Friday, December 29, 2006

When all the nations of the world recognize...

YouTube is a tremendous time waster, but every once in a while, you come across a gem. Here is a PS22 Choir singing 'Esa Einai El' HeHarim - I life my eyes up to the heavens' From Psalm 121. As all Jews do, I get a tremendous kick when people of other ethnicities sing in Hebrew.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Daf Yomi vs. Brain Age

For years, video game console makers like Nintendo, Sony, Sega and Microsoft have been trying to convince moms and dads around the world to by their gaming systems for their children. However, with its DS portable gaming console, Nintendo has tried to show that fun and games aren't just for Junior.

One of the games that Nintendo is promoting is called 'BrainAge'. This game asks you to perform certain puzzles, riddles, and other tasks that are designed to judge your brain's 'Age'. It then provides you with additional tasks to help you train your brain to lower its age. While this game has received a lot of press, it seems that it is not alone in the new 'brain training' phase. For example, O'Reilly has two books in its 'Hacks' series: Mind Hacks
and Mind Performance Hacks, that are designed to do just the same thing, and unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you will have noticed that many newspapers are now carrying a Daily Sudoku Puzzle. People want to think better and faster and be super stimulated.

While there is no proof that these things truly work, the associated exercises can definitely help stimulate the mind. However, while all of the aforementioned methods are relatively new things, there is another method that I use that is over 80 years old, and has much greater fringe benefits than any of these methods - it's called Daf Yomi. Originally started as way to give working Jews a chance to learn a set amount of the Talmud on a daily basis, those who study Daf Yomi (such as myself) a required to learn a folio (two pages, as based on the Vilna edition of the Talmud) of the Talmud a day. Completing the 2700+ folios in the talmud takes just under 7 and a half years.

While this was not originally conjured up as a 'brain performance tool', but rather as a means to get Jews to study Jewish law, study the logic of the Talmud keeps one sharp - no matter what you do in business. You see, the Talmud doesn't just state the laws, but also records and reviews the arguments leading to the establishment of the laws. Sometimes, just following the logic is enough to drive you mad. But in deciphering this logic and the logical rules (for example, the Kal V'Chomer a.k.a Fortiori) can help keep your brain sharp and lower your 'Brain Age' too.

It's amazing, as soon as a started studying Daf Yomi in the past few months, I already managed to notice several times at work where the logic I studied in the Talmud crept its way in to solving work problems.

So you can go out and by Brain Age if you will, but as for me, I am sticking with Daf Yomi. While the Nintendo DS and Brain Age may not be around in 7 more years, Daf Yomi will, and it will never get tired, as no two days are alike within a 7 year span.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December Display Debacles

It seems that in almost every year in recent memory, there has been some sort of debate regarding a December Holiday Display or activity of one sort or another. There are many sides to these debates - Jews who are denied the right to put up a menorah on public property, or (specifically so this year) overzealous government officials who deny any kind of display in the hopes of not excluding anyone (so they exclude everyone - bright idea).

While, by and large, America is a Christian Country, we still need to acknowledge that the American experience has been shaped by a myriad of religions and traditions. 50 years ago, a menorah in a public place was almost unheard of outside of New York. Now, thanks primarily to Chabad, as well as other Jewish organizations, almost any city where even the smallest of communities exists, there is a public menorah as well. While Christmas is still the crux of the Holiday season, Kwanzaa and Chanukah get more and more mentions every year - not just in the media, but in the popular culture as well.

While I've started to ramble, I do have a point, and that is this - let's stop being secular for the sake of secularity. A Christmas tree, in name and indeed, is a religious article (if it was called the Holiday Evergreen, it would be a different story). Let's just light our Menorahs, Trees, and Kwanzaa candles all in the town square and invite our neighbors to participate. And for as long as Ramadan falls out during this time of year*, let's do it at night, so that we can have one big party and invite our Muslim neighbors to break their fast with us.

I don't think anyone will argue that the true spirit of the Holiday season is sharing with our friends and neighbors - so let everyone display their own decorations and let us all explore each others' customs.

*Like the Jewish Calendar, the Islamic Calendar is tied to the phases of the moon, however, unlike the Jewish calendar, which introduces 13-month leap years to synchronize our holidays to seasons and the solar year, the Islamic calendar does not. Therefore, Muslim Holidays shift by a few days each year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why my 2 year old is more powerful than Ahmednijad, Carter and Yisroel Dov Weiss all put together

A couple of weeks back, I found myself browsing the children's section of a local bookstore in our neighborhood, perusing the children's books in search of Chanukah presents for various friends and relatives. I came across a book (unfortunately I can't remember its title) that talked about a classic Chanukah story out of the holocaust. The children in the story find that their grandmother, a prisoner in a concentration camp, once made a Chanukah menorah out of a potato, and used butter as its fuel. The story is both poignant and inspiring - during the most terrible period for Jews in the last 100 years, people were still able to light the light of religious freedom, the spiritual light for the Jewish World. And here we are 60 or so years later and people are holding a conference to deny the very existence of the holocaust. If it were only Mohammed Ahemadnijad, who was there, it would not surprise me. If it were only anti-semites and neo-nazis who were in this room, it would still not surprise me, but what surprised me, is Yisroel Dov Weiss. (He would prefer you call him Rabbi, but even if he has truly earned that honorific, the very thought of his attendance at such a confluence of falsehood is enough reason to not even offer him as much respect as 'Mr.' - in fact I will call him Srulik - a diminutive form of Yisroel, because he isn't more than a little man).

