Friday, May 17, 2019

3 O-Kaye Ways to Be Jewish

The purpose of this blog is to raise the bar at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

Yes, the
countdown continues....

Woman of Valor pendantWe're trying to climb higher.

Two weeks ago we pondered tragic news.

Last week, we shared upbeat news.

Both of those are looking backward.

This week, the husband of Lori Gilbert-Kaye is asking us to look forward.

In case the 24-hour news cycle has caused anyone to forget, she's the woman of valor who took a bullet for her rabbi.

By all accounts, she lived an inspired and inspiring life:

Apropos of nothing, Gilbert-Kaye would drop off gifts at her friends’ homes, Busalacchi said. And she didn’t send one card for a birthday or anniversary, she sent three or four.

Rare was the Friday night that the Kayes did not have Shabbat guests — often there were 10 or more people at the table. She would invite friends to the family’s sukkah on Sukkot, and host a break the fast after Yom Kippur. She made her own challah, and recently forwarded a Passover carrot kugel recipe to Busalacchi.

Gilbert-Kaye’s Facebook page is filled with posts raising funds for groups and individuals in need.

Moments after the assassin's bullets struck her, her husband (a doctor) found her:

Her husband had tried to resuscitate her, but he fainted and lay on the floor next to his wife. The couple’s daughter found her parents on the floor and started screaming, Goldstein said, calling it, “the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen.”

This week, that husband - Dr. Howard Kaye - asked a visitor to share a 36-second message with the Jewish world

Question for your table: What are you going to do about it?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - the above clickable image is a pendant with the first line of King Solomon's Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor) poem.

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Friday, May 10, 2019

How Odd of God...

The purpose of this email is to build some Jewish pride at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

And the
countdown continues....

Evil MosquitoThis week, something a little more upbeat than last week's tragic news.

A lot more upbeat?

That's the first question for your table - on a scale of 1-10, how good is this news:

Malaria vaccine pilot launched in Malawi
Country first of three in Africa to roll out landmark vaccine

Geneva, 23 April 2019

WHO welcomes the Government of Malawi’s launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine today in a landmark pilot programme. The country is the first of three in Africa in which the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age; Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.

Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, most of them children.

Careful how you answer that.

The Talmud says that we Jews, regardless of our flaws, always have three qualities. One of them is rachamim - compassion.

Midrash: "
The Egyptian slavery was of great value for us, since it implanted within us the quality of kindness and mercy."

Malaria kills a child every two minutes. How can someone not be bothered by that?

So when the antisemite, so full of his own cleverness, declaims,

How odd of God
to choose the Jews!

... don't get all insulted. Just feel bad for him. He doesn't know what he's talking about.

On a related note, just like you can flush out the Jews by how they answer the above question, you can flush out the rabbis by how they answer this one (Question 2 for your table):

How would you to summarize the Torah in one sentence?


Shabbat Shalom

PS - Looking for something non-toxic to stop dem skeetas? Click the above image.

Friday, May 03, 2019

What's a Person Worth?

The purpose of this email is to build some self-esteem at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. (The big holday has passed... and now a new countdown.)

You-matterThis week, a tragedy, an idea, and a ray of sunshine.

The tragedy: It was reported this week that 25 students in India committed suicide after having failed a college entrance exam.

India's top universities have a lower acceptance rate (2 percent) than the most elite American colleges.

Judging by various reports, the reason this made the news is because many (or all) of them didn't actually fail; there were technical errors in the scoring.

And when you read the articles, the parents and public officials are all looking for someone to blame for these lost young lives.

So this opens up a huge question for your table: What's a greater tragedy - that these teenagers were under such pressure (from their parents, families, society) to make them feel like failure on the exam means your life is pointless? Or that the storyline everywhere focuses on the "irregularities in the examination"?? (The London Telegraph solemnly concludes, "The independent panel has said it will imminently announce measures to ensure that marking errors do not occur again". Thanks.

