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.

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

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

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 1, 2010

Starting the new year with a surprise

Filed under: Family,fun,Good News,Health,life cycle,mitzvot,travel — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 22:27

Now that the surprise has been sprung, I can reveal the details and dispense with the mystery.

This morning I posted a new year’s greeting on Facebook from “an undisclosed location,” predictably prompting some of my friends to make veiled (or not-so-veiled) Dick Cheney jokes, which is what I expected. I couldn’t be more specific, because I was on my way to spring a terrific surprise on some very special people, courtesy of another very special person (I’m surrounded by very special people, can you tell?). Here’s the deal:

My kids have an extra set of grandparents – Grammy Phyllis and Papa Joel – due to the successful transplant of my bone marrow into Phyllis’s leukemia-racked body four years ago. Grammy has been cancer free ever since, and is therefore able to help her husband of nearly 50 years, Joel, celebrate his 70th birthday this weekend. They are, obviously, very special people in our lives.

We were of course invited to the birthday party, but the cost to travel to Florida was so prohibitive as to prevent any of us, even I alone, from attending. Enter the other very special person, our friend Brett. I referred to Joel’s birthday in passing in a conversation with Brett a couple of weeks ago, and before I knew what was happening, he presented me with a ticket to fly to Florida and attend the festivities.

At this point, I realized that it would be way more fun to show up unannounced than to tell Phyllis and Joel I was coming, so I initiated a conspiratorial plot worthy of the best spy novel (OK, maybe worthy of a mediocre spy novel, punctuated by bursts of slapstick and silliness, near-miss almost-spoilers, and other elements only found in a Jewish story). I recruited Grammy & Papa’s son Craig, who in turn enlisted the help of Joel’s brother and sister-in-law. Using a combination of HUMINT (pestering Joel & Phyllis for the name of the restaurant they were all going to dinner at tonight) and SIGINT (text messages), we were able to keep them completely in the dark about my arrival, and the reveal was, as the kids say these days, choice. (Do the kids still say that? It’s a new year, who knows?)

I arrived at the restaurant moments after they sat down, walked up to the table unobserved, and dropped the code phrase, “Do you think you have room for one more?” with devastating effect. They both turned toward me, Phyllis’s jaw dropped (and stayed agape for quite a while), and Joel, recovering rather quickly, threw his arms in the air and got up to hug me. The relatives at the table (all in on the surprise, remember) broke out into cheers and laughter, with Joel’s brother Warren dutifully recording the moment for posterity with a digital camera. (There may or may not have been a reshoot of The Hug at one point, but historians will have to examine the records to determine if anything looks manufactured.)

The rest of dinner was a blur of laughter and conversations of acquaintance (I’d never met Joel’s siblings or Warren’s wife Patti before, so there was a bit of “getting to know you” to get through, made easier by Warren’s interrogatory ways). We then took over Craig’s basement entertainment lounge to watch the first half of the Sugar Bowl, which, with a room full of rabid Gator fans, was a whole lot of fun (final score, Florida 51, Cincinnati 17. Ouch).

Tomorrow night is the big party; I’ll spend the day getting to know Craig and his family, who opened their home to me sight unseen, and hanging out with Grammy and Papa to make my presence as real as possible for the short time I’m here. I return to San Diego on Sunday, and go back to work and the usual routine on Tuesday after a two-week break.

Pulling this off has been incredibly fun. May the rest of the year be as enjoyable and filled with reasons to celebrate.

June 5, 2008

Kaiser Temperamental

Filed under: Family,Good News,Health,Parenting,video — howdoyoujew @ 21:37

There’s that Kaiser joke I was looking for the other day…

Anyway, I realized I forgot to post the proof of my daughter’s cuteness from that visit, so I needed to come back here, and I also got some more information about the reasoning behind her not getting the shot a day early.

First, the cuteness (with apologies for the low quality; I took this with my Treo 650):

Now, the reasoning, which still is irritating but at least makes more sense than the “she might be given an extra shot because no one would know she got this one” explanation I got on Tuesday.
A nurse who heard me talking about Hadarya’s ordeal at the doctor’s office the other day was quick to explain that the CDC monitors vaccinations and levies fines on clinics/doctors that violate the timeline. Thus, it would have cost Kaiser $10,000 if they’d violated the timeline (and gotten caught, I guess). All this is one nurse’s version, of course, and I took it with a dose of salt, but it was certainly more satisfying than the first excuse I heard.

