Shlomo, S’hmores, Shabbat And Something Schpecial – An Evening Of Havdalah And Embracing Life’s Beautiful Moments

A shout out to the Gindys for hosting a fabulous night… and of course to Shlomo, for intrepidly journeying out into the Valley to inspire and enlighten us!

We missed a lot of you and hope to see you at the next one.

It’s hard to believe, but it was seven months ago that we took an incredible and powerful journey together… a journey that forever changed us… a journey that brought us new friendships, new connections to Judaism and a deeper bond with a country most of us already loved… even if we had never been there before.

I am thrilled that I still see so many of you… connect with so many of you… share and study with so many of you. Those are lifelong bonds right there! We need to appreciate how amazing that is, as most people will tell you that deep and meaningful friendships do not often come later in life… Though knowing the kind of men all of you are would defy those odds anyway.

The first part of the evening was about Havdalah… Okay, it was probably about the booze, which is par for the course for the LA JMI MEN… but THEN it was about Havdalah. Shlomo spoke about his favorite museum in New York, The Met… and his love of Impressionism… further proof that we were separated at birth… or are simply kindred spirits.

The Met is also my favorite museum, from its glorious location by Central Park…

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To the Temple Of Dendur…

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To the Knights Armor in Gallery 371

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To, of course, my absolute favorite paintings, Impressionism…

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Shlomo talked about how Shabbat was like a museum… and especially like an Impressionist painting. People come together and move to the middle of the room, to not only commune and sit on the benches, but to get the proper perspective they need in order to see and appreciate the work… and see and appreciate and celebrate Shabbat.

Julian and I had a similar discussion with Rabbi Avi Rabin as we studied Kabbalah

As you are close to the painting, it’s true image and story is hidden, much like Hashem with the Tzimtzum… It is only as we move away do we see the images come into glorious focus, and it is only then that the painting is truly revealed.

Yet one needs to go up close to see the technique… to see the details… the pointillism… the strokes… to understand how it actually works. It is in the same way that we need to understand how Shabbat works… what we technically need to do in order to observe and celebrate… and then it is imperative that we pull back…

Pull back from electronics and daily life… pull back from the mundane and even the specifics… We MUST pull back so that Shabbat can come into focus… so that we can take it all in…

For the most important part, I think, is the time together with friends and family… the time to stop and breathe and take in life’s most amazing, beautiful and powerful moments.

This was another theme of the night… Gaining and making the most of Moments… Days.

Shlomo told us of the two mitzvot that the Torah specifically says grants us longer days…

The first is to honor your parents. The second is to shoo a mother bird away when you are collecting her eggs. We all agreed that the latter will require a much more in-depth conversation, and Shlomo and I have scratched the surface in a previous conversation… but there is so much more to it.

The Torah does not say years… it says DAYS. So why is granting longer days the key?

For me, it is that a year, or even a month or week can be daunting… and I tend to self punish myself if it is not overly productive…

But a day… a moment… that is hopefully a period of time we can control… and make the most of.

I am going through a roller coaster right now, but the last three days have provided me with three unique and wonderful moments… lessons, if you will. My task is to somehow extend those moments for as long as I can… let them build into complete and full days… then weeks and months and years. A challenge? Heck yes… But that is what this is all about.

The first, was as I was walking my dog. My neighbor drove by in his stunning Audi A8.

imagesAside from the issues with the German engineering and World War II and the Holocaust… which are significant… I had a moment of envy… What would my life be like in that car? How better would things be if I had enough money to drive a car like that?

But then I stopped… I looked down at my dog, I felt the cool breeze of the evening… and I realized that at THAT MOMENT, I had no back pain, no issues, no troubles. I had everything I needed… I was so at peace… so calm. And for a few moments I just let it be… let it wash over me… But then I wanted to clone that moment so badly… to string it out… to put it together with other, similar moments and have a whole day like that… and then a week… and a month… and a year…

Possible? Not likely… Life will always challenge us and throw out monkey wrenches, if you will…
But that moment was so rich and full… so powerful.

So we need to find a way to stabilize our CORE… our JEWISH CORE (well, core, core, too… especially for us bad back sufferers) so that the pangs and twinges are not debilitating… but just momentary glitches.

Something similar happened as I drove down the PCH with my daughter and dog just yesterday.

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Pangs of envy as we passed some of the most spectacular houses you will ever see… but then the realization that although I was not living in any of them, I could still enjoy them from afar…

I was in a car that was running… on a stretch of road that provided us stunning views…
The sunroof was open and the clean ocean air surrounded us… and at that moment, I had all I needed.

I was in the middle of the museum… looking at a Monet… understanding the details and specifics… but embracing the whole canvas… Seeing it for the work of art it was… Inspired and filled with joy. There is Shabbat in each and ever day… Havdalah in each and every evening…

Let us pull back… see it… embrace it… and fully enjoy it and live it.
L’Chaim.

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Shabbat In Jerusalem – How Do We Recreate The Best Shabbos Ever?

Welcome to the merry month of May. This will mark six months since my life-changing visit to Israel.

