Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If You Stop and Think...

Top of the evening folks...

I was just at a shiva house (house of mourning).  Someone almost said the wrong thing.  Luckily, she said it properly.

What is the wrong thing?  "May you know no more sorrow."  It sounds lovely.  May your life be a sustained time of pure bliss.  It is unlikely though.  And, if you stop and think about it, you might not say that ever again.  Why?  See the next paragraph.

It is hardly a nice thing to say to someone.  One of the facts of life is that we will know sorrow.  The only other alternative is that someone will know sorrow for us.  I am 43 years old.  I very much hope that I will know sorrow.  I am frankly not ready to check out.

The person ultimately said the right thing: "may you know no sorrow for a long time."

Have a good evening.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Apres le Deluge...

Top of the afternoon all...

I thought that the trial was over.  Apparently, I was wrong.  It is fully five days after the verdict, and it is still all over the news.  Now, the Department of Justice is considering opening a civil rights case against the former accused.  I understand that they have even set up an e-mail account to gather information.  I am debating writing in.  I have a few things I might consider writing.  "I saw George Zimmerman on the grassy knoll."  "George Zimmerman knows where Hoffa spends summers."  "George Zimmerman looks exactly like D. B. Cooper...and he owns a parachute."

From the outset, I never believed that George Zimmerman was guilty.  I believed and still believe that he was defending himself.  However, he does bear a certain amount of culpability.  Why?  For starters, if he listened to the police dispatcher and stayed in the car, nothing happens.  If he got out of the car with another person, nothing would have happened.  Both of those actions alone sowed the ground for the conflagration that followed.  Furthermore,...

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot tells us:

הוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות.

Greet all with a happy face.

Folks, it is possible that none of this needed to happen.  If Zimmerman gets out of the car without the idea that there would be a fight, without the idea that 'these punks' get away with this all the time, we are having a different conversation.  He went out expecting trouble.  His approach and attitude all but guaranteed that there would be trouble.

This is not a crime.  Nonetheless, the role of both protagonists cannot be discounted in the escalation.

Good night all.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Difference between Moving and an Appendectomy…

Top of the afternoon all....

Several of my loyal readers are moving house this summer or have just moved.  They have all heard me talk about the difference between moving and an appendectomy.  The differences are two:

1.  With an appendectomy, you get anesthesia.
2.  The recovery period on an appendectomy is shorter.

In either event, you get gutted.

Up until this weekend, my favourite comment about moving has really been purely speculative.  I had never had an appendectomy.  Now, I can speak to this now with some expertise, as I have both moved and had an appendectomy. 

With the anesthesia, they do that in two stages.  The first is a stage just to put you out.  The second is for a much deeper sleep.    They told me that most people do not last 30 seconds after the injection for the first stage.  I deliberately counted to 30, but have no recollection of what happened after that.  Difference #1 is absolutely correct.

On an aside, the nurse involved was very funny.  He said that surgery is like a liberty port.  You wake up somewhere else, with no clue how you got there, and with very little clothing on.

I am at present not certain of the recovery time.  I do know that I feel much better post-appendectomy than I did prior.  I also feel much better this evening than I did this morning.  So I am guessing that I am correct on difference #2.

*Sunday morning, T+36 hours – I feel a lot better today.

A couple of notes: I called the hospital duty chaplain and asked him to contact the LANTAREA chaplain and let him know what was going on.  He did so.  On Saturday, the chaplain whose office I will cover next week came by.  He hung out, helped me out, and even made a run back over to my hotel room to pick up a few things.  Thanks Tim.

My immediate boss happened to be in the area.  Kim came by and sat with me for a while.  She also brought me an eight-pack of powerade.  This is good.  Powerade goes right through me.  I can now tell you that a catheter to help with ‘Operation Golden Flow’ is not a fun experience.  While she was sitting, the Reserve Force deputy chaplain came by.  My colleagues really did right by me.

Special thanks also go to Kim, my immediate boss.  She is presently working up at Yorktown, roughly an hour from here.  As mentioned, she came down on Saturday.  She is coming back down on Sunday for the sole purpose of getting me from the hospital back to where I am staying.

The hospital is having trouble feeding me.  Other than that, I must tell you that Portsmouth Naval Hospital is a fine place to have an appendectomy.  If I ever need another one, this is where I wish to go.

Have a good night.


*Appendix: As it turns out, my dad spent the same weekend in the hospital.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No No No...That's Not What We Meant!!

Top of the evening all.

We have all been privileged to watch the so-called Arab Spring over the last couple of years.  The term is clearly inappropriate.  Spring carries with it hopes of new life and new beginnings.  It does not carry with it the death of over 100,000 people.  It does not carry with it virtually no change in the style of leadership that the masses so richly want and deserve.

