Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 10/31: Content

A number of interesting reads out there today, so straight to the point... (I'm trying a new format tool; to see excerpts hit the expand button.)

Today's good reads that I enjoyed include R' Yakov Horowitz - Silence of the Voices,
...the reluctance to express one’s personal opinion is quite upsetting. Why should an individual be uncomfortable or afraid to express his views in a rational and reasonable manner? ...

When people approach me and comment that they are pleased that I am writing columns which express sentiments they have been feeling for a long time, I sometimes ask them with a deadpan expression if I can quote them by name in my next article as having supported my opinions. It is difficult to describe the horror in their eyes and the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look I get whenever mention that to someone. I always walk away from these conversations saddened and worried – especially they occur with people who occupy high-profile positions in our kehilos.
R' Gil Student on the idea of depression being a sin,
Additionally, and this is crucial, everyone at various points in life feel depressed. I am concerned about increasing this negative feeling by declaring it sinful. To the opposite, we should be telling people that it is normal and will pass. Why make people feel sinful about something that is perfectly normal? (Note that extreme depression to the point of being disruptive to an individual's social functioning and/or activities of daily living is a disorder that can and should be treated clinically.)

See here about why the saying "מצוה גדולה להיות בשמחה תמיד It is a great mitzvah to be constantly happy" is entirely wrong if taken at face value: link.
Gil again quoting R' Aviner on the ridiculous idea that Olmert "deserves" cancer,
C. People who make comments like this think that they will help the Nation of Israel to repent. "You see, he did this and look what happened to him." This is repentance out of fear.

Ez: I think it's similar to what was touched on in this post about Judaism & Anxiety.
and Chaim continues discussing copying music that a person once owned - a very interesting discussion.
I maintain that there is a loss when a person copies it if he lost or damaged an old CD. There is a loss that up until recently he had to buy it again. This is the process with any other type of product you purchase and break or lose. I think that by using his logic your devaluing the original disc itself. Which gives way for people who think that no one loses if I copy my friends disc because there was no "PHYSICAL" item being stolen.
Elsewhere... Comments from the Peanuts Gallery joins the J-blogosphere with two very good posts; Parshablog (Josh Waxman) [via JBM] discusses R' Moshe's teshuva on stockings, which to my understanding makes them sound like a chumra; and this latest TEDTalk on electroshock therapy and depression was fascinating, particularly as the speaker is talking a lot about his own experiences.

Sleep & School

Orthomom notes an absolutely fascinating study about how much of an effect sleep has on kids' functioning in school. Read the whole thing.

I think this is particularly interesting, as I've always been the "guy who doesn't sleep"... unless you ask my mother or Serach, who argue that I make up for it in the morning. Which, of course, is partially true. When I was in 7th grade, I likely went to sleep far later than most of my peers. Not only was I up late, I simply couldn't fall asleep for hours and hours. On the other hand, I was also the kid who would show up for minyan around Borchu at the earliest, but more often I'd go daven in the Beis Medrash downstairs in the HAC and get to breakfast a couple minutes after everybody else. In WITS, I led the school in detention (given out for coming late to curfew), piling up well over 100 hours' worth as I'd generally be awake until 2-3am... but I'd also consistently be nearing a suspension for minyan points as I'd come late for davening in the morning. This pattern has pretty much repeated itself for two decades. I go to sleep about three hours later than most people... and get up one hour later. Less sleep, but to a later point.

And yet, I was always among the sharpest in the class. In fact, I'd venture that the people I know who both stay up late but also sleep late the most are more often than not the brightest I know. They never seem groggy and rarely seem tired; they're sharp from the moment they get up (even if that is at noon or 2pm) to the moment they go to bed (4-7am). Maybe it's psychological; they feel more rested because they're getting up "late". Maybe they fall asleep faster, because they're going to sleep when their body says so, not at a proscribed time. But in light of some of the examples given in the article, I wonder if the effect is so much the amount of sleep people get as when they get that sleep. [emphasis mine]
Convinced by the mountain of studies, a handful of school districts around the nation are starting school later in the morning. The best known of these is in Edina, Minnesota, an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where the high school start time was changed from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30. The results were startling. In the year preceding the time change, math and verbal SAT scores for the top 10 percent of Edina’s students averaged 1288. A year later, the top 10 percent averaged 1500, an increase that couldn’t be attributed to any other variable. “Truly flabbergasting,” said Brian O’Reilly, the College Board’s executive director for SAT Program Relations, on hearing the results.

Another trailblazing school district is Lexington, Kentucky’s, which also moved its start time an hour later. After the time change, teenage car accidents in Lexington were down 16 percent. The rest of the state showed a 9 percent rise.
Whenever I used to get up "early", say to borrow my friend Toast or iPay's brother's notes to study for tests at 5am, I would feel extremely groggy if I'd gone to sleep early to do so. Even though I'd gotten the same or more sleep as I normally would, I would still feel a bit less sharp. [Interestingly, if I'd stayed up late, taken a quick nap, and done this, I would still feel sharp.] And I'd feel less sharp all day - from classes in the morning to classes in the afternoon to general lethargy while playing football. But if I slept an extra half-hour to an hour in the morning, even if I'd stayed up incredibly late the night before, I'd feel sharp throughout.

Also interestingly... I never once fell asleep in class until 12th grade. (And as far as I can recall, that was the only time.) Friends would fall asleep all the time; I never understood it.

While the study is clearly referring to the difference in sleep, period, and shows that the difference starts at when kids go to sleep... I wonder if the effect is much greater in how late people sleep in the morning and not when they go to sleep at night. After all, people who go to bed earlier may lie awake for a while; but a person sleeping in the morning who gets up with an alarm will be getting definite sleep in that extra hour, at the least until their own body wakes them up. It's also extra time in the deeper and more fulfilling stages of sleep.

Anyway, it's an interesting study, with far-reaching effects. I think it's time more people learned to sleep in. :)

The Little Things

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.
There are at least 5-6 important points in that quote that I can see... anyone see more?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ezzie's Favorite Video

This is still my favorite video: Sir Ken Robinson at the TED convention in Monterrey, California a couple of years ago discussing parenting, education, childhood, and creativity. After the comments on the post below, I decided it was worth reposting. It's absolutely brilliant.

Some Good Reads...

  • Jameel & JBM discuss Tzohar's trying to give their own hechsher on heter mechira where the Rabbanut won't. Interesting.
The rest all via Freakonomics, which is sometimes really interesting, though it's on and off:
  • On teaching kids things at a very early age, and whether it helps them later on (basically "no"). Excerpt:
    They found that the children were very much a product of what they were exposed to by their parents: between 86 and 98 percent of the words in their vocabularies were also words their parents used. Across four years, the average child from a professional family would have heard nearly 45 million words spoken to them, the average child from a working class family, 26 million, and the average child from a family on welfare, 13 million. That means that compared with the affluent child, the poor child would be starting school with an astonishing deficit of 32 million words of language experience. How can that child's entire educational career not, on some level, become a demoralizing case of catchup? As long as parents are exposing their children to a nurturing, vibrant environment, reading to them regularly, and speaking with them intelligently, they should feel free to put the flash cards away.
  • This one is about race and happiness, but I thought a separate line was interesting:
    Are you happy? Well don't try to be happier; you might become less happy. That is the gist of a multi-cultural study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
    It's an interesting argument, depending on what that means...
  • Finally, Levitt is proud of his kid figuring out how to cheat. Nice.
I found it all interesting, anyway. What do you think on the happiness and education pieces?

