Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Family Unplugged...

Top of the afternoon all...

I have elected to use Jennifer's title for my blog entry.  It is on the same thing.  I also have not read her entry.  It will give all of you a chance to see if we are or are not the same person.

We were amongst the very lucky.  Our power was down only for about 20 hours.  The house had gotten quite cold by the end of that time, registering at 12 degrees centigrade (54 degrees Fahrenheit).  We spent a good chunk of time in the den, with the fireplace going strong.  We went through about half of our stash of firewood.  The den smelled of smoke for days.

There was enough juice in the computers to watch a movie.  So we did.  As well, some of the kosher restaurants up in Vaughan were open, so we were able to have hot dinner.

Earlier in the day, Jesse and Gavi were listening to the radio in the kitchen.  Gavi had taken a toy horse and was using it as a guitar.  Jesse was 'playing' the harmonica.  I got wonderful video of the both of them.  See below.

We might have worked on a puzzle until the house got too cold.  I do not remember.

Anyway, after all is said and done, we had a lovely family day.  Being free of the computers, the phone, and all other manner of electronic device (with the exception of the radio and watching a movie) gave us the opportunity to talk to each other and enjoy each other's company.  Even the kids enjoyed it.

I am glad to report that most of the lights are back on in the GTA.  Our 20 hours of darkness was ultimately nothing compared to what others had to endure.

Also, we have to buy salt, non-perishable foods, and an assortment of batteries.  I have no clue as to whether we will be prepared for the next storm.  We will certainly be ready for the last one that came through.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Free Subscriptions!!

Top of the evening to all...

A friend was over tonight.  He helped me do something with this blog (thanks Bob).  Please do not ask me to help you accomplish it.  It would require more memory space than I currently have.

Anyway, at the top right, you can now sign up to receive updates from my blog whenever I write something.  This is really a personal relief.  I was dropping a fortune in postage stamps.

The downside is this: Canada Post is considering all sorts of ideas to save money.  With the demise of the written letter, it has become more and more difficult for Canada Post to stay afloat.  The USPS is also having this issue.  I fear that being able to have my blog delivered directly to your home will be the final nail in the coffin for both of these historic organizations.

Have a good night.


P.S.  Rest assured that if you choose to receive my blog via e-mail, I will not forward your e-mails to anyone...unless that person pays me a lot of money.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Allowance, Clean Rooms, and Creative Parenting...

Top of the day everyone...

Jennifer decided recently that she was no longer worrying about how clean the kids' rooms were.  This has led to a general, long-term state of disarray in their rooms.

Since she thinks this is a non-issue, it makes it difficult for me to make their monthly allowances contingent on the state of their rooms.

Please note - allowances have merit beyond getting money for chores.  They are useful for teaching kids how to budget.

There is a creative solution.  The creative solution is this.  I will give them their allowances.  If the room is not clean to some reasonable standard, I will give them their allowances in loonies, hidden throughout the room.  This will start on January 1st for the boys.  Keren is not quite as bad.

On February 1st, I switch to quarters.  On March 1st, I switch to dimes.  It really is a crying shame that the Royal Canadian Mint has ceased minting the penny.

Have a great day.


Appendix: Turnabout is fair play.  Jesse ordered some books on Amazon this evening.  He had a gift card, but went $30 over the amount of the card.  He paid me back.  He gave me a $20 bill, and 10 loonies.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ok...Now It Is too Cold...

Good morning everyone.

I usually prefer biking when the temperature is just above freezing to about 10 degrees centigrade.  It is comfortable once I get moving.  I am not sweating buckets by the time I arrive.

It is further a matter of personal pride that I will ride in the dead of winter.  As long as the streets are clear, I will be out there.

No matter what the weather is, one day a week, I walk to my shul.  If I can do that, then it is fairly easy to ride the other six days of the week.

Over the last week, the temperature has not approached the freezing mark.  It is too cold.  I am starting to understand hibernation.  I am certainly more and more in favour of global warming.

Have a good day everyone.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Am Not Jinxing Myself...

טוב לכת אל בית אבל מלכת אל בית משתה

It is better to go to the home a mourner than to attend a wedding.  These are the words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).

I am not entirely sure as to the point of this quote.  My colleagues have commented from time to time that the house of a mourner tends to have better behaviour than do weddings.  I have seen some lousy behaviour in houses of mourning.  I am not entirely sure that their experience is entirely relevant.

That being said, the life of a rabbi tends to have many trips to the cemetery.  it does not have as many weddings.

I am pleased to say though that I have conducted three weddings over the last two months.  I have also been to one post-wedding feast.  That is more weddings than funerals for me.  I have enjoyed it.  It is wonderful to see couples with such big smiles, surrounded by people with big smiles.

Given my experience over the last two months, I must disagree with Kohelet.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all of these weddings.

Have a good evening.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some of the People Who Made Me a Rabbi...

Top of the evening all...

The people who made me a rabbi most certainly were my teachers at seminary.  They taught me text.  They taught me theory. They taught process.

My parents also taught me.  My friends taught me.

The one thing they all had difficulty teaching me was a love of Judaism.  That came from elsewhere.  In that regard, two people truly stand out.  I have never met either one.  Who are they?

They are both singers.  The first is Naomi Shemer.  She wrote and sang wonderful songs about every facet of life in Israel, about the people, about the land, and about the history.

The second one died today.  He was Arik Einshtein.  He also sang on similar things, but with an entirely different approach and feel, as we might expect.  And he was right.  It is beautiful in San Francisco.  Like him, I would rather be in Israel.

It was their music that continues to have a profound effect on my soul.  I play their songs on itunes.  I will often seek out Israeli music stations on line in hopes of hearing those songs.

During the academic year 1988-89, I was in Israel.  I remember, especially during the first months of my time there, before the weather got cold, sitting out in the parking lot on the Hebrew University campus at Givat Ram.  Inevitably, someone had a guitar.  We sat up till all hours of the night singing their songs.

More than any text I have ever studied, that music has connected me to Judaism, to Jews, and to Israel.

May we all be comforted amongst the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Accuracy in the Depiction of Family Dynamics...

Top of the evening all....

I was driving Gavi and Keren to school on Tuesday.  As we drove south, we saw the family stickers on the back of someone's windshield.  You know the stickers.  They are white.  They show a mom, a dad, the right number of kids, and perhaps a pet.  It is usually the idyllic family unit.

We started joking about what ours might look like.

The sticker depiction of a little girl is on the back of the sticker depiction of the father.  Why is she on the father's back?  Good question.  Knowing the little girl being depicted, it is likely that she jumped the father.

Why did a sweet, innocent daughter jump her father?  Let us naively assume the best.  She did this to protect one of her brothers.  Perhaps it is the older of the two brothers.  He is tucked under the father's left arm in a headlock.

Maybe she is trying to protect the sticker image of her other brother.  He is on the floor.  The father has one foot on his rear end.  How did he get that way?  I do not know.  Still, this is a depiction of the medium child.  It is unlikely that he was sliding into home plate.

That leaves the depiction of the mom.  The mom is off to one side.  In one hand, we see a camera dangling from her wrist.  Her head is leaning on her other hand in the classic look of frustration and disbelief.

Accuracy is important.

Have a good evening everyone.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Evolution of a Rabbi...

Top of the evening all...

On Sunday evening, I attended a program on literature of the second generation after the Shoah (The Holocaust).  It was interesting enough, certainly.

Over the years of my rabbinate, I have never been a huge fan of the way many react to the Shoah.  I have often found it as a substitute for spirituality.  People are Jewish and stay Jewish because of some event that happened during this time.

This is not what I want.  I want you to be Jewish because you love it.  I want you to be Jewish because the laws and the traditions speak to you, even if you do not always understand what they are saying.  I want you to be Jewish because the history of the Jewish people is your personal history as well.

Outside reasons do not have the staying power they need.

I still hold by that line of reasoning.

Where am I now though?  During my lifetime, we have gone from universal acceptance of the fact of the Shoah to it's occurrence being a 'legitimate' subject of debate.  We have seen people take the world stage and deny it.

This is an attempt to steal a Jewish past.  It is nothing more.  An attempt to steal someone's history is an attempt to steal someone's future.

