Saturday, December 26, 2009

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful

Is there something about holidays in South Dakota and blizzards? It seems like the first 10 years that I lived here, we had a blizzard for Thanksgiving every year. In 1991 we had a Halloween blizzard with 18 inches of snow. This year’s blizzard came for Christmas. Maybe Santa packed it in his sleigh. If so, the ASPCA had better get on him for abusing his reindeer. I cannot believe how much snow we have gotten and we are still getting flurries.

Carol and I are stuck in our house for the second day. The drift in front of my garage door is about4 feet high. Hopefully, Mark, whom we have hired for many years to clean our snow will show up soon and dig us out. I am including a few of our pictures for you to take a look at. They do not do justice for viewing how much snow we have. Also you can look at a very short video of Max having the time of his life playing in this winter wonderland. I guess I am glad someone enjoys it because I consider the word snow to be a 4 letter word.

Below is the link for Max enjoying the snow.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Signs of peace in the Holy Land

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think the message of “Peace on Earth Good Will Towards Men” is one for which we all pray. I am so excited to see this small attempt in the land of so many religions to be working toward that goal. May this small event be a seed from which sprouts forth a blossoming outcome of peace for all.

Signs of peace in the Holy Land

By David Rosen
American Jewish Committee

JERUSALEM - The scene was stunning. At the Druze shrine of NebiShueib, against the backdrop of a gleaming snow-capped Mount Hermon, the green mountains and blue sea of the Galilee, kaffiyed Muslim imams and ulema, mustachioed Druze sheikhs, black hatted rabbis and Christian clergy in various colorful garb, mingled together in animated discussion.

This meeting which took place earlier this week was the third for the Council of Religious Leaders in Israel, an organization established two years ago at a founding gathering hosted by the Chief of Rabbis of Israel at the headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. At that meeting, more than a hundred participants - including leaders from six different faiths and more than a dozen different denominations - signed a pledge for interfaith cooperation and mutual respect based upon a recognition of a common humanity and brotherhood flowing from the Faith in One Creator of All. The second meeting had been hosted in Kafr Kara by the Muslim community and focused on the role of religious leadership in combating violence in society. It was similarly attended by the highest official religious leadership and local political authorities

However this third gathering hosted by Sheikh Muaffaq Tarif and the Druze community differed from the previous two. There were still the necessary formal speeches by the heads of the major faiths, but these were preceded by vibrant interactive workshops. The theme of "the role of religious leaders in times of crisis" was particularly relevant as there have been a number of violent incidents in towns and mixed villages in the Galillee in recent years - arguably the most notable of these having taken place in Acre last year.

An imaginary scenario was presented by the facilitators (convened by the Center for Conflict Resolution at BarIlan University) to the participants who were divided into three groups.The scenario concerned a town that was beset by inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. One group was asked to propose recommendations for religious leadership in order to prevent strife. The second group was asked to address the role of religious leadership in a situation when conflict had already broken out. The third group was called to make concrete proposals in the wake of a conflict that had been quashed by law enforcement.

The relevance of such a scenario for inter-communal harmony in the country and beyond was apparent for all the participants and the sense of common purpose and shared values was intense. Most of the religious leaders had never met one another and the discussions facilitated warm and vibrant interaction.

Aside from recommendations regarding education and inter-communal cooperation, a general lament was voiced regarding how negative attitudes and incidents seem to enjoy widespread coverage and exposure as opposed to positive efforts to combat enmity and conflict. Indeed, this remarkable event itself received little or no coverage in the Israeli dailies. But for those of us who were present, it was an unforgettable scene.

The Druze community hosted the whole gathering to a festive lunch which was strictly kosherto accommodate the rabbis.The image of the highest Muslim and Druze leaders of the country, Chief Rabbis of Israel, Patriarchs and Bishops of Jerusalem, together with their co-religionists, sitting in an outdoor courtyard on the benches at Nebi Shueib, sharing food and fellowship,had an almost Messianic character to it.

Naturally the theme of the meeting had not been chosen arbitrarily. The Council wishes to be a force for nurturing good relations between the different communities and to be able to step in where there are tensions and help quell these. However for the some two hundred participants from the different faith communities gathered together in the rain-washed crystal clear sunlight at Nebi Shueib, this meeting was an opportunity to establish initial bonds of friendship and cooperation so important to overcoming the prejudices and stereotypes that generate suspicion and even hostility.

The Council is at the beginning of its journey to foster mutual respect and cooperation between the various religious communities in Israel; and if the warm and animated interactions from the meeting at Nebi Shueib are anything to go by, there is good reason to be hopeful.