The Bumbling Path

I particularly enjoyed this piece by Azriela Jaffe at BeyondBT from this morning. Excerpt:
Along the journey of the past ten years there have been thousands of moments when I have felt just plain stupid. When I didn’t know the words to pray, or that I should be standing up when I prayed them. When I sewed up all the slits on my long skirts in an inspired, momentary, desire to dress frum enough for my black-hat, wigged, shul, only to realize after the fact that those slits are put into these skirts for a reason! When I’ve asked a question of my Rav, only to reveal how little I really knew about the subject at hand, as he asked probing questions. Oh, the list goes on and on. But no list of embarrassing moments reads as long as the itemization of each and every time that my ineptitude in Hebrew made it impossible for me to assist my children in school, or the way I want to slink down into my seat when I attend “meet the teacher night” and I can’t really understand what the Hebrew teacher is giving over.

Visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs

This is a great post and video by Psychotoddler's son Larry from the Me'aras Ha'machpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs), with appearances by Treppenwitz and a great job of guide of the day by Jameel. I also used to sit next to Safranit's husband in shiur in WITS. Check it out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Clubhouse Cafe

via Michael, this is interesting, and right around the corner from my office:
If you've ever wanted to go out for drinks with friends of colleagues but felt uncomfortable (or hungry) going to a treif lounge or bar, the owners of Le Marais have created the perfect solution: Clubhouse Café.

Set to open across the street from Le Marais on West 46th Street (and under the hashgacha of the OU), the Café will be a modern/hip bar scene for Jewish professionals. The kosher bar will serve wings, mini burgers (sliders) and a kosher tapas and offer a raw bar assortment. Clubhouse Café will have seating for 90 with continental fare like steaks, burgers, chicken, guacamole and chili, deli and wraps.
Sounds good - and smart. I'm sure that people will quickly be taking dates there.

Annoying Day at Work

The internet has been down here for most of the day, which has been annoying and made it difficult to do most of the stuff we need to do here. Of course, that doesn't compare with this compilation (some of which I've seen before), via Jacob Da Jew:

Awesome. Anyway, important PSA for everyone: David Linn of BeyondBT and Temunot is helping again to run the Achdus auction which services two schools in our area; he has some details here. He's going to be posting about a couple of the prizes, and I thought this one was awesome - naming a flavor at Max 'n Mina's after you. I've been joking around with my friends at the pretzel place that they should name my strawberry-pineapple smoothie the SerandEz, to no avail. Maybe this is my shot! :) It's a great cause - please contact David about it.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 10/29: All Around

A number of interesting posts out there worth reading:
  • 7) Ezer has a list of the 10 Plagues of Cleveland Sports.
  • 6) R' Ally wonders about the forgotten favors people do, and how we recognize those. A great point and message.
  • 5-4) WestBankMama asks about people's stories with NCSY; Chana follows up and asks what people did, what they thought, etc.
  • 3) Sephardi Lady notes and comments on a great letter about debt in the Yated.
  • 2) R' Gil discusses whether college newspapers are a waste of time, then segues into an interesting discussion about how YU helps students respect other viewpoints.
  • 1) JoeSettler has a fascinating analysis of how murders by Palestinians terrorists directly correlate to how much money the PA received in the year prior (I think it's actually a few months, but okay). Oy.
Check it out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Haveil Havalim #138 is UP!

At Soccer Dad.

The topics are:

The Rabin Assassination

Next week's hostess is Mother in Israel.

To submit a post for next week, click here. Deadline for submissions is Friday.

Holy Trinity

This is freaking incredible. I've never seen anything like it.

Division III's Trinity laterals 14 times in one play with 2 seconds left in the game to beat Millsaps. Wow.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Best Line from Shabbos

"You two complete each other...s' neuroses." - Comments from the Peanut Gallery

Friday, October 26, 2007

Statistics on Jewish Sexual Abuse

The Jewish Week has an interesting article on sexual abuse within the Jewish community and how the numbers compare to the world at large; it also calculates the differences between the Modern Orthodox and "fervently Orthodox" communities.
Despite the widespread impression in the Orthodox world that sexual abuse doesn’t happen within its precincts, or happens less than in the “outside world,” a report in the November issue of the journal of the American Psychiatric Association says that Orthodox Jewish women suffer as much of it as other American women do.

Twenty-six percent of respondents in a study about the sexual lives and attitudes of married Orthodox Jewish women — 55 percent identifying as Modern Orthodox and about 45 percent as fervently Orthodox — indicated that they had at some point suffered sexual abuse.

That figure is on par with the 25 percent to 27 percent of American women in general, without regard to their marital status or religion, who have reported
in numerous studies that they had been sexually abused.

The new article also says that fervently Orthodox women are more likely than Modern Orthodox women to have experienced sexual abuse, to have experienced it multiple times and to have experienced it the first time before age 13.
It's an interesting piece. I'd like to know more about the questions, methodology, and statistics, but obviously abuse is as large of a problem in the Orthodox world as anywhere else.

Elsewhere, R' Horowitz compares the actions of kannoim to bullies.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup: A Little Bit Different

Olah Chadasha has a fantastic post after the anniversary of Rabin's death, and finishes by noting that while many blame Rabin for so much that has happened since Oslo, the real blame lies with Yigal Amir. It's very well argued and thorough.
Also, it must be remembered that Rabin wasn't the lone person responsible for Oslo. The government voted to approve the deal. That's how democracy works. And, in a democracy, the people speak. Rabin was assassinated in '95. Elections were going to be in November of '96. Rabin would have LOST. Bibi would have won, and he would have stopped Oslo. Instead, Rabin became a martyr, and Oslo becomes his last charge that Israel was duty bound to carry out. So, in my mind, I disagree with those that say that Rabin has the blood of thousands on his hands b/c of Oslo. If we lived in a dictatorship or tyranny, I may agree with you, but we live in a democracy. The government voted on the Agreement, and they didn't have to. If Rabin hadn't been killed, Oslo would have ended for good in '96. Instead, it was forced to continue on a devastating path and didn't officially die until Barak's Taba and Camp David deals were killed by Arafat, and the Intifada. That's more than 5 years worth of terror and bloodshed that didn't have to happen, and it's because of Amir's actions. So, the minute Rabin was assassinated, I hold Yigal Amir personally responsible for every Jew and Israeli that was killed. It is Amir, NOT Rabin, that has the death of thousands on his hands.
Neil Harris has a great lesson from this week's parsha about kiruv, family, and life.

Israel Pulls Support for Foreign Yeshiva Students

(via DAG) This is interesting, but let me explain why.
During a party meeting it was explained that the government has decided to execute the following:

1. To stop funding payments for students from abroad studying at yeshivas in Israel. As such it was decided to cut NIS 18 million ($4.5 million) from the foundation of the 2008 budget from the area of support for Torah-based learning institutions.
In case you're wondering why it's so much money being pulled just for that, I remember an interesting detail a Rebbe in one of the yeshivos I attended in Israel telling. He was an American living in Israel, and he noted that while he learns in Israel, he is not an Israeli citizen. He was willing to refuse the perks of making aliyah, which surely would have saved him a lot of money, to avoid the responsibilities that come with it (as is his right). But as I understand it, he still was able to receive some perks as a foreign yeshiva student learning in the Holy Land.

From a logical and economic standpoint, this cut makes a lot of sense. Why allow people who won't become citizens to take government money for providing the State with nothing? Of course, a person doesn't need to become a citizen, but it doesn't help the State to encourage it. This move could put a lot of Americans who live in Israel without citizenship into an interesting dilemma.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Orthomom Wins Lawsuit!

Mazel Tov, Orthomom! (The link is to her post on her victory.)

Back in February*, Google was sued by Lawrence Public School board member Pamela Greenbaum to release the identity of Orthomom over supposed defamation on her blog, which was widely dismissed by anyone who reads Orthomom's blog as a bunch of garbage.

