Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Sunday Stew: A Day Late, and Appropriately Short

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 18, 2014 @ 2:54 pm PST

Observation StewIt’s Sunday again, and … what’s this? No stew on Saturday? We must remedy this, with this hastily thrown together pot of material collected during what was, again, a very busy week and an even busier weekend:

  • It’s Too Big. Here’s a call from a congressional candidate in Los Angeles to break up LA Unified. What’s interesting here is how he wants to do it: His bill would make school districts with more than 100,000 students ineligible for federal aid.  This would affect almost every major city school district, and result in lots of wasted money as many of the supporting school services — payroll, human resources, legal, and such… as well as school boards — get duplicated. The larger question, perhaps, is how much of LA Unified’s problem is LA Unified. After all, there are schools within the district that are excellent (many of them charters, such as Granada Hills or Pacific Palisades). There are lower performing schools, but these tend to be in lower performing neighborhoods. Often, the district’s hands are tied by state and federal requirements, as well as their own procedures. Breaking up the district doesn’t solve those problems. Decentralization (where appropriate) and local empowerment (when appropriate) does.
  • It’s Everywhere. One little snippet in the latest from Donald Sterling was not emphasized in the news — where he repeated Jewish stereotypes. You might have thought or hoped antisemitism would be dead … but you would be wrong. A new ADL survey shows that pnly 54 percent of people polled globally are aware of the Holocaust — and an alarming 32 percent of them believe the mass genocide of Jews was a myth or has been greatly exaggerated.  The survey found that 26 percent — more than one in four — of the 53,100 adults surveyed are “deeply infected” with anti-Semitic attitudes. Nine percent of Americans surveyed harbor at least six of the 11 anti-Semitic views. About 31 percent of respondents believe Jews “are more loyal to Israel” than the U.S.
  • It’s Scary. Antisemitism is really scary. The Disney comedy Frozen, edited into a horror movie trailer, is less so. Still, it is a great example of how the Frozen mania is continuing unabated. I think the last Disney film that got this deep into the social context was The Lion King.
  • It’s Dying. When they came out, CDs were touted as the perfect music medium. Crystal clear digital reproduction (as opposed to those scratchy vinyl records or tapes that wore out and broke), and they would last forever. Guess what? That was all a lie — CDs are degrading at an alarming rate. I have a large CD collection (and a large LP collection, and a large digital only collection … my iPod just crossed the 34,000 song mark). Of these, only the LPs have a long life — they degrade by scratches and stuff. All the tapes I made of records are long gone, and I rarely pull out the physical CDs anymore. Will they be there as backups, or will only the professionally made ones be readable. This, friends, is why people stick with analog data in the form of vinyl and paper.
  • It’s Dead. The death of the Fountainbleu in Las Vegas is closer: the construction crane has been removed. It is now less likely that this 80% finished mega-hotel will ever be completed. More than likely, it will be an expensive scrap recovery project, with loads of material destined for landfills. What a waste. How much dead landfill space in Las Vegas is taken up by the remains of hotels?
  • It’s, uhh, I forget. There might be some good news for those of you taking antidepressants. It turns out that certain antidepressants — particularly Celexa — is good a combatting memory loss. This may help combat Altzheimers Disease.
  • It’s Back. Lastly, those in the Bay Area can rest assured in the safety of the Bay Bridge. Sure, the bridge might fall down in an earthquake due to newly discovered flaws. But the protective troll is back, protecting drivers from his barely visible perch.

