Monday, July 30, 2012

The Joke

I have been working on a joke this evening.  The punchline hit me on the way out of a restaurant.  My loyal readers (all of you) get to read the first run.

In one of the neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, a laffa restaurant opened.  For those of you who do not know, a laffa is a large, round, soft pita.  Anyway, the restaurant gains popularity.

Word travels.  Eventually, one of the local mob bosses walks in.  He looks at the menu and orders a laffa.

The waiter brings out the don's order.  He does not like it.  The don sends it back, and asks for a different laffa.

And the same result happens.  He does not like it.  He sends the laffa back.  He orders something else.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the chef is getting annoyed.  The sous-chef asks what he is going to do next.  The chef looks at him and responds: "I'm gonna make him a laffa he can't refuse."

Good night.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Jewish State

Shalom everyone...

            I said to some fellow chaplains the other day that if you asked ten Jews what the implications of the term “Jewish State” were, you would get 11 opinions.  The senior chaplain in the car then asked me what my understanding was.

            I have never thought about it.  I always took the concept of a Jewish state for granted.  Now I have to answer the question.

            First and foremost, it is a state for Jews.  It is a state to which Jews can move, permanently, for good reason, to fulfill the Zionist dream, or on a whim. 

            Second, it is a state that holds itself to a higher standard of behaviour.  This is not because of the UN Haman Rights Committee.  I like to think it is an unconscious manifestation of the idea that Jewish law forbids bringing a bad name on the Jewish people.  I do not know whether or not the state’s behaviour meets the highest standards at all times.  I do know that the fact that so-called human rights organizations spend more time focused on Israel than they do on Syria suggests to me that Israel will never meet world scrutiny.  That, however, is a different discussion.

            Third, it is a state that actively seeks to allow all to observe their own religions.  The Greek Orthodox Church owns the property on which the Knesset rests.  The Mormons have a major centre in Jerusalem.  The Bahai have a major centre in Haifa.

            Fourth, it is a state that excels on an intellectual level because of its Jewish roots.  Judaism does not frown on modernity.  I think that Jewish mindset provides a safety net for Jews, whether they realize and accept it or not.  It has taught us over the years that  there is always a safe point to which we can return.  Safety allows for venturing.  Another note on the intersection between the intellectual and the traditional is in order.  Some of the greatest minds in all of the varied areas in which Israel excels go home every Friday to make Kiddush.  As well, yeshivot in Israel have people in them at all hours.  The same mindset that feeds the intellectual areas of the country also feeds the Jewish parts of the country.  The same academic discipline that Israel can apply to its modernity is also applied to its Judaism.

            In short, it is a Jewish state because Jews are safe and welcome there.  It is a Jewish state because it meets a higher standard of behaviour.  It is a Jewish state because non-Jews are welcome practice their religion.  It is a Jewish state because the study of the ancient and the study of the modern live comfortably together, supporting and influencing each other.


Thursday, July 26, 2012


Hi all...

As you are very much aware, I am attempting to bring down my blood pressure without the help of medication.  I eat dark chocolate as a result.  Dark chocolate dilates arteries.

I therefore say in response to Jennifer's most recent blog post that chocolate is healthy.  Even if one likes vanilla, it is a good health idea to have chocolate every once in a while.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sex Is for Sale

Hi all...

Sex is for sale.  It is for sale in the magazine racks.  It is for sale on the billboards.  It is a distinct presence everywhere.

Given that, it is not just logical for clergy to speak and teach about it.  It is mandatory.  I will not shirk my responsibility to all of you and leave this in the hush-hush category.

Getting on the next plane...


The Marital Bed

My blog entries have been rather long of late.  I hope it is not a problem.  I will try to return to more abbreviated writing at some point in the near future.  In the meantime, please bear with me.

Over the time that I have kept this blog, I have mentioned the marital bed on numerous occasions. Many of the pieces of this entry will thus sound familiar.  They have appeared in other entries.  I am now taking the time to gather those thoughts in one place.  Some thoughts are expansions on Shmuley Boteach’s book “Kosher Adultery.” 

