Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Who Knew Not Joseph"

This past Shabbat (Sabbath) we began the second book of the Torah, the book of Shemot. This book, and sedrah starts with a new Pharaoh arising, “Who knew not Joseph”. This was actually one of my dad’s favorite quotes. Anytime there was some shul politics going on and my dad felt people were working against him he would say, “A new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph”.

It is an interesting quote and perhaps on the surface a very innocent one, but there is a lot here. How is it possible that a new king, a leader of all of Egypt, someone who would have been well schooled in the history of the country, could not know a person who had saved Egypt from complete and utter destruction? Would it be possible for a President of the United States to “Know not George Washington”. How about not knowing Christopher Columbus? There are some things we expect all adult citizens to know, especially those in power.

This is why some of the Biblical commentators suggest that it wasn’t Pharaoh knew not Joseph, but he chose to know not. He closed his eyes and deliberately forgot or ignored all Joseph had done so he could take advantage of the Jews living in Egypt at the time and get work done by slave labor.

In this day and age, when seemingly there is little loyalty, it is a good lesson to learn. Unfortunately the loyalty is not always there so be prepared for someone to ignore or forget all the good you have done if it is in his or her best interest to do so.

I was raised being taught the value of loyalty and being taught to be loyal. I was also raised with the knowledge that while we rely on others and all have to work together, to be prepared for people not to have the same dedication and determination to this value.

While I have been fortunate that many people have remained loyal to me, not everyone has and being taught this at an early age has helped. And, we have an example right in the Torah of what can and does happen when we ignore other people.

As we get set to start the secular new year, let us all redouble our efforts not to forget what others have done for us, not to forget the many blessings we have, some of which are a direct result of what others have done for us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

No Talking Please

What kind of responsibility does a religious school have to its teachers? How do things work out when a parent, who is a large donor, sees things differently than the teacher? Where does the administration come down? These are tough questions, tough choices that have to be made.

At the religious school where I work, two students were chatting during one session. The teacher, trying to teach and having a tough time of it, separated the two students. Apparently this was a wrong move. The mother of one of the student’s came in and was furious. She started balling out the teacher in front of the other students. The parent pointed out that this wasn’t regular school, this was religious school and students, after spending a full day in regular school, should be allowed to talk.

The teacher directed the parent to talk with the administrator of the religious school. Now, I have all this information second hand, and only through one source, one side, but apparently the administrator told the teacher that certainly there is not a need to separate children at religious school.

I am not sure if the parents of this student are big donors to the shul. I am not sure exactly what was said, or even if the administrator agreed, but certainly that was what the teacher told me. Even if it was not exactly what happened, it certainly is the way the teacher perceived things to happen.

The result? The teacher left midyear. I understand the frustration on everyone involved but I do think when a teacher leaves mid-year, the ones who really suffer are the students.

Hopefully everything will work out for the best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Father's Yahrzeit

I just needed to post today as this day marks my father’s second Yahrzeit. Every year, the anniversary of the death of loved one is noted, even in a certain sense celebrated. There is a memorial prayer that is said. It is not uncommon for someone who has yahrzeit to lead services and many people the Shabbat (Sabbath) before will read from Torah or Haftorah.

This year I read from Torah, and I read one of my father’s favorite parts, so I thought it was fitting. It is the part where Joseph is toying with his brothers and finally cannot take it anymore and reveals himself to him. They are in shock and literally fear for their lives. It is such a dramatic portion, and my father had a flair for the dramatic.

It may seem odd to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death, but two thoughts come to mind. First is it is really a way to celebrate their life and the many lessons they taught. It is also a recognition that our loved ones continue to live in us, even after they pass away.

The second thought is based on some conversations I have had with psychologists and therapists who have told me that people often times feel sorrow and pain around the time of the anniversary of someone’s death, even if they may not be consciously aware that the death was around the time they are feeling down. It is helpful to do something to acknowledge that difficult time.

In effect, I think when this tradition was added to Judaism, it showed great foresight and wisdom. I think it helps many of us deal with the difficulties. I still have some difficult times dealing with the loss of both of my parents (my mother died in August but I find myself thinking about both of my parents around the Yahrzeit of each), but these customs make it easier.

I said it to them numerous times while they were alive, but I will say it yet again, “Mom, Dad, I love you both very much”!

Friday, October 12, 2007


Well, this Shabbat we will read about Noah and the flood. This is my bar mitzvah sedrah some “I really don’t care to think about how many” many years later. I have always been fascinated by the sedrah. One thing which is commonly talked about is the meaning of Noah being a righteous man in his generation.

There are those who feel Noah was ONLY righteous in his generation and had he lived in another team, he would not have been looked upon in such a favorable light. I see things differently and agree with other commentators who feel the words “in his generation” emphasize that even during such a terrible time, with no positive influences around, Noah still was righteous.

What I like most about Noah is, he takes care of his family. He may not argue or bargain with G-d; he may not try to save the world, but he does make sure to have his family on the ark with him, so that they too remain safe.

The book of Genesis, of Breishet, is filled with many stories about sibling rivalry, about parents and children not treating each other fairly, trickery, bribery, all sorts of thing. I actually find it refreshing to read about a man who puts family first.

I think there is an important lesson here. Before we go out to save the world, we have to take care of ourselves and our families. It is also important to focus on the importance one generation has of helping another generation. If there is no Noah, then no one after him comes along since the entire world is destroyed. Noah, by saving himself and his family, literally did save the entire world.

To me, that is the lesson of Noah, that is the greatness of Noah, that is what should be taken out of this week’s Torah reading.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cain And Abel

The string of Jewish Holidays are over. As much as I enjoy them, I am certainly glad to be able to get back to the regular routine and have the Holidays come to an end. The last in this string marks the Jews finishing the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah, of the Five Books of Moses. We then go back to the book of Genesis and start all over again. This week we read the first portion. One of my favorite parts of this is the story of Cain and Abel. My take may be a little different and I cannot guarantee that you will not be stricken by lightening, so read at your own risk.

The story starts off with Cain bringing an offering to G-d. G-d has not asked for one but Cain decides to do it and G-d is gracious, although not overly thrilled. Seeing this, Abel decides to bring an offering to G-d as well, an offering that G-d likes and G-d, in effect says to Cain, now this is an offering more to my liking.

Let’s examine this from the point of view of a parent and two siblings. The first one remembers the parent’s birthday and brings a gift. The parent says thank you. Only after seeing the older child bring a gift does the younger child remember the birthday. The younger child goes out and buys a different gift and gives it to the parent. Upon opening it, the parent says, “This is exactly what I wanted,” and then, turning to the older child says, “Why couldn’t your gift be more like your sibling’s. That is really what I want”.

Is it any surprise that Cain resents Abel? In fact, it is G-d who creates the very conflict. Of course Cain needs to take responsibility for his own actions. Of course Abel is still dead. Still, G-d helped to create the tension.

To me, this story serves as a reminder. In effect, G-d is telling us not to play favorites with our children, not to pit one against the other. G-d shows us, when taken to the extreme, what the parents are capable of creating, on the negative side, when it comes to children. Hopefully, we as parents have learned that lesson and appreciate each child, each person, each member of society, for his or her own contributions and individuality.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Having Faith

I am currently listening to a very interesting lecture on CD. The lecture is about comparative religion. I am fascinated by it. It talks about various religions, including some that pre-date Judaism, and talks about similarities and differences.

I have often wondered if this, coupled with yesterday’s post makes me appear like a skeptic or non-believer. I do not fall into either category. I do have my differences and I am willing to talk about the problems I have with certain stories. Still, we can learn from them.

I think back to a class I had in college called Religion, Myth and Magic. The instructor was talking about Bishop Codrington. Codrington, a Bishop in the Catholic Church, was also considered one of the most scholarly of anthropologists. One of Codrington’s disciples one asked him how, considering all he knew, he could still be a Bishop, a man who had faith in G-d. Codrington replied to the effect, “It is precisely because of what I do know that I can believe this way.”

In other words, Codrington was suggested that the true test of his faith was to believe, even when all the evidence, evidence that he was helping to find, pointed elsewhere. I understand that approach. From a Jewish perspective, can there be faith without doubt?

What is faith? I think Dan Brown, in the DaVinci Code, does an excellent job explaining it. To paraphrase, he is saying that faith is to believe in something regardless of what the evidence shows. Therefore, anyone who believe in something, often times will continue to believe even if the evidence says otherwise.

To that extent, at least to a degree, I understand and agree. Despite having issues, despite speaking publically, despite not automatically accepting what all the commentators say, I still have faith, I still believe. I think that is extremely important.

Starting Over

With all the Jewish Holidays, it has been crazy and I have not been able to do much writing. This coming Wednesday night thru Friday marks the end of this season of Holidays. It is a fun Holiday, but it is exhausting having so many different holidays in a row, taking the time off from work, making sure things are set ahead of time, etc. Unfortunately, I feel more of a relief when they are over than a feeling of sadness, sorry to see them go. Still, it is a fun Holiday and with the end of this Holiday, we will begin the book of Bresheit, Genesis all over again.

There are so many interesting things that happen in that book that I will not be at a shortage of things to discuss. There are times where I find myself getting frustrated with the traditional commentaries, although often times I do find lessons in them. Still, I think they often do too much to explain everything. What they tell us for one instance to make things fit, they say the exact opposite of in another instance.