Today, the court agreed. And it did so with some punch:
  • In fact, none of Orthomom’s own statements uses the words bigot or anti-semite to characterize Greenbaum’s position.
  • the court further finds that Orthomom’s statements are not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory connotation.
  • Greenbaum’s defamation claim against Orthomom reduces to the insupportable assertion that Orthomom implied that Greenbaum is an anti-Semite merely because Orthomom disagreed with Greenbaum’s position on the use of public funding for a program that could have affected the Orthodox Jewish community.
Nice. Congratulations to Orthomom, and a nice protection of free speech and bloggers by the Court.

* Here's the history: Story breaks; Orthomom intervenes in suit; story is written about in local media; this blogger's later take on the subject; Orthomom places 'memo to quash'; and the actual hearing.

Jewish Continuity

After reading the comments to this post, and being encouraged by Ezzie to actually read the full text of Psycho Toddler's post about NCSY, I was troubled by the thought of public school students being written off as gone from the Jewish map.

Despite his apologies for thinking this way, in Psycho Toddler's post, he mentions having written off the girl "as another casualty of the American Jewish Holocaust," due to the fact that she attended public school. And that he was SO impressed, because she is now attending Stern College for Women.

I understand that a LOT of Jews are intermarrying, and that an intermarriage does lead the path for the loss of Jewish identity, especially when it comes to raising children and the difficulties that exist in a dual-religion home, especially given the dominant religion in this country not being Judaism. But I don't feel like the only path to secure a Jewish identity for future generations is a frum one.

Growing up, I was one of a very small handful of Jews in my public schools. Through my four years of high school, there was one other Jewish student one year. And yet, I had a very strong Jewish identity even then, and so do my brothers, who are not now frum.

I have quite a few non-frum friends who are very active in their Jewish communities and are quite affiliated, despite not being the targets of kiruv organizations. Several of these friends have chosen careers in the Jewish communal services field, dedicating their lives towards furthering the Jewish people. I have friends who don't go that far, but absolutely know that they are Jewish and will not even considering dating someone who isn't, because it is such a large part of their identity.

I think the key in Jewish continuity is not necessarily an observance level and adherence to halacha. I think it is being proud of your Jewish heritage, and making it an important part of your life. And that is something that can be done without necessarily keeping strictly kosher and not driving in a car on Shabbos. I think we need to be working on imbuing all Jews with pride for who they are and an appreciation for their Jewish heritage.

Pilots, Commandos, and GPS

I enjoyed this story at SoccerDad and this commercial at LOR. Heh.

There's a fascinating story about a daring Israeli commando raid 35 years ago in the Jerusalem Post.

The Sabena plane had been hijacked by Black September, a PLO splinter group, after leaving Vienna, where it had stopped on a flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv.

Levy was ordered to fly the plane to Tel Aviv, where the gunmen offered to free the passengers in exchange for 100 Arab prisoners held by Israel.

At the airport, commandos deflated the aircraft's tires, and then, posing as maintenance staff, they burst onto the plane and rescued the hostages after a brief gun fight.

Two male hijackers were killed and their two female companions were captured.

At the end of the ordeal, the pilot, Levy, placed his cap on the head of one of the commandos who stormed the plane but didn't remember which one. When he returned without his cap, Sabena made him pay for a new one!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Closed Communities, NCSY, & Jewish Publishing

Three excellent posts from today that are worth reading... (all quotes are excerpts; emphasis mine)

Cross-Currents' Jonathan Rosenblum on What the Neighbors Say,
This past week I finally found someone who has been studying all these issues and collecting hard data in order to create effective early intervention programs. In the course of our long conversation, he observed that the “drop-out” rates in so-called mixed communities, like Petach Tikva, Rechovot, and Haifa, are dramatically lower than in all chareidi communities, like Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Elad, and Bnei Brak.

The biggest difference between mixed and homogenous communities is that the former force children to define themselves; their identity is not taken for granted. A close friend who raised half of his children in Tel Aviv and half in Bnei Brak once told me that he felt that the children raised in Tel Aviv had a much deeper sense of themselves as Torah Jews because that identity was reinforced everyday in juxtaposition to the surrounding environment.
BeyondBT's Ron Coleman on Judaica Dreams,
Unfortunately, however, Judaica publishers seem to take their market for granted, for sincerity and even knowledge are not the same as quality... Stuff should not come out in book form until it’s worked over “but good.” It appears, however, that desktop publishing is taken quite seriously in the frum world...

I was doubly disappointed when that same publisher sent out preview pamphlets of a new “learn this at your Shabbos table book” that promised to solve an old problem — finding that broadly age-appropriate devar Torah for the Shabbos seudos. It was beautifully produced, and the promised bound version looked — as all these sets do now — just like an Artscroll Gemora, fake brown pleather and everything. My first hit was not unexpected, but the insult to my intelligence was still a disappointment: I noticed that all the drawn illustrations depicted only men. Men mopping floors; men buying groceries; men baking challos. I don’t know whose chumra this is, but I would say if you can’t make realistic pictures of Shabbos activities undertaken by the people who actually do them, skip the pictures.

and PsychoToddler on NCSY Works.
I was sitting next to the parents of a girl that Fudge had met during her brief involvement in NCSY (the National Conference of Synagogue Youth), and whom she had kept contact with for a short time afterwards. I hadn't heard anything about the girl, who went to Public School, for a few years, and had (to my discredit) already mentally written her off as another casualty of the American Jewish Holocaust.

But somehow, she had managed to stay connected to NCSY, and through this thin thread had found herself in Israel for a year, and now was in Stern College along with my daughter! I was totally floored. I didn't know what to say. ...

We are losing this War of Attrition. The majority of American Jews are marrying outside of the faith, and this means that within a generation or two their descendants will no longer identify themselves as Jews. Our numbers are dwindling. We need kiruv. We need good kiruv, to be sure, honest kiruv, but we need effective kiruv more than anything else. We need to keep the flame burning in these kids. And we need it not only for the non-frum kids in Public School, but for our own kids, who are born ostensibly "frum from birth." We can no longer take for granted that these kids will blindly follow in our footsteps. We need to give them their own reasons for following the path.

We need to show them why we love being Jews.

Israeli Supreme Court Overturns Rabbinate

As ADDeRabbi said: This is huge.
The court ruled that that it was illegal for the Chief Rabbinate to allow Yechiel Ya'acobovitz, Chief Rabbi of Herzliya, to deny kosher certificates to restaurants, hotels and other food-serving venues that sell vegetables that were grown in Jewish-owned soil inside the borders of the Land of Israel during the shmita year. Instead, Ya'acobovitz, a haredi rabbi who adopted a stringent interpretation of Jewish laws governing shmita, must either provide kosher certificates himself or allow more lenient rabbis to do so.
There are other important details in the article, so please read that as well.

This has incredibly far-reaching consequences, from a secular court determining an issue that is wholly that of the religious courts, to chumrot [good or bad] being forced upon people or not, to how policy is made... this is going to be messy and crazy.

Arguments can be made for mistakes on all parties here. Heter mechira was and is done for purposes that are both noble and important. Whether some of those reasons are less applicable now is a question worthy of debate (are squatters truly going to get away with taking land today?), but to try and force it on people seems both unwise and unfair. Clearly, many rabbonim have felt and do feel that this heter is valid, so why should those who hold by it be punished?

