Friday, October 24, 2008

Is Rosh Hashanah Really Rosh Hashanah?

Yesterday I wrote about Yom Kippur so today, naturally, I am going to talk about Rosh Hashanah. What fun is it to go in order. The more I celebrate this holiday, the more of an anomaly I find it. First of all, the holiday combines the theme of repentance, of starting the ten days of awe, or asking and praying for forgiveness, with the joyous aspect of celebrating the new year, of trying to get the year off on the correct foot. That dichotomy has always fascinated me.

A second aspect that I find interesting has to do with the fact that biblically, we do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Before you think I am not aware of the biblical reference, hold your comment. Certainly there is a reference to this holiday in the Torah. The Torah, however, references the first day of the seventh month. According to the Torah, Nissan (the month of Passover) is the first month. I am aware of all the different commentaries that explain how Tishrei (the month when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah) is really the first month, but the Torah never refers to it that way.

In addition, the Torah never refers to this day as the “New Year”, as Rosh Hashanah. The day is referred to as “Yom Hadin” (Judgment Day), Yom Hazikaron (The Day of Remembrance) and Yom Teruach (Loosely translated as the Day of Blowing the Shofar, since the Teruach is one of the notes blown on the shofar). Never is this day called the New Year.

It is fascinating how different customs, practices and beliefs come into being. Of course this is an important day and has significance. Still, there appear to have been some changes of the centuries that have been made to this holiday. It is just interesting to consider how things came to be.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Intense Versus Sad

Now that the Jewish Holidays are over, hopefully life can return to normal. I enjoy the Holidays but it is a bit much. I do have some reflections on the different holidays that I will be posting over the next few days (or weeks). Today I will start with Yom Kippur.

It is amazing to me how many people misunderstand the significance of this day. I was planning a lesson for Hebrew School and was looking at some YouTube videos. I look at the discussion that surrounded one of the videos about Yom Kippur. The comments were indicating that this was the saddest day on the Jewish Calendar.

Yom Kippur is intense, it is serious and it is important, but it is not a sad day. Judaism does have such a day, that day being Tisha B’Av. Yom Kippur, however, actually has a positive tone. The idea of Yom Kippur is purification, asking G-d for forgiveness so we can start the year with a clean slate. It is like the student who begins fresh at a new school. Instead of having the baggage follow you, you begin anew. That, certainly, is not a sad day.

It is true we deprive ourselves on this day in a number of ways. We are even told to afflict our souls. Still, a shehechayanu is made on this day (and it is only made on joyous occasions. We are told that we will be forgiven. So, I certainly disagree with the idea that Yom Kippur is the saddest day of the Jewish year, or even just a sad day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

You Can Come To Israel... But Don't Bring The Family

My sister, her husband and their family recently returned from Israel. Their oldest son was studying in Israel for the year and wanted to stay another year. Arrangements were being made and what I recently found out was, the yeshiva where my nephew was studying was putting pressure on him telling him according to halachah (Jewish Law), he was not allowed to return to the States. With finances being an issue, the Yeshiva was willing to help with financial aid.

The fact that my sister and the whole family went to Israel complicates this. This is the first time they have been to Israel as a family although both my sister and brother-in-law were there over 20 years ago. Due to the settling of my father’s estate, they were all able to go and my youngest nephew got an aliyah at the Kotel in honor of his Bar Mitzvah.

While traveling the Holy Land, my sister and brother-in-law received a call that the head of my nephew’s yeshiva wanted to talk with them and it was important. Apparently it is policy, as best my sister could determine, that they do not offer any financial aid to people if their family comes to Israel. I guess the thinking is, if they can afford a trip, they can afford the ridiculously expensive tuition of such institutions.

When my brother-in-law got in touch with the head of the yeshiva, they basically told him that if he interrupted, they would simply end the conversation. After listening to them go on for awhile, telling him that they no longer would accept my nephew because they were in Israel, my brother-in-law said, “But,”.

I assume the next step was to tell them how my father had recently passed away, it was the first trip they had taken since they were married, etc. He never got a chance to say any of it. As soon as he said, “But,” the person on the other end of the phone, the head of the yeshiva, hung up.

Personally, I think this is ridiculous and unscrupulous. First, trying to convince him that according to Jewish law he needed to stay, I think is unethical. Beyond that, instead of being willing to engage in a dialogue and hear what others have to say, the approach is to hang up, that they can have their say but no one else is allowed.

I think it is unfortunate that my nephew is caught in the middle and he is trying to find a way he can get back there. Personally, I think the yeshiva should be told exactly what they can do with it. By the way, my sister agrees but respects the wishes of her son and will allow him (as if she really has a choice) to try and find another way to pay for the schooling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning An Aliyah

Have you ever wondered what ever possessed you to do something? In one more week I begin classes yet I have inquired about reading Torah in Mid-September. Unlike some people who are very talented, it takes me a number of weeks to prepare. As a result, right as the semester starts hitting the busy season, shortly before I will be taking time off for the Jewish Holidays, I will be busy preparing an aliyah.

Fortunately I was smart enough to only “Volunteer” to read one aliyah, and fortunately, it is not that long. Yes, it will take some preparation but it could be much worse.

So why is it that I am looking to chant this aliyah? Well, my Mom’s yahrzeit is coming up and I have always tried to mark the anniversary of her passing on the Jewish calendar by chanting at least one aliyah. She had the opportunity to hear my chant a few Haftorot but, other than my Bar Mitzvah, I don’t think she ever heard me chant Torah. Certainly she always knew and, more importantly, believed, I could do it but I never did. Now, as a way to honor her memory, I try to follow the custom of being able to read from Torah on the Shabbat before her Yahrzeit.

Certainly, when it comes to parents, they do (or in my case, did) a lot for kids so it is important to me to do the things I can to keep their memories alive and to honor them. So, putting in the time to learn the aliyah will certainly be worthwhile.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jewish Holidays And Teaching

I am currently in the process of devising my course syllabus for the upcoming semester. While I am only an adjunct, and I am only teaching on Tuesday/Thursday classes this year, the Jewish Holidays certainly pose a challenge. For the first time since I have been teaching, I am actually going to need to take off one day for each holiday. Usually because Yom Kippur is 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, (unlike the other holidays which are weeks apart, so they fall on the same day of the week), I don’t need four days. In fact, due to holidays on the weekends, there have been times I have been able to avoid taking days off.

I used to feel uncomfortable, bad, maybe even slightly guilty when I had to take classes off. I understand that class needs to be in session for a certain number of hours each semester and I felt I had an obligation. In addition, being an adjunct, it is not as easy as one might think to find someone to cover your classes.

I no longer feel guilty. The fact is, when the College wants something out of me, they do not hesitate to ask and I try to accommodate them. Still, and yes I am going back a couple of years, when I applied for a full-time teaching position at the College, I was not even brought in for an interview. So, they are willing to use me for what suits there needs but I am not good enough to even be considered for something full-time.

My feeling now is, I do what I need to. I make the necessary arrangements. Either I will send in a video tape, give them an in-class writing assignment or give them out of class time to research their speech. This will fulfill the needs of the college, and allow me to do what I need to do.

Still, with four days off over a month period, it does make it difficult to get into a routine. I’m sure, however, I will manage.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All Systems Go

Three weeks ago I posted an entry about the trials and tribulations of trying to get in and sign a contract to continue teaching in the computer lab of the religious school where I have taught the past two years. After having the scheduled meeting cancelled numerous times (once by me and four or five times by them), the meeting finally took place. Everything went smoothly and I will be back there again come September.

In the meeting, I found out about plans to purchase additional software for the computer, upgrades that they want to make and some purchases for some computer accessories. They did ask for my input, which pleased me. I couldn’t help but think, “Good things come to those who wait.”

While I would like to get started, in terms of planing for the first few sessions, things have not yet been finalized. They still have to decide which teachers will be coming to the lab when. Obviously, until I know the age of the students and the subject the teacher is covering, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to prepare a lesson plan.

Still, I am looking forward to preparing the plan and to the year ahead.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I know that it is not supposed to be easy but I am glad that the Tisha B’av fast is over. For me, I find this the toughest fast of all the ones on the Jewish Calendar. Although this one and Yom Kippur are both full 25 hour fasts, since this one takes place during the heat of summer and goes longer into the evening, meaning you have longer to go after you wake up the next morning, I find it tougher.

Perhaps if I brought my weight back under control, that might make it easier. While logic would seem to suggest that the more you eat heading into a fast, the easier it will be, the truth is that if you eat less, you slow your metabolism and that makes it easier to fast.

There was a time when I had my weight under control, I took off a lot of extra pounds. It is time to do that again. Will power, the help of others and maybe some diet pills will make it easier.

Regardless, I am glad this fast is now behind me.

Should We Tell Him About The Rocks?

There is an old joke that has many variation but has to do with walking on the water. The version of the joke I know is about a Priest, a Rabbi and a Minister who go out fishing. While fishing, the Rabbi realizes that he left his ice water back at shore and says he is going to get it. He stands up, walks across the water, gets his drink, walks back and sits down next to his colleagues on the boat.