As an example, when Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister because he fears for his life (I will have a lot more to say about that in future posts), we are told, through the commentary, that you do not wait on, or assume, a miracle from G-d, it is important to take matters into your own hands. Later on, when Joseph is in jail in Egypt and does that, tells the servant who is set free (and whose dream he successfully interrupts), to tell Pharaoh about him, the servant forgets and it is two years later before he remembers. The commentary says this is Joseph’s punishment for not having faith in G-d, and seeking the help of a mere mortal to get him out. But, for Abraham, this was a good thing. Still, I find this all fascinating.

I do have to confess, I am often surprised I have not been struck down by lighting for my next thought, and something I have occasionally talked about. If you look at the entire book of Genesis, forget the commentary, just look at the text, I think the character that comes out looking “the worst”, or at least pretty bad, is The Almighty himself. I will have thoughts on that to.

All this being said, I still find it important, I still believe and I still go to Shul. I just find some of my own lessons as well and I enjoy some of the inconsistencies that are there, or that those who are on a higher level than I would say, “appear to be there”.

I love the fact that on Simchat Torah, as soon as we finish reading the end of the last book, the book of Deuteronomy , we go right back and start the book of Genesis all over again. We are anxious to begin anew, we are anxious to find a new understanding of things we have read numerous times. I think that is a wonderful lesson to follow for life, no matter how many times you do something, you can always gain a new understanding, insight and approach to doing it again. I look forward to once again going through my favorite book of the five books of the Torah (I am not alone there) and seeing what new insights I gain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Holiday of Sukkot starts tonight. It is the only holiday where we are commanded to be happy. That in and of itself is very interesting. We have just come through the holiday of Yom Kippur where we are being judged and that is not an easy thing. So, in one sense it almost seems like this is the reward.

Still, if you look at the customs affiliated with Hoshanah Rabbah, the sixth day of this seven day holiday, there are still clearly signs involved that deal with the season of repentance. It has led some to believe that at one point that was actually more the day when our fate was finally sealed, not Yom Kippur.

Either way, today the holiday is celebrated with a lot of fun and enjoyment. One of the symbols associated with the holiday is the Etrog (a citrus fruit) and a lulav (branches from three different types of trees). There are lots of explanations as to what each one means and why they are combined and I am not going to get into that here.

Traditionally each person is supposed to have his or her own etrog and lulav. The way we get around that is you can ‘borrow’ from someone else but you explicitly tell them that you are not loaning it to them but actually giving it to them (so they own it) but only with the understanding that they will return it to you after they are finished making the blessing and shaking it.

I have at times purchased an etrog and lulav set but other times I have ‘borrowed’ it from someone else. This year, after buying a house and feeling quite poor, I figured I would not purchase my own. It was my son, however, who indicated that he would really like to have one this year. When you have a nine year old that enjoys the meaning and symbolism of the holiday, that enjoys participating in the services and going to shul (synagogue) on the important, but lesser known holidays, what can you do? I purchased my own etrog and lulav set and I am thrilled to have them and to be sharing them with my son.

I wish you a Hag Samach, Happy Holidays.

Monday, September 24, 2007

From This Yom Kippur To Next

As I reflect on the holiday of Yom Kippur, I find that the very beginning of the Kol Nidre service, the evening service that starts the holiday, truly speaks to me. The service starts out by saying that we deem it appropriate, by the heavenly tribunal, to pray with sinners.

Right from the get-go, I relate. We often hear the misery loves company. Well, this is not misery, but we are saying that we are all in the same boat, that we all have sinned and can do better. I find that this sets the tone for me and I truly enjoy that.

From there, we go into the actual Kol Nidre (All Vows). This to speaks to me. There is a line in here that the Rabbis debated on for years, but it is in the prayer and has been for centuries. We ask G-d to absolve us of any vows we make from this Yom Kippur Holiday until next Yom Kippur. It would make sense to ask for forgiveness and to be absolved from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur. In fact that was what a number of Rabbis felt should be.

For me, however, to word it this way speaks volumes. It says we will try to do better than we did last year. We really believe we can (and we probably do). Still, we realize we are human. We are going to make vows that we will be unable to keep. We are going to do things that will upset people. We know we are not perfect and over the upcoming year, we will make mistakes.

Then we ask G-d to please forgive us ahead of time for those times when our intentions were good, our motives were pure and yet we just failed. While some of the Rabbis may have preferred the language that says from last Yom Kippur to this one, for me the idea of from this one to the next Yom Kippur really works. It sets the tone, for me, as to what I feel this whole holiday is supposed to be about.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Reform Way

Well, the Yom Kippur holiday is over. The fast is behind us and we begin the task of facing another year. There are so many parts of the service that speak to me and I will blog on them in upcoming days. Of course, we really aren’t given many days to reflect on the liturgy as the holiday of Sukkot starts in four nights, and we will all be focusing on the joyous time of that season.

Today, however, I am thinking about how Reform Judaism often has it “Right”. My wife, who works overnights, often takes the night after a fast off from work because it is so exhausting. So, if she worked Saturday night, she would have taken tonight off.

Of course, the following day we usually return to work and get back into the swing of things but often times we are still mentally and physically exhausted the next day. I teach at a Reform religious school. By son goes to a conservative religious school (through the shul, the synagogue, where we are members). My son has school tomorrow.

The Reform school where I teach understands how tired and exhausted we are. We have the day off. I am very grateful. While we all were required to submit lesson plans in advance for the first three weeks of school, often times we teachers are still putting the finishing touches on the plan on Saturday night. I do not have to worry about that, I have the day off.

I was talking to my sister this evening and she teaches at a religious school at the other end of the state. She does have school tomorrow. She told me she is so exhausted she plans on waking up early tomorrow to do the lesson. I would probably end up doing that as well if I were in her shoes, but again, I am glad I do not have to.

Also, my son attends Hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays. Some students attend Wednesday instead of Tuesday, but everyone goes on Sunday. Since the Jewish Holidays this year start on Wednesday night, the Wednesday session will not be meeting for the next few weeks, but the Tuesday session will.

At the reform shul where I teach, they are not even starting the weekday sessions until all the Holidays are over. This way Tuesday and Wednesday classes are on the same schedule, covering the same material each week. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Sometimes the Conservative and Orthodox circles can learn by watching and listening to the Reform, rather than just dismissing this as something lesser than what they are.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Special Flavor

As we get set to start the Holiday of Yo0m Kippur this evening, I think back to conversations I have had with friends over the years. While many disagree with me, I truly feel that Yom Kippur has a special feel, a special flavor about it and just like the rest of the Jewish Holiday, it is enjoyable.

Yes, the Holiday has it challenges. Yes, it is hard to refrain from all the things you are supposed to on Yom Kippur. Still, there is a good feeling, at least for me there is, about doing it, being able to do it, wanting to do it.

Some of my friends have said what they like about the Holiday is they get to catch up with other synagogue people they have not seen since last year at this time. That is not what does it for me. If you can get yourself in the proper frame of mind ( and that can me more easily said than done) the awesomeness, the awe inspiring message of the day is very powerful.

In fact, in times gone by, many people did not view this as a sad day. If you take a look at what we do on this day, it is not viewed as a sad day (that is reserved for Tisha B’Av). For instance, we say a Scheheh’he’anu on this day. On days of mourning, on sad days on the Jewish Calendar, that prayer is not said.

On this Holiday, there truly is a feeling that we will be given for our sins, that we get a chance to start all over again, and that G-d wants us to return from our ways of the past year that are less than perfect. As the liturgy says, “like a parent (father) has compassion upon his children, please have compassion on us”. It is a very powerful idea. Forgiveness is a wonderful concept, so is the idea of being able to start with a clean slate.

Once again, I wish everyone the best for the New Year. May we all be signed and sealed for a year of health, happiness, blessing and goodness, and may we all be able to help others experience those same feelings over the New Year.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yom Kippur Fasting

For the past umpteen years, like many Jews the world over, I have fasted on Yom Kippur. I first started fasting when I was 12. While the tradition does not require a full fast of someone until 13, I wanted to prove to myself the year before I HAD to fast, that I COULD fast.

The fast is a full 25 hour fast with nothing to eat or drink. Many of my non-Jewish friends and acquaintances are always amazed to hear that the fast also means no water. While some fasts are easier than others, I really do not have a problem with fasting.

Judaism does, of course, recognize the importance of those who need to eat. If there are medical issues and reason, you do not fast, you take your medicine, you do what you need to do. Again, this all makes sense.

I confess, however, this year for the first time in years, I am nervous going into the fast. Over the past number of months, I think I have developed an anxiety issue. I recently got a medication from the doctor to help me deal with this. The prescription is PRN, that I should take it as needed. The truth is, for such a medicine, one that is not crucial to my survival, one that I could do without (otherwise it would not be PRN), I really should avoid taking it. Still, there is a part of me concerned about suffering some kind of anxiety attack during the Holiday, or at least feeling the discomforts I often get when the anxiety approaches.

So, It is not crucial, but it certainly is helpful to take this medicine. I will probably take it tomorrow night, right before the fast starts and pray for the best (I certainly be in the right place for that).

Once again, I wish everyone a G’Mar Hatima Tovah, that you should be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Rosh Hashanah It Is Written ...

As I sat in Shul over the Jewish New Year, the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, I found that one part of the liturgy hit me, really spoke to me. I confess that it is the same prayer every year that speaks to me (although perhaps a little more now that both of my parents have passed away).

