Monday, December 31, 2012

Choosing One's Aggravation

Hi all...

Jennifer and I drove down to my parents house in the DC suburbs last week.  According to maps.google, the fastest way is down US 219, a road that cuts through Western New York and into Pennsylvania.  In Pennsylvania, that road is a winding, annoying road.  If you get stuck behind the 18-wheeler, you will be stuck behind the 18-wheeler.

We left Thursday evening 10 days ago.  There was supposed to be a snowstorm in Western Pennsylvania, right where we were set to go down.  I changed my route to the alternate route, 20 minutes longer, but over open roads.  This route turns south at Corning, NY.

We stopped for the night.  On Friday morning, we left in a mixture of snow and rain, which ended about 20 minutes into Pennsylvania.  It was clear sailing.

Coming back up, we were faced with the same weather problem.  I made the same choice in reverse.

It was at that point that I realized that the route 15 trip is easier.  Yes, it is a little slower, but on the whole route up, there is about 40 miles of 2-lane road.  The rest is 4-lane highway, and just a delight to drive.  Going up 219, the drive has at least 100 miles of 2-lane highway.

I do not want to be in the car 20 minutes longer than necessary.

I also prefer the easier, more relaxing, and far less annoying drive that takes the extra 20 minutes.

One way or another, there will be some aggravation.

Jennifer and I will now always take the easier drive, despite the extra time.  We have chosen which aggravation we will take.  Open roads and easier driving are less aggravating than 100 miles on slow back roads.

My friends, only the roads and the stripes are black and white.  Very little else is.  When we live our lives in the greys, many decisions become more difficult.

Have a good evening.

R/SCG

Inappropriate Wedding Songs

Shalom all...

I attended a wedding last night.  It was really a wonderful affair.  I have never seen a couple look as thrilled about life and about each other.

I have been meaning to write this blog entry for a few days, but one of the songs played at the wedding finally got me to put pencil to paper.  Some songs just should not be played at weddings.  I suspect that people do not think about it.  Bands like them for all sorts of reasons.  Let me offer a few examples.

The band played the theme from "The Godfather."  It is a wonderful piece of music.  It is impossible to hear just the first few notes and not immediately recognize it.  At the same time, the movie opens at the wedding of the Godfather's granddaughter.  In the opening scenes, we see the funeral director asking for a special kindness from the Godfather, that the Godfather should have his people...motivate...the funeral director's son-in-law to be nicer to his wife, the funeral director's daughter.  We know what happens through the rest of the movie.

We move on to the Police and "I'll Be Watching You."  How lovely..."Every step you take, every move you make...I'll be watching you."  It sounds so romantic.  Sting wrote this song about stalking.  Stalking is often present in abusive relationships, and is often lethal.  It is not an appropriate wedding song.

"I will survive" - This song gets a great deal of play time because it has a wonderful disco beat, and thus motivates people to dance.  It is about a woman who escaped an abusive relationship.  Clergy should discuss abuse with couples as part of marriage preparation.  It should not be a song at the wedding.

And last, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling."  It is a lovely, slow tune, and again motivates people to dance.  The title, however, says it all.

Have a good day everyone.

R/SCG

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Newtown, CT

Good evening all...

We are all painfully aware of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  This one hits us differently from the others.  We do not have to go to the movies.  We do not have to attend university.  Every single one of us goes to elementary school.  Those of us with children send their children to elementary school.  We look, and we realize that the difference between Newtown and Anytown, or between Newtown and Ourtown is minimal at best.

I want to point at a woeful lack of gun control laws in the United States.  However, while there are more incidents, the United States is most certainly not alone.  Four people were killed in Alberta last year.  We all saw what happened in Toulouse.  Norway has some of the strictest laws in existence.  While stricter laws may be part of the answer, they are not the full answer.

The Talmud tells us: "Ein haolam mitkayem ela bishvil hevel tinukot shel beit rabban - the world only continues due to the laughter of schoolchildren."  The laughter of 20 schoolchildren will not be heard again.  Countless others will have to learn to laugh anew.  Children whose lives should have been more about crayons and cookies instead became permanent pictures in the memory of the vast majority of people, people who are decent, people who wonder about the well-being not just of their own children, but of all children.

While the world will continue, we have lost something in Newtown, CT.  We have lost something that we cannot get back.

Friends...hold your children a little closer.  Hug them a little more often.  Let them be the wonderful children that they are.  And yes...send them to school.  Those who choose violence should not define our children's gleaming futures.

Good night.

R/SCG

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Karma? Bike-ma!

Hi all....

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding home after a rally at a local synagogue.  There were several thousand people there.  I had shown up a few minutes before the rally, wheeled through the parking lot,  got a closer parking spot than most, and attended the rally.

On the way home, I was whipping down the side of the road, enjoying a nice tailwind, and smiling to myself at all of the cars that were inching along.  It was dark.  I hit a nasty pothole, and kept on going.

Over the next couple of days, a sound developed on the back of my bicycle.  Apparently, my back wheel had a slight warp to it, and was hitting the brake pad.

I had some time today.  The bicycle went to the bike shop.  They trued the wheel.  They also showed me a crack in the rim.  While I have had that rim for several years and cannot for certain say that the rim suffered its damage that particular evening, I know my bicycle.  The rim bore the consequences of my smugness and of my recklessness.  The rim has been trued.  I will likely replace it in the summer.

On the positive side, I also have a new tire.  The old one had a tear in the side.

Have a good night.

R/SCG

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

P.S. to My Most Recent Posting

Hi all...

We live in the age of easy communication.  In ancient days, letters could take months to travel from place to place.  Now, we can send a note in a matter of seconds.

Due to that ease of communication, it has also become easy to complain.  Something goes wrong, and we send an immediate e-mail to the company demanding that the employee be terminated, money refunded, and a share of the profits for the next year.

Please remember that it is just as easy to pass on a compliment.

I just sent a note to the Tim Horton's corporate office thanking them for the kindness of the lady at the counter from yesterday.

We should be prepared to pay compliments when they are appropriate.

Have a good night.

R/SCG

Special Thanks to the Lady at Tim Horton's

Hi all...

I was driving home from Buffalo on Monday after reserve duty.  I had slept about 90 minutes the night before.  I was also still in uniform.

Due to the lack of sleep, I thought a caffeine boost might be in order.

I pulled off the highway and found a Tim Horton's.  It is normally not my favourite cup of coffee, but it is always fresh.  There I was, exhausted, and still in uniform.  The lady behind the counter had every reason to conclude that I was fatigued.  She gave me my coffee for free, because that is what she does for folks who wear uniforms.

To the lady behind the counter at the Tim Horton's on Erin Mills just north of the QEW, thank you.

Have a good evening all.

R/SCG

P.S.  To GS, yes, the horrible pun was intentional.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reputations

Top of the evening to all...

Two interesting things happened over the last week or so.  They were feel-good events for me, even though I was not remotely involved in either one.

The first occurred with Jesse.  We needed something at the butcher shop.  Jennifer called them to take care of it, and to tell them that Jesse would be in to pick it up in a few minutes.  They knew he was my kid the instant he walked in the door.  How?  He had his bicycle helmet on his head.  All of Jewish Toronto knows I ride everywhere.  Most of Jewish Toronto has heard me say that "the more I drive in this town, the more I like my bicycle."

The second occurred with Jennifer.  She was conducting a funeral.  As I always do, she rode to the cemetery with the funeral director.  It would appear that the people at the funeral home appreciate working with me.  They can tell the military background.  They say it shows in the way I carry myself. They say it shows in the fact that I always start right on time.

There are too many rabbis out there with reputations I would not want to have.  As well, it is too easy to destroy a reputation.  To have a reputation of being on the bicycle, to have a reputation of having the military bearing...it is nice to have reputations that fit so neatly with my own self-perception.

R/SCG

Monday, November 26, 2012

Learning New Things about My Wife

Top of the evening everyone.

I hope you have all been reading Jennifer's blog entries while she was recovering from the surgical procedure.  I did not know that the cats could type.

Jennifer and I have been married for over 19 years.  We know each other fairly well.  Over the last two weeks, I have seen something I did not know.  Jennifer can write comedy.

Normally, that job falls to me.  Still, the blog entries as written by Gandalf and Nora were hilarious.  They also did a fairly good job of capturing the personalities of the cats.  The kids were making time to read them, and also laughing.

Well written!

R/SCG

Sunday, November 25, 2012

He Basks in His Ability to Cook

Hi all....

As you read yesterday in Jennifer's blog, Jesse was heard to say that he "basks in his ability to cook."

When I woke up this morning, one thing became very clear to me.  He does not bask in his ability to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

I just love teenagers.

Have a good day.

R/SCG

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Confirming My Soul

Top of the evening to all...

This week has seen the rockets from Gaza finally stop flying.  Let us all hope and pray that this ceasefire turns into something durable and lasting.