As the last of the eyewitnesses die out, it is incumbent on the Jewish people to make sure that we record all of the stories.  Failure to carry this burden denies the tragedy that befell six million of our own, and five million others.  Failure to make sure that the history remains intact lets it happen again.

I will not allow our past to be ripped away from us.


Guest Blogger....

Good evening everyone.

We have a special guest blogger this evening.  My eldest, Jesse, is going to explain, in perfect high school logic, the evolutionary relationship between clouds and jellyfish.

Okay.  First things first, the following information comes from a couple of my friends from school, and not originally from me. Second, the explanation requires the entire story, which didn't start at the original explanation of this concept.

One Monday, during last period, my friend Jeffrey called me over to his desk to ask me a "serious rabbinic question": which came first: the Torah or the dinosaurs? 
Now, Jeffrey was sitting there with two other friends of ours, both of whom were perfectly capable of answering said question.  However, that is beside the point.  My response was that dinosaurs occurred somewhere in Ma'aseh Bereishit, and let's assume, for logic and realism's sake, that the Torah was written after the fact. 

At the end of the day, I found my friend Jonathan at his locker and told him about this.  Jonathan is an atheist by personal choice.  His response to the story was that, although he and I may disagree on the subject of who exactly wrote the Torah, we could both agree it was not written by dinosaurs.  I agreed with that; it was definitely written by a sentient being who could write (i.e. either people or God).  Jonathan then said, "No, just not by the dinosaurs."  "Oh, yes.  A squid wrote it." (I said the first incredibly unlikely possibility that I could think of.) Jonathan then defended the squid, "Squids are smart!" I amended my selected animal to a jellyfish, at which point Jonathan launched into an explanation of  the evolution of the jellyfish.  This logic was as follows:

Evolution (at face value) says that similar things are related.

The jellyfish is ninety-something percent water.

Clouds are ninety-something percent water.

Therefore, the cloud and the jellyfish come from a common ancestor.  This common ancestor must also be at least ninety-something percent water; therefore, the common ancestor between the cloud and the jellyfish is... the watermelon.

I was telling my friend Josh about the conversation this weekend, and Josh pointed out a serious flaw in Jonathan's logic (which is not easy to do). Josh said that gas came before biological matter, indicating that the cloud--which is made of water in gas form--is actually the common ancestor of the watermelon and the jellyfish.  The second issue that Josh noted is that plants came before animals.  Therefore, the cloud evolved into the watermelon, which in turn evolved into the jellyfish.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet evolution in its most basic definition.

Thus conclude the words of the teenagers.  We now return to the owner of this blog.

It is with some trepidation that I come to realize that we are turning the world over to these teenagers.

I think I need a glass of water.  Oh never mind.

Good night.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Burning Flags...

Top of the day everyone.

Under no circumstances do I support the idea of burning flags.  While from a legal point of view, I believe that we must allow for it, no one should keep company with those who would do such a deed.  That is not the subject of this entry though.

'Burning' is in the title functioning as an adjective.  'Flags' is a reference not to national ensigns, but rather to flag officers, officers who have achieved the rank of rear admiral or its equivalent.

I do not know how many of you have been following the recent scandal in the US Navy.  Apparently, a US Navy commander (one rank senior to me) has been selling information on ships' movements to a contractor in the Far East.  The contractor was then in a privileged position to offer his contracting services to those ships when they pulled in at various ports.  Payment to the officer in question was cash, prostitutes, and drugs.

This scandal has now risen beyond the commander.  Two admirals have just had their security clearances revoked.  They are now on leaves of absence.

Over the last several years, several officers at this level have lost their jobs for various reasons.

The commanding general at Fort Jackson, SC was relieved of duty and is facing court-martial for sexual assault.

General Petraeus (four stars) resigned as Director-CIA due to an extra-marital affair.

General McChrystal (four stars) was relieved of duty after publicly embarrassing the White House and allowing his staff to do the same.

The deputy in charge of our nuclear forces (three stars) was relieved of duty last month amid a gambling probe.

The commander of a carrier strike group was relieved in March for an appalling public demeanor and for disparaging minority officers.

A Canadian general was relieved three years ago for having dalliances with troops while in a combat zone. 

Leadership is more than a rank.  It is more than the ability to give an order.  It is an attitude and a discipline.  While I fully expect and understand that no one is error-free, the behaviour amongst many of the top brass is unacceptable.  These officers do not just earn a paycheque on the 15th and 30th of the month.  They are the people who are supposed to set standards of behaviour for all of us, up and down the line.  They are the face of the military as well.  People will notice admirals and generals long before they will notice the junior personnel.

In the United States, there is at least one award for which I will never be eligible.  That award is the Good Conduct Medal.  Ineligibility is not because my behaviour has been suspect.  It is because that award does not go to officers.  Our commissions are supposed to guarantee our conduct, not any expectation of an award.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider that policy.  In any event, shame on all of these flag officers who have brought disgrace on themselves and on the services they represent.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sharpening Vocabulary...

Good evening all.

I just read Jennifer's post.  Perhaps she needed to have milk in her coffee.  The problem is that she was at a very traditional synagogue this morning.  They take the Torah very seriously.  As such, one does not have milk in coffee, especially decaffeinated coffee.  The Torah is clear on this matter.  Three times it says that one should not seethe decaf in its mothers milk.

Okay...that is not why I am writing this evening.

During World War I (the most deadly war in the history of war), soldiers in the field were often diagnosed with shell shock.  Medically, there may or may not have been something immediately recognizable as a problem.  Due to any real understanding of what it was, it was often mistreated, or not treated at all.

With World War II, we started using the term 'combat fatigue.'  This was better, although not on the right path.  The idea was to treat quickly and within the combat zone.

Since Viet Nam, we have learned better terminology.  We now call it 'post-traumatic stress disorder.'  This is the right term.  A diagnosis requires the presence of symptoms for 30 days.  We have learned about triggers, wherein something can cause a reaction years after the stressor is gone.  Best of all, we have learned that this is a long-term diagnosis.  It cannot be solved in the combat zone.  It may reappear.  Symptoms can vary.  It is not only the result of long-term exposure to combat.  These are crucial lessons.

Moreover, they are crucial lessons off the battlefield.  People who endure traumatic events of any nature, or even 'just' one traumatic event, can have symptoms of PTSD.  Those symptoms might show up immediately.  They might also wait years.  There is no way to predict exactly.

Sharpening our vocabulary in this matter has at least allowed the medical folks to learn better about how to treat it.  The human body is a wonderful thing.  It is also rather mysterious (they discovered a new ligament in the knee last week).  We understand very little about the brain.  There is a long way to go in this regard, but at least we are on a better path.

I am going to sleep.


November 10th....

Top of the evening all....

Today is November 10th.  It is the anniversary of two dates in history.

In 1775, the Continental Congress voted to stand up a battalion of Marines*.  Every recruit is aware of this date, and of Tun Tavern in Philadelphia before even receiving the uniform.  Since then, the Marines have distinguished themselves in every conflict the United States has ever had to enter.

The Marines understand lineage.  They are big on their history.  I have served with them, and I, a lowly Sailor, know November 10th, 1775 as easily as I know my birthday.  I do not know the birthday of the United States Navy.

To the Marine Corps: Semper Fidelis.  To all, here is the USMC band playing the Marine Corps Hymn.

The other anniversary dates back to 1975.  On November 10th of that year a freak storm on Superior sank the Edmund Fitzgerald.  I do not know why that sticks in my head.  Perhaps it is because I live in the Great Lakes region.

Every year on this date, I make it a point to listen to Toronto's own Gordon Lightfoot sing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."  Here is the link for you:

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzggerald

Good night all.


*GS - The Secretary of Defense decided some years back that 'Marine' and 'Sailor' were to be capitalized.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another Brilliant Quote...

Top of the evening everyone...

Being married is more important than being right.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Get Over It, People....

Good morning everyone.

Imagine...the United States has been caught with its hands in the cookie jar.  The National Security Agency has been listening in to phone calls of our friends in Europe.  Mind you, it is not just Joe Q. Public's phone either.  Amongst other things, the United States has been listening to the phone conversations of Germany's Prime Minister Merkel.