We say that “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and that on Yom Kippur it is sealed”. We then continue on by asking how many shall be born and how many shall die, who by water and who by fire, etc. It is a powerful concept to think that our fate is sealed on Yom Kippur.

The prayer ends, however, with the notion that three things can set aside an evil decree, a bad judgment. They are: Repentance; Prayer: Charity. This concept is even more powerful. It actually means, at least my interpretation is, we have the power to override G-d’s decisions. G-d can seal our fate on Yom Kippur, but even after the holiday is over, if someone engages in true repentance, is true prayer and in acts of charity and or loving kindness, G-d can set aside the evil decree.

Obviously no one gets out of this life alive, so at some point you do not have an evil decree turned away. Of course, there are times when, as painful as it is to those who survive, death can be a blessing. Seeing a person stricken with a serious disease, living in pain, perhaps it is a blessing when they pass away. So even a decree of death does not have to be a bad judgment.

Still, it is my wish that all of you have a good, healthy year. I wish you all a Shannah Tovah O’Metocah (A good, sweet year), and as we approach the holiday of Yom Kippur, a G’Mar Hatima Tovah (that you should be sealed for a good year).

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Young Ones!

So, the year teaching at the religious school, in the computer lab, has started well. The first session of the year involved bring in the youngest students (3 and 4 year olds) and then the two first grade class.

Working with the young one can be a lot of fun. Okay, so when it comes to putting the lessons together, I know at class time, I will not be able to give them War and Peace, or get them involved in a great discussion. Still, they tend to be very appreciative of the efforts that you put in. I have had a number of young students come up to me and hug me as they are getting set to leave the lab, because they had such a good time.

I have also found sites that work for them. On-line coloring is always very good. So are jigsaw puzzles. Normally I would not recommend this for young children, but you can change the cut on the computer to as little as four pieces (which often they can handle) as well as having an auto solve button on the computer.

Apparently the teacher who handled this grade last year must have liked my style, and working with me. She has signed up a number of times for the computer, I believe 4 times over the course of the year. This may be the most amount of times a teacher is bringing his/her class into the lab. Hopefully I will prove this teacher’s trust in my correct and she will be glad at the end of the year that she signed up for some many sessions.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hebrew By Holidays

Today I was back teaching at the religious school. Getting back into the swing of things after the holiday is not easy and I will have to do it three more times with the rest of the slew of holidays coming up. Still, teaching in the computer lab, doing this the kids enjoy and enjoy the things myself, makes it easier.

The teacher who brought her kids in today teaches Hebrew. In talking with her ahead of time, I knew she wanted me to find things for the kids to do on the computer that focused on the current Jewish Holidays and taught words associated with them. Of course, I can get some leeway, which makes things easier.

For instance, I found a site that has Hebrew matching, like the old concentration game. The cards have the words written in English and Hebrew and the computer also says the name of the object (you can set it for Hebrew or English). I had the students set it for Hebrew so they could hear the words being said. While one of the categories was not Rosh Hashanah, or any other specific holiday, I stretched a little. One of the categories is nature. Since nature play a major role in some of the holidays, and especially in the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, I allowed them to use this one. There is also a category for fruits and it is customary to eat a new fruit on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, so I let them use this one.

It is always easier when the teacher is flexible as well. In fact, a few of the sites we went to had a number of games. Some were not related to Hebrew, but were related to Judaism, such as playing hangman with words from various Jewish Holidays. When the teacher does not object, and today’s did not, after I have them look at the things I specifically wanted to cover, the can play some games as well. Of course, I do monitor closely to make sure it is all appropriate. So, today was a fun day getting back into the routine.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Joy And Nachus

I am one of these people who enjoys being in shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah. I enjoy the davening (praying). I like the melodies, I like the liturgy, I like seeing people I have not seen there in a long time (probably since last year around this time).

It was such a thrill for me to go to shul with my son, whose age has not yet reached double digits. People turn around and look at him, the listen to him daven and hear him sing the melodies. It is not uncommon for people to ask him if he is enrolled in the local yeshiva (he is not. He’s good, but not at that level. Still Judaism means a lot to him).

On the first day of the holiday, we got there towards the end of Torah reading. It is a long day and while I would enjoy being there for longer, he will not hold up. Still, from the point we got there, he only briefly stepped out once to use the restroom. He stayed in for the sermon and all the appeals, and of course, all the davening. It is a Conservative Synagogue we attend and the Hazzan, the cantor (who leads the singing of the prayers) mixes in traditional Rosh Hashanah melodies with some of his regular Shabbat (Sabbath) morning tunes. There is my son, following along. There are the other congregants sitting around us, looking at him admiringly.

It is a good feel in general, but for me, it is also vindication. I have been bringing my son to services pretty much every Saturday morning (and holiday morning) since he was about one month old. He would, at times run around the shul. He would, at times (when he was younger), make baby noises. He could even at times be disruptive and that was when I would take him out (but simply because he is making happy sounds, or talking quietly to other people, I would let him stay. After all, many adults can do similar things).

While congregants always admired the fact that he was pretty much a regular on Shabbat morning, some also resented him. It was a change from the old guard who insisted on absolute quiet in the shul. Even as that started to change (and really did significantly change from before I lived in the area and before my son was born). People did not always like the fact that a child was making noise.

I still remember one time when the Hazzan was on vacation and one of the lay members of the congregation was leading services. My son was playing quietly with a friend of his, same age, in the back of the synagogue. Word was sent back to me and the parent of my son’s playmate, that since he wanted to be able to concentrate on leading the service, we were to take them out. I was not happy.

Now, I see that my insistence about bringing him has paid off. There were times I wondered if I should continue or if he actually got anything out of it because often times he was being noisy and we were out for most of the service.

Obviously, this has paid off. Of course, the child(ren) need to see Judaism practiced in the home as well; it has to be reinforced. Still, I am thrilled with the way this all turned out and it is quite a change from High Holidays gone by. I remember the first such service he was at. He cooed at one point and the people in front of my wife, my son and me, turned around and asked if he was going to be doing that the whole service?

Well, it is important to start teaching, and even programming at an early age. Doing that leads to the feelings of joy and nachus I experienced earlier this week.

To one and all, Shanah Tovah (A good year) and a G’mar Hatima Tovah (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Versus Happy

With the holiday of Rosh Hashanah starting tonight, I just want to take a moment to wish everyone a good new year. I one time conducted an interview (in a previous life) and spoke with the person about the holiday. The Rabbi explained that we do not say Happy New Year because we know that a year will have its ups and downs. Therefore the hope is that everyone have a good year, that when it is all said and done and you reflect back on the year, the year will have been good.

I liked that insight and understanding and I need to run to help get set up for the Holidays, so once again, I will simply wish everybody a good new year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9-11

It is not easy to experience the day, September 11, and not think back to six years ago. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing relatively early that morning when you heard about the first crash, the plane hitting one of the twin towers? How about when another plane his the second tower? When the Pentagon was hit? When the plane was taken down by the passengers in Pennsylvania?

I remember picking my son up from daycare that afternoon. He was way too young to understand anything about the events. I didn’t even try to explain it or talk to him about it. I just made sure to give him lots of hugs and kisses that day.

Now, six years later, my son was asking questions. Now, six years later, I have tried to explain some of the events of that day to him, on his level.

I am guessing that every American citizen who lived through the tragedy of that day thinks back to it today. Certainly those people who lost a loved one, who were in the vicinity of any of the crashes must think about it. I am sre that many people from many different cultures think about it, and probably most recall it as the solemn day it was as opposed to those few sick individuals who view it as a joyous event.

As a Jewish American, this tragedy hurts even more, in the sense that Al Quaida claimed that this was in part an attack because of the United State’s relationship with Israel and their support of Judaism. While the U.S. has its faults, we tend to being accepting of everyone and enjoy the fact that so many different cultures come together and live together, peaceful and actually enjoy watching and learning about each other’s cultures. That is a lesson that Al Quaida really needs to learn. I doubt they will, but I hope so.

One side note: I think it is unfortunate that there are still some people who do not draw a distinction between the Moslem world, most of whom are respectful individual and enjoy experiencing their customs, laws and traditions, (as well as watching others enjoy different customs) and the extremist like Al Quaida who feel violence and destruction is the only way to get a message across. We all need to be tolerant of one another!

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Nice Ritual

My son had his first day of religious instruction yesterday, well, first day for the new school year. He enjoyed it and I had a number of teachers come up to me and tell me how smart he is and how much he likes to participate (Yes, I’m bragging). But, what impressed me most is what the religious school did after the session was over (and they have done this for the last number of years).

The Men’s club sponsors a picnic for the end of the first day of school. The grill hotdogs and hamburgers, as well as veggie burgers. They have drinks and snack to go along with the picnic food and they have games as well. The bring some of the “bouncy” type equipment that you can rent and the kids climb in and start bouncing all over the place. The picnic is mainly for the school children and their families but it is open to anyone who want to pay the nominal fee.

I have heard of schools where on the first day of school they give the kids something sweet and tell them they hope the rest of the year, and all their learning experiences are just as sweet, kind of like dipping an apple in honey on the New Year, but this is something I have not seen other schools do. I think it is great to provide such a fun environment for the kids on the first day of religious school and I look forward to enjoying this ritual for the next few years to come.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Two Angels

As most of you know by now, because I have mentioned it about a million bajillion times (phrase borrowed from the Junie B Jones series of books and a thank you to the author, Barbara Parks for coining the phrase), this weekend I will be moving into my new house, my first house since being married, as it is time to get out of the apartments—yeah! Since we are getting things set up, the plan is to have Shabbos dinner there tonight.