 

--- *** ---

Saturday (ummm) Gruel: Sex, Judaism, Surviving, and Carrie

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 26, 2014 @ 6:18 am PST

Observation StewThis has been an even busier week than usual — I’ve barely had time to keep up with my RSS feeds and skim the LA Times. So I’ve only got a few items for you this week:

  • Not Tonight, Dear, I have a headache. In a scientific survey destined to end up on “Wait Wait”, scientists have shown that headaches impact a woman’s sexual desire much more than they impact the desire of men. Specifically, new research has shown that for female mice, bodily pain puts a serious damper on sexual desire, but pain-reduction can help restore libido squelched by physical discomfort. However, for men, the desire to have sex wasn’t dampened even if you kick them in the nuts. But is this really news?
  • It’s your shul on line 1… Here’s an article that every synagogue (and probably church) board member should read: What if your synagogue called and didn’t ask for money? The answer, not surprisingly, is that people are much more receptive. This goes to what a number of URJ leaders are saying these days: focus on building the relationship, and not getting the donations. When the relationship is strong, the donations will show up. Will temple boards listen, however, and pay this more than lip service?
  • Connections. Every week the Jewish Journal highlights a holocaust survivor (and I’ll note that this weekend is Yom Hashoah). This week, it was Frank Schiller. I’m not sure if I ever met Frank, but I did go to both camp and temple with Frank’s children, Gary and Vicky. Haven’t seen them in years, but I’d love to get back in touch.
  • La Mirada Season. Lastly, the La Mirada Theatre has announced their 2014-2015 season. It consists of “Good People“, “Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice“, “Billy Elliot” (the musical), a musical version of “Pride and Prejudice“, “Mary Poppins” (the musical), two special events (“Dancing with a Twist” and an Amy Grant concert), and the musical “Carrie“. Of these, “Carrie” is unique enough to get me to travel down to La Mirada. Already blocking it off on my calendar.

 

--- *** ---

An Interesting Deal on Jewish Music

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 19, 2014 @ 1:36 pm PST

userpic=folk-artistsI originally highlighted this on Facebook a few weeks ago, but felt it should go here as well. I learned about this from my brother-in-law, and I purchased it about two weeks ago… and I’m still working my way through it. For 0.99, you get over 200 songs, 8+ hours of “Jewish” music. In reality, it is a mix of 1960s Israeli music (including a lot of Israeli dance song), loads of Yiddish, Klezmer, a few Russian folks songs (mostly drawn from albums published by Vanguard), and a Jan Peerce album about Passover. A real eclectic mix, but I’ve figured out what some of the source albums were — and some are rare and going for over $100 on Amazon, so the value is surprisingly tremendous. I have no idea when they will reprice this — it’s been up for a week. Here’s the link for the MP3 album. [ETA: It looks like they won’t reprice it — it seems this group’s deal is to create big collections of music that is out of copyright. What this likely means, for this album, is they are going from the original vinyl, as opposed to any CD reissues.]

The albums that seem to make this up (in whole or in part) are:

  • “Israel Sings!”, Karmon Israeli Singers, 1998 Vanguard
  • “Sings Jewish Folk Songs”, Martha Schlamme, Vanguard 1998
  • “Tumbalalaika! [Yiddish Folksongs without Words]”, Emil Decameron Orchestra, 1959, 1991 Vanguard
  • “Behold Thou Art Fair” And Other Songs Of Israel , Netania Davrath, Vanguard
  • “Martha Schlamme Sings Israeli Folk Songs”, Martha Schlamme, 1960 Vanguard VRS 9072
  • “The Singing Waltz: Klezmer Guitar and Mandolin”, Jeff Warschauer, 1997
  • “The Yiddish dream”, Vanguard 1991
  • “Raisins and Almonds: Jewish Folk Songs, Martha Schlamme
  • “Out of the Ghetto: Songs of the Jews in America”, Leon Lishner
  • “Songs of the Sabras”, Karmon Israeli Singers, 1993
  • “Netania Davrath Sings Russian, Yiddish & Israeli Folk Songs”, Netania Davrath
  • “A Passover Seder”, Jan Peerce, 1997

For the price, as they say, “what a buy!”