Over the last several years, I have often wondered whether or not Israel plays softball with the peace-loving neighbours to its south.  Two things come to mind.

The first is that the suggestion has been made many times that Israel should stop supplying electricity to Gaza.  I used to think it was a good idea.  If the ruling elite in Gaza wishes to be a sovereign nation, it must gain some experience in providing essential services to its population.  It is thus not Israel's responsibility.  That is what I used to think.

The problem with that is that electricity provides power to hospitals.  They need it.  As well, insulin and  many antibiotics require refrigeration.  It would be utterly soulless to take the weakest of society and render them victims even further, even if the only source of their current situation is their own leadership.

I attended a rally the other night in support of Israel.  At one point, the speaker said that civilians in Gaza had quite regrettably been caught in the line of fire.  Someone behind me said "too bad."  Without even thinking, I turned around and said "it is too bad."

As I said the other day, it is ultimately the sovereign authority's task to protect its civilians.  Nonetheless, no nation with a soul and a conscience just looks the other way thinking "too bad."  That Israel very much takes active steps to avoid injuring civilians, steps that are often to its operational detriment, is the right thing to do, even if not strictly within the requirements of law.

The neighbours to the south kidnapped a man and would not let him so much as send a letter to his parents for five years.  They have deliberately fired rockets at civilians.  They have deliberately placed their own people in the line of fire.  I hope that we do not learn the hard way that they might also be liars in their agreement to this ceasefire.

Good night.

R/SCG

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"It All Started When Israel Fired Back."

Such was the phrase in a sympathetic letter to the National Post.  The willing liars and useful idiots of the world have picked up on that theme.

Warnings about dangerous escalation and reminders to exercise restraint abound.  While this time, most of them do contain the statement that Hamas must stop launching missiles, many in that part of the world have conveniently, deliberately ignored more than 100 rockets that the peace-loving neighbours to the south of Israel lobbed across an internationally-recognized border.  It makes those calls for restraint most galling.  When over 750 rockets have been fired at Israel in 2012, one is forced to wonder why it is that waiting 10.5 months before shooting back in earnest is not the definition of restraint.

I have bad news.  In war, people die.  In war, civilians die.  It is not ideal, not remotely.  It is incumbent on all combatants to ensure that civilians are kept out of the line of fire.  This means that the folks in Gaza are committing war crimes in firing missiles at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, cities with no intrinsic military value.  This means that the folks in Gaza have blood on their hands, both the blood of the civilians they have murdered in Israel, and the blood of their own people whom they have deliberately, callously placed in harm's way.

Furthermore, international law specifically forbids deploying troops and weapons in civilian areas.  To do so is a gross violation of any basic human decency, as it renders those areas legitimate, legal military targets.  It is not illegal to destroy rocket launchers, even when placed in the basement of someone's home.

The folks in Gaza have targeted schools and homes.  They have targeted buses.  It is not peace that they seek.  It is war.  They can couch their lies however they so desire.  A lie though is a lie, no matter how pretty its appearance.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Good night.

R/SCG

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, and Armistice Day

Hi all...

I got confused the other day.  I was chatting with someone about November 11th.  I had to go through Veterans Day and Armistice Day before finally settling on Remembrance Day.  I really must remember where I live.

France and Belgium observe Armistice Day on November 11th.  The reasons are obvious, primary amongst them being the ending of hostilities in Europe as World War I came to a close.

The nations of the Commonwealth observe Remembrance Day.  For Canada, this is particularly important.  While Canada entered World War I as part of the British Empire, Canada signed the Treaty of Versailles as a separate nation.

In the United States, today is Veterans Day.  The United States did not sign the Treaty of Versailles.  As such, to call the day Armistice Day would have been most disingenuous.  Memorial Day was first observed in 1868.  As such, that option was not available.

Memorial Day and Remembrance Day tend to focus on the deceased.  I like that Veterans Day focuses on the living.  We should take a moment to remember those who went, who did their duty, and came home.

Moreover, as we learn more about the long-term effects of combat, it becomes vital for us to remember those who did come home.  After the parades and celebrations cease, those who were there must cope with the aftermath.  The aftermath might be readjustment issues.  It might be employment issues.  It might be post-traumatic stress.  It is only appropriate to have a day to remember them, so that we remember that they are people with real personal concerns, and whose real personal concerns came into being due to the nation's call.

Good night all.

R/SCG

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thank God That's Over!

Thank God that's over.

R/SCG

We should all wish success and good fortune to the President.  His successes are the nation's successes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This One Lasted Over Two Months!!

Good morning everyone.

My kids go through backpacks at a pace sufficient to support the entire industry.  We always end up buying them a new pack at the beginning of the school year.  At least one will need a replacement by the end of the first semester.

Backpacks fall victim to faulty manufacturing.  They fall victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous bouncing down the steps.  They fall victim to gross tonnage, either in them or on top of them.

Today, another backpack met its demise.  I am crushed.  So was the backpack.  I thought Keren had put it in the car.  Gavi had closed the trunk of the car.  That was a logical conclusion.  I walked up the other side of the car.  Our carpool driver did the logical thing.  She put the car into reverse to take our children to school.  I heard the sound.  Keren said that I always put it in the car because she cannot lift it that high.  I thought I always put it in the car because it sped everyone's departure.

In either event, this backpack has gone the way of the world.  We purchased it in August.

When we first moved to Toronto, we found a luggage and backpack store near our home.  I am certain by now that we have paid at least a month's rent on it.  And back we go.

Have a good day.

R/SCG

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yes...I Am the Rabbi.

Top of the evening everyone...

I had a conversation today that I did not enjoy.  The mother of one of the recent bar mitzvah kids popped in to thank us for how nice we were to her son.  She talked a little bit.  I talked a little bit.  She said something about perhaps coming to services a little more often.  I said that she can come any time she wants.  She said maybe, but the problem is that her son plays hockey, and they cannot get to services.  I said that my son has a black belt.  He goes to services.  She said the statement my colleagues and I all hate: "Well of course...you are the rabbi."

It is true.  I am the rabbi.

I am the rabbi.  So is my esteemed bride.  I work a full-time job.  Jennifer works a part-time job.  We drive a mini-van.  We do not have a second car.  We have a mortgage.  Our kids are in day school until at least 3:50 every day.  All three of them take karate, and get there via city bus.  Our day is 24 hours long.  Our struggles as karate parents are no different from anyone else's.

My eldest, the only child of age, is a gifted Torah reader.  He puts on his tefillin every day.  He keeps Shabbat.  And do you know why?  Because it is what he has seen and known since day one.

I am the rabbi.  That has some bearing on the choices I make.  It has no bearing whatsoever on the implementation of those choices.

Folks, if you want your children to grow up in a certain way, live that way.  They will model your behaviour.  On the Jewish stuff, my kids all knew kiddush before they were old enough to start karate.  These are choices that we make as parents.  If we want our kids to be something, we have to raise them to be something, and not just hope it turns out for the best.  Parenting is an active process.  It cannot be done by remote control.

Good night everyone.

R/SCG

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election Day

Good evening all...

In less than 27 hours, voting will start in New Hampshire.  As the day progresses, the citizens of the United States will commence their civic duty and privilege of voting for the next President.

Throughout the last several months, we have lost sight of too many things.  The rhetoric in this campaign from both sides has been shrill, childish, and appalling.

This election is not about President Obama or about Governor Romney no more or less than it is about any other person.  It is about a nation.

As such, I will not make the tired wish of "may the better man win"  I believe them both to be decent men.  We are not qualified to stand in judgment of who is the better man.  It is not about either man.

May the nation win.

Those of you who vote in the United States, please vote carefully.

Good night.

R/SCG

Good News, Better News, Annoying News

Hi all...

The good news is that my blood pressure is down.  It is not great, but it is below the threshold of stage 1 hypertension.  I am pre-hypertensive.  That is the new medical term.

The better news is that there is a study out of Britain that shows that treating pre-hypertension and low-level hypertension with medication has little to no effect.  I am not going on medication.

The annoying news is that my doctor would like me to drop 10 pounds.  I have no problem with that.  I  only have a problem with dieting.

I suppose it is time to go on a sympathy diet with the cat.  What fun.  Maybe I will meow in his ear in the middle of the night when I am hungry.

Have a good night.

R/SCG

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Compliments and Comments

Top of the evening everyone.

Several months back, you will remember that I made an editorial decision never to delete comments from the blog.  I enjoy the interaction, even when you disagree with me.

I have made an editorial decision to change that approach.   After much thought, I have elected instead to avoid deleting remarks when possible, but to delete when necessary.  While disagreements are quite welcome, a civil tone is also vital.  All capital letters generally indicate yelling.  I do not like yelling.  Yelling is not civil.  Unfounded insinuations are also beyond the limits of civil discourse.

This blog is intended to combine humour and a serious look at my life, marriage, children, my cats, ping-pong, community, and country.  There is room for disagreement.

I hope that you will all continue to write your comments, even if they disagree with my own thoughts.