Yawn.  Yawn again.  Reach for cup of coffee.  Sip.  Yawn.

Someone in Israel compared it to Chief of Police Renault in Casablanca being shocked about illegal gambling.

The only thing that the NSA did that perhaps should have been done differently was to violate the 614th commandment: thou shalt not get caught.

Countries have been spying on each other for millennia.  It is likely the second-oldest profession, and has often made use of the oldest profession in this endeavour.  Friendly nations have spied on friendly nations as often as they have spied on not-so-friendly nations.  Everyone does it.  Everyone knows it. Friendly nations do not use the information against friendly nations, as a rule.  Friendly nations also warn each other when there might be a problem.

The only thing that nations do not do is get caught.

Everyone raise your right hand.  Extend your index finger (your INDEX finger) towards the US.  Wag it, and say 'bad!'

Can we please move on to other nonsense now?

Have a good day everyone.


A Good Day Bicycling...

Good morning everyone...

Yesterday was a great day to ride a bicycle.  The weather was perfect...somewhere around 8-9 degrees centigrade.  That is the right temperature.  It is not so hot that one is drenched in sweat upon arrival.  It is not so cold that one must wear every layer of clothing imaginable.

I was headed south on Beecroft, parallel to Yonge St.  I was all the way over in the right lane.  There was a car right next to me, also in the right lane.  There was a car in the left lane.  The guy in the car in the left lane was on his phone.  The guy in the car next to me rolled down his window and told the other guy to get off his phone.  The man on the phone replied with a vocabulary that would get my kids grounded for a while.

The man who was fighting for right and decency in the city continued, telling the man of colourful vocabulary and electronic communicating device that he was a threat to my safety because I was on a bicycle and he was a distracted driver.

At the next light, I thanked him.

Later, I had to get from a turn lane to a centre lane at a traffic light.  This is a tricky endeavour.  Usually it means signalling and taking a good guess as to whether or not the guy behind me is slowing down to let me in, or slowing down because we are in a game of chicken trying to figure out who is going to do what and when.  I finally guessed and made for the centre lane.

We both came to a stop at the traffic light.  I waved to thank him.  He rolled down his window.  We had a very lovely chat in which I told him that I hope I guessed correctly.  I did.  After some more back and forth, we both wished each other a good day, and cheerily went our merry ways.

A nice day indeed...when there was no war between cyclists and cars.

Have a great day.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't Overwork. Don't Overspend...

Top of the afternoon to all.

One of my pet peeves is targeted overpricing.  That is where a product is greatly overpriced because the target consumer group will happily pay the extra.

Of what do I speak?  Jennifer and I went to the grocery store on Tuesday.  While we were there, I noticed Lieber's extra virgin olive oil in the kosher section.  It was marked at $32.99 for a 2-litre bottle.  That caught my eye.

I walked over to the aisle where all of the other oils are sold.  There, I found a 3-litre can of Colavita marked at $28.99.  I found other 3-litre cans at significantly less.

That is a 70% increase in price.  That is appalling.  The folks at Lieber's should be ashamed.  It is nothing less than a fleecing of the Jewish community.

I would not buy it.  It is not 'more' kosher.  Pesach is not a concern at all.  As such, there is no reason whatsoever to purchase a product with an unreasonably and unnecessarily inflated price.  Do not waste your money on it. Do not overspend.

If you choose to buy this product, do not pretend that Jewish Law requires you to do so.  It does not.  In fact, I would say the opposite.  Jewish Law requires that you not purchase it.  Why?  If you are one of the fortunate few who can afford to spend 70% more on a product, buy the cheaper product.  Take the 70% and donate it to your favourite tzedakah.  That tzedakah needs it more than the purveyors of grossly-overpriced goods.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Unable to Leap Tall Buildings...

Top of the evening all...

I had to get home today from the karate studio.  That is roughly eight kilometres.  It was rush hour.  It is a touch ironic that the slowest traffic times are called 'rush hour.'  Luckily, I had my bicycle.  I found a phone booth (no small feat), changed into my cape, and took off.

It was mostly a lovely ride.  I ended up behind a bus that kept stopping at all of the bus stops.  Imagine that.  I finally got sick of it.  Bathurst St was getting too crowded, and the cars were too close to the curb for me to get around them.  I left Bathurst St.

After traveling up the side roads for as far as I could, I ended up directly behind that same bus.  Finally, I was able to get around it at Sheppard.

After that, it was mostly clear sailing.  My friends, I beat the bus getting home.  This is not a statement of any physical prowess on my part.  Rather, it is a statement of the deplorable driving conditions in Toronto.

The more I drive here, the more I like my bicycle.

It is bedtime.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

In Search of the Lost Cord....

Good evening everyone...

Last week was a week of bizarre repairs.  The oven went.  The microwave went.  The wire on the coffee urn started arcing and sparking.

It could have been worse.  I am not certain, but I think that the oven is older than the kids.  I was really worried that there would be no parts available to replace a broken piece.  I had great fears of "it is a $10 part, but no one has made it for 10 years.  You have to replace the oven."  It was a $10 part, but it was just a wire.  The oven works again.

I am not sure what happened with the microwave.  The only thing I know is that RCA is willing to replace the parts for free, as it is still under warranty.  I have to ship it to them, pay to ship it back, and tack on a few extra dollars for the return shipping so that they could insure it.  I have to pay labour.  After all that money, it is easier to replace the microwave.  Conveniently, a friend is getting rid of a microwave, so this could work out for the best.  By the way, do not buy an RCA microwave.  This microwave was new.  A microwave should last more than four months.

The wire on the coffee urn went.  The urn would only work if the wire came in at a certain angle.  Then it started arcing and sparking.  As luck would have it, we were able to replace the cord at a fraction of the cost of a new urn.

And last, my brother gave us an old Mac mini.  It had a wired keyboard.  The wire was only three feet long.  We hooked the computer up to the downstairs TV.  Still, it was a pain to use.  Staples had an extension cord on their website.  After two futile attempts to get to Staples, I got there...and bought the wrong cord.  It turns out that the cord I wanted was only available on line.  The shipping was 67% more than the cord.  I found the right cord at a computer shop on Yonge, and returned the wrong cord to Staples.  I can now sit on the couch in the den if I need another computer.

I humbly do not apologize to the Moody Blues for the egregious misuse and abuse of the title of one of their albums as title of this blog entry.

Good night.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beer and Wings...

Top of the evening all...

The running joke betwixt Jesse and me of late is 'beer and wings.'  It is the joke we make whenever we do something manly.*  Tonight was a beer and wings night.

At about 9:00, Jesse asked to play ping-pong.  I had to fix the dishwasher, so I said no.  Whenever I say no, Jesse always somehow manages to make me feel compelled to say "I did not kill your puppy."  In any event, within a couple of minutes we were both trying to get the dishwasher out from under the counter.  The spring on one side of the door had broken.  It was old.  Metal fatigue had worn it out.  If we let go of the door when opening the dishwasher, it came down hard and heavy.

We pulled out the dishwasher just enough.  This is good.  We could not get it out any further.  We checked the good spring to use it as a model to replace the other spring.  Then we replaced both springs, figuring that the other one had also suffered from similar age and metal fatigue and could break at any point.

We were not as careful taking the front apart as perhaps we should have been.  It thus took us about 35 minutes to figure out how to put it back together.

The good news is that there were no pocket screws.  Pocket screws are the screws that remain on the floor after a repair.  When that happens, most people just pick up the screws and put them in a pocket.

Jesse said to me afterwards that it was way more a bonding experience than ping-pong.  It was a total beer and wings evening.

Have a good night.


*Disclaimer - enjoying beer and wings is not limited to men.  Neither is fixing the dishwasher.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Would Like My Money Back...

Good evening everyone...

The US Government has entered its second week of shutdown.  The credibility of the nation is in tatters.

Last year, I paid $231 to the IRS for my federal income tax obligation.  This is one of the joys of living in Canada.  With most of my income up here, I pay taxes primarily to Revenue Canada.