A few minutes later the Minister says that he is out of bait and has more back at shore and he is going to get it. He stands up, walks across the water, gets the bait, walks back and sits down next to his colleagues.

The Priest, upon seeing this, decides that if the Rabbi and the Minister can walk on water, certainly he, the Priest, can do so. He excuses himself explaining that he too left something back at shore and has to get it. He stands up and tries to walk across the water. He falls in and drowns. The Minister turns to the Rabbi and says, “Do you think we should have told him about the rocks in the water?”

As I indicated last week, for the first time in a number of years, I had the opportunity to listen to someone else do Haftorah. The Haftorah is swithcing back and forth between the traditional melody used for Haftorah and the traditional melody used on Tisha B’Av (which was Saturday night through Sunday night this year). The person who chanted Haftorah did so using the traditional Haftorah melody.

I remember the first time I did it that I received a phone call making sure I know about the changes in melody (which I did). I could not help but think someone should have done this for the person who chanted it this past week.

He did a nice job and I do not criticize him for not knowing. After all , the way you learn is by having someone tell you. I just felt the Shul fell short in its obligation to let this individual know.

Still, it was nice listening to someone else chant Haftorah and, as I said, he did a nice job.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Feeling Better

An interesting question recently occurred when a friend of mine and I were having a discussion. We were talking about what Judaism had to say about weight loss. Obviously, there are those people who do not need to loss weight (unfortunately I am not in that category). For those who do, however, one can make a strong argument that Judaism strongly supports it, or my friend argued, requires it.

The reason is it is Judaism talks about doing what you can to preserve a life, especially your own. So, if ones health would improve if s/he would lose some weight, then you could argue that Judaism requires it. Fortunately, there are all sorts of programs and ways to lose weight, and one can find these almost anywhere, such as lap band central florida.

Getting The Day Off

For the first time in a few years, I will be getting tomorrow off. Well, I am not really getting the day off but I am not reading Haftorah. As some oe you know and as I have discussed in previous posts, the melody used for this Haftorah (portion of Prophets that is read) switches back and forth between two melodies, the traditional Saturday melody used for Haftorah and the one that is used for Eichah (the book of Lamentations).

A number of years ago, after hearing someone chant it quite beautifully, I decided I wanted to learn it. It took me a number of years but I finally did. Certainly the internet helped as I was able to find a website where you can hear the Haftorah chanted. When the person who had done this Haftorah in the past moved out of the area, I volunteered. I have been doing this one ever since.

This year, apparently someone else volunteered and will now be chanting it. Both my wife and son asked me if I was disappointed. Certainly there is a concept in Judaism of having a “Chazkah” on something, that once you do something three consecutive times, it becomes yours.

The truth is I am not disappointed in the least. When I first volunteered I only expected to do this one once. It is my hope that perhaps my chanting this haftorah, despite my less than wonderful voice, may have inspired someone else to want to try. If so, then this really is a compliment and the highest form of flattery. If not, well then it is what I will choice to believe anyway.

And, for those of you fasting this Tisha B’Av, which starts this Saturday night, I wish you an easy fast.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


This past weekend I was out of town for my youngest nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. He did very well and I was quite proud of him. Since my mother-in-law is now in rehab, following a stroke, my wife did not join us, it was just me and my son. This was fine as I often have been, and sometimes still am, the one who brings him to shul. What I found interesting was the attitude he, and some others, had of the service.

My sister goes to an Orthodox synagogue. I am perfectly comfortable davening at an Orthodox shul (as well as Conservative or Reform). I am currently attending a Conservative synagogue since it is where my wife is most comfortable but I have enjoyed more traditional services as well.

My son, who does fairly well in services, was lost for part of it due to the “mumbling” sound that often takes place at such services. I do admit, I too prefer a service where people seem to be enjoying it as opposed to be praying to get out. I am not suggesting this is true of all Orthodox services nor that it doesn’t occur at Reform or Conservative services, but at times that did take place here. At other times, they did their fair share of singing.

I have a distant cousin who was there. He is not used to this type of service at all and actually fell asleep during part of it. I also have an aunt who was there and during part of the service took out a camera and started taking pictures, with a flash. (For those who don’t know, the use of a camera as well as using a flash are not permitted on Shabbat).

Still, for the most part, everyone seemed to try and respect each other’s wishes. Certainly that is important. Often time, the biggest problem we face as Jews is, trying to get along with one another. It is refreshing when you see people from all different backgrounds at least make an attempt.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


In another couple of weeks I will be heading to my youngest nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. I am certainly looking forward to attending the event. Still, this is bitter-sweet. When my oldest nephew was Bar Mitzvah, both my parents were alive. My Mom had passed away by the time my middle nephew’s Bar Mitzvah rolled around but my Dad was still alive. Now, as the event closes in on my youngest nephew, neither of my parents are alive.

While I miss them all the time, it is at the joyous events like this that their presence is missed the most. They enjoyed these events and it meant a lot. It would only seem right to be able to look up and see them kvelling , see their smiling faces and being able to watch the schep nachas.

It is times like these that the stories come rushing to mind. For instance, when my middle nephew’s bar mitzvah rolled around, my sister, who lives in an Orthodox community, made arrangements for family and friends from out of town to stay by congregants nearby. Knowing that my dad (her’s too) had trouble with his legs and with walking, she made arrangements for him to stay by a family just down the street from the shul. My dad, a Reform Rabbi, indicated that he would prefer driving (a 15 minute trip by car from his house to the shul where my sister davens) but my sister told him it was important to her that he didn’t so my dad went along with it.

My family was staying with someone else but after service Friday evening I went with him to walk him to where he was staying. I followed him, assuming he knew where he was going. As we kept walking and didn’t see the house, he asked me to check the street sign and, you guessed it, we were on the wrong street, and we had walked pretty far.

Dad was done and unable to walk much further. He said to me, “I told your sister I should drive. I know who I am and what I am”. He then went to call a cab on his cell phone to take him to where he was staying.

As my dad is calling the cab company, I hear him say to the dispatcher, “I am a Reform Jew stranded in an Orthodox community”. He said it with such seriousness and not in a demeaning matter but more a matter of fact tone. I found the whole thing quite amusing.

Of course, the cab company got there and got my Dad to where he was staying and the rest of the events went fine. Those are the stories, the memories, that will certainly be treasured.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Upcoming Haftorah

I am curious to find out if I will be chanting the Haftorah before Tisha B’Av this year. I have done this for the past number of years and I enjoy it. It is not such an easy Haftorah to chant as the trope, the melody, switches back and forth four times between what is traditionally used on Shabbat and what is used for Tisha B’Av.

Normally, by this time, I have already been asked to do it since I have done it in the past and it is difficult for a new person to learn the switches. Obviously, it can be done as I did it for the first time once myself. In fact, it was not even that long ago, it was about eight years ago.

If someone else wants to do it, that is fine. I have done it for a number of years and do not mind letting someone else have a turn. If they want me to do it, again, I am fine with that as I have done it in the past. Still, if I am doing it, I want to look it over ahead of time. I have a feeling that a couple of days before it is time for the Haftorah to be read, someone is going to say something to me, as though it is a forgone conclusion that I will be chanting it.

As a result, I will probably look it over, just to be on the safe side. Still, it would be nice if I actually believed that I would get advanced notice if they wanted me to do it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are You Trying To Tell Me Something?

I think the gods are trying to tell me something. For the past two years I have taught in the Computer Lab of a religious school. I enjoy this and have posted blog entries about my experiences. I expect to be teaching in the computer lab again next year, at the same religious school.

It should come as no surprise that what this school does is set up appointments with the teachers over the summer and have the individuals sign letters of intent and discuss and changes or any issues that need to be taken care of. The school contacted me to set up such a meeting about a month ago and we found a mutually acceptable date, or so I thought.

A couple of days before the scheduled meeting I got a call from the administration that they needed to reschedule as something had come up for one of the people I need to meet with. We rescheduled the meeting only for me to get another call a couple of days before that we needed to reschedule once again.

This time, I had something come up and a couple of days before the meeting, I called to reschedule. Again, we found a mutually acceptable date. Two days before that meeting I got another call and guess what? Yep! We needed to reschedule and we did.

I was so excited when I did not get a call two days before this meeting, asking me to reschedule. I showed up to this meeting only to find out that the secretary did not have me on the calendar and one of the people with whom I need to meet was not there. So, we have rescheduled once again.

It is a good thing that I know they like me there and that I cancelled one of these meetings, otherwise, I would be wondering (or be getting set to start wondering) what they are trying to tell me.

I actually have no doubt that I will be back there come September but honestly, it is getting a little frustrating.

Monday, July 21, 2008


This past weekend, the family was invited over to some friends for a barbecue. The friends were not Jewish. That, in and off itself, is no big deal. The problem is the food. I will eat dairy food and fish out of the house, as well as Pareve food (food that is neither meat nor milk), unlike some people who keep kosher who insist that all the food must be certified kosher (and that is fine and even makes a lot of sense).