As always, compliments are welcome.

We now return to the gentle, yet serious nature of this blog.

R/SCG

P.S.  If there is something about which you think I might enjoy writing, please let me know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jennifer Wrote About Gandalf...

So I will write about Nora.

Gandalf is the size of a small gorilla.  He was weighed at the vet yesterday, coming in at over 15 pounds (around 7 kilograms).

Nora, as I have mentioned, is much lighter on her feet.  She can jump over the fence in the backyard.  She likes to sleep at my feet.

Jesse and I would like to know one thing.  Why is it that she likes to sit on the ping-pong table while he and I play?  She cannot hold a paddle.  She does not know how to keep score.  She does not even try to swat at the ball.  She just sits there.  We keep playing, to the best of our limited abilities.  She gets hit by the occasional ball.  There is no response.

If anyone can explain this, both Jesse and I would appreciate it.

R/SCG

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Presidential Cabinet

Hi all...

As you are aware, I will likely write my own name in for the office of the President of the United States.  It has since dawned on me that I cannot just show up in Washington after winning without some sense of a cabinet.

Vice-President - my friend Chris from High School
Secretary of State - I am open to suggestions.
Department of Treasury - Warren Buffet
Department of Defense - VADM Al Konetzni, aka Big Al the Sailor's Pal
Department of Justice - My friend Betsy.  She is a lawyer in that department already.  She would not need a map to her new office.
Department of the Interior - whoever the director of the Nature Conservancy is.
Department of Agriculture - I do not know, but s/he should be outstanding in her/his field.
Department of Commerce - Mark Zuckerberg
Department of Labor - Someone who has worked for a living.
Department of Health and Human Services - Dr. House - do not tell me he is not real.
Department of Housing and Urban Development -  The guy who owns Home Depot
Department of Transportation - Mario Andretti
Department of Energy - My friend Rob from high school.  He works at Los Alamos.  They know from energy there.
Department of Education - Harper Lee
Department of Veterans' Affairs - my dad.  He is a veteran.  He gets it.
Department of Homeland Security - Mayor Rudy Guiliani

And my friend Patrick has asked to be king of Maine.

These nominations have not yet been sent to the Senate.  If anyone has any other ideas, I am open to listening.

I am going to listen to some of the Presidential debate, even though as a candidate, I should have been invited.  I even know where Hofstra university is.  The candidates are right across the street from Nassau Coliseum.  I hope that the debate and tonight's hockey game do not let out at the same time.  Oops...there is no hockey game.

Good night.

R/SCG

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Proper Safety Gear

Hi all...

You are aware that I love to ride my bicycle.  Most of you have heard me say at one point or another that the more I drive in Toronto, the more I like my bicycle.  It always allows me to keep my head clear when going from place to place.

I always wear a helmet.  The primary reason is that we require the kids to do so.  Proper parenting means proper role-modeling.

All of the military bases require reflective gear at least between sunrise and sunset.  That has stuck with me.  As such, I always wear a construction vest when I am out at night, because...

When I ride home in the evening, I like to take time to reflect.

R/SCG

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Semper Paratus

So the motto of the Coast Guard is "Semper Paratus - Always Prepared".  The motto of the Marine Corps is "Semper Fidelis - Always Faithful."

Somebody should be honest about this.  I humbly suggest "Semper Aquatus - Always Wet."

R/SCG

The Possibility of Mobilization

Top of the evening all...

Yes...the balloon could go up.  Yes...I can be mobilized.  According to federal law, the Department of Defense must give us 30 days notice.  Usually, the notice is much longer.  Anything less than that requires direct approval of the Secretary of Defense.

Not that it matters.  If the phone rang, I can and would be ready tomorrow.  Most of us would be.  It is the burden of commission and the burden of the oath of office.

Is there fear?  Perhaps.  Is there trepidation?  No.  We have a job to do.  We get it.

As I mentioned earlier though, goals must be clearly stated.  It is not reasonable to ask anyone to risk life and limb without knowing why.  It is not fair to our families to borrow us for the necessary amount of time without knowing why.  For those of us in the Reserve, it is not fair to our employers to have muddled goals when they are required by law to hold our civilian jobs for us.  They have the right to know why they are temporarily parting company with us.

I regret that my mobilization to Afghanistan was taken away.  It was the one of the most exciting things I would have done in my rabbinate in many years.  As well, we train for it.  We expect it.  It is like sitting at the starting gate, one foot on the brake, one on the gas pedal, and then being told to turn the car off.

By the way, Jennifer likely would not want me spending too much time in a combat zone.  Nonetheless, she has trained for this also.  She was somewhat disappointed that I did not go.

There is nothing on the horizon at this moment.  Iraq is over.  The President intends to remove troops from Afghanistan in 2014.  There are hot spots, but nothing that should require the reserve component.

Nonetheless, the motto of the United States Coast Guard stands: Semper Paratus - Always Prepared.

R/SCG

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Politics and the Chain of Command

Top of the evening all...

'Anonymous' has been commenting on my blog over the last few entries.  I would like to thank 'Anonymous' for three reasons.  The first is for reading and commenting.  The second is for making me go back and check what I have written over the last few years.  The third is for offering me a topic this evening.

I must assume that I know 'Anonymous' personally.  'Anonymous' has accused me of making political statements.  The accusation stands, and is probably accurate.  However, there is nothing overly political in this blog.  Therefore, 'Anonymous' must have heard me face to face.

I am a Naval officer.  As a group, the public demeanour of military personnel tends to be apolitical.  The reason is rather simple.  It is not that we do not hold strong opinions.  To the contrary, we realize that what happens in Washington DC very much affects our lives and the lives of those in our charge.  We hold very strong opinions.

Still, to hold a public opinion that is not completely in line with the chain of command, straight up to the President, threatens to erode confidence in that chain of command.  When lives are at stake, when the security of a nation is at stake, such erosion of confidence can be lethal.  Two years ago, the President had to fire one of the most competent generals ever to wear the uniform for precisely this reason.  Despite General McChrystal's unquestioned competence, relieving him of command was the right decision.  The President handled it magnificently.

As well, we officers tend not to voice public disagreement for the simple reason of self-preservation.  I thought long and hard before publishing my last blog entry.  I serve at the leisure of the President.  I do not wish to be fired.

I once worked with another chaplain with whom I did not see eye to eye on a great many things.  One of the things he said was that President Clinton "was not his President."  I have no time for such officers.  He may not like whoever the present Commander in Chief is.  He may not respect that person.  Nonetheless, the President most certainly is his President.  To think anything other than that denies the Constitution that we have all affirmed to support and defend.

Good night to all.

R/SCG

Note to 'Anonymous': feel free to disagree with me.  Please do not write that I am not being fully honest.  The readers of this blog have received only full honesty at every turn.






Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Have a Problem...

Hi all...

I have a problem.  A few weeks from now, I have the civic obligation to help the United States choose the next President.  I do not know what to do.

I am not thrilled with the current POTUS.  To be fair though, I congratulate him for placing the issue of health care on the political map indelibly.  Whether or not health care takes shape according to his vision remains to be seen.  Still, no President will be able to ignore the issue anymore.

Furthermore, I congratulate him on having the intestinal fortitude to make the final decision on invading a foreign country to remove an avowed enemy of the United States.  The list of things that could have gone wrong with that raid is long.  It was a gutsy call.

I have three problems right now.  The first is the voice vote that happened at the Democratic convention.  When the votes were 'counted,' it was clear that a significant group was against the inclusion of the platform item on Jerusalem.  While I think that the two parties in the US agree on this, it seems to me that the Democratic party is more and more becoming a home for people with negative views on Israel.  That is not the party of my youth.  It will not be the party of my old age.

The second problem involves the murder of our Ambassador in Libya.  It is coming out now that the 'right people' knew that it was terrorism within 24 hours.  The President and his staff maintained for over a week that it was random violence based on stupidity.  This affects my life directly.  It affects the lives of my Sailors and Marines.  I can be called to go to war.  Failure to name the enemy leads to confusion as to the goals of war, and whether or not those goals have been met.

The third problem is that being on a talk show should not trump meeting with heads of state in New York.

I am thus not voting for this President.

On the other hand, the only thing I like about Governor Romney is that his views on Israel are much more in line with mine.  Otherwise, I am worried about his level of compassion.  I am worried that he seems to put his foot in his mouth every time he speaks.  He also does not keep such great company.  The Tea Party people are as far removed from my belief system as the left wing of the Democrats.

Luckily, with every problem, there is a solution.  I have decided to write my own name in for the office of the President of the United States.

(The rest of this is a seamless blend of humour and seriousness.)

I have two platform positions.  The first is that I will work to lower the interest rate for federal student loans to 2% retroactively.  My second platform position is that I am not either of the other two candidates.

If I am elected, I further promise to take no salary.  It is an honour...oops...honor to be the President of the United States.  It does not require a paycheque...oops...paycheck.