The house is not yet set up. The only furniture currently there is the folding stuff, but it will do just fine. We will be doing a Hannukah Habayit ceremony (Dedication of the house), but that won’t be done until we are officially in. Still, there is something very exciting about knowing this is the first Shabbat (Sabbath) in the new home.

The excitement level is very high. Honestly (and fortunately) it is not as high as it was the first Shabbat that I got to bless my son after he was born. That probably was the most meaningful Shabbat that I have ever had, certainly in a long time. Certainly other milestones come to mind as well, in terms of being meaningful (not all positive thought, for instance, the Shabbat celebrated during the Shivah period after my mother died, as well as the one during Shivah after my father died were very meaningful). Still, this one does rank up there as one of the most meaningful.

Many of you know, I am sure, the story about the two Angels that visit each house Friday Night and look around. If it is a welcoming Shabbat atmosphere, the good Angel says, “May it be like this every Shabbat,” and the second Angel, the bas angel, has to say “Amen” (Let it be so). If the house is in dissaray, shambles and there is not much of a Shabbos atmosphere, the bad angel says, “May it be like this every Shabbat,” and the good angel has to answer “Amen”.

I can’t tell you the house won’t be in disarray as we are in the process of moving. I can, however, say that there will definitely be a warm, welcoming, loving Shabbat atmosphere and hopefully that atmosphere will be in the house for many more Shabbats to come.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Overlooking Faults

I remember as a teenager going to shul with my father. He one time made a comment about one of my Hebrew school classmates. I was quick to defend this individual. Later on, he made a comment about someone else in the class and I did not defend him. My dad (who not only was the Rabbi but also ran the Religious School since it was a small synagogue) asked my why I was quick to defend one of my classmates but not the other. Without hesitation I simply said, “Because he’s my friend” of the one I was defending. My dad always loved that answer and the honesty of how we are quick to defend friend and look past their faults because they are our friends.

This past Saturday, there was a Bat Mitzvah in shul. My wife made a comment about one of the males in the synagogue who was not wearing a head covering (Kippah, Yarmulke, skull cap, take your pick). The truth is, I do not even notice these things. I do not concentrate on what others are doing, or are not doing at shul, I try to focus on myself. My wife (seemingly) can notice all of the things people should be doing differently there).

Once my wife brought this to my attention, I found myself looking around the synagogue, at the different people. One thing I noticed was the length of the skirt of the Bat Mitzvah. It certainly was not obscene but it did seem a little short to me. I asked my wife what she thought.

My wife knows the mother of the Bat Mitzvah. She has served on committees with her at the Hebrew school. Although I do not think of them as friends, they are clearly very friendly towards one another. When I asked my wife about the length of the skirt, my wife told me it was fine, she did not see a problem.

I found myself thinking back to the comment I made to my father. We are quick to overlook the shortcomings of those with whom we are friendly, with those of whom we want to overlook the shortcomings. With others, we are not quite so forgiving.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Random Rosh Hashanah Thoughts

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is just around the corner. I have always found this holiday to be unique and interesting and in a very real sense even a little puzzling. One the one hand, this is a festive event. While it certainly is not celebrated in the manner of our secular New Year, it is a joyous time, it is celebrated with a festive meal. They say that Rosh Hashanah, by its very name (translates to “Head of the Year”) is the day that sets the tone for the entire year. As a result, it is not meant to be a solemn day.

Rosh Hashanah also, however, begins the “Yamin Naraim” (The days of awe) and it is the start of “Azeret Y’mei T’Shuvah” (The Ten Days of Repentance). As a result, it takes on the feel, to a lesser degree, of the most solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur, which occurs ten days later. We are told that on Rosh Hashanah, G-d decides the fate for each person and on Yom Kippur, the fate is sealed.

Even this concept seems a little foreign and strange. If your fate is sealed for the year then you do not have to worry about what you do for the rest of the year, except for the consequences it will have in the subsequent year. The truth is this concept never had much appeal to me.

There are two concepts that I do specifically like, however. First is the notion that you should apologize to people if you hurt them, even if you did not mean to, even if you are not aware of the fact you did. I find it very powerful talking to people during this time of year and asking for forgiveness for anything I might have done that hurt them.

The second concept has to do with the Kol Nidre liturgy, the evening service that begins the holiday. In the Kol Nidre prayer, we ask that G-d forgive us for any vows we have made but not kept, from this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur. Of course it would make more sense to say from last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur. There is a recognition that we will make vows and promises, with the best of intentions but we know we are not perfect and will not keep them all. So, we ask ahead of time for G-d to forgive us of any vows we will make over the course of the upcoming year.

To me, these are two of the most powerful ideas exhibited during this season.

To one and all, L’Shanah Tovah (A Good Year).

Monday, September 3, 2007

More Thoughts On Prayer

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about the power of prayer. My mother was one of these people who felt everything had to be in black and white. If you could not explain it, if you could not show it, then she did not put much weight in it.

A couple of years before she passed away she was working with my oldest nephew, who was in yeshiva. The paper was about the healing power of prayer. What studies showed was when someone was not feeling well, if another person prayed for the sick individual, even if the sick person did not know there was someone praying for him or her, there was a better chance of a full recovery. At the end of the project my mother said, “You know, maybe there is something to this”.

Do not get the wrong idea. I grew up in a house that enjoyed the traditions of Judaism. I grew up in a house where there was prayer and where going to shul was part of the weekly ritual (with a father who was a reform Rabbi, that certainly is not surprising). Still, is it not fair to wonder if G-d listen more, or cares more about a person who prays. Will G-d ignore the individual who does not pray.

All I know is that by praying, it made me feel like I could do something, maybe even in some small way have some destiny over the outcome. I do go to shul on a regular basis but it is interesting how the thoughts change when you are praying if you feel you are faced with a serious situation.

Fortunately it was not a serious situation and everything turned out well. Still, I guess we should never underestimate the power of prayer.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Power Of Prayer

Yesterday afternoon I had a bit of a scare. After I got back from Shul I started packing some books and other items in our apartment into boxes. At one point it felt like I may have pulled, tore or broke a muscle (in the area of my upper left arm). I went to get checked out at the hospital and they decided, while they did not think it was heart related, they should do an EKG to make sure.

When they finished the EKG the technician said, ”I don’t like they way that looks”.

I asked if she meant she did not like the way it printed out, or if she did not like what it said and she told me she did not like what it said and seemed (at least in my mind) to hightail it back to the doctor.

They came to get me for a second EKG a little while later. This time they shaved a little chest hair out of the way because they thought that might help them get an accurate reading (as the thinking was maybe the last one was not accurate). When it finished the technician said something like, “This one looks better”. Still, the look on her face, the fact that the seemed to keep me hooked up to the machine for a longer period of time (like they might me trying to get additional information) and the fact that they announced the bed where they were moving me, before I was even unhooked from the machine (usually it takes a while before they get you to a bed), all had me concerned.

It was over an hour and a half before someone came to see me. During this time I felt every possible symptom one could feel. Once I thought they thought something was wrong, the mind was able to conjure up all sorts of pain.

It is amazing how as I sat there I found myself praying. English prayers, any Hebrew prayers I knew by heart, any prayers I could think of. It made me feel better. So, I got to wondering, is G-d really quicker to help, or does G-D really care more about those people who pray? Did I have a better chance at survival because I was praying? I really do not think so but I do know it helped to calm me down and make me feel better.

As it turned out, it was just a false reading on the EKG and the second one truly was better and showed everything to be fine. Just hearing that calmed me down. The chest X-rays showed no damage and everything looked fine. I was sent home and told to take it easy over the next two to three days, so that is just what I will do.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Jacket

The story is told of my grandfather (and it is a true story) that when he was a young teenage boy, he had a fight with his parents and left to be on his own. He found himself a job and earned some money. Every week he would buy himself a herring and a loaf of bread. That hearing and bread lasted him for all his meals for the week. The rest of the money he saved up.

When it was getting close to Passover, my Zeide went and bought himself the fanciest suit he could find. He then went to his parents for the Passover Seder and showed off his new suit. “Look how well I am doing,” was his comment to his father.

Suits are so much a part of significant religious events. My son for a long period of time would not wear a jacket or tie. Now, as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach, he has informed me and my wife that he wants to have a jacket to wear for the High Holidays. Wonderful!

Not so simple.

My son is very rough on clothes so my wife and I do not want to spend a lot of money on a jacket. We are not looking for anything cheap but on the other hand, we do not want to go to a store that specializes in suits as you will pay more. If we believed he would keep it nice and get some usage out of it, we would consider this but we know our son and that won’t happen.

My wife has taken the little guy to a few department stores and thus far they do not have anything in his size. It is a little surprising to me, but it is the reality of the situation. Hopefully, we will be able to find a store that has something which will fit, otherwise he maybe going jacket-less again this holiday season.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

History Through Music

As it turns out, one of the days when I am teaching in the computer lab, I will also be subbing for the teacher who is bringing her students to the lab. The teacher who will be working with them about Jewish music will not be able to be there on the day her students are in the lab. The principal of the religious school asked me if I could handle that class. I would just bring them to the lab and go over the material. Normally I do this, but the teacher stays and provides some guidance and works with his or her students as I do not know them as well (if at all) as their regular teacher. Still, I know I can handle this.

