How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

August 21, 2017

Has the day come?

Filed under: Family,history,Israel,News,Politics,religion,travel — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 17:44

For the second time in about a week, I’m sharing something written by my friend and teacher, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, which pretty perfectly encapsulates and captures my feelings and reaction to the current political and social climate in the United States and beyond. It bears mentioning that I have had no illusions about our situation since the fall, before the election, and of course well before the horrible events of the last couple of weeks. The fact is that on Nov. 9, 2016, I downloaded and completed the forms needed to obtain my American-born kids their Israeli passports. Just in case.

Watching Charlottesville From Jerusalem

February 19, 2016

I Won a Grammy

Filed under: children,Family,Good News,Health,life cycle,mitzvot,Parenting — howdoyoujew @ 18:32

And I bet you didn’t even know I could sing or produce records or anything. Well, I can’t and I don’t, but anyway my Grammy was way better, if only slightly taller, than the award they give out.
I found out about my Grammy, Phyllis Hersch, the way I’ve heard people find out about winning the Nobel Prize, from a phone call at an odd hour that originally went to an old number then got forwarded. I was told that I was nominated as a potential bone marrow match for a patient with some kind of leukemia, and would I mind getting tested to see if I was a true match. I barely remembered signing up for the National Marrow Donor Program (Be The Match) several years earlier while in grad school, at a random student registration drive on campus.
Probably about 10 days after that initial inquiry, I was told I was a winner perfect match! Then followed a few weeks of vetting, getting my bona fides checked out, and being asked about a thousand times if I was SURE I was willing to go forward and donate and did I remember that I could back out at any time. At this point all I knew about the patient was that she was a she who was 63 years old. That made her about the same age as my own parents, which made it logical that she had grown kids, probably grandkids (I was late starting a family, that didn’t mean everyone else was), and therefore it was clear I would do this. If I had even a chance to give someone a little extra time with her family, who was I to deny it? Based on the high accuracy of the match, it was also likely that she was Jewish, which made it that much more of a mitzvah.
I did a little acupuncture to prepare my body, had the surgery, and eagerly awaited the tiniest bit of news that trickled in over the next several months. First the transplant grafted, which was good. Then nothing for a while, then a general “she’s doing OK” message. Finally, as the mandated year for keeping the identification of donor and recipient confidential from each other neared its end, I called the NMDP and authorized them to release my information to the recipient and her family.
As I remember it, it was the day after the year was up that I got the phone call from the Grammy herself. We talked for quite a while that first time, exchanging information about our respective families, finding out wonderful shared joys like her birthday being the same day as my wedding anniversary, and trying to figure out how we were now related. I implored Phyllis not to take up a life of crime, since we now shared the same DNA and I wasn’t ready to take the fall for her (did I say I’m not a singer? I’m also not a genetic scientist).
Less than a year after that first phone call, I became a father for the first time, and less than a year after that Grammy and Papa came to visit and celebrate life and love with us in San Diego. In the subsequent decade, we saw each other a few more times (one or two planned occasions and one surprise visit), spoke numerous times, and shared loads of family simchas (mostly by mail, Internet, phone, etc.). Births on our end, bar and bat mitzvahs on theirs, and grown-up birthdays all around. I reminded my kids over and over how lucky they were to have an extra set of grandparents, and Grammy and Papa never failed to pick the perfect birthday and Chanukah presents even for kids they’d never met.
Grammy Phyllis is gone now, but it is all that time over the last 11 years that I’ll continue to draw strength from. All that love, all that life.

May 2007, Children's Pool

May 2007, Children’s Pool


Santee, CA 2007

Santee, CA 2007


Shot on Coronado

Shot on Coronado


At Heaven Sent Desserts, North Park, San Diego

At Heaven Sent Desserts, North Park, San Diego

October 8, 2015

Like it was yesterday

Filed under: children,Family,Good News,history,life cycle,Parenting — howdoyoujew @ 06:29

I remember laying awake in bed the night that our daughter came home from the hospital. She was in a bassinet at the foot of our bed, and Jenn said something like “What if she stops breathing and we can’t hear her?!”