In any event, I would like the IRS to refund to me $4.44.  That is 1/52 of the amount I paid in taxes last year.  It seems fair that any money I send forward to keep the government operational should be paid back if the government is unable to meet its share of that arrangement.

Have a good night.


Learning Coping Skills...

Good evening everyone.

October 7, 2013

Jennifer and I have had a rough week.  Over the last several days, we have lost the ability to nuke and to bake.  That is right.  The microwave died.  Then the oven died.  Initially, I was quite steamed.

Gavi likes a cup of hot chocolate in the morning.  We have to do it now the old-fashioned way, constantly stirring milk on a hot burner.

Jennifer made sauce and pasta for dinner on the stovetop.  Tomorrow, we will use the crockpot.

This is new for us.  Jennifer and I go through toasters the way most people go through socks.  We have been living in this house for four years.  In that time, we have had at least three toasters.  As well, since we have been in Toronto (eight years), we have used at least a half dozen telephones.

Tomorrow, the repairperson from Frigidaire is likely going to tell me that an oven that is older than the children is not worth repairing.

On the positive side, we have extra counter space without the microwave there.

I want to say "at least the (insert appliance here) still works."  For obvious reasons, I am not going to say that.

With all of this, I am rather fried.

Good night.



October 8, 2013

The logic would have gone like this.  The oven is dead.  We have to replace the oven.  When we redo the kitchen, we will have to replace what would have likely been a 1k expense, or model a new kitchen around an existing oven.  Therefore, we might have to consider redoing the entire kitchen now.  It turns out that there was a burnt out wire in the oven.  We repaired it; therefore, we do not have to gut the kitchen.

A Light Has Gone Out in Israel

Good evening all...

On the second day of the week, the third day of the month of Heshvan, five thousand, seven hundred seventy-four years from the dawn of creation, a light went out in Israel.  The former Sephardi chief rabbi, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, died today.  He was 93.

Within the world of Jewish learning, we speak of gedolei hador, the giants of the generation.  Rav Ovadiah, in the mind of many, was gedol gedolei hador, a giant amongst the giants.

I have had the privilege of reading some of what he has written.  His halakhic (Jewish legal) writings show a depth of knowledge unparalleled in this world.  In a Jewish society more and more dominated by stringencies, he fearlessly wrote leniencies in every area of Jewish law.  In one famous case, he allowed testimony that would otherwise not stand the test of Jewish law in order to free women whose husbands had disappeared in war.

He was also one of the few who had command of sources in both Jewish worlds.  While he was clearly a Sephardi, his writings often ended with a statement about the customs amongst the Ashkenazim.  Too many rabbis in either community ignore the goings-on in the other community.  He did not do that.

He has been cited at least once in this blog.

Rav Ovadiah certainly had a couple of times when perhaps he might have followed a model of silence instead of a model of speaking.  Nonetheless, over 800,000 people, fully 10% of Israeli society, crowded the streets of Jerusalem for his funeral today.

May we all seek to have a teaspoon of the amount of knowledge he had, and may his memory be for a blessing.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Plague o' Both Your Houses...

Today is October 1, 2013.  Today, the US House of Representatives and the US Senate failed to meet its obligations to the American people.  Today, the US government shut down.  There is no immediate solution to this problem.

The Democrats refuse to give up on Obamacare.  The Republicans want to gut it.  Whatever our feelings on Obamacare might be, at the end of the day, it is the law of the land.  The Republicans, if they are committed to the concept of law, need to accept this and move on.

To be fair though, the Democrats might also realize that people are losing jobs and employers are refusing to hire full-time people due to this law.

Just because they sit on opposite sides of the political aisle does not mean that opposing parties are wrong in everything they have ever thought or done.

At the end of the day, 800,000 will not show up to work tomorrow.  These are people with families to support.  These are people with mortgages to pay and groceries to buy.  These are people who have been faithful servants of a government, and who were let go with little fanfare.

President Reagan is quoted as saying that he would not allow himself to "go off the cliff with all flags flying."  It is a great statement about the idea of political compromise.  Sadly, that idea seems egregiously lost now, leaving the nation hanging in the balance of political bickering.

A plague o' both your houses.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Really Bad Joke...

Top of the evening to all...

For those who do not know, it is a custom during the holiday of Sukkot to take the Four Species, commonly known as a lulav.  The four species include myrtle branches.  In Hebrew, the myrtle is called 'hadas.'

Apparently, there was a shortage of hadasim this year.  They searched high.  They searched low.  They could not find any.  One frustrated merchant was heard to say the following:

.אין כל הדס תחת השמש

I would like to apologize for this joke.  As well, if you are not a Hebrew speaker, please know that I am unable to render this pun in English.

Have a good evening.


I Can't Win...

Good evening all...

With all of the Jewish holidays falling in September, we were very excited that we would have good weather for Sukkot.  For those who do not know Sukkot, we build temporary booths in our yards, and we take our meals therein.  Evenings have been lovely.  Days...less so.

Why have days been less lovely?  I have never seen so many yellowjackets.  They were all over the sukkah.  They chased us inside.

I thought they liked beer.  So I had purchased remarkably bad beer to put some out for them.  Please note: they do not like beer.

They do like grape juice and honey.  My experiment has somewhat worked in this regard.  I put some honey in a wine bottle.  I now have about 50 yellowjackets captive.  I am not letting them go.

I had also put some grape juice in a plastic bottle.  It was possible to feel the buzzing through the bottle.

It is supposed to be cooler this week.  Perhaps they will all stay home.

Moadim l'Simchah.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can We Please Have an Intelligent Conversation?

Top of the morning all...

You are now likely aware of the goings-on at the Washington Navy Yard.  This one is personal for me, as you might imagine.  My administrative requirements are handled at the reserve centre in DC.  All DC-based Naval personnel had to report in yesterday (either by phone or by computer).

I wrote several months ago after the massacre in Connecticut that the nation had to have a conversation about this, and that not all of the answers could be connected back to having lenient gun laws.  We had to discuss violence in movies and in video games.  We had to have a conversation about mental illness. Failure to consider all of these issues will lead to a hollow reaction that will not address the problem.

It is turning out that yesterday's shooter had been hearing voices.  As well, there are reports he had been spending as much as 16 hours a day playing violent video games.  It is inconceivable to me that anything we might do 16 hours a day would not affect us.

I again say this: the laws in the US as regards procuring a personal weapon are simply too lenient.  However, we must consider these other factors.  People who wish to procure a personal weapon will do so, no matter the law.  What motivates a person to load the weapon and squeeze the trigger is a separate set of questions.  That separate set of questions yields a separate set of answers.

Had base security been on the ball, he would not have gotten onto the Yard with a weapon.  Had his arrest record been determinant, he would not have been able to purchase a weapon.  There are too many stopping points in the trail that led to yesterday's shooting.  Had any one of them been given the necessary consideration, none of this would have happened.

On a separate note, the shooter had a police record and a discipline record with the Navy.  He also had a job working as a sub-contractor for Hewlett-Packard.  He worked on Navy computers, including our intra-net.  It is shocking to me that he might have been allowed near those things with such a background.  It really makes me question what a security clearance is actually worth.

In honour of the US Navy, I refer all to the singing of the Navy Hymn.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Cost-Therapy Equation

Hi all...

After years of emotionally exhausting research, I have finally identified the cost-therapy equation.  It is an important theory for all who have to get up in the morning and go to work.

Here is part of how I identified it.  Before I left for Japan, Jennifer had to quit her job in order to be, in effect, a single parent.  Her job required full-time hours, lack of sleep, some weekends away, and a lot of logistical challenge working with one car and kids going to school far from the house.  She could not do that with me gone.

After I got back, Jennifer started a new job.  The hours were only part-time, and we took a net pay cut of ~$2500/year.  The hours, as I said, were part-time.  I usually pick up the kids from school one day a week, though her schedule would allow it.  She is home nights.  She has been gone for a total of three weekends.

To understand the cost-therapy equation, you have to ask the following question: does the amount of money being earned pay for the therapy you need as a result of your job?  I can tell you - the extra ~$2500/year Jennifer brought in did not cover the therapy we needed as a result of her job.