The subject is going to be teaching them Jewish history through music. I find this idea to be fascinating. After all, music has played a large part in Judaism. The early idea of most of the Hasidic sects was based on the idea you did not need to know how to pray, you could express yourself through humming and melodies. The Hasidic influence certainly had an impact on Orthodoxy, when it came to music.

The early Israelis working the land, the Holocaust and every period of Judaism all had music associated with it. There are many different types of music and I am curious to see how this session will play out. I am also curious to know how the whole course will play out but I will not be able to witness much of it first hand as I will be busy with other classes in the computer lab. Still, I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Joys Of Moving

We are busy packing and getting set to move. The movers are coming the weekend of September 7. I personally would have taken more time to get our apartment packed up and got set moving into our house. Our lease for the apartment does not expire until January 31, 2008 so we certainly have time.

My wife looked around the apartment this evening and said she did not see how we were going to be ready to move by next weekend. I agree. It certainly was not my idea.

My wife said, however, she wanted to be in the house by Yontiff, by the time the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) roll around. I can understand that. It will be exhausting but it will be great to sit down to the holiday meals in our new home.

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is said to set the tone for the entire year. I guess it would be a great time to be in our new home, to start the year off correctly.

I still do not know that we will have everything out of our apartment by then. I doubt we will have the house set up. I do think it can be livable by then and we can have the major stuff out of our apartment (I hope). We do not need to have everything out of our apartment by the holidays. We do, however, need to have everything accessible for the movers and that will be a task unto itself. Still, we are currently working on it and hopefully, it will all be worthwhile.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Led By The Youth

I mentioned yesterday that I read Haftorah and chanted two of the aliyot from the Torah. The truth is, I was able to do this, in large part, due to a friend’s 14 year old. As Jewish sources point out, “And they shall be lead by the youth”.

Last year I spent a good portion of the time, approximately one hour a week, tutoring a friend’s daughter for Bat Mitzvah. While I worked with her, I also learned. In fact, she wanted to be able to read the entire sedrah on her own (the go with the triennial cycle) and ultimately she was able, she did just that. Still, I felt since it was a bit ambitious (especially for their shul), she should have someone ready to back her up, just in case. She did not need it (and I am not surprised), but I figured I would back her up.

As a result, I learned what she was reading fairly well. Yes, I was out of practice as this year rolled around, since I had not read any of it since I worked with her, but I started looking it over and a lot came back.

So, I really need to praise my friend and his daughter for helping me learn the Torah reading and the Haftorah reading. It is the drive and determination of the youth, it is their ability and desire, that certainly is one of the most exciting aspects about Judaism.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

An Exhausting Day At Shul

I found this past week at shul absolutely exhausting. As it was my mom’s yahrzeit, I looked to get there early (for me) and wanted to say as many of the memorial kaddishes (prayers for the deceased) as I could. I chanted two of the aliyot from the Torah. At my synagogue, we have members read different portions of the Torah, instead of paying someone to do it.

I read the fourth aliyah which was fairly lengthy (I have done longer, but it is a decent size reading. I also read the seventh aliyah. Under normal circumstances this would be fairly long but at my synagogue, they break this one down into four aliyot (as they do 10 instead of the traditional seven). As a result, it was not that long, but it still took some practice and review.

In addition, I received the Maftir Aliyah and read Haftorah. This is the second shortest Haftorah that exists. Still, I found myself exhausted after doing all of it. I am glad I did it, as I did it in my mother’s memory, but now I am glad it is over. I am still not fully back to myself, but I am close.

It is amazing the sense of obligation and responsibility (and I mean this in a positive way) one can have to parents even after they have died. My parents were very big on doing for people while they are alive so those individuals can appreciate it. I certainly tried to do that (I think I did a pretty good job but am sure I fell short at times). Still, the urge to do, that sense to responsibility still remains. Hopefully it will remain for many years and hopefully I will be able to pass it on to my son, not by what I say, but by what I do.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Life Is The Blessing!

Tonight is my mother’s yahrzeit. It hard to believe it has been five years on the Jewish calendar since my mother died. I still find it difficult at times, but obviously have accepted this fact. In talking with psychologists, I have learned it is common for some people to feel emotional and physical pain around the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

Honestly, I think in this sense, Judaism has it right. There are things we do to mark the anniversary. I believe these items help individuals to deal with their lose. I will be at services tonight and tomorrow and will recite the memorial prayer that is said on the anniversary of the death. I will receive an aliyah (being called to the Torah), which is often an honor bestowed upon those who have yahrzeit. Actually, I will be chanting Haftorah. I will also be chanting two of the aliyot from the Torah in honor of my mother’s life. (Most synagogues have seven aliyot and maftir (the repetition of part of the last aliyah and haftorah. At my congregation they actually break the reading into ten).

I will also be following the custom of lighting a yahrzeit candle tonight, the candle that burns for 24 hours (or more) that is lit in the evening on the day the person died (The evening before as a 24 hour period in Judaism goes from sundown to sundown. Unlike most things in Judaism, this candle is lit without saying a blessing.

It never struck me as odd or unusual, I just accepted it. Then, when my mother passed away, after returning from the cemetery, as my father was lighting the candle (When someone passes away, you light a candle that burns for a week), my father explained to those assembled that you do not recite a blessing because the life was the blessing. (My father was always looking to teach others).

I had never thought of that. It never occurred to me. Still, I took a lot of comfort in this. What a great explanation (I do not think it was one of his own). We as Jews, we as human beings, need to remember that the lives of others is a gift, a blessing to us, and we should always appreciate it.

So tonight, as I light the candle, no blessing will be said, but I will take a moment to reflect on the blessing which was my mother’s life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cult Busting

I do not know how many of you saw the response from Confessions from the Sandwich Generation to my post this past Sunday, 8/19. (By the way, do yourself a favor and check out her BLOG about caring for both children and aging parents, it is well worth the visit).

In her response she talks about sponsoring a “Cult Buster” to come to their Hebrew High School. The speaker was a Rabbi but when he was first introduced to the students, he was introduced as a speaker from Jew for Jesus. Only after making his presentation from that side and leaving was the Rabbi introduced, to give the kids a different perspective and they were shocked to see the same speaker come out. This is when they learned he was not really a member of J-F-J.

I think a presentation like this is wonderful and there are a number of things about her response that I like. I like the fact that the students got worked up when the speaker came out (when they thought he was a member of J-F-J). I like the fact that they tried to counter some of his “outrageous and false” claims. I even like the fact that when he came out in his suit and let them know he was a Rabbi and a deprogrammer that the kids felt angry. It is more the indifference and ignorance that scares me and here the students had very strong feelings.

Years ago, when I was in college, the Newman Center had a table set up in the student union, trying to make students more aware of the organization. I have no problem with that. I was involved with Jewish organizations on campus and would sometimes sit at “our” tables. We had interesting dialogue with the students representing Newman Center and even talked about doing a joint program.

One day, however, I noticed on their table some literature that had a Star of David. Thinking it was something promoting inter-religious discussions and respect, I picked it up. It was put out by Jews for Jesus. One of the students at the Newman Center table told me how this was an interesting group as they were a group of Jews that had found the Messiah, had found Jesus. The lack of knowledge and understanding they had for what this group was, frightened me. My dealings with the Newman Center were greatly diminished after this.

I have always tried to teach my son (now nine years old) that we, as Jews, should enjoy our customs and traditions and we should enjoy sharing them with others (Jews and non-Jews) but not look to force them on others or think any less of others who do not follow our customs. We should help others enjoy the fact that we enjoy our traditions. Likewise, we should enjoy other people (Jews and non-Jews) enjoying their customs and traditions. It is fun watch, to be an outsider, but just because we enjoy seeing others perform them, it does not mean it is the right thing for us.

To bring this down to its lowest common denominator, we can go out and look at other people who have put up Christmas lights and decorations. We can enjoy how important these customs are to them. But, these are not our customs and traditions. We should be respectful of them and they should be respectful of us.

Unfortunately, when it comes to cults, they are not respectful of others and we need to be very careful and cautious of them.

A big Thank You to Confessions from the Sandwich Generation for getting me to blog on this topic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Birthday Present

I mentioned in a recent post how my wife and I closed on our house (a week ago). Today I celebrate my birthday. I think how my parents always tried there best to treat us fairly. As we children got older, instead of gifts, Mom and Dad would write us a check. They were always careful that each of us would get the same amount.

When each of the children got married, the spouses would get a check as well, also for the same amount. They were very careful to make sure that in-laws were treated the same as children. I was always amazed (in a positive sense) as to the way they treated extended family, including children in-law, always careful not to show any favoritism. Most other families I know make some kind of distinction between a child and that child’s spouse.

After Mom died (and Mom was the one who handled the money), Dad was thrilled to be able to carry on the tradition. Sometimes he would tell me he was going to try but he was not sure if he would be able to do it as he was concerned about his living expenses. I tried letting him know that as far as I was concerned he needed to take care of himself and his needs first. It was important to him, however, to do whatever he could to keep Mom’s minhag (tradition) alive, and even after Mom passed away, Dad always managed to be able to write a check. The Birthday checks kept coming.

Obviously, after both Mom and Dad passed away, the birthday checks (from them) stopped. Having now sold their house (which was their wish) and settled up on most of the funds between the three children (no disagreement or hard feelings, just a few additional things with their account need to be settled before we split the rest of the money, my wife and I took our portion of the money and bought a house (exactly, I know, what my parents would have wanted us to do).