I have definite views on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  I also realize that this is an inflammatory issue.  I will thus test the cold waters by recognizing the Arctic as part of the United States.  I suspect that Ottawa might withdraw my permanent residence status.  If that is all that happens though, there should be no problem with Jerusalem.

I understand that there is a world of difference between running for office and being the President.  I therefore will make no other promises.  It is my clever way of avoiding having to backpedal later.

R/SCG





Monday, September 24, 2012

Though I Know I'll Never Lose Affection...

Hi all....

I have never quite understood remaining friends with ex-significant others.  It seems insulting to say to someone "you are good enough to be friends, but not a permanent lover."  If being taken as a permanent lover is most personal form of acceptance, it stands to reason that being spurned as a permanent lover is the most personal form of rejection.

For you married folks, the presence of a former significant other means that a spouse must live in the shadow of someone who might have been 'the one' in different circumstances.  It is not fair to the spouse.  One of our responsibilities when we marry to make sure that our spouses know not only that they are the platinum standard of intimate relationships, but also that they are the only standard of intimate relationships.

And the title of this entry...it is from "In My Life," by the Beatles, although it has been covered by Judy Collins and by Bette Midler, among others.  Like many things, I have come to appreciate that song more and more as I get a little older.  The memories of relationships past are part of who we are.  That is okay.  "But these memories (should) lose their meanings, when I (we) think of love as something new."

Have a good evening all.

R/SCG

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Licensing of Cyclists

Hi all...

Apparently, there was an article in today's Star.  The article reports  that a growing number of people around the city believe that cyclists should be licensed.  People think that such licensing will make the average cyclist more responsive to the law of the road.  I agree and disagree over licensing.

Where do I disagree?  The extant laws of the road include bicycles.  Enforce them.  The reason people pay any attention to the laws of the road is that there is a reasonable possibility of being caught.  Increase that possibility.  People will respond.

While there is thought that to increase infrastructure requires money, who better to pay it than those who will benefit the most?  I agree wholeheartedly.  I will happily have my taxes go to that infrastructure, provided that I no longer have to pay for city roads with my taxes.  I do not really drive.  Beyond that, bicycle lanes do not suffer from the slings and arrows of outrageous numbers of vehicles the way a road does.

Where do I agree?  When we lived in Honolulu, there was a law on the books requiring all to register their bicycles.  There is a sticker from the City on Honolulu on Jesse's bicycle even as we speak.  That allows the city to keep track of how many bicycles are actually on the road, and to build the infrastructure to accommodate them.  As well, if the bicycle is ever stolen, there is already a description of the bicycle with the police.  This was a one-time registration.

One of the hot issues downtown has been the couriers.  They ride downtown like bats out of hell.  Here, a different set of laws should be in order.  That set of laws requires all couriers to wear clothing identifying the company for which they work.  It requires them to produce proof that their bicycles have had service within the last year.  It holds their employers accountable for their actions.

That would go a long way.  I am a licensed driver.  I do not need anything more than that.

Ride carefully folks, and remember to wear a helmet.

R/SCG

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cooking for the Holidays

Top of the evening everyone...

Prior to every holiday, Jennifer and I pull out the cookbooks to make menus.  It takes hooouuuurrrrss.  She constantly complains that I am of little help.  I try to fake it to the best of my ability, but she is right.

This evening, she asked me to bring her a cookbook.  I brought her "Olives and Honey."  It is a kosher vegetarian cookbook, featuring foods from just about everywhere.  The author is Gil Marks.  He is both a rabbi and a chef.

We always have challenges.  For Rosh HaShanah, my parents are coming up.  They are peschatarian (fish-eating vegetarians).  I do not do dairy so well.  Keren is not a huge fan of fish.

Given those restrictions, what would you like to eat if you were coming to my house?

You just read that correctly.  I am offering all of you a once-in-a-year chance to suggest what Jennifer and I should serve for the holidays.  We have over 100 cookbooks.  Do not be bashful.

I am NOT cooking for Yom Kippur.

Good night.

R/SCG

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Whine of the Engine

Hi all...

Last December, the Gorman family traveled to New Jersey.  We were in a sedan.  Sedans seat five people.  It is no fun though to be that fifth person.  It was a good little car, but it seemed not to grow as the kids did.  The last couple of trips had been rough.  People were cranky. 

As we got into the car, I told everyone that we each had to pick a whine.  If someone had a complaint, it had to be versed in that whine.  Everyone else had to follow up immediately with his/her own whine.  You could not change your particular whine without consent of the other folks in the car.  I do not remember all the whines.  Jesse's was "we need a bigger car."

We got a bigger car.  I love mini-vans.  They have space.

We did it again for our last trip.  My whine was "we should have left two hours ago."  Jennifer's was "I hate kids."  Keren would then say "Gavi and Jesse are annoying me."  Jesse's was "I am only allowed to have one complaint."  Gavi's was "I have a nosebleed."

It made all of the complaining very funny.

Have a good day.

R/SCG

The Final Insult

Top of the afternoon all...

As many of you know, Jennifer and I have been applying for permanent residence here in Canada.  This process started more than three years ago.  Our application has finally been approved.  Please allow me to recount some of the fun details.

Our initial application disappeared.  Are you all aware of the rule in physics that matter cannot be created or destroyed?  It is nonsense.  Our permanent residence package proves that matter can in fact be destroyed.

We had to submit a new application.  By this point, the law had changed.  Jennifer and I had to prove that we could speak either English or French with some degree of proficiency.  That's right everyone.  Two people, born, raised, and educated in the United States, with multiple degrees from multiple institutions of higher learning, had to prove proficiency in English.  We had to prove our proficiency to people whose English was not on our level.  They had no clue why we were there.  C'est magnifique!!

Then we got word that all was proceeding, and that we had to get our immigration physicals.  We did.  Ottawa lost the results.  I had to contact both my lawyer and my representative in Parliament to get them located.  At least we did not have to do them a second time.  Throughout, Immigration Canada's website informed all who wanted to know that the average processing time for this application was 15 months.

Ottawa did whatever it had to do in order to approve the package.  Ottawa then forwarded the package to the consulate in Buffalo for final processing in May.  The consulate in Buffalo closed in June.  Our package was sent back to Ottawa for the final processing.  With all that had happened up until this point, I told Jennifer that I was certain the package had fallen off the truck.

In the meantime, we decided to refinance our mortgage.  Rates have dropped precipitously over the last several months.  The bank told us that we would not be able to do so until we had permanent status.

Ottawa forwarded our package to the consulate in Detroit.  We received an e-mail with instructions on what to do next.  This e-mail came on the first day of our ten-day vacation in New Jersey, with a time limit of 30 days.  It included requirements for passport-size pictures, according to specifications set out on the weblink.  The problem is that the weblink specifically said that the size was not that of a passport picture.  That gave us another delay while we figured out the right size for the pictures.  I am glad that we did not have to retake them.  It would have been another $80.

So today, I was fishing around on Immigration Canada's website for more information.  They have updated the processing times.  Now, instead of requiring 15 months to process a permanent residence package, Immigration Canada has streamlined it to 48 business days.

You may now all laugh.

R/SCG


Friday, August 31, 2012

Preparing for a Sweet Year

Top of the evening all...

As many of you are aware, the new year of 5773 is fast approaching.  Like many of my colleagues, I am now far behind in writing my sermons.  I have no clue who decided that Rosh HaShanah should tend to coincide with the beginning of the school year.  The Being and I should have words soon though.

Whenever we travel, we make it to the first rest stop on the Thruway before having to take a break.  There is a honey salesman there.  It is cash only though, and I never have cash with me.  We always purchase more honey at Rosh HaShanah.  One of the practices at the new year is to dip apples in honey.  The reason is to symbolize our hope for a sweet year.

When we moved up to Toronto, we instituted a new practice.  I never remember to pick it up in New York.  Still, we rarely purchase our honey at the market.  Rather, there is a honey merchant at one of the farmers' markets.  He sells numerous types of honey - acacia, buckwheat, wildflower, blueberry, etc.

Jennifer and I purchase various honeys.  We put them all out on the table.  One next to the other, you would be surprised how different the tastes are.  It is a delightful way to start the new year.

This also works with olive oil, although I recommend not doing this quite as often.  It can go to your middle.

Shanah Tovah.

R/SCG

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

But I Am Not Bitter...

Top of the evening all....

I have been going back to reread some of my earlier postings.  Having read them, I realize that you might draw the erroneous conclusion the Gorman marriage is the idyllic union.  Perhaps that is so, but it has not always been.

Let me tell you about two incidents that happened.  One of those incidents occurred before we had been married 24 hours.

I remember the wedding.  Wow.  It was a blast.  The band was never too loud.  They did not play any of the songs that I hear too often, but that should not be played at weddings*.  The food I got to taste was wonderful.  We had selected a chocolate wedding cake with fresh strawberries.  I got one bite of that cake, before being whisked away to shake hands with Uncle Max or whoever it was.