Today's idea: Yesterday, I heard a speaker make the following observation about death, a great conversation-starter for your Shabbat table:

The fear of death is the main motivator for most people in the world.

and there are four typical reactions to this fear:

1. Survival-instinct - I shall fight it (and everyone else who gets in my way)!
2. Distraction - also denial - just avoid thinking about it, get involved in projects, work, busy-ness.
3. Depression - needs no explanation.
4. Heroic - "I'll face death with courage!"

Even focusing on going to Heaven is a reaction to fear of death.

For your table: is this an accurate summary of the major reactions to fear of dying?

Second question: is there a fifth way?

She (the speaker) declared that indeed there is a fifth way, the Jewish way.

To help you think about that, here's the ray of sunshine:

I went into the JCC today, to my usual locker area, and in the first locker I opened someone had left a wallet and cell phone, but no lock on the locker.

Who in day and age would be so careless?

At this time of year in Baltimore, you see an increase of yeshiva students who have come home for the holiday. Most have returned to their yeshivas already, but a few are still around for a few more days. Yeshiva students are often idealist. They sometimes live in a bubble, in an environment where even gossip is shunned, let alone theft!

Call him naïve, but I found it uplifting that someone still trusts me and those around him that way.

What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Big Whole to Fill

The purpose of this blog is to create a center of gravity at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Yes, the countdown continues.... 
Click here.

blackhole-croppedUnless you are living in a news-void (in which case I applaud you), you probably recognize this image.

To me, it is, frankly, pretty stunning.

I guess that's a good question for your table - Is there anyone who would not be impressed by this?

A team of 200 astronomers and computer scientists used eight telescopes to turn the entire Earth into a giant telescope in order to capture this image, at the center of a nearby galaxy.

It took them ten years of planning.

We've "known" about black holes for decades, thanks to Al Einstein.

And in 2015 we detected a hiccup from two of them crashing into each other.

But talking about seeing one? It was considered science fiction.

So... (big question for your table) - Does this photo change anything?

Like understanding what gravity is? Probably not.

But what about our belief in black holes? Is seeing believing? Or was the weight of the scientific evidence already strong enough to believe in them?

Next week I'll probably have to cut down on my blogging - and you on your reading - because we need to prepare for the Seder. What's going to be new? What will I keep from the old?

A couple things for you:

1. The Art of Amazement Haggadah is still available (2017 edition). It was created for someone who has never led a Seder before. You can also get a downloadable, editable version here.

2. Every year I discover new Seder props and gimmics. If you'd like to see my 2019 list (or previous lists), shoot me an email.

3. This year we have a new exclusive gift for JSLI partners, "40 Questions to Ask at Your Seder" - If you are not already a partner and want to get a copy, shoot me an email. (don't worry, we included answers)

4. If you are looking for some Pesach inspiration, shoot me an email and I'll share some online audio that you may enjoy.

Question for your table: What is more stunning, the existence of black holes, our ability to predict them, or our ability to observe them?

(Hint: which of these 3 would generate a beracha?)

Shabbat Shalom


A wholly holy and happy Pesach!
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Friday, April 05, 2019

If It's Taxing, It's Good

The purpose of this blog is to work the brain-muscle at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

The Countdown to Passover continues... Click here.

i_love_tax_season_i_heart_tax_season_key_ring-r59dbc20b7d5449658eca44a10ba6fae8_x7j3z_8byvr_307.jpg?rvtype=contentI'm happy to say I finished my taxes just in time for Nisan, the Hebrew month that begins tonight.

I really don't care for anything that has to do with spreadsheets. I find it tedious and I simply don't enjoy it.

But I know I have to do it. So eventually I stop procrastinating and do it.

Question (for your table): Is there any way to make something tedious-that-you-must-do enjoyable?

Low-level: Be grateful that you are able to pay taxes - that means you made some money!

Medium-level: Anything that I have to do, but don't want to do, and push myself to do, makes me grow. Appreciate that.

Hight-level: Knowing this is good for me (even though I don't want to do it) means I can actually smile while doing it.

2nd question for your table: Where else in life does this wisdom apply?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - you may want to click on the image above. Just a suggestion.

PPS - you may also want to click here.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Passover Creep

The purpose of this blog is to bloom conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
Thank you for all the happy feedback to last week's message, "The Good, the Bad and the Yummy".

grab-my-art-cherry-blossom_a-G-15027954-0First the cherries blossom...

