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.