Beyond Teshuva Unmasked – A Look Behind the Scenes

Purim is the holiday where G-d parts the curtains and gives us a glance at what goes on behind the scenes. In that spirit, we here at Beyond Teshuva would like to give you a glance at what goes on behind the scenes adminstering the blog. In doing so, we have reproduced a sample of private emails sent to the administrators as well as conversations between the administrators so that all of you can get a snapshot of what has to happen before you see the fruits of our collective efforts here on the blog.

Sometimes it appears to readers of the blog that we don’t give any hard and fast answers. Below I have excerpted an email conversation that exhibits Mark’s ability to cut through the morass of nonspecific advice and give a straightforward, direct answer. The results are life changing.

Dear BeyondBT:

I love your site, it has been so helpful to so many in so many ways. I’m hoping you can help me with my specific problem. I didn’t want to put it on the blog because it is a little personal. Here goes: My 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis has aprox 50,000 miles on her. I recently installed a rebuilt alternator that I boosted to 100 amps instead of the normal 65-70-amp type. How can I make sure that it’s working properly?

Buddy, Topeka Kansas

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Buddy,

This is a question we get all of the time. Basically, if the battery in your car is in good condition, the best way to test your altenator is to perform a cold start of your engine. Keep your eye on the voltage across the battery terminals to verify that it registers somewhere between 13.5 to 14.5 volts. If not, double check that the alternator belt is in good condition and properly tensioned then perform the cold start test again.

Mark

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Dear Mark,

Thank you for you speedy response. Worked like a charm. You the man.

Buddy

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Buddy,

Rock on.

Mark

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Almost brings tears to your eyes, no?

When people see the blog, they see it as a finished product. They are often not aware of the deep thought and wrenching decisions that go into the determination of what to post and when to post it. Take a look at this email exchange between Mark and me which illustrates exactly what I mean.

David,

I’ve got nothing in the submission bank to post today. Your thoughts?

P.S. What are you having for lunch?

Mark

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Mark,

I was thinking of chinese.

David

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David,

I thought you said you were trying to watch your weight.

Mark

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Mark,

I am. I might just get some chicken and vegetables, steamed with brown rice and sauce on the side.

David

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David,

You call that chinese food?

Mark

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Mark,

You’re right. Maybe I’ll just get some sushi.

David

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David,

Do you mean sushi or sashimi?

Mark

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Mark,

Dunno. It’s all the same to me.

David

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David,

Ok. Now that that’s resolved. What are we going to do about the post?

Mark

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Mark,

Look, I gotta get back to work. Maybe just throw something together about a BT who can’t eat in his parents house or somethin’.

David

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Not as easy as it looks, huh?

Finally, administering this blog often requires us to discern the nuances and differences contained in the written language. (And I’m not just talking about having a thesaurus handy for Rabbi Dovid Schwartz’ posts). In order to do so, one must have a handle on where the writer is coming from, where they are going and what is important to him/her. I have excerpted a correspondence between prominent blogger and commenter Steve Brizel and Mark and me.

David,

IMO, as a BT, a former YU and NCSY guy, a FYUANCSYABT, if you will, when RYBS addressed the issue of FW vs PD he, IMHO, IIRC, quoted RAIK based on the RASHBA, the RITVA and another acronym that escapes me now LOL. Anyway, when GL posted regarding TFS and EP, I was taken aback. Do you think I should IM him or JFAI?

SB

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Steve,

Huh?

David

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Mark,

Where did you find this David Linn guy? He barely speaks english!!

SB

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Steve,

Its not like this is a paid position or something so you take who you can get. What can I tell ya?

Mark

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And these are just a few examples!

So, dear readers, before you criticize the blog please take into account the time, effort exerted and the acumen applied to get you the finished product.

Happy Purim to all.

Originally posted – March, 2006

Fisking Uncle Moishy

Fisking is blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay…A Fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, and the aim is generally to weaken the target’s credibility rather than seek common ground.
This article was partially inspired by Fisking Aunt Mary.