Then you turn on the outdoor faucets....

Then you click here to check the countdown....

Then you follow the link there to get your Art of Amazement Haggada or JSLI Complete Passover Kit.

Then, tonight at the Shabbat table, try asking this question:

How do you want this Pesach to be similar to Pesachim of the past, and how would you like it to be different from all other Pesachim?

You might find the answers very interesting.

Shabbat Shalom
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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Yummy

The goal of this blog is to lighten up the Purim table in good taste. Please forward, like, tweet or at least print and share.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT - The Amazing Jewish-Fact-a-Day Calendar app has not been updated. Someone complained to me today about this and I'm sorry for the delay in updating it. Please watch this space for a future announcement regarding this most amazing app.
71d8e19470ab8e144cfbd2d5fb4e0f29Many times I've asked readers to submit their best Jewish jokes.

To date, the "two guys in Argentina joke" remains at the top.

In the meantime, hamantasch (
that favorite Purim cookie) factories big and small have been at full-steam, leading us to a question for your table:

What would you guess are the three most popular hamantasch flavors?

(Answer below.)

That question leads us to some good news, some bad news, and some yummy news.

The good news is more people than ever before are doing Purim this year.

Why is that good news?

Because one of the main ways to celebrate Purim is to give gifts (money and food). So more people celebrating = more giving.

The bad news is that the world still has a few Haman-wanna-bes. The current front-runner is the president of Persia/Iran, Mr. Rou-Haman-i (who took over for Mr. A-Haman-nijadad in 2013).

Still building the bomb, still wants to kill the Jews.

Note that Persia happens to be the setting of the ancient Purim story.

(In case the face doesn't ring a bell, click on it and learn something about the Haman of our day. Or click here, or here.)

The yummy news is what these modern Hamans have taught us about hamantaschen.

We have all wondered why are they shaped like that, and what does hamantash mean, anyhow?

When I was a kid, we used to call them “Haman’s hat”. But that’s because we didn’t spreken Yiddish. Then I went to Israel where they call them “Oznay Haman” - Haman’s ears. So I thought that tashen meant ears.

(Do Israelis imagine themselves as cannibals when they munch on their hamantashen?)

In fact, if you look in your Yiddish dictionary or talk to your Bubbe, you will learn that a tasch is a purse or bag.

There you have it. Hamantashen = Haman-bags.

Maybe they’re called “bags” because they are folded over with fruit inside, and “Haman” because they do look like Haman’s hat.

Or maybe he carried a triangular handbag.

Or maybe he did have triangular ears.

And then I stumbled upon these photos, hard evidence that the ear theory is correct:


So I'm guessing you're thinking, "What are supposed to do, Rabbi, defeat our enemies by mocking them?"

This calls for a Monty Python line:

“We spit on you, you silly Persian. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. Now go away or we will taunt you a second time!” (say with French accent) (For context, here's a video clip.)

Like I said, more people are doing Purim this year. Here are the stats from Israel alone:

+ An estimated forty million hamantaschen have been baked.
+ Israelis are able to buy goat cheese and onion hamantaschen.
+ Goat-cheese-and-onion (my personal favorite) has a ways to go before it overtake the most popular flavors of poppyseed, chocolate and date.

(For the adventurous, here are some other interesting flavor innovations.)

One more question for your table: What's your favorite hamantaschen flavor? What flavor would you never want to try?

But if you look in that Yiddish dictionary again, you'll learn that man means "poppy". So the word mantaschen means "poppy-pockets" and therefore "Hamantaschen" is punny.

Hamantaschen remind us that the truth is sometimes hidden, and that sometimes it helps to laugh.

....Even at ourselves.... Here's an oldy:

How many Jews does it take to change a lightbulb?
Just one — but whoever it is, we make them feel guilty for not changing it earlier.


The time to eat them is of course today! ... remembering that every Haman has his hour, and his downfall.

Happy Purim


Shabbat Shalom

PS - All kidding aside, two of the great Purim mitzvot can be done online:

Gifts to the poor - Here or here or here or ....