Forget heter mechira for a moment, and apply this mode of thinking to any subject. Should a Rabbinical Council of any sort be permitted to force chumrot on the rest of the public? It's hard to disagree with the Court's reasoning on this:
But the High Court rejected the chief rabbinate's policy of encouraging more stringent kosher supervision methods arguing that it was an unjustified infringement on non-haredi individuals' rights.
Of course, the Rabbinate could have avoided this whole issue by not using such methods to carry out their wishes. Understandably, they wished that people would not rely on a heter that many do not think is valid, and were, according to the article, simply trying to encourage people not to rely on the heter. [Which is also an interesting debate.] However, they likely should have just forced an addition to the kashrus certificate noting that they're relying on heter mechira, which would allow consumers to decide whether they wished to rely on the heter or not, rather than forcing it on the store owners.

On the other hand, it seems strange for the Court to be wading into an area where they seemingly should not be. Having the secular court intervene in a religious matter does not seem like a good precedent for the future. In this case, the reach is limited to stating that charedim cannot force an overreaching charedi viewpoint on the rest of the community. But what does this allow? Can someone who is not religious complain that their own individual rights are violated by some religious standards?

This is terrible precedent... and in this case, it is the charedim who have brought it upon us, not the secular. The secular Court simply took advantage of a huge blunder by the charedi community.

Again, this is huge... and not good.

Gotta Love the USA

At least on the Democratic side:
Stephen Colbert is starting to show up in the presidential polls.

Not high in the polls, but Colbert, who announced last week that he is running for president, is the choice of two percent of the Democrats nationally, according to reports.

And that - we kid you not - is good enough for fifth place in the Democratic primaries right now.

The late-night political humorist ranks behind Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards - but ahead of Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel.

He is in a statistical dead heat with Sen. Joe Biden - 2.7 percent for Biden versus 2.3 percent for Colbert , a virtual tie in a poll with a five percent margin of error.

Among Republicans, however, he is dead last - behind not only the front runners like Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. Mitt Romney, but also marginal candidates like Reps. Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul.
I think he should start pressing for time on debates and the like. I'm sure it wouldn't take long to get the signatures necessary to run; he should really run. It will make the next year that much more entertaining. Think about it: Wouldn't the look on Hillary's face, on Obama's face, on Edwards' hair, all be great whenever they need to respond to something Colbert has said? Do you treat everything as a joke and run the risk of saying something truly dumb or missing a chance to say something you want? Do you try and take it seriously and come off looking like a tense fool? Colbert wouldn't even need to film a whole show anymore - just show clips from debates. Wouldn't faceoffs between Dennis Kucinich and Colbert be riotous? Plus, Comedy Central would have to give shows to Clinton, Obama, and of course, Kucinich to satisfy the equal time rules, right?

The potential here is amazing. Anyone else have good ideas?

Something G Would Write

That was the first thought that came to mind after reading this hilarious conversation the 2007 Kenny Lofton would have with the 1995 Kenny. (via the Daily Fix)

Also, a huge mazel tov to our friend and rare commenter STF on her engagement! Now we know why you passed on coming here this Shabbos. :P

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

United Apologizes to Orthodox Family

This is an interesting story, via JBM:
United Airlines says a flight attendant and pilot acted inappropriately when they complained about a Columbus family's kosher meal.

Robert Blum and his family, Orthodox Jews, say a flight attendant told them to throw away their fish dinner after other passengers complained about the smell during a flight from Denver to Columbus.

Blum says the flight attendant and pilot threatened to throw his family off the flight if they didn't get rid of the meal. Blum calls the incident a case of discrimination and says his family felt humiliated.

United Airlines said Friday that they are apologizing to the family.
That must be absolutely humiliating - imagine being asked to get off of a flight in front of everybody! (Of course, how do you throw someone off in the middle of a flight, anyway!?)

I will note one caveat, however: Nowhere is it clear that this was the meal given to them by the airline, in which case the actions are completely outrageous. Rather, it is possible that they brought fish onto the plane to eat because they weren't going to be getting any Kosher food on the plane. Obviously, this is perfectly within their rights, and perhaps they didn't realize that the smell would be so bad; however, people should use common sense about what kinds of foods they bring onto a plane to eat, and think about how others might react. I felt bad opening one of those tuna packages on a plane recently, though nobody seemed to notice; I think sandwiches generally make the most sense.

Either way, the threats of the attendant and pilot seem completely unreasonable.

Physical Activity

I don't know if there's anything like good, strenuous, physical activity to help a person feel better. Or as Morgan Freeman (playing God) in Bruce Almighty said,
"People underestimate the benefits of good old manual labor.

Just think a minute.

Some of the happiest people in the world, go home smelling to high heaven at the end of the day."

Funny Shirts

While we're doing public service announcements, please feel free to check out my dear wife Serach's website, And if you're looking for a funny shirt to go with that new tichel after you've slimmed down, check out DAG's site - I really like a lot of these.

NOTE: While obviously Serach making sales is important to me, I'm just posting about the other sites as favors for friends and family. I'm not being paid to advertise for them. For ads I'm being paid for, feel free to check out the WebAds box above this for good ads. :)

Monday, October 22, 2007

No More Couch Potatoes

Calling all women! If anyone is interested in hiring a personal trainer my sister in law is great! Certified by ACE, she has had a great success rate with her clients and she is a lot of fun, too! She is available in all 5 boroughs and Long Island for in house sessions (although the Queens area would have the most availablilty for scheduling).
Feel free to visit her website for contact information and more!

Have a great day!!

R' Yakov Horowitz on Charedi Violence in Israel

From his site, excerpts:

What happened:
Once again, charedi Jews worldwide were shamed and disgraced yesterday, by association, due to the actions of a few violent criminals dressed like charedi Jews.

This time, it was in Beit Shemesh, where according to reports in Israeli papers, a group of five chareidi young men assaulted a woman for refusing to move to the back of a ‘charedi’ bus where the front seats were ‘reserved’ exclusively for men. A male soldier seated next to the woman was reportedly also assaulted – “murderously” beaten, according to the soldier. When police arrived to arrest the individuals, dozens of other ‘chareidi’ men attacked the police officers and punctured the tires of a police car, according to the newspaper reports.
What should be done:
I believe that the vast, overwhelming majority of charedi Jews worldwide feel as I do; disgraced and shamed when these events occur. We also feel frustrated; as there is little that we can do to remove this collective stain from our shirts. We do not seem to have a voice in this process at all.

Do you know what I would like to see happen? I would like the Rabbonim of Eretz Yisroel to use the platform of the charedi press to:

1) Clearly and unequivocally condemn the violence in the strongest language.

2) Issue halachic rulings that:
  • Violence is forbidden by our Torah under any circumstances
  • Those who commit violence constitute a real and present danger to the safety of the public and one is halachicly obligated to report them to the police, and
  • If one finds himself in the presence of a violent act perpetrated by criminals, he is halachicly obligated to defend the victim as the Torah says, “Lo sa’amod al dam re’echa”
We all hope that someone will follow the suggestions laid out in this piece; sadly, we've hit the point where nobody is going to be holding their breath in waiting.

Everyone Needs a Good Laugh

...especially today.

Here's how I grew up:

...and this was a nice lift for today. Caliendo is a genius; this is just one of many hilarious clips.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Da'as Torah

One of the more interesting discussions that often take place in the Jewish community is regarding the issue of da'as Torah. This term, which literally translates to mean "knowledge of Torah", is commonly used to describe the idea that people should search out and follow the opinions of Torah leaders on various subjects. R' Yakov Horowitz has a fantastic article on this which has been mentioned in the past.

A friend once told me something a Rebbe of ours told him which was very poignant: “Whatever you do, when looking for a Rav or Rebbe, make sure he’s a ba’al mussar. If he isn’t, he can’t properly answer your questions.” In other words, unless the Rav or Rebbe is more concerned with what’s best for you, he can’t properly answer your question.

