Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'judaism'

What Are You Comfortable With?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Sep 25, 2014 @ 8:19 am PST

userpic=tallitEvery year (unless I fall asleep*), I try to write up my thoughts on the Rabbi’s sermons. Sometimes it is something that resonated with me; other times, it is things I thought the Rabbi missed. Whichever is the case, this helps cement what I remember about the sermon in my head. Last night was Erev Rosh Hashanah (if, indeed, that term is correct), and Rabbi Shawna gave the sermon, so guess who is the lucky winner?

There were two main themes that I could discern in Rabbi Shawna’s sermon which, at least to me, weren’t connected as well as they could have been. Both were good points to be making; they just came across a little disjointed. Let’s explore each of them.

The first dealt with getting outside of your comfort zone, and the importance of doing that if you are going to achieve any form of personal growth and improvement. This is something I understood well–it is the main reason I accepted the mantle of leadership in $mens_club. Handling the logistics and running organizations isn’t a problem, and is well within my comfort zone from my work on ACSAC. However, going out there and interacting with strangers to sell an organization: that’s extremely uncomfortable. Being in a position where I have to occasionally say “no” to people. Outside my comfort zone. Making blind telephone calls to congregants to welcome them. Very outside my comfort zone. Yet these are skills that will serve me well in the future.

So I strongly agreed with Shawna’s call for people to get outside their comfort zone. I wish it had gone a little further — in particular, calling people to get more involved with organizations at the synagogue. It is far too comfortable to go to synagogue twice a year or for the occasional service, never get to know anyone, and be hidden in the corner. It takes effort — especially for introverts — to go out and get involved with groups like $mens_club or $sisterhood or $committee. Yet these are just the small groups where you can meet people easier and try on leadership capabilities.

Shawna, instead, used the notion of going outside your comfort zone to connect to the recent NFL scandals, and to the importance of speaking out against domestic violence. She connected this to Jewish notions about defending the downtrodden, and how we have imperatives to prevent this. Again, I didn’t think she went far enough. We need to realize how our actions reflect to others statements not only about us as individuals, but us as groups.

Last week, I listened to a wonderful “This American Life” titled “A Not So Simple Majority”. The prologue described the show thusly:

Before the war in the East Ramapo, New York school district, there was a truce. Local school officials made a deal with their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors: we’ll leave you alone to teach your children in private yeshivas as you see fit as long as you allow our public school budget to pass. But the budget is funded by local property taxes, which everyone, including the local Hasidim, have to pay — even though their kids don’t attend the schools that their money is paying for. What followed was one of the most volatile local political battles we’ve ever encountered.

What followed was a story about how the Orthodox community took over the school board, refused to listen to community input, decimated the public schools seemingly to move forward in the Yeshivot’s best interest, and thoroughly divided the community. Listening to the piece (which everyone should do) raised numerous discussion issues about who was right, who was wrong, and so forth. Related to the sermon, however, is one more issue: appearance.

Irrespective (and that’s the prefix “in-” as an intensive) of the “rightness” of the O side, what did their appearance and how they behave say about them and about the Jewish community. Did it project a bad image that opened the door to antisemitism? On the other hand, would such an argument be analogous to the claims that women need to restrain how they dress and act because men can’t control themselves. Where is the balance between how our behavior says something about us, and how latent attitudes come out with respective of behavior?

The answer, of course, it that we should not restrain our behavior because of how it might impact others, but more so, because our behavior is a reflection of our values. The Orthodox behavior was wrong because it showed that their value was their own self-interest over the interest of the down-trodden in the community (which may have been a behavior outside their comfort zone — caring about someone not in your own community). Similarly, tolerating domestic or physical abuse and not speaking out or doing something is wrong, because it reflects an acceptance of those values. Being ethical comes from within, and must be reflected in everything we do. (Or, as I say in MoTAS (Men of Temple Ahavat Shalom, otherwise known as $mens_club), because we’re the role models).

Let’s connect this back to the first idea of comfort zones and getting involved in synagogue life. Often, we don’t get involved because we had a bad experience, or we feel the synagogue is a “Marble House full of Plastic People”. That’s comfortable, but that also sends the message that such behavior is acceptable in a congregation. Act up. Fight AIDS (oops, wrong musical). Act Up. Get on those committees and boards and force change from within (a palace revolt) so that our Jewish institutions can reflect Jewish values of today.

People ask me why I got involved with MoTAS. It certainly wasn’t for power or glory, or even (completely) to learn skills. It wasn’t for “male bonding”, as I still have no idea what that it. Rather, it was to help make MoTAS, and hopefully the congregation, the place I believe it can be. A place where the esteem in which you are held is based on what you do and how you live, vs. how many zeros you can write on a check. A place where fundraisers can involve everyone — from those for whom $10,000 is noise, to those for whom $18 is a significant outlay. When your organization only asks for the large contributions, what does it say about your attitude towards those who can’t make large contributions? People often don’t realize those subtleties (just, as I’m sure some friends of mine will point out, those benefitting from “white privlege” often don’t even realize it).