--- *** ---

Saturday Stew: From XP to Exes, from New Coins to Old History

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 22, 2014 @ 6:52 am PST

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links for the week. This has been a busy week, with a major recorganization (which was more of an org chart relocation) at work (means loads of “all-hands” meetings full of sound and fury, saying little), loads of documents to review, and loads of stuff to catch up on. As a result, I rarely got time to look at the news over lunch, and have only collected a few things that didn’t them. Let’s get to them:

  • The Death of XP. My RSS feeds are full of dire warnings about continuing to use XP after support stops on April 8. As it is, I have three XP machines at home: two that are just sitting, turned off, and one that is used solely as a print server. Still, I am thinking about replacing it, and two articles caught my eye. The first looks at 3 Linux alternatives to upgrading Windows–I’d seriously think about upgrading at least one to Linux if it can work as a print server on a Windows network. The second talks about how Microsoft is offering special deals of $100 for those upgrading from XP. With some Windows 8 machines in the $200-$300 range, this brings systems to the noise level.
  • Challenging Coins. Two interesting articles on coins this week. The first talks about the new £1 coin Britain is introducing. It will be 12-sided, and incorporate different-colored metals, for a faux gold and silver look, instead of the mostly copper blend now in circulation, and boast a high-tech anti-forgery feature used in paper money. It looks like it is complicated to make. Even more complicated is a new domed collectable coin being made by the US Mint: a domed coin commemorating baseball. Evidently, it was very hard for the mint to manufacture, and took a bit of experimenting to get right. What’s interesting here is reading the comments — there are a large number of people who do not understand that collectable coins and stamps make the government money.
  • Training For It. About a week or so, I had set aside a story about a railroad club in Orange County that had their trackage stolen, intending to send them a little something. Turns out I wasn’t the only one: the club has received thousands of dollars in donations. A nice reminder that there are a lot of good people in the world.
  • Bad Design. Here are two articles about some bad designs. The first is about a new device you can slap on a milk carton–it uses nanotechnology to indicate visually if the milk is good or bad. So what’s the problem? According to the article, “red” is good, “green” is bad. This is the opposite of how red and green are nomally used in interfaces, and I predict people will get sick from the “green is good” hardwiring. The second is about golfing: it appears that titanium clubs striking rocks can create sparks that start brush fires. Perhaps they should give golf clubs to people on Survivor.
  • Out of This World. I’ve had this article sitting for a few weeks, but nothing seems to want to pair with it. Baker is a dying town — once home to the largest thermometer in the world, it is now slowly fading into the desert. But the owner of Alien Jerky wants to change that — and one way is to build a flying saucer shaped hotel.
  • The Jewish Valley. I’m into history. I’m into Judaism. So naturally, I’m into the history of Jews in the San Fernando Valley. Many years ago, Rabbi John Sherwood and I even toyed with the idea of writing a book on the subject. So here’s an interesting article in that vein: it explores the early days of the Valley Jewish Community Center, which became the Conservative synagogue Adat Ari El. This is the synagogue that was the parent of most Conservative synagogues in the valley, just like Temple Beth Hillel was the first Reform congregation and was essentially the parent of most Reform congregations in the valley.
  • Marital Success. What makes a successful marriage? Is it your partner? It is living together before you get married to work out the problems? Is it “murder frequently, divorce never?” According to this article from Atlantic, it is being mature when you get married. An exploration of the science of cohabitation shows that the older people are when they make their long-term commitment as a couple, the more likely that couple will stay together. The study found that individuals who committed to cohabitation or marriage at the age of 18 saw a 60 percent rate of divorce. Whereas individuals who waited until 23 to commit saw a divorce rate that hovered more around 30 percent. I got married when I was 25, and next year we will have been married for 30 years. As they say, you do the math.

 

--- *** ---

Realizing a Problem Exists is the First Step…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 15, 2014 @ 8:29 pm PST

userpic=stressedTonight, I went to the Purim schpiel, and realized that I’ve got a problem.

Perhaps I should explain. For the last two years, I’ve been a vice president of $mens_club, and as such I’ve been working behind the scenes to reposition the organization to emphasize our place and importance in building relationships within and with the congregation at large. I’ve tried to do that at some smaller events this year. Naturally, being active has its own rewards, … , one of which is likely getting increased leadership opportunities.  In this case, that means I am likely going to have increased responsibility to promote the group to members of the congregation.

