days ago to an overdose.

With that brief intro, here's the first question for your table:

What mental image do you have of their son at this point?

Frankly, I didn't know their son at all, never even met his mother, only know his father casually. So everything I'm about to tell you I learned just this morning.

First, their son was brilliant. He loved biology, was very good at it, and completed a pre-med degree in under four years.

As an undergraduate, he worked with a professor on biomedical research and co-authored a paper.

He was accepted to the Technion Medical School.

Perhaps due to his brilliance, his chemical addictions did not follow a smoothe, predictable trajectory.

They involved alcoholism rooted in his teenage years, drugs readily available during his gap-year in Israel, pain medication supplied liberally after a motorcycle accident, several stays at rehab centers.

And through it all, an extremely loving and caring family.

At the shiva, his father told about the graduation ceremony from rehab.

Each participant stood and said, "My name is So-and-so, and I'm an addict."

His son stood and said, "My name is Moshe, and I'm an addict, and I'm a Jew."

His father also quoted a Talmudic passage about the famous rabbis healing each other:

R. Hiyya b. Abba fell ill and R. Yohanan went in to visit him. He said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? He replied: Neither they nor their reward.  He said to him: Give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he raised him.

R. Yohanan once fell ill and R. Hanina went in to visit him. He said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? He replied: Neither they nor their reward. He said to him: Give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he raised him. Why could not R. Yohanan raise himself? The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.

I see at leats two profound lessons there.

Let's break it down.

First of all, why does the visiting rabbi ask, "Do you want this illness?"

What kind of question is that? Why would anyone want an illness?

You'll probably get some very interesting answers from your table.

In my opinion, think the answer is clear in the patient's reply. The reason a person may want (or at least accept) an illness is due to the concept of tikkun - that ever adversity that we experience is for our own good, to help us in some way.

His question in effect is, "Is the sickness bearable in light of the putative benefits, or is it unbearable?"

It reminds me of another person who died recently, a lifetime San Francisco resident, of lung cancer. Like all lung cancer patients, his last days were of unbearable suffering.

"I want neither the illness nor its benefits!"

A second take-away, it seems to me, is the role of the patient. In many cases - especially addiction - he has to want to recover. And he has to want to every day.

Hopefully we can encourage him and help him find motivations, but the will has to be real.

A third piece of wisdom, it seems to me, comes from the fact that the healing comes by asking him to grasp his hand, and by the analogy to a prisoner.

It seems to me that too many of us want to go it alone - whether it be in recovery, weight-loss, investing, or even home repairs. DIY is praiseworthy but there is no shame - in fact there is tremendous praise - to someone who ignores his or her ego and asks others for help.

If someone helps you climb the mountain, it doesn't make you any less heroic and in fact a shared summit is sweetest.

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Channukah (however you spell it)

PS - If you're still scrambling for Channuka, you may want to click here.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Matzah with Cranberry Sauce?

The purpose of this blog is to add some Hodu to the Thanksgiving and even Shabbat table. Please print and share.
(Are you counting down the days and hours and minutes to Channuka?)

Matzo-tartineHere are a few questions to stump everyone at the table.

Try this one first:
Why turkey?

Serious question: Why do Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

(I.e., like it's their religious duty, like Jews eating matzah on Pesach.)

If anyone says, "They ate turkey so we have to eat turkey," you can politely let them know they are wrong on 2 accounts.

First of all, would it really 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?

Second, they probably didn't eat much turkey.

At that original Thanksgiving in 1621, they apparently ate mostly venison.

Let's go back in time.

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 naturally 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 main question: What food should you eat on hodu-day?

Hodu, of course.

Now try asking somebody Jewish at the table this stumper:

You're Jewish, right? Can you explain what "Jewish" means?

Forget the religious or cultural meaning; we want to know the etymology of "Jewish".

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

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

Let that sink in before asking the next question: How often?

(Once a year? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day?)

That could be a lot of hodu to stuff yourself with.

Final question for the table: How do you do it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Special channuka link for you if you click on the pic above.