The money from the house, from the estate, in effect, served as this years Birthday check. Therefore, it is important for me to take this time, this moment, and say “Thank you” to my parents for this year’s birthday gift, the house my wife and I have bought for our family.

“Mom and Dad, Thank You!”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Like Ephraim And Maneseh

This past Friday Night, as I have done for almost nine years now, I blessed my son with the Parental blessing at the Shabbat table. “May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manaseh. May the Lord bless you and keep you… “. It always means a lot to me to be able to do this but this particular Shabbos, it meant more.

My son was born early on a Friday morning. The sedrah that was being read that week in shul was Shoftim. That means that the first time I had the opportunity to bless him was that Friday evening when we were reading Shoftim the next day. This past Friday, when I had the occasion to bless my son, it was the night before the reading of Shoftim. It was the anniversary of the first time I could perform this task.

Considering my son was born six weeks early and spent the first week of his life in the neonatal unit of the hospital because he was premature, the anniversary of this Shabbat is just a reminder of how far he has come. It also serves as a reminder of how much my wife and I have taught him, as well as the failures we have experienced as parents (as all parents do experience them) and a reminder of the lesson yet to come that we will have to teach him.

As I said, it is always special to have the opportunity to bless my son and it is one I always enjoy but this past Shabbos it was just a little more special and a little more enjoyable.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kindness To Animals

In Judaism, there is a concept of being kind to animals. It is an interesting concept that even goes as far as saying you do not eat yourself until after you have fed your animals. This is a very humane concept and I find it quite beautiful and uplifting. It is not just the issue of feeding them but overall of being humane. Judaism does not prohibit the eating of animals (as long as it is a kosher animal) and proper procedures have been followed. Those procedures are designed to treat the animal as humanely as possible. Other rules also apply.

Having recently moved into a house, I (as many people will tell you), begin to hear every sound in the house. It turns out that one of those sounds was animals in the chimney. I made some calls and am in the process of having professionals take care of the raccoons that are currently in there.

One of the things that was important to me was that they treat the animals humanely. If they animals are caught, I want them set free. If the animals do not need to be killed, I do not want them to be. Of course, I do want them out of the chimney, for my family’s protection as well as the protection of the house. If the animals become vicious and the only way to remove them is to kill them for the safety of the professionals who are doing it, I understand (and so does Judaism). But, as a home owner, I actually now have the chance to practice being kind to animals and I hope for their safe removal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Shalom Bayit

I was fortunate to grow up in a family that understood the meaning and importance of Shalom Bayit. I saw all of my family members make sacrifices to keep peace in the house, to do their best to avoid aggravating other members. It is important to have peace in the house. It is where we go to relax. It is where we live and reside, work and play, relax and reflect. The house means so much, especially when it becomes a home.

The concept of Shalom Bayit now takes on additional significance for me. I am now, for the first time in my life, a home owner. It will take a lot of time and effort and energy to move stuff from our over cramped apartment into our house, but I plan on smiling the whole time.

Of course, the purchase of a house is slightly bitter sweet. I would have loved to have been able to show off the house to my parents, the ones who taught me so much, who led by example, when it came to Shalom Bayit. Unfortunately, they have both passed away (Mom about five years ago and Dad not quite two years) and, obviously, I will not be able to do that.

I have heard the sentiment that my parents are able to see the house and now of my joy. (My Dad would have even been one to say that). I understand that, appreciate it and even, to an extent, agree with it, but it is still not the same.

Still, I am thrilled to be moving in and to hopefully teach to my son the importance of Shalom Bayit with the same value it was taught to me.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lesson Plams

It is time to start working on my computer lesson plans. The truth is I am behind schedule as the religious school where I am teaching wants three lesson plans in advance. This certainly is fair and I had hoped to have it done by now, but I will shortly.

I have been in touch with the teachers who are bringing their students into the computer lab and have a game plan as to how I want to proceed. As I have mentioned previously, one thing I enjoy about working in the computer lab is how it is always something different, yet still the same.

The first session I will be working with the youngest students and the teachers will be covering the fall holidays with the concentration on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I know there is a lot of material on the web related to the holidays and some things which are age appropriated.

The second session will be a fourth grade Hebrew class. This teacher is creative in that when she brings the class to the lab, rather than just working with the textbook on-line (which does exist), she likes to work with websites that teach the vocabulary for the upcoming holidays. Again, I will look to find some games related to the holidays that teach vocabulary.

The third session is a new class that is being offered and will focus on Jewish Music. I know there are a number of websites that play many different types of Jewish music, as well as ones that give a little of the history of them. Something else which is interesting is how the web radio, where you can enter different kinds of music, includes Jewish Music (and news).

I definitely have some ideas as to what I want to do. I am excited about putting the lessons together and look forward to working with the students and teachers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Compromise And No Compromise

This past weekend we did the walk-through of the house we hope to buy. We ran into a couple of issues. Most noticeably there was a problem with the furnace. The owner paid for an inspection of the furnace and the warranty. The problem was the inspection turned up a problem with the furnace and the owners did not feel they should have to put any money into fixing it, if it is beyond the amount of money the warranty covers.

We felt, as did our agent, that this is a pre-existing problem and they should take care of the whole thing. In the end, we agreed to split any cost beyond the warranty. While neither side got exactly what they wanted, in the end the art of compromise won out.

Just like buying a house, there are times, when it comes to religion, that the art of comprise is important and keeps everyone happy. There are other times, just like when you are buying a house, that there is no room for compromise, it has to be your way, or there is no deal.

There are a number of things where I let my son call the shots. Some of them even revolve around religion. For instance, if he occasionally tells me he needs a week off from shul, he can make that decision. Still, there are other decisions involving Judaism, where he has learned, there is no compromise, things have to be done our way.

Most of the time this does not become a major issue. Hopefully as he gets older, it still will not become a major problem. Who ever said parenting was easy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I recently read an article in the newspaper about a restaurant owner who is putting on a fund raiser to help a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer. The woman needed to move away from the area for treatment and that meant being away from her four-year-old and six-year old children. The restaurant owner is sponsoring a raffle to help raise money for spinal cancer research, as well as help be able to send her children to spend time with her. Check out the website at ..

As it turns out, this women was at this restaurant fairly frequently and was always looking to find a way to help other people in need and see if she could get local businesses to contribute to the cause. According to the article, the owner saw her come in and noticed she was not her usual self, so he asked her what was wrong. He decided to help out.

As I was reading this, I thought about the different levels of tzedakah, charity, the exist in Judaism. The lowest level is when the donor knows who got the donation and the person who got the donation knows who gave it. This leads to a feeling of having to pay it back.

In the news story, I do not know if the people this woman tried to help know about it. Obviously, it was not completely anonymous, because the restaurant owner knew how she had helped others. Still, it reminded me of the movie, and the book, Pay It Forward. This is about a teacher who gives his class an assignment to help three people. The idea that when doing a favor for someone, you do not expect someone to pay you back, but you want them to pay it forward, to help someone else in need when possible.

This strikes me as very much a Jewish Concept. I think, especially as we head towards the High Holidays, we need to remember the importance of helping others and hope and believe that by us helping others, the people helped will help yet other individuals in need.

We are taught that when someone saves a life, it is as if saving the entire world. To take that a step further, as many of us may not be in a position to save a life, when helping a person, it is as if you are helping the entire world.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Supplement, Not A Substitue

Well, it looks like I will not be able to get to shul tomorrow. Most of the time I am there and it really seems to help me get through the upcoming week. Saturday, however, I need to meet with someone at my home. Most of the time I can avoid a Saturday meeting, but not tomorrow.

I have been to minyan, to services, a few times this week and that does help fill the void, but for me, it is not the same. Why is it that the longest service of the week is the one that also gets the largest crowd? That has been a question that has interested me for quite some time.

Still, I will be preparing for the aliyot I will be laining in a couple of weeks, as well as the Haftorah. Hopefully practicing that, as well as looking over the weekly Torah portion will also help give me my weekly “fix” of shul.

Truth is, in this era of the internet, I can also hop on line and do a Google search (and the search engine of your choice) and find some words of Torah to take the place of a sermon. This will make a difference, but in a real sense, I am glad it does not fill the void. If it did, then this would become just another reason to become more and more removed from being directly involved.

I actually do think that is one of the challenges we have to face today. We need to make sure, with so much out there (at our fingertips) and available to us, we need to make sure people do not step away, or try to remove themselves from being directly involved with the community. This has to be used as a supplement, not a substitute to the way we currently practice out religion.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Blessing And A Curse

So, this coming week we will read Re’eh. We read about G-d setting a blessing and a curse before us. As has been commented on, this starts with the word, “See”. How often do we have blessings put in front of us and we are unaware? How often do we choose not to see the curse that is in front of us, to ignore it and just continue on? There are a lot of good things for which we should be thankful and often times we do not stop to appreciate them.

The opening sentence also switches tenses. It moves from the singular into the verbal, thus breaking the rules of grammar. It is as if G-d is making it sound as though he is talking to each one of us about the blessings and curses put before the entire community. To me, this helps drive home the message that we are all in the same boat together and need to work together.