Dear Uncle Moishy,

Everyone’s faaaaaavrite Uncle. Well, you’re not mine. In fact, I’ve spoken to the oldest living members of both sides of my family and they have confirmed that we’re not even related. Moving forward, I’ve received your latest email regarding Shabbos and I will not take it sitting down.

You write:

“Shabbos is coming…”
as if to say that if you didn’t tell me that, I wouldn’t know it. Who died and made you the calendar?

You continue “…We’re so happy.”
Oh, YOU’re so happy. So, your saying that I’M not happy that Shabbos is coming?. Oh you’re soooooo frum.

“We’re gonna sing …”
Once again with the exclusionary language. I know I’m not a world renowned singing superstar like you but there’s no reason to get uppity about it.

“…and shout aloud.”
Oh that makes sense, shout at your family when shabbos preparations are lagging and candle lighting is approaching. Sounds like someone needs a heavy dose of some Marvelous Middos Machine.

Then, you simply repeat yourself with some more shouting, some whispering (I have no clue what that’s about) and telling things to the world (as if people in Bangladesh are actually buying your CDs).

Well, it felt good to get that off of my chest but if you think I’m finished, just you wait until you see my response to your “Hey Dum Diddly Dum” missive. Strap yourself in and hold on to your Mem hat, buddy.

All my love,

David (not your nephew)

Just Six Words

My daughter’s English teacher assigned the class six word memoirs. The six word memoir has become a popular vehicle for breaking the ice and for stimulating creativity. Basically, you sum up your life (or a major aspect of it) in six words. Ernest Hemingway is said to have penned this somber six word memoir: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn”.

I thought it would be interesting to see how creative our BBTers can be with BT related six word memoirs. So, let’s see it. Here are some to get the juices flowing:

Try so hard. Never fit in.

Just can’t make it work. Dikduk.

Hope Grampa’s kvelling. My first siyum.

My sister (inter)married. I’m still single.

Eight years later. Can’t say ‘ch’.

Can the Ends Really Justify the Means?

In this week’s Mishpacha magazine, Yonoson Rosenblum’s weekly column presented an interesting point. He writes:

“Chazal enjoin us in many places to carefully consider the impact of our words. Yet in many instances, it is impossible to know in advance what that impact will be, or to anticipate the ways in which the same words will have a radically different effect on two people. That is perhaps why Chazal also commended silence so highly — an option not available to columnists.

Last June, I had an opportunity to interview my friend Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz on the early teshuvah revolution in South Africa. The discussion turned to his first book, Anatomy of a Search, which describes his own path toward religious observance and that of a number of other baalei teshuvah. Written with the fervor of a still relatively recent baal teshuvah, the book contained one sentence laden with adjectives decrying the emptiness of secular society. When he subsequently showed the book to Rabbi Aharon Feldman, rosh yeshivas Ner Israel, Rabbi Feldman told him that he thought the book was very good, but he would have left out that particular sentence, as it would only alienate those he wished to reach by making them feel under attack. And indeed that was indeed the reaction of at least one set of Rabbi Tatz’s relatives, who told him that they felt personally offended by the sentence in question, and had promptly put the book down.

But here’s where it gets a bit complicated. Some years later, Rabbi Tatz met another South African, approximately his age. He described how as a young attorney, he and his wife had left South Africa as a personal protest against apartheid. They then spent a number of years in India as part of an idealistic search for meaning. Eventually they ended up on a beach in Israel, where it seemed to them that their search had reached a dead end, with no further avenues to pursue. At that point, the husband came across Anatomy of a Search, and was struck by the sentence in question, which seemed to encapsulate all the feelings about the secular world that had launched him and his wife on their journey in the first place.

All this took place many years ago. The former lawyer went on to learn for many years in yeshivah, and is today a rosh yeshivah.

Unquestionably, Rabbi Feldman’s advice was correct: Rarely is there any purpose served by making ones message unpalatable to those whom one is trying to influence. But in this case, davka the sharpness of the phraseology was what hit a young couple, at a moment of desperation in their lives, when they were prepared to make a dramatic change.”