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Wizard of Ooo's and Ahhh's

The purpose of this blog is to sweeten the deal at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Ace the SATWe were still chuckling from last week's merry pre-Purim post when this week's college admissions-gate was announced.
I happened to have been with people who personally know some of the individuals who were arrested.

So you can imagine how this story came like a bombshell.

Questions come to mind, lots of questions for your table.

Should the ones still in college be expelled?
Should the ones who completed college have their degrees revoked?
Should the students be prosecuted?

That'll larn 'em!

Regardless of the law, what is the moral distinction between bribing a coach to push for your daughter's admission and bribing a property manager to let your cat-owning daughter rent an apartment where pets are not allowed?

How about between bribing a coach covertly and bribing the school overtly by donating a building?

How about between bribing a coach covertly and bribing a congressman overtly by donating to his campaign?

Deepthroat said, "Follow the money."

I've always said, if you want to know what someone truly values, take a look at their credit card statement.

These people we obviously value that "elite" piece of paper.

Question for your table: Why?

But let's make this more personal. Where is the red line between ethical and unethical help for a child?

Is it okay to write an essay for a child (or a friend for that matter)? What about editing it? Proofreading? Does it make a difference if the essay is for college versus for a current class?

What about a child's bar or bar mitzvah speech? How much parental input is ethical?

I'm not suggesting that these gray-area questions have no answer; on the contrary, I believe that they should and do have clear red lines. I'm putting them out there for discussion in order to find those red lines.

Shabbat Shalom


Happy Purim

"I can't give you brains, but I'll give you a diploma!"
(Bonus question!!! Who said it?)

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Friday, March 08, 2019

A Photon Checks Into a Hotel....

The purpose of this blog is to lighten up the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

photonThe manager asks, "No luggage?"

The photon says, "No, I'm traveling light."

OK, no apologies, it's a pretty good joke.

But you have to admit, after last week, you were expecting something sappy.

Listen, for what we charge for this email, you should be grateful to get even one good joke. But just because you're special, I'm going to give you another:

A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender how much for a drink?  —“For you, no charge.”

Had enough? No, you want more?

Confused? Wondering what these pretty-good-jokes are doing in this holy space?

Today's the first day of Adar. Back by popular demand. It is time to get a little happier.

Pretty soon it's going to be Purim, then Pesach, then.... time keeps on slipping into the future!

Past, Present, and Future walked into a bar. It was tense.

So how does all this merriment become a meaningful talk for your table?

Try asking this question:

Why can’t you trust atoms?  —They make up everything.

But seriously - question for your table - what makes a joke funny?

Why, for example is that last one funny, but this one is not:

Why can’t you trust atoms?  —They always lie.

Somehow, that just falls a little flat. Can you pinpoint why?

The answer (it seems to me) is because it's not true. They don't lie. Atoms don't even talk. There is no way it could be spun as truthful.

So it turns out that the truth matters a lot, even in comedy, even though not always in the ways that we think of it.

Last question for your table: Did you hear the one about the guy who always forgot the punchline to his jokes?

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, March 01, 2019

Sappily Ever After

The purpose of this blog is to tap into something sweet at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

Maple tree tapHow did everyone at your table do on last week's bottle test?

This week, a little magic.

Log CabinIf you’ve ever tasted maple syrup then you know it is one of the most amazing flavors in the world. (Maybe second only to chocolate.)

It's hard to believe, but I actually know someone who has never tasted real maple syrup. His entire life he has only known imitation.

First question for your table - what would you guess they make Log Cabin syrup from? Bear in mind that the bottle proclaims in giant letters, "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP"

Answer: corn syrup. Just not "high fructose".ingredients

So let's go back to maple. Two more questions for your table:

2. Would you guess that it's good or bad for you?
3. How is it made?

It is of course the sap of the maple tree. But don’t think you could just drill a hole in a maple tree and enjoy the sap!

In this picture, you are looking at the Seinfeld family's first ever maple tap. It's hard to see in the photo, but the bottle is about half-full of a clear liquid.

So here's the lo-down.