What I brought back was a holiness, a calmness, a renewed spirit, a rejuvenated desire to learn, and what I believe and hope will be new, lifelong friendships. The Kotel and all that it means and signifies is certainly here… in every class, in every Torah and Beers, in every discussion and phone call and e-mail… in every Shabbat dinner, and prayer, and in every hour we continue to study and learn.

The trip was truly once-in-a-lifetime… not because I do not think I will go back… I am quite certain I will… I miss it way too much… but because of the specifics, the way things played out and the true miracles that happened. For all of that, I know that it will never be the same.

Yet we try to make a copy of that hour or day or week. We so desperately try to hang onto it… cling to it. We try so hard to make things feel and look and taste the same… but deep down we all know that is impossible… The specifics of who we are with, the timing and so many other factors that made the first experience so magical, work against replicating it.

And that’s okay… or at least we have to make it okay. There is nothing wrong with different. Every day is like every snowflake… no two are exactly the same, and that is a good thing… a challenging thing, but an empowering and positive thing. It is why we must embrace each and every day and moment.

The Shabbat we had in Jerusalem was like no other. It was… it existed… it happened… and yet it shall never be again. While it will live fully in our minds, time will fade specifics and details. Memories will alter, ever so slightly, as time passes us by.

Soldiers Dancing

These words will hopefully sustain it in specificity… recreate those photographs in our mind… play the video… start the music… stir the senses…

In a class with he talks about how we cannot give one day more value or weight over another, not even Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. What I understand that to mean, is that something amazing, wonderful… a miracle… can happen any day of the week, at any hour or moment, as long as we are open to it, as long as each and every day has potential and opportunity.

Our Shabbat in Jerusalem ended in the Claman’s house… a gem in the Old City, with unbelievable views of the Kotel. Their hospitality is known throughout the world, and not only do they invite groups and students and complete strangers into their home, they also support such amazing causes as Thank You Israeli Soldiers. Aba and Pamela Claman are menches in the truest sense of the word… and as we dined at multiple tables, heard stories from two young men, one in the army and one in a submarine in the Navy, one could not help but be moved… and also feel so at home, so complete, so full… Four plus meals and so much joy will do that to you. We were literally bursting with joy… and humus!

We ended our Shabbos on the magnificent rooftop for Havdala. The music flowed through the air as we wrapped our arms around each other… Earlier in the week, strangers… now friends.

© 2014 Jonah Light Photography © 2014 Jonah Light Photography

Something that was said means so much to me… It was that we try to find activities to expand time, when we should let time expand our activities. In other words, be fully present, observe, take in and relish every moment… and while that very good Shabbos in Israel will never be recaptured in exactly the same way, we can make each and every Shabbos special… and so with it our friends and family and people in our lives. Let us expand more than our waists… let us expand our hearts and souls and minds… and the time we have together. Let this and every Shabbos be joyous, blissful, and filled with excitement and energy.

Goooooood Shabbos, everyone!

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Silence… The True Cost Of The Freedom Of Speech

There are many things that make this country great. The Freedom Of Speech is but one of them, yet what an integral and essential and wonderful one it is. There is of course an irony with this freedom, in that at times we have to listen to things we find offensive and threatening.

The greater irony lies with the current BDS and SJP movements so popular on college campuses. As students chant Sharia Law and cheer Hamas, they fail to realize that a similar debate in the countries or areas they put on a pedestal would result in their silence, their deaths… by stoning or being set on fire. Their freedoms to say what they want and to criticize a government would be met with the swift hand of injustice… and perhaps even a left-handed backswing. Ironic. Sad.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe and has been for quite some time. Dangerously, it is getting worse. I have friends who could not get married in a restaurant in France because one of them was Jewish. This was years ago. More recently, some family of a friend of mine said that the anti-Jewish tone and situations in Belgium were as bad as pre-World War II. People are genuinely scared.

Now stories coming out of UCLA, Stanford, UC Davis, UC Irvine, University of Chicago and possibly my own alma mater, Northwestern, show how far the hatred is going and how genuinely terrified many Jewish students are.

“If you prick us do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?”

William Shakespeare – The Merchant Of Venice

Obviously there is a lot more in this quote, both before and after this passage… but it speaks volumes as to what is going on in the world.

People have the freedom to say almost whatever they want, unless it is a call to violence or murder. If they want to lie, they can… and way too often it is done on the front page of the New York Times, on the air by the BBC or in way too many news media outlets to discuss. No one is saying that Israel is without fault, but when history is rewritten, when propaganda and PR are shouted instead of accuracy and truth, when the condemnation of a country becomes a call to arms against a religion, silence is no long an option.

And yes, the very same argument can be used in discussing Islam.

We must be specific with our words.
We must be cautious.
We MUST speak the truth and the whole truth.

In a world where news is immediate and electronic, the truth does not seem to matter much anymore. Speed and being first seems to be the call of the day. Shoot first, issue a small correction on page 42 later.

He who shouts first and loudest is usually regarded as the truth bearer. Retractions are never uttered or printed with the same velocity, volume or size… They are buried, quiet…

And so we begin to see the true costs of silence, especially in a country where the freedom of speech is free. All the words we want are at our disposal… on the tips of our tongues, or the tips of our fingers.

Speak, write, share…

What we ask of our friends is that you speak up if you see or hear anti-Semitism or any kind of hatred. Please do not write this off as something that does not affect you… something that only a minority is saying… that only crazy people are saying… that only people on the fringe are saying.