If you could travel back in time to before you decided to connect more closely with Judaism, how would you have felt about these words? Does the fact that these precise words motivated one young couple (and, I assume others) excuse, justify or outweigh the fact that they turned off or offended others?

Get Moving

Sometimes you hear something short and to the point and it motivates you. My daughter sent me an email with the following short moshel:

There are a group of boys playing in the street. A bus pulls up and stops. The bus driver honks his horn because he needs to get through. The boys don’t flinch. They continue playing ball as if the bus doesn’t even exist. The bus driver honks again. The boys look up and, almost in unison, shout “We heard you!”. The bus driver replies “It’s not enough to hear me, you also have to move.”

It’s not enough to hear great and inspiring droshas and profound insights. You also have to move. Take a step, a small step. Get moving.

Share a SHORT insight or story for YK in the comments. G’mar Tov.

These Canvas Shoes

Growing up in New York City public schools in the 70s and 80s, one would simply just not wear canvas sneakers. These verboten items of apparel were derisively called “skips”. The unaware male student who breached this fashion taboo was subject to jeers and was most likely to suffer the gravest of schoolyard humiliations– being selected last when choosing sports teams.

Looking down at my canvas. sneakers during my father’s shiva awakened me to the fact of how much things had changed over the past twenty-odd years yet how much some things remained very much the same. Back then, wearing canvas sneakers was a clear marker, right or wrong, of a certain schoolyard stereotype. Now, wearing canvas shoes is also a clear marker but of one who is in mourning or in a state of solemnity. Now, as then, the “clothes make the man”. What we wear affects how we feel and how others feel about us. Funny how the world turns in such a way that the very item one would rail against his parent to avoid wearing is the same one he is now obligated to don to mourn that parent. These canvas shoes are heavy… with meaning.

According to Jewish law and custom, the shoe symbolizes our physical existence. Just as the shoe encases and protects the lowest part of the body and allows it to navigate the physical world, so too the physical body encases and protects the lowest level of the soul and allows it to live in and relate to the physical world. It used to be that each of the birchas hashachar (morning prayers),were recited in conjunction with a certain stage of awakening and preparation for the day. For example, after putting on clothing, the bracha of malbish arumim –blessing the One who clothes the naked– was said. The bracha specifically associated with donning shoes is sheasa li kol zarki—blessing the One who has provided me with all of my needs. We see from here that shoes, specifically leather shoes, are the ultimate paradigm of physicality. Our sages teach that one of the reasons that we don’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur is that on that Holy Day, we are considered as angels and angels, since they are purely spiritual beings without physical needs or desires, don’t wear shoes.

When G-d sees that a person needs to relate on a more spiritual and less physical plane, He commands him to remove his shoes. It happened to Moshe at the Burning Bush and Yehoshua when confronted by the angel of G-d. It happens to us on Yom Kippur, during Shiva and on Tisha B’Av. During these times, we need to realize that physicality must be ignored and that spirituality must be emphasized.

As we slowly and solemnly crawl toward another Tisha B’Av, it may make sense to focus on the physical/spiritual lesson that these canvas shoes teach us. We mourn for the loss of the two Holy Temples. But we are not mourning the loss of physical buildings. Remember, on Tisha B’Av we don’t wear shoes, we are ignoring the physical. As the Temples were the crossroads of the spiritual and physical worlds, we are mourning the spiritual loss of our actual proximity to G-d.

With the loss of the First Temple, we also suffered the loss of prophecy, the mechanism by which spiritual reality was voiced in our physical world. Such tragic losses have unfortunately catalyzed us to view the physical as true reality and the spiritual as a murky, irrelevant reverie.

G-d runs the world according to the principle of midda keneged midda. That means that we are punished or rewarded in accordance with the particular actions that we have taken for which we are being either punished or rewarded. If we truly wish to be rewarded with the return of G-d’s proximity, the return of the truly spiritual to our physical world, we must act in a way which begs for such reward. We must take the lesson of these canvas shoes beyond Tisha B’Av. We have to return our everyday focus toward the spiritual and away from the physical. It is not a once a year thing. It is an everyday, every opportunity thing.