Before the first time we went over, my wife indicated to our friends what I would and would not eat. She said nothing meat or poultry but fish was fine, macaroni and cheese was fine, as well as some other items. Our friends ask my wife about chicken and she told them “no”. Naturally, when I went over, what did they have for me?—Chicken?

This past weekend it was a similar situation. Again, they made chicken for me. I thought it was thoughtful that they went out of their way to do something special for me, but in this instance, it is not like we have not discussed this issue with them.

Hopefully one more conversation will clear this up. I am not sure but I certainly hope so. I would like to avoid a situation where other I am eating food I am not comfortable eating or avoiding eating food that was especially prepared for me.

We’ll see what happens!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stem Cell Research

One issue that has been controversial for some time now has to do with stem cell research. Certainly most people do not argue that we should try and find cures for such terrible illnesses as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Still questions arise, especially out of certain religious circles, as to whether or not one is taking a life in order to perform stem cell research.

There is now a belief that stem cell research can be performed using a woman’s menstrual blood because there are stem cells in a woman’s blood. I am not sure how far along this process is and I am not certain if those who oppose such research would still object from a religious perspective. Still, the idea that this could happen is fascinating and, I think, gives no hope to the reality of all sides finding an agreeable solution to conduct stem cell research

There is more information about this process available on CNNMoney
I am fascinated by this process, especially seeing my grandfather suffer through the Alzheimer’s disease during the later years of his life. Hopefully articles like this can give hope to those who are currently watching loved ones suffer and in the end make it so many less individuals need to see it.

No New Job

A letter came in today’s mail in regard to the computer position I applied for at the Jewish Day School. The letter was a format letter and basically said “Thank you but no thank you”. The rejection letter indicated that they found someone more qualified than I for the position.

I wish it had not been a format letter. I know the school was under no obligation to higher me and I don’t mean to sound arrogant or egotistical but I honestly believe for what they wanted, there was no one more qualified.

I am not claiming I am the smartest person ever when it comes to computers, far from it, but in terms of running a computer lab, having a background in the products they wanted to teach and working with teachers who are assigning work to their students on the computer, I have a strong background.

Certainly the school was under no obligation to higher me. They let me know from the beginning that if they found someone from within, it would make it easier than having to work around another person’s schedule from the outside. Again, I am fine with this; it makes sense. I just wish the letter would have told me that this is in fact what happened. Now, I am wondering if I did not get the position because they decided there was someone more qualified or if it was due to logistics. That is annoying.

I will probably call to find out as knowing, regardless of the outcome, would make me feel better.

The Right Stuff

Teaching in the computer lab at the religious school where I work is a lot of fun and I appreciate that those in charge have always done what they kind to get me the necessary equipment (which is not always the newest).

For example, I prefer XP to Vista for an operating system. It is also important to be able to see the computer screen. As I get older, I know the type of glasses I wear are important. Sites like zennioptical.comhave made it easier to find the right glasses.

Whatever your needs for whatever the task, make sure you have the proper equipment.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I was recently at a barbecue and I witnessed an unusual site. In fact, I even commented on it only to learn once again that things are not always what they seem.

There were a number of Jews and non-Jews at the barbecue. Some of us there kept kosher so they had kosher chicken available in addition to hotdogs and hamburgers. A friend, Jewish, took a piece of chicken but also grabbed a couple of pieces of sausage from a nearby pasta salad.

I am not one to preach to other what they should and/or should not do. This is a personal decision that is between each individual and his/her own G-d. Still, upon seeing this I teased my friend. He teased back about some of my own inconsistencies (don’t we all have them).

I explained that I was not being critical because he was eating Traiff (unkosher) food but rather because it was on his plate with kosher food as well. He explained that he was being careful with what he ate, healthy eating, and chicken was healthier and a better choice than hotdogs and hamburgers.

In fairness, I did see him calculate how many people there needed kosher food and count the number of pieces of chicken to make sure that there was enough for everyone. So, sometimes it is better not to start teasing until you have all the details. Still, it was humorous to see someone take a piece of kosher chicken and put it on the same plate as food that came from a pig.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Responding To Hate Speech

I am grateful that we live in a society that tries to be politically correct. It is important to take the feelings of others into consideration. There are some negatives, however, to a politically correct society. The first is something that we have heard about for quite some time, that sometimes we go overboard (people aren’t fat or even heavy, they are horizontally challenged). Sometimes when we try to be so considerate of others feelings, we end up saying nothing. It does not mean we should not try, just that sometimes we go too far.

There is another problem as well. Sometimes when we are so politically correct, people do not know how to handle certain situations. When there are seventh and eighth grade religious school students who do not know about hate crimes and hate speech, perhaps we have taken things too far. When groups like The Progressive Action Alliance are looking to spread false information, we need to know how to respond. When this group in Houston Texas takes to Freeway Blogging , standing on highway overpasses and holding signs that say such things as “Israel out of the Middle East,” we need to know the appropriate way to respond.

Fortunately there are websites out there that look to let people know what is going on, let people know the truth. The internet can make it easier for groups like Progressive Action Alliance Houston to spread their hate speech. Fortunately the internet also makes it easier to get the accurate information out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Computer Position

I recently met with the director of a Jewish Day school to find out about a teaching position that was advertised. It was an interesting position and an interesting interview.

The job itself has nothing to do with Jewish education, it is teaching in the computer lab. I would be teaching Microsoft office products as well as computer usage, internet and internet safety. It would also involve working with other teachers, especially if the student had an assignment which involved putting some kind of computer presentation together.

I like the fact that it would be with a Jewish Day school. While the position itself might not involve teaching Jewish subjects, it would be with a school that clearly understands the importance of that. Certainly I have the knowledge to teach such a class and being able to do it while showing support for Jewish education would thrill me.

I think we need to do whatever possible to get children, students, and even adults, interested in Jewish learning. Education is crucial and being able to be involved with any facility that understands its importance, that looks to educate people about Judaism is crucial.

The position is actually still being defined but certainly I am excited and look forward to hearing what happens.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Conversational Hebrew

My son finishes school this week and is excited about summer plans. He will be attending a few different summer day camp programs; a week here, two weeks there, that sort of thing. He has, however, added something new to the mix.

Towards the end of Hebrew school, one of the teachers, an Israeli who teaches Hebrew, asked my son if he would like to be tutored in Hebrew over the summer. It is not that my son needs extra help in this area, but this teacher thought he might want to keep his skills sharp during the summer and have more of an opportunity to influence the material he is studying. I am sure from the teacher’s point of view as well, it is a good way to earn some extra income over the summer.

My son is very excited about this and wants to start the day after school ends. His father, on the other hand, has mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am thrilled that learning Hebrew is so important to him that he wants to do it when school is out and wants to keep his skills sharp. On the other hand, I question if he truly realizes the commitment he made and will put the time in to this. He wants to learn conversational Hebrew and he will be meeting with the tutor once a week for an hour.

The tutor has already tried to caution me that when it comes to conversational Hebrew, for many weeks it may look as though he is not learning much and then all of a sudden everything clicks. I question that. To expect to learn this while only putting an hour a week is seems unlikely, even if my son follows through with his “homework assignments”. I fear that he will get frustrated and fed-up and refuse to do the work outside of his meeting with the tutor.

Certainly it is worth an attempt. I hope that this does meet his needs and expectations and I hope it does help him learn to speak conversational Hebrew. And, given a choice between my son wanting to do this over the summer or do a number of other things, certainly I approve of his choice.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Double Standard

It is amazing, after all this time, how a double standard can still work. I am not referring to the traditional double standard but I am talking about how it works when one examines religion and the attitudes of society.

I am involved with a civic organization. In fact, I am the incoming president. We meet every other Wednesday and I noticed that based on the calendar, we are scheduled to have a meeting on Yom Kippur. I told people I was not going to schedule a meeting on this date as I did not feel it sent the right message. Moreover, I argued that if I were just a member and a president scheduled a meeting on this date, I would be furious so, I refused to do what I would object to any other club president doing.

The rest of the Executive Committee objected and fought with me. I heard all sorts of excuses and reasons why it could not be done and basically, I was told with the exception of Christmas day, we do not move meetings, and that exception occurs because there is no place open where we could meet.

I then noticed that we had a meeting scheduled for New Years Eve. Certainly establishments are open yet I told the board I did not think we should meet on this day either. They were all quick to agree. Then when I pointed out that if we just switched it with another date, we would end up meeting on Christmas Eve (Not day) and I did not want to do that. Everyone agreed and worked with me on getting creative to avoid that conflict.

The Christian holidays still carry much more weight than even a holiday like Yom Kippur. People do not understand its importance. Still, once I led the discussion about Christmas and New Years, everyone was more willing to work with me on avoiding a meeting on Yom Kippur. It just surprises me (although it shouldn’t) the double standard when it comes to holidays.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jewish Jeopardy

I made reference to a Jewish Jeopardy game in a post yesterday. The game took place on Shavout. The tradition is to stay up all night and study. While I have done this a few times, it always seems that the shul (synagogue) I am affiliated with at any particular time has older members and they do not go through the night. This is true of both the Conservative and Orthodox shuls where I have gone. Still, they want to do something, so for part of the evening they have a study group.

