Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Meaningful Choice

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 08, 2012 @ 4:10 pm PDT

Saturday’s a day where the mind gets to thinking. Today, I’ve been about religion and politics; in particular, I’ve been thinking about legislating morality. This is something the Republican platform wants to do; this is something the Democratic platform eschews. The Republican platform is driven in their position by the religious conservatives — many of them orthopractic in various ways. But assuming you do believe in Heaven and “The Other Place”, is legislating morality the way to get there? Is prohibiting abortion, gay marriage, contraception, &c the right thing to do.

I can’t speak to the Christian viewpoint. I do, however, remember a sermon at some point where the Rabbi talked about the phrase in Deut. about choosing live and death, good and evil, and pointing out that what was important was making the right choice — and in order to make the right choice, you need to have the ability to make the choice in the first place. This is also captured in the SCJ FAQ where the Jewish concept of ha-Satan is discussed:

The word satan means “challenger”, “difficulty”, or “distraction” (note that it is not a proper name). With the leading ha- to make haSatan, it refers to /the/ challenger. This describes Satan as the angel who is the embodiment of man’s challenges. HaSatan works for G-d. His job is to make choosing good over evil enough of a challenge so that it can be a meaningful choice. In other words, haSatan is an angel whose mission it is to add difficulty, challenges, and growth experiences to life. Contrast this to Christianity, which sees Satan as God’s opponent. In Jewish thought, the idea that there exists anything capable of setting itself up as God’s opponent would be considered overly polytheistic—you are setting up the devil to be a god or demigod.

Note the notion of meaningful choice. If in order to do good… in order to get into Heaven… one must make the right choice and it must be a meaningful choice, then you would think the Orthopractic would embrace legal abortion, legal same sex marriage, legal pornography, and such. By having those things legal and supported, they could then make the meaningful choice not to have an abortion and to raise a child… they could make the meaningful choice to have a traditional marriage. By making those items illegal, we would be placing man’s law above God’s law, and not exercising the ability to “do the right thing” on our own.

[Of course, not legislating morality also permits those with different beliefs to exercise their beliefs, which is also in accordance with the constitution. Legislating one particular religion's prohibitions over those of another appears to be implicitly establishing a state religion... but of those in favor of such prohibitions fail to realize that, because it is their religion that is being implicitly established.]

Music: Diamond Girl (Seals & Crofts): Nine Houses


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Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jun 14, 2012 @ 11:31 am PDT

It has been a busy week, but for a change I have a breather at lunch to share a little chum with you. Today’s chum is all about things that were saved in some way… and one horrible case where there has been no saving:

  • Burning the Mortgage. In 2001, West Hills-based Shomrei Torah had a problem. The congregation, the product of the merger of Temple Beth Ami, a historic synagogue in Reseda and Congregation Beth Kodesh in Canoga Park, had built a $7 million, 43,000 square-foot complex on Valley Circle Boulevard on 10 acres of a former ranch. But cost overruns, an exodus of members and economic losses incurred by the Northridge earthquake left Shomrei Torah struggling to pay the bills.  Luckily, some generous congregants stepped up to the plate, and this week, Shomrei Torah paid off their mortgage and is having a mortgage burning ceremony.
  • Joining Together. Merging to survive is common in valley congregations. Sometimes they work, as with Shomrei Torah above, as with Kol Tikvah, or with Temple Judea… and occasionally they don’t (as with the merger of Temple Beth Torah and Ahavat Shalom, where a group of TBT people eventually split back out). This week came the report of another merger: Ner Maarav in Encino (itself the product of a merger) is merging with Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge. This is more an absorbtion, as Ner Maarav has sold their land and building, and their professional staff is moving elsewhere. Still, it allows the spirit of Ner Maarav to survive.
  • Best Western. And for a non-Jewish save, the former Best Western DeAnza hotel on former Route 66 on Albuquerque has been saved from demolition. We often forget the role of these hotels in the building of our country in the 1930s through 1960s; further, this was one of the first Best Westerns.

And now for something that, alas, hasn’t been saved. The economy. This opinion piece from the LA Times discusses the loss, and does a nice job of highlighting the blinders many people have in this country: that greed from our corporate leaders is good, and that what is good for big business is good for the average American. If you believe electing Romney will save the economy… you’re wrong. And guess what: if you believe that electing Obama will save the economy… you’re wrong as well. And you Ron Paul folks… wrong as well. The problem is not the President, it is Congress as a whole doing bills that are not in the interest of the people at large, but are in the interest of those who make contributions, the corporate bodies, and the vested special interests that can pay to have a voice.  Fixing that is much harder than just a presidential election.

Music: My Name is Barbra, Two (Barbra Streisand): Where’s That Rainbow?