On a similar note, R' Natan Slifkin has a letter of responses in this week's Jewish Press (via DAG), and I thought it was very interesting to read, particularly this excerpt:
Switching to the topic of the age and development of the universe, Dr. Stern notes that Rav Moshe Feinstein was of the view that the Torah’s account of creation was to be interpreted literally. Indeed he was – but he was also of the view that one is not obligated to follow the opinion of a different posek, even if he is the gadol hador. In Iggros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 3:88), he tells someone moving to Bnei Brak that he is fully entitled to dispute the positions of the Chazon Ish, although he must do so with respect.

And the Chazon Ish himself wrote (Yoreh De’ah 150) that one need not follow the majority of rabbinic opinion, past or present, in determining a ruling; only with the Sanhedrin was the ruling determined by majority vote. One need only follow one’s own rabbinic authority (if one is not competent to form an opinion oneself).

All of the above is stated with regard to halachic rulings; it is all the more true with regard to matters of hashkafa that are not related to halacha, since, as Rambam states (commentary to Sanhedrin 10:3), such matters are not subject to psak. One might perhaps make an exception for beliefs that relate to the fundamentals of faith, but the nature of creation (as opposed to the fact of creation) cannot be said to fall into that category – it does not relate to any of Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith. An opinion on these matters may be right or wrong, but it is not subject to being “paskened” that one may not believe it to be true.
Interesting. I wonder how much people are aware of this.

Haveil havalim #137 is UP!

Esser Agaroth has posted a very fine Haveil Havlaim #137!

It’s about Israel, slices of life, media bias and Ann Coulter (again) and much, much more.

How I Met Serach Part IX: Dr. Seuss & Sushi

This is Part IX of a series about how I proposed to Serach. Part I is here, Part II is here, Part III is here, and Part IV is here, Part V is here, Part VI is here, Part VII is here, Part VIII is here. Or, you could simply use the dropdown menu on the left side of the blog titled "How I Met Serach". I'm currently giving the background of the story...
Ez: Wow. I didn't realize that it's been 7-1/2 months since I left off, but the truth is, I didn't know where to take it from there. I'd finished recapping the first date, and I don't think that the mundane portions of our dating are all that interesting to read about, though I guess one never knows. In addition, I'm obviously not going to put a lot of portions up on this blog; those are for us.* Soooo... the next few parts are going to be a little more choosy, picking out various parts and stories that I think are worth telling over. Enjoy!

The day after our first date was Thanksgiving Day 2003. I was headed to my friend and chavrusa Jon's house for my first ever Thanksgiving "feast"; and quite a feast it was. Meanwhile, Serach was headed to Los Angeles to celebrate the birth of her newest nephew. Sometime over the next couple of days, Jon - whom you may recall we met through - called up his good friend Serach and said,
"You know... I think maybe you should date Ezzie."

Serach responded, "Umm, I think we already are."
That got a nice big WHAT!?!??!, but that led to an amusing conversation over the phone between Serach and myself, as we contemplated our next steps. Serach mentioned that it seemed that with a few people she'd dated, she'd never really been 'asked' on a date; it seemed to just 'happen'. Now, here we were, and the same thing had happened. Of course, sap that I am was, I immediately asked,
"Fine. Serach, will you go out on a date with me?"
Awwww. So romantic!

We had a number of deep and fascinating conversations about a myriad of subjects over the next week or so, as it would be a while until we'd have a chance to actually have that date. Without a car on my part, and a license on her part, we could only try and meet up in Manhattan when we both had enough time to do so. We'd just have to stick to the phones for a while.

In one of those conversations, I expressed - or rather, had trouble expressing a lot of what I may have wanted to... but not because I didn't know how, but because I wouldn't let myself. I was afraid: Afraid to sound dumb, afraid to embarrass myself... just afraid in general. It was at this point that Serach picked up on my thoughts and immediately said a line that I've liked forever since, and which may seem awfully familiar:
Be yourself; because the people who care don't matter, and the people who matter don't care.
While for some this may come easy, this was something I'd long struggled with, though 7 years in a dorm, particularly my experiences in my two years in Israel, had gotten me much better at this. Now, I doubt that most of my friends who've known me only since after high school would believe I was ever like that. Those are the same people who don't believe I was ever shy, either. :) But the applicability of the line is endless. Some people have trouble being themselves in day-to-day life; some people when confronted with certain situations; some people have trouble when they go against the grain; and others seem to rebel without managing to be themselves. I think most people would be happier if they allowed themselves to be themselves.

As you can probably see, this was obviously a very important line for me. Less important but slightly more troubling was another comment she made:
"What!? You've never had sushi!? Oh, we're definitely going to be getting sushi on our date, then!"
Uh-oh. Next time: Sushi, Drunks, & Meeting Friends.
Ezzie: I'm writing the story as I remember it, and unfortunately that sometimes results in skipping some details. When I remember them, I'll try to fill them in; possibly in the comments, possibly in the posts if it won't make it too disjointed. If anything is unclear or you have any questions, feel free to ask! Serach won't admit it, but she's been reading the story [and lately, other posts, too!] - maybe she'll fill in some of the details and her perspective at some point. I'm still hoping. :)
* ...and to varying degrees: Our parents; our siblings; certain close friends; my roommates - who had the opportunity to hear waaay too many [err, loud] arguments between various people that were on speaker and I found out later could be heard not just in my own room, but in the living room/kitchen and other rooms as well; and various other random people from relatives to people we'll likely never see again, but will always have intense gratitude for.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Israel Admits to Bombing Syrian Nuclear Facility

Well, it's official:
Israeli officials believed that a target their forces bombed inside Syria last month was a nuclear facility, because they had detailed photographs taken by a possible spy inside the complex, ABC News has learned.

A senior U.S. official told ABC News the Israelis first discovered a suspected Syrian nuclear facility early in the summer, and the Mossad — Israel's intelligence agency — managed to either co-opt one of the facility's workers or to insert a spy posing as an employee.

As a result, the Israelis obtained many detailed pictures of the facility from the ground.


Friday, October 19, 2007

The Famous Layah's Salad

After many requests for this, here it is:
Layah's Salad
Note: All amounts here are very loose and can be adjusted at will according to personal taste. The dressing is also really good for cold cut and similar salads.


  • Lettuce
  • Scallions
  • Croutons (preferably onion-garlic; we like the teeny tiny ones)
  • Craisins

: [should be a thin-looking, lightish yellow at the end]

  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 clove of garlic OR some garlic powder
  • dash of lemon juice
  • a bit of olive oil to make it liquidy, though it's not really liquidy. It just thins it out a bit.
We use this dressing for another salad, though we keep it a drop thicker for this one:
Salami/Grilled Chicken Salad
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Chunks of either Salami or Grilled Chicken or both
  • I feel like I'm forgetting something.
Enjoy! Have a wonderful Shabbos!

Ezzie's Blog Roundup: Thoughts

A bunch more really good posts for this morning (um, afternoon, since I am just finally posting it now), from all over the place:
  • 6) Aidel Maidel starts off with a great, great truth. :) Now if only someone would give us some...! (What?! Stop looking at me like that!)
  • 5) SoccerDad has a good post on underestimating President Bush... and quotes possibly the best editorial ever written. :D (What?!!!)
  • 4) Kefirot has an interesting d'var Torah and lesson. Excerpt:
    So Noah went spiritually downwards, while Moshe went upwards. Why? The Rabbi explained that it was because of how they went about trying to perfect themselves. Noah went for isolation. The world was a bad place, and the best way for him to stay right with God was to keep to himself; to work on himself, and his family. Moshe, on the other hand, was always outwardly focused. He focused on helping everyone else, and by so doing, was raised up himself in the process.