May our continuing efforts to turn our focus from the physical to the spiritual lead to the exchange of Tisha B’Av’s shoes of mourning for Yom Kippur’s angelic footwear. Hey, I told you these shoes are heavy!

First published on August 2, 2006

Chaim and David Linn – the Cover Story Article on Hamodia Magazine This Week

David Linn and his brother Chaim are the cover story of this week’s Hamodia, so we thought it was appropriate that we repost this piece and the great song Chaim wrote: Davey Pray mentioned in the Hamodia article.

Yasher Koach also to regular Beyond BT contributor Michael Gros for penning the article.

Live on the Radio: The Seeds of Teshuva of a Nascent Rock Star

I previously posted a little bit of my brother’s story here. Here’s the prelude.

Back when Chaim was Jonny, he and I lived in different worlds. He on the West Coast, I, in the East. He, a bohemian dabbling in New Age religion and eventually “Messianic Judaism”, I, an observant BT. He, fully living the life of a single, recent college grad, I, a Law School Student in my Shana Rishona (first year of marriage) expecting my first child.

The best advice anyone ever gave me was my Rov telling me not to cut ties with my brother, even after he wrote me a letter advising that he had accepted Jesus as the messiah. My Rov told me “Let him know that you think what he’s doing is wrong but tell him you love him and will always love him and tell him that you will be there for him if he ever needs you. Do not cut him off!”
Read more Chaim and David Linn – the Cover Story Article on Hamodia Magazine This Week

Of One Thing You Can Be Certain

You may have seen this story:

In the mid-nineties, a Jewish advertising executive wondered: what if the New York Times – the “Paper of Record” – printed the Shabbos candle lighting time each week? Imagine the Jewish awareness and pride that might result from such a prominent mention of Shabbos each week. He contacted a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost nearly two thousand dollars a week but he agreed to fund it. For the next five years, every Friday, Jews around the world would see ‘Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is _____”

Eventually the philanthropist had to reduce the number of projects he had been funding. And, so, in June 1999, the little Shabbos candle lighting notice made its last appearance in the New York Times. At least that’s what people thought.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition commemorating the paper’s 100th anniversary. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One contained the news from January 1, 1900. The second contained the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And the third front page, featured projected headlines of January 1, 2100. It included such stories as a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba and a debate over the issue of whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And, in addition to the creative articles, there was one extra piece. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody asked for it. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times. The production manager of the New York Times – an Irish Catholic – was asked about this curious entry. His answer speaks to the eternity of our people and to the power of Jewish ritual.”We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.”

What lessons can be learned from such a story?

How to Stop an Intermarriage

Link Updated.

Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s “How to Stop an Intermarriage” is perhaps the best known of all writings on this tricky subject. It contains excellent advice for anyone trying to convince a child, relative or friend to break off a proposed intermarriage. The complete text is now available for free online here.

Does anyone have any additional advice, successes or thoughts on the topic?

Voting Closes Tomorrow!! Help Make A $100,000.00 Dream Come True

Please vote if you haven’t already.

My daughters are fans of Yaldah Magazine. It is a magazine for Jewish girls created, written and edited by Jewish girls. Leah Larson, who started and runs Yaldah is a finalist in Wells Fargo’s “Someday Stories” contest and she is running neck and neck to win the grand prize of $100,000.00.

Take a look at the video here; Our contestant is Evelyn from MA.

And then vote for Evelyn from MA ;(Leah’s mom) to help make Leah’s dream come true.

Hat tip: Ezzie

OJ and Me

In the Fall of 1995, I was employed at a small civil defense law firm on Wall Street. It was Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and OJ Simpson was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. On October 3rd, the news broke that the jury had reached its verdict. Most of us at the firm were huddled into a small corner office where we kept the television that we would use to view surveillance videotapes.