How does Srulik justify his presence at this conference? How does a so-called Jew even gather up the chutzpah to even get on a plane - to IRAN no less - to lend even an air of credibility to something like this. Fear not dear Srulik, for you are nothing compared to my son. You see, on Friday night, my two-year old son, lit the menorah for the first time. I held my hand over his to guide the shamash as we recited the blessings over the menorah. She-asah Nisim La'avotainu Bayamim Haheym Ba'Zeman Ha'Zeh - Bless are you G-d .... who performed miracles for our ancestors in their days at this time [of year].

I look around the world and see that Jews aren't the world's best friend. Jimmy Carter's new book, Peace not Apartheid is a best seller. Ironically it comes from a man who wouldn't know what apartheid was if it slapped him in the face (maybe he should ask his daughter Amy). And of course, the failed war in Lebanon didn't win us any new friends either. In the wake of all of that's going on, things seemed a little gloomy for us Jews.

And then my sons lit their menorahs.

The world has been full of Carters, Ahamednijads and unfortunately, Srulik Weisses for many years, and it will still be for many years to come. But on Chanukah, we remind ourselves of G-d's eternal promise to the Jews - that as long as we stick to the basics, and do G-d's will, a small group of righteous Jews will always prevail against whatever villains come to taunt us, and try to sway world opinion against us.

Those 'Potato' menorahs were one of the many examples of how the light of Judaism still burned brightly while Six million Jews perished. And 60+ years later, those lights are now being kindled by the next generation, and hopefully for the next 300 generations. The Assyrians are long gone from the world political scene, and I am sure that, G-d willing, my great-great grandchildren will be lighting menorahs long after Ahamednijad and Carter's contributions to the world would be diminished to a paragraph in their history books. And when that happens, Srulik won't even be remembered at all.

Happy Chanukah.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sports Dad

Okay, so I've said it here several times, and It's worth saying again, I don't want to push my kids towards a goal so that I can live vicariously through them. That being said, I am not following what I've been preaching. I recently decided that I wanted to get my older son into Hockey. So badly so that I went out buying pint size Hockey Equipment for him - a whole year before he'll be old enough to join our local league. (He also has a Judo Gi that almost fits him, but that's for a different blog). 

My own dad wasn't really much of a Hockey player at all (in fact, the only time I remember him holiding a hockey stick was when he wanted us to put it away), but he was a big ice skater. I was on skates at about 3, and I probably struggled a bit until I was six, but I loved being on the ice, and ultimately this transpired into my own love of Ice Skating, In-Line Skating, and Hockey. But there was never a point at which my Dad said - do this.

I want to get him to start skating. I recently got the local parks pass to get me a discount at the municipal rink (an extra incentive to go more often) and I bought him his first pair of skates. He is super excited about them, and can't wait to go skating. I just need to keep telling myself that I will be okay if he doesn't like it, and that I won't keep pushing him if that's the case. Worst case scenario, the skates will hopefully fit his younger brother in a couple of years.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Everything with a Divine Purpose

As a child, I was taught that everything in life has a divine purpose. This is a concept I touch on a lot in various blog postings, and most recently, I pointed this out when talking about the 'Internet Bans' of some Jewish Communities. Obviously, I attempt to seek out the divinity in everything everyday, and this week was no exception.

Over the past few weeks, a friend of mine was pushing me to join Daf Yomi. The last time I tried, about 8 years ago, I was able to stick with it for several months. I was going to a daily morning class, but after several months, I couldn't get to the class any more, and I gave it up.

Seeing that my life is more complicated and busy, I wanted to find a way to better work it into my schedule as to guarantee that I would finish. How nice, I thought to myself, it would be if I could do the daf on my computer on my commute.

Then, last week, I won an iPod in a contest. I also discovered several Podcasts (here's one, and another) of Daf Yomi classes, and even a site where I can find the text of the Talmud.

While I am a few days behind, I have just started to use my iPod to study Daf Yomi on the train. I am sure Steve Jobs will be pleased to note that even the iPod (and not just the Red one) has a divine purpose.

Friday, September 15, 2006

An Option many of us don't have

I found a very intriguing article in Today's Wall Street Journal about how parents are Opting Out of Private School in favor of their local public schools. The article profiles several families around the country, and cites some of the reasoning behind opting out - dramatic jumps in tuition, better chances of getting into elite colleges, and improved scholastics were all reasons cited. However, while in some cases public school is a better option for many, for us in the Orthodox community it is not an option at all. Those of us who are devoutly religious, (and while I speak primarily about Orthodox Jews, this applies to committed Jews of all stripes, as well as Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims who send their children to Parochial schools as well) are not shunning the public schools in our areas, but rather opting-in to provide our children with an immersive experience that teaches them our religious values and morals.
Yes we could theoretically send our kids to a Public School during the daytime, and then to a daily after school Hebrew program, but it doesn't even come close. Sure they will learn the same Math and Science, followed by the same Torah and Talmud, but the subject matter isn't all that permeates the Yeshiva experience. In public school Middot and Chesed (good manners and kindness) aren't necessarily on the curriculum. In a Parochial school, they aren't on the curriculum, they are part and parcel of it. (Before you flame me, I want to point out that I am not naive enough to believe that curriculum alone will produce 'good apples' and that no kid ever came out of a parochial school a terrorist, liar, murder or a jerk).
For religious people like me, religion isn't part of our lives, it is our lives. Everything we do has a divine purpose, and religion and belief are woven into the fabric of our daily existence. If you don't agree with me think about how many times you invoke G-d's name on a daily basis? 'Thank G-d, G-d Forbid, G-d Bless You, and their equivalents in your favorite religious vernacular are commonplace in our lives. Atheists and non-believers might scoff at the idea - what does G-d have to do with it? Of course, the correct answer is everything. And that is why those of us, who understand life in this manner, can't fathom sending our children anywhere else. Because for us, no matter whether they go to Harvard or Hometown Community College, our goal isn't to create an ivy leaguer, but first and foremost to create a proper Jew, and a good person.
So while many others follow this trend and benefit from my tax dollars, I will slave away to ensure that my child gets a proper Jewish Education - both in school and out.