Oh, and the follow-up appointment with the shot today went fine. Barely a flinch, and we’re good until the 2-year physical/checkup.

June 4, 2008

HMO = Hellacious Medical Offerings

Filed under: Family,Health,Parenting,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 21:16

OK, that was a stretch, but I couldn’t come up with a good Kaiser joke. I just need to vent my frustration at the situation I encountered yesterday when I took Hadarya for a physical and vaccination appointment.

Now, I’ll begin by saying that we love Hadarya’s pediatrician. Dr. S is a sweet, caring professional who takes her time with us and seems genuinely enamored with our little girl. Unfortunately, she works for an organization that is peopled with automatons blindly following rules and regulations and apparently at the mercy of the computer system they so proudly inaugurated within the last year or so. See, we made this appointment a couple of months ago to make up for the 18-month checkup we missed because Hadarya was sick, and the automaton who made the appointment had access to all our previous visits, of course. We are first-time parents, so there was no way for us to know that the second Hep A shot Hadarya needed had to be given at least six full months after the first one. Kaiser staff who work in the pediatrics department, on the other hand, should presumably be informed of this fact, yet our appointment was set for a date exactly one day short of this six-month period. Thus it was that after checking Hadarya out and giving her a clean bill of health, the doctor informed me that we were early and she was so sorry.

Did I mention that all this was happening between 8 & 10 in the morning, meaning that I was missing work?

She went on to say (in between further apologies) that Hadarya could, in fact, get the shot, but that the computer system wouldn’t register the early shot and that someone might try to give Hadarya another Hep A booster after the six-month mark passed. I was so flabbergasted and pissed about the one-day error, that it didn’t occur to me until after I made another appointment for later in the week and left the medical offices to argue with this absurd line of illogic. How, exactly, with me (and, by extension, Jenn) knowing that Hadarya got her shot already, would someone else give it to her again without our knowledge or consent? It’s not like she takes herself to these appointments. Yes, she’s developmentally advanced, but even we don’t think she’s THAT precocious.

I honestly got more angry with myself after I left the medical offices than I had been at the system. I was mad for not standing up for myself and my innocent daughter, to whom I’d given a prophylactic dose of Tylenol to help ease the anticipated pain of the shot and who would now have to go through another doctor’s office visit, with all the inconvenience that entailed for all of us. I was mad that I yet again allowed myself to be cowed by the arbitrary authority of someone in a white coat, while I find myself able to rail against all sorts of authority when not faced with it directly.

Yeah… I guess that’s it: I felt like a wimp, and that made me mad, because that’s the last thing a father wants to feel like, no matter how old his little girl is.

May 20, 2008

Punchline looking for a joke

Yeah, yeah, so I’m a parent now, so that’s supposed to make me all “mature” and “grown up” and blahblahblah?!

HA!

We took our daughter to the doctor yesterday, as she’s had a rash on her torso for several days that turned out NOT to be heat rash; she also displayed a decreased appetite over the last couple of days and was sneezing a lot, so we thought it was time. The nice people at Kaiser agreed it was time, but exactly WHAT time was still a matter of some argument (they gave me a 7:15 PM appointment, neglecting to mention that it was actually a 7:30 appointment and that they ask you to check in 15 min. ahead of time. Really? My daughter is 19 months old and we’ve made every appointment the same way for the last year and a half; I KNOW about the 15 min. rule, jackass. Thus we were at the clinic 30 minutes early instead of just 15, and the doctor still didn’t come in until after 8 PM, but who’s counting?).

Anyway, our angelic daughter again behaved perfectly and amazingly well for a toddler well past her bedtime and in a foreign environment, and when the doc (a very nice man with three names AND a roman numeral after his name!) finally checked her out, he quickly (after a peek at her rash and down her throat) diagnosed “hand, foot and mouth disease.”

I’ll let that sink in.

This is the same girl who’s had not one, but TWO perforated eardrums in the last month or so, as well as a bout of roseola. She can’t just get a common cold. No, she has to pick up the virus that sounds a lot like the one that causes Mad Cow Disease (it’s not the same; I’m just sayin’…).

The doc gave us this news with the sort of demeanor that kept me somewhat calm despite myself. He said it’s a viral infection and will go away by itself. Then he identified the virus by its official name, and I… well, I immediately knew I’d be blogging about it, for one thing.

Coxsackie.

Come on! Really?! Cock-sacky?