It hurts. We are scared. We are confused. And we need to hear from you.

What we ask is that you educate yourself to the truth… the facts… and protect them with your words, your voice… with your support.

What we ask is that you make sure we are okay when someone utters words of hate, because while it may not hurt you directly, it causes us great pain, fear and damage.

“Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.”

In theory, perhaps there is some truth in that, but in reality, words can devastate. Words can break apart a marriage.

Words can break apart a friendship.
Words can destroy many things.
And words often lead to actions, and these actions are often filled with fury and hate and violence.

When words are one-sided…
When words are shouted…
When words are printed in big, bold headlines, or used as Breaking News, too often THOSE words become the truth, become the reality, whether they are or they are not.

Words are free. You have so many of them you can use, so why not speak up and speak as loudly as those who are hurting you, hurting your family, hurting your friends?

Words can protect.
Words can correct.
Words can diffuse.
Words can heal.

Words can save a marriage.
Words can save a friendship.
Words can save many things.
Words can save the world.

Words can open up a dialogue, a discussion, a debate and thus words are the true basis of Democracy and freedom.

Words must be exchanged.
Words must be shared.
Words must go back and forth.

Words are a terrible thing to waste!
Silence is a waste of freedom.
Silence is truly death.

To those who think this is not affecting you… that you don’t want to get involved… that your life is good and safe and there is no need to make a fuss. What happens when this hits closer to home? Will you stand up then? And will there be anyone left to help protect you?

The Nazis did not just kill Jews; they killed Gypsies and homosexuals, Russians and those who did not support them. They ravaged Europe, destroyed so many. They left millions and millions dead, because voices were silent, both before and of course after.

Hitler’s words and rallies were but the beginning… systematically put into action. So to say that words have no value, that words don’t matter is both naïve and dangerous.

Iran says it will destroy Israel. The creation of Hamas is based on the words that Israel does not have the right to exist. These are political conversations to have another time.

But students painting swastikas on Jewish frats… shouting death to Jews… Sharia Law… Intifada… Hamas…

These are conversations we MUST have now.
So speak up, speak loudly, speak the truth.

For the true cost of the Freedom Of Speech is in NOT using it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I Discovered In Israel… Reliving, Reflecting And Reminiscing

It seems the world’s exploding
Right before our eyes
With hate and venom spewing
Ignorance and lies

The fringe is growing louder
The daily news is grim
And through the shroud of violence
It’s harder to see Him

Some of us are silent
And some just turn away
We push off to tomorrow
What should be done today

So stand up and be counted
It’s just what we must do
Skin and creed don’t matter
Christian, Muslim, Jew

Stand up and be counted
Don’t fear to speak the truth
And with respect and loving kindness
We must and will break through

Stand up and be counted
Put love and family first
Let your beliefs give strength
Know that faith is not a curse

Stand up and be counted
For harmony can thrive
We can all live together
If we keep hope and love alive

What I know is this… there is good in every religion. The bad usually comes from corruption and those seeking selfish power… a desire by a few not to honor others, but to serve themselves.

A code of ethics and morals… a guide to stop and be human… to spend time with family and loved ones… to be generous and to open your home to family, friends and strangers… to honor and respect… to learn… to love… to share.

These are the things that make religion important… that give it value. These are the things worth fighting for.

There are those who stray, and yes there are some within our own beliefs, within our own religion who do bad things… evil things. We must not accept this, nor let it define us. We must call it out and speak the truth… the whole truth.

We must not be blind followers, but be free and wide open with our eyes, our ears, our minds and souls and hearts.

I cannot explain why I cried the first time I saw the Kotel… the first time I touched it. Perhaps it was because I was home… Perhaps it was because everything suddenly was real and had a perspective. At that moment, doubt and confusion subsided, and I connected… emotionally… viscerally… powerfully.

I cannot explain the reasons I continue to cry on certain days as I wrap Tefillin or read a prayer. This is all new to me…

As I begin reading the Torah, from start to finish, I have many questions and concerns… many things moving in and out of my brain. But it is not skepticism, it is a burning desire for knowledge, to understand, to grasp.  I also plan on reading the New Testament and the Koran, so I can be better versed and understand.

Judaism encourages that… at least my Judaism does… my Rabbis do.

And I know that there are some who will simply say: “Because… or because that is what the Torah says… or because that is what we believe…” when asked a question…

But that cannot be the end of it, at least not for me.

While I am not yet Kosher and do not know if that is something I will embrace… While I am not yet observing every Shabbat, and am not sure if I will… While I support gay marriage and equality and know that, that is something I will ALWAYS do…

I feel more Jewish than I ever have before. I am learning and growing and embracing. I am finding what works for me, and not judging anyone else, including myself.  We do not have a right to do that… to judge… no one does.

What I discovered in Israel was my faith… my passion… my holiness… my spirit… my calm… my joy… but perhaps most importantly. I discovered myself.

What I discovered in Israel, at the airport and on the bus, was a group of men all generous of heart and soul, new friends for a lifetime.

What I discovered in Israel was connection and humanity.

What I discovered in Israel, were a people who were kind and wonderful and willing to open their homes and their tables to anyone who needed a meal or a friend.