There were myriad reasons why everyone in the office was interested in watching the verdict. Some of us were sports fans who had grown up watching OJ’s Hall of Fame career as a running back for the Buffalo Bills. Others were interested in the racial perspective of the case which seemed to be polarizing the nation. Still others, as lawyers, were interested in watching the judicial system in action with some of the nation’s top lawyers at work. I think that for others (and perhaps for all of us) it was reality tv writ large. Some of these reasons engendered my interest as well. But there was something else. Something more. It was erev Yom Kippur and I couldn’t help associating myself with OJ, as loathsome as I found him. He, like me, was awaiting his verdict. I watched with earnestness as OJ waited for the jury to enter. I wondered, what must be going through his mind? What does a person think about when his life hangs in the balance? How did it feel to know that the decision was imminent? How could he stand to just sit there and wait for his verdict?! And how could I? I, too, was awaiting my verdict as that evening began the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment.

OJ was eventually acquitted and his acquittal became the symbol of a system gone awry. I didn’t have much interest in the aftermath of the acquittal and the subsequent civil trial. Life moved on.
Read more OJ and Me

Shame on Me – An Approach to Approaching Teshuvah

Shlomo HaMelekh, the wisest of all men, tells us: Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.

The surface level interpretation of this is simple. A scoffer doesn’t want to hear rebuke and, so, when you rebuke him, he will hate you. A wise person, on the other hand, is always looking for an opportunity for growth. When you rebuke him he will love you since you are pointing out a flaw in a certain area and giving him an opportuniy for additional growth.

The Shelah has a deeper interpretation of this verse, The Shelah explains that the verse doesn’t speak about two different types of people being rebuked, it speaks about two different ways of giving rebuke. One way of rebuking is something like this: “You are disgusting! You have some nerve behaving that way. You don’t know what you are doing. You better shape up.” By rebuking this way, the rebuker turns the one who is being rebuked into a scoffer and he will then “hate you”. The other way of rebuking is something like this: “You are a great person. You are a wise and introspective person with good middos. I’ve noticed something that doesn’t seem to fit with your good qualities. If you work on this issue, you will refine yourself even more.” By rebuking in this manner, the rebuker is making the one who is being rebuked into a wise man and he will “love you.”

Rabbi Hadar Margolin in his HaSimchah B’Moadim (partially available in english as “Crown Him with Joy”) explains that this insight into giving rebuke is just as applicable when rebuking oneself, especially in the pre-Rosh Hashana teshuvah mode. The mishnah in Avos adjoins us: “Do not view yourself as a rasha.” Don’t regard yourself as a scoffer, “rebuke a wise man!” Tell yourself: “I am the grandchild of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. I have good qualities, I’m striving to grow. As such, it is incumbent upon me to improve myself in this particular area.” Such an approach motivates and stimulates improvement. The opposite approach, beating oneself up and degrading oneself can cause depression and lead one to think that he can never improve thereby creating a barrier to teshuvah.

Kesiva v’Chasima Tova.

Build New Bridges on Shabbos Nachamu

The past two weeks have been active ones here on BBT including some spirited discussions about numerous important issues. The issues that have been drawing the most attention and comments seem to involve inclusiveness.

We here at BBT are always looking for opportunities to foster constructive dialogue on important issues and to build more bridges.

What better way to do so than to have you join us, live and in person, at the 3rd BBT Shabbaton in Kew Gardens Hills on Shabbos Nachamu, August 15-16, 2008.

This year we are co-hosting with SerandEz and are also happy to announce that Jameel from The Muqata will be joining us, from Eretz Yisroel, for our Melava Malka where we will be unveiling the latest incarnation of the BBT Jam Band (you will surely want to be present for that historic event, no scalping please) .

There will be a full Shabbos program including relaxed catered meals and personal thoughts on the themes of Integration, Inspiration and Individuality. We have kept prices as low as we can in order to encourage full participation.

The cost is $50 per person and family and individual discounts are available. We will provide housing accommodations. Hope to see you all, yes that means you, there.

Email us at beyondbt@gmail.com to register.

More Proof That the Jews Run the World

It’s an oft repeated canard of blatant anti-semites that “Jews own the banks and run the economy”. If this is true, we’re having a bad week, guys.