Due to an accident with bug spray, we had to go back to my in-laws' the next day to get some freshly-laundered clothing.  There, sitting on the table, resplendent in strawberry attire, was the top layer of our wedding cake.

Did you all know that there is a tradition of freezing the top layer of the wedding cake and enjoying it at the first anniversary?  I did not know that either.

I cut myself a piece of wedding cake.  For the life of me, I have no clue how both Jennifer and my mother-in-law heard me doing this, but they were in the kitchen before my fork was in the cake.  The piece of cake was put back.  The cake was wrapped.  We put it in the freezer at her aunt's house.

(Note passage of several years, moving, freezer burn, and so on).

I never saw my piece of wedding cake.

But I am not bitter.

The second event also took place during our first year of marriage.  I wanted to go to Turkey over winter break.  Jennifer insists that she was not taking a cruise from Haifa to Izmir on a deck chair.  Instead, she wanted to buy a painting.  It is a lovely painting.  I am staring at it even as I type.

But I am not bitter.

I am not bitter.  We laugh about it every few months.  Next year will be twenty years for us.  I am going to custom design our anniversary cake.  I wonder if I can do a Turkish chocolate-strawberry cake.

R/SCG

*I have heard "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "I Will Survive" at weddings.  Who thinks of this?




Companies I Like

Hi all....

I always thought it would be fun to take tours of companies whose products I like.  I want to go to the coffee factory at Kicking Horse Pass.  I want to go to Cape Cod to see how to make potato chips.  I have managed over the last couple of years to see some of the places I like.

We drove back to Toronto yesterday.  Our route takes us through the town of Easton, Pennsylvania.  Many of you will instantly recognize that as the home of Smith & Binney, makers of Crayola crayons.  We decided to stop.  It was wonderful.  I get the feeling, first of all, that if I somehow ran into a 100-year old box of Crayola crayons, it would look, feel, smell, and taste the same.  Some years back, Crayola made its 100-billionth crayon.  Mr. Rogers moulded that crayon.

I like Crayola.  It is a company that has affected every single one of us, as kids, as parents, and as grandparents.  The company's goal is to bring colour into the world.  What can be bad with that?  As well, they are seeking ways to become greener.  Any paper products they use come from their own sustainable tree forest.  They are doing a great deal of work with solar power.

On another note, Easton, PA is lovely.

We have also visited the Hershey's factory.  Yes....enough said.  But there is more.  Mr. and Mrs. Hershey had no children.  They started a school for orphans as a result, raising many children as their own.  The school is still there, with close to 2000 students.  Hershey's uses only local ingredients.  The company has been certified kosher for over 100 years.  One of the original goals of the company was to make chocolate available for everyone, instead of just a luxury of the rich.

Last is the Zippo company.  Zippo makes lighters.  The Zippo lighter has been of exceedingly high quality.  The history of the Zippo is also very much wrapped up in the history of the United States military.  A lighter that will not go out is useful for signalling, and has been used as such.

In 1943, the owner of the company noticed a design flaw in the lighter.  He shut the company down for several months while he fixed it.  He also kept everyone on salary.

These are companies I like and have visited.  I hope that there will be others.  I would like to see Newman's Own.  A company that only has interest in making decent food and donating all profits to charity is worth a visit, and more importantly patronage.

I am going to forage around the house for a Hershey bar now.

R/SCG



Thursday, August 23, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

"As you know, Ima, jewelry is very important in a girl's life." - Keren, in the jewelry department at Target.


"Do you see my estate?  Is this not totally posh?" - Gavi, showing me his computer fiefdom.

I am not even sure what to say.

Good night everyone.

R/SCG

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lessons from the Lawn Mower

Hi all...

At the beginning of the summer, our lawn mower died.  I tried to be sad.  I could not.  The lawn mower never had any oomph to it.  On top of that, any money we might have saved purchasing an electric mower was probably wasted with the three heavy-duty extension cords that we mowed with the grass.

We replaced the lawn mower.  This one has power.

Anyway, I was cutting the grass a couple of weeks ago.  The chute that is there to eject the grass out the side came off.  It is a breakaway part.  The flap immediately closed.  I did not think too much about it.  I assumed that the grass would then go into the bag.  I toss that on the compost.  As well, my neighbour is very meticulous with his yard.  I did not wish to get in the way of the care he gives his lawn.  The grass shooting out the side of the lawn mower has to go somewhere.

While Jesse was mowing the lawn last week, it stopped.  He could not get it to restart.  I came home, and had no problem.  I started cutting the grass, and the same thing happened.  I tilted the lawn mower, and cleaned out the grass buildup from underneath.  It happened again, and again.  I started tilting the lawn mower in the air every time it sounded like it was about to stall.  It belched out grass each time.

It dawned on me that the piece that was on the side had the task of preventing grass buildup.

We learn several lessons here:

1.  Sometimes those around us tell us without words that there is a problem.  Listening involves more than our ears.

2.  Seemingly useless parts might have a function even if we cannot immediately recognize that function.

3.  Do not remove parts just because you do not like them.  They may be useful anyway.

Have a good evening.

R/SCG


Crossing into the US

Good morning all....

So the Gorman family recently crossed into the United States.  While on the QEW, we called to get current bridge information.  The message told us that there was a wait of about 30 minutes to cross at all the bridges.

Mistake #1: I trusted the message.
Mistake #2: I crossed at Lewiston.

The 30-ish minutes that we were supposed to be there was really about an hour and 40 minutes.  I started talking to people going the other way, stuck in similar traffic on the way back.  I told someone to pack a lunch.  Someone else asked me how long I had been waiting.  I said "since yesterday."

This was annoying.  The wait though did give me time to look around.  I got to notice the river as it flows north towards Lake Ontario.  There were seagulls.

I found it very disconcerting though that while stuck for a long period of time in traffic, there were two turkey vultures circling the bridge.  I really hope that those two things are not connected.

Have a good day.

R/SCG

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Looking for a Meal and a Fight

Gavi....Gavi Gavi Gavi...

He is my medium child.  When he was born some 12 years ago, he came out looking for a meal and a fight.  He knew how to nurse, and was happy to do so.  He hit 20 pounds in six months only on a natural diet.  He has slimmed down quite a bit since then, but is still willing to take a risk with his food.  I am teaching him the barbecue.  I said to a waitress today that he should only have a tiny bit of hot sauce on his sandwich.  He demanded to know why.

As he learned to move, he decided he really liked wrestling.  I used to wrestle with Jesse.  Suddenly, this baby would be in the middle of it.  That part has not left him.

He is also my comedian.  Almost seven years ago, my then five-year old came into the kitchen.  He stuck his head in the cabinet and GENTLY closed the door.  He then yelled at the top of his lungs: "the cabinet is eating my head."  He removed his head from the cabinet, pulled his shirt up over his head, and then started walking around the kitchen yelling: "I have no head.  The cabinet ate my head."

He has left whoopee cushions in dark places where he knew I would walk.  Even now, I risk ambush from a flying stuffed animal if I walk too close to his bedroom door.

He likes tools.  I once had to put something away in his night table drawer.  I opened it up to find several screwdrivers.

And his love of tools combined this week with his ongoing need to wrestle me into submission.  I was sitting on a tree stump earlier this week.  Gavi came over and sat on my shoulders.  Then, he grabbed my head, and said "lefty-loosy righty-tighty", and started twisting my head back and forth.

I am offering him up....cheap.

Good night all.

R/SCG


Monday, August 13, 2012

So Perhaps I Should Not Have Chuckled

Top of the evening all...

Several years back, I stifled what would have been an inappropriate chuckle.  It seems that one of my bosses had majored in library science during his university years.  It hardly seemed like a hard subject.  I was wrong.

Fast forward to this summer...

Jennifer and I are up at Camp Ramah.  Normally we come up to teach.  They asked us to do something different this summer.  No one has organized the library in a couple of years.

I am no longer chuckling.

We have put in two days of work.  We still have at least one more to go.  It is a great deal of lifting.  the summer has been dry.  There is thus a layer of dust on all of the books and on all of the shelves.  We have been wiping everything down and re-shelving books.

There are challenges.  We found a book about Golda Meir.  Should that go under biographies, under a section on famous Jewish women, or under Israel?  That type of question has come up more than once. We have been getting help from a camper.  He has his own ideas as to how things should be organized.  His ideas are good, but we can only have one method going at a time.  He has somewhat accepted that we are in charge.

It is interesting bringing two sets of rabbinical eyes to this endeavour.  We are able to make distinctions between a regular siddur and the siddur of Sa'adya Gaon.  The regular siddur goes with all of the other siddurim.  The siddur of Sa'adya goes with the history section, as his was the first one out there.  We can also look at the writings of Nachmanides and figure out what goes in the rabbinics section and what goes with philosophy.  The last person who organized the library really did not make such distinctions.

We will likely be asked to do this again at the end of next summer.

Have a good night everyone.