What I discovered in Israel was the truth, and while I know there is much more to see and to learn, I can speak to what I know. I can share what is in my heart. I can guide with a hand and a touch.

To have such discoveries, we do not need to go on an archaeological dig, to brush aside dirt or move boulders, we simply need to do… to be open and kind and willing to embrace all that is around us.

Our needs are simple… and basically the same… love, respect, honor… food, water and shelter… kindness… And I’ll also add in music and art.  Dancing and singing with a bunch of guys is more powerful than you can imagine… and very easy to see how THAT could change the world.

So yeah… that is what I discovered in Israel, and I hope all of you have the chance to do the same.

In the meantime, just be open and share.  Speak from your place of truth, love from your heart and soul, think from the depths of your mind.

Gooooooood Shabbos!!!

PS – The travel journey continues on Sunday… sorry for the delay!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Finding My Spirit, Miles Apart, Souls Side To Side, Travelogue | Leave a comment

A Response To The Hate And Ignorance, Sadly Living On Our College Campuses

Tomorrow’s post will be a continuation of Shabbat in Jerusalem, and thus joyous and celebratory…

Today’s post will most frustratingly be a look at the new and stark reality that is seizing Europe and now even more sadly, our own college campuses. For those who think that these things don’t affect us here in the US, welcome to your own backyard. It’s here… and it’s here NOW.

The fact that people can HATE Jews so much that they are willing to accept those who would behead a human being or set another on fire is disgusting and dishonest and is obviously anti-Semitism. What happens in the ONLY Democracy in the Middle East will absolutely have an impact here. It is not just the one shining light, it is the literal front line.

Imagine if you will that Israel was wiped off the map, do you honestly think that they would stop there? Do you think they would allow Americans, full of “vice” and non believers, to survive? No. They will take their war to our shores and to our doors. They already have. I beg you to remember 9/11… orchestrated by mostly Saudis… our allies. Qatar, another “ally” may be responsible for funding ISIS… How do we ignore these facts?

Oh yes, because the world hates Jews. It is irrational, ignorant and dangerous and not just to me and my family and those who are Jewish, but to humans everywhere. We may be the first they come after, but we will not be the last. Today Northwestern University, my alma mater and ashamed so, had a secret vote amongst the student government, to divest from Israel? Why secret? Why so cowardly? The very university who LOST one of our own (James Foley) to a beheading at the hands of Islamic terrorists, is basically voting to support these very same groups. I am sorry, but there is nothing honest about the Free Palestine Movement or saying you are supporting the “innocent” Palestinians. These votes are purely symbolic, yes… but also purely anti-Semitic. Period. They are based on lies and propaganda and blind hatred… steeped in ignorance and brewed with hate.

A more honest approach would be to discuss with equal vigor and volume, the tunnels built in Gaza designed for kidnapping and murder… the money and materials used to create these paths of destruction taking away from the Palestinian people, their economy and infrastructure. A more sincere approach would be to discuss the thousands of rockets randomly lobbed at Israel, hoping to land on civilian targets and afflict the highest number of innocent casualties.

A more thorough approach would be to acknowledge how many schools, hospitals, or private homes are taken over by Hamas and virtually destroyed as they are made into launching pads.

A more balanced approach would be to condemn the use of human shields, beheadings, mass killings or setting people on fire.

A more evolved approach would be to look at the way gays and women are treated in such areas that these students are defending.

I would like to make an appeal to any donors to these universities that you immediately pull your funding to supporting student government and instead invest in classes on Reality, Truth and actual History.

I appeal that you use your funding to support Hillel and other Jewish groups on campus who are now literally under attack.

I appeal that you use your funding to fly these students to Israel and allow the to live in that country and then send them to the Gaza Strip or West Bank… to live amongst their people and see how things really are… and if they are not kidnapped or murdered, bring them back and let them speak of the things they have seen. I would love to hear what they have to say when reality and truth are in their sights.

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The Real Rappers… Wrapping Tefillin And Why I Suddenly Got Hip (Hopped)

Wrapping Tefillin always seemed like an archaic chore to me. The only time I had really done it, before this trip, was when someone accosted me on a street and told me I’d be doing a mitzvah… and then proceeded to give me what amounted to a blood-pressure test, and then asked for a donation.

I am sure I did it in Hebrew school, but it clearly did not stick. I didn’t get a set for my Bar Mitzvah… it wasn’t on the registry… and it seemed like something very far off, that others, more religious than me, would do.

When you go to the Kotel, they will try to grab you and have you do it, but I was always steered in another direction (usually by one of our Rabbis!) but mostly I just did not have the time.

Many of the guys on the trip wrap everyday (Not just the Rabbis!) They either carried their own sets, or bought a set while in Israel. And on this journey, watching the way it was done, with such love and respect… the gentleness with which they showed me the process, and the way it was explained, made it a truly beautiful and moving experience… and one I wanted to try on my own at home. Yes kids, DO try this at home!

It was enlightening to me. The guys talking about how they start their day with prayer and meditation and bringing their heart and head together.

Who wouldn’t want to start their day off like that? At least attempting to put yourself on a path of being positive, doing good and thinking of things outside of, and bigger than ourselves. This makes incredible sense to me, and I wish it had been explained this way back then.