All spring and summer trees and all plants are making sugar. Sunlight hitting those green leaves, good ol' fashioned photosynthesis.

But what do you do if you're a tree in a cold climate, where the winter freeze will destroy your leaves?

Easy - you drop the leaves when it gets cold and grow new ones when it warms up again.

But wait, you need energy to grow, and your energy comes from photosynthesis, and you've lost all your leaves!

Answer - all summer when you're making all that sugar, store some extra in your roots, kind of like a squirrel storing nuts. Then, in late winter, when it's still freezing at night but above freezing in the day, that temperature differential creates a pressure differential which starts pumping the sap up through those xylem.

For a magical week or two, that sap will contain a high concentration of sugar, and certain maple trees for some reason contain even more sugar than other trees. Maple sap also contains unusual amino acids which give the syrup that special maple flavor.

The tappers wait until the weather is just right – not too warm but not too cold – to drill a small hole into the tree and take some of the rising sap. Typically, this occurs in mid-to-late-February.

But if you would taste that sap, it would taste almost like water. To turn it into tasty syrup requires heating precisely to 7 degrees above boiling. It takes 40 or more gallons of watery sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.

In other words, even if we fill that bottle a couple times, we're not going to get much syrup.

Besides tasting amazing, maple syrup contains:

Polyphenols, compounds that work as antioxidants

• Zinc, mangnesium, calcium and potassium
• Less sugar and calories than honey and agave syrup – even less than sugar!

When they tap the tree properly, it doesn’t harm the tree at all. The tap hole will heal and the same tree may be tapped for many years and live just as long. Tapping removes only about 10 percent of the tree’s sugar, not a problem for a healthy tree.

How about other trees? A new trend is to make birch syrup. Would you try it?

In addition to tapping our first maple tree this week, we also made our first maple candy. It's easier than I'd thought.

1. Pour an inch or two of maple syrup into a saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When it has the color and consistency of creamy hand soap, pour into ice cube tray or other small molds (silicon is best). Or just dribble on a baking sheet.

The first time we tried it, we let it simmer too long: it was slightly burnt and the candies were rock-hard.

The second time we nailed it and now have an unparalleled melt-in-your-mouth treat for Shabbat.

Final two questions for your table:

4. There is a trend to tap and sap other trees, including birch and oak. Would you try birch or oak syrup?

5. If you don't agree that maple is the most amazing flavor in the world, what is and where does it come from?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Photo credit: my amazing wife, who is even sweeter and better for me than maple syrup.

PPS - If you want to tap your own trees and don't have any Kedem grape juice bottles around, click on the photo for a complete kit.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Don't Look at the Bottle!

The purpose of this blog is to raise spirits at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 

wine bottlesLast week's theme of lightning generated great interest. There were, however, several typos, including one significant error that crept in (haste makes waste), regarding the chemicals generated by lightning. The blog version of this email has been corrected.

This week, in honor of "Purim Katan", an ethical dilemma by our friend, R' Yitzi Weiner.

First, take a look at these five wine bottles.

In your judgment, which one contains the best wine?

According to World of Wine columnist Ron Smith, many consumers subconsciously make quality judgments based on bottle shape alone.

If you were a wine maker, you would want to know and exploit this fact.

What if you are a wine consumer?

Zev was a wealthy businessman. His "10-20 percent to tzedaka" was always large amounts of money.

He was also a generous host.

Every year he invited his three neighbors and their families to his Purim feast. He would serve the most expensive kosher wine available. He did this as a means of beautifying the mitzvah. Zev was renowned for having these wines.

Sadly, one year Zev’s business dried up. He was struggling financially but was embarrassed to let any of his friends or neighbors know.

Purim time came and Zev felt obligated to Invite his neighbors once again. When it came time to buy the wine, he shuddered. He could no longer afford such expensive wine. But if he used regular or cheap wine, it would be obvious to his neighbors that something was wrong.

In desperation Zev went to the owner of an elegant kosher restaurant. He asked the restaurateur if he could give him the empty bottles of expensive wine that they saved, for a Purim project. Zev washed out the bottles, bought cheap wine, and poured the wine into the expensive bottles.