Each one of us has a separate relation with G-d and relates differently. Each one of us, we are told, is judged on the merits of his or her own actions and ability. This is why Moses can be punished for something so seemingly innocent as striking a rock instead of talking to it (I still have major problems with this one but that is a topic for another day). Still, we are a community who needs to help each other out. Still, we are a community that suffers when just one individual sins.

Years ago I heard the story about a man on a boat who took out a drill and started to drill a hole in the bottom of the boat. One of the other passengers asked, “Hey, what are you doing”?

“Don’t worry about it,” came the reply, “I am only drilling the hole under my seat”. All passengers would still suffer the consequences.

Yes, when we are told to “See” the blessing and the curse, G-d wants it to seem as though each person is being talked to one-on-one. Still, it switches to the plural because G-d is reminding us that, while we are each judged individually, a blessing effects the entire community as does a curse.

Certainly that is what I take away from this.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Jews For Jesus And Other Cults

This past weekend I took my son to one of the area street festivals. We spent a few hours there on Sunday. As we were leaving, my son pointed out a shirt that was all in Hebrew. He was very excited to see it. I did not get a close enough, or long enough look, but I was under the impression it was a shirt supporting Jews for Jesus, or some other cult organization.

I find this scary and dangerous. Here my son is proud of his Jewish identity and all excited that he found someone wearing a “Hebrew Shirt”. To think that it could be someone looking to twist things around and try to get him to believe in things that are not “Jewish” is very frustrating.

Since I was not sure about the shirt, I simply did not say anything about it. Still, at some point in the future, we will certainly have the discussion about cults. At this point of his life, he knows to appreciate our religion and to enjoy it and also to enjoy other people enjoying their religion (Jewish or not). I firmly believe this is how must adults should view things.

Since, however, not everyone shares my philosophy, and there are those who do try to proselytize, and convert others, I cannot just ignore what does happen in society.

As I said, I find it scary and even sickening when others are going to try and convince my son that “Pure Judaism” is not the answer, and whether this individual was a member of a cult or not, at some point he will end up meeting someone trying to convert him.

It is important to ground today’s youngster strongly in Judaism, to give them a Jewish identity so they have a better chance of being able to ignore those who would try to convert them

Monday, August 6, 2007

Holidays Fast Approaching

Is it too early to be thinking about the High Holidays? Why does it always seem like we have either just gotten past them or they are rapidly approaching? I guess from my perspective, once we get past Tisha B’Av, it is time to start focusing on the holidays. Now, with Rosh Hashanah a little more than a month away, I guess we can honestly say they are rapidly approaching.

While preparing for the Holidays can be time consuming and difficult in terms of figuring the time needed to take off from work, it is also exciting. I enjoy all the holidays. I remember one time making a comment to a friend, as a teenager, about how each holiday had its own flavor and was enjoyable. The friend ask, "Even Yom Kippur"?

The truth is, as far as I am concerned, "Yes, even Yom Kippur". If in the proper frame of mind, it is truly awe inspiring and even enjoyable. As was once pointed out to me, the day is actually meant to be a joyous day. The fact is we only say the She-che-che-yanu prayer on joyous occasions. It is not said on Tisha B’av, it is not said at a funeral or upon hearing that someone has passed away. On Yom Kippur, we thank G-d for enabling us to see this time.

Yes, the day can be difficult. Yes it is tiring. Yes, it is difficult getting ready for the holidays, all of them, especially for me, if they fall during the work week. Still, each holiday does have a special feel, a special flavor and excitement about it. I do look forward to experiencing each one of the upcoming holidays.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Visiting The Sick

Normally on a Sunday I take my son over to see his grandmother, my wife’s mother. Following a stroke and concern that she was no longer able to take care of herself, we moved her into an assisted living program. We wanted to make sure she was moved to an area where she had family and since there is a Jewish facility up here (Kosher Food, Jewish Events, etc) we decided to move her by us.

She still fights being there and resents it but my son is great with his grandmother and she likes seeing him most chances she gets. Just about every Sunday, I take him over to see her and she is happy to see him, he makes her day.

As far as I am concerned, this is a real mitzvah, both literally and figuratively. Visiting the sick is an important mitzvah and one we learn directly from G-d as he visits Abraham, following the circumcision,. I do not know if someone in a nursing home is truly considered being a sick individual, but to my mind, it is one in the same.

In the more general term, and less accurate, viewing a Mitzvah as a good deed, certainly my son is engaging in that and this is a very important lesson for us to teach our youngsters. I hope that this is a lesson he passes on.

Today, my son did not feeling like going over to Grandma’s. Since we are there just about all the time, I was certainly willing to give him a pass. We did call and I made sure he spoke with her. She even said to me, as per her usual routine on those rare occasions when he does not want to visit, I should not force him. How she will view this later in the week, or how she will recall it, I do not know. Still, I appreciate all he does and how he usually goes over.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


I recently met up with a friend of mine at shul the other afternoon. He was at minyan saying Kaddish for his father. Afterwards he asked me if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee and I agreed. I had a feeling he just needed to get away for a little bit and that he was having a little bit of a tough time with the yahrzeit. I agreed as I enjoy spending time with him and I thought he might need the time out.

My buddy told me he thought he did not have any trouble handling yahrzeit but his wife told him that was not the case. I began thinking how we all handle this differently. Of course there is the custom of celebrating the person’s life on the yahrziet; the reason for getting an aliyah, reading Haftorah or sponsoring a Kiddush or siyum.

When I first learned of this custom, it seemed foreign to me. I thought the Yahrzeit should be a quiet time for introspection. I think that it would probably be a tough time and not the proper time to celebrate.

While I know we all handle it differently, and I like my buddy usually have a difficult time of it, the more I think about the custom, the more I like it. It really is a wonderful idea to celebrate a person’s life. And, just like during the shivah period, when the mourner is not alone, on the Yahrziet, if you are celebrating the accomplishments of the individual who passed away, you are not alone either.

It has been my custom to read Torah on the Yahrzeit of my parents. This year, as my mother’s is approaching, I actually will be doing a little more. I will be chanting to Aliyot from Torah and I will be reading Haftorah as well. At least that is the game plan right now, so I should get started practicing.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Reaching More People

This is a paid post, sponsored by Video Conference

As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy listening to sermons. The truth is the are conferences and presentations I would enjoy attending, but often time they are just to far out of the area. There is a possibility that it maybe more of a reality than one would think for me to e able to attend, without leaving my own home, thanks to video conference.

One of the nice things about this program is, only one individual needs to be running the program. If a speaker, for instance, has the video conference technology set up on his or her computer, other invited people can attend the conference or webinar. If the speaker is referring to pictures on the computer, or any other material on the computer, everyone who is invited sees it on their computer as well. While the software looks to be helpful and open up new avenues, I felt it was not so easy to find out information about the cost of such a product, just by visiting the site (although that information can ultimately be found on the site). A lot of it has to do with the version you want and can be as low as $29 a month (you decide the number of months) but the private branded version can cost around $15,000.

Video conference does provide a free trail for the personal version. It also has a live demonstration option. A little box with the picture of the person I was talking to appeared on my screen. I was able to hear him through the speakers on my computer and he could hear me through the computer’s microphone. He opened up different documents on his computer that I could see and he answered my questions. Purchasing the program includes an hour to an hour-and-a-half training. He did end the conversation asking when he could follow-up with me and I did need to enter my name, phone number and e-mail address before I could take advantage of the live demo (so if you want to remain anonymous or not get calls asking you to purchase the product, you might not want to run this). Still, it appears as though this could be a relatively inexpensive way to open up sermons, speeches and discussions to other individuals.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hang In There, Shabbos Is Coming

It has been a long week. It just feels like I have been beating my head against a wall and fighting with everyone and everything (Not real fighting, but enough to make me exhausted). I have been fighting with my computer, fighting to meet some deadlines, and fighting with some co-workers. Nothing major and I know it will all get worked out but, I am exhausted. That is the beauty of Friday night.

I look forward to the start of Shabbat. I look forward to sitting down with my family and having an enjoyable meal. I look forward to blessing my son (something that from day one, literally, has meant a lot to me). It is all of these things, the important things, the time together, that allows me to put the current week in the past.

I still have one more day to go (one more day and a few hours technically), but it is time now to start looking ahead. I truly find Shabbat a chance to recharge the batteries and help me relax as well as get ready to face the challenges of the coming week. It would be nice if those challenges never come, but that is not realistic, so I will just take advantage of the time when it comes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A House

My wife and I are close to closing on our house. Since we have been married, we have been living in an apartment complex. I am thrilled to be moving out and think it will be good all around, for a number of reasons. Sometimes I can even surprise myself as to my thoughts.

When we started looking at houses, one thing I told my wife was, I was thrilled we would be able to build a sukkah this year, or at least put one up. It is not so easy in an apartment complex. My wife can tell you thousands of things that need to happen first, other priorities, etc., etc., etc.

For me, however, having a house signifies the ability to perform various mitzvot. I truly am looking forward to having a sukkah. We easily outgrew our apartment and thus had no room for guests. Now, with a house, shabbat guests, as well as large Passover seders are a very real possibility.

For the past few years I have thought how nice it would be to go to the Rabbi of my shul and let him know that if he was aware of a person who wanted to be somewhere for a Passover Seder, but had no where to go, my wife and I would be glad to take them in. This could be an elderly couple, a college student who had no place to go, any one of a number of different situations. Now, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I am a member of a toastmaster’s club. This is an organization that helps people improve their speaking skill. I have been involved with the club I am affiliated with for twelve years and enjoy it very much. I was a little surprised at our last meeting to see the Rabbi of the congregation I belong to, in attendance as a guest.