We, the democracy-loving people of the western world, find ourselves in a bit of a quandary.  We watched as the leader of Egypt, formerly known as 'Pharaoh,' was deposed a couple of years ago.  We were thrilled, though wary, when the Egyptians put together a democratically-elected government.  It was a concern to us that this government was very Islamist in its outlook.  We tried to look the other way when that Islamist outlook began to take over every aspect of Egyptian society.  We were uncomfortable though.  When we hoped for Egyptian democracy, it never dawned on us that it would be so Islamist.

Now we find ourselves stuck.  The people of Egypt have spoken, loudly and unequivocally.  They do not like Morsi. problem thus far.  Then the army removed him from power.

What do we do?  Do we cheer what is in effect a coup d'etat, in the hopes that a right and proper (secular) government takes over?  Or do we wag a finger and say that the army is not supposed to interfere so clearly in the civilian leadership?

I find myself cheering for the army here.  I hope that the Egyptians are thinking that they will find the right way, but that was not it.

Perhaps we should call it the 'Arab Convulsion.'  It is not yet spring until something good happens somewhere.

Good night.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Should I be Insulted?

Top of the evening all...

If you have not figured it out, Jennifer and I are in separate places right now.  That means I write more blog entries.  Aren't you lucky?

From time to time, a curious thing takes place at my morning minyan.  It happened on Sunday.  We are a Conservative congregation.  There was a woman there who was clearly Orthodox.  I know why this is so.

At most of the Orthodox congregations in Toronto, the custom is that women do not say mourner's Kaddish.  For those of you who do not know, Kaddish is a prayer that is said during the year of mourning for the deceased, and again every year on the anniversary of the death.  Those who want to say Kaddish will often come to me.  I do not know why they feel the need to leave their own congregations.  There is virtually no Halakhic proscription as to women saying Kaddish.  In any event, they are certainly welcome at the Pride.

Part of me wants to feel cheap and used.  They came for a specific purpose, a purpose that their own congregations will not support.  "If I cannot say Kaddish at my own Orthodox congregation, I will go to the Conservative congregation.  They will let me do anything."

On the other hand, at least for that one service, they are in a place where their pastoral needs are respected.  They are in a place that avoids unnecessary and irrelevant stringencies.  They are in a place where the legal limits of Jewish Law may bend from time to time, but where they never break.

So I have decided not to be insulted.  For that one day, they come to a place that does not see stringency as a goal in and of itself.  I feel respected.

Have a good night.


Well That's Awkward...

Top of the evening all...

As you are all aware, I am male.  That part is not particularly awkward.

Twice over the last six weeks, I have found myself in a rather uncomfortable situation.  The first time was at the movies back in May.  The second time was today.

Would someone please tell me if it is okay for a man to tell a 16-year old girl or a ~48-year old woman that she is simply too large not to wear a bra?  On the latter, it might not have been so obvious if the blouse were not cut so low.

Have a good night.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Race Relations in America

Top of the evening all...

I have been watching the Zimmerman trial with morbid fascination over the last week or so.  I cannot wait until it is over.

We should all be sad and alarmed at whatever the turn of events was that led to the death of a kid whose entire life should have been ahead of him.  We should be further alarmed at the grisly way in which he met his demise.  Whether the defendant acted in self-defence is the clear question demanding an answer.  If yes, that is grounds for acquittal right there.  However, one is forced to wonder about the way we make decisions.  Would we be as willing to stand our ground without a personal weapon?  Would we be more willing to seek alternate solutions without immediate access to lethal force?  Such alternate solutions might be just to call the police first, or to run as fast as possible in the other direction.

In any event, my best estimation of the proceedings thus far is that Zimmerman will be found not guilty.  There have been cross-examinations in which the defence has trounced the prosecution, and there have been cross-examinations where it appears to be a draw.  It seems that the prosecution has had very few moments of glory in this trial.

Where are we left?  We are left in a situation where a young man is dead.  He might have been innocent.  We likely will never know.  He might have been guilty, and is now simply unable to unmake a series of bad decisions taken at a time of life that many people would like to redo.  We are also left with an adult who is either guilty of manslaughter or not.  He will nonetheless carry the burden of this trial for the rest of his life.

As is typical of many trials, the defence requested dismissal of charges after the prosecution rested.  The judge wisely denied the motion.  The reason I think she must have had in mind is the racial issue.  This is a different trial if both defendant and victim are of the same race.  The racial overtones of this trial place a shadow over the whole affair, a shadow that will demand that the trial be seen to a decisive verdict.  It is upsetting as well that a matter of law has gone well beyond the basic facts of the case.