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Looking for a Few Good Ideas… and Men

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 02, 2012 @ 12:56 pm PDT

I’ve jumped back into the frey… the Temple officer frey, that is. I’ve been elected a Mens Club Vice President (without portfolio), and we’re having a meeting tomorrow to discuss ideas for the upcoming year. I’ve got a few ideas bouncing around my head, but I could use some help to finish fleshing them out.

When you think of a Mens Club, what activities come to mind? Probably your typical “manly” activities, right? Sporting events. Grilling meat. Poker. Golf. Camping. We do all of these things, but they aren’t attracting new participants to join the organization. We do have other events: mens only discussions, a mens-only seder, sukkah building, but these are much lower key.

I’m of the belief that limiting the group to stereotypical “mens” activities will only get us “stereotypical” men. That’s probably not the bulk of men in the congregation. We need to come up with activities to attract other men to join. If these activities can (a) raise funds for the congregation, and (b) have a connection to Judaism, so much the better.

I’ve been trying for the last few years to start a gaming afternoon. We’ve had low attendance, but I think that is a publicity problem. I need to publicize it to the school better… and more importantly, publicize it to the adult members of the congregation who probably think board gaming is for kids only. I was wondering this morning if we might increase attendance by adding in RPGs — in particular, some form of Jewish-themed RPG, if such a thing exists (it’s an intriguing notion when you think about it–just imagine an RPG of the Jews wandering out of Sinai, battling monsters along the way :-)).

One idea I’m thinking of proposing is a quarterly Jewish-themed theatre outing. We get together to see a Jewish-themed show, and go out for dessert afterwards and discuss the show. We could probably make a little money by purchasing group discount tickets and selling them at full price; we might also be able to get the theatres to donate gift certificates for the Golf Tournament prize table, once a relationship has been established.  This would serve to build community and attract those not into sporting events.

I’m open to additional ideas and suggestions. The question is: how do we draw them men of the congregation into our activities, and get them working together and making friends. If we can build the community of the mens club, we’re subtlety strengthening the community of the overall congregation.

Thoughts are welcome.

Music: In These Times (Peter, Paul & Mary): Wayfaring Stranger

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Rabbi John

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Apr 19, 2012 @ 8:15 am PDT

Last night, I learned of the passing early Wednesday morning of Rabbi John Sherwood, a dear friend.

I first met Rabbi John through my wife — she had been active at Temple Emet of Woodland Hills, and wanted John to officiate at our wedding. Over the years we talked many times — he was a regular contributor to my mailing list and the FAQ. He named our daughter. He was going to do her bat mitzvah until he got sick.

For the longest time, John’s spiritual home was Temple Emet of Woodland Hills. I don’t think he was the founding rabbi, but he was there for 23 years. Before that, I know he was a rabbi at North Valley Reform, which through mergers became our current congregation, Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. John remained at Emet until the merger with Shir Chadash to form the current congregation Kol Tikvah. At that time he retired and moved off to Ventura.

Retired, however, does not mean inactive. John was active through Ventura and on the web, officiating on cruises and doing all sorts of good work. We had been out of touch the last few years, alas, so I don’t have the latest details on what he had been doing.

The online obituary for John may be found here. I found a better summary of John’s career here:

Dr. John M. Sherwood is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emet of Woodland Hills, California, where he served as Senior Rabbi for twenty-two years. Early in his career, he was the first reform rabbi in western Canada, and taught in the religious studies department of the University of British Columbia. For six years he was an adjunct professor of pastoral studies at St. John’s Roman Catholic Seminary in Camarillo, California. A graduate of the Los Angeles Police Academy advanced chaplaincy course, he was a chaplain and crisis intervention counselor for the Department from 1982 to 1997. His colleagues elected him coordinator of the chaplain corps in 1995. He is a past president of the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, and the author of a high holy day prayer book and a number of creative haggadahs. He has written many articles on liturgy and the relationship of Jewish and Christian ceremonial observances. One of his favorite community projects was working with the priest-rabbi dialogue committee that is jointly sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and the Archdiocese of Southern California. Upon his retirement from the pulpit, he qualified as a personal fitness trainer in order to develop a motivational program bringing mind, body and spirit together. His interest in computers has led him to pursuing intellectual interests all over the world through the Internet. He is a frequent respondent to the Union for Reform Judaism’s “Ask the Rabbi” web site, and that of Jewish.com, and a regular contributor to the Liberal Jewish Newsletter. When not following his academic pursuits, he enjoys travel with his wife, Dolores. These journeys, coupled with his passion for scenic photography, have led to the creation of his slide lecture series entitled “Judaism Around the World, from Budapest to Bangkok and Back.” His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in Religion in America, as well as several other similar publications. Since moving to Oxnard, he has become a chaplain for the Ventura County Fire and Rescue Department, is a member and chairperson of both the Oxnard Clergy Association and the Ventura Interfaith Ministerial Association. He led the two organizations to joint sponsorship of a new program for the west county in interfaith education. He and his wife, Dolores served for three years as chair and vice-chair of the Oxnard City Sea Air Community Council, and as members at-large. He has been active in environmental causes, specifically the Save our Open space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) movement. He is also a professor for Elderhostel. He has served on the executive committee of a study group created by the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor John Flynn. The group is known as “Society Ecology Economy Ventura County Vision”. The Board of Supervisors also appointed him to the newly created County Election Finance Ethics Commission, of which his colleagues elected him vice chair, in which position he served for two years. He served for five years on the Institutional Review Board of St. John’s Regional Medical Center. In addition, he serves as co-chair of the Oxnard Police-Clergy Council. He is a member of the Oxnard Community Relations Commission. He is a recipient of the California Central Coast Anti-Defamation League Distinguished Community Service Award.