Zev figured that on Purim his neighbors wouldn't realize that the wine tasted different, as long as it was poured from the expensive bottle.

The meal went well. The guests loved the wine. 
But as his neighbor was complimenting Zev for the delicious wine, Zev was struck with an anxiety-producing thought.

Was I allowed to serve them this wine, giving them the impression that it was expensive, when it was not?

Was that considered genevat da’at, unethical deception?

Or would that perhaps be permitted, to avoid embarrassment?

What do you think? Was Zev ethically permitted to serve his guests cheap wine in an expensive bottle

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Tuning in to Fulminology

The purpose of this blog is to lighten and enlighten at the Shabbat table. Please print and share. 
Happy Birthday shout-out to Allan in Piedmont!

Hoirzontal lightningThis week's theme is lightning. The regular kind, flashes of electricity in the sky, that sometimes hit the earth.

First, let's get the facts with five trivia questions for your table:

1. How many times a day would you guess that lightning strikes somewhere on Planet Earth?
2. How hot is a bolt of lightning?
3. How big is a bolt of lightning?
4. How much electricity are we talking about here?
5. What is the chemical symbol and atomic number of nitrogen?

After everyone chimes in, here are the answers:

1. The most common estimate going around is about eight million.

If you have any students at the table, ask them to estimate (in their heads) how many that would be per hour, per minute and per second.

[About 350,000 per hour, 6,000 per minute, 100 per second.]

Let's just pause and think about that for a second. Oop - there's another 100 lightning strikes!

2. Soooooo hot. Like super-duper hot. Like 3-5 times the surface of the sun, which is 10,000°F. We're talking pretty toasty here.
3. About 1 inch in diameter, about 5 miles long (but can be as long as 100 miles).
4. Maybe a billion volts, give or take a few.
5. Nitrogen is N, atomic number 7. (Bonus question - what does that number tell us? [number of protons])

So now we're ready for the big question of the day:

6. What has lightning done for us lately?

The answer is surpisingly interesting.

First of all, lightning is one of the only ways that nitrogen becomes available to plants, and thus to us.

You see, as every schoolchild knows, the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. And we need nitrogen, can't live without it. We need nitrogen atoms to be attached to hydrogen and carbon atoms in a specific chain that we call protein.

Plants need it for photosynthesis.

Problem is, we can't simply absorb it from the air. Nitrogen molecules have this super-tight triple atomic bond that just doesn't break apart so easily. 

The only way we get it is from our food. But plants can't absorb it from the air either.

But lightning is so hot that it breaks the nitrogen bonds, breaks the oxygen bonds, and causes some of these atoms to recombine as NOx (meaning, various numbers of Os). The rain pulls this NOx down into the soil, where it cools and turns into NO2 and then reacts with water to produce HNO3 which (finally!) is a molecule that plants can use.

In a nutshell, lightning fertilizes the soil.

If that were all that it did for us, we could be grateful for every thunderstorm. (Believe me, every farmer loves thunderstorms.)

But wait, there's more.

Back in 1952, physicist Winfried Schumann
theorized that all that lightning, under the shell of the Earth's ionosphere, ought to leave an electrical trace. He was proven right. But the residual electricity is so very small that it is super hard to detect. They call it ELF (extremely low frequency) or ULF (ultra-low frequency).

We're talking about below 100 Hz.

Specifically, these electrical echoes begin with the fundamental wave at 7.83 Hz, and then it resonates at approximately 6 Hz intervals (eg, 14 Hz, then 20 Hz, etc.).

Last week,
Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University reported the results of a creative experiment.

They bombarded rat cardiac cells with lightning-level ELFs, and saw what looked like healing effects, including the release of the creatine kinase protein, which promotes muscular healing.

It is scientifically too early to conclude that human muscles would respond the same way, but this is an extremely interesting line of research.

Why? We humans have a resonant frequency of somewhere between 5-10 Hz. That means that we are born pre-tuned into the basic frequency of lightning trails.