This year, the synagogue had two things going on. First was a discussion about Judaism and the environment. It sounded interesting but not necessarily fun. The second thing was the Jewish Jeopardy game and the rest of the family was into that (so was I), so I decided to attend that session.

The first game was a kids only game and the kids teamed up in groups of two. My son showed that he has paid attention and that he understands his Judaism. It makes a father proud. The second game was Adults only, also in pairs of two, and the third game was also supposed to be adults only.

For the third game, many adults did not want to play so the third team was made up of kids only. I think I saw my son raise his hand for every question, well just about every question, for that game. Again, it is nice when you can see your hard work pay off. And, I certainly have put in my share of hard work. My wife is not nearly as much of a shul goer as I am so, when he was an infant, I used to get him ready and have him there every week, and deal with the dirty looks of the adults and comments because, as much as they like kids, they want them perfectly quiet. Still, I wanted him to understand right from the beginning that on Shabbat, this is what we do and where we go.

He may not go as frequently now as he did in the past but he still goes more often than not and enjoys it and, as I said before, he learns and he remembers.

Congratulations on your Jeopardy game.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Forgotten Holiday

The holiday of Shavout is now behind us. It is the last Biblical holiday of the year. Arguably it is one of the most important ones as, without it, the Jews never got the Torah and then there is no need to keep any of the holidays.

I wonder how many people know little about this Holiday. Certainly it does not get the notoriety of Channukah, the attendance of a Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service, or the appreciation of Passover. To make matters even more confusing, there is not a symbol that is simply and solely associated with Shavout.

You could argue the Torah is such a symbol but we use that year round. Certainly the other holidays have their symbols. This is an important and beautiful holiday and it does not get the recognition. Most people, Jewish and non-Jewish, are probably not even aware that there was a holiday at the beginning of the week.

I am glad that my son is familiar with the holidays and enjoys them all. I had a chance to watch him in action in a game of Jewish Jeopardy and he knew a lot, but that is a post for another time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Last Day

In the past, I have blogged about the first day of Hebrew School for my son, how they have a festival outside and a barbecue as a way of trying to set a positive tone for the year. It has been successful in the past and I think it is a great idea. It is interesting then that the first day of school is a fun experience but the last day of school, traditionally one that everyone looks forward to, is a negative experience.

The concept is good. The want to do a schoolwide arts festival. It starts with a schoolwide T’filah (paryer service) with each class leading a different prayer. While praying is not an art, based on the poetry you find in the prayers and the singing and different melodies, the feeling is there are aspects of the arts in prayer, so it is appropriate. I have no problem with this part.

After the service is over they leave the sanctuary and go to the auditorium where some of the different groups perform. The sound system is always terrible. It is hard to understand what is going on and while parents might enjoy watching their kids perform (even if the performance is not that great), the kids are bored. Even those who perform are bored once their part is finished.

In addition, the teachers are supposed to meet the kids and sit as a class and the parents are supposed to sit with the kids as well. The teachers do not take this seriously, and some of them, at times, are leading various groups in performance. Some teachers do not even meet the kids but just let the parents bring their child(ren) upstairs. Still, the parents have to figure this out. It is utter chaos.

I have seen it gone down hill every year. Every year my son gets more agitate and frustrated. What is supposed to be an enjoyable event is really anything but. The program also goes longer than a regular day of Hebrew school.

This year they sent out an e-mail, almost begging parents to bring the kids to the program and not have them miss the last day of school. Still, each year less and less kids show up. My wife and I have always made sure to bring our son but we both feel that next year, we are just going to skip it.

As a side note, often times when someone complains, the feeling is don’t just complain, offer an alternative. So, here goes: They should continue to keep the school wide T’filah and they should continue to have the band play a few selections. Beyond that, each teacher should be responsible for teaching their class once Israeli/Hebrew song (it can be coordinated by the principal if so desired). The song should be no more than five minute. Each class performs their song and when finished, have a hotdog roast (as they do now) and let the kids out early. That’s my suggestion!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Software

The Religious School year is over. Those of us who teach specials, (I am in the computer lab) finish slightly before the classroom teachers. I enjoy what I do and can certainly use the equipment they provide but it would be nice if they upgraded the machines and also looked to bring in some new software programs.

I am always amazed by what is out there and what is being developed by different people and companies. IT has been a couple of years since the school has purchased any new programs. Based on what they have and what is available on the web, I rely don't need them to get anything new but, it is nice to have some new 'toys'. It would be interesting to see if they come out with something I could use in the Computer Lab of the Religious School where I teach.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Too Much Passover

I do not know about the rest of you but I am ‘Passovered out’. Okay, I admit to feeling as thought I had eaten enough matzah after the end of the first Seder. Things were very nice and very enjoyable. Still, I find working during Hol Ha’moed, the intermediate days, is very difficult.

Perhaps things would be just as difficult no matter what but it is the little things that I won’t do that make things more difficult. For instance, when I am teaching, I do not stop to get a cup of coffee before heading to class. When I have my late night class, I end up bringing food from home for lunch and dinner. Passover food tends to be quite heavy and takes a lot out of me.

I do enjoy the Holiday of Passover. I even enjoy the Passover foods. I just wish that I could eat them in addition to the other foods. Okay, so each year, for a week I can manage and I really do not complain, but this year it really seems to have taken its toll on my stomach and my overall mental approach. I find myself feeling more tired and just not energized.

So, to anyone else feeling like me, I say, “Hang in there. It is just another couple of days and you can do it!”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Overseas Friends

I do not know how many of you are getting your phone lists ready but I know I am. Like many other people who celebrate the Jewish Holidays, I find that I call my Jewish friends a few times a year to wish them a ‘Good Yontif’.

I call friends and family before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I call them before (and after) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I also call them before Passover. As I said, I know a lot of people do this.

Of course, it can get to be expensive. Certainly calling most people inter and intra state is not bad and many of us have a phone plane where we can make all the calls we want for one set monthly fee. Unfortunately these plans do not include overseas calls.

I do have some friends in Israel and I like to call them as well. It is really the only times we speak (although we do correspond in other methods throughout the year). Still, if there is a way where the cost of these calls can be kept under control, it is certainly appreciated.

There are now prepaid phone cards to international locations, which might be able to help. Whether you are looking to for india phone cards, or to call Israel or another location, it might just be a way to save some money.

Passover Foods

It is amazing to see all the Kosher for Passover products you can find these days. I am not saying they are any good but you can find muffins, bagels and pizza that is all Kosher for Passover. Some of the products I definitely stay away from. Some I just have a problem with conceptually. For instance, we are not supposed to eat break on Passover so I do not want any Kosher for Passover bread (unless you consider Matzah to be such an item).

Matzah is not my favorite food. I have actually felt that Passover would be a wonderful Holiday if we could eat bread. Still, I do enjoy the Holiday and the foods. I think that for a week there are certain products we can do without. Moreover, the taste of a number of food items has been greatly improved.

I also am amazed to see the great variety of Kosher (and Kosher for Passover) wines. It used to be that all you could get was the disgustingly sweet wines. Actually, perhaps based on nothing but tradition, I like the taste of that. Still, with four cups of wine at the Seder, it is nice to know you can find all different types of wine.

Wishing you all (at least those who celebrate it) a Happy and Kosher Passover.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making Friends

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is getting a chance to read comments that other people post in regard to my posts. This can actually be quite educational and can help improve the blog. It also gives you the opportunity to establish an on-line friendship with people who have the same interest as you.

There are actually sites where people can register to find people who have similar interests; where they can establish new friendships and see if they can find old friends as well. For instance, people may want to join 3gb community for such purposes.

My Favorite Sessions

As I am on break from teaching Hebrew school, I am taking some time to reflect on the computer lab sessions I have taught so far this year. I find reflection often helps me improve my lessons in the future. What I find most interesting is the computer lab session I have enjoyed the most have not necessarily been the ones that the students have enjoyed the most.

The kids enjoy the sessions where they can play games. I do try to work in some time each week to allow the students to play Jewish related computer games, but it is far from the focus. The students also like it when they can color on the computer. I do not find this surprising for the little ones but older students too enjoy coloring. Again, I do try to work this in fairly frequently, but it too is far from my favorite type of lesson.

I enjoy the educational sessions. There was one class where the students, who were studying jewish culture around the world, had to come into the lab and using their own links, or some that I provided, find out about a culture they had not yet studied and answer some question about that culture on a worksheet I designed.

I also liked the plans where the students had to research famous Jews but they had to find at least three ways the person did something to show his/her Jewishness. If they could not, they had to find a different person. Another class where the students had to find Jewish hate sites was also fascinating.

I guess it is true that education is (or at least can be) wasted on the young.