R/SCG

P.S. For the non-Hebrew speakers out there, 'siddur' is 'prayerbook.'

P.P.S.  Camp is, as always, lovely.  I do not know why we send kids.  We should send kids to grandparents, and then go to camp on our own.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Audrey

We have a garden.  The pumpkin attacked me today.  I had to beat it back with a machete.  There is a truce presently.  I do not go on its side of the yard.  It does not attack.  We are still trying to figure out who gets control of the deck.  The pumpkins will be wonderful.  They make a dynamite soup, either sweet or savoury.  As well, pumpkin pie is a reason for living in its own right.  The seeds are also a very healthy snack.

Jennifer is the gardener.  She understands dirt.  I understand mud pies.  In the spring, she spends lots of money on seeds.  We spread last year's compost over the beds.  Somewhere on this computer, there is a layout of the garden, with what is planted in each bed.  Not that it matters.  The squirrels have moved one of the plants already.

Compost is a good thing.  We make our own, using only organic matter.  Every once in a while, I will also empty the lawn mower bag onto it.

At this point, the heavy work is done.  I have given away no fewer than 5 heads of lettuce.  It is still growing.  The tomato plants are sending forth tomatoes left, right, and sideways.  Some of them actually make it into the house.  Many of them I eat off the bush.  The cucumber vine and the beans have elected to leave home, and are now taking over a couple of trees in the neighbour's backyard.

And the title of this blog entry is "Audrey."  Audrey was the name of the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors."  The plant grew and grew, and ate everything in its path.  I am waiting for it to tell me to feed it.

Have a good night everyone.

R/SCG

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

10000 Visitors!!!

Hello everyone.

As of about five minutes ago, we have gotten to 10000 visitors to this blog.  Primarily, the readers have been from the United States and Canada, but people have connected to this blog from every continent.

Some of the countries I would not have expected.  Who would have thought that a reader in Malaysia would check out the website of a Rabbi in Canada?  This week alone, I have multiple hits from the United Arab Emirates.  There are also hits from Israel.  I wonder if two people hitting this website from those countries counts as tacit recognition.

The most-read entry is "The Original Rules of Marriage."  That was back in January 2011.  This is the link: http://seabeechaplain.blogspot.ca/2011/01/other-rules-of-marriage.html.  That entry has received 249 visits.  It is one of my favourites.  I also like "The Marital Bed," "Lessons from the Walk of Shame," and "A Jewish State."  I thoroughly amused myself in writing some of the entries that were intended to be funny - "Codename: Operation Avocado," "The Joke," and "Finally."  I hope you found them worth a chuckle or two, or at least a groan and a Rolaids.

I have found both surprising and fun the challenge of coming up with the right titles for each of the entries.  I have found surprising the fact that I really like your comments.  I would love more discussion on some of the entries, especially the ones on marriage. 

Two things will happen in honour of reaching this auspicious occasion.  The first is that I am going to change my wallpaper.  It is time for a new look.  The second is that if you walk into a McDonald's in Canada on any day between today and August 12th, tell them that you read my blog, and then ask for a small coffee, McDonald's will give you that coffee for free.  Please note that the coffee is fine.  I am specifically not recommending any other menu items due to significant dietary concerns.

I thank all of you for being interested in reading my blog,  It is quite flattering.

R/SCG

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pre-Hypertension?

Top of the evening all...

You will remember that the doctor gave me four months to get my blood pressure down to acceptable levels.  After wearing a monitor for 24 hours, my average pressure was 143/94.  That is stage 1 hypertension.  Pre-hypertension is when the top number is between 120-139.

Over the last two months, I have been much better about exercising.  I have been eating a handful of almonds daily, as well as lots of fruit.  Soy-milk smoothies are enjoyable.  Also, Emerald nuts makes a cocoa-covered almond.  It is quite tasty.  They have a brand new line coated in cinnamon.  I just bought some tonight, but have not yet tasted.  I have been taking 500 mg of vitamin C every day.  I have been sleeping roughly seven hours a night.

The net result is that my numbers seem to be tacking towards the pre-hypertension levels.  This is not a diagnosis.  Rather, it is a report of progress.  The doctor may well still look at it and put me on medication.  This evening, I took my pressure four times.  The best was 127/68.  That 68 is more than 20 points below the numbers in May.  All the numbers are recorded on a document.  I will send it to my doctor before I meet with him in October.

I think it is the vitamin C.  Jennifer thinks it is the sleep.

The challenge will be maintaining the sleep and finding the time to exercise.  With children away at camp, it is easy to shut down for the night at a reasonable hour.  It is easy to take time on the treadmill when one only has to clear dinner for two instead of five.

We will see what September brings.

Have a good evening all.

R/SCG

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Key Words

I was looking around my blog statistics.  One of the things one can learn is the key words used to locate a web site.  Apparently, someone looked up my name with 'bicycle' and 'Shabbat.'  I have not written on that topic on this blog.  Nonetheless, if someone wishes to use those words to find me, it seems rude not to have it available.

For those of you who do not already know, I like to ride my bicycle.  I ride for bike-a-thons.  I ride for exercise.  I ride to commute.  I ride for errands.  I ride for fun.  At the end of the day, I like it.  On more than one occasion, someone has asked whether it is permissible to ride on Shabbat.

The overwhelming majority of poskim (decisors) do not permit.  I believe them all to be in error.  Their reasons are as follows:

1.  There is a risk of going outside the eiruv
2.  You might get a flat or have a chain come off, and then come to fix it
3.  It is too much like a weekly activity

I will deal with each concern in turn.

1.  Risk of going outside the eiruv: It is forbidden to carry outside of a private area.  There is a leniency in Jewish law that allows us to designate a neighbourhood, town, or even a city as a private area.  The process is not crucial.  When such eiruvin might include the entire city of Los Angeles, or a rather substantial area in Toronto, one can comfortably stay within the eiruv and still have an enjoyable ride.  Those of us who are concerned about the eiruv know the boundaries.  This is not an issue.  Furthermore, if that is an issue, it is also an issue for those who are on foot.  That defeats the whole purpose of an eiruv.

2.  Lest you come to fix it: I have been cycling both for commuting and recreation for over 14 years.  In that time, my chain has come off once.  Outside of the aberrant occurrences at Guantanamo, I have had only five flat tires and no chain popping.  My bicycle goes for a tune-up once a year.  A minimum of maintenance is necessary to operate a bicycle.  Halakhah does not react to such rare occurrences.  Moreover, I have had more problems than that with my kitchen cabinets.  They have come off hinges many times, including on Shabbat.  Shall we forbid kitchen cabinets for the same reason?  Last, Rav Ovadiah tells us that we are not allowed to make new decrees from our own minds.  If the Sages did not forbid this activity, we are not allowed to do it either.  We are also not allowed to fit it neatly into a category that the Sages developed.

In short, the bicycle does not break easily or often.  We are not allowed to add on to what is already forbidden.  The 'lest you come to fix it' argument does not work.

3.  Too much like a weekly activity: that is saying that riding a bicycle is not in the spirit of Shabbat.  Really?  Says who?  The spirit of Shabbat is an important consideration.  That being said, it is also a fluid concept, varying by season, geography, community, and more.  It seems to me that cycling is a wonderful way to spend time with family, or to take some personal relaxation time.

In short, happy riding.  Stay inside the eiruv.  Think Shabbat-like thoughts while you ride.  If your chain pops, walk the bicycle home.

And now, it is time for a touch of theology.  I have no problem making a statement that something is prohibited, even if the Torah does not explicitly state so, and even if the Sages do not explicitly say so.  However, in this day and age, the burden of proof is on the Rabbi, and not on the Torah.  Furthermore, any rabbinic lightweight can say no.   I prefer not to be a lightweight.  For our second piece of theology, I will add that whatever the answer is, it is an answer that is acceptable.  I will not tell you something is forbidden, and then go off and do it.  I will also not tell you that something is permitted, but it is not good enough for me.  I do not like snobby Halakhah.

Have a good day everyone.  Ride carefully.

R/SCG


Monday, July 30, 2012

The Joke

I have been working on a joke this evening.  The punchline hit me on the way out of a restaurant.  My loyal readers (all of you) get to read the first run.

In one of the neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, a laffa restaurant opened.  For those of you who do not know, a laffa is a large, round, soft pita.  Anyway, the restaurant gains popularity.

Word travels.  Eventually, one of the local mob bosses walks in.  He looks at the menu and orders a laffa.

The waiter brings out the don's order.  He does not like it.  The don sends it back, and asks for a different laffa.

And the same result happens.  He does not like it.  He sends the laffa back.  He orders something else.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the chef is getting annoyed.  The sous-chef asks what he is going to do next.  The chef looks at him and responds: "I'm gonna make him a laffa he can't refuse."

Good night.

R/SCG

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Jewish State


Shalom everyone...

            I said to some fellow chaplains the other day that if you asked ten Jews what the implications of the term “Jewish State” were, you would get 11 opinions.  The senior chaplain in the car then asked me what my understanding was.