To pray and mediate for a mere 15 minutes in the morning, as the first thing you do… Okay, maybe some ankle rolls and back stretches first, for the guy who moans and grunts as he simply turns over… OY!

Most of the guys don’t just say the traditional Hebrew prayers either. They add in something personal, maybe even secular, that really means something to them… that will guide them and set them upon that better path.

The entry point for a set of Tefillin is around $300… and that was holding me back… but while I was on the Chabad web site, actually researching the Healing Prayer, I noticed an ad for something called the Tefillin Bank offer.  I assumed this was some kind of loaner program, but when I got in touch with them I was told that was something from a long time ago and no longer offered… HOWEVER, Rabbi Bryski from the Chabad in Agoura, said that he had a gentleman who was willing to buy a set for any one who committed to wrapping.

We returned from a winter break in New York, and on a warm Sunday morning in January, I went to services at Chabad and got my very own set of Tefillin. Amazing.

Now, as my friend Steve tells it, I messed up by getting it for free, for as he said, when you buy it, it comes back to you in multiples, in some sort of miraculous way. When he was inquiring about the price of his own set, the guy he bought it from kept saying, “Don’t worry, it’s gonna come back to you. Don’t worry.” Sure enough the day AFTER he bought it… he received TWO bonuses!

So there may not be any money coming my way… yet… but the joy and emotion I am receiving from wrapping is amazing. The first few times I did it, I welled up with tears. It was so incredibly emotional. And while that has not happened every day since, it does happen a lot.  It happened yesterday morning, as a matter of fact… especially when I really focus on what I am saying… what I am praying about and asking for… and yes, I ask for guidance and clarity and success… but so that I can give back to Hashem and to those who need it.

Rabbi Bryski gave me a great tutorial and then suggested I watch the Chabad DIY video… which was very clear and easy to follow.

Special thanks also go out to Jordan who I wrapped Tefillin with in Masada. Thanks to David, who I wrapped Tefillin with in Jerusalem. Thanks to JonahSal, Shlomo, Aryeh and Az, who continue to counsel and advise me.  I love the tips and prayer ideas… answering all of my questions, like… what is the best way to put the Tefillin away, etc., etc.

I have created my own ritual… and am still exploring, which is fantastic! I have learned that Ashkenazis wrap towards the heart. I have also learned how to make Shins on both the bicep and the hand… which prayers I need to and like to say (there are a few that not everyone says)… and what things I like to add to the experience, like the Emuna prayer… thanks, JMI Boys… and my own special words.

In a world that is seemingly on the brink of exploding… with anti-Semitism firing up all around us… with people spitting on us for simply wearing a yarmulke… I am so proud to be moving closer to Hashem… to be finding my light and spirituality… to finding the truth and beauty in Judaism… and seeing our religion for what it really is, and not what other, hate-filled and ignorant people would have you believe.

I have no idea where this path is leading… or how far I will go… but I am loving the journey and am so thankful for taking such an incredible trip.

Wrap Master G says Peace Out!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Finding My Spirit, Miles Apart, Souls Side To Side, Travelogue | Leave a comment

Joy and Fear… Being Jewish In Dangerous Times

Today’s post was supposed to be a continuation of our incredible Shabbat in Jerusalem… talking about an amazing meal at the Claman’s home and hearing about all the amazing things they are doing for the Israeli soldiers, the Lone Soldiers (Thank Israeli Soldiers) and for almost anyone who needs a place to come for Shabbat.

Warmth, generosity and love… this is the Jewish way. I will get back to that for sure, as they and that part of the day is due full consideration.

As I delve deeper into my studies, I am finding the spirituality I had sought long ago… many answers and yes, still many questions. I am realizing how beautiful Judaism is, and how much emphasis it places on helping others and literally healing the world. It is fascinating and uplifting, and yet I am realizing how very far I have to go. On the trip we discussed several important ways to bring Judaism into our homes… into our lives… and how to share it with others. We discussed having regular Shabbat dinners and inviting friends and family and people we may not even know that well yet, and letting them see how beautiful the Jewish tradition can be… how much pleasure and joy it can provide.

Some of us discussed wrapping Tefillin when we got home, another ritual that I will devote an entire post to. Well, I am happy to say that I have attended more Shabbat dinners in the last few months than I have in years. Though I do need to be better about hosting some. Wrapping Tefillin now seems to be well on its way to becoming a habit… No, definitely not a Nun’s habit. I love it and look forward to it daily… and it is, especially the first few times, extremely emotional and powerful.

Jonah is walking me through the SiddurShlomo and I are trying to meet regularly… and I am studying with a great guy named Jason in Connecticut through the Partners In Torah program. I am also trying my best to emulate the vibrant Sal with a hearty and filmed… Goooooooood Shabbos, Vietnam! Judaism is alive and well within me… We brought The Kotel back to LA, Shlomo!

However, the news from our own college campuses is frightening. UC Davis and Stanford are the two most recent to make the news… but the list goes on and on. It is easy to dismiss the divestment movement as propaganda… and these students are clearly quite ignorant to the facts. Yet we all know how dangerous ignorance can be, especially when it is armed and coupled with venomous hatred.