John gave me one piece of advice I’d like to share as part of this brief note. Back when we got married, we visited him at his house. His note with directions reminded us to stop and enjoy his beautiful rose bushes and their fragrance. I think of that note to this day when we walk by roses.

Rest well, John.


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These Are The Things We Need…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 07, 2012 @ 9:36 am PDT

Last night was the first night of Passover. It was a busy day.. I’m still exhausted. Still, I promised you pictures of the table, so I need to do that.

Why was I so tired? Well, we had 20 people over for dinner (including us). Yes, people were bringing dishes, but we were still cooking a lot: a kugel, salmon, vegetables, sweet potatos, gefilte fish. I also had to set the table, which meant bringing out the good china. We’re of the belief that the “good stuff” shouldn’t just sit in a cabinet–you should use it occassionally. Chinaware wants to be used. So the table was set with the finest: three different sets of china: our patter, my mother’s pattern, and my grandmother’s pattern (we didn’t have enough of just one–we only have a set of 8 for our pattern). Oh, you want pictures. Well, here you go:

Of course, there was a complicating factor. There’s always a complicating factor. In this case, the factor was that my wife, two days ago, walked into a plate glass window at Disneyland. Yesterday morning, she was feeling dizzy and unsettled… so around 10am, she had a friend take her to the ER at Valley Presbyterian (on the advice of our family doctor). So all that cooking above… she left written instructions. Now, I’m the table-setter, the leader of the ceremony, and the dish washer (I was up to 1am washing dishes afterwards). So guess who picked up the gauntlet to do the cooking? Nope, not me, although I helped. The credit goes entirely to my daughter Erin, our dear friend Nicole, and my uncle Ron. Erin did a lot: the night before, she backed two pecan pies, two apple pies, and an apple cobbler.

Adding to the stress of the day: college selection stuff. As I’ve written before, Erin is deciding between George Washington University in DC, UC Berkeley, and Bard. We had been working with a group that had indicated they could help us get financial aid. We were melting down yesterday because that didn’t pan out. That subject will be the topic of my next post, but suffice it to say that the only aid we’ve seen has been some merit-based aid that Erin got; nothing came from the financial work the college planning group did. Stressing over that just added to things.

Last night was also the first night using our updated haggadah. I think I worked pretty well. We still have never done the after-dinner portion of the service, but other than that… people liked all the explanations I have in our haggadah, as well as how it tells the story. As before, if you want a copy of the haggadah, all you need to do is drop me an email.

One of the nice things about last night is that this is one of the first time we’ve had the full family at the house (or a close facsimile thereof — my wife’s brother couldn’t make it, and her other sister is in Tucson). We had my sister-in-law and her family; my uncle Ron, his daughter, and her three children; my uncle Tom and his wife; three of Tom’s friends, and two of Erin’s friends. A full house!

Did Karen ever make it? Yup, she got home around 10pm, after having a temper tantrum at the ER for just letting her sit, with a potential head injury, for 5 hours. She will be letting her doctor know. What was the verdict? Just a minor concussion, and it will get better over the next few days.

So that was our 2012 Seder. I was up for 3 hours cleaning, and today I’ve got loads and loads of stuff to put away. Tomorrow may be the Ren Faire if we’re up to it. I’m not sure how Faire is on Easter Sunday, thought. We might go next weekend.

Music: Stoney End (Barbra Streisand): Time and Love


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Drive-By Pesach Post

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Apr 06, 2012 @ 7:22 am PDT

As I continue to get the house ready for Pesach (we have 20 people tonight), a quick question (h/t to Larry H on Facebook for the inspiration): Do C programmers start counting the Omer at 0? Therefore, is tonight Omer[-1]?