So far, it's been worth every penny.

Friday, September 08, 2006

An Interesting Web Poll

One of the many pet Internet peeves of mine is getting an e-mail asking me to vote in an 'important' poll on some web site. Whether its about Israel, or Net Neutrality, or voting for all stars, I rarely do more than delete the e-mail as soon as I read it. Why, because web polls are nonsense. Bottom line, there is no real way to prevent people from casting multiple votes, and if all of those people who get an e-mail cast 20 votes each, they've already skewed the value of the poll.

Still, I found a very interesting web poll today. The poll, on Iranian President Mohammed Ahamadinejad's Blog (yes, he has one too, which means that blogging has officially peaked) asks the following question:

Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word war? Yes or No

When I last checked, the vote was 81% no! Imagine that, the opposite of what one would expect that the site would show. It's nice to know that there are over 1.6 Million people (check the site) who don't think that Israel is starting WWIII (or at least one person who has a whole lot of time on his hands).

Anti-Semitism Rising? Or Just Poking its Head out of its Hole?

As if the events in Israel over the past few months were not bad enough, this week there seemed to be a lot of indications that Anti-Semitism is on the rise. From incidents in London and Montreal, to the anti-semitic ramblings of internationally acclaimed idiots like Ahamedinjad and Gibson,  it seems that somehow over the past few weeks, the world has gotten a little more Anti-Semitic. Or has it?

Do I think that that Mel Gibson was any more Anti-Semitic when he was pulled over in California than he was when he produced the 'Passion'? Or for that matter, when he starred in Mad Max a quarter of a century ago? And regardless if Mohammed Ahmednijad would be President of Iran or if he would be a simple Engineering Professor at an Iranian University, I don't doubt for a minute that he would still be an Anti-Semite. So what's different now than a year ago? Or five years ago? Answer: The Cojones of Anti-semites and Israel's recent non-successful campaign in Lebanon.

Because of Hezbollah's showing (argue that I am wrong if you will, but anything short of the complete and utter destruction of Hizbollah, translates into a loss for Israel) in the recent conflict, Anti-Semites feel more brazen, as if the Karma of the world makes it easier to take shots at Israel and the Jews, as if G-d is mad at the Jews, so take advantage.

But make no mistake, those feelings didn't surface because of Qana. Those feelings were there before, they are there now, and they will continue to be there for many years to come.

But, despite all of this, I walk with my head held high, because whenever I read about these events, and however frightened I am that my number might be next, I am comforted by the words from the passover Hagaddah:

... and so it was when they (our enemies) stood up against us and our ancestors, for it was not just once - but in every generation that they rose up and tried  to destroy us, but the Holy one, may he be blessed, saved us from their hands.

Maybe this too is just another example of Anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head. Who knows, it might just see its shadow and bring forth the coming of our Moshiach and finally dissapear.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

L'Chaim - to Life

I have been reading so many lies and half-truths about Israel and, not surprisingly there seem to be so many people who feel that the world would be a better place without it. It seems that every liberal and his brother, sister, parents, cousins, etc is quick to criticize Israel.

They not only seem to question Israel's very right to exist, but also question what benefit Israel has given to society. While several e-mails have gone around touting Israel's technical achievments, I wanted to promote some more achievements - mainly on the medical front and the democratic front.

On the medical front, Israeli innovation and research is saving and enriching lives every day. Some of the medical advances in Israel over the past few years include:

  • A swallowable 'pill cam' that a patient digests and can take accurate pictures to help better diagnose gastro-intestinal problems.
  • Israeli researchers re-implanted a frozen embryo back into a woman which she carried to full term and produced a healthy baby girl. What's so special about that? She had been menopausal for two years due to chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. This gives new hope to young women with ovarian cancer that they can be treated and possibly still have kids of their own.
  • Israeli scientists have created the ability to remove or reduce scars using laser therapy. This therapy can also be used to remove cellulite.
  • Israeli researchers are working on a revolutionary new drug that will regrow bone cartilege and soft tissue. This will ultimately make it possible to fix joint injuries without the needs for screws or other materials.
  • Israeli scientists are continually innovating in the areas of agriculture and water treatment and have successfully applied those technologies in Israel and other countries to provide fresh drinking water and grow crops in places where it was previously impossible.
  • Two of the world's largest manufacturers of Genetic Drugs - Taro and Teva - are Israeli companies. These companies help reduce drug costs by producing lower-cost alternatives.
In addition to those significant contributions to bioscience, Israel as a democracy has done some things that even the US hasn't accomplished:

  • It's had a woman Defense Minister before women in the US were even allowed into US service academies
  • It was the second major democratic nation to be led by a woman (Golda Meir was only second to Ghandi).
  • It, to this day, is one of the few militaries in the world that has women in combat positions
  • All citizens of Israel - regardless of race or religion, have equal rights, and are able to vote.
  • Even though Israeli Arabs (the ones who live in the 1948 borders) are small in number, they elect a proportionate number of arab delegates to the knesset.
  • The only time that Muslims or Christians have not been able to access their holy sites under Israeli rule is when there are fears of rioting and public safety.
  • All solely Christian and Muslim sites are relatively autonomously run by their own clergy.
  • Arab Israeli citizens have more rights than the vast majority of Arab citizens in Arab countries.
I wish that the rest of the world saw this Israel. The Israel that is saving lives and making lives better every single day of the Year. Maybe if enough people read this post, people will be able to look beyond the lies of Hamas and Hezbollah, and see for themselves that the world needs Israel.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Fuzzy Math of Casualty Counting

In an 'Irony of Ironies' sort of way, I feel that I need to post more because of the situation in Israel, yet because my life at work and at home is heavily wrapped up into it, I have had a lot less time to do so. But nevertheless I wanted to share some 'Fuzzy Math' with you.