The challenge to this equation is the other side.  Sometimes, a bad job pays for therapy.  We need to pay bills.  The inability to do that can often yield more stress than the lousy working circumstances.  Having watched many people deal with the angst of unemployment, there is a limit to the tongue-in-cheek nature of this blog entry.

Have a good day all.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Scenes from an Airport

Good evening everyone...

I am sitting here in Norfolk International Airport.  United Airlines did not think it necessary to have my luggage arrive on the same flight I did.

While I was sitting here, a woman in a bit of a rush pushed a cart past me.  The cart had several large boxes and was labelled as containing donor organs.  I asked her if she needed help.

Suddenly, the luggage does not seem quite as important.

This is a definite good news-bad news situation.  Obviously, someone just died.  On the other hand, someone else now has a chance at life.

Sign your donor cards.  I have done so.  I would be honoured to be a witness on your card.

Please note: there are no halakhic objections to this.  I do not know how it came to be that you have to be buried intact, but it is utter nonsense.  Not that it matters.  All commandments are suspended when saving a life anyway.

Have a good evening.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

For the Caregivers...

Afternoon all...

I am not a fully-trained hospital chaplain (but I play one on TV).  Still, over the years, I have picked up a little bit of wisdom.  Something happened today that leaves me thinking I should pass that wisdom on.

I received a phone call today from someone whose spouse had a significant stroke two years ago.  Why did this person call me?  Over the last two years, of all the people this person knows, I was the only one who consistently made it a point to ask this person how things were with him/her.  This was beyond the concern for the sick.  We spend so much time appropriately worrying about the health of a sick person that we often lose sight of those who are directly involved in their care.  Ask the caregivers too.  They might be stressed.  It can be very difficult to be involved in such direct care all the time.  It can be gut-wrenching to watch someone struggle to regain abilities, or to watch someone progressively lose abilities.  The sick person is only one part of the story.  The caregiver is also vital.  Check in from time to time.

Also, if you are a caregiver, take a day off once a week.  Take a vacation.  It is not selfishness.  To take the time for self-care will make you a better caregiver and likely a less resentful caregiver.

Have a good evening.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Difficult Choices

Top of the evening all...

The President is facing a remarkably difficult set of decisions right now.  As you are aware, the Syrian army has seen it fit to use chemical weapons on its own population.  It is a vile act of a cruel despot.


1.  Do nothing.  It has the advantage of not affecting the status quo.
2.  Use the US military for some sort of strike.  It also has the advantage of not affecting the status quo, but at least we do not look foolish for having declared and then ignored a red line.

The problem within Syria is that the President must consider what the effects of such a strike might be.  He could unseat the butcher in Damascus.  The challenge there is that those attempting to do precisely that would then turn their weapons on each other.  Syria would likely be in a state of civil war for another decade.  At the end of that civil war, Syria would likely be ruled by a brutal theocracy.  On the other hand, left alone, the butcher of Damascus will likely put this rebellion down.  Syria will then be ruled by a brutal autocracy.

The choice comes down to the following question: do we support that which is reprehensible, or that which is abhorrent?

Perhaps I am glad I was not elected President.  It is generally a bad thing to feel like one must shower after making a decision.

Good night.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Happiness and Atonement

Top of the afternoon all...

With Yom Kippur drawing nigh, and my sermons not quite yet finished, I thought it appropriate to think about how we should live our lives.

The Jerusalem Talmud teaches us that we will be called to atone for every legitimate pleasure we deny ourselves.  This is primarily in connection to food.  I do not believe this to be a statement allowing us to eat whatever we want whenever we want, as long as it is kosher.  We must still keep a careful eye on our health.  At the same time, it is a statement that those foods that are given to us to eat are truly there for us to enjoy.

That being said, a couple of the pita companies around here do fantastic pitas.  They are soft, chewy, and resonant of those in Jerusalem.  It is a sheer delight to put one in the toaster for just a little bit.  Then, it is soft, chewy and warm.

Ahhhh....happiness is a warm bun.

Have a good day.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Friday, the Rabbi Said Kaddish...

Top of the day to all...

Last Friday was the 10th of the month of Elul.  I said Kaddish.

For those who do not know, Kaddish is a prayer spoken in memory of the deceased.  We say it during the required period of mourning for one of the seven key relatives (father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse) and at the anniversary of the death.

There are those around my congregation who prefer I do not say it.  Those seven relatives are, thankfully, alive and kicking.  There is an old superstition that if you say Kaddish with no reason, God will give you a reason.  I do not hold by such stupid-stition, not in the least.  As well, I have heard of it leading to a damaging legal decision, where someone was told not to say Kaddish for his wife, as his parents were still alive.  According to Biblical law, parents command a higher degree of respect than all other relatives.  Still, superstition about what might happen to them should not prevent a person from fulfilling both an obligation and a catharsis for a spouse.

When we get to that point in the service. I usually have my cantor lead it.

What changed on Friday?  In most synagogues, members will put up memorial plaques for the deceased.  There is a small light next to each one that is lit up the week of the yahrtzeit (memorial).  On the southern wall of my sanctuary on the memorial board, there are four consecutive plaques lit up this week.  A few plaques underneath, there is a fifth.

The four lights are Mrs. Menka's family.  The one lone light a few plaques down is for her late husband's entire family.  The corresponding English date on all of them was August 23, 1942.

I can imagine what happened.  We all can.  I do not know where.  I do not know how she managed to escape it.  What I do know is this: I get a chill every time I look at those four plaques.  I must walk past them to get to my pulpit.

Mrs. Menka is no longer able to attend services regularly.  Between that and the compelling nature of such a calamitous day, I felt the need to say Kaddish.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

He Makes Me So Proud...

Top of the evening to all...

Of which 'he' do I speak?  We will start with Jesse.

I am trying to find the weblink to the opening ceremony for Yom Sport 2013 at Ramah.  There is a trumpet fanfare as part of that ceremony.  Jesse composed it specifically for that occasion.  Way to go Kid!!

And then there is Gavi.  We told the woman who teaches ceramics at camp that we bought a couple of extra shelves for Gavi's growing collection of ceramics.  She said: "you're going to need a bigger house."  And that is not all.

Over the summer, people have asked me how the kids are doing.  My response has consistently been "I don't care."  They were at camp.  If something had gone awry, the camp would have let us know.

Something went awry.  We got a call this morning from the camp doctor.  "Everything's fine..."  Gavi and a culprit...oops...I mean friend...were out very late on the last night of camp.  More accurately, they were out exceedingly early the last morning of camp.  The two young gentlemen were bunk-hopping to visit someone on the girls' side of camp.  While over there, Gavi managed to get clotheslined by a clothesline.  It caught him at the neck and flipped him.

I spent two hours today at an emergency clinic around the corner.  Gavi has a not-so-well-tempered clavicle.  He fractured his left collarbone.

My darling son injured himself while involved in a little otherwise harmless mischief.  He thinks it was on the camp eiruv no less.*  It is really quite wonderful.  The rabbis' kid injures himself on a part of the religious boundary of the camp doing something he was likely not supposed to be doing.  I am so proud.

He wanted to go over to the drugstore today to get something.  Jennifer appropriately told him to walk.  Then she made the mistake of lying down for a nap.  She heard the garage door open.  Gavi rode his bicycle (one-handed) over to the drug store.  Yet again, I am so proud.

At least his attempt to lie about it was not sincere.

He has just discovered that he cannot do a belly-slide down the bannister from his room.

Have a good night.

Rav Sean

*Jesse is not certain about the eiruv.  He thinks it was just a clothesline.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Ability to Pun...

Top of the afternoon all...

Most of you are aware of my deep love of the pun.  I regard it as the highest form of humour.  Please note: a good joke is not judged so much by the laugh as by whether or not someone is doubled over in pain.  I live for that.  If you are new to this blog and not entirely aware of my deep love of the pun, check the entries entitled 'Finally...' and 'The Joke.'  I thought these were brilliant masterpieces.

Jennifer and I toured a beer brewery last week.  The brewery is a little whimsical in the way they do packaging.  Under the cap, you will find little sayings.  The company is very clear that if you are seeking wisdom, you should look elsewhere.