Good night all...


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

National Holidays

Top of the evening all...

It is July 2nd.  It is that tiny period between Canada Day and July 4th.  For obvious reasons, both of these holidays are important to me.

Apparently, someone asked a rabbi whether or not to fly the flag on July 4th.  Please allow me to answer the question.


I am not entirely certain as to why this is a rabbinic question.  Nonetheless, please allow me to respond in a more in-depth manner.  The Torah tells us in Leviticus Chaper 18 that we are not to follow the laws of the non-Jews around us.  This would clearly refer to their holidays.  A cursory glance at this law gives us more than enough reason to observe the holidays in question.  The Torah does not know from holidays of national celebration.  It only understands idolatry.  That is a problem.  Most of the national holidays are not of such a nature.

Moreover, when we, as Jews, take part in these holidays, we make a communal statement that we share in the joys and sorrows of the countries where we make our homes.  We remember that while there has been discrimination, most of the places we live have legal policies in place to end that discrimination, and not to perpetuate it.

We should keep in mind further that the Jews of most nations have taken part in the process of building nations.  We have served in the military.  We have taught in the schools.  We have served in the government.  We have gotten up in the morning and gone to work.  We have given to the charities.  We have done this as individuals, and we have done this as communities.  When we celebrate national birth, when we shed a tear on Memorial Day/Remembrance Day, when we remember the herculean efforts necessary to ensure basic workers' rights that we take for granted, it is both an internal and external reminder that we have endeavoured to create these national homes as much as anyone else.

I suppose that there is a tiny caveat.  Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas Day are national holidays here in Canada.  On Good Friday, you should be in the throes of preparing for Pesach.  On Easter Sunday, it is Pesach.  Do not observe those holidays.

On Christmas Day, I encourage all to go out for Chinese food and then to a movie.

Have a good evening all.  If you are in the US or in Canada, happy birthday to your respective country.

Good night to all.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Hanging Out with Gavi...

Top of the evening all...

Jesse is at camp.  Keren went to Montreal with a friend.  Gavi has both of his parents to himself.  On Thursday, we went to evening minyan, and then rode bicycles up to the kosher sushi restaurant a couple of kilometres from here.

On Shabbat, we played some ping pong.  Gavi also played scrabble with Jennifer.  He also had a long chat with Jennifer about Law, law, and custom.  He might actually wear a kippah from time to time.

Tomorrow is Tuesday.  I hope that we can go down to the City Island and ride bicycles.  We can pack a lunch.  There is a two-story spider web, the modern replacement to the monkey bars.  If the weather is not so cooperative, we will head either to the ROM or up to the Promenade for $5 Tuesdays at the movies.

We have also worked some on his Torah reading skills.

Gavi, as always, seems unfettered by gravity.  As well, watching his video game skills, I think he would make a superb Jedi.

Good night all.


A Matter of Faith...

Top of the day to all...

It is possible I may have been insulted a couple of weeks ago.  We had a discussion on a piece of text that I was not comfortable interpreting literally (gasp!).  It was a good discussion.  Afterwards, one of the women who frequents the shul walked up to me.  She grasped my arm.  This alone was odd, as her understanding of Jewish practice is that men and women should not touch.  She then something like 'may your faith be as pure as mine.'

I did not realize that my faith was lacking.

To the immediate point, whether or not the Torah is literal, literal at all times, poetic, or both simultaneously is a question above my pay grade.  It is, however, simply incorrect to state that taking one position or the other smacks of a lack of faith.  I would even add that holding to a documentary hypothesis as opposed to divine writ is also not a lack of faith, though that is beyond the scope of this blog entry.  As well, it is the ultimate in human arrogance to assume your own understanding is the correct understanding.

Now that I am thinking about it further, it is also heresy to say that the Torah is never poetic.  Why is it that God who creates or inspires poets cannot create or inspire poetry?

With that prelude, a note about faith is in order.  For some people, faith is unquestionable, perhaps pure and innocent.  On the one hand, those people can go through their lives with comfort and ease, secure in the knowledge that creation, the Torah, and their lives, are happily constant.  I suppose that it yields a serenity that lowers blood pressure.  It also leads to people blowing up buses and airplanes in the name of such faith.

On the other hand, others of us ask questions.  Why do I believe what I believe?  What happens if a variable is introduced into the equation?  Does it still stand the test of logic?  Less serenity is present, for certain.  At the same time, it is, at least in my mind, a way to make sure that our brains are actively engaged on a constant basis.  The struggle is also much more consistent with the flow of Jewish history.

To the woman who shook my hand, I return with the same wish for her.  May your faith be as pure as mine.

Enjoy the afternoon.