The biggest problem I have with newspapers is that corrections never appear on Page 1. More so than ever, this war between Israel and the Hezbollah is being fought as hard on the Internet, TV, and print news as much as it is being fought in the streets of Beirut and Haifa. Hezbollah has been working the media by emphasizing its usual tactics - it's soldiers don't wear uniforms so that they can easily be mistaken for 'civilian' casualties and its policy of firing from within heavily populated areas puts Israel on the spot as taking out rocket sites will undoubtly cause civilian causualties.

Of course because of the high ratio of Lebanese and Hezbollah killed vs. the numbers of Israelis killed the anti-semites of the world try to lead the unsuspecting outsider to think that Israel is using excessive force - surely they must be. Why else would there be 6 Lebanese/Hezbollah killed for every Israeli? The answer of course lies in the Fuzzy math, being employed by the left-leaning, anti-Israel spin doctors of the media. I want to take this opportunity to point out several facts that the general media doesn't seem to be emphasizing too much on purpose:

  1. The Media, Hezbollah, and Lebanese Officials have been artifically inflating death tolls. First there was Qana, where even organizations that are not friends of Israel pointed out that the initially reported death tolls doubled the casualty numbers. Then on Friday, Lebanese officials insisted that there were 900 dead, yet most media reports had confirmed only 600 or so. Today Lebanese Prime Minister claimed that 40 people were killed on an IDF attack on the village of Houla - which he retracted a few hours later, when only one person was confirmed dead. However, while the media is quick to jump on claims by AFP, Retuers and the like as they come over the wire, they don't give as much attention to the updates and retractions.
  2. There is no way to separate Hezbollah Causalties from Lebanese Civilians. Because Hezbollah doesn't have uniforms, there is no way to tell if a person lying in the rubble of a bombed out building was an innocent guy preparing his dinner when the missiles hit, or someone who was just at the controls of a missle launcher. Even if we can tell he was innocent, there is still no way to verify if he was there out of his own volition. Israel claims that it has killed almost 200 hezbollah fighters - or approximately 30% of all Lebanese causalties, yet Hezbollah denies those claims.
  3. Hezbollah's weapons haven't had much success. It's hard to believe, but Hezbollah has fired more than 2000 rockets into Israel. fortunately, only a handful of them have actually caused death in Israel. Chalk it off to the inaccuracy of the Katyushas, Israeli countermeasures and civil defence policies, or an act of G-d, in any case, imagine if every Katyusha killed 1 person. That would mean that 2000 Israelis - primarily civilian, since most of Hezbollah's missles were fired at civilian targets - would have lost their lives by now. Who then would be using excessive force?

I am not sure what the media's fascination with Hezbollah is, but why is it making up lies and ebellishing the truth to support them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Talking to my kids about war and anti-semitism

I, along with many of you, have been glued to the news channels on my tv over the course of the past week to keep abreast of the situation in Israel. My kids of course, have taken notice. Especially since I am not so willing to change the TV to the Disney Channel or Noggin in the morning. They want to know why, all of a sudden, that Daddy insists we watch the news.

How do you explain what's going on to your kids? How do you explain to them, that there are some very evil hateful individuals in this world that want to blow up houses and kill people simply because they are Jewish like us, and live in the land that G-d promised us? And of course, the bigger kicker - that its okay for us to bomb them back.

Before you flame me, I believe that Israel is 100% right in what it is doing, but nonetheless, how do you tell your kids that it is wrong for them to blow us up, but it is okay for us to bomb them back into the stone age. Kids don't understand the complex nature of individuals. They don't understand that there are people in this world like Nasrallah, Ahmednijad and Assad that don't value a life the way that we do. That don't care how many people they kill or how much damage they cause because their goal is to destroy us. How do you explain to a child that someone that they have never met, and that they will never even likely be in the same room with, hates them from the moment that they were born and wouldn't hesitate to kill them. Then explain, while they fire weapons at us without warning, how we first blanket the area with leaflets telling people to leave, lest they be blown to bits.

We are a nation that prides ourselves in bringing back not only our captured and our injured but our dead, and their body parts too. We are a nation that has been bullied for six decades by all of our "poor defenseless neighbors" and the terrorists that they harbor. If they kidnap 3 people and we give them 3000, we all know what the outcome will be - they will kidnap more of our people.

Regardless of your opinion on the matter, and regardless of who is to blame, the end result is that tens will die, hundreds will be wounded and thousands more will be adversely affected by all that's going on. Let us up that this madness stops soon.

As for my kids, for now, I have left it as "There are some bad people who don't like the Jews and Israel." When they ask "why do they hate us so much?" my only answer is "I wish I knew. Because if I did, maybe we could fix the problem."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What Israel needs - to go back to the days of Chutzpah!

For those of you who don't know the meaning of the word Chutzpah or can't use it in a sentence, I will not be naive enough to presume that I can translate it well. But, IMVHO, chutzpah is epitomized by something that happened 30 years ago last week. While the USA celebrated its 200th anniversary of independence, a group of Israeli commandos flew 2000 miles through the night into Entebbe, Uganda, and released 100 hostages from a hijacked jet. It was a bold and daring move that every world leader involved in the "War on Terror" wishes that they could match. It took bravado, planning, skills, cojones and a ton of chutzpah to get that raid done. It was the true exhibition of the tenacity of the then young State of Israel and a prime example to show the terrorists that their crimes against humanity will never bear fruit.