            I have never thought about it.  I always took the concept of a Jewish state for granted.  Now I have to answer the question.

            First and foremost, it is a state for Jews.  It is a state to which Jews can move, permanently, for good reason, to fulfill the Zionist dream, or on a whim. 

            Second, it is a state that holds itself to a higher standard of behaviour.  This is not because of the UN Haman Rights Committee.  I like to think it is an unconscious manifestation of the idea that Jewish law forbids bringing a bad name on the Jewish people.  I do not know whether or not the state’s behaviour meets the highest standards at all times.  I do know that the fact that so-called human rights organizations spend more time focused on Israel than they do on Syria suggests to me that Israel will never meet world scrutiny.  That, however, is a different discussion.

            Third, it is a state that actively seeks to allow all to observe their own religions.  The Greek Orthodox Church owns the property on which the Knesset rests.  The Mormons have a major centre in Jerusalem.  The Bahai have a major centre in Haifa.

            Fourth, it is a state that excels on an intellectual level because of its Jewish roots.  Judaism does not frown on modernity.  I think that Jewish mindset provides a safety net for Jews, whether they realize and accept it or not.  It has taught us over the years that  there is always a safe point to which we can return.  Safety allows for venturing.  Another note on the intersection between the intellectual and the traditional is in order.  Some of the greatest minds in all of the varied areas in which Israel excels go home every Friday to make Kiddush.  As well, yeshivot in Israel have people in them at all hours.  The same mindset that feeds the intellectual areas of the country also feeds the Jewish parts of the country.  The same academic discipline that Israel can apply to its modernity is also applied to its Judaism.

            In short, it is a Jewish state because Jews are safe and welcome there.  It is a Jewish state because it meets a higher standard of behaviour.  It is a Jewish state because non-Jews are welcome practice their religion.  It is a Jewish state because the study of the ancient and the study of the modern live comfortably together, supporting and influencing each other.

R/SCG

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vanilla

Hi all...

As you are very much aware, I am attempting to bring down my blood pressure without the help of medication.  I eat dark chocolate as a result.  Dark chocolate dilates arteries.

I therefore say in response to Jennifer's most recent blog post that chocolate is healthy.  Even if one likes vanilla, it is a good health idea to have chocolate every once in a while.

R/SCG

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sex Is for Sale

Hi all...

Sex is for sale.  It is for sale in the magazine racks.  It is for sale on the billboards.  It is a distinct presence everywhere.

Given that, it is not just logical for clergy to speak and teach about it.  It is mandatory.  I will not shirk my responsibility to all of you and leave this in the hush-hush category.

Getting on the next plane...

R/SCG

The Marital Bed



My blog entries have been rather long of late.  I hope it is not a problem.  I will try to return to more abbreviated writing at some point in the near future.  In the meantime, please bear with me.

Over the time that I have kept this blog, I have mentioned the marital bed on numerous occasions. Many of the pieces of this entry will thus sound familiar.  They have appeared in other entries.  I am now taking the time to gather those thoughts in one place.  Some thoughts are expansions on Shmuley Boteach’s book “Kosher Adultery.” 

The marital bed is not a perk of marriage.  Perks are fun, but the world goes on without them.  The marital bed is an essential ingredient, cleverly disguised as a perk.  It is the place where we both give and receive the ultimate form of acceptance and intimacy. The bed is the marital barometer.  Marriages succeed and fail here before anywhere else.

Most of us have friends.  With our friends, we sit in the living room, in the kitchen, or in the yard.  We do not hang out in the bedroom.  The bedroom is exclusive.  It has a lock on the door.  Spouses should be friends.  They should like each other.  However, when we place first priority on being friends in our marriages, we render our marriages no different from any of our friendships.  By extension, we render the bedroom no more sacred than any other room.  I submit to all of you then that spouses must be intimate lovers.  This is the primary characteristic distinguishing marriage from all other friendships.

First, a little bit of controversy…There is a world of difference between “not tonight dear, I have a headache” and a massive migraine.  That being said, couples should give respect to exhaustion, but also should not regularly refuse each other.  Generally speaking, if one is interested, the other should go along.  It is rare that anyone will regret it after the fact.  I believe that spouses have this obligation to each other.

Let us have a little more controversy.  Handcuffs are not only for the police.  Silk scarves are not just a fashion accessory.  Whipped cream is not only for cake.  The serious nature of what goes on behind a locked door should not take anything away from the unrestricted fun of the encounter.  By the way, there is a decent website for this – koshersextoys.net.  On a personal level, I am not sure how I feel about the entire product line, but that is none of my business.  On a rabbinical level, I have no problem.  It is a safe spot to shop.  They will not deal with anything remotely pornographic.  The site is still small, but I expect that it will gain popularity.  Interestingly, it is based out of Lakewood, NJ.

I hope you are not shocked to know that there is more to life than the missionary position.  Couples should experiment with different positions.  Jewish law permits such experimentation.  Moreover, there is more to life than vaginal intercourse.  Couples should endeavour to find the happy balance between the following two statements: no one should ever have to do something he/she does not like; and, couples should be willing to try something new.  Our bodies change over the years.  Knees ache.  Flexibility diminishes.  Besides being a newly discovered pleasure, the willingness to experiment may become a necessity as we age.

Intimate adventures should take also place outside the home.  Get a hotel room for a lunchtime romp.  Try a tent in the middle of the woods.  Make out in the back of a movie theatre.

Married couples forced to be apart by circumstance do not cease being married.  They should also not cease being lovers.  There is nothing wrong with writing erotic letters to one’s partner.  There is nothing wrong with ‘sexting.’  Humans naturally think about sex.  It behooves us to keep even our thoughts where they belong – on our spouses.

Sex should be a subject of conversation.  We spend much of our married lives talking about paying the bills, carpool, work, and mowing the lawn.  Many couples avoid this most intimate conversation.  We cannot begin to understand each other’s preferences without first asking about them.  

Have a good evening everyone.

R/SCG

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A 50-Year Exercise in One-Upsmanship

Buenos Dias everyone...(that's 'bonjour' for all the French speakers out there)...

On Friday, the Marine security detachment sponsored a tour out to the northeast gate.  That gate is the border with Cuba proper.  I happen to be in Cuba right now.  I am not on US territory.  The US leases this land from Cuba.  As a result, I will have to clear US customs when I land in Florida.

At the northeast gate, there is still traffic from one side to the other.  After President Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations, there was a grandfather clause in place that those who had jobs on the American side would still be able to cross each day.  50 years later, there are still two people who do.

Anyway, after the US broke off relations, Fidel accused us of stealing Cuba's water.  We were not.  There was a barge coming in with water daily.  The Admiral in charge of the base came out with a video crew in 1964.  In the middle of the night, he cut the pipe, and sent it and the video to the UN.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the gate was that there was no flag on the Cuban side.  Apparently, there was at one point.  There was a constant replacement of flagpoles on both sides, as everybody wanted the taller pole.  The Cubans finally won that exchange, and placed a LARGE flag on top of a nearby mountain.

For a while, the building out there housed the squad of Marines who guarded that gate.  The building had a metal roof.  The Cubans used to go by the fence and throw rocks onto the roof in the middle of the night.  The US built the fence much higher, rendering that impossible.  The Cubans put up wind chimes.  The Marines could either close the window on a non-air conditioned building, or deal with the noise.  I do not recall how that one got settled.

The Cubans then decided to shine a bright spotlight into the building, again with the idea of causing problems sleeping for the Marines.  The Marines ended that one.  They made a 75 foot diameter rendering of the United States Marine Corps emblem.  When the spotlight was turned on, the Cubans saw the emblem.  Once they had finished the emblem, the Cubans turned on the light precisely once.  They never did that again.  Score one for the Marines.

Now, the Marines are not housed there.  The building stands.  The border is quiet.  Once a month, the base commander goes there to meet with a Cuban official on matters of mutual interest, neighbourhood safety, and the like.

Have a good day everyone.

R/SCG

Codename: Operation Avocado


Hi all...

The chapel area has a simply lovely courtyard.  It has trees.  It has tables.  People come up that way to hang out because there is a semblance of internet. 

In one corner of the courtyard, there is a tall avocado tree.  We decided that we would denude it.  There was a serious reason, of course.  We were concerned, naturally, that the risk of falling avocadoes while children might be around on Sunday was a danger we could not accept.  And so we initiated “Operation Avocado.”

We got a fruit-picking pole, and we were able to remove the 15 most likely culprits, those that looked as though they might fall.  I have three of them.

One of the RP’s suggested that we chop it up, and then mix it with milk and sugar.  Please note here: in South America, the avocado is treated as a fruit, and will often appear as dessert on the table.  One of the other RP’s is giving some serious thought to guacamole.

I will have one of mine straight tomorrow.  I think it needs another day.  The other two will follow in due course.