Thank You

In this day and age when so much is done on line and you can send greeting cards on line, I feel it means so much to get a hand written thank you not. I have always felt that way about Thank you cards. I remember when I worked at day camp one summer, it was customary for the parents to tip the counselors at the end of the summer. The camp recommended (keep in mind this was a number of years ago) between $20-$30. I remember feeling I would rather get a $25 tip and a Thank you card, with a hand written note, than a $30 tip. Okay, I am materialistic enough that I would rather a $30 tip and no card than a $20 tip, but the point is, money gets spent, Thank you Cards are a personalized item you can keep forever.

I have found, over the years, what works well for me is to keep a box of nice Thank you Cards on hand, in a safely stored area (hopefully I’ll be able to remember where I put them). Then, when I need one, I can easily get one, write the note immediately and get it out.

The personal touch goes a long way. So, if you are heading over to someone’s Seder for Passover, why not make sure you have a box of Thank You notes on hand.

Strawberry Shortcake

I love the way traditions get started and work their way into people’s religious ceremonies. Truth is I do enjoy ‘minhag’. Certainly this has kept our people alive and helped us maintain our identity. Still, not only can it be exhausting but if someone wants to change things up a little, it can be quite difficult, if not impossible.

My Mother-in-law’s birthday falls during Passover this year. For her, this is nothing new as they two frequently coincide. Growing up, her mother always made her a Kosher-for-Passover Strawberry Shortcake for the Seder to celebrate her birthday.

It so happens my niece (my Mother-in-law’s granddaughter) also has a birthday that falls around Passover. My wife found a recipe for a chocolate chip cake. She wanted to make that for the birthdays’. She was actually excited about trying a new recipe. (I too like new recipes but usually like to try them on myself first before making them for other people).

Guess what? When my wife told her mom about the recipe, her Mom asked (perhaps whined is a better word) for a Strawberry Shortcake? You know what that means? My wife is no longer making the chocolate chip cake for the birthdays, she is making a Strawberry Shortcake.

In the words of Tevye, “Tradition! Without it where would our people be?”

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Break!

I have the week off from teaching religious school. Actually, I have more than the week off. Since most of the Religious schools follow the regular schools and this is the week they have off for Spring break, I have it off too. Then, I get the next two Sundays off because of Passover. This means I only have to more Sundays to teach and it gives me time to do a nice job preparing the lessons, assuming I do not procrastinate, which is always a possibility.

As I think back on the lesson plans I put together and looking for websites to which I could bring the student, it occurs to me that the way a site is designed often has a lot to do with if and how I use it. I am looking for something that will catch my eye and is not difficult to navigate. I am also looking for something that will appeal to the particular age group I have coming into the computer lab that week.

Programming of the site is crucial. There have been times I have not used a site that I thought would be good because the layout was not effective. Some are quite professional, some may have a max web design, others are not so effective.

Cooking And Cleaning

As my wife and I prepare for the Seder and are busy cleaning the house and getting everything set, the parody of the song My Favorite Things, keeps going through my head.

A few years ago I actually put my own Passover Hagadah together. In addition to all the traditional parts, I included some extra readings, interpretations and silly ‘stuff’. Some of the silly stuff includes various songs.

As I said, this one is sung to the tune of My favorite Things. It starts:

“Cooking and cleaning and so many dishes; Out with the chametz, no pasta, no knishes;
Fish that’s gefilted, horseradish that stings; these are a few of our Passover things.”

There is, of course, more, but I do not have the words in front of me right now. What is amazing is how much material you can find on the internet for people of all ages. It actually is worth it to take a moment and go through the material and find one or two things that will make the Seder meaningful to you and your guests. Yes, it is a little extra work, although depending on how far you want to go, it does not have to be that much work. Still, it can help to make the Seder more meaningful to everyone who is there, children, adults, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Wishing everyone a Happy Passover!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jewish Wisdom

I am currently reading a book about Jewish Wisdom with my son. The book deals with folklore (some may be accurate) about situation famous Jews have been in where there life has been in danger and how they were able to get out of the situation using peaceful methods.

My son has asked a seemingly innocent question about why these people could not just have called the police. Certainly you would think with all the law enforcement agencies, with the various images that are projected, often through what people wear, such as 5.11 gear that protections have always been offered to those in need.

I honestly hope that my son will still be this idealistic in another ten to twenty years.

You're Right And You're Right And You're Right Too

I recently read an opinion piece on line about the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The author talked about what a moving experience it was and that the Museum was well done. Having been there, I agree. Still, I thought about an attitude my father, Z’’L used to have.

My father, who had taught college classes on the Holocaust and understood the importance of teaching the subject, also felt we needed to offer more. He objected to those people who would argue ‘We need to be Jewish because of all the suffering and persecution other Jews have endured.’ My father felt that was a terrible message to send. When Judaism has so much to offer, so much excitement, the best we can do is tell people to be Jewish because other people were persecuted. Is the message that maybe ‘You too can be persecuted?’

My Dad felt that when it came to the Holocaust, or any other chapter dealing with the Persecution of Jews, it should be taught, but it should only be one aspect. Museums that deal with this subject need to include exhibits about ‘Living Judaism’ and how it is practiced today and the fun and excitement it offers. He claimed that there were excellent examples of such Museums in New York City.

I guess you can put me in the Teyve category of “You’re right and you’re right and you’re right too”. I think that perhaps the most powerful message that can be sent about the Holocaust is when a museum deals only with the Holocaust. Still, I think it is important that people today understand not only about the tragedies but about the joys of being Jewish. So, how can they both be right? In the words of Tevye, “You know, you’re right too!”

Seder Length

As the Passover Seder approaches, I have been spending time looking through the Haggadah and deciding what I want to add to the Seder and what I want to skip, and everything in between. Perhaps like many people running a Seder, I have a challenge in terms of how long I go as people will want to get to the meal. In addition, dealing with certain medical issues, it is imperative that some people eat at a particular time.

What has worked well for me over the years is to tell me when we start that we will be at the meal by a certain time, or in a certain amount of time, such as within an hour to an hour-and-a-half. When my son was younger, I used to ask him to help me by chiming like a grandfather clock every 15 minutes so I had an idea of where I was at. He did and it was a good way to keep a four or five year old interested in the service.

I am tempted to move the wall clock in our kitchen to the Seder area this year. It was a beautiful clock my parents had hanging in their kitchen which, after they passed away, I claimed for my own. It would be one way to still ‘have them at my Seder’. The problem with moving it now is, I think it will invite people to keep an eye on the time too closely. I think this year I’ll make the announcement about the time frame but I won’t do anything in terms of having visible clocks nearby. Those who want to track the time will just have to rely on their own watches and will hopefully do it nonchalantly.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Non-Jews At The Seder

As we are getting ready for Passover, it occurred to me that while we will be having a number of guests coming to our Seder, few people are Jewish. My Mother-in-law will be there, she is Jewish. My Brother-in-law will be there and he is Jewish also, although his wife is not and then, certainly according to Jewish Law, neither is their daughter. The remaining seven people are not Jewish.

From my wife’s perspective this is fine, if not great. It gives us the opportunity to share our practices with other people from other religions. I always enjoy sharing religion and culture with others and learning about their religion, but part of me also likes the idea of being able to experience Jewish experiences with other Jews.

Traditionally Passover is actually not considered the Jewish Holiday for inviting non-Jews; that distinction belongs to Rosh Hashanah as it is the birthday of the world, meaning a holiday for everyone to share. Still, in practice, Passover has become a traditional time to invite non-Jews.

As I said, I am pleased and proud to share the Seder table with people who are not Jewish. Still, to me, the Seder is not just an eating experience but a religious service and ceremony, a religious experience. As a result, I would enjoy sharing the Seder with others who felt that way, with others who would want to talk about their understandings of Passover, as discussion is very much a key element of the Seder.

For now I will enjoy sharing the Seder with those who are coming but for future years I would like to make sure that we have some individuals as well who understand Passover and are interested in talking about the Holiday and the Seder.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Coming Home Early

My son requested that I try to come home early today. Why did he want me home early? It was not to play or go outside or get him something. He wanted me home so we could go through the Haggadah and practice.

This, as far as I am concerned, indicated two things to me. The first is that Passover is rapidly approaching and it is definitely time to start getting ready. The second was how fortunate I am. Teaching at a religious school and seeing the attitude of school age children, it is quite rewarding that my son is interested in practicing, in reading the Haggadah. He has already informed me that he wants to lead various parts of the Seder.

So, it is time to dig out the Haggadahs (which is easier said than done since we moved into our house between last year’s Seder and the one that will be occurring this year and I am not sure where they are), and begin practicing the Four Questions and other parts of the Seder with my son. I am definitely looking forward to it and I love the fact that, for my son, the holiday is not just about Shulhan U’Ruach (The Seder meal) but about an entire religious experience.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Assessment Tests

Yesterday at the Hebrew school where I teach, the students were given an assessment test. It is basically the same test given to all the students in the school, third grade through sixth grade, to see what they know, what they have learned and their weaknesses.

I was helping out in one of the classrooms yesterday and I was talking with the teacher before class got started. She indicated that she thought this was poor timing for the test but understood that it has to be done within the next couple of weeks before the Passover break. She also indicated that she felt at one time it was too confusing and now it was watered down as they were only asking the students to identify 10 different letters to get a feel on how well they knew the entire Hebrew alphabet.