Yet only ten scant years after that, we learned the hard way that the war on terror didn't end in Uganda, but rather it is still an uphill battle. Ron Arad has been captured and in captivity for 20 years. So have so many other countless soldiers been kidnapped and in the past few weeks Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, have joined their ranks. Of course, the insane despots that hold the three of them captive are more than willing to give them up in exchange for 1000's of known murders and terrorists - as if Gaza and Lebanon don't have enough of them already.

How sad is this, that in order to save our precious soliders we're expected to send 100 murderers free. Imagine for a moment, that three US Soliders are taken captive and their captors ask us to free everyone at Gitmo, or to free 3000 rapists, arsonists and murderers out of Sing Sing. What do you think our reaction would be? We'd come in shooting. Just like we did to Khadaffi, Koresh, and Saddam. Heck, we've spent five years blowing up camels and horses in the Afghan hills looking for Osama. Yet somehow the world expects Israel to allow missles to rain down on Tzfat, Haifa and Nahariya and sit perfectly still while they prepare to release 1000's of degenerates in exchange for 3 people.

While I don't like where this is going, I am proud that Olmert has the Cojones to take on the Hezbollah and Hamas, and I am glad that President Bush is so far backing him (despite Secretary Rice). Once and for all, we need to show the world that our chutzpah didn't die in Beirut the first time, that we have many more Osiraks and Entebbes left in us, and that it is all still very much worth fighting for. We need to cut off Hamas by their balls, and suffocate Hezbollah's oxygen.

But more importantly, we need to go after Iran. Syria is toothless (ironic, seeing its president is a dentist) , and I am 90% sure that both Jordan and Egypt want no part of this war. Neither to the Saudis and the other countries on the Peninsula. Iran, quite frankly scares the daylights out of me. Ahmednijad is such a lunatic and loose cannon that he actually makes Saddam and Hitler seem almost normal.

We need to go after that kook before he does any harm and show the world that the spirit of Yoni Netanyahu and Elan Ramon is still with us, and that we still have all chutzpah in the world to stand up for ourselves.

Monday, June 26, 2006

At least we don't use it as an opportunity for propaganda like you do!!!

I am not the world's biggest futbol (uh, Soccer to my fellow Americans) fan, but during the World Cup I must admit I caught a bit of Football Fever. While Israel tends to excel in many sports on the international scene, soccer isn't one of them. If I am not mistaken, Israel has never been in a world cup. Yet somehow, the lowlife spin doctors in the Arab World have decided to use the World Cup platform as a way to take further potshots at Israel.

First, there was the whole John Pantsil incident. John Pantsil, who plays on the Ghanian national team, is also a member of Hapoel Tel-Aviv. When Ghana one its first Game against the Czechs, he celebrated by waving an Israeli flag as a tribute to his fans who came from Israel to see him play. Of course all of the Arab members of FIFA complained.

Now, Al-Jazeera is arguing that Israel has launched a Genocide campaign agasint the palestinians while the rest of the world is watching the world cup. Of course the propagandists at Al-Jazeera also neglect to realize that this campaign was actually started by Hamas who decided to kidnap Israeli soldiers and fire missiles on Israeli cities.

Even during an event that is supposed to stop wars and bring peace, somehow the hateful arabs of the world and their propaganda press have found a way to create another web of lies surrounding Israel.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The most demeaning Yeshiva Punishment?

As one would imagine, there has been a lot of buzz lately discussing the spate of abuse scandals within the Brooklyn Orthodox community. First, there were the very serious allegations of sexual abuse in a Brooklyn Yeshiva - strong enough that they are battling it out in court. Now, a friend of mine pointed out posts on the 'Chaptzem Blog' and a new blog entitled Rebbes and "Mechanchim" who will live in infamy
that harp on the notion of 'Abusive' Rebbeim.

As a child in a Brooklyn Yeshiva in the 80's, I got my fair share of corporal punishment. I also received punishments that were both mentally abusive and demeaning. But, thankfully, I can look back at those years and laugh. Our Rebbeim were tough on us. Some of them were off the deep end and definitely crossed the line into abuse. Others were more stable, but ocassionally had to use a 'frask' as a reminder to a student (and to the rest of the class) as to who exactly was the 'Rebbe' in the room.

However, there is a big difference between punishing a student and abusing them mentally or physically. For example, my Grade School Principal, who was unequivocally unqualified for his job or a teaching job (and I'm being nice), once suspended me for getting a 73 on a Gemara (Talmud) exam, because he felt that I could do better (I am not making this one up, I hope my grade school buds will comment and vouch). Or the Rebbe in Junior High that made me right 1000 lines of 'I will not hang out the window like an illiterate on welfare'. Or the third grade Rebbe whose favorite punishment was to put kids in his 'Doghouse' - as he like to refer to the footwell of his desk.

Those individuals were abusive, and in retrospect had abusive personalities. Personally, the Rabbis who doled out the punishments above shouldn't have been teaching anyone's kids.

So I'll ask you this - what was your most demeaning Yeshiva punishment? Didn't go to yeshiva - that's okay, feel free to post!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Zimirot - Oh Baby !