The Rabbi is relatively new to the shul and he does speak fairly well. I do enjoy most of his sermons. When I stopped to think about it, it occurred to me that this is not a bad organization with which clergy to get involved. It helps people learn to get a message across. It helps people learn how to get to the point, tell stories and how to effectively deliver presentations.

I am a firm believer that this is a very important skill for anyone (and everyone) and if you are not constantly working on it, it is deteriorating. Beyond anyone, I have heard a number of clergy, from all different denominations, who would benefit substantially from the club. If it does nothing else, it will help a speaker cut down on word fillers. Next time you are out in public, listening to someone speak live, listening to a member of the clergy, stop and count “Ah’s”, “Uh’s” and “Um’s”. You might just be surprised how many year hear. If you are really brave, have someone count yours and see how many you use in everyday conversation.

Certainly Judaism has prided itself on the ability of people to teach, to be effective speakers and communicators. Toastmasters helps!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Keeping It Fresh

Last summer at this time I was tutoring a friend’s daughter for her Bat Mitzvah. She did a very nice job with both the Torah and Haftorah reading. I recently spoke with her and was teasing her about whether or not she had plans to read it again this year. She informed me that there is another Simcha taking place this year on that shabbat, so she would not be able to do so. (She did not sound particularly disappointed). I suggested that even if she is not doing it for the congregation, she should still look it over and she said she would. I hope she does.

It has always seemed unfair that for all the work and effort put into getting ready for a bar or bat mitzvah, in one day, really in less than one hour (longer if you are leading the entire service), it is done. I am not talking about the responsibility of being a bar mitzvah, or a bat mitzvah, as this is just starting and many people do not even understand what it means. I am talking about the actual time put into learning the Torah portion and/or the Haftorah portion.

I strongly suggest that people look over what they have prepared after they have read it, keep it fresh and be able to do it again at some point in the future. Even if you never do, I truly believe you will be glad you kept it (semi-) fresh.

The truth is, I am following my own advice. I helped prepare my friend’s daughter for her bat mitzvah. As a result, I too learned the Haftorah, I too learned parts of the Torah reading. I am currently in the process of reviewing what we learned so that it stays fresh for me as well and that I will be able to read this at some point in the future.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Destroying And Repairing

This week’s sermon, delivered by the Rabbi where I attend synagogue, was about how much easier it is to destroy something than to fix it. I found it very interesting and it was the Rabbi’s take on the reason why there are three Haftorot of rebuke and seven of conciliation.

The rabbi explained that just like G-d, just like the prophets bring us down and tell us what we have done to warrant the wrath and ire, once it is time to mend, it takes more work. His point was when we do anything to damage a relationship, yes it can be repaired but it takes a lot of work, more work than it took to damage it in the first place.

If we watch what we do, if we guard ourselves and others, so we do not destroy, than we will not need to rebuild. If we had guarded ourselves, if we had protected ourselves when G-d was rebuking us, than it could have prevented the Temple in Jerusalem from being destroyed and it takes a lot more to rebuild it. It is easier if it is never destroyed in the first place.

For me, a sermon like this works. It takes a concept, ties it in to what is happening in Judaism that week and then applies to how we should live our daily lives and interact with each other. This may seem like a simple formula but I have seen and hear a number of clergymen who are not able to do that.

Hopefully I will be able to take this message to make myself a better Jew and a better person.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Comfort, Oh Comfort My People

It has always fascinated me when a word is repeated more than once in the Torah or in the Haftorah. Certainly it is more interesting when it occurs in the Torah as we are told that there are no extra words in the Torah. Perhaps most interesting is when we see it with a name. When G-d calls to Moses at the burning bush he says, “Moshe, Moshe!” When G-d speaks to Jacob telling him it is okay to move to Egypt he says, “Yakov, Yakov!” Of course, with the Akedah and Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, the call is “Avraham, Avraham!”

We do see examples in the Torah where a word, other than a name, is repeated. “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdoff,” comes to mind, but I will probably post on that in a few weeks when we get to Shabbat Shoftim.

I believe we see words repeated in the Haftorah more often. It is a speaking style that Isaiah uses. Certainly in the Haftorah we just read this past Shabbat he uses that approach with the word Nachamu. “Comfort, oh comfort my people”. Why is there a need for the word to be repeated. There are a number of interpretations and commentaries on this but I like the simplest one of all. Isaiah is stressing the need for us to be comforted. We have just finished with Tisha B’Av and the three preceding weeks. It is a difficult time for us. Now it is time for us to be comforted.

I hope everyone find the necessary comfort in Nachamu, Nachamu.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nachamu, Nachamu

Nachamu, Nachamu, no pun intended, but these are words that I have always found comforting. We have come through a difficult time in Jewish history and now it is time to be consoled. It is interesting tome that there are three haftorot of admonition and rebuke, yet there are seven of conciliation.

First of all, this suggest to me that it is more important to console than to rebuke. While there is a time to admonish in Judaism, so much more of the religion centers on helping and consoling. The idea of sitting Shivah and the lessons we learn from the book of Job about the importance of just being there, is crucial. There is no need to speak, unless the one who is grieving wants to talk.

The idea of a Mishabarach (a prayer asking that individuals be returned to full health; a spiritual and physical healing) is another common time when we see the importance of consoling and helping. In fact, I have seen a number of shuls, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox change the procedure for a Mishabarach. When it is recited, they simply ask those people who have a family or friend in need of healing to stand and insert the name at the appropriate place. I DO NOT like this approach at all.

It is important to be there for people when they have a loved one who is sick (Visiting the sick is another value stressed in Judaism that seeks to console). Rather than be so interested in saving time, or concerned with how it might look to others to see people line up to give the shaliach tzibor the name of a person, take the time to show that we are a compassionate religion (which we are).

Unfortunately my synagogue is one that uses the insert name here approach. It is a battle I have taken up with people and I did get the Rabbi to make a change. If he is given a name ahead of time, he will recite it, instead of making a congregant insert the name. I am pleased with this change but would still like to see them go further.

Maybe other congregants who have sick friends and family members feel differently but if I wanted to do a Mishabarach for someone, emotionally it would do little for me to need to insert the name myself. I hope that shuls get away from this approach and return to the vision of Nachamu, Nachamu!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Leading Services

Yesterday I showed up for services in the afternoon and I was asked, or more appropriately told by the gabbai, to lead services. It is interesting, I usually show up to daven, not to lead services, I am perfectly content to just be one of the members in the congregation. Of course I could turn them down, but the truth is, it is easier just to say yes.

I led Mincha, the afternoon service. Often times when I lead mincha, I found that people feel I am too fast. I will wait for them, but they feel the part I say out loud is too fast. It is not always easy to slow down. It is funny how when you first start, you get into a groove, and whatever that groove, it is difficult to break out of it. If I start fast, I have a hard time slowing down.

Yesterday I had a feeling I was right on pace. It usually does not work out this way but somehow it did yesterday. No one came up to me afterwards and told me I was at the right speed, but no one complained about being too fast. Unfortunately the person who I usually check with to find out was not at services. Still, what is most important is, I felt I was on.

That having been said, I still would rather just be a member in the congregation as opposed to leading the service. There are those rare times I like to lead, but those are few and far between and often correspond with Yahrzeit.

I do find, however, that by listening to different people lead, I pick up on different ways some things can be done and I have adopted them into my style (if you can call it a style). As a result, if by me leading, it helps other people learn things, and develop their style, than I am happy to help out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Appreciating Judaism

It is amazing the way the mind works. We are not even out of the month of July yet and I am already thinking about the upcoming Jewish Holidays in the fall. I know I once heard a sermon where a rabbi broke the summer down on the Jewish calendar explaining there are two parts to summer; from Shavout to Tisha B’Av and from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah. I actually understand that and my mind works the same way. Now that Tisha B’Av is over, it is time to be thinking about the High Holidays.

Rosh Hashanah, of course, means the start of the busy season, the start of the school year. I will start teaching my adjunct classes at the college, I will start teaching in the computer lab at the religious school and as for my day job, that is usually hectic around September time as well.

One year I am going to learn how to relax. I will not start thinking about the Holidays until, at least, the beginning of Elul. I will not gear up for everything in July. I guess, though, in one sense, that is good. As a Jew, there should always be a life cycle event, a happening, that to which I am looking forward. These events have always kept us grounded in our faith, have always helped us set our calendar and know where we are at. Maybe next year, I will not start thinking about the Holidays until the start of Elul.

In thinking about the calendar, I like the fact that we have all different kinds of events. We have those which enable us to celebrate and be joyous. We have those that require us to be solemn. Many of the events remind us of things in the past. Other happening remind us to look towards the future.

It is a wonderful religion that has so much to offer and that is why I find it frustrating when I hear people look to get away from it, or ignore all of it wonders. I remember a number of years ago I was tutoring a child for bar mitzvah. After the event, his mother made a comment about never having to sit in a synagogue again.

One of her friends responded, “Except for when your son gets married”.

“If he marries a Jew,” she responded, “Otherwise I’ll sit in a church,” she added nonchalantly.

It is that type of attitude that just infuriates me. I wish she was able to understand and appreciate her religion, to get as much out of it as I do. Unfortunately that did not happen but maybe that is why I enjoy working in the computer lab so much, to show others the love I have of my religion.