    Now I found that fascinating, and immediately related it to a conversation I had, about a year ago, with a young man from a very charedi family. He told me about an article he had read, in Israel, about a group of secular Jews trying to start a Rabbanut Chiloni - a secular rabbinate. He thought it was funny, in an ironic sort of way. What does it mean to have a rabbinate if you're secular?
  • 3) I connected way too closely with this post from Fudge.
  • 2) Freakonomics notes that they did an analysis of IQs among babies, and found almost no difference between races at the age of 1, but that it divided sharply on the way to two years old. It's a fascinating study, and here's what I commented; let me know what you think:
    Very interesting, and to some extent, a cause for optimism. If the difference starts to expand between ages 1 and 2, would that not then mean that perhaps there is a difference in how children are raised and taught while they are just toddlers - how much attention is given to their learning, how people interact with those children, etc.? It would then just be a matter of showing parents techniques or ideas to help their own children.
    [Note: That and the following are both worded terribly. It's a lazy day. Don't over-read into it, please.] Interestingly, as other commenters there have mentioned, blacks from nations in Africa generally score better than African-Americans. I'd wonder if perhaps living under slavery or just being in worse economic shape damaged the black community in terms of parenting, and I think it logical to say that most people learn much of their parenting technique from their own parents.
  • 1) This post by Noyam was excellent, even if I disagree with small portions. Excerpt:
    When the education they’ve received seems illogical to them, it all gets lumped together. In the same way, when they find comfort in ideas that are deemed kefira, they will instead of rejecting such a label, and continuing to practice Judaism in the way they were brought up, they will reject it all. Instead of accepting that Judaism as a practice can be separated from many of the theories, they reject the whole.
Check it out!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mazel Tov to A^2

All of us here at SerandEz are thrilled to pronounce a huge mazel tov to the wonderfully smart, entertaining, and oh so hilarious A^2 on her engagement!! It happened at the wee hours of the morning in one of the strangest proposals I've ever heard of, somehow involving GChat statii, a whiteboard, and a camera phone. As she said to me just minutes later,
"I got engaged in pajamas"
Nawyce. MAZEL TOV! :)

The Indians & Har Sinai

I love my friend Shraga, whom I grew up with in Cleveland. He currently lives in Israel and is studying forensic psychology. From a conversation we're having:
Shraga: a well known chakira: what/who is the team. Nafka mina: why should I root for the indians. its just lucky that one of the only names I recognize rejoined them this summer
the answer to my question: the team is an entity which not merely the sum of its parts.That's what it means that we were all at Har Sinai
Ez: (i like the answer, but tie in Har Sinai)
Shraga: useful mashal: the cells in your body have been replaced many times since you were born yet no one would say that the twenty year old you is not the five year old you
Ez: (what's the nimshal?)
Shraga: we are all cells in the body called am yisrael who stood at Har sinai. therefore we were there as well. QED
Ez: you should root for the indians, too.
: exactly! and I do.

Ezzie's Blog Roundup, 10/18: Jewish Community Issues

There are a number of good posts out there, particularly by some of my favorite blogs, so here goes:
  • Sephardi Lady comments on the letters to the editor regarding debt in the Jewish community. This has been a very important series of posts (and see the comments) at Orthonomics, so please check it out.
  • R' Gil writes on Hirhurim that according to R' H. Schachter, prospective doctors must find a way to keep Shabbos while doing their residencies.
  • MoChassid's new CD is out. UPDATE: LoR has one of the songs if you want to hear a bit.
  • Orthomom questions whether a recent case doesn't properly accommodate a Messianic Jew who doesn't wish to work on the Sabbath.
  • Wolf asks if we really want to force our kids to keep the mitzvos, discussing yet another excellent piece by R' Horowitz.
  • Speaking of R' Horowitz, BeyondBT reposted an excellent article originally on his site about Adults at Risk.
  • Shira recaps the Karduner concert that Matisyahu joined him onstage at.
  • My mother sent me this hilarious piece from Andy Jordan at the WSJ, in which he checks out the new chat features that allow people to try and shmooze it up on planes. Maybe this is a great way to solve the "shidduch crisis"!
  • Finally, Jason Whitlock - one of the best sportswriters in the country - notes
    "African-American football players caught up in the rebellion and buffoonery of hip hop culture have given NFL owners and coaches a justifiable reason to whiten their rosters. That will be the legacy left by Chad, Larry and Tank Johnson, Pacman Jones, Terrell Owens, Michael Vick and all the other football bojanglers."
    He goes on to discuss how the best teams have the "whitest" rosters, and basically rips into black athletes for acting improperly, rebelling against coaches, and the like. It's a very interesting piece.
Check it out.

Swastikas on YI of Hillcrest, Hatzoloh Ambulance

The rabbi of a Queens synagogue found a symbol of hate painted on his synagogue Thursday morning, police said.

A swastika was painted on the door of The Young Israel Synagogue, located at 169-07 Jewel Ave.

While police were investigating this incident, they said they found another swastika painted on a Hatzolah ambulance parked nearby.

Police are also investigating symbols of hate found at a school in Lower Manhattan.

Twenty-two swastikas were found scrawled in green chalk at the Murry Bergtraum High School, police said. A librarian and a school secretary found the swastikas and called 911. The words "Hitler Is Back" were also found nearby, authorities said.

The high school is located next door to One Police Plaza.

Police are investigating each as bias incidents.
That's the YI of Hillcrest, which has a Hatzoloh zone right next door to it.

The Stupidity of Sports

...scheduling, that is. (What, did you really think I'd write about the stupidity of sports?!) I couldn't agree more with this article, which details how baseball has really blown up its own fan base in the quest for the almighty dollar - a way of doing business that has come back to hurt them, or will, when FOX et al are no longer willing to pay outrageous prices to show games.
Along the way, the game lost a generation who couldn't stay up at night. In the chase for the almighty dollar, baseball gave up its youngest fans.

No need to look any further than the second game of the NL championship series for proof. The game didn't begin until after 10 p.m. ET and by the time it mercifully ended nearly five hours later, people not only had fallen asleep at the game but some early risers had awakened to it.

It's only logical that the later a game goes, the fewer the people watching. And the longer a game takes to be played, the more people will get bored watching it. It's a pretty simple equation: Late and long is killing the postseason.

You would think someday baseball folks would figure it out.
It's pathetic. One person just told me that they couldn't help but enjoy watching their daughter be so elated when Damon hit that HR in Game 3 of the ALDS... only to have her go to sleep soon after. And she certainly couldn't watch Game 4.

As a note, basketball is the worst offender, dragging the postseason out for months on end. One of the reasons the NCAA tournament is so popular is that it happens awfully fast - 3 weekend to turn 65 teams into 1 champion. The NBA can't finish a single series in that time period. The NFL has it the best, where their games are already a week apart; as it is, they get criticized for the week extra between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, though I don't think those are all that bad.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Syria Denies Denying Nuclear Facilities

This is classic. I wonder what will happen to their ambassador now. From Best of the Web:

In Denial
"Syria's ambassador to the United Nations confirmed on Tuesday that Israel's air strike on September 6 in northern Syria did indeed target a nuclear site, marking the first time the country has acknowledged its nuclear efforts," reports Israel Insider.

Oh, wait.

"Syria denied Wednesday its representatives to the United Nations had confirmed that an Israel Air Force strike last month targeted nuclear facility, and added that such facilities do not exist in Syria, state-run news agency said," Ha'aretz reports.

There's no word yet on whether Syria's representative to the United Nations confirms or denies Syria's denial of his confirmation. But stay tuned.

In case you want the details, FOX has them:
"Israel was the fourth-largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria," Syrian representative Bassam Darwish is quoted in the document as saying.

One U.S. delegate told colleagues he could not believe his ears when the Syrian diplomat made his statement and that the resulting document was close to verbatim, and another source told FOX News the document reinforces what people heard [the Syrian representative] say in the actual debate.