While no right thinking individual places any credence in such age-old hate, sometimes, the way things happen, even a non-believer might start to think that, even if the Jews don’t run the world, they’ve got a pretty strong connection to the One who does.

This is never more readily apparent than around the time of Purim where we are taught that if we peek behind the curtain, we will see that nothing is a coincidence. Last year, Starbucks, (whose CEO is Jewish) decided that they would pick one day to offer all of their customers free coffee. Of all days, which day did they pick, shushan purim. I mean, come on, you couldn’t pick a better day for free coffee than Shushan Purim where, if you’re not shaking off the cobwebs of a bit of the Ad LoYadah (the mitzvah to drink), you certainly are quite exhausted jumping straight back into the workweek after a long day of Purim festivities. It’s like they pulled this day out of a lottery and the Jews won. Sound familiar?

This year, Purim falls on Friday. This makes for a difficult time crunch; squeezing davening, megillah, shaloch manos and a seudah into a Friday with concomitant Shabbos preparation is no simple task. No problem, we’ll just have congress change the rules for daylight savings time for the first time in twenty years so that we will have an extra hour until chatzos (halachic midday, the time by which many opinions state the majority of the Purim seudah should be completed) and Shabbos will come in an hour later. You see, when you have connections, everything seems to just fall into place.

Happy Purim to all.

Letting It All Hang Out

Nope, although the title might imply it, this post is not about tzitzis. It’s about how we respond when the question of one’s BT-ness is brought up. This issue can arise by way of a direct question but more likely it will come up as a result of an inquiry like: Where did you learn? Where did you go to High School? Where did you go to camp? Where did you go to seminary?

I attended public high school at Forest Hills High School. A few times when I’ve been asked where I went to high school and I respond “Forest Hills High School”, people have said “Oh, Chofetz Chaim” (Forest Hills was the home of the main branch of. Chofetz Chaim for many years). Well, not quite.

How do you respond when the question comes up and why do you respond that way? Are you straight foward, simply answering “I’m a Baal Teshuvah” or “I didn’t grow up frum”. Or do you go for something a little less direct like “I came late to the game” or “I’m a late bloomer”. How do you feel when the issue arises: proud, insecure or something else? What are some of the interesting responses you have gotten when you’ve told someone you are a BT?

Grampa’s Menorah

In my family, there are precious few “religious heirlooms”. In fact, other than this menorah, I can really only think of my Grandmother’s small, white, swan-shaped porcelain honey dishes used by my mother each Rosh Hashanah. This menorah is not much to look at. Although it is pure silver, it is small, a bit slanted to one side and it’s missing the shamesh. But to our family, it’s the most beautiful menorah ever.

My mother still remembers that cold winter day when my Grampa brought the menorah home. He was wearing his trademark silk and wool scarf which was easily one and a half times as long as he was tall. He entered the home, menorah in hand. No wrapping paper, no cushioning, heck, no bag. Just the menorah in his shivering hand. This menorah came with silver caps so that you could put the oil right into the cup, place the wick in the oil and thread it through the silver cap. However, by the time Grampa got home that windy evening, a few of the caps had blown away. And, so, the caps were never used. I’m not sure what happened to the shamesh but I wouldn’t be surprised if that blew away too!

Grampa Aaron was something special. He was about as close as I ever got to “the old country”. He had a heavy accent and his English was liberally spiced with Yiddish. He wore long underwear (longe gotkes) all year round including in the summer. He would cross major thoroughfares with absolute disregard for traffic signals and vehicular presence. Holding both arms straight out to his sides as a stop sign was sufficient. When frightened he would say “Oy, I almost became a hearts attack.” Grampa couldn’t understand why ice cream had pits (chocolate chips to me and you) and he, quite simply, did not hear too well. In the summer, Grampa Aaron would sit outside our bungalow in a brown chaise chair, taking in the country air and smiling. He quickly became popular with the colony kids who knew that a quick hello and a smile would yield chocolates, sucking candies and a few quarters for the pinball machine.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this menorah that makes it so special. Perhaps it’s because, like Grampa, though it may be small, old and a bit hunched to one side and though it may be missing a few pieces, beneath it all, it’s pure. And I guess it’s because this menorah is one of the few remaining links of my family’s Jewish past.