Seventh and final question for your table: Do you now feel more in tune with lightning? Has this Table Talk made you astraphobic or an astraphile?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - This wasn't the first time that Tel Aviv University scientists made a breakthrough using rats. Check this out. And this.

PPS - We do not recommend getting struck by lightning, which kills and maims hundreds of people every year. If you ever find yourself in danger of such a storm, you might want to have read this. And know that lightning often travels horizontally, so it can - and does - come out of the blue sky before or after a storm.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Sane Asylum?

The purpose of this blog is to liberate some critical thinking at the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share. 
Happy Birthday shout-outs to Marc in SF, Lily in Marin!

happy prisonerThis week's questions for your table revolve around one overriding question: Would someone ever want to be a prisoner?

The story begins in Japan, where the prisons are notoriously harsh:

Rules absolutely define minute-to-minute existence in Japanese Prison. If you follow them to the letter, you can exist and even accumulate additional privileges. If you diverge from the long list of rules, you will be punished, often in an arbitrary and draconian fashion. Some of the rules include:
  • Where and how to place each item inside the cell.
  • Where to write anything; only in specified notebooks which are inspected. Not on scarp of paper or inside a magazine, or face punishment.
  • How to sit or stand during cell inspection, and during “leisure” time: No leaning, laying down or random walking around the cell.
  • How to sleep. On your back or side, never the stomach. Do not cover your face while sleeping. Do not read, talk or move around during sleep time.
  • How to march. Moving around the prison will be done by marching. Infractions result in punishments.
  • When and how to speak. Strict silence is observed the majority of the time. During leisure times, talking should be done in a low voice so as not to disturb others. Utmost respect must be used when addressing guards or punishments will follow.
  • Where to look. Looking at a guard can result in a punishment. Looking up during meal time is punishable.  Opening eyes during “reflection time” when eyes should be closed is punishable.
And the punishment for breaking the rules can be 1 month solitary confinement where the prisoner is required to sit motionless on the floor for 10 hours a day.

Now, let's re-ask the question: Would someone every want to be in such a prison?

This is the same Japan with the world's best longevity statistics.

The two never the twain should meet.

Never meet, that is, until your ageing population starts getting desparate. Many of them are alone, lonely and struggling, and falling through the cracks of social services.

This is going to sound like fake-news, but it is true: many Japanese seniors are committing petty crimes in order to go to prison.

In the past decade, the elderly population in prisons has risen from less than ten percent to nearly a quarter (which means that the prison age demographics now mirrors the overall society).

So now we have the answer to the first question, would someone want to go to prison.

The second question for your table is, Why?

And finally, Can you imagine poor, lonely Jewish seniors shopliftin en masse so they can go to prison?

Shabbat Shalom

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Feedback Loupe

The purpose of this blog is to foster philosophical debate at the Friday night dinner table. Please print and share. 
In memory of M. Leo Storch on his 47th yahrzeit.

feedback2A true story followed by a question for your table.

A couple days ago, I met with a certain world-famous
rabbi to request his wisdom on (and possible endorsement of) our new Jewish Health and Fitness program.

He first apologized that he hadn't had time to read the book, but had only skimmed through it.

But then he went on to mention a few things that he either didn't like or thought were wrong.

Finally, after discussing these substantial items, he said, "And there's a typo on page 280."

"Only one typo? That's pretty good."

And he laughed.

And then he apologized again, several times, in case he had hurt my feelings by pointing out these errors.

He was so warm and so generous with his precious time. I'm the one who should have been apologizing.

Now, I never explicitly committed to making changes to the book according to this rabbi's feedback.

But I think it makes an excellent question for the table: Should I anyway?

And if you say yes, is it because I have a moral obligation to, or an ethical one, or for some other reason?

And if you say no, are there any circumstances when you would say that I have a moral or ethical obligation?

Shabbat Shalom

"The average person's goal in life is to make the world conform to his mind, to impose their own judgments on the world, and even fight for those judgments.
The enlightened person's goal is to make his mind conform to the world - to observe nature, people, and Wisdom itself with such clarity that he grows appreciative, sympathetic and wise."