What was I worried about? Boyfriends. College tuition bills. The overwhelming responsibility of raising a decent human being.

And here we are, 9 years later. I’m still worried about all those things, but I’m confident that we’re heading in the right direction. At least as far as the decent human goes.

newborn baby held by father

This was shot by my amazingly talented sister the day H came home from the hospital

baby sleeping next to father

Peaceful, easy feeling

closeup of baby face

Those eyes are still amazing

December 17, 2011

Count your blessings

Tonight I get to go to sleep in my own bed, next to my wife, my only concern being how soon one of my children will wake up and need some attention (at worst, we’re talking a couple of times overnight, none of which are likely to kill me).

Meanwhile, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Grammy Phyllis lays in a hospital bed, her body ravaged by a ruthless disease and bombarded by the medications the world’s greatest medical minds have devised to fight that disease.

I have a long post in my head about how I came to share my lifeblood with Grammy and her family, but I still need to flesh it out. For now, a bit over 24 hours before my stem cells are infused into her body, I’ll ask that you pray for her health (or, if prayers aren’t your thing [I’m looking at you, Jon], send healing thoughts and vibes her way). Take your inspiration from this epic piece of artwork which I commissioned from the oh-so-talented Ethan Nicolle. That’s me on the left, joining forces with Axe Cop (background, Episode 1) to rid humanity of the Big C once and for all. Wish us (and Grammy Phyllis) luck.

Me & Axe Cop ready to kick cancer's ass

Original, 1-of-a-kind commissioned piece of art featuring me and Axe Cop

January 11, 2011

Those Were The Days

Filed under: children,Family,fun,funny,Israel,Parenting,random — howdoyoujew @ 11:13

My beautiful, talented daughter had some time to create original art on Sunday. While I was doing something (monumentally important, I’m sure) she brought me this picture of “Ima’s house when she was little.” Lovely, right? We’ve been to that neighborhood, and this ain’t a bad representation, actually, not that she was trying for realism.

Jenn's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked H if she’d draw my house from when I was a kid, and she was only too happy to oblige (this may have been her first commissioned work):

Aba's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked about the green figure with the glasses (as if I didn’t know) and got confirmation that it is, indeed, me. Then I asked,
“Did anyone else live with me when I was little?”
H: “Your parents, but they’re inside the house!”

The “Well, duh” remained unspoken, but I’m sure she was thinking it.

July 26, 2010

Pre-school profundity

I had a profound, important conversation with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Sunday evening.

We were visiting the home of a congregant from our synagogue for shiva minyan, the service held in a house of mourning. The friend (T), himself well past middle age, had just lost his mother (she was in her 90s). Since we had made plans to go to the service, we were able to tell H about it earlier in the day. We covered a few salient points, including the fact that we were going to T’s house because his mother had just passed away (Jenn’s choice of words)/died (mine) and he was sad, and one of the things you can say is, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Once we were there, H was terrific. She has attended Shabbat services with us essentially since she was born, so she’s very familiar with the basic liturgy, and she also had some friends there (the Rabbi’s kids) so she wasn’t bored.

The really interesting conversation began when she noticed a mirror completely covered with paper towels and asked me about it. I answered that it was a Jewish tradition to cover the mirrors in a house of mourning for a week after a person dies. When prompted, I repeated the explanation a couple of times, then she explained it to me with the brilliant circular logic pre-schoolers are so good at (something to the effect of “The mirrors are covered because they’re covered”).

She then asked, “Why do we say, ‘I’m sorry’?” Picking up on her confusion, I explained that we are not saying “sorry” as an apology (her frame of reference for that word) but as a way to show the person that we understand they’re sad because someone they love has died – that they’ve “lost” this person. She made a couple of comments about how our friend’s mother wasn’t sick any more (true enough), and then pulled out the crowning glory of the evening’s conversation, “Everybody dies, but some people are alive.”