The bottom line is that this movement, these actions, this behavior all stems from a vicious and virulent anti-Semitism. For those of us who were in Israel and those who have been… for anyone who has truly studied the Holocaust and walked the snaking halls of Yad Vashem, we have to know how powerful words can be. They are the spark that starts the book-burning, the flicker that ignites the gas chambers, they are the message that convinces blind believers to strap on explosives and walk into a bar or to take a saber and behead another human being.

This is how it starts, and frighteningly where it starts seems to be firmly on American soil and on our very own, esteemed college campuses. Let’s not get started on Europe, as that will take a whole other TEN posts… Suffice it to say they have never really taken full responsibility for the Holocaust… nor reconciled with it, and so now all of that hatred is bubbling up again. It is really scary over there and eerily similar to the pre-World War II mentality. As far as right in our own backyard… I am not joking when I say that we should raise money for all of these students who so publicly embrace Hamas and Sharia law, put them on a plane and drop them in Gaza. I wonder how they would bode there?

The irony of course is that they are supporting and embracing an organization who would suppress their rights and freedoms and most likely brutally kill them. How do you think this woman “leader” at UC Davis would do in a society that treats women as third and fourth-class citizens. Let’s let her find out first hand. There is no honesty and no intellect… just blind, misguided and misplaced hate… She mentions Hamas… one of the worst violators of ALL human rights… and an obvious terrorist organization who is doing more damage to the Palestinians than any Israeli ever has… She mentions Sharia law, which would subdue and suppress her, maybe even stone her! Come on! Who is kidding who here.

So barring my Operation Idiot Drop… We need to make sure our families are strong in their beliefs… like my friend Sal said, let them study in Israel for a year and discover that bond and joy. But we also need to make sure they are safe to express who they are and what they believe in. It saddens me that way too few of my friends “like” my posts on this or even respond or comment… and not because I am a teenager trying to get as many “likes” as I can, but because people are way too apathetic about this… people are not standing up and shouting… people do not seem to be very concerned, or take this seriously… and this apathy is dangerous… extremely dangerous.

History will only stop repeating itself when humans take real action and stand up to the vicious cycle that turns and turns. I BEG YOU to not stay silent on these very serious issues. If we do not speak up and act NOW it will be catastrophic… So post things on your own, speak out about it, sign petitions, be actively involved. For the love of Judaism and the Jewish people… for yourself and your heritage… and because it is the right thing to do… Get up, stand up!

Categories: Finding My Spirit | Leave a comment

It Was The Shabbat Of A Lifetime… The Gift And The Generosity Of Shabbat, As Learned Here And In Israel

The trip really hit its pinnacle on Friday night, with the Kabbalat Shabbat and the Tish. While nothing will really match that extreme level or excitement… I mean how could it? I do want to keep sharing the rest of the trip, as there is still so much joy and wonder… including a few days tacked on the end, that Rob and I got to spend in Tel Aviv.

Today’s post, the events of which actually took place on Shabbat (Saturday), November 15, 2014, is about something just as powerful

The gift and generosity of Shabbat.

Shabbat brings out the best of us and gives us so much, and spending time with the people of Israel reinforced this in the most powerful way.

We started the morning with a huge breakfast and the usual long line at the coffee machine… That is one looooong line, let me tell you. Today would be a day of eating… and eating… and oh yeah… EATING.

And of course… we are the LA group… DRINKING!

Lori Palatnik spoke to us about marriage and how our spouses need the “Three A’s”:

Affection
Appreciation
Attention

Men need Respect.

Obviously there is a lot more to it, but this is a good intro. You can check out one of Lori’s Talks here.

After the class, we make our way out into Jerusalem for what is billed as the Shabbat Of A Lifetime. This is an actual program, and it is really quite amazing… the organization and kindness and warmth that is simply… Israel.

We break into smaller groups… maybe about 10-15 guys this time… and it is not lost on me that our group in particular (some do and some don’t) have a very well-armed guard with us…

What happened at a Shul very close to where we are, and less than a week later, will haunt me. There but for the grace of G-d go I.

We walk quite a bit and wind our way through an alley and into a development of houses… There is a courtyard with a soccer field, but this is not luxurious living… and space obviously comes at a premium in Jerusalem.

Then we enter the house of Chana Jenny Weisberg and her husband Rabbi Joshua Weisberg. And oh yeah… their SEVEN CHILDREN. She was pregnant when we were there, so I cannot recall if that was #7 or #8… Forgive me on that. But check out her blog, Jewish Mom.

I am not sure how so many people fit in this house, and while I know this is a jaded and perhaps American thought… I ponder this a great deal… until the meal starts… and they speak… and then a whole other series of thoughts flood my mind…

How do I get this? How do I live like these people do?

No, I do not think I can run out and make six or seven more children, though trying is fun… No, I want their calm, their peace, their Zen. I want their Judaism!

The food is great and all delivered and set up by the Shabbat Of A Lifetime group.

Though I have to say, the Challah that Josh got is one of, if not THE best I have ever had… It is huge and dark and spectacular to look at… And yes, I am missing my camera right now!

And to taste… Wow. I need to get the name of that place!

We eat… and drink… and DRINK… What? You don’t have Johnnie Walker Black in the middle of the day… I do giggle about that on this trip.