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers!  , , forward it....

Friday, November 16, 2018

Tempus Fudge-it

The purpose of this blog is to speed up time at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.
Sending deep sympathy to those suffering in Southern Israel and in Calfornia.

How+To+Make+A+Dali+Inspired+Decorated+Cake?format=1500wMost people we know are generally on-time.

(Most airlines, too.)

Some people we know are notoriously "always late".

Question 1 for your table - Do you know anyone who is always precisely on-time? How about someone who is always early? How does that fact affect your feelings about that person?

Question 2 - How does it feel when you are on time and the person you are meeting is also punctual?

Question 3 - Do always-late people usually miss their flights, or do they manage to be on time when it comes to travel? How do you explain someone being on-time for a plane, but late for every meeting?

When we moved back to the Bay Area in 2000, I started networking and making daily meetings from San Jose to Marin.

(Life lesson learned - don't do this in a leased vehicle.)

The first week on the job, I decided to repent of my past sins, overcome my habit of procrastination, and be punctual.

Life lesson learned: it wasn't that hard.

The outcome? Many people commented. They found it unusual for someone to be so punctual.

More important - it pleased them.

Question 4 - Were you ever embarrassingly late, but the person you were meeting was even later? How did that feel?

Question 5 - Could there be a down-side to being punctual?

Question 6 - What's worse, being late or not showing up at all?

Question 7 - Would a more spiritual person be more punctual (because they are concerned about other people) or less punctual (because their head is full of lofty thoughts and they don't want to be bound by pettiness)?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Want to kick the tardiness habit (or help someone do so)? Click the pic above.

Enjoyed this Table Talk? Vote with your fingers!  , , forward it....

Friday, November 09, 2018

One-and-t'Others & Skin-and-Blisters

The purpose of this blog is to leverage the dinner table rivalry. Please print and share.

Lisa v BartLast week I suggested asking at your table, Are you a Jew first or an ______ first (pick your nationality).

This week, a similar convsersation-starter, with a twist:

Are you a child first or a sibling first?

Now, before any only-child protests, let's talk for a moment about the word sibling. The modern meaning of "a person who shares one or both parents with me" is actually quite recent - only about a hundred years old.

The older meaning is any relative. But no one knows how it came into the English language and there are competing theories.

I suspect it comes from Hebrew: the SB root (or SV) has something to do with wisdom. The L is probably a truncation of EL which means God. So this person who torments me, who doesn't nourish me like a parent and I can't walk away from like a peer - why am I stuck with this relationship? Chalk it up to God's wisdom.

(Typical of the English to come up with a tongue-in-cheek word. Reminds one of the Cockney slang skin-and-blister for sister.)

So a sibling is basically a peer that you happen to be stuck with. Gotta remember their birthday, gotta invite them to your simchas, no matter how seldom you actually talk.

So back to today's question - are you the person you are primarily due to your parents, or primarily due to your siblings (again, as broadly defined as you want).

And should you wonder why it matters, I can think of two reasons.

1. Appreciation - the good that's in me came from somewhere (someone). I should thank them.
2. Change - my personality imperfections came from somewhere - if I can ID the source, it's so much easier to change myself.

Maybe you can think of more?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, November 02, 2018

What Are You

Jude badge
The purpose of this blog is to Jew-up the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share.

As you know, this weekly space generally avoids current events.

But sometimes they are unavoidable.

And as you know, this email tries to be more about questions than answers.

So.... I would like to suggest four related questions for your table:

Question 1 - What's more shocking:

That there are such hardboiled antisemites among us, or that one of them decided to act on his hatred?

Question #2 - What about you:

Would you call yourself a Jewish American or an American Jew?

[substitute other nationalities as needed, including Israeli]

Question #3 - What's the ideal:

Should we be striving to live as Jewish Americans or American Jews?

Question #4 - What about now:

When an American Amalek hunts down Jewish people with the mindset of an exterminator trying to clear his world of vermin, how does that impact your answer to Q2 and Q3?

Shabbat Shalom