Rabbi David Rosen is international director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and interfaith adviser to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jews are here to stay

This Hanukkah article by Naomi Ragen, an American born, Israeli author and playwright, resonates with me. I guess that is because of my upbringing and experience. I have known Jews who survived the Shoah (Holocaust) and have seen the numbers tattooed on their arms. From my first trip to Israel in 1968, I still have vivid memories of going to Yad Vashem, Israel's Museum to the Holocaust. The pictures are still etched in my brain. The terror in people's eyes. I am haunted. When asked to take these people in, no country would. Not even our beloved United States. The infamous story of the ship St. Louis that was turned away from Cuba first, sat off the coast of Miami, Florida as negotiations were conducted to let these approximately 900 German Jews into America. Our State Department refused and this ship returned with its human cargo back to Germany. It is needless to say what the outcome of those passengers was. Would the outcome of the Shoah been different if there had been a Jewish homeland for the Jews of Europe to find refuge? I think so.

After the World War II, little Israel was created on less than 20% of the land the Jews were promised at the end of World War I. No one thought that this tiny island in a sea of hate could survive. Not only has she survived but she has thrived. Whether it be through physical battles or constant attempts to deligitimize her, she continues to flourish. I am proud of her accomplishments. Like all of us, she is not perfect. She has flaws but she seems to do a better job than most countries of condemning her own problems. Obviously I could go on and on about Israel and her successes and failures. Ms. Ragen struck a chord with me. I hope that you come away from her article with greater understanding.

Stephen Rosenthal

Jews are Here to Stay
Hanukkah candles reminder to hostile world that we’re not going anywhere

by Naomi Ragen

Published: 12.11.09, 14:10 / Israel Opinion,7340,L-3818432,00.html

Every single Jew living in the land of Israel is a modern day Macabee. Every Jew who has dared to wrench this re-born homeland from a callous world that would deny us Jews our birthright, while championing the birthrights of every other native people in the world - Tibetans, and Palestinians, and South African Blacks-- is a Macabee.

Every Jew sitting in Israel, surrounded by the overwhelming power and numbers and evil designs of the hostile Moslem world, is a Macabee. With every candle we light – whether we are religious or secular – we celebrate those things that hold us together as a nation: our history and our culture and our faith.

We celebrate that these things have not been erased from the world, and are not now relics behind the glass cases of museum exhibits like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, and Samarians. With every light in our window shining out against the dark night we proclaim: We are still here and our very existence is a stunning victory of the weak against the strong, the many against the few, the just, who love and protect life, against the lawless, who have no respect for life.

With every candle we light, we reaffirm all those things that hold us together as a nation and a people: our stubborn disregard for the forces aligned against us, our rejection of the lies told about us, and our unwavering assertion of our history and our right to take our place as a nation among the nations.

We assert that we are in our homeland, the land that was given to us and which we have inhabited – in lesser or greater numbers - from the time we crossed the Jordan with Joshua. That we, descendants of Abraham and that tribe of desert children born from freed Egyptian slaves, remember who we are despite all efforts to make us forget, to convince us otherwise, to rewrite and defile and deny our history and our rights as a native people living in their native homeland.

We are a unique people
We remember not only what we are, but who we are: the torch-bearers of the precious value of human life. Our agony as a nation over the life of one of its precious sons, our willingness to release those who have murdered us without pity so that that son might return to his family and live, that agony unites us as a nation because it goes to the deepest part of our heritage.

No other nation in the world would even consider such a trade. But we do, because that is who we are, demonstrating that we have not been infected and defiled by the values of other nations. We stand unique in all the world, every single one of us.

Because we are alive at this time and in this place, and we have chosen to spend that life in our homeland despite all the dangers and hardships and sacrifices. Because we are Jews and Israelis and together we light a candle, secular and religious, against the vast darkness of the hostile world.

Because with that candle we proclaim: we are a unique people, and we are here to stay.

Happy Hanukkah

Friday, December 11, 2009

8 Steps to a Geekier Chanukah

This article from about says it all. For Carol and me, it missed one small item. Thanks to technology we were able to light our candles with our children and grandson in Zurich, Switzerland. Dave, Tina and Drew are visiting Deb and Josh. Not quite as good as all being together but still we got to watch each other light the candles and sing the songs together. Of course then we watched Drew open his presents. It was a bit early in Sioux Falls to light candles (we still did it) but just right in Zurich.  I doubt that we are as Geeky as the following article but we are working toward it. I hope that you enjoy the article.