Okay, as an aside… I LOVE how well we, and all the Rabbis seem to drink. Kudos on that… and Kudos to Az for that 21 Year Old Port Wood Balvenie Scotch… Um. WOW! And more please.

So we are at the table… discussing life and things and one of the kids is crying… and another is knocking over a full glass of wine… and don’t get me wrong, they are kids… the others were behaving perfectly… they were so polite and helpful…

But I am watching the two of them and they do not flinch… they do not lose their tempers… they are so calm and easy and simply get up… and clean up… and are so gentle with the kids… and I want that.

Sadly, I know I am not like that…

Does it take living in a land where something horrible can happen at any instant to stop and appreciate every moment? Or is it just the spirituality and holiness of Jerusalem that brings about such calm and peace and self-holiness.

I know how I felt in Jerusalem, and it was all of those things… As rushed as we are, or were, I still always felt at peace, filled with love, and an almost constant calm and joy. Okay, maybe it was the booze and being so darn over tired!!!

I’m joking about that, of course… but those feelings in Jerusalem were real and amazing… and I so desperately want to hold onto that… to bring it back and live it here, away from the city and the Wall…

As another side note, I did… for the first two weeks back, feel so holy and calm… and then life kicks you in the s–… and we have to work even harder to maintain that peace and bliss. Seems contradictory… working hard to be calm… but that’s what it takes… hard work… sigh…

So here we are in Jerusalem and these kind and generous people have opened up their home to us… their lives. And apparently they do this often. This is not lost on me. This is amazing… And I realize… This is Shabbat.

We sat and broke bread. We shared… we talked… we spent quality time with each other. This is Shabbat.

We celebrated life and family. We stopped and enjoyed our time. This is Shabbat.

I think of the utter joy of dancing and signing at The Happy Minyan with Jonah and some of the guys last week. I know that tonight I will be dining with 30 friends, some I know and some I have not yet met. This is Shabbat.

I think of the multitude of invitations we have received from so many of you, my new friends. This is Shabbat.

It is a gift… it is generous… and it deserves to be celebrated and shared and enjoyed. This is Shabbat.

So thank you to Hashem and to all of you for making me realize how important it is to stop and smell the Challah… and the wine… and the Balvenie… and celebrate and be generous and enjoy the gift of Shabbat!

Categories: Finding My Spirit, Travelogue | Leave a comment

How Do We Remember – 70 Years Since The Liberation Of Auschwitz

I do not ask why. We know why we have to remember. Or I should say we know why we WANT to remember.

We owe it to those lost, to honor their memory and sacrifice. We owe it to ourselves, to recognize evil, to look it in the eye and stare it down and shout NEVER AGAIN.

We must learn from the past. We MUST…

And yet, it seems we have still not learned enough, for it has happened again and again.

Since World War Two, murder and genocide has happened way too many times, and while perhaps it has not been as methodical or large in numbers, somehow genocide is not something we are done with. How utterly sad is that?

It also brings up the issue that has been debated a lot lately… especially on my Facebook page… the power of words. We must not dismiss what is written and what is spoken, because too often it is acted on… too often words form a plan, a manifesto, a blueprint… and the machines of war and death stem from those ideas.

We can now see all too clearly what happens when words are put into motion… and if someone says they are going to kill you… believe them.

Today is January 27, 2015, Holocaust Memorial Day. It was 70 years ago today that Auschwitz was liberated.

In order to understand what happened, we must first ask some rather simple questions. Well, the questions may be simple, but the answers are complex, heartbreaking, profound, disturbing, and utterly horrific.

Who?
About 11 million people slaughtered at the hands of the Nazi’s genocidal plan. Six million Jews, and another five million “Gypsies, Poles, communists, homosexuals, Soviet POWs, and the mentally and physically disabled.” (Wikipedia)

What?
The Nazis perpetrated the largest genocide in modern history, known as The Holocaust or Shoah.

Where?
Nazi Germany and the places they conquered.

When?
1941-1945

Spending way too short of a time in Yad Vashem put these things into an even more specific and devastating perspective. And to anyone who would dare deny that any of this happened, first off, shame on you. Second, simply read what the Nazis themselves ADMITTED to doing. It was a plan, a precise, evil and well documented PLAN. No denial.

So again, the question I pose is how do we remember?

Torture? Death? Destruction? Annihilation?

Read in detail on Wikipedia

Today I am choosing to remember the rebellions… the resistance… the underground fighters. Those who stood up to the Nazis, those who looked evil in the eye and fought, and those who placed their lives on the lines to rescue as many innocent lives as they could.

Not ALL of the world stood by… though sadly, too many did, including people and politicians right here in the US. And THIS is why we cannot only look down and gaze at our own backyard. We are people OF THE WORLD… and while it may not be our job to police it, it IS our job to protect it and heal it.

For those who stood up and fought back, thank you for that. None of you will ever be forgotten. I just hope the rest of the world wakes up, and sees the very real writing on the wall.

Categories: Finding My Spirit | Leave a comment

The Mighty Maccabees Motor On The Mountain – JMI Boys Rolling Up The Angeles Crest Highway

Eight Jews walk into a biker bar…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Okay, okay… before I get to that, let me start from the beginning. Our fearless leader for this BMO… Boys Morning Out… is Todd. Thanks, TG!!! He loves driving and wanted to get a bunch of us together.