Syria already has disowned the remarks, adding "such facilities do not exist in Syria."

Shiva Minyan in Queens

I was asked to post this:
Hi all,

I am trying to arrange shiva minyanim for my father in his house in Whitestone, Queens - 166-31 9th Ave. Apt. 3D. We will be having Shacharis daily at 7am on Wed, Fri; 6:55 on Thurs and 8:30 am on Sun. We will be having maariv at 7:30pm Tues, Wed, Thurs. Please email me if you can assist.

Tzidku L'mitzvos
Jeff Greenberg

Dinners with TV & Why Midwesterners are Bigger

This is an interesting study that falls in line with a lot of what I think in general about food, family, and health. (And yes, I do think about health when it comes to food, contrary to popular belief!)

As an aside, I've often noted to people that people are simply bigger in the Midwest - taller, not as scrawny, etc. - while in NYC and to an extent LA, people are much shorter and smaller. I've posited that perhaps this is due to a greater obsession with looks and fashion, and therefore, an overemphasis by many to not eat to avoid being fat, but this article threw in other factors which may play a role, too:

The biggest effect was seen among the kids who didn’t eat regular family meals at all. Girls who dined alone ate fewer fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods and more soft drinks and snack foods than girls who ate with their parents. And girls who ate with their parents ate more calories — up to 14 percent more, suggesting that dining alone puts girls at higher risk for eating disorders. Boys who didn’t eat with their parents had fewer vegetables and calcium-rich foods than family diners.

The lesson for parents, say the study authors, is that being together at dinner is what counts. Having the TV on during the meal, while not desirable, can also serve a purpose if it helps bring sullen teenagers and families to the table.

Why a family meal can make such a difference isn’t entirely clear. It may be that parents simply put better food on the table when everyone gets together. People dining alone tend to eat pizza, for instance, while families who order pizza together tend to put vegetables or a salad on the table, Ms. Feldman noted.

It may also be that dining together allows parents to set a better eating example for their kids. And mealtime is often the only chance parents have to actually look over their busy teenagers, catch up on their lives and visually assess behavioral or physical changes that might signal problems.

This makes me think that perhaps it's the overly busy lifestyles of people in places such as NYC and LA that causes people to not spend as much time together... and therefore, based on this research, eat less. Eating less means growing less, which in turn translates into me being on the short end of my elementary class at 6 feet tall, but one of the tallest people while I was in college or now at work. Interesting.

Yet another reason to move, right? ;)

All Over the Place

As can be imagined, I'm a bit all over the place today. Life is both very exciting and very nerve-wracking at the moment. So... here are a few tidbits I found interesting in a wide array of topics, along with some of my own thoughts. (Occasionally, I do post my own thoughts, too, ya know...)
  • The controversy over the telecommunication industry's helping out the government with eavesdropping on terrorists. I understand why Congress wants to know what was done before giving immunity for past cases, but this is not just or even primarily a terror issue; only about 10% of the instances were requested by the White House (et al). Most had to do with mafia or other crime issues, from what I can tell from the statistics. [I saw them yesterday in an article, but cannot find it now.]
  • Imagine if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity had made an outrageous claim like this - would he not be looking for a new job by now? Making up stories that the "right-wing hate machine" mugged an Air America host to "silence" her - when her own lawyer says she fell while walking her dog?! Gotta love this apology:
    Host Jon Elliott issued a written retraction of his remarkable on-air charge, saying: "I shouldn't have speculated based on hearsay that Randi Rhodes had been mugged and that it may have been an attack from a right wing hate machine. [Ez: Ya think?] I apologize for jumping to conclusions based on an emotional reaction."
    What does it say about the left that their "emotional reactions" make them jump to such insane conclusions against the right so quickly? Yes, all talk-show hosts jump to extreme interpretations of events - it's what gets them ratings - but this is way beyond the pale.
  • I'm sure James Taranto will write about this far better than I later on, but I'm not sure what to think about this media shield law. There are a nice amount of common-sense exceptions, which is a good thing, but wouldn't it behoove this country to force reporters and media outlets to use a little more common sense and care in their reporting in the first place?! The largest problems that caused reporters to be jailed stemmed from completely false reports, such as Joe Wilson's infamous and false editorial that the NY Times printed that set off the firestorm about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. Moreover, this is an important note, too:
    The Justice Department, in questioning the need for the legislation, said it had approved the issuances of subpoenas to reporters seeking confidential source information in only 19 cases between 1992 and 2006.
    It sounds like this will shield law will simply encourage people with political agendas to constantly leak information without worry of it coming back to bite them. This will only hurt the country in the long run, because administrations will be incredibly secretive about everything they do to avoid leaks.
  • Obama & Cheney are distant cousins. It's just funny.
  • An Israeli Bedouin Arab who has 67 (!!!) kids from 8 wives is looking for wife #9.
  • This was fascinating and very smart:
    Two key RBI singles in the inning came from second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and first baseman Victor Martinez, each switch-hitters, both of whom were notably batting right-handed against the right-handed Wakefield. As Cabrera explained, Wakefield's knuckler more often that not breaks in on right-handed hitters and away from lefties. So the more effective way to attack it, if you have the choice that a switch-hitter does, is to go right-handed.
    Nice. Note that the left-handed hitting Travis Hafner struck out three times against Wakefield; Sizemore was 0/2 with a walk to lead off the game; and Lofton grounded out twice, for a combined 0/8 with a walk. Righties were 0/5 with a BB and 4K's the first time around, 3/5 with a 2B, HR, and HBP the second time around, and 2/2 the third time around.
  • Finally, I don't get why everyone was this down on Westbrook and Byrd. Yes, they're not amazing pitchers, but they are both very consistent - Byrd throws strikes [fewest BB/9 in baseball], Westbrook keeps the ball down and gets ground balls and double plays. That has been their modus operandi for a few years, which is why they pick up 15 wins a year. Westbrook hasn't given up more than 4 runs in his last 15 starts; he only gave up 4 twice. Last year, when he was healthy all year, he led the league in ground-ball DPs.
Go Tribe!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Inspiring Stories

As seems to constantly be true, I'm a bit busy today; however, I couldn't help but smile at these posts at PsychoToddler and MOChassid.
If you're looking for a laugh, enjoy this post, also on PT.

Disco Rabbi: A Light in the Darkness of War

A non-religious but somewhat affiliated Jewish co-worker sent me a PDF of this piece this morning; I looked for it online and found that LindaSoG of Something... and Half of Something had posted it Sunday, so I've copied it from her. Through her post, I found this JPost article and picture.
A Light in the Darkness of War
by Shula Weissfer
A year has passed but First Lieutenant M. has not forgotten about the activities of Migdal Ohr which had been discreetly accomplished. With minor changes, we publish here for the first time in English, Lieutenant M's written recording of his experience.

"I remember the two weeks of near face-to-face combat, the confused orders and insufficient combat gear, the intense hunger, physical and emotional exhaustion and toughest of all, the self-imposed silence and disassociation with our surroundings."Now is not the right time to complain, but when it is over," we thought to ourselves, "when the air raid sirens stop and we are out of these fatigues, we can talk and the truth will be known."

When the news came that we were receiving a day off, our hearts soared. We suffered so much stress and hardship. Where would we go? How should we take full advantage of this gift? Rumors begin to circulate that we were going to some school in Migdal Ha'Emek. "This must be a joke! Who ordered ten buses to bring us to some yeshiva with some Rabbi who is just going to try and brainwash us?"

Then, a few of the guys remembered. "Rabbi Grossman, that's the Disco Rabbi right? The guys all give him great respect." But what do they know? He is still some rabbi. Tired and emotionally drained, we got off the buses and stood face to face with an old-world looking Jew, complete with a white beard, side locks and long jacket.