As a kid, the highlight of the Shabbat table was singing zimirot. Zimirot are ancient kabbalistic hymns that are sung to accompany each sabbath meal. Each of us had a favorite song and a favorite tune to go with it, and when we couldn't agree on which tune to use - fast vs. slow MBC (Miami Boys Choir) vs. MBD (Mordechai Ben David) - we would oftentimes sing both. We sang sefardic tunes and even matched our lyrics to the beach boys.

This was something that until recently was lacking at my own table. But now that my big guy is old enough to sing along, we have started singing zimirot on Friday night and on Shabbat afternoon. My son is really getting into it, and despite his butchering of some of the words, seems to enjoy it with the same enthusiasm that my siblings and I had as children.

Enjoying your religion is great, but enjoying it through your children's eyes is greater - because that is pure nachas.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Holy Scrap Metal - Buffett Buys in Israel

A reported by several sources, (including the JTA ), Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway have bought an Israeli metalworking company called Iscar. It is Berkshire Hathatway's first acquisition of a company who's headquarters is outside of the US, and a major vote for Israel's economy from someone who's neither Jewish nor a Zionist.

Interestingly enough, Berkshire Hathaway's initials - B"H are the same as Baruch Hashem - thank G-d!

Now we just need to wait for the masses to follow suit.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Who will be the Zaydes of our children?

When I was a kid, there was a Jewish folk group that sang Yinglish music (i.e. Jewish-themed songs in English, with the ocassional Hebrew or Yiddish word thrown in for effect). The group's name was the Megama Duo (Moshe Yess, a violinist, was the more famous half), and one of their songs that resonates with me the most is a song called My Zayde. Zayde is the Yiddish word for Grandpa. The lyrics of My Zayde talk about how the Zayde in the family was the center of Yiddish life, and how, after his death, the family 'just stopped being Jewish like my Zayde was' and descended into secular Judaism. However, the very last line of the song signals a return to Judaism:

Many years have come and gone
and now my own children sit in front of me?
Who will be the Zayde of my children?
Who will be the Zayde if not me?

While the message might be talking directly to born-again Jews, this message has always spoken to me. G-d created everyone of us with free choice, and even though we all come from different backgrounds, we have to choose to become the Zayde for our own children. We not only need to make a concious decision to be religious ourselves but also to live a lifestyle that impresses on our children so that they live that way as well.

But sadly, there is one aspect of being a Zayde as embodied in the song, that none of us, no matter how Zaydesque we become, can ever achieve - being a survivor of the holocaust. In the song, the Zayde imparts his experiences at the hands of the Nazis, and how he was persecuted just for simply being a Jew.

While my grandparents were not survivors themselves, I always cherished and relished the moments that those survivors that I was fortunate enough to meet told me their stories. The partisans, the camp escapees and survivors, the hidden jews. Each one was spared from certain death and witnessed ultold destruction. How many had lost all that they had - not just posessions, not just parents and siblings, but spouses and children. While I loved and cherished my own Bubbies and Zaydes in their lifetime, these people, over time, became my Bubbies and Zaydes too. These are the people that I think about when I read the Av Harachimim prayer (which recalls the sacrifice of all those that perished simply for being Jewish) before Mussaf on every Saturday. These are the people whose faces dance before my eyes whenever I think about the holocaust.

Holocaust rememberance day, which was commerated this past Tuesday, presents an opportunity for each of us to reflect and remember. Even though the number of survivors still walking on this earth becomes fewer and fewer with each passing year, I can still reflect upon my memories and those that shared them with me, even if they have passed on. But what about my children? Who will be their Zaydes? Who will help them internalize what happened and put a human face on the holocaust?

Thankfully there are many organizations out there that have recorded the testimony of these survivors for the next generation. While it may not be as good as meeting the people that were there first hand, it will preserve Zaydes for many more years to come.

May the souls of the 6 Million Jews, and all those others who were persecuted by the Nazis simply because they were different, rest on a higher plateau in heaven, and may G-d avenge their blood.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Nice Jewish Catholic School Graduate

I was excited to find out that one of the stars of the Women's NCAA Champion Maryland Terps is Shay Doron - an Israeli.

Then I found out that she took uh... shall we say, unorthodox, path to the Final Four - she went to high school at a catholic high school basketball powerhouse.

It's a shame that there aren't any Yeshivas that put people in the NCAA. But then again, the focus of a Yeshiva should be education, and not basketball. Still, with what tuition costs these days, maybe we need to work on another avenue of getting scholarships for our kids.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Five Minute Scholar

As a kid, I distinctly remember hearing the story of the five-minute torah scholar. I can't remember the name of the great torah scholar that this story was attributed to, but the story went something like this:

A great Rabbi was once asked by a benefactor "How long did it take you to become such a great scholar?" "Five minutes," was the Rabbi's answer, "but not just any five minutes - but the five minutes you would otherwise waste - just sitting around, or waiting in line. Everyone was content to let those five minutes slip, but I maximized those five minutes in that I also studied Torah during that time. Over time, those five minutes add up, and that has made me the scholar that I am today."

Think of how true this is. Imagine if we found ways to maximize our daily idle time with prouctivity. Our commute could become a learning experience, or we could learn a language while lounging. Our life would take on a whole new dimension and we might find ways to get more things done - if only we harnessed those five minutes of time that we would have otherwise piddled away.

Of course, let's say we try this, and discover how much we can learn in 5 minutes a day. At the end of the week it becomes evident how much we have learned and we begin to wonder how much we could actually learn if we actually set aside time to learn each day and how much more we can grow. Will there ever be an end? We will find ourselves on a journey down the path of self-improvement, and to think that it all started with a 5-minute walk.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Through a child's eyes...