I was a bit ferklempt at the end there.

Oh, by the way: this entire dialogue happened while she was sitting on the throne, going potty.

June 20, 2010

I love it when a plan comes together

I just successfully upgraded my WordPress installation, which powers this blog, to the latest version (3.0, called Thelonius – see the complete list of major WP releases, all named for jazz musicians). I did this with nary a bump, very few changes in settings, and everything seems to be right.

My first activities with the new version was changing the theme of the site (the look & feel theme, not the content theme) to WP’s default for this version, called Twenty Ten, then changing the header image that appears on each page. While the default image is nice, I wanted 1) to test the waters and modify something and make sure it worked, and 2) to personalize the site imagery. To that end, you’re currently enjoying a (cropped) view of the Brandeis Bardin Institute, home of BCI, the summer camp for Jewish young adults that I attended as a camper (’95) then returned to as an advisor/counselor (’98). This small image hardly does the place justice, but it’s indicative and evocative of the campus’s beauty. I’ll write and talk more about this place another time.

For now, I’m going to call it a night. The plan for tomorrow is to begin documenting my participation with a good friend in The Jonah Project.

Edited on 6/23 to change post title. Because I can.

February 5, 2010

Shabbat shalom x2

Starting off the weekend right with a couple of outstanding drashot from two of my favorite rabbis:
First, again, is Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple in LA, whose weekly Off The Pulpit I’ve mentioned before – it’s consistently inspirational and thought-provoking (I’m including the sign-up information at he bottom so you can subscribe too):

Yearning to Learn

By Rabbi David Wolpe

Knowing where to find information is not the same as possessing it. Each fact we learn is arranged in the matrix of all we already know. One who knows how to Google “Shakespeare sonnets” cannot be compared to the one who has memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets. The latter carries the words with him. The former is an accountant of knowledge; he knows where the treasure is, but it does not belong to him.

Real education instills a desire for knowledge, not merely the tools to acquire it. We are shaped by what we know and what we yearn to know. The Talmud tells us that as a young man Hillel was so desperate for words of Torah that he climbed on the roof of the study house to hear the discourses of his great predecessors, Shemaya and Avtalion. Noticing the darkness, they looked up and saw the young man on the skylight, covered with snow. The rabbis rescued Hillel, washed and anointed him, and sat him by the fire.

“If you want to build a ship,” wrote Antoine de Saint Expury, “don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.” First teach children to love learning; the web will wait.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Closer to home is my dear Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, who co-officiated at my wedding and continues to be a valued spiritual leader and guide. The Mi Shebeirach prayer is on my mind and my lips a lot these days, so this is particularly poignant and meaningful for me:

Dear Friends:

I meet with our Abraham Ratner Torah School students one Wednesday a month. We usually meet in our Goodman Chapel. This month I introduced them to a new addition to our chapel, the Mishebeirach tapestry that was fashioned from the creative contributions of many members of our Sisterhood and congregation.

This fabrication of this tapestry was the brainchild and labor of love of Sharyl Snyder. Sharyl had seen a similar tapestry on display on Temple Emanu-El and thought we should have one as well. Our Mishebeirach tapestry enlivens our chapel with its very personal artwork and stands as a reminder to all who are ill or in pain that they are not alone. At Tifereth Israel Synagogue they are a member of a community that cares and prays for them.

I asked the students to find the multiplicity of Jewish symbols on the tapestry. They correctly identified many of them and shared how they thought creators of each square expressed their care and concern for those who are ill.

I also used the introduction of the Mishebeirach tapestry to explain to our students the Mishebeirach prayer we say each morning at our daily minyan and on Shabbat (“May the One who blessed our ancestors…send healing to…”).

On the spur of the moment I also said the prayer with them and asked them to share the names of their relatives and friends who were ill and pray for their recovery. It was very quiet during our prayer and I found myself surprised by how it had turned our learning into a spiritual and sacred experience.