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Adore and Adorn the Abor Ardor

The purpose of this email is to seed more fruitful Shabbat table conversation. Please share.

amazing-treeDear Body,

I know I'm not supposed to feed you a lot of carbs.

I know that fruit is high in carbs.

But this coming Sunday night is Tubishvat - the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

So what can I do? It's a mitzvah to eat extra fruit.

(Greatest way to break your diet is to make it into a mitzvah. Go challa!)

Every year at this time I prowl Whole Paycheck Market (no, Bezos hasn't lowered the prices), hunting for as many different fruits as I can find. Hopefully I'll also find something novel.

A typical harvest: olives, grapes, dates, figs, pomegranate, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, 5 varieties of apple, 2 or 3 types of grapefruit, lemon, lime, cacao nibs, pineapple (not from a tree but looks great on the table), avocado, red bananas (not strictly speaking a tree but exotic!), mango, 2 kinds of pears, kiwi, prunes, apricots (the only fruit I really don't care for), star fruit, dragon fruit, grape juice and wine, coconut water (drink it cold), capers, maple syrup....

These will all be laid out in a colorful feast Sunday night, in great anticipation.

First question for your table - anyone surprised I included maple syrup?

Second question - what did I leave out?

(How about chocolate?
Or is that cheating because it's not really a fruit?)

The Torah calls the fruits of the Land of Israel "zimrat ha-aretz" - literally, "the song of the land".

When you drive around there in the summertime through endless landscapes of ripening succulence, it does rather seem as though you're soaring through a harmonious melody.

Question for your table: So why is the New Year of the Trees in the dead of winter?

Hint: what is happening to trees in the winter that influences their fruit in the summer?

3 more questions for your table:

3. What's the most exotic fruit you ever tried?
4. What's the most exotic fruit you ever refused to try?
5. If you had to be stuck on a desert island and could pick exactly one type of fruit tree to have there, which would you choose?

Shabbat Shalom

and Happy Tubishvat

PS - It's looks like it's too late to get some miracle fruit in time for Tubishvat, but how about for Purim? (here's an Amazon link or here).....

PPS - While digesting all that fruit, I hope you'll enjoy the bloody moon.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Not Half-Baked

The purpose of this blog is to bring absolute pleasure to the Friday Night dinner table. Please share.
Happy Birthday shout-outs this week to Marc and Joel in San Fran - until 120!

ChallaA riddle for your table, which happens to be the start of a true story:

During our first year
We were poor but we were rich
We were cold but we were warm
We were down but we were up!

Figure it out?

During our first year of marriage

We were poor...We were cold...We were down...

How poor were we? During our first winter, we found ourselves in a tiny, noisy ground-floor Jerusalem apartment that had no heat, no oven and no fridge.

It was cold enough outside that we were able to keep our milk in the outdoor electrical cabinet. That took care of the fridge.

One day we came home and found someone had left an old radiator-style electric heater by our front door.

It worked. We needed one less blanket at night.

We never found out who it was.

A week or so after that, we came home and found by the front door.... a super old, super beat-up oven.

The glass in the oven window slipped a bit, but as long as you tied the door shut with a wire, it worked.

My talented wife started baking the most glorious challa.

Her challa was so good, somehow word got out and other women asked if they could buy her challas every week.

Anyone who tasted her challa would throw their hands in the air and say, "I surrender. I forfeit. I'm not worthy."

So she did sell a few challas, but that oven was only big enough to bake one at a time, and we didn't even have room for a bigger oven, so it didn't become a real business..... yet....

Eventually when we had saved enough money to buy a new oven, I agreed to do so on one condition - that we keep the old oven for one week after the new one arrives.

(Bonus question for the table: Can you guess why?)

We did move. To a slightly larger space, also ground level. But in contrast to that first space, we felt like we were in a palace. We started inviting guests. We even held a Sheva Berachos in our itsy-bitsy Sukkah.

These memories are leading to two final questions for your table:

What's warmer, the world's greatest blanket or an amazing anonymous act of kindness?
Are comforts and pleasures always relative, or are some comforts and pleasures absolute?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Did you "pass" last week's Rorschach Test?
 PPS - Yes that there challah is clickable... give it a try....