8 Steps to a Geekier Chanukah

LED menorah photo by Windell H. Oskay,, used under CC attribution license.
LED menorah photo by Windell H. Oskay,, used under CC attribution license.
While all of the gentiles (or goyim) are celebrating a holiday where all the gifts are opened at once — after being delivered through the chimney by an overweight icon in a red suit — I’ll be lighting a candle and opening one gift a night. Starting tonight at sundown. That’s right folks, I celebrate Chanukah. Or Hanukah, Hanuka, Hannukah, Hanukkah, Channukah or just חֲנֻכָּה. Basically, the spelling is up in the air as it’s a translation of sounds like any language based on symbols. I like to use Chanukah for some reason, maybe because the CH sound at the beginning forces me to make it sound like a Klingon word.
Now that we’ve established my religious preference (though if my wife would let me I’d convert toPastafarian in a heartbeat) let’s take a look at eight random ways you can make Chanukah as geeky (or at least as fun) as humanly (or robotically) possible whether you celebrate it or not.

8. Light ‘Em Up!

Jewish or not, you probably know that Chanukah is traditionally called “The Festival of Lights” and includes the tradition of lighting the Menorah, one candle a night. How can lighting candles be geeky? Well, even if you’re not sitting in a giant LEGO menorah the lighting of the candles doesn’t have to be boring. You could build your own flamethrower to light the candles, or my personal favorite - just use your craft torch!

7. Plate Full of Latkes

One of the foods consumed (in great quantities in my house) around this time of year are Latkes. Simply put, they are fried potato pancakes. Imagine chopped up french fries, covered in onion rings and deep fried in hot oil. I like a little beer batter on mine. Latkes make the perfect all-night gaming snack, and go great with a Mountain Dew and an 8-hour session of WoW.

6. Everyone Can Sing

Jews don’t just say prayers, we sing them. Seriously. Over the years I’ve learned something — no-one in my family can sing. When reciting the blessings every night while lighting the candles, I cringe. Thanks to the magic of the iPhone and the genius of T-Pain, we have the I am T-Pain iPhone app, so you can simply record the blessing into your iPhone and auto-tune it! Amazing! Also, it can be used for all the other blessings, as well as Nana’s kvetching about how things were when she was young and poor.

5. Chanukah Viewing Party

Similar to the tradition of viewing A Christmas Story over and over and over on Christmas Eve, in my household we like to view Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights every night after we open gifts. It’s a hilarious animated movie that teaches a great lesson to kids about behavior and charity. Recently my brother suggested we add a new film to the Chanukah viewing rotation, for after the kids are in bed. Adam Goldberg’s The Hebrew Hammer. Probably the strangest and most original holiday film ever made. Though I’ve always preferred The Frisco Kid.

4. Go Read Comics

Image from the Wikimedia Commons and used under Creative Commons license.
Stan "The Man" Lee. Image from the Wikimedia Commons and used under Creative Commons license. Excelsior!
It’s well known that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are both Jewish and are responsible for creating a lot of the comic book characters out there. But those guys are real. Here’s a short list of some comic book characters that you may be familiar with that are lighting the Menorah this Chanukah. Except for Magneto, as he was born Jewish but turned his back on religion. Iceman (his mom is Jewish), Marvel Boy (Justice),Microchip (the Punisher’s assistant), Prime and of course, Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde) who wears her faith around her neck.

3. Chanukah Through Music

While we all are familiar with Adam Sandler’s now infamous Chanukah ballads, delighting in naming all the famous Jews and making pot jokes, fellow GeekDad Z helped me compile a list of some other great Chanukah-related music you may not have heard. From nerdcore to TMBG to Sarah Silverman, there is some good stuff here that you can easily find a place to download from (like iTunes, Amazon, etc.) and make yourself the perfect Chanukah mixtape.
Erran Barron Cohen (brother of Sasha) released an album of traditional Chanukah songs called Songs In The Key Of Hanukkah.
A great mashup from DJ Flack called “Dreidl-Bells.”
Senator Orrin Hatch wrote a Chanukah song. Go figure. It’s called “A Melody Fit for a Maccabee.”
A bit of musical comedy from the group Da Vinci’s Notebook (two of whom went on to become Paul and Storm), with their Alice in Chains-inspired cover of “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel.” Wicked.
Music group The LeeVees put out an excellent album of modern Chanukah songs, Hanukkah Rocks. Among the songs are the very funny “At the Timeshare” and “Kugel.”
The Barenaked Ladies holiday album, Barenaked for the Holidays contains some Chanukah songs in that distinctive BNL style. Side note: Their song “Hanukkah Blessings” made it onto Rock Band.
They Might Be Giants also released a holiday EP a couple years back, with one Chanukah song on it, called “Feast of Lights.”
In the chiptune category, 8 Bit Weapon has included a Chanukah song on their new holiday album, It’s a Chiptune Holiday.
Let us also not forget the timeless Christmas Jews album released by the hilarious 2 Live Jews comedy music duo. It’s a contradiction of sorts, since it’s Jews ripping apart Christmas music with some Chanukah songs sprinkled in.
Finally, for your viewing pleasure (though not all safe for the geeklets) there is Sarah Silverman’s “Give the Jew Girl Toys” and the less inappropriate though still classic Kyle Broflovski’s “Lonely Jew on Christmas” ballad.

