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.