I submitted a suggestion.  "Sometimes, things have to come to lager heads."

They are going to put it under a cap.

I won a six-pack of beer.

The ability to pun has now not only brought laughter and indigestion to many.  I have now won a prize.

You can bet that I will never let Jennifer forget this.

Have a good day.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Perspectives from Summer Camp

Shalom all…

Jennifer and I are halfway through a week up at summer camp at the present.  I thought some perspective on camp life might be in order.

Jesse just finished his last Shabbat as a camper.  He was holding back tears at Havdalah this evening.  My but we have come a long way.  This is the kid who spent a night in our cabin the first summer we were up here eight years ago.  He was having adjustment concerns, and the staff did not think he could handle the overnight camping trip.  By the way, he has since earned his platinum medal in canoeing, and voted for the hardest camping trip with his friends.  Keren was also fighting back tears tonight.

Many of my friends are vegetarians.  I have heard the arguments both ways.  After having spent time at camp, I realize that there is one compelling argument towards the consumption of meat.   With few natural predators, it falls on human beings to control the spread of the Canada goose.  I volunteer, happily.  I am debating offering a course in kosher slaughter one summer.  At the conclusion of the course, we will have a barbecue.  They are such disgusting creatures.

Jennifer pointed out last summer that there is something important to the kids about standing on benches.  I do not know what it is, but at random moments at meals, various groups of kids will stand up and start singing or shouting.

I have discovered an amusing difference between the boys and the girls.  Many of the girls in Keren’s group have not yet been photographed in their own dress clothes.  On Friday afternoon, in preparation for Shabbat, all of the girls are wearing someone else’s clothing.  The boys just do not do that.  The boys wear their own clothes.  It seems that at least concerning the dress clothes, the girls here do not bring their own clothing so much as they bring a contribution to the communal wardrobe.

Jesse's group did its musical last night.  They performed, in Hebrew, "Prince of Egypt.'  After a hiatus of too many years, it was nice to see/hear my trumpet in the pit orchestra.  Jesse arranged the music for the trumpet and clarinet, and played very nicely.  I got a little misty-eyed.  That group spent this evening at dinner singing songs from the Passover Haggadah.  It was really funny when they had the entire camp singing "Ehad Mi Yodea" - "Who Knows One."

There are varying levels of personal observance amongst the campers.  Some will wear a kippah (yarmulke) all day.  Some will wear one only at meals and at daily services.  I took an informal survey today.  Of the six rabbis' sons at camp, only one wears a kippah full time.  The rabbis' kids are apparently the worst culprits.  Imagine that.

The child of close friends has happily adopted Jennifer and me as his camp parents.  What I do not understand is this: what is it about me that has him react to me with the same level of mischief that I get from Gavi?  Is it etched on my forehead?

I have a pet rock.  Somehow, there is always a small stone in my left shoe.  No matter how many times I pour it out, I have a stone again within an hour.  I think it is the same stone.  I think it follows me around camp, waiting cunningly for the opportunity to jump into my shoe.

Have a good night.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

I Thought It Was a Non-Event...

Top of the evening to all...

It has now been three weeks since the appendectomy.  As I have said to everyone, I felt much better the next day.  I was functional within a week.  I felt like I was 100% by the time I got home two weeks afterwards.  Looking back, I was not 100% at that time.  I am now 100%.

Everyone is still concerned.  I get all manner of question on how I am feeling.  I feel fine.  I really do.  I find myself puzzled by the questions.  I appreciate the concern.  By all means, keep asking.  I have to remember that I had surgery.  It is routine for everyone except the patient.  My friends and congregants are aware of that.  That is why everyone is asking.

On a separate note, there is a short prayer we are supposed to say after surviving a harrowing experience.  According to Jewish Law, such harrowing experiences would include intercontinental flight, significant illness, childbirth, surgery, leaving jail, or leaving a combat zone.  I said this prayer.  In my own mind though, it was not for the surgical procedure itself.  It was more for the illness, which, if not caught in time, would have presented a much more serious health issue.

Have a good evening...


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If You Stop and Think...

Top of the evening folks...

I was just at a shiva house (house of mourning).  Someone almost said the wrong thing.  Luckily, she said it properly.

What is the wrong thing?  "May you know no more sorrow."  It sounds lovely.  May your life be a sustained time of pure bliss.  It is unlikely though.  And, if you stop and think about it, you might not say that ever again.  Why?  See the next paragraph.

It is hardly a nice thing to say to someone.  One of the facts of life is that we will know sorrow.  The only other alternative is that someone will know sorrow for us.  I am 43 years old.  I very much hope that I will know sorrow.  I am frankly not ready to check out.

The person ultimately said the right thing: "may you know no sorrow for a long time."

Have a good evening.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Apres le Deluge...

Top of the afternoon all...

I thought that the trial was over.  Apparently, I was wrong.  It is fully five days after the verdict, and it is still all over the news.  Now, the Department of Justice is considering opening a civil rights case against the former accused.  I understand that they have even set up an e-mail account to gather information.  I am debating writing in.  I have a few things I might consider writing.  "I saw George Zimmerman on the grassy knoll."  "George Zimmerman knows where Hoffa spends summers."  "George Zimmerman looks exactly like D. B. Cooper...and he owns a parachute."

From the outset, I never believed that George Zimmerman was guilty.  I believed and still believe that he was defending himself.  However, he does bear a certain amount of culpability.  Why?  For starters, if he listened to the police dispatcher and stayed in the car, nothing happens.  If he got out of the car with another person, nothing would have happened.  Both of those actions alone sowed the ground for the conflagration that followed.  Furthermore,...

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot tells us:

הוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות.

Greet all with a happy face.

Folks, it is possible that none of this needed to happen.  If Zimmerman gets out of the car without the idea that there would be a fight, without the idea that 'these punks' get away with this all the time, we are having a different conversation.  He went out expecting trouble.  His approach and attitude all but guaranteed that there would be trouble.

This is not a crime.  Nonetheless, the role of both protagonists cannot be discounted in the escalation.

Good night all.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Difference between Moving and an Appendectomy…

Top of the afternoon all....

Several of my loyal readers are moving house this summer or have just moved.  They have all heard me talk about the difference between moving and an appendectomy.  The differences are two:

1.  With an appendectomy, you get anesthesia.
2.  The recovery period on an appendectomy is shorter.

In either event, you get gutted.

Up until this weekend, my favourite comment about moving has really been purely speculative.  I had never had an appendectomy.  Now, I can speak to this now with some expertise, as I have both moved and had an appendectomy. 

With the anesthesia, they do that in two stages.  The first is a stage just to put you out.  The second is for a much deeper sleep.    They told me that most people do not last 30 seconds after the injection for the first stage.  I deliberately counted to 30, but have no recollection of what happened after that.  Difference #1 is absolutely correct.

On an aside, the nurse involved was very funny.  He said that surgery is like a liberty port.  You wake up somewhere else, with no clue how you got there, and with very little clothing on.

I am at present not certain of the recovery time.  I do know that I feel much better post-appendectomy than I did prior.  I also feel much better this evening than I did this morning.  So I am guessing that I am correct on difference #2.

*Sunday morning, T+36 hours – I feel a lot better today.

A couple of notes: I called the hospital duty chaplain and asked him to contact the LANTAREA chaplain and let him know what was going on.  He did so.  On Saturday, the chaplain whose office I will cover next week came by.  He hung out, helped me out, and even made a run back over to my hotel room to pick up a few things.  Thanks Tim.

My immediate boss happened to be in the area.  Kim came by and sat with me for a while.  She also brought me an eight-pack of powerade.  This is good.  Powerade goes right through me.  I can now tell you that a catheter to help with ‘Operation Golden Flow’ is not a fun experience.  While she was sitting, the Reserve Force deputy chaplain came by.  My colleagues really did right by me.

Special thanks also go to Kim, my immediate boss.  She is presently working up at Yorktown, roughly an hour from here.  As mentioned, she came down on Saturday.  She is coming back down on Sunday for the sole purpose of getting me from the hospital back to where I am staying.