2. Record It All

As geeks, it’s our duty to get in everyone’s face with the new video camera. It’s our obligation to Twitter while opening gifts. It’s also in our best interest to take hundreds of pictures to then upload to Flickr to share with the world. It is then in our best interest to upload the video to YouTube so your family in another state can see your kids singing the Chanukah blessings as though they were wrought with the spirit of T-Pain. Don’t forget to set up the continuous slide-shows on the digital picture frames scattered throughout the house. But you already knew all that, you do it every weekend.

1. If You Build It, Presents Will Come

Whenever possible, a true geek doesn’t buy it. A true geek builds it. That rule holds for the centerpiece of the Chanukah holiday, the Menorah. For you gentiles, that’s the thing that holds the candles. For the kids, might I suggest a D.I.Y. Menorah kit? Just remember, whatever you build the Menorah out of, try not to make it flammable. Personally, I like a good solid metal one or one made out of old computer parts. If you are feeling lazy however, you can head over to Thinkgeek and buy one made from a motherboard with LED lighting. Pretty. Though if you want to get really hardcore geek with your Menorah, go with the Star Trek Pez LED Menorah. If you think making a Menorah is too tough, then go make a Droidel.
That’s it! So from all of us here at GeekDad have a fun and geeky Chanukah! Hope you get all eight gifts you asked for and more! I know I’m getting a handful of giftcards. L’Chaim y’all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dan Brown's Letter to Scottish Rite

October 6, 2009

Guests of the Southern Jurisdiction,

It is my great honor to be invited to greet you via this letter. I had hoped I might be able to join you in person tonight, but the launch of my novel The Lost Symbol has me far from Washington.

In the past few weeks, as you might imagine, I have been repeatedly asked what attracted me to the Masons so strongly as to make it a central point of my new book. My reply is always the same: “In a world where men do battle over whose definition of God is most accurate, I cannot adequately express the deep respect and admiration I feel toward an organization in which men of differing faiths are able to ‘break bread together’ in a bond of brotherhood, friendship, and camaraderie.”

Please accept my humble thanks for the noble example you set for humankind. It is my sincere hope that the Masonic community recognizes The Lost Symbol for what it truly is…an earnest attempt to reverentially explore the history and beauty of Masonic Philosophy.

Yours sincerely,

Dan Brown

Maybe I better explain who this letter is addressed to first. “Guests of the Southern Jurisdiction,” were the members and guests attending the Southern Jurisdiction of Scottish Rite’s biennial meeting. Scottish Rite is an appendant body of Masonry. You must be a Mason to be a member of Scottish Rite but Masons are not automatically members of Scottish Rite. The Southern Jurisdiction is the national body of Scottish Rite for 35 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining 15 states are members of the Northern Jurisdiction. Dan Brown’s book, The Lost Symbol, is centered on the Southern Jurisdiction and its headquarters, The House of the Temple, in Washington, DC. Mr. Brown was invited to address the biennial meeting and this letter is his response to that invitation.

Having just returned from viewing a presentation and conferring of the 33rd Degree, I feel that it is an appropriate time to comment on Mr. Brown’s letter. I was coroneted a 33rd Degree Mason 12 years ago, and continue to be influenced by the Rite’s commitment to an ethical and moral country and world. Where evil raises its ugly head, this international fraternity works for a better planet. Dan Brown’s letter exemplifies his understanding of what we do.

As a direct response to his letter, I am truly moved by Dan Brown’s “admiration of an organization in which men of different faiths are able break bread together.” I am proud to be an active member of that organization and especially proud of its teaching of toleration. I am proud of its beliefs in trying to make our world a better place to live. Unfortunately, those trying to do good are often attacked as trying to corrupt others. Those who criticize others latch on to a perceived weak link and hammer away trying to break it.