Achdus!

I once again have the privilege of co-chairing the Achdus Chinese Auction which will be held this year at the New York Hall of Science on Motzei Shabbos, November 10th. Now, most of us that live in Jewish neighborhoods on the east coast are aware that this time of the year is “chinese auction season”. It seems that there is a different chinese auction, (or two, or three) every other day. Achdus, we believe, is different, very different.

The idea for the Achdus auction was developed four years ago when administrators from two different schools, the Bais Yaakov of Queens and Yeshiva Tifereth Moshe, realized that they were each planning to run their own chinese auction. They hit upon the idea of combining their auctions thereby lightening the load on the community calendar and enabling the pooling of the respective resources and talents of two administrative and parent bodies to produce one amazing joint fundraiser — Achdus! We believe that this joint fund raising concept is unprecedented.

We have worked extremely hard to produce an elegant, fun evening with great games, delicious food and amazing prizes. There’s really something for everyone: fine jewelry, travel, Artscroll Shas, electronics, trips to Israel, judaica, gift certificates and “Achdus Auction Exclusives“, unique and fun prizes that can’t be found anywhere else. For example:

The Kosher Supermarket Blitz
The winner of this special prize will have five minutes alone in a fully stocked kosher supermarket. The store will be closed to the public as the lucky winner races against the clock to fill his/her shopping cart to overflowing with a bountiful array of kosher groceries. I’m sure this will end up being a phenomenal YouTube moment!

Give Me Two Scoops and Make it Personal
Many of you are familiar with Max & Mina’s Ice Cream store in Kew Gardens Hills. They are famous for their wild flavors such as lox, potato chip fudge and Ring Ding, have been written up in the New York Times and have been named no 1. on the list of Top 10 Unique Ice Cream Parlors in America by the author of Everyone Loves Ice Cream. The winner of this “Achdus Auction Exclusive” will be able to help create their own flavor that will appear on the flavor board and be served up at Max & Mina’s. Anyone up for a scoop of Chewy Teshuvah Chocolate Chunk?

Up, Up and Away
Hop aboard and bring a friend on your private one hour aerial sightseeing tour of New York City. Traffic will crawl beneath you as you glide safely above the City that Never Sleeps.

This year’s Grand Prize is a Kosher Caribbean cruise for two. As old man winter has finally begun awakening from his slumber, imagine yourself surrounded by turquiose waters aboard a Five Star luxury cruise liner with award winning gourmet Glatt Kosher dining, complete spa facilities, top notch entertainment, women’s Israeli dance classes, Shiurim, Daf Yomi, Minyanim, Mixers and much more. The Grand Prize includes two round trip tickets to point of embarkation and $1,000 spending money.

Those of you who are in the metro New York area, please join us this motzei shabbos and stop me to say hello, I’ll be the one running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Those of you who aren’t local, please take advantage of the opportunity to support two great schools, the achdus concept and the chance to win some amazing prizes by purchasing your tickets today.

For a list of all the prizes and to order tickets, check out our website at achdusauction.com

**Today, November 5th, is the last day to take advantage of the early bird bonus ticket packages.**

Drop By Drop

Friends of ours had bought our five-year old daughter a flowering plant. She was proud of having the responsibility to care for and tend to the plant. A few weeks later, I noticed that the plant was not looking too great. In fact, it looked to be on its last legs. “Atara, what’s going on with your plant?”, I asked. She held her hand to her tiny lips and said “Oops, I forgot to water it this week!” Perhaps I should have used the moment to explain to her the importance of plant care (me, the blackest of the black thumbs?!). Perhaps I should have stressed the character trait of responsibility. But, she was too cute and my cereal was too crunchy for me to take the moment to pass on that parental advice.