I came at this from a slightly different point of view. I asked the teacher if the test was going to tell her anything she did not already know about the students. She thought for a moment and acknowledged it would not. I understand the need for tests and assessments. I understand the need to have a measuring stick. Still, I think, in this case, where the teachers should know their kids, it is unnecessary.

I guess it does give the office a supposedly objective measure so they can check up on both students and teachers but I am not convinced, in this case, it is necessary or even a good thing.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Holocaust

Yesterday in the computer lab at the religious school where I teach I found a reaction both rewarding and disturbing at the same time. It was seventh and eighth graders that came into the lab. The teacher had actually been discussing hatred of Jews with them over the past few weeks. He wanted them to go to sites that preached Jewish hatred so they could see what others were saying.

I actually liked this assignment as it gives people a chance to see the lies that are told, the hatred that exists and how, this is something that is preached about all Jews, even those who do not identify with the religion. One problem we ran into is, not surprisingly, a number of these sites were blocked. I was able to find a few sites they could get to and we also had the students examine those sites that look to expose sites that preach hatred and prejudices.

One of the sites we were able to get to was one which claimed the Holocaust was a Jewish hoax and never really happened. The sites did show some of the images from the Holocaust. I still have not exactly figured out why a site claiming the Holocaust is fictional would include actual images but that is a topic for another time. A number of the students were reading the information and using a hand to cover up the images on the computer screen. Reading the words was fine, seeing the pictures was not.

I found it gratifying that 12, 13 and 14 year olds would find this disturbing, that it would bother them to the extent that it did. Sometimes we become so desensitized to such images it is a shame. It was, in an awkward sense, a positive experience.

On the other hand, I found it depressing that many of these students had never seen images from the Holocaust and some did not even know what it was. There was a time that no one could have started seventh grade having been that sheltered from this tragic episode of Jewish history. I think it is unfortunate that children this old are still being sheltered from the information and pictures. We must continue to be bothered by this but we must continue to make sure we are educating today’s students about these events.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Parents Expectations

My son has started playing the viola this year. He enjoys it but, quite honestly, he is not very good. Obviously, he has recently started so I am not expected great things from him (at least not yet). Still, there is another problem. He does not want to practice. This does not mean he does not want to play the instrument; he just wants to be able to pick it up when it is time to play and dazzle everyone without having but the time and effort into it.

I actually understand this. When I was younger, I played trombone. The same could be said of me. I wanted to play and play well but I did not want to spend time, or waste time, practicing.

As a parent, I try to urge my son to practice and put the necessary time in. It has just as much of an impact on him as it did on me when my parents used to make the same argument. But, what happens when parents have the same expectations as children, that they should be able to avoid practicing and just pick up an instrument when they want and play like a professional?

This past week I was at a teachers’ meeting for the Hebrew school where I teach. The discussion ultimately came to what parents expect us to teach their children. Of course, each parent is going to have a different feeling about this. Still, it occurred to me that the parents, in large part, want the same thing as their children.

The children come in to Hebrew school and tell you they do not want to be there. They are only in class for three-and-a-half to four hours a week. They do not want to have to pay attention. They want to be able to talk with their friends. They do not want to do any work at home but they want to leave being able to speak and read Hebrew fluently. The parents seem to think this is a fair expectation. I have heard some parents tell teachers “It is only Hebrew school,” or ask “Why did you separate my child from her friend, they just want to be able to talk”. Still, those parents do not understand why, when their child comes home why s/he is unable to speak fluently.

In addition, the parents want to avoid doing anything in the home to help this education. They want to have someone baby sit their child and be the surrogate for teaching Hebrew and Judaism, giving the child a Jewish identity. Again, it does not work like that. What is taught at Hebrew School must be reinforced at home.

I am not sure what the solution to the problem is, or if you will ever be able to solve it but borrowing a concept from Perkei Avot (although making some modifications to make my point), “Just because you will not solve the problem, it does not exempt you from trying and discussing it”. By the way, I believe the actual quote from Perkei Avot is, “Just because you will not finish the job, you are not exempt from starting it”.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Disrespectful Students

I find students who refuse to learn particularly aggravating and annoying. In the Hebrew school where I teach, we started teaching about Passover. I know that the students have heard this numerous times and think it is boring, but the truth is this is fascinating stuff and arguably applies to us more in today’s times than in years gone by.

Passover, more than any other holiday in the Jewish religion reflects the current time. Things have been added to the Haggadah (The Passover story) due to the things that were going on at a particular time in history. The story is about going from degradation to affirmation. That is something that we have all experienced at one time or another.

It does not need to be a religious event we are talking about. Simply the fact of being able to overcome adversity speaks to us and deals with the Passover theme. Unfortunately what I saw today were students who simply decided this was boring and did not give the teacher a chance. In addition, I saw students who were simply rude and obnoxious to the teacher.

In order to make it interesting, the students need to at least care a little bit. Today, I did not see this take place.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cults Revisited

I was reviewing some comments left on some of my blog posts earlier today. Somehow, some of these comments escaped me and I ended up reading them for the first time today. An interesting set of comments had to do with cults. I have been accused of being closed minded, admitting to it and feeling that only my view should be voiced.

These comments bring to mind a number of reactions. First of all, I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, probably stronger than anyone who left a comment suggest I was intolerant of a point of view other than my own. I actually am an absolutist when it comes to the First Amendment, a position the Supreme Court as a whole has NEVER accepted. That being said, if I am sponsoring an event, DO NOT expect me to give air time to points of view that are dangerous.

Recently, the Fire Department held a seminar about fire safety where I live. Those biased individuals refused to give my friends who are pyromaniacs and arsonists an opportunity to voice the opposition to fire safety. How dare they prohibit the opposing viewpoint from being offered.

After I left the seminar on fire safety, I went to hear a speaker talk about the importance of the Church in today’s society. There was someone in attendance who was heckling the speaker and urging everyone to pick up a copy of the New Testament and set it on fire, leaving it next to the lit candles in the church. Can you believe the audacity of the church? Not only did they not give this person a chance to voice the opposition, they actually had the person removed.

As stated in my response to the initial comment in the previous post, when schools bring in police officers to talk about staying away from strangers, they somehow forget to invite a kidnapper in to urge the children to talk to strangers and take rides with people they do not know.

Obviously, there are times when it is unacceptable to voice the opposing side of an argument, especially if you are the sponsoring group. I have ALWAYS taught my son that we need to be respectful of people and their religious beliefs (Does that include Satanic Worship as well, which is also an organized form of religious belief). I have taught him that we should enjoy watching people enjoy their religion. I want and expect the same courtesy in return. When organizations like Jews-For-Jesus and others openly try to proselytize, when certain cults look to remove people from their families and force their ideas of values and religion down the throats of those people who have been kidnapped and/or brained washed, that is not showing the same courtesy.

Make no mistake about it. Jews for Jesus is a dangerous cult that looks to confuse people, not show them the light. Do not expect me to offer them a forum to preach their dangerous beliefs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Amalek Lives!

I am not so naïve as to suggest that anti-Semitism does not exist; I know it does. Still, sometimes something happens that just drives the point home as to home strong it is.

A few days ago I was working on putting a lesson plan together for Hebrew school. I was on the internet and entered a few key words dealing with famous Jews. A number of sites came up as a result of my search, many that were usable. There was also one site that came up that was basically a site promoting anti-Semitism.

As I said before, I know it exists, and I know such websites exist. Still, when you come across one and read the misinformation and lies on the site, it is amazing. It basically look to perpetuate every negative myth and stereotype about Jews. All Jews are rich it proclaims and Jews control the world’s money. It brought to mind an old Archie Bunker line from All in the Family where Mike (The son-in-law) says, “Not all Jews have money,” and Archie responds, “I’ve never meet one who doesn’t”.

The difference of course is, while many people took him seriously, Archie Bunker was a character designed to show just how foolish such opinions were and how ignorant people were who had this belief. Years ago when I worked in the Bible Belt, a co-worker (who had never come across Jew in his life) commented that I was nothing like what he imagined based from the stereotypes and he wanted to know how they got started.

The site goes on to say that Jews are liars and cheaters. It goes so far as to praise Hitler for trying to fix the problem of the Jews. It is scary to see such hatred and ignorance.

We have just finished reading the story of Purim. I would like to believe we have come a long way. Unfortunately we haven’t. Amalek still lives!

Friday, March 21, 2008

No Basis In History

I had always assumed, since Purim was a post-Biblical holiday, one could find historic references to the holiday. Having done some LIMITED research on the internet today, I was fascinated to find that there really is not any recorded reference to the events outside of the Magilah.

It all started when I went to shul (services) this morning to hear the Magilah reading. After services I stayed for a little breakfast and conversation. One of the people talked about what a ‘Nice story’ this is and while it is looking to teach us a lesson, it has no basis in fact. I argued that it did, again making the claim that as a post-Biblical holiday, of course you can find reference to at least some of the events.

“Where,” asked my friend and I told him I would look it up. “You do that,” he responded.