Does Masonry and Scottish Rite Masonry have secrets? Yes. Are they secret organizations? No. Masonic and Scottish Rite Centers freely display their presence. If they were secret, they would not do this. And really what secrets are there when a person with a bit of diligence can learn our secrets on the internet or even the local library. Are powerful people Masons and members of Scottish Rite? Again the answer is yes but not all powerful people are members. You will find powerful people who belong to the Elks, VFW, American Legion, Knights of Columbus and many other civic and fraternal organizations. Are Masons and particularly Scottish Rite Masons trying to run the world? No. Trying to make good people better and the world a better place to live are the goals of many organizations. Masonry works through education about morality and ethics, through charitable giving and just trying to have their members lead exemplary lives. Are there bad Masons? I am certain that there are. As in all walks of life there are bad apples that fall through the cracks

As I stated, I am proud to be a member of this fraternity. I believe that we are working for a moral and ethical world. I hope that I am doing my small part. I do not believe that we are perfect or that we are the only answer to accomplish those ends (see my post on “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” I encourage others in their own way to work for the same goals.

Stephen Rosenthal, 33°

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Miracle in Sioux Falls

I probably should have titled this blog “An American Mommy in Zurich – A Response III,” but what a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend I had. My previous blog post was an article that I took from on Gratitude. Truly, I have so much to be grateful for. I am so fortunate for such a great and loving family with Carol and our 2 children, Dave and Deb, and our other 2 newer children, Josh and Tina. Of course there is that very special grandson Drew. Let’s not forget the newest member of the family, our dog Max and our grand dogs, Stella and Phog. What can I say? They are all healthy, happy and wonderful. To me, they are all extraordinary.

Isn’t there something about a “Miracle” in the title of this post?” Did the sea split? Did the earth open up? Did God deliver us from overwhelming opposition? Is that what it takes to make a miracle? I don’t think so. I cannot remember where I read this but this idea has stuck with me. What are the odds of those random atoms that make up each and every one of us coming together out of all the atoms in the universe? The odds against it are astronomical. The miracle was just us sitting down together and enjoying great food, great company, and great family. Isn’t that truly a miracle? Well it was that way for Drew, Tina, Dave, Max, Phog and me. But also imagine being able to talk and see Carol, Deb, Josh and Stella in Switzerland on a computer. What would Moses have said to that?

Yes, today, we view these as everyday occurrences but it is miraculous. Yes, our Thanksgiving was a miracle just as great as the Ten Plagues or the Sun Standing Still. The best part of it is that it does not happen once and then just end. This miracle continues. Well, I hope that you take a moment and look at all of the miracles around you. You don’t have to come to Sioux Falls to see one, but if you do, like Moses and the Burning Bush, it is there waiting to be seen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratitude - From

How much better life would be if we could all be grateful for all that we are blessed with. Again, being from Aish, it takes a Jewish perspective, but you don't have to be Jewish to understand its message.

Making something of beauty out of what we do have, incomplete as it may be.

by Dr. Alan Morinis

The Mussar teachings on the attitude of gratitude are tough, because they don't let us feel sorry for ourselves, no matter how little we may have. One Mussar master began a talk with a thump on the table and the words, "It is enough that a human being is alive!" Then he ended his talk right there.

There is a story -- maybe an urban legend, but full of truth nonetheless -- concerning the famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. One evening, Perlman was in New York to give a concert. As a child he had been stricken with polio and getting on stage is no small feat for him. He wears braces on both legs and walks with two crutches. Perlman crossed the stage painfully slowly, until he reached the chair in which he seated himself to play.

As soon as he appeared on stage that night, the audience applauded and then waited respectfully as he made his way slowly across the stage. He took his seat, signaled to the conductor, and began to play.

No sooner had he finished the first few bars than one of the strings on his violin snapped with a report like gunshot. At that point Perlman was close enough to the beginning of the piece that it would have been reasonable to bring the concert to a halt while he replaced the string to begin again. But that's not what he did. He waited a moment and then signaled the conductor to pick up just where they had left off.

Perlman now had only three strings with which to play his soloist part. He was able to find some of the missing notes on adjoining strings, but where that wasn't possible, he had to rearrange the music on the spot in his head so that it all still held together.

He played with passion and artistry, spontaneously rearranging the symphony right through to the end. When he finally rested his bow, the audience sat for a moment in stunned silence. And then they rose to their feet and cheered wildly. They knew they had been witness to an extraordinary display of human skill and ingenuity.

"Sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left."

Perlman raised his bow to signal for quiet. "You know," he said, "sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left."

We have to wonder, was he speaking of his violin strings or his crippled body? And is it true only for artists? We are all lacking something, and so we are all challenged to answer the question: Do we have the attitude of making something of beauty out of what we do have, incomplete as it may be?

The Hebrew term for gratitude is hikarat hatov, which means, literally, "recognizing the good." Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours.

If you've lost your job, but you still have your family and health, you have something to be grateful for.

If you can't move around except in a wheelchair but your mind is as sharp as ever, you have something to be grateful for.