P.S.: The picture of the tables will be coming later today. As a reminder, email me if you want a copy of our haggadah.

Music: Simply Streisand (Barbra Streisand): The Boy Next Door


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Come an’ listen to my story…

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 03, 2012 @ 11:42 am PDT

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times had an article on TV Themes, highlighting (in memory of the death of Earl Scruggs) themes such as the one to the Beverly Hillbillies that serve to tell a story. In that vein, and as preparation for Passover, which starts Friday night, here’s a little lunchtime something from my Haggadah (originally from the Shalom Center):

Come an’ listen to a story
’bout a man named Mo,
A Hebrew child raised
by the daughter of Pharaoh,
An’ then one day
an Egyptian beat a slave,
An’ Moses stepped in,
the Hebrew for to save…
(Struck the guard, killed him dead!)
Well, the next thing you know,
ol’ Mo is all a-feared.
The Hebrews said,
“Mo, run away from here!”
Mo decided Midian
was the place he oughtta be,
And there he stayed,
till he saw a burnin’ tree…
(God, that is… boomin’ voice, majesty.)
God told Moses
to go an’ tell Pharaoh,
“Time has come
to let my people go!”
Pharaoh just laughed, said,
“You tryin’ to pull my leg?”
So Mo raised his staff,
and God brought down the plagues…
(Blood, that is… frogs an’ lice, hailstones.)
Ten plagues in all,
and the last was really bad:
Slayin’ of the first-born,
and Pharaoh was a dad.
He said to the Hebrews,
“Go on! Get away from me!”
So they loaded up their matzah
and they headed toward the sea…
(Red, that is… mighty wide, no way across.)
Pharaoh got all crazy
and decided to attack.
Mo raised his staff,
and the waters, they drew back!
The Hebrews walked through,
just as dry as they could be,
And Pharaoh’s army chased ’em,
but were covered by the sea…
(Drowned, that is… chariots, riders, too)
Then Mo’s sister Miriam,
she began to sing,
And the womenfolk danced
as she played the tambourine.
Once we were slaves,
but now we are free,
And in every generation
we recall our history…
(The Children of Israel!)

Two other Passover related stories, because I always have to do things in threes:

Music: The Tap Dance Kid (Original Broadway Cast): I Could Get Used To Him


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The Story of a Seder Plate

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 13, 2012 @ 7:24 pm PDT

Back in ancient times… that is when I was in high school… I attended the confirmation and high school program at Wilshire Blvd Temple. From one of the two (I don’t remember which at this point), I was given a metal seder plate as a graduation gift. When I went off to college, that seder plate came with me, and ever since then I have hosted my own seder.

Back then, of course, the haggadah of choice was the old grey Union Haggadah, and we never made it through much of it. So I prepared a cut down version — really cut down (like 15 pages). I also front loaded the service, because no one ever would continue with the post-dinner portion of the service. But as I learned more, I made a second version. I still have this: Edition 2.0, March 1981, with 19 pages. I learned more, and the haggadah grew. My next version, with a dot-matrix printed cover and cut and pasted from the new Baskin haggadah was 30 pages, and dated March 1988. I soon was adding supplemental pages to it.

Version 4 was my first one done entirely on the computer, in Wordperfect 6.0 for DOS. It had continued to grow, and was now 48 pages. This version came out in 1994 (and I believe copies may be on the net somewhere).

When we moved to our new house, I continued to revise it. Version 5, dated 2003, was updated to WordPerfect for Windows, and combined four different pathways through the document. It was now standing at 68 pages (and we still had never done the post-dinner portions!). But there were spelling errors and such, and I had only printed 10 or so copies–not nearly enough.

Why do I mention this? Because I’m closing in on completing Version 6. Tonight I just received a correction to the “Orange on the Seder Plate” portion, and reworked the ritual to address all who have been marginalized in Judaism. It turns out the original story had been about lesbians in Judaism, and the ritual was coopted by some to focus only on women. I’m now standing at 78 pages (an almost 5MB PDF file), and the document contains not only text but pictures and comics (yes, snarfed from various websites, especially the Dry Bones Blog and SomeEECards (due to this, I won’t post it on the web, but if you really want a copy, drop me mail). Hopefully, I’ll go to press on it next week in preparation for Pesach at the beginning of April. I’m still trying to decide how I want to cover and bind it.

This all goes to show the impact that a single gift can make. When my daughter goes off to college, I plan to pass that seder plate on to her (and if she wants any of the older editions, I have a cabinet full of them!)

Music: Annie: 30th Anniversary Production (30th Anniversary Cast): Easy Street

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