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.