The marital bed is not a perk of marriage.  Perks are fun, but the world goes on without them.  The marital bed is an essential ingredient, cleverly disguised as a perk.  It is the place where we both give and receive the ultimate form of acceptance and intimacy. The bed is the marital barometer.  Marriages succeed and fail here before anywhere else.

Most of us have friends.  With our friends, we sit in the living room, in the kitchen, or in the yard.  We do not hang out in the bedroom.  The bedroom is exclusive.  It has a lock on the door.  Spouses should be friends.  They should like each other.  However, when we place first priority on being friends in our marriages, we render our marriages no different from any of our friendships.  By extension, we render the bedroom no more sacred than any other room.  I submit to all of you then that spouses must be intimate lovers.  This is the primary characteristic distinguishing marriage from all other friendships.

First, a little bit of controversy…There is a world of difference between “not tonight dear, I have a headache” and a massive migraine.  That being said, couples should give respect to exhaustion, but also should not regularly refuse each other.  Generally speaking, if one is interested, the other should go along.  It is rare that anyone will regret it after the fact.  I believe that spouses have this obligation to each other.

Let us have a little more controversy.  Handcuffs are not only for the police.  Silk scarves are not just a fashion accessory.  Whipped cream is not only for cake.  The serious nature of what goes on behind a locked door should not take anything away from the unrestricted fun of the encounter.  By the way, there is a decent website for this –  On a personal level, I am not sure how I feel about the entire product line, but that is none of my business.  On a rabbinical level, I have no problem.  It is a safe spot to shop.  They will not deal with anything remotely pornographic.  The site is still small, but I expect that it will gain popularity.  Interestingly, it is based out of Lakewood, NJ.

I hope you are not shocked to know that there is more to life than the missionary position.  Couples should experiment with different positions.  Jewish law permits such experimentation.  Moreover, there is more to life than vaginal intercourse.  Couples should endeavour to find the happy balance between the following two statements: no one should ever have to do something he/she does not like; and, couples should be willing to try something new.  Our bodies change over the years.  Knees ache.  Flexibility diminishes.  Besides being a newly discovered pleasure, the willingness to experiment may become a necessity as we age.

Intimate adventures should take also place outside the home.  Get a hotel room for a lunchtime romp.  Try a tent in the middle of the woods.  Make out in the back of a movie theatre.

Married couples forced to be apart by circumstance do not cease being married.  They should also not cease being lovers.  There is nothing wrong with writing erotic letters to one’s partner.  There is nothing wrong with ‘sexting.’  Humans naturally think about sex.  It behooves us to keep even our thoughts where they belong – on our spouses.

Sex should be a subject of conversation.  We spend much of our married lives talking about paying the bills, carpool, work, and mowing the lawn.  Many couples avoid this most intimate conversation.  We cannot begin to understand each other’s preferences without first asking about them.  

Have a good evening everyone.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

A 50-Year Exercise in One-Upsmanship

Buenos Dias everyone...(that's 'bonjour' for all the French speakers out there)...

On Friday, the Marine security detachment sponsored a tour out to the northeast gate.  That gate is the border with Cuba proper.  I happen to be in Cuba right now.  I am not on US territory.  The US leases this land from Cuba.  As a result, I will have to clear US customs when I land in Florida.

At the northeast gate, there is still traffic from one side to the other.  After President Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations, there was a grandfather clause in place that those who had jobs on the American side would still be able to cross each day.  50 years later, there are still two people who do.

Anyway, after the US broke off relations, Fidel accused us of stealing Cuba's water.  We were not.  There was a barge coming in with water daily.  The Admiral in charge of the base came out with a video crew in 1964.  In the middle of the night, he cut the pipe, and sent it and the video to the UN.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the gate was that there was no flag on the Cuban side.  Apparently, there was at one point.  There was a constant replacement of flagpoles on both sides, as everybody wanted the taller pole.  The Cubans finally won that exchange, and placed a LARGE flag on top of a nearby mountain.