Get out of your comfort zone and your complacency at your congregations. Get involved, and make those organizations reflect the values and attitudes that care about the poor members as well as the rich members, the moved as well as the movers, the shaken as well as the shakers. Be the example this coming year about how to do things right.

[so folks know, I often never know where these posts will end up until I write them — the message just seems to want to get out on its own.]

* P.S.: As I’m now on the Board at temple, I was honored by sitting on the bimah last night. Little known fact: The people on the bimah can see you when you are sleeping during the sermon. Yes, you. Fourth row, end of the aisle. And you, in the back.

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L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5775

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 23, 2014 @ 7:19 pm PST

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts tomorrow night. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog, LiveJournal, Google+, Tumblr, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5775. May you be written and enscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Round challahs. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. As for the round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the King of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
[Thanks to Aish Ha’Torah for these insights]

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting this evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of October 3rd), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

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Religion’s Influence in America

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Sep 22, 2014 @ 11:54 am PST

userpic=levysAs I sit here and eat my lunch, the headline in today’s LA Times screams “Americans fear religion losing influence, say churches should speak out more“. The article notes that only about three in 10 Americans see the Obama administration as “friendly to religion.” About four in 10 rate the administration as neutral and another three in 10 call it unfriendly. To me, I find the article infuriating. Here’s why.

We don’t have freedom from religion in the country; we have freedom of religion (and I consider atheism to be a religion as well — religion is a faith that cannot be proven or disproven without the use of miracles). Every individual in America has the right to practice whatever religion they wish, and to let it influence their lives and behaviors as they wish. Churches have the right to speak out as they wish (as long as they don’t endorse specific candidates). So, if religion is losing influence, it is because we the people have chosen to make it less influential. The government has nothing to do with it.

But, you say, there is a war against Christmas or against Christians. Sorry, there isn’t. You can personally be as Christian as you want. Wear your cross. Wish me Merry Christmas. What appears to be a “war” is one of two things: a government institution attempting to not show favoritism of one religion over another (as the constitution prohibits establishing a state religion), or bureaucrats going above and beyond to be “fair.”

Before you claim there is a war, put yourself in a minority religion’s shoes: I’ve had miss about 5 meetings scheduled by others, including an award lunch, because they were scheduled for this Thursday (which, if you look at your calendar, is Rosh Hashanah). But do they miss meetings because someone schedules them on Christmas or Easter?

Further, the same people that bemoan religion losing influence are equally quick to condemn those areas where religion has undue influence — especially when that religion isn’t theirs. Look at the fears of Sharia (Islamic Law) or the areas with Orthodox Jewish law. Alas, in American, fears of religion losing influence are actually fears of Christianity losing influence (which doesn’t even consider the fact that the type of Christianity often pushed by those wanting it to have more influence is not the type of compassionate Christianity this non-Christian believes Jesus would have taught).

For all the arguing about whether religion has influence, the truth is: religions still have a lot of influence. We all have a common moral code that eschews murder and encourages honesty. We all strive to make lives better for the poor, to help the hungry, to heal the fallen, to care for the widow and orphan. We all work for a society that emphasizes love and emphasizes that children should be raised in a loving family. These, my friends, are universal qualities found in all religions — I know them to exist in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What no longer has influence is intolerance driven by religion, or arbitrary punitive codes anchored in practices from ages ago.

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TQM for the Soul – Some Lunchtime Thoughts

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Sep 22, 2014 @ 11:20 am PST

userpic=tallitA dear friend of mine, Rabbi Sheryl Lynne Nosan-Lantzke, has been posting over on Facebook at teaser about the High Holy Days: First “Getting…”, then “Getting ready…”, then “Getting ready for…” and so on, at a speed of about one per day. This would make the National Slow Talkers of America (and Australia) proud. She does, however, have a point — the High Holy Days start Wednesday evening (even in Australia), and now is the time to get ready. In that spirit, I went to TAS’s recent S’lichot study and service (although we didn’t stay for the service, as my wife wasn’t feeling well). There were some interesting ideas discussed in the study that I want to share, for they reminded me very much of the only useful thing I ever got out of TQM.

Normally, as one prepares for the HHD, one focuses on what one has done wrong in the past year, and how to “right the wrongs”. This is very much a “repent ye sinners” tone, and it is off-putting to many. The approach taken during S’lichot at TAS, however, was based on the approach over at Let It Ripple — and focused more on character development and character traits. In particular, we discussed the periodic table of character strengths. We discussed where were were already strong, and what character strengths we might focus on in the upcoming year to improve.

Here’s the TQM connection: the only thing I ever got out of TQM was the notion of +/Δ: when evaluating a program, don’t focus on what went wrong. Focus on what went right, and those areas where you can improve. The character strength approach is similar: identify those character strengths you have. Identify those strengths you want to improve. Don’t focus on your failures: be positive, move forward instead of looking back.

This is a notion I can support, and it doesn’t even require that you buy into the spirituality side. What a wonderful way to explore making yourself better in the coming year. I suggest looking at the table of character strengths, and seeing where you can be stronger.


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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.


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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.


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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!”

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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.


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