Now, I love cars. I’m one of the goofballs, who snaps photos of parked automobiles and secretly wishes he was James Bond in an Aston Martin. 1963 DB5? Hand it over.

aston-martin-db5-1963-james-bond-car1

A newer Vanquish? Hell yes, I say.  And for the record, Connery was and is my favorite Bond… though martinis should be stirred…

article-1390871-004A318500000258-367_468x337

Anyway, I digress.

I will also reluctantly admit that I do not know that much about the engines and what’s going on under the hood… Shhh! I would be more than happy to learn more, so if anyone wants to guide me, let’s do it. Sign me up for the next Aish Porsche Discovery Class… or the Rabbi’s Roadster. I am so there.

I also drive a Mazda… SUV… so yeah, I am a bit out of my league.

Ferrari

But this group does not judge and is just happy to be together, which makes the day a joy… mostly! You’ll see… read on.

In what threatens to be… I mean promises to be a monthly endeavor, eight of us met up at Target in Woodland Hills. That’s right… we did not shop we just met in the lot… admired each other’s vehicles. Please! Not in THAT way… and headed down the highway…

David, David’s friend David (Yes, he only hangs out with Davids… it’s a Biblical thing!), Elie, Julian, Larry, Randy, Todd and me…

Heaven’s Angels… The Kotel Klub… The Original Wrapping Jewish Gangstas! Pick one and we’re getting leather jackets made!

101… 134… 210… 2… Angeles Crest Highway, here we come.

We revved, we passed, we drove… up and up and around and around. And yes, boys will be boys. We can be competitive from time to time.

Am I still a bit dizzy? Um… yes, fine! But what a beautiful road it was… and is. I’ll need to go back and actually see the scenery! Life is not about the destination, it is about the journey… and the speed… and NOT braking on the curves!

And… and this is a big one… NOT pulling off to the side of the road and not actually being on the side of the road.

I still do not know exactly what happened… but I remember seeing a biker patting the top of his helmet like someone would in a game of Simon Says. I thought that was a warning of sorts… but had never seen that before. Randy was not sure either.

Turns out that IS the biker sign for cop. Though we never saw one. Hey, we used to call them Cherry Tops in Jersey, so the signal makes sense.

Then I recall seeing a guy with a Walkie-Talkie in an orange flak jacket. Was the road closed? Was he pulling us over? The six cars all stopped and I guess someone, or a few of us, were waving some bikers by, telling them to pass us. I did not see that, though I heard quite a few honking horns from those bikers as they passed us.

Everyone who had a top to put down, did it… and then we pulled back out and continued up the road. Tons of trees, killer views, blue sky and bikers… What an absolutely beautiful day. No wonder people like dumping bodies out here. Oy!

Quite a few cyclists, too… Who the heck can do that??? I mean really… this is a narrow, windy, mountainous road. Heck, I am happy doing seven to eight miles on the stationary bike… and burning 200 calories… while I watch ESPN. Phew!

Speaking of cyclists, we did miss Simon who was supposed to be there but could not join us.

Newcombs Ranch and Bikes Newcomb's Ranch Door 2 Newcombs Ranch Sign

We pull into the lot at Newcomb’s Ranch, park the cars and almost immediately 20 bikers in head to toe leather start walking towards us… PISSED… and Osterman is nowhere in sight. (That is all from Todd, right there).

I am still getting out of the car, but several of the guys are getting berated. They start apologizing immediately. Apparently we were not pulled off to the side of the road, but actually still in the road, so the bikers were forced to swerve away from us and ride the double yellow line. One of the guys, who was much friendlier and calmer, explained that the police will ticket the bikers for riding the yellow line… and all of them… doing a group pull over.

But way more importantly, he also explains that when they are “hauling ass” up the mountain, having to stop short so they don’t slam into the back of a car is not a great thing. Hitting the car, of course, is worse.

Luckily that did not happen, and we all learned a valuable lesson… kind of like Torah class!

Newcomb’s Ranch is a cool place… very lodge like… and the food is good and plentiful…. Though I do not think the egg whites I got balanced out the ham, bacon, sausage, hash browns and Coke!

Newcomb's Food

There is also a store selling some sweet shirts, riding gear and even sweeter Italian bikes! None of us purchased said bike. Or did we???

Pro Italia Bike

What was funny is that we were all gawking at the bikes and bikers and snapping shots of their rides… and they were doing the same to us… You know… the guys who did NOT want to kill us. Phew!

Bikes Cool Bikes Ferrari 2

Thanks to Randy for really handling those turns and expertly using the Paddle shifters. And your musical choices were spot on! I would certainly want to put myself through some kind of driving school before feeling comfortable on the 2 and not riding shotgun. That was quite a ride.

Stuffed and sated, we made our way back down the mountain, with at least one new Commandment firmly in hand…
Thou shall pull all the way off the road!
So basically, we were the The Moses’ of Motoring… Jewish Road Warriors… The Mad Max of Schleppers… Nice Boys With Toys…

Okay, okay… See you all on the next one.

Categories: Finding My Spirit | Leave a comment

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