For a while, the building out there housed the squad of Marines who guarded that gate.  The building had a metal roof.  The Cubans used to go by the fence and throw rocks onto the roof in the middle of the night.  The US built the fence much higher, rendering that impossible.  The Cubans put up wind chimes.  The Marines could either close the window on a non-air conditioned building, or deal with the noise.  I do not recall how that one got settled.

The Cubans then decided to shine a bright spotlight into the building, again with the idea of causing problems sleeping for the Marines.  The Marines ended that one.  They made a 75 foot diameter rendering of the United States Marine Corps emblem.  When the spotlight was turned on, the Cubans saw the emblem.  Once they had finished the emblem, the Cubans turned on the light precisely once.  They never did that again.  Score one for the Marines.

Now, the Marines are not housed there.  The building stands.  The border is quiet.  Once a month, the base commander goes there to meet with a Cuban official on matters of mutual interest, neighbourhood safety, and the like.

Have a good day everyone.


Codename: Operation Avocado

Hi all...

The chapel area has a simply lovely courtyard.  It has trees.  It has tables.  People come up that way to hang out because there is a semblance of internet. 

In one corner of the courtyard, there is a tall avocado tree.  We decided that we would denude it.  There was a serious reason, of course.  We were concerned, naturally, that the risk of falling avocadoes while children might be around on Sunday was a danger we could not accept.  And so we initiated “Operation Avocado.”

We got a fruit-picking pole, and we were able to remove the 15 most likely culprits, those that looked as though they might fall.  I have three of them.

One of the RP’s suggested that we chop it up, and then mix it with milk and sugar.  Please note here: in South America, the avocado is treated as a fruit, and will often appear as dessert on the table.  One of the other RP’s is giving some serious thought to guacamole.

I will have one of mine straight tomorrow.  I think it needs another day.  The other two will follow in due course.

I want to make it clear that at no time were thinking about our taste buds.  Our primary concern has been and always will be the inherent danger of falling ripe, fresh, tasty avocadoes, as well as the safety of our children.


P.S.  And I will not even begin to talk about the mango I had.  It is a shame that there was no one with whom to share it.  As you are aware, it takes two to mango.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

JPJ: Take 2

Top of the evening all...

So last Sunday, I told all of you that I made and attempt to ride a bicycle up a steep hill. The hill is called ‘JPJ,’ short for “John Paul Jones.” On Sunday, I huffed and I puffed, and I rode and I walked, and somehow made it the top. I did not have my camera. I would go back.

So on Monday, I started back up to the top. About two thirds of the way up, I ran over something pointy. I walked the bicycle back down. I replaced the inner tube.

The new inner tube was supposed to be self-sealing. I got another flat on Tuesday, not on the hill. That tube is now replaced.

Today, I brought the camera. There were some things I was not allowed to photograph. I rode all but about 200 feet. I do not need to go back up that hill again.


Addendum: On Thursday morning, the bicycle had another flat tire.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Very Own Quote

Hi all...

Quick note:

I shared a quote that I developed with the spouse of one of the chaplains. She is also an ordained minister. She said I should publish this quote.

Intimacy is not a baring of bodies. It is a baring of souls.

Good night...


Conservative or Orthodox?

Hi all...

On behalf of my colleagues, I apologize for what appears to be a major gap in the way we rabbanim have attempted to educate.

When I got to Cuba, I met a nice couple connected to the Jewish community. They asked about some details of my observance. It came out that, wonder of wonders, I do not drive on Shabbat. Their immediate reaction was that I must be Orthodox.

I am not. Just ask my wife, the senior rabbi in the household.

Anyway, whether or not I am Orthodox or Conservative is entirely a separate question from whether or not I drive on Shabbat. Three stories come to mind.

1. There is a congregation in Baltimore that sells its parking lot every week.
2. I remember driving past on of the local Orthodox synagogues in Toronto right after Yom Kippur. Their services were letting out. Lo and behold, people were walking to their cars.
3. In my neighbourhood, I saw a woman with the requisite number of children leaving one of the Orthodox synagogues in the area. She walked across Bathurst St, into the parking lot by Hartman's, piled the kids into the minivan, and drove off.