Today (well tomorrow, depending on your perspective) is Purim. Purim is probably one of the most joyous days on the Jewish Calendar, but unfortunately somehow, it's meaning and joy has been lost to so many including, to some extent, myself. Maybe it suffers because it seemingly falls in middle of the week and since it is a day where work is allowed, many opt to work on Purim. Maybe it is because of its position relative to Passover - (Moshe Yess, a Jewish Folk Singer, has a song stating that Jewish Mothers hate Purim because it means that Passover is only four weeks away). In any case, I am not sure how much I have 'felt' Purim in the last few years, until watching my son at the megillah reading.

Mitch was so excited and ecstatic. He eagerly waited for each utterance of Haman's name and when it came he jumped up and down with his Gragger (Haman, is the antagonist of the Book of Esther - a.k.a. the Megillah, and it is customary to 'blot out' his name by making noise as the person reading the megillah recites it. A Gragger is a Yiddish word for noisemaker). It is hard to describe the look on his face, but it was a combination of intensity, excitement and joy - yes pure joy.

Maybe that is what I am missing. Maybe the stresses of being a Dad and a Husband and and Orthodox Jew have taken some of the fun away. But just looking at my son, and feeling the sense of pride and accomplishment in his joy for this small piece of our tradition and history put some of the joy back in it for me too, and in turn, made the megillah reading a lot more personal and special.

I guess the moral of this story is that every so often we should all take time to stop and shake our Graggers.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I have been thinking a lot about Kavanah lately. Kavanah is a Hebrew term that is used to refer to the meaning and focus one has in prayer. Kavanah literally means 'direction' - as with everything in life, prayer needs a direction or focus to be meaningful. It is interesting that many Jews view prayer as lines read out of a Hebrew textbook - whether or not you understand their meaning - and don't try to focus on the meaning of the words to find parallels to their own lives.

At the same time, there are those that pray in the classic sense - that is, they give thanks for their lives and request for their needs, but somehow ignore the liturgy as they don't see the relevance. While they may not have the textbook elements of prayer, their prayers are potentially more meaningful because of the personal element.

Don't get me wrong - I am not, heaven forbid, discounting the value of our liturgy, but
I think that both of these approaches are lacking. Many years ago in college I met someone who made me realize that their are many Jews out their who are connected with Judaism spiritutally and culturally but not ritually. While I think that it is great that all Jews find a connection to our religion and to G-d, I ultimately came to this realization - the spiritual and ritual practices of Judaism combine to form their own equilibrium. While the balance will be different for most people, one is useless without the other, and that, during prayer, is where Kavanah comes in.

As I pray, I try to focus on the words set out by our great sages of centuries ago, and fit their meaning to my everyday life. To help you visualize this imagine you have a document in a language that you can't read, and you ask two friends of yours to translate it for you independent of one another. It is more than likely that their translations will differ at least a little bit - even if they have similar backgrounds and levels of fluency in that language. Why does this happen? Because their translation includes their perspective as well. And, IMVHO, so must your understanding of the prayers you say.

Friday, February 24, 2006


A couple of weeks ago, I was getting my son's clothes together to get him dressed for shul. In our neighborhood, kids typically don't dress too formally - a nice sweater and khakis are perfectly acceptible - which is a stark contrast from my parents' and in-laws' neighborhoods, where parents tend to dress their kids a little more formally.

As I was looking for a pair of pants in his closet, I noticed a sports jacket we had bought him a while ago that he had never worn. I tried it on him and it fit perfectly. Here he was, my little man in the suit jacket (tie too!), all of a sudden he seemed so grown up. Which is the reaction all of our friends had. Since then, he wants to wear his jacket and tie every week (just like daddy).

The dry-cleaner is very happy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dick Cheney, Expert Marksman

Okay, so every blogger, news site, and all of their siblings are posting articles about Dick Cheney. I for one, don't want to join into the fray, save for these three points:

  1. If he can shoot that well by accident, why don't we send him to Iraq?
  2. If this is what he does to friends, imagine what he does to his enemies?
  3. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that a member of both Bush administrations as well as a close confidant and friend of the Bush family is out hunting for Quayle! (oops! you mean its not spelled that way? I must not have had my Potatoe this morning).

Monday, February 06, 2006

The new 'Nigerian' Scheme

Someone in my synagouge sent me this link to the New Republic about the Arafat twist on the 'Nigerian' spam scheme.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last several years, or for those of you who just got your Internet connection (and somehow came across my site), the 'Nigerian' scheme is an e-mail that goes out suggesting that it is from some deposed african dictator or his family members who needs your help in saving several million dollars from his or her account into yours. If only you'd be so kind to wire them your account number or provide them with $10,000 to help them save the money, you will be rewarded with a nice cut of the supposed funds.

Surprise you as it may, some people have actually given away their life savings to various people around the globe.

Last year, when Arafat died, a new version of this came about, purportedly from his widow, Suha. She claims she is looking for a partner to help her save her husbands hidden millions from the Palestinina Authority. This resurfaced last week as Hamas won broad power in the Palestinian elections.

As farsical as it may seem, the likelihood of me getting a Piece of Suha's money is probably greater than that of Hamas and Fatah forming a decent government that protects the rights of Palestinians, and renounces terror.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Kosher Compass

This site, provided by my friend Jerry, shows us how anyone will buy anything so long as you market it right. The Kosher Compass claims that it will always point to Jerusalem and doesn't necessarily always point east.

They claim it is also patent-pending, and contains no circuitry, I can only imagine how it analyzes barometric pressure, compass coordinates, etc and then miraclously points east!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dhengah is back!!!