"So here it comes," I thought, "the push to put on tefillin or to say prayers together. Some day off." "Boys," the rabbi's words thundered, "I suggest that first thing you do is take a dip in the pool and freshen up. In the meantime, we will make you something to eat."

In amazing simplicity, Rabbi Grossman heard in passing that the brigade was looking for a home for a day, and he immediately volunteered his campus. "What's the problem? 600 soldiers? They should all come, of course we have room!"

With the echoes of war from the battlefield still in our ears, it seemed like a mirage or hallucination. Soft music came from everywhere and flowing water and greenery surrounded us. Within minutes, the tables were set with cold refreshing watermelon, cakes, and beverages, followed by cheeses, fresh vegetables, and soft rolls.

Then we heard, "Out of the pool, get dressed and eat something."We saw piles of new undergarments. 600 new undershirts and underwear appeared as if out of nowhere, laid out on tables for our choosing.

Rabbi Grossman sat with us and laughed, "Have a good time boys! Have a great time! This evening, I will put on the most spectacular performance you have ever seen."

I am not a religious person by any means, but I can't help but envision the first Jew, Avraham, standing and personally serving his guests perfectly naturally and without the slightest hint of condescension. He respected each individual and cared for all their needs. Like Avraham, Rabbi Grossman saw in this an obvious act of kindness, a mission of a Mitzvah that had fallen into his hands.

As the evening continued, we learned quickly that this was the essence of who Rabbi Grossman is and what he is all about. He loves everyone and accepts everyone as they are with all his heart and soul. "Tell me friends," Rabbi Grossman said, "I heard you are lacking different pieces of equipment. Do me a favor. Here is a pencil and paper, just write down everything you are missing and leave the paper on the table."

That night, we enjoyed the entertainment and afterwards, slept in soft beds and air-conditioned rooms. Like in a fairytale, we awoke in the morning and could not believe our eyes. Mounds of gear which we so desperately needed had arrived at Migdal Ohr. Attached, was a small note from Rabbi Grossman, "To my dear soldiers, from all my heart!"

Rabbi Grossman personally and immediately raised over $60,000 worth of equipment from friends literally overnight! The essential equipment included ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets, canteens, knee pads, backpack water canteens, night vision goggles, toothbrushes, socks and more.

Interestingly, a few months before the war broke out, a special friend of Rabbi Grossman from France was interested in donating a new Torah scroll to the main Migdal Ohr Beit Midrash (studyhall).

For some reason, Rabbi Grossman requested to postpone the event until an unspecified later date."Now is the right time!" Rabbi Grossman realized. He immediately made arrangements and in an early evening ceremony, we participated in the completion of writing the Torah.

While the scroll was carefully laid on the table next to a special pen and ink, Rabbi Grossman addressed the soldiers. "My holy ones! I am going to bestow upon you the merit of a holy mitzvah, which can be considered a once in a life time opportunity. Each one of you will complete a letter in the Torah scroll. While you are executing this holy task, each one of you should pray the prayer of his heart and request from G-d that the merit of the letter he has completed will protect him in battle. Holy sparks will emanate from these sacred letters and disperse around you, creating a protective shield which will keep you safe and bring you home safely.

"Those moments were the most exciting and emotional ones in my life. Shaking from the intensity of the immeasurable experience,still not believing, we held the edges of the Torah scroll while our hearts beat rapidly. There was complete silence all around. One after the other, we dipped the quill in the ink and completed a letter in the Torah scroll.

A bystander would have seen a breathtaking scene of incredible elation and spiritual exuberance. The world seemed as if shrouded in silence. The strings of our heart felt strummed and the tears flowed freely down our cheeks.

"Mother!" cried one of the soldiers into his cell phone, "you wont believe what I have done! I have written a letter in a Torah scroll! Mother, are you there? Can you hear?! Me, a Shmutznik (a member of a non- religious Kibbutz), who can't differentiate between Shabbat and the rest of the week, who has not seen tzizit (ritual garment) in my life. Me, I wrote a letter in a Torah scroll! I can't believe it. I can't believe it. "

After the completion of the Torah, the ceremony continued. Leading the procession was a decorated car with multi-colored lights strung all over it and with a crown of lights spinning around on its roof. Following the car, bearers of a decorated canopy marched while people danced around it. Under the canopy, others held the Torah scroll, which was clothed in white and crimson with a silver crown at its top. 600 soldiers and thousands of the town residents marched and danced in the procession, a loud speaker accompanying them, playing traditional Jewish music.

As the ceremony came to a close, Rabbi Grossman approached every soldier and kissed him while placing a half-shekel coin in his hand and said "shliach mitzvah aino nezok," messengers of a mitzvah are not harmed. Rabbi Grossman concluded, "When you return, G-d willing, healthy and unharmed, you will fulfill this mission I am placing upon you, and you will donate this money to charity.

"The night came. Twelve buses made their way atop the Galilee Mountains. Heavy darkness engulfed us, yet behind, in the growing distance, a bright flame pierced the night sky. In the midst of war and violence, we found love and unending human compassion at Migdal Ohr, the educational center established in Migdal Ha'Emek by Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman. Rabbi Grossman speaks "This was an immense "Kiddush Hashem."

For a long period of time, I cried and was very emotional." Thus Rabbi Grossman recalled the moment when he first read the words above written by First Lieutenant M.Rabbi Grossman has what to add to the end of this exciting memoir. "A moment before they returned to Lebanon, I told the soldiers, 'in the merit that you said "shema" and put on tefillin, wrote a letter in the torah, and are messengers of a mitzvah, I promise you, that you will all return safe and sound. None of you will be wounded or killed.'"

"Wasn't the Rabbi scared to commit to 600 soldiers that they would return home safe and sound?" asked Shula Weissfer, a journalist. "That is what came out of my mouth word for word," he replied. "This was a moment of exuberance."

"I continued and told them," Rabbi Grossman relates, "if this does actually happen that you come back safely, the first place you must come back to - before you go home - is Migdal Ohr. We will thank G-d together and from there we will say goodbye." I told them, "think of this as an emergency call-up. Do you accept?" The commanding officer replied in the affirmative.

Two weeks later, around midnight, Rabbi Grossman received a phone call. "Rabbi, your blessing has come true!" exclaimed the commander over the phone. "Everyone is safe and we are on our way to you. We will be there by two 'o clock in the morning"

Rabbi Grossman immediately contacted the kitchen staff and asked them to prepare a meal while he worked to organize a band. People asked him 'You need a band at 2 a.m.? Is Moshiach here?'

"At 2:30 a.m. the soldiers disembarked from the buses, each one carrying 60 kilo of equipment on his back. The band started playing music and the soldiers approached Rabbi Grossman, each one lovingly received with a hug and a kiss. This continued for two hours.

"I felt as I had never felt before," recalls Rabbi Grossman. "Each one told me his personal miracle. "One soldier, a kibbutznik and a lawyer in civilian life, relayed an incredible miracle. A group of soldiers were gathered in an empty house in a Lebanese village when one of them forgetfully lit a cigarette. Hezbollah terrorists immediately noticed the light and fired an anti-tank missile at the house. Coincidentally, two horses from the village ran in front of the house and were hit and killed. The missile, deflected by the horses, veered away from the house, landing elsewhere. Incredibly, the horses miraculously saved the soldiers inside the house.

After the warm reception, the soldiers recited "birkat hagomel,"and together with Rabbi Grossman, sang and danced until daybreak.

"To this day," says Rabbi Grossman, "we maintain contact with each soldier and have thus become one family."

Rabbi Grossman is a recipient of the "Award of Recognition for his Actions on Behalf of Soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Second Lebanon War"