I then set out to do my research via the internet. What I was able to find was that King Ahashvarush, whom we read about in the Magilah, is believed to be Xerxes. There apparently is no mention of Vashti (The queen that King Ahashhvarush banishes) or of Esther, the woman he picks to be his new queen and the one who ultimately saves the Jews.

Apparently most people believe the story of Esther to be ‘historic fiction’. Certainly religion requires a certain amount of faith. People can believe without having a basis in fact or in history. Still, I just found it interesting that there was not historic writings outside of the Megilah to back up, at least some of the facts, of the Purim story.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Tonight begins the holiday of Purim. It is a lot of fun and it is one of the non-Biblical holidays. The story takes place in Persia where the wicked Haman, an advisor to the King, King Ahashvarush, devised a plot to kill all the Jews because one Jew, Mordechai, refused to bowed down to the advisor.

Through a series of unlikely events, the King needs a new Queen and holds a pageant, Esther, a Jew, is chosen. She hides the fact that she is Jewish from Ahashvarush until she feels the time is right. She and Mordechai ultimately save the entire Jewish people and it is Haman who ends up being hung on the gallows he had built to use for hanging Mordechai and other Jews.

The holiday is actually a fun holiday. It involves dressing up in costumes, having parties, putting on silly plays, eating and drinking. My father used to refer to this as the Jewish equivalent of Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the last time to get silly before Christians get serious for the upcoming holiday of Easter. Purim is the last time to get silly before Jews get serious about the upcoming holiday of Passover.

The customs of the holiday of Purim include giving money to the poor, giving gifts of food to others (M’shaloach Manot), hearing the Magilah (the story of Purim) read in the evening and then again in the morning, and getting so drunk you do not know the difference between the phrases “Blessed is Mordechai” (The hero) and “Cursed is Haman” (The villain). In Hebrew the term is Adloyadah, or ad d’lo yadah and translates to ‘Until you don’t know the difference’.

While this is a fun holiday and one in which many do drink, it is important to consider why this is a commandment. The idea is on Purim, many things are hidden. G-d is not even mentioned in the Magilah, the story of Purim. Still, with the way things happened, it is a foregone conclusion that G-d played a major role in the miracle.

You are probably wondering how this has anything to do with drinking. When we appear before a ruler or someone whom it is important we make a good impression, we are on our best behavior. Often times we ‘hide’ those things we don’t want others to see. Certainly if it is important to make a good impression on some people in society, it is even more important to make a good impression on G-d. This we might try to ‘hide’ certain faults we have. When we drink, we have less control over our behavior and actions. It becomes harder for us to ‘hide’ things and G-d has an opportunity to judge us not at our best, but arguably at our worst.

Regardless of what you believe or want to believe, the bottom line is the holiday is a lot of fun and a time to enjoy. And, as dad would point out, once the holiday is over, it is time to get serious and begin our Passover preparations.

I wish one and all a Happy and Frailach Purim!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Megilah

Tomorrow night starts the holiday of Purim. While most people are not familiar with the holiday, it is a fun holiday. Being that it is post Biblical, there are not THAT many laws associated with it and, of course, all the laws that are associated with it are from the Rabbis and not from G-d.

One of the laws associated with the holiday is to hear the reading of the Megilah, the scroll that contains the story of Purim. One is supposed to hear it twice, once at night and once the following morning. I had been concerned as to how I would get to a reading this year. I teach an Evening class on Thursdays until 9PM so it would not be feasible to get to a reading. On Friday morning, I have another class I teach that is about an hour away. While I could probably get to a reading in the morning, it would be cutting things close.

Then I looked at the College schedule and learned that I had this week off from teaching. It is Spring break. I am not surprised that they had the bring coincide with Good Friday (no Jews in the area of the college).

Yesterday I indicated that I like it when Easter and Passover fall in close proximity to each other. I still feel that way. With my current teaching schedule, however, the way that it is, this works well for me, having Purim and Easter fall in close proximity. I can now get to a reading on both days.

I expect to talk more about the holiday of Purim and the laws associated with it in tomorrow’s post but for now I will just wish all of those who celebrate the holiday a Happy Purim and I will rejoice in the fact that I will be able to partake in the festivities.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passover And Easter

This year is one of those rare times that Easter Sunday does not fall right around Passover. I, for one, am a little disappointed.

Everyone always takes time to discuss how Chanukah and Christmas are similar. Really they are not, they are very different holidays. Passover and Easter, on the other hand, truly do have a lot of similarities and I think when the holidays fall close together, it allows more people to focus on those similarities.

Now, while I say the holidays are similar, obviously they have their differences; they commemorate different things. Still both are Spring holidays, holidays of renewal and rebirth, and that is no accident. Easter commemorates the renewal of life as the belief is that is the day their lord rose from the dead. Passover, however, also is about renewal. Up until this holiday the Jews were slaves and had not gained an identity as a religion. That does not come until the Jews leave Egypt and gain their freedom. The Jewish people, then, are being reborn.

Now, I have yet to figure out how the actual date of Easter is calculated. Since the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, Easter logically should fall during the holiday of Passover. Since Easter is pushed to a Sunday, it should be the Sunday in Passover. Frequently that happens, but not always. Then there are cases like this year where the holidays are a month apart.

Still, I think it is important to appreciate the difference amongst the religions as well as the similarities.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Be Kind To Animals

One of the Jewish concepts that I like is the need to be kind to animals. There is a belief that if you own animals you are supposed to feed them before you sit down to eat yourself. Now if you own a pet or two, it is one thing but if you work on a farm or take care of animals in a barn, it is quite another.

I like the concept because it teaches that we not only have an obligation to human beings but to ALL creatures. Still, when I became a parent a number of years ago, I did not realize I would be hosting a zoo in my house. My son has a lot of stuffed animals and when I walk into his room, it feels like I am walking into a zoo.

This week, there are actually two zoos in the house. My niece is up visiting and she travels with her stuff animals. As I walked past where she is staying, it felt like I was passing another zoo as all her animals were spread out over the bed.

The truth is, stuffed animals can help to teach children about responsibility. And, since a number of my son’s stuffed animals are Webkinz, that too can help teach lessons about responsibility and caring. I realize that it can take a lot of time and can be annoying. Still, after the pets are registered, you have to go to the website to make sure they are virtually fed and virtually played with. The animals also need to be taken to the vet, looked after and they need to receive a lot of TLC.

By doing all this, the child learns about caring for others, for animals (and maybe even for people). Yes, homework comes first. Yes, my son does not need to be on the computer all the time, but when he is, I feel he learns some good values from this website, and some good values that, while the people who run the website may not know, tie into Judaism.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Stranger Among Us

Every Saturday in Shul, towards the end of services, the Rabbi starts his announcements by saying, “if you are a member here and you see someone you don’t recognize, introduce yourself. “

I think this is a nice touch. I know when my father (Z’’L) came to visit, he often commented that he felt the shul I went to was very cold as no one would come up and wish him “Good Shabbos”. This was before the new Rabbi was there. I confess, I tend to be a shy individual and prefer sticking with my friends. When it comes to faces, if it is someone I don’t know, I am not particularly great remembering them and if I have seen them before. Still, I try. I know what a difference it can make.

I have always tried to make it a point that when I work somewhere, if someone new starts, I try to go up to him or her, introduce myself and say, “welcome”. Again, I am not the most comfortable doing this but I know it means a lot to people.

When I left a job to go back to school, the people I worked with came up to say goodbye and wish me well (not surprisingly). One person told me how he remembered how I was the first one to come up to him and welcome him and how that made him feel at home. I did not even remember this. I know, however, whenever I have started a new job, it is often times difficult and appreciated when people come up to me.

I recall another instance where I was at a meeting and I introduced myself to a guest and talked to this person. A couple of years later that person came to a meeting again. He found me. I did not even recall this individual. Still, he remembered me and told me how grateful he was that I cam over and introduced myself and explained some things that were happening during the meeting.

So, if we do it at work, at meeting places, school, etc., then certainly it makes sense to go up to people we do not recognize at shul and welcome them and introduce ourselves. The camaraderie aspect is important. Often times people of larger synagogues tend to forget this. New people and visitors stick out at smaller synagogues. Still, one way to keep a larger shul healthy, vibrant and remaining large, is to welcome new people.

The Rabbi is right and we should remember to always try and introduce ourselves to the stranger in our midst.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Snow Day

Last Sunday, I got the day off from teaching in the computer lab. I enjoyed having a day off from Religious School. Even though I enjoy working there, it was nice to have a day off. What was even nicer was, the call was made Saturday night. As a result, I got a call in the evening that I did not need to be in come the next morning.

As it turned out, I had been falling behind on getting my lesson plans together. I knew what the instructor who was bringing his kids to the lab wanted me to cover, but I just had not had a chance to search the web, find my links, and have everything put together. As luck would have it, just as I sat down at the computer to work on this was when the call came in. Not only did I get a day off, because I had procrastinated (or honestly, just been so busy), I did not even have to put anytime into working on a lesson that ultimately would never be used anyway.