A couple of years ago there was an auction on e-bay for an Aliyah in the 'Dhengah' shteeble on Yom Kippur. The auction lined to
the unofficial website of the Dhengah Chassidim. It was down for a while and now is back. The yiddish on the home page (loosely translated) reads:

If you can read this, we beseech you to follow the [rulings of] our Rabbis (my they live long) and quickly shutdown your filthy, impure, disgusting Internet - G-d save us from it and destroy its name from the world - and rip the wire out of the wall and cut it into little pieces. After which, you should grab a book of Tehillim (psalms) and recite some of the chapters for several hours.

Or, if you don't want to, click here.

When did Jewish Singers go Mainstream?

I must confess, for the first 11 or 12 years of my life I grew up listening almost exclusively to Jewish Music - groups like Uncle Moishy, Country Yossi, and the Miami Boys Choir were always playing in our house, and Shloime Dachs, before his solo debut, was a guy who worked with us in Camp. Haven't heard of Moishy, Yossi, or Shloime? Maybe because their music is a combination of liturgical, Hebrew, and religiously inspired pieces. Just like I would never have heard of any of the stars of Christian Rock, I imagine that many of my non-Jewish readers wouldn't have heard of these guys.

They were mostly limited to the Jewish world, but now they are finding new ways to branch out. Firstly, just like Jessica Simpson busted*out of the Christian Rock scene, we now have a crossover in Matisyahu , a.k.a. The Chassidic Reggae Guy. But cheaper video production costs and tools like Google Video, have begat the spread of videos like the one to the right. Now it's not enough for little choir boys to simply shuffle their feet in unison on stage, but they need to have an MTV-style video. What happened to good ol' fashioned chazzanut? Oh wait, there is a movie about that too.

Still, I guess it was about time for this to happen, and quite frankly I am glad it did. My mom bought my boys an Uncle Moishy Video for chanukah, and they love it. As much as I love that they enjoy Jewish Music, I enjoy it even more when they sing it around the house.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I should find and patent the sports gene...

There was an article in Wired recently about how drug and dna research companies are finding and patenting genes. To me this is the crescendo of the lengths of stupidity of our patent system - someone is patenting something created by G-d (or, if you are an atheist, something in nature - either way, it is something that they didn't create, yet, somehow they can reserve the rights to it).

In any case, since the study of DNA has become commonplace over the last several years, there have been many interesting findings (for example, the study that tried to establish the 'Cohen' gene).

But the one gene they haven't found yet is the 'Sports Gene' that little gene that somehow all men, regardless of their athletic prowess, seem to have, and a gene that seems to escape most women (oy, am I going to get flamed by the sports-loving women out there).

I don't know what it is - I don't follow too many teams to closely. I love the Mets, I try to watch as many Giants games as my busy fall Sunday schedule allows, and all told, I am more the kind of person who prefers participating in sports rather than watching them. Yet for the 3 minutes of the sports report on the news each night, I am in the zone. My wife can't talk to me, and I just drop everything and focus. Maybe it's genetic? Because at the end of the day, my life won't be any better or worse if the seemingly hapless Knicks beat the Cavs or the Bulls or whatever, yet somehow for those 3 minutes it matters. As bad as I am, I am even worse when it comes to my boys and sports.

My kids are almost 2 and almost 4, and even though they are not quite old enough to participate in many of our local sports programs (most start at 5, and even though my 4-year-old is big for his age, he is not yet at the point where I see him sitting with a coach and taking directions). Yet just yesterday alone, I had three thoughts about them and sports:

  • I saw the $10 t-ball special gloves and thought about buying them so that we can play catch in the backyard.
  • I saw a project book that showed how to make soccer goals out of spare PVC tubing
  • I thought about finally fixing the bike in my garage and getting one for my big guy so that we can go biking together this summer.

My wife often wonders aloud if I would be this sports-crazed if we had girls. And somehow, despite my earlier statements seemingly to the contrary, I say yes. Sports teaches so much more than physical activity and competitiveness, it teaches teamwork and work ethic (i.e. the harder you practice the better you will become) it builds self-motivation and esteem in kids, and gives them a sense of belonging.

Despite nature, I think nurture goes a long way too.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Site changes...please be patient

Just FYI, I recently migrated from Linux hosting to Microsoft so that I can compliment my blogs with some ASP.NET programming. However, I am still in the conversion process, so bear with us as we get our house in order.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Boys

Thanksgiving 05' + 020
Originally uploaded by yonah_w.
Here is a recent picture of my two boys that I wanted to Share. Mitch has done a lot of growing up in the last year - to think it's still been less than a year since he had that long flowing mane of hair.

While Mikey's hair started growing a little more rapidly of late, he still doesn't have that much. Strange as it may seem, the hair in back is growing faster than his bangs, giving him the look of a natural mullet.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Chabad means many things to many people. In the Orthodox Jewish world, it is also one of the few things that Jews always seem to have an opinion on, and are hardly ever indifferent about.

I am definitely a Chabadophile. I went to a Chabad High School for 3 years, and the school and our teachers, made an major impact on my life and how I view judaism, my commitment to it, and my relationship with G-d.

I recently spent a week at my in-laws home in Florida, and the nearest shul was the Chabad Center of West Boca / Jeff Weltman synagouge. In many places I have had a hard time adjusting as a visitor, but needless to say, the Shul was welcoming as I would expect from a Chabad house. While I participated in the davening, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic remembering the songs, liturgy and customs from my High School days. It also helped me remember some of the wonderful things that I learned from my Rebbeim at the yeshiva, as well as the notion that Chabad actually 'gets it' - i.e. they understand how to take Judaism and bring it to the masses without watering it down - sometimes to a fault.

Well I got to go - there is a little voice in my head trying to get me to sing Padeh B'Shalom.