I want to make it clear that at no time were thinking about our taste buds.  Our primary concern has been and always will be the inherent danger of falling ripe, fresh, tasty avocadoes, as well as the safety of our children.

R/SCG

P.S.  And I will not even begin to talk about the mango I had.  It is a shame that there was no one with whom to share it.  As you are aware, it takes two to mango.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

JPJ: Take 2


Top of the evening all...

So last Sunday, I told all of you that I made and attempt to ride a bicycle up a steep hill. The hill is called ‘JPJ,’ short for “John Paul Jones.” On Sunday, I huffed and I puffed, and I rode and I walked, and somehow made it the top. I did not have my camera. I would go back.

So on Monday, I started back up to the top. About two thirds of the way up, I ran over something pointy. I walked the bicycle back down. I replaced the inner tube.

The new inner tube was supposed to be self-sealing. I got another flat on Tuesday, not on the hill. That tube is now replaced.

Today, I brought the camera. There were some things I was not allowed to photograph. I rode all but about 200 feet. I do not need to go back up that hill again.

R/SCG

Addendum: On Thursday morning, the bicycle had another flat tire.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Very Own Quote

Hi all...

Quick note:

I shared a quote that I developed with the spouse of one of the chaplains. She is also an ordained minister. She said I should publish this quote.

Intimacy is not a baring of bodies. It is a baring of souls.

Good night...

R/SCG

Conservative or Orthodox?

Hi all...

On behalf of my colleagues, I apologize for what appears to be a major gap in the way we rabbanim have attempted to educate.

When I got to Cuba, I met a nice couple connected to the Jewish community. They asked about some details of my observance. It came out that, wonder of wonders, I do not drive on Shabbat. Their immediate reaction was that I must be Orthodox.

I am not. Just ask my wife, the senior rabbi in the household.

Anyway, whether or not I am Orthodox or Conservative is entirely a separate question from whether or not I drive on Shabbat. Three stories come to mind.

1. There is a congregation in Baltimore that sells its parking lot every week.
2. I remember driving past on of the local Orthodox synagogues in Toronto right after Yom Kippur. Their services were letting out. Lo and behold, people were walking to their cars.
3. In my neighbourhood, I saw a woman with the requisite number of children leaving one of the Orthodox synagogues in the area. She walked across Bathurst St, into the parking lot by Hartman's, piled the kids into the minivan, and drove off.

So some Orthodox people drive. Some Conservative people do not.

And now it is time for your lesson in Halakhah. Jewish Law is obligatory. Lesson concluded.

What this means is that from the outset, you should keep kosher. You should avoid driving on Shabbat. If you live too far from the nearest shul, there is a teshuvah, not my favourite, that says you can drive only for the purposes of going to shul, and only to the nearest shul. It is not a blanket permission slip to drive from Hamilton to Toronto for a bar mitzvah. It is most certainly not a permission slip to stop at your favourite coffee shop to get a cup on the way in.

I realize that many will read this, and process it in the mental circular file. That is okay, I suppose. Still, you should all know where I stand. Everyone should know the details of processing material in the circular file.

While I differ with many of my rabbinic colleagues in all movements, the Orthodox do not hold the monopoly on Jewish observance.

By the way, I challenge anyone to walk on Shabbat for a month. I promise you will never drive again.

Have a good evening all.

R/SCG



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

Buenos Dias...

Once a month, the public works people feel that they need to shut down the electricity for the base. They choose Sunday mornings. Certain activities have generators – the chapel, the commissary, and the gym, just for example. I feel sorry for the lady at the front desk of the lodge. Some piece of machinery is supposed to beep if the power is cut off. The beep works well.

Anyway, I thought it would be a good morning to take a bicycle ride. So I did. Up behind the lodge, there is a tall hill with windmills thereupon. I decided to ride up to the windmills. I made it about two-thirds of the way up. Then I pushed the bicycle up the rest of the way.

Some years back, my Marine unit was sent to Bridgeport, California for mountain warfare training. The first morning of training, we pushed off with 40-pound packs. We started from our base camp at about 6700 feet. We hiked roughly four miles to the training area. I could barely keep up. This is not unexpected, as I do not train like Marines. Still, these chain-smoking, weighted down Marines simply marched over hill and dale in thin air at a speed that would embarrass most of us on a city street.

The memory of trying to keep up with those Marines has stayed with me. As such, there was no way I was not getting to the top of that hill this morning. So huffing and puffing, half walking, half riding, I did it. The payback was lovely. The view was magnificent, although I forgot my camera. As well, I got to ride down.

Jennifer and I have a fun disagreement. She seems to think that riding downhill is the time to rest when on a bicycle. I think it is the time to pedal. I pedaled. I slowed down dramatically for one switchback. Otherwise, I would have gotten down much more quickly than I wanted. By the way, I always wear my helmet. Today, I even remembered sunscreen.

There is one other tall hill. I did not ride up. On that hill, the American flag flies 24/7. Some of you might not be aware of flag rules on a military installation. The base officially has one flag. It flies at the base headquarters. The flag always comes down at sunset. The base flag here does come down at sunset. The only time the American flag flies at night is on a Naval ship underway. There are other limited circumstances as well. If it flies at night on land, it MUST be lit up. On Guantanamo, there is another flag.

On a remarkably tall hill, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay flies a flag 24/7, lit up for all the world to see. More importantly, it is lit up for Fidel and Raoul to see, any time they so desire, or not. Apparently, the Cold War is not quite over.

Now I am back in my room, waiting for the power to come on so that I can be socially acceptable.

Have a good day.

Now I am finally posting this, as I do not have internet in my room. Have a good evening.

R/SCG

Thursday, July 12, 2012

And This Is Precisely My Point


Okay….let me see if I have this straight. I have thus far read two of the “50 Shades” books. After reading them, I asked what I thought were some significant questions about the sex lives of married couples. By the way, please answer those questions for yourselves. I really do not want to know. On the macro level though, it would be an interesting discussion in the comments section.

Jennifer has also read two of the three “50 Shades” books and has contented herself with a recipe for salad dressing!

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. This is an essential difference between men and women – pushing the sexual envelope versus salad dressing. Were we reading the same books?

R/SCG

P.S. Equal parts of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and roasted sesame oil will yield a lovely salad dressing. Crush in a clove of garlic and a pinch of cayenne for some extra zip. You can probably cut back on the sugar. I got that from our kosher Chinese cookbook. There was nothing remotely erotic in it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Uhhhh....Jennifer

Buenos Dias...

One of the RP’s (enlisted personnel who support the chaplains) took me out to snorkel today. We made it to the Dominican Republic and back. Okay – we did not get quite that far.

It was beautiful. The RP had a waterproof digital camera. He took great pictures. I am even in a couple of them. We saw all matter of fish and coral. There was one coral that looked and moved like a waving leaf. There was a gorgeous iridescent blue fish, and another with stripes that is appropriately called a sergeant-major.

Jennifer bought me a new bathing suit last year. It is bright red, with a lovely Hawaiian pattern. Guess what folks! It is too big. The good news is that I did not lose it at any time. It has safety pins in it now to cinch the waist just a little bit. I no longer have to worry about waves.

When I was in high school, we were reviewing dangling clauses in grammar class. I remember one of the examples: “his trunks came off swimming across the lake.” What is dangling?

Note to self: try on new bathing suit before bringing it with you.

By the way, I always swim with a swim shirt on. It occurs to me that men should adhere to a certain degree of modesty, even when poolside. Jewish law addresses this concern, and does not differentiate in this regard between the requirements for women and the requirements for men.

I met two of the members of the Jewish community this evening. They were lovely people. She runs the seniors’ residence here on base. You might be thinking: why is there a seniors’ residence on a military base. Apparently, right after Fidel came to power and relations broke off, several Cubans were offered the possibility of living on base, working, earning a pension, and being promised a place to live in their senior years. 23 of them are still alive.

Two Cubans remain who were allowed to work on base after relations broke off. Every day, they leave via the north gate. They have to change clothes before going back into Cuba proper.

Good night all.

R/SCG



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Hottest Spot East-Southeast of Havana

Hi all...

When I got to Florida yesterday, the cab to the base had no air conditioning. For about 30 minutes, we had to go with the old 2-70 method – 2 windows, 70 miles per hour. We could not hear a thing.

So I arrived in Guantanamo today. It is hot and humid, much as I imagined. The bay is simply gorgeous, and begging for a swim. I will oblige.

On the negative side, the lodge where I am staying does not have internet. I think it is the last such lodge in the history of humanity. The commissary is missing some of what I regard as basics – bread with kosher supervision, a large selection.

On the positive side, someone loaned me a bicycle. Life is good. I have never seen iguana that large outside of a zoo. I will get a picture. The kitchenette in the lodge has metal pots and pans. I kashered pots and silverware today, and was able to get some spaghetti to have for dinner over a few nights. I am sure that there are a few books here in the library that I have not read. It will be fine for the two weeks that I am here.

Buenas Noches.

R/SCG