If you've broken a string on your violin, and you still have three more, you have something to be grateful for.

When you open up to the trait of gratitude, you see clearly and accurately how much good there is in your life.

When you open up to the trait of gratitude, you see clearly and accurately how much good there is in your life. Gratitude affirms. Those things you are lacking are still there, and in reaching for gratitude no one is saying you ought to put on rose-colored glasses to obscure those shortcomings. But most of us tend to focus so heavily on the deficiencies in our lives that we barely perceive the good that counterbalances them.

There is no limit to what we don't have and if that is where we put our focus, then our lives will inevitably be filled with endless dissatisfaction. This is the ethos that lies behind the great biblical proverb, "Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own lot" (Pirkei Avot 4:1).

When you live charged with gratitude, you will give thanks for anything or anyone who has benefited you, whether they meant to or not. Imagine a prayer of thanks springing to your lips when the driver in the car next to you lets you merge without protest, or when the water flows from the tap, or the food is adequate?

When gratitude is this well established, it is a sign of a heart that has been made right and whole. Gratitude can't coexist with arrogance, resentment, and selfishness. The Hasidic teacher Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, "Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude doesn't much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted."

To what and whom should we feel thankful? In the Torah, when Moses brought the plagues onto Egypt, he wasn't the one who initiated turning the Nile River into blood and bringing frogs from the river. His brother Aaron invoked those plagues. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that since the river had protected Moses when he was an infant, he could not start a plague against it. God was teaching Moses a powerful lesson in gratitude: we can open in gratitude even to inanimate objects.

Whenever Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker Rebbe, replaced a pair of worn out shoes, he would neatly wrap up the old ones in newspaper before placing them in the trash, and he would declare, "How can I simply toss away such a fine pair of shoes that have served me so well these past years!?" I felt the same way when I gave away my 1984 Honda that had ferried me so reliably for 18 years.

The Mussar teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (1872 - 1970) was once talking to a student after prayers, and at the same time was folding up his tallis [prayer shawl]. The tallis was large and he had to rest it on a bench to fold it. After he had finished the folding, Reb Elyah noticed that the bench was dusty, and so he headed out to fetch a towel to wipe it off. The student to whom he was speaking realized what Reb Elyah was doing and ran to get the towel for him. Reb Elyah held up his hand. "No! No! I must clean it myself, for I must show my gratitude to the bench upon which I folded my tallis1."

If we can be grateful to rivers, shoes, cars, and benches, which help us involuntarily, how much more so to human beings who have free will and who help us consciously out of the goodness of their hearts? Or to the mysterious source out of which our lives have come? When Leah, wife of the patriarch Jacob, had her fourth child, she named him "Yehudah," which means, "I am grateful," to reflect her gratitude to God for the gift of another son. The name Yehudah is the source of the Hebrew name of the Jewish people (Yehudim), revealing the very direct tie between Judaism and gratitude.

Gratitude opens the heart and that's why it provides a fine orientation equally to the inanimate, human and divine dimensions of the world.

A simple and effective way to practice gratitude is by making giving thanks part of your everyday life. For example, it is an established Jewish practice to recite 100 such blessings a day. The term for "blessing" in Hebrew is bracha, which comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for "knee." When you say a blessing, it is as if you have bent your knee in an act of gratitude. The habit of saying blessings can remind you to be thankful when you hit a green light, or the salad is fresh, or the garden is getting the rain it needs, or your child came home from school as usual.

Can you see how such a practice might slowly but insistently change your orientation to the world and your life?

1. from Reb Elyah by David Schlossberg, p.121.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Mommy in Zurich – A Response Zwei

While Carol continues on the Grand Tour of Europe, she is obviously too busy to be posting her second week and maybe third week of travels. I just thought I would give a comparison of the costs and benefits of being in the States versus being in Europe.

Benefit .......................................................................Cost
Weekend in Munich .........................................................Expensive
2 days at the Spa ............................................................Very Expensive

Going with Drew to his first
KU Basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Proud Uncle

Media All-Stars 2009

Nov 15, 2009



Starcom USA, Senior VP, Broadcast Activation Director

Clients: Allstate, Bank of America, Hallmark Gold Crown, Nintendo and Kellogg’s

Years in Biz: Joined Starcom in January, 1995

Signature Achievement: Showcased Hallmark’s recordable cards in ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition sixth season

What the Boss Says...Chris Boothe says, “She’s nimble and daring, and she never limits herself to just what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s always out ahead, carrying the torch.”

By Anthony Crupi

In an era of unwieldy titles, Jackie Kulesza may be one of the few agency executives who isn’t dragging a freight train of modifiers in her wake. While overstuffed job descriptions have become the norm, Kulesza’s title befits her forthright manner.