The hospital is having trouble feeding me.  Other than that, I must tell you that Portsmouth Naval Hospital is a fine place to have an appendectomy.  If I ever need another one, this is where I wish to go.

Have a good night.


*Appendix: As it turns out, my dad spent the same weekend in the hospital.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No No No...That's Not What We Meant!!

Top of the evening all.

We have all been privileged to watch the so-called Arab Spring over the last couple of years.  The term is clearly inappropriate.  Spring carries with it hopes of new life and new beginnings.  It does not carry with it the death of over 100,000 people.  It does not carry with it virtually no change in the style of leadership that the masses so richly want and deserve.

We, the democracy-loving people of the western world, find ourselves in a bit of a quandary.  We watched as the leader of Egypt, formerly known as 'Pharaoh,' was deposed a couple of years ago.  We were thrilled, though wary, when the Egyptians put together a democratically-elected government.  It was a concern to us that this government was very Islamist in its outlook.  We tried to look the other way when that Islamist outlook began to take over every aspect of Egyptian society.  We were uncomfortable though.  When we hoped for Egyptian democracy, it never dawned on us that it would be so Islamist.

Now we find ourselves stuck.  The people of Egypt have spoken, loudly and unequivocally.  They do not like Morsi. problem thus far.  Then the army removed him from power.

What do we do?  Do we cheer what is in effect a coup d'etat, in the hopes that a right and proper (secular) government takes over?  Or do we wag a finger and say that the army is not supposed to interfere so clearly in the civilian leadership?

I find myself cheering for the army here.  I hope that the Egyptians are thinking that they will find the right way, but that was not it.

Perhaps we should call it the 'Arab Convulsion.'  It is not yet spring until something good happens somewhere.

Good night.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Should I be Insulted?

Top of the evening all...

If you have not figured it out, Jennifer and I are in separate places right now.  That means I write more blog entries.  Aren't you lucky?

From time to time, a curious thing takes place at my morning minyan.  It happened on Sunday.  We are a Conservative congregation.  There was a woman there who was clearly Orthodox.  I know why this is so.

At most of the Orthodox congregations in Toronto, the custom is that women do not say mourner's Kaddish.  For those of you who do not know, Kaddish is a prayer that is said during the year of mourning for the deceased, and again every year on the anniversary of the death.  Those who want to say Kaddish will often come to me.  I do not know why they feel the need to leave their own congregations.  There is virtually no Halakhic proscription as to women saying Kaddish.  In any event, they are certainly welcome at the Pride.

Part of me wants to feel cheap and used.  They came for a specific purpose, a purpose that their own congregations will not support.  "If I cannot say Kaddish at my own Orthodox congregation, I will go to the Conservative congregation.  They will let me do anything."

On the other hand, at least for that one service, they are in a place where their pastoral needs are respected.  They are in a place that avoids unnecessary and irrelevant stringencies.  They are in a place where the legal limits of Jewish Law may bend from time to time, but where they never break.

So I have decided not to be insulted.  For that one day, they come to a place that does not see stringency as a goal in and of itself.  I feel respected.

Have a good night.


Well That's Awkward...

Top of the evening all...

As you are all aware, I am male.  That part is not particularly awkward.

Twice over the last six weeks, I have found myself in a rather uncomfortable situation.  The first time was at the movies back in May.  The second time was today.

Would someone please tell me if it is okay for a man to tell a 16-year old girl or a ~48-year old woman that she is simply too large not to wear a bra?  On the latter, it might not have been so obvious if the blouse were not cut so low.

Have a good night.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Race Relations in America

Top of the evening all...

I have been watching the Zimmerman trial with morbid fascination over the last week or so.  I cannot wait until it is over.

We should all be sad and alarmed at whatever the turn of events was that led to the death of a kid whose entire life should have been ahead of him.  We should be further alarmed at the grisly way in which he met his demise.  Whether the defendant acted in self-defence is the clear question demanding an answer.  If yes, that is grounds for acquittal right there.  However, one is forced to wonder about the way we make decisions.  Would we be as willing to stand our ground without a personal weapon?  Would we be more willing to seek alternate solutions without immediate access to lethal force?  Such alternate solutions might be just to call the police first, or to run as fast as possible in the other direction.

In any event, my best estimation of the proceedings thus far is that Zimmerman will be found not guilty.  There have been cross-examinations in which the defence has trounced the prosecution, and there have been cross-examinations where it appears to be a draw.  It seems that the prosecution has had very few moments of glory in this trial.

Where are we left?  We are left in a situation where a young man is dead.  He might have been innocent.  We likely will never know.  He might have been guilty, and is now simply unable to unmake a series of bad decisions taken at a time of life that many people would like to redo.  We are also left with an adult who is either guilty of manslaughter or not.  He will nonetheless carry the burden of this trial for the rest of his life.

As is typical of many trials, the defence requested dismissal of charges after the prosecution rested.  The judge wisely denied the motion.  The reason I think she must have had in mind is the racial issue.  This is a different trial if both defendant and victim are of the same race.  The racial overtones of this trial place a shadow over the whole affair, a shadow that will demand that the trial be seen to a decisive verdict.  It is upsetting as well that a matter of law has gone well beyond the basic facts of the case.

Good night all...


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

National Holidays

Top of the evening all...

It is July 2nd.  It is that tiny period between Canada Day and July 4th.  For obvious reasons, both of these holidays are important to me.

Apparently, someone asked a rabbi whether or not to fly the flag on July 4th.  Please allow me to answer the question.


I am not entirely certain as to why this is a rabbinic question.  Nonetheless, please allow me to respond in a more in-depth manner.  The Torah tells us in Leviticus Chaper 18 that we are not to follow the laws of the non-Jews around us.  This would clearly refer to their holidays.  A cursory glance at this law gives us more than enough reason to observe the holidays in question.  The Torah does not know from holidays of national celebration.  It only understands idolatry.  That is a problem.  Most of the national holidays are not of such a nature.

Moreover, when we, as Jews, take part in these holidays, we make a communal statement that we share in the joys and sorrows of the countries where we make our homes.  We remember that while there has been discrimination, most of the places we live have legal policies in place to end that discrimination, and not to perpetuate it.

We should keep in mind further that the Jews of most nations have taken part in the process of building nations.  We have served in the military.  We have taught in the schools.  We have served in the government.  We have gotten up in the morning and gone to work.  We have given to the charities.  We have done this as individuals, and we have done this as communities.  When we celebrate national birth, when we shed a tear on Memorial Day/Remembrance Day, when we remember the herculean efforts necessary to ensure basic workers' rights that we take for granted, it is both an internal and external reminder that we have endeavoured to create these national homes as much as anyone else.

I suppose that there is a tiny caveat.  Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas Day are national holidays here in Canada.  On Good Friday, you should be in the throes of preparing for Pesach.  On Easter Sunday, it is Pesach.  Do not observe those holidays.

On Christmas Day, I encourage all to go out for Chinese food and then to a movie.

Have a good evening all.  If you are in the US or in Canada, happy birthday to your respective country.

Good night to all.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Hanging Out with Gavi...

Top of the evening all...

Jesse is at camp.  Keren went to Montreal with a friend.  Gavi has both of his parents to himself.  On Thursday, we went to evening minyan, and then rode bicycles up to the kosher sushi restaurant a couple of kilometres from here.

On Shabbat, we played some ping pong.  Gavi also played scrabble with Jennifer.  He also had a long chat with Jennifer about Law, law, and custom.  He might actually wear a kippah from time to time.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.  I hope that we can go down to the City Island and ride bicycles.  We can pack a lunch.  There is a two-story spider web, the modern replacement to the monkey bars.  If the weather is not so cooperative, we will head either to the ROM or up to the Promenade for $5 Tuesdays at the movies.

We have also worked some on his Torah reading skills.

Gavi, as always, seems unfettered by gravity.  As well, watching his video game skills, I think he would make a superb Jedi.

Good night all.


A Matter of Faith...

Top of the day to all...

It is possible I may have been insulted a couple of weeks ago.  We had a discussion on a piece of text that I was not comfortable interpreting literally (gasp!).  It was a good discussion.  Afterwards, one of the women who frequents the shul walked up to me.  She grasped my arm.  This alone was odd, as her understanding of Jewish practice is that men and women should not touch.  She then something like 'may your faith be as pure as mine.'