Here’s where the problem comes in. Although I may seem outgoing, I’m really only outgoing with a supporting Powerpoint presentation :-). By that, I mean that my normal nature is to sit back quietly and do my job, and help make sure the event is a success.  I can get up and speak when I know the subject well (which is what preparing the Powerpoint does for me). Whereas my father had the personality to go up to strangers and introduce himself and become friends, doing that cold is a very very difficult mountain for me to climb (if I know something about the person to start the conversion, it is much much easier).

Tonight I thought I might give it a try. I thought I would have the gumption to go up to congregational men — who were there with their families and are precisely the men we need to draw into the organization — and introduce myself to them. I thought I would be able to sell $mens_club to them. But I couldn’t even get started up the cliff. I realized I’m the engineer, not the salesman. I don’t have that salesman persona.

I’ll note this isn’t new. I never was one to go out for drama classes or run for offices. I never sold cookies or candy bars for schools successfully. At Halloween, I was never the one creating the superinventive costume — I was either behind the door with the sound effects, or wearing a costume that made me look like everyone else. At camp, I wasn’t the one in drama or the one being out in front; I was in arts & crafts and squarely in the middle. I was fine being a committee chair or running an activity, but never the outgoing face. Even in the UCLA Computer Club, when we played Superhero 2044, my character was “Mr. Cellophane” — the one no-one every noticed because he blended in.

Realizing this is the first step to solving the problem. Practice and acting “as if” will be a second step. I’ve viewing this opportunity in the organization as a chance to improve myself; to gain a skillset that will prove me useful. It also making me realize that I need to think about doing what any good organizational head would do: if you don’t have a skill your organization needs, you find someone who can excel at that skill to make your organization complete. You bring them on board, and while they are exercising that skill, learn from them how to do it better.

That’s one reason I’m writing this post. To those who read this who are the “born salesmen” (or should I say “born salescritters”): what tips do you have, and how do I learn the skill.

--- *** ---

Getting Your Purim On

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 13, 2014 @ 11:22 am PST

userpic=cookingWhile I’m eating my lunch, I figure I should make you hungry by posting some links to interesting hamentaschen recipes. For those unfamiliar, hamentaschen are three-cornered pastries eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim; the shape supposedly remembers Hamen’s three-cornered hat.

 

--- *** ---

My Dues Are Too High! (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:36 am PST

userpic=tallitYesterday, I read a very interesting piece on Kveller titled “My Local Kosher Market is Closing & I’m Part of the Reason Why“, and I set it aside to write a post related to it. Yesterday evening, Rabbi Lutz posted a link to an article about why one should choose synagogue membership. Both are worth reading, so I’ll wait while you do so.

(taps feet, looks at watch, taps feet again, while the theme from Jeopardy plays in the background)

OK, so now you’ve read them. What both emphasize, in slightly different ways, is the importance of having the Jewish community — and by extension, Jewish communal institutions — there when you need them. The value of these institutions cannot be viewed solely on what you get back in services over a given time period. In fact, looking at Jewish institutions (or any religious institution) in a fee-for-service manner just will not work. You can’t say: I pay $2000 a year to be a member, and that’s cheaper than buying the services ala-carte.

The reason we join together in the groups we do (be that brotherhoods and sisterhoods, or the congregation as a whole) is to create a community, pure and simple. We want to create a community that will be there to support us — to help us and lift us when we are having trouble, to be there to share our joys. We build relationships within the community, and we help others in the community. We may not always like everyone in the community, but the community should have common values, goals, and mores. Most importantly, we want the community to be there when we need it.

In the past — at least in the progressive Jewish communities — we’ve been told that there is a price of admission to the community (boy, doesn’t it sound wrong when I put it that way?) This price: dues. There are dues for the synagogue, dues for brotherhood, dues for sisterhood. This notion of dues turns people off. It is one thing to have fees for specific services (such as a fee for religious school)… but being told by some entity that you must pay $X to be considered a part of the community seems wrong (although, to be fair, they do allow you to negotiate the value of $X depending on your circumstances).