So some Orthodox people drive. Some Conservative people do not.

And now it is time for your lesson in Halakhah. Jewish Law is obligatory. Lesson concluded.

What this means is that from the outset, you should keep kosher. You should avoid driving on Shabbat. If you live too far from the nearest shul, there is a teshuvah, not my favourite, that says you can drive only for the purposes of going to shul, and only to the nearest shul. It is not a blanket permission slip to drive from Hamilton to Toronto for a bar mitzvah. It is most certainly not a permission slip to stop at your favourite coffee shop to get a cup on the way in.

I realize that many will read this, and process it in the mental circular file. That is okay, I suppose. Still, you should all know where I stand. Everyone should know the details of processing material in the circular file.

While I differ with many of my rabbinic colleagues in all movements, the Orthodox do not hold the monopoly on Jewish observance.

By the way, I challenge anyone to walk on Shabbat for a month. I promise you will never drive again.

Have a good evening all.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Buenos Dias...

Once a month, the public works people feel that they need to shut down the electricity for the base. They choose Sunday mornings. Certain activities have generators – the chapel, the commissary, and the gym, just for example. I feel sorry for the lady at the front desk of the lodge. Some piece of machinery is supposed to beep if the power is cut off. The beep works well.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good morning to take a bicycle ride. So I did. Up behind the lodge, there is a tall hill with windmills thereupon. I decided to ride up to the windmills. I made it about two-thirds of the way up. Then I pushed the bicycle up the rest of the way.

Some years back, my Marine unit was sent to Bridgeport, California for mountain warfare training. The first morning of training, we pushed off with 40-pound packs. We started from our base camp at about 6700 feet. We hiked roughly four miles to the training area. I could barely keep up. This is not unexpected, as I do not train like Marines. Still, these chain-smoking, weighted down Marines simply marched over hill and dale in thin air at a speed that would embarrass most of us on a city street.

The memory of trying to keep up with those Marines has stayed with me. As such, there was no way I was not getting to the top of that hill this morning. So huffing and puffing, half walking, half riding, I did it. The payback was lovely. The view was magnificent, although I forgot my camera. As well, I got to ride down.

Jennifer and I have a fun disagreement. She seems to think that riding downhill is the time to rest when on a bicycle. I think it is the time to pedal. I pedaled. I slowed down dramatically for one switchback. Otherwise, I would have gotten down much more quickly than I wanted. By the way, I always wear my helmet. Today, I even remembered sunscreen.

There is one other tall hill. I did not ride up. On that hill, the American flag flies 24/7. Some of you might not be aware of flag rules on a military installation. The base officially has one flag. It flies at the base headquarters. The flag always comes down at sunset. The base flag here does come down at sunset. The only time the American flag flies at night is on a Naval ship underway. There are other limited circumstances as well. If it flies at night on land, it MUST be lit up. On Guantanamo, there is another flag.

On a remarkably tall hill, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay flies a flag 24/7, lit up for all the world to see. More importantly, it is lit up for Fidel and Raoul to see, any time they so desire, or not. Apparently, the Cold War is not quite over.

Now I am back in my room, waiting for the power to come on so that I can be socially acceptable.

Have a good day.

Now I am finally posting this, as I do not have internet in my room. Have a good evening.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

And This Is Precisely My Point

Okay….let me see if I have this straight. I have thus far read two of the “50 Shades” books. After reading them, I asked what I thought were some significant questions about the sex lives of married couples. By the way, please answer those questions for yourselves. I really do not want to know. On the macro level though, it would be an interesting discussion in the comments section.

Jennifer has also read two of the three “50 Shades” books and has contented herself with a recipe for salad dressing!

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. This is an essential difference between men and women – pushing the sexual envelope versus salad dressing. Were we reading the same books?


P.S. Equal parts of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and roasted sesame oil will yield a lovely salad dressing. Crush in a clove of garlic and a pinch of cayenne for some extra zip. You can probably cut back on the sugar. I got that from our kosher Chinese cookbook. There was nothing remotely erotic in it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Buenos Dias...