That same evening we talked about the Mishebeirach prayer at a meeting of our Ritual Committee. We all expressed the same thought: we all believed that our communal prayers for those who are ill are efficacious and powerful even though we are not sure how they work.

The next time you are in the synagogue, please stop by the chapel to see the new Mishebeirach tapestry. I also invite you to find as many Jewish symbols as you can and try to discover their relationship to Jewish healing and life. You may also want to use the opportunity to say your own prayer for those you love who are suffering or in pain.

Even though your prayer does not guarantee that those who are suffering will be healed, I am confident that their burden will be eased by your caring.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
San Diego, CA
rabbi@tiferethisrael.com

Hope these words help you have a truly peaceful and meaningful Shabbat.

January 31, 2010

We must be doing something right.

Earlier this evening, after a terrific day that started with our amazing music class with the fabulous Ms. Laura and continued with a fantastic get-together with our awesome chavurah (including you, Bernsteins! See you soon!) at Fanuel St. Park, my beautiful 3-year-old daughter, of her own volition, helped clear our dishwasher (she did about half of the top rack while I was on the phone). I briefly thanked her, but I owe her a bigger show of gratitude tomorrow (for the help in the kitchen and for the fact that she was asleep before 8 PM).

It made me think of this beautiful drash by R’ David Wolpe that I received just the other day as part of his Off The Pulpit series (highly recommended subscription; some of the drashot are even shorter than this one, but they’re always thought-provoking, often profound, and ever relevant; I’m including the signup info at the bottom so it’s easy for you):

For My Daughter

By Rabbi David Wolpe

This past Shabbat I had the great joy of addressing my daughter on her Bat Mitzvah. I pointed to the phrase in her parasha (Torah portion), “… a night of watching.” (ex. 12:42) It occurs twice in the Bible, both times in the same sentence. The first time it refers to God’s watching; the second to the Israelites watching.

What were the Israelites watching? It was the eve of redemption and they had to protect their children as plagues ravaged Egypt. Parents do many things — we dream and disappoint; we hope, we advise, we criticize, we draw close, we puzzle, we praise. But mostly, we watch. We watch as our children grow and change. We watch as they listen to our stories and create their own stories. We watch as they become not who we plan for them to be, but who they truly are; as they step from our vision into God’s.

My wife very beautifully said that when she looks into my daughter’s eyes she sees not just where she is, but all the phases of her life. The parallelism in the verse makes sense: as God watches us, when we see a child flourish, we get a glimpse of God.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Author’s note: Yes, I’m very aware of how long and full of adjectives the first sentence of this post is. It’s MY blog. I’m my own editor, and that’s how I like it.

January 19, 2010

This evening.

Filed under: Family — howdoyoujew @ 22:15

Note: We are all fine.

1. If, while a passenger in a motor vehicle, you ever find yourself in a position to have a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck hop into your lap, say, “No, thank you!”

2. If you fail to follow the above advice, be prepared to become much better acquainted with your liquor cabinet.

Take it from me, I know.

OK, the Dodge didn’t actually end up IN my lap, but it sure was trying. We had a very slow-speed meeting with one early this evening on the way home from work/school. Totally his fault, and nobody was hurt physically. Our car, our beautiful brand new and BIG and SAFE Honda Pilot Touring 4WD, is already at the body shop waiting for business hours tomorrow (the body damage is relatively minor, but the front right wheel, where the impact occurred, is seriously out of alignment). If this had happened a couple of months ago, before we acquired this lovely example of automotive engineering, the result of the meeting might have been very different. If we’d been just a few feet farther along in the parking lot where the meeting occurred, the result might have been very different.

But it didn’t, and we weren’t, so we’re all fine. The kids are snug in their beds, I’m comfortably self medicated (Redbreast: Meh. Oban: Yay!), and paperwork and legwork can wait until tomorrow.

I wonder if we have any ice cream in the house…?

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