As senior vp, broadcast activation director of the Chicago-based media agency Starcom, Kulesza, 37, places billions of national TV dollars for a roster that includes Allstate, Bank of America, Hallmark Gold Crown, Nintendo and Kellogg’s. Much as she loves the art of the deal—ad sales execs say the mental toughness the media buyer brings to the table is matched only by her equanimity—Kulesza is less concerned with the immediacy of price than in ensuring that her clients’ messages find their way to the right screen, and at the right time.

Take, for example, an integration Kulesza engineered for Hallmark a year ago. As the client was readying the launch of a new line of recordable greeting cards, Kulesza worked out a deal to showcase the novelty offering in the sixth season of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Midway through the Dec. 7, 2008, episode of Extreme Makeover, Hallmark played a part in helping a group of young music students stay in touch with their teacher who suffers from a rare heart condition. Dipping into a box of recordable cards donated by Hallmark, each student created their own greeting, wishing her well and letting her know that she was missed.

“When Ty Pennington and his team begin fixing their house, the family is sent out to Niagara Falls for a vacation,” Kulesza says. “We delivered the cards to them, and she got all choked up. It was a nice moment, and because the integration ran during the holiday season, it hit their sweet spot.”

Which isn’t to suggest that Kulesza is a big softie. Those seated at the other side of the table say the buyer is one of the toughest deal makers in the business. “Jackie is a formidable negotiator, and she’s emerged as one of the agency’s best strategic thinkers,” says Linda Yaccarino, executive vp/COO of Turner Entertainment ad sales/marketing. “She’s tough as nails but fair. Price is critical, but you’re not going to walk away thinking she tried to CPM you to death.”

Besides providing Extreme Makeover with one of its signature Kleenex-depleting moments, the Hallmark integration stands as a prime example of how Kulesza continues to help her clients bust through the cluttered TV space.

This year, Kulesza and her team joined forces with Nickelodeon, taking the wraps off a cooperative research effort on how the recession has affected family spending patterns and consumer-brand relationships. Chief among the study’s findings was the assertion that consumers were beginning to question their long-standing brand loyalties. The joint study also suggested that the drain on dollars has had an impact on media consumption. For example, there has been a significant uptick in co-viewing habits, as reduced entertainment budgets have encouraged parents and kids to watch more television together.

“One of the takeaways is that kids TV is particularly efficient because, for the most part, all the ads are targeted to them. So everything in the pod is relevant,” Kulesza says. “The trouble is, marketers see that there’s more co-viewing and they want to target the parents with their ads for phones and washing machines. And when that happens, as much as you’re bringing in nonendemic business, you’re making the pods less relevant to the kids.”

Shortly after the study wrapped, Nickelodeon began discussing the findings with its clients, which in turn allowed the network to help sponsors fine-tune their messaging. (Starcom and Nick have been crunching the numbers for the last few years; in 2007, Kulesza helped develop a minute-by-minute ratings research initiative that formalized the industry’s currency debate.)

Few buyers have been as proactive in their push for greater accountability. When C3 ratings were established as the coin of the realm, Kulesza characterized the new metric as a stop-gap measure. (At the time, Starcom had already cut a number of deals based on Nielsen minute-by-minute ratings, a far more granular measure than C3.)

Starcom’s quest for heightened accountability was frustrated by the never-ending upfront stare down of 2009. As haggling over price became the primary concern in the summer bazaar, loftier issues were tabled. “We pushed on better data, but we didn’t get very far this time around,” Kulesza says, and even at a remove of a few months, her voice still betrays a note of aggravation. “Having said that, I think conditions are ripe for another debate in 2010.”

Chris Boothe, president and chief activation officer, Starcom, says he expects Kulesza will be “relentless” as she works to elevate the industry standard. “Her desire to continually reinvent herself is what makes Jackie such a terrific leader,” Boothe says. “She’s nimble and daring, and she never limits herself to just what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s always out ahead, carrying the torch.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

Toleration - The Blind Men and the Elephant

With all that is going on both in the area of politics and religion, this poem came to mind. As it is said, “It is an oldie but a goodie.” I hope that you will take a little more time and read my commentary at the end.


John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend,

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

What is wrong with the Human Psyche? What is it that obsesses people to think that everyone else has to think and believe as they do? This poem talks about religion. What is it about religion that members believe that theirs is the only answer. I am going to over simplify here a little. Muslims believe that the only way is through Allah. Christians believe that the only way to Heaven is through Jesus. Jews believe that they are the Chosen People. Having these beliefs would not be so bad except people kill other people who do not believe as they do.
OK, so if you are Muslim, or Christian or Jewish you believe that you have the only answer. But wait a minute. Which denomination is the right one? Shiite Muslims hate and kill Sunni Muslims. Catholic Christians fight with Protestant Christians and vice versa. Orthodox Jews think that Conservative and Reform Jews are blasphemers. Then there are groups within the groups within the groups.