I did not realize that my faith was lacking.

To the immediate point, whether or not the Torah is literal, literal at all times, poetic, or both simultaneously is a question above my pay grade.  It is, however, simply incorrect to state that taking one position or the other smacks of a lack of faith.  I would even add that holding to a documentary hypothesis as opposed to divine writ is also not a lack of faith, though that is beyond the scope of this blog entry.  As well, it is the ultimate in human arrogance to assume your own understanding is the correct understanding.

Now that I am thinking about it further, it is also heresy to say that the Torah is never poetic.  Why is it that God who creates or inspires poets cannot create or inspire poetry?

With that prelude, a note about faith is in order.  For some people, faith is unquestionable, perhaps pure and innocent.  On the one hand, those people can go through their lives with comfort and ease, secure in the knowledge that creation, the Torah, and their lives, are happily constant.  I suppose that it yields a serenity that lowers blood pressure.  It also leads to people blowing up buses and airplanes in the name of such faith.

On the other hand, others of us ask questions.  Why do I believe what I believe?  What happens if a variable is introduced into the equation?  Does it still stand the test of logic?  Less serenity is present, for certain.  At the same time, it is, at least in my mind, a way to make sure that our brains are actively engaged on a constant basis.  The struggle is also much more consistent with the flow of Jewish history.

To the woman who shook my hand, I return with the same wish for her.  May your faith be as pure as mine.

Enjoy the afternoon.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Girl School

Hi all...

I learned early in Keren's life that girls are different from boys.  With two older brothers, you might have thought that she would have liked blue sweatpants.  Nothing doing.  Keren liked pink and purple dresses.  She had one dress that had we let her, she would have never taken off.  She wanted to sleep in her purple dress.

I remember committing an egregious sin.  Keren slept over at a friend's home.  There was a birthday party they were both to attend the next day.  It was to be a rather shmutzy birthday party.  I gambled.  I sent her with 'get shmutzy' clothing, and no dress.  She did not even say hello to me when she got home.  She admonished me for my choice in her clothing.  The friend's mother had to do laundry, as the dress she was wearing when she left was too messy to wear the next day.

Anyway, little girls become little women.  At least now, she wears pants from time to time, and colours can be something other than pink or purple.

There are things I do not understand.

I do not understand how it is I can braid a bread, but cannot braid her hair.  She can do it without being able to see.

I do not understand the appeal of nail polish.  The boys do not wear it.  She loves it.  To get a manicure with her mother or with her grandmother is simply the cat's meow.

I do not understand the love of jewelry.  I wear a watch.  My wedding band is on my watchband.  The boys do not wear any jewelry.  Keren has necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.  She once said: "You know Eema, jewelry is very important in a girl's life."

There is only one unifying theory that explains this - Girl School!  It is a secret school that girls attend.  There, they learn these things.

Every time she does something that boys in general decidedly do not do, I say 'Girl School.'  Keren then insists that there is no such thing as Girl School.  I do not believe her.  I think that all of the students swear an oath to keep it absolutely secret.

I do not know where Girl School is.  I will find it though.

Good night.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Another 20 Snippets

Top of the morning all...

Jennifer wrote 20 snippets for 20 years of marriage.  We get to that point in July.  The challenge for me is that I have to think of something similar.  The good news is that she gave me a month's notice.

1.  10:30 pumpkin time...yes, it is true.  I am a typical male.  Head on pillow = instant sleep.  I remember talking with Jennifer about this.  I said to her that if you turn off the engine on the car, but it keeps knocking around, it means that something is very wrong with the engine.  Jennifer's response to me was that women tend to be more like computers.  Computers do not just turn off.  They have to shut down each and every program, one at a time, before finally calling it a night.

2.  I remember the first barbecue we bought.  We had just gotten to Hawaii.  Jennifer said that I should have purchased a larger grill.  As much as I have drilled into the kids' heads that real men cook with fire, the truth is that Jennifer is every bit as comfortable as I am on the barbecue.  Don't worry.  Keren also hears from me that real women cook with fire.

3.  We are talking about going to Prince Edward Island (PEI) on frequent flyer miles this year.  I do not think it is going to happen, but we have not been able to talk about a 'go-somewhere' vacation just for the two of us since two of us became three.  It will hopefully happen in a couple of years.  To talk about it is a huge step.

4.  I want to go to PEI because it is relatively flat, and thus Jennifer will be willing to ride bicycles.  I think her priority is seeing the sites connected with "Anne of Green Gables."

5.  Over the 20 years, we have had four cats.

6.  Whenever Jennifer is making something that requires hard-boiled eggs, she always makes an extra for  me.

7.  (Nothing to read here.  Certain things should remain between spouses.)

8.  The kids are not allowed to play us against each other.  Still, they know we are different.  They know we will respond to certain things differently.  They ask me when it involves staying up later on a non-school night.  They ask Jennifer when they want to have a take-out picnic on the den floor while watching a movie.

9.  We used to hire a babysitter so that we could go to the supermarket together.  Once, the babysitter had to come a little later than we otherwise might have liked.  She was teaching her brother to shoot a BB gun.

10.  We bear each other's grudges, lest our own grudges get us in trouble with those who can cause us significant concerns.

11.  Jennifer really likes action movies.  She mentioned "The Dirty Dozen."  She also likes "Demolition Man."  I like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Shall We Dance."

12.  We both trust each other's driving.  I usually do the distance driving.  Jennifer usually does the city driving.  We only have one car.

13.  I have never understood the need for 17 pillows on the bed.  I do, however, understand that Jennifer might think an extra blanket is necessary.

14.We support each other professionally.  Both of us play the dutiful rabbinic spouse at each other's professional obligations.  As Jennifer said, as a rabbinic team, we are a formidable pair.  We function well as an extension of each other.  This lends a fair amount of depth to the work that we are both able to do.

15.  As much as Jennifer thinks that Jesse is a miniature version of me, it is not entirely true.  For starters, he is almost the same height.  We can do away with 'miniature.'  That being said, I see a fair amount of her in all of them, particularly in their artistic expressions.

16.  Jennifer has directed a play on Broadway and in the Greater Los Angeles theatre scene.

17.  Jennifer prefers craps.  I prefer blackjack.  We have not been to a casino in years, and I do not think we have ever been to one together.

18.  Jennifer insisted that I purchase my tuxedo for our wedding.  I had to take it out a little bit, but it otherwise still fits.  It was a good investment.

19.  Jennifer prefers opals and sapphires to diamonds.  I prefer chocolate.

20.  Every once in a while, Jennifer stops everything to work on the kids' scrapbooks. has been an amazing 20 years.  Jennifer - I love you, and let's get to work on the next 20.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Naivete and Lies

Good evening all...

For as long as I can remember, I have heard the adage that World War III would begin in the Middle East.  With that notion came the obvious implication that Israel would somehow be involved.  It never dawned on me that it would be otherwise.  There is the naivete.

The man who self-immolated in Tunisia more than two years ago did not care about Israel.

The woman whom Egyptian police forced to undergo a physical examination for proof of her virginity did not care about Israel.

The teenager with a can of spray paint in Syria did not care about Israel.

All of the other people, of Iran, of Iraq, of Jordan, of Saudi, of Dubai, where similar rumblings have been heard loud and clear, do not care about Israel.

Could it be that the people in all of these countries do not actually think that Israel is responsible for their problems?  Could it be that the lies that the governments of these nations have perpetuated for decades have never been believed in the first place?  Could it be that nations with prisons such as the type that exist in Syria or in Iran coerce such "beliefs," knowing that the population will find it safer to believe comparatively benign lies than to risk torture?

It could be.

And today, news reports say that Iran has deployed 4000 soldiers to Syria with the goal of helping to keep the butcher of Damascus in power.  The reports say that there is a desire to harass the Israelis on the Golan.  On Friday, the US announced that it would start arming Syrian rebels.

So yes, the adage about the beginning of World War III is most certainly coming true.

Albert Einstein once said that "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

I hope that adage does not come true.

Good night.