Now, I am feeling a little guilty. This week, once again, has been hectic. It will probably be Saturday night when I sit down to my computer to get my lesson plan together. Once again, my day jobs have just been piling up work and I have been taking a lot of it home. It feels like I am just barely getting it done on time, but I am getting it done!

I know this Sunday we will not be having another storm. I will be showing up to the synagogue’s computer lab and I will need to have a lesson plan ready to go. It looks like once again, it will be waiting until the last minute.

Fortunately I have a number of effective websites in my files and the kids seem to enjoy them. Still, I hope to stop this last minute stuff and be able to spend some more time getting everything together.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Three Torahs

Like many other people, I enjoy watching rare events. I remember, as a child, being able to stay up late, or get up early, to see certain eclipses, because they were so rare. Then something rare in sports happens, it is a thrill to watch because you know you won’t see it every day.

I like to see that same excitement transferred to religion, to Judaism. Periodically, throughout the year, we read from two different Torahs (two different scrolls that contain the written laws, the Five Books of Moses). Reading from three Torahs, however, is truly uncommon.

We read from three Torahs on Simchat Torah as we read the last portion of the fifth book from one Torah, the first portion from the first book from the next Torah and a special Maftir, special additional reading (which usually is just repeating the last part of what is read). This is the only time during the year when it is guaranteed you will be reading from three Torahs. The other times may or may not happen during the year.

If, for instance, Shabbat Channukah happens to also be Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month, we read from three Torahs. You read one Torah for Shabbat, one for Channukah and one for Rosh Hodesh. You also read three Torahs when it is Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh and Parchat HaHodesh (the first Shabbat in the month of Nissan).

We also read from three Torahs, as we did this past Shabbat, if it is Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh and Shabbat Sh’kalim (the first of four special Shabbats that take place before Passover). By the way it is impossible for three Torahs to be read on Shabbat Sh’Kalim and Shabbat HaHodesh of the same year and it is possible that none of the three events happen in a year.

My son, whose age is still in single digits, is fascinated when we read three Torahs and specifically looks forward to it. I think that is the kind of excitement we want to instill in our youngsters. Make them excited about coming to services.

Friday, March 7, 2008


It is fascinating to find out what is on the minds of fifth and sixth graders. During the week I do some tutoring over at a religious institution This past week, I was with fifth and sixth graders. One of the assignments they had to do was to work in groups, pick a prayer and talk about the meaning of that prayer. For this assignment, it was not to actually talking about the meaning of the prayer but rather what the prayer meant to them.

Some of the students just were not into the type of assignment. Many of them, however, were interested and excited. Some of the students were poetic in there presentation. Some of them had some deep philosophical understandings of the prayers.

While I believe it is important to get students to shul, often times one of the problems is they do not understand the Hebrew prayers (This can be true of many adults as well). Usually it is due to the fact that people don’t bother to look at the translation of the prayer but sometimes it can occur because the English translation is not very good.

Taking a moment to actually stop and consider what you are saying when reciting prayers is, I think, a great idea. I think it makes a lot of sense for kids and it makes a lot of sense for adults. It can helps us have a better understanding of… A Jewish Thought!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Years ago, when I moved to a new area and joined a synagogue, I became friendly with the Rabbi. As the High Holidays rolled around, the Rabbi told me I should make sure that I was sitting next to people my own age, so I would have someone to talk to.

“Rabbi,” I said, “You want that during your sermon and during the davening (praying), I should be talking instead of concentrating on the prayers”?

The Rabbi smiled and said, “Whether or not you talk, I am still going to bang on my lectern for quiet”.

The Rabbi understood the importance of socializing. Yes prayer is important, but so is making friends and talking to others. This is why the Jewish service is different from other religions; there is talking going on throughout the service. It can be distracting, but it is important.

Consider, for a moment, the number of youth groups that religious organizations have. There are social groups for older members as well, but things are provided for the members.

My synagogue has two youth groups that cover people from age 12-18. Now, they are looking at starting a pre-youth group for members younger than 12. I do not know if it will work, but I certainly understand the importance. Children of all ages must be shown that we feel they are important. They must know that showing up to religious services is not only spiritually uplifting (although they may not see that yet), but it is a social occasion to be enjoyed as well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Roll With It

Teaching in the computer lab is a lot of fun, but at times can be a little difficult. I enjoy working with the different teachers and doing different things. Coming up with websites that deal with Judaism, are age appropriate and deal with the material the teacher is covering is a challenge and a thrill.

Most of the time, it is the same teacher bringing each of three classes to the lab. The same lesson works for all three classes since the material covered from one class to the next is the same and the ages of the students are the same. For the younger kids, it can be a little trickier, however, because there are different teachers and each one only brings in one class.

Yesterday I had two kindergarten teachers and one pre-K teacher come to the lab. The kindergarten teachers decided they would like me to do something on Purim. I was able to find some fun websites, games, and videos related to the topic. The Pre-K teacher was teaching about Noah and the ark and asked for me to focus on that, which I gladly did.

The interesting part was, after the pre-K kids left, I still had that lesson plan open on the computer. The substitute, who brought the first group of Kindergarteners down asked if the Noah sites were age appropriate, since she was teaching about Noah yesterday. The second kindergarten teacher also ended up using some of those sites, as Noah and the Ark was being covered by this teacher too.

I have no objections to changing things on the fly. In the words of Steve Windwood, “Roll with it”. I truly am fine with that. It is just that it would have made things a little easier if I only had to do one lesson plan instead of three.

Oh well, at least I enjoyed looking over the website. A Jewish Thought is good for the computer teacher as well and every time I look at these sites, even if I have used them before, I learn something new.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


It has been awhile since I have posted an entry. I’d like to be able to give a good excuse as to why it has been so long. Unfortunately, honestly it has just been the hecticness and craziness of life that has prevented me from posting. I am hoping to be posting on a more regular basis.

I recently finished reading an interesting book—Gilgamesh. I was reading a new translation but what makes this book so fascinating is, historically it is the oldest book that is known to the human race, predating the Bible by about 1000 years. I say historically it is the oldest because when it comes to a matter of faith, most of us (myself included) are willing to forgo certain aspects of common sense. For those who believe the Bible is G-d’s account, it will not matter that historians consider Gilgamesh to be older than the Bible.

What is fascinating about this story are some of the similarities between it and the Bible. You can actually find a number but the most obvious one is the story of a flood. The gods create a flood that destroys the entire world, accept for one man (who overhears the plot). This man, Odnapishtim, is told to build an ark and take one of every known animal on the ark.

Once that happens, it rains for seven days and nights. After the rains stop, Odnapishtim sends out a dove to try and find dry land. The dove is unsuccessful. Later, a swallow is sent out and it, too, returns. Finally a raven is sent out and it does not return.

Most of the gods are upset that they decided to create such a terrible flood; one is not. I am not quite sure why but, in order to make things right, the god who is angry grants Odnapishtim eternal life and makes him a god. I guess this way he can claim that the flood did destroy all humanity.

There are of course differences between this story and that of Noah. Still, there are a lot of similarities. If you believe that this story is older than the Bible, than it raises all sorts of news questions about the flood. If you do not, it still would suggest that we have historical knowledge about a very damaging flood.

Either way, I found the book very interesting and was fascinated by some of the similarities to the Bible (with, or course, a lot of differences).

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Great Learning Experience

Last week was a positive experience. My son read Torah and did very well. He enjoyed it very much. I played the part of the proud father, but was truly very proud. After services, when son went up to the person who leads Junior Congregation (services for kids) and asked when the next time was that he could read.

The person who leads Junior Congregation is also my son’s Hebrew school teacher this year. On Sunday, the day after my son had read, she announced that the person who was supposed to read this week had called her to cancel. The teacher asked if any of her students were interested in reading on short notice.

Guess whose hand shot up? That’s right. My son, who had over six weeks to prepare what he had read previously (this was the first available date), was willing to read with less than a week’s practice.

We have been working hard. He will not be reading as much as he did last time and he probably will not be as smooth as he was last time, but that is okay. He is enjoying putting the time and effort in. This has been a great learning experience and hopefully he will continue to want to read Torah. Hopefully he will be able, if need be, to put a reading together with little time.

I was proud last week and I am sure I will be proud this week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


My son is still a few years away from his Bar Mitzvah. Still, he will be reading Torah this coming Shabbat. In Junior Congregation, the leader offers the kids a chance to read and my son is reading this coming week and he is excited.

They do not read from the Torah. They just read a few lines (she tells the kids they can do anywhere from one to five). They are reading with vowels and not chanting it, but it does not matter. If the average kid is anything like my son, they get very excited and put time and effort in. This is a good habit to get them into.

My son has been practicing for a few weeks and he is insistent that he will be reading all five lines. I have been working with him and he has definitely been hard at work. He has done well but the past few days, it seems like it is all coming together for him. He has picked up speed and is reading with some vocal variety. He sounds good and he is enjoying reading. I, too, am enjoying working with him and hearing him read and seeing it all come together.

My son is already talking about the next time he can read. Me, I am just Kvelling!