One of the RP’s (enlisted personnel who support the chaplains) took me out to snorkel today. We made it to the Dominican Republic and back. Okay – we did not get quite that far.

It was beautiful. The RP had a waterproof digital camera. He took great pictures. I am even in a couple of them. We saw all matter of fish and coral. There was one coral that looked and moved like a waving leaf. There was a gorgeous iridescent blue fish, and another with stripes that is appropriately called a sergeant-major.

Jennifer bought me a new bathing suit last year. It is bright red, with a lovely Hawaiian pattern. Guess what folks! It is too big. The good news is that I did not lose it at any time. It has safety pins in it now to cinch the waist just a little bit. I no longer have to worry about waves.

When I was in high school, we were reviewing dangling clauses in grammar class. I remember one of the examples: “his trunks came off swimming across the lake.” What is dangling?

Note to self: try on new bathing suit before bringing it with you.

By the way, I always swim with a swim shirt on. It occurs to me that men should adhere to a certain degree of modesty, even when poolside. Jewish law addresses this concern, and does not differentiate in this regard between the requirements for women and the requirements for men.

I met two of the members of the Jewish community this evening. They were lovely people. She runs the seniors’ residence here on base. You might be thinking: why is there a seniors’ residence on a military base. Apparently, right after Fidel came to power and relations broke off, several Cubans were offered the possibility of living on base, working, earning a pension, and being promised a place to live in their senior years. 23 of them are still alive.

Two Cubans remain who were allowed to work on base after relations broke off. Every day, they leave via the north gate. They have to change clothes before going back into Cuba proper.

Good night all.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Hottest Spot East-Southeast of Havana

Hi all...

When I got to Florida yesterday, the cab to the base had no air conditioning. For about 30 minutes, we had to go with the old 2-70 method – 2 windows, 70 miles per hour. We could not hear a thing.

So I arrived in Guantanamo today. It is hot and humid, much as I imagined. The bay is simply gorgeous, and begging for a swim. I will oblige.

On the negative side, the lodge where I am staying does not have internet. I think it is the last such lodge in the history of humanity. The commissary is missing some of what I regard as basics – bread with kosher supervision, a large selection.

On the positive side, someone loaned me a bicycle. Life is good. I have never seen iguana that large outside of a zoo. I will get a picture. The kitchenette in the lodge has metal pots and pans. I kashered pots and silverware today, and was able to get some spaghetti to have for dinner over a few nights. I am sure that there are a few books here in the library that I have not read. It will be fine for the two weeks that I am here.

Buenas Noches.


Interesting Travel Day

Top of the morning all...

I am presently sitting in the MAC (Military Airlift Command) terminal at Naval Air Station Jacksonville (Florida). Shortly, I will board a plane to go to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay for two weeks. I hear the beaches are lovely.

Yesterday was just an annoying day. The flight from Newark to Jacksonville was long. I was not feeling so well afterwards. When I got off the plane in Jacksonville, I went to the USO. I figured that they would know how to get to the base. One taxi company is allowed on base.

I appreciate USO's. The USO was founded in 1941 as a joint effort of several religious organizations, including the Jewish Welfare Board. You are all likely familiar with stories of Bob Hope and the like going around war zones and entertaining the troops. That was a product of the USO. As well, the USO has many rest areas at the airports around the United States. They are always comfortable, with some food available, and free internet. They are safe too. If my kids ever travel without Jennifer and me, they will have their military id cards with them, and will be instructed to wait at the USO's between flights.

It is now 9:27 AM. The flight has not been called yet. It remains a source of irony for me that I probably could have gotten to Cuba more easily flying direct from Toronto; however, I am travelling for the US Government. That would not be possible. I am not sure as to which airport I would have used. Cuba is a fairly large island. To give you an idea, it is 227 miles in the air from Havana to Miami. It is over 500 miles from Havana to Guantanamo.

Please remember to keep your seatbelts buckled through the remainder of the blog.