In our Democracy, apparently politics has joined religion in vilifying the opposition. If you do not see the world or important issues as I do, then you must be evil. The Republicans condemn the Democrats and the Democrats condemn the Republicans. What happen to the ideals of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Turn the other cheek.” No we have to have gotcha politics. We have to call the opposition, stupid or evil. They don’t care about this victim or that one that we consider important. Why can’t we just say that we disagree with their message or their proposal? Why can’t we discuss in a civil manner and work for just solutions. I just do not understand.

Like religion, in politics there are groups within groups. Abortion seems to be the topic on both sides that brings out the strongest beliefs. In the Republican Party, if you are not Pro-Life, 1000 percent, you are not a REAL Republican, You are a RINO (Republican in Name Only.) I do not know about different types of Democrats but I remember some prominent Democrat not being allowed to speak at their national convention because that person was not Pro-Choice.

Maybe this blog is just self-justification. I do not know that I am 1000 percent for or against anything in our political or religious world. Take a look at my last blog entry on “Did You Ask a Good Question?” Consider this profound statement at the end of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks article. “Critical intelligence is the gift God gave humanity. To use it in the cause of human dignity and insight is one of the great ways of serving God. When faith suppresses questions, it dies. When it accepts superficial answers, it withers.”

Hopefully we can overcome the necessity to have others see things exactly as we do. Maybe we can find a means to be tolerant. I hope that we can work at understanding each others visions of the world whether it be in religion or politics or both. If we ask questions of one another and are tolerant of other opinions, I expect that we will make the world a better place. If not, we will continue to-
“Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of
US has seen!”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Did You Ask A Good Question Today? - By Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

I found this article from very interesting. Being from Aish, the article takes a Jewish perspective that probably applies to other religions as well. My favorite part is how fundamentalists believe that they have all of the answers while faith is about expanding our understanding.


Judaism is a religion of questions.

by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Isidore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied: "My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, 'What did you learn today?' But my mother used to say, 'Izzy, did you ask a good question today?' That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist."

Judaism is a religion of questions. The greatest prophets asked questions of God. The Book of Job, the most searching of all explorations of human suffering, is a book of questions asked by man, to which God replies with a string of questions of His own.

The earliest sermons usually began with a question asked of the rabbi by a member of the congregation. Most famously, the Passover Seder begins with four questions asked by the youngest child.

So I can identify with Rabi's childhood memories. When I left university and went to Israel to study in a rabbinical seminary, I was stunned by the sheer intensity with which the students grappled with texts. Once in a while the teacher's face would light up at a comment from the class. "Du fregst a gutte kashe," he would say (you raise a good objection). This was his highest form of praise.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski tells of how, when he was young, his instructor would relish challenges to his arguments. In his broken English he would say: "You right! You a hundred prozent right! Now I show you where you wrong."

Religious faith has suffered hugely in the modern world by being cast as naive, blind, unquestioning.

The scientist asks, the believer just believes. Critical inquiry, so the stereotype runs, is what makes the difference between the pursuit of knowledge and the certainties of faith. One who believes in the fundamentals of a creed is derided as a fundamentalist. The word fundamentalist itself comes to mean a simplistic approach to complex issues. Religious belief is often seen as the suspension of critical intelligence.

As Wilson Mizner once put it: "I respect faith. But doubt is what gets you an education." To me, this is a caricature of faith, not faith itself.

Questions testify to faith -- the universe is not impervious to our understanding, life is not chance.

What is the asking of a question if not itself a profound expression of faith in the intelligibility of the universe and the meaningfulness of human life? To ask is to believe that somewhere there is an answer. The fact that throughout history people have devoted their lives to extending the frontiers of knowledge is a moving demonstration of the restlessness of the human spirit and its constant desire to transcend, to climb. Far from faith excluding questions, questions testify to faith -- that the world is not random, the universe is not impervious to our understanding, life is not chance.

That, I suspect, is why Judaism encourages questions. On the phrase: "Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness," Rashi, the 11th-century biblical commentator, says: "This means, with the power to understand and to discern."

Critical intelligence is the gift God gave humanity. To use it in the cause of human dignity and insight is one of the great ways of serving God. When faith suppresses questions, it dies. When it accepts superficial answers, it withers.

Faith is not opposed to doubt. What it is opposed to is the shallow certainty that what we understand is all there is.