About a half hour later, Atara confidently walked up to me, Poland Spring water bottle in hand, and proudly exclaimed “Abba, I poured TWELVE bottles of water on my plant.” Then, she looked at me as if to say “That problem is solved” and confidently walked away to go about the business of coloring, jumping rope or some other activity of great importance. If I had thought she was cute earlier, now she was absolutely delicious. But I knew at that moment that if the plant previously had any remaining chance of survival, it had just been, quite literally, washed out.

Here we stand, before another Yom Kippur. Another year where we, humans that we are, failed to take proper care of our souls and the responsibilities entrusted to us by Hashem. Our souls are thirsty and weak because we have failed to diligently and properly water them throughout the year (and you thought a one day fast was difficult!). We realize our mistakes, we regret our mistakes, we verbalize our mistakes and we resolve to rectify our mistakes. But all too often we attempt to slake our thirsting souls with bottles and bottles of water in a well meaning attempt to make up for the long drought. “I didn’t properly set aside time to learn torah last year, an hour a week is just not enough. This year, I’m going to learn daf yomi, mishna yomi, mishnah berurah yomi, hey, I may even invent a new “yomi” and learn that as well!”

On the surface, it makes sense. We are thirsty and we realize that we should have been drinking all along. But we simply cannot handle all of that water all at once. Overwatering kills more plants than any other cause. We are just setting ourselves up for failure.

What we really need is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation was developed and perfected in Israel. It is the slow, steady application of water directly to the plant’s root zone where the water is most urgently needed. Drip irrigation minimizes water loss and prevents overwatering which eventually chokes off roots and kills the plant. If I’ve realized that an hour a week of learning is not enough, this year I’m going to start learning an extra half an hour a week. After a few months of consistency, after the roots have gotten stronger, they may require a little more water, another fifteen minutes perhaps. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that a drop at a time cannot develop sea changes. Remember the story of Rabbi Akiva who had observed a hole cut clean through a rock, the hole having been formed by the continual dripping of water.

Throughout Selichos and the Yom Kippur service we echo the words of the navi Yezekiel’s promise from Hashem: “I will sprinkle upon you pure waters and you will become purified.” As Hashem does his sprinkling, let us do our own sprinkling: little by little, drop by drop, Spiritual Drip Irrigation. Gemar chasima tovah.

Everyone’s Meshugah!

I recently read Baruch Horowitz’s “Are you Happy Being Haredi?” To a certain extent, it reminded me of feelings I’ve had regarding people choosing different derachim than mine. Some of my fellow BT travelers will remember the comic bit where a comedian asks the question: “Did you ever notice that anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot… and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac?” Funny. And true! There have certainly been times during my post-teshuvah life (for lack of a better term) when I could have rephrased this as: “Did you ever notice that anyone to the right of you is a “fanatic”… and anyone to the left of you is an “apikorus”?” While that may be a bit of hyperbole, for me, the concept has, at times, rang true.

Reconciling the fact that one’s chosen derech may not be the best derech for another wasn’t simple for me. After all (I subconsciously thought), if I have chosen a certain derech, that must be THE derech. However, I eventually realized that I needed to focus on the fact that it is not THE derech but actually THE derech for ME. I also found that the area in which I was making most of these judgments was centered around the way people attempted to find the proper balance regarding the level of interaction with the non-frum or non-Jewish world. It seems to me that this is, perforce, an area of extreme importance for any BT. Here is an example: If I had a question about my ability to attend a holiday work party and my Rov advised me to go, I would view a friend’s Rov’s advice that he should not attend as unnecessarily strict. On the other hand, if my Rov had advised me not to attend and my friend’s Rov advised him to go, I would view my friend’s Rov’s decision as being too lenient. It took me a while to realize that my friend’s Rov was making a decision taking my friend’s individual issues into account and advising him within the Rov’s own well established derech.

Much was said about the topic of BTs being judged by FFBs in Rabbi Yitz Greenman on Integrating into the Frum Community. That brought me to do some personal soul searching only to discover that I too can be negatively judgmental of my fellow BTs and of FFBs. (what a BT being judgmental?!) I wonder if this is a wider issue or just my own challenge.