How do Christian congregations handle this? Ever hear of something called “faith offerings”? Ever seen the basket passed? Congregational support is often done at the end of services with passed baskets, with people giving as the community moves them. This never took hold in Jewish communities because of the traditional prohibition of handling or carrying money on Shabbat. There is also tithing (giving 10% of your “income”) to the church, but (to my knowledge) this is unlike dues in that it is voluntary, not a price of admission.

Some Jewish institutions are exploring a different model. In $mens_club, we’ve done away with our dues system, and made all men in the congregation members. We have ask them to send in support to the community, if they feel the community is valuable, in an amount they deem appropriate. If we do our job right and build a valuable community with strong relationships, then people will want the community to exist and will be willing to support it financially. Yes, it is a risk. However, it is a better level of feedback than robotic collection of dues for an organization that might no longer have a purpose.

What it boils down to is this: You need to support your communal groups if they are to survive and be around whenever you need them. You might not utilize them every day; you might not get back in services what you contribute in support. If you want them to survive, you contribute. This is true whether the organization is your congregation’s brotherhood or sisterhood, whether it is the congregation itself, or whether it is your local Kosher market or JCC. If an organization has value to you, support it.

--- *** ---

Saturday Stew: Technology, Cannibal Rats, &c

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 25, 2014 @ 11:31 am PST

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and you know what that means: time to clear out the links list of articles that never quite formed into themes of three or more articles:

  • The iPod of Prison. An interesting article from the New Yorker on the Sony SRF-39FB, a clear plastic AM/FM radio that is the most popular radio … in prisons. The clear plastic is one factor, the sound quality and reception is another, as well as the price. It is only now starting to be replaced by MP3 players, where the prison controls what can be downloaded.
  • Risks of BYOD. The catchword today in business is BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. Businesses have become more accomodating of employee’s using their personal smartphones and other devices on corporate networks. But there’s a big downside — when you leave the company, typically they have the right to remotely wipe your device. You should read any connection agreements you need to click through carefully, and make an offline archive of any personal information before you leave.
  • Multilingual. Here’s a neat article and video: “Let It Go” (from Frozen) in 25 languages, and how Disney planned the movie for 41 languages. I love how seamless the video is — great job from the sound engineers to get the timing exactly right. I love listening to songs I know in other language, be it “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish, “Hair” in Hebrew, “Les Miserables” in French, the Beatles in German. I blame my high school Spanish teacher, who constantly played “yo no encuentro satisfacción”.
  • Cannibal Rats. There evidently is a ship floating around the northern Atlantic that is filled with cannibal rats. Whether or not you think the story is real, the concept is right up there with “Snakes on a Plane”. Can’t you just see the horror movie now. Our teens on a pleasure cruise come upon an abandoned ship and decide to explore.. and they find…
  • No Ren Faires in Your Long-Term Future. Good news for history, English, and other liberal arts majors: it’s not the career death you’ve been told. Liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows. By their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates…. with one exception. Salaries still lag behind engineering and math and sciences graduates, who in their late 50s make about $98,000 and $87,000, respectively.
  • A Loss for the Jewish Community. The LA Times and the Jewish Journal are reporting that Harvey Fields has died. Rabbi Fields was just taking over from Rabbi Wolf as senior Rabbi at Wilshire Blvd Temple when we got married; Rabbi Wolf had been senior rabbi for a year after the death of Rabbi Magnin. We were only at Wilshire as Fields was coming in, but he did remarkable things for the congregation during the time — he basically brought the congregation back into modern progressive Judaism, stemmed the membership decline, and completely revitalized the place. I was more involved with the camps, and during much of his time, there weren’t significant changes there (those came near the end of Fields’ tenure as Rabbi Leder was coming in). But Fields still deserves a lot of credit for what he did for Wilshire Blvd Temple and the Jewish community in Los Angeles.

 

--- *** ---