Now I don’t want to make fun of historically significant place names (OK, maybe I do, but let that go for a minute), and I understand that it’s derived from a Native American term, but there are limits to my restraint, people! I’m only human.

It strikes me that my generation of geeks is going to run into this more and more – life situations that make us giggle inwardly (or out loud) because of some pop culture association we make with an otherwise innocuous word, phrase, or visual. For me, it’ll usually be a Monty Python scene or line that’ll come up, or something from HHGTTG, Star Wars, or one of the other big- or little-screen or hardbound companions from my childhood/adolescence. But other times, like last night at the doctor’s office, it’ll just be a silly-sounding word that’ll make me turn into one of the boys from South Park, forever laughing at bathroom humor.

Coxsackie.
Coxsackie.
CoxsackieCoxsackieCoxsackie.

Heh.

January 9, 2008

Interesting stuff I’ve read in the last couple of days

Filed under: education,entertainment,funny,Health,Life Online,News,random,technology — howdoyoujew @ 14:52

1. A terrific profile of Melinda Gates from CNNMoney.com/Fortune. My favorite snarky moment:

She made valedictorian and got into Notre Dame. But Notre Dame did not get her. When she and her dad visited, she recalls, officials at the university told them that “computers are a fad” and that they were shrinking the computer science department. “I was crushed,” Melinda says. Duke, which was expanding in computer science, got her instead.

2. Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people. Dogs with guns kill people.

November 29, 2007

Adjusting

Filed under: Family,Health,Parenting,travel — howdoyoujew @ 21:25

Last time we traveled to the east coast with Hadarya, in March, we kept her pretty much on west coast time, which prevented shifting back when we went home. At that time, naps weren’t as important, and she was sleeping through the night really well, so it worked out great.

This time, her schedule is important, and we’re out here for five days, and today (the first day) was weird. It’s as if she really knows we traveled far enough for her to say up on local time to make it easier on us overnight, but it certainly didn’t seem that way for me, since I didn’t sleep much on our redeye flight out here last night.

What I’m saying is, I’m tired, you know?

November 22, 2007

On giving back, giving thanks, and not giving up

We got up bright and early this morning to walk 5K in downtown San Diego to raise money for Jewish Family Service and the San Diego Food Bank. Felt good. Ran into many people we know, and saw the power of grassroots passionate politics in action: two Ron Paul supporters I saw walked the entire route with extra promotional material showing their allegiance.

One carried a “Ron Paul – Hope for America” preprinted cardboard sign, raised in his right hand, the whole length of the walk/race, during parts of which he faced runners coming the other way. A few people offered cheers in response as they ran by, and one lady came up to him and asked him who Ron Paul was while I was walking next to him. In my opinion, he got into way too much technical detail and talked too much, and possibly lost the lady by the time she managed to extricate herself and walk on, but that’s the risk you take with a candidate who doesn’t have a well-oiled campaign spin machine with professionally distributed talking points, etc. This guy turned out to be a very recent convert to the cause (like one month ago recent), which also explains the rusty preaching. If it were me, the spiel would be something like:

  • He’s a strict constitutionalist
  • He’s the most principled, honest, straightforward congressman on the Hill
  • He wants to end the war in Iraq/bring the troops home immediately
  • He wants to reduce the size and power of the federal government, and
  • He wants to increase and protect your personal freedoms and liberty (by, among other things, repealing the Patriot Act)

But that’s just me. I’m not even sure I’m going to vote for the guy.

The second supporter ran the entire race while towing a Radio Flyer wagon plastered and stacked with Ron Paul stickers and signs. I didn’t talk to him, but seeing both these guys was eye-opening. No other candidate was visible in the race – I don’t recall ANY t-shirts, let alone anything more visible like what these guys did. It’s amazing to me how passionate Dr. Paul‘s supporters are, and it makes me sad that the entire electorate doesn’t share this passion.

Most people vote for one of two reasons, I think: 1) for convenience (how I used to vote), or 2) for who they think will win, as long as the candidate is within a very broad margin of where the voter’s interests lie. I decided several years ago to stop voting for convenience and start voting my conscience. I’ve thus technically “wasted” my vote a few times, voting for libertarian and other independent and other party candidates who have very little chance of winning the seats they’re running for. But I recognized at the time I made this decision that my vote is not really wasted – in fact, I’m getting more value out of my vote than most people, because… I was going to say because I can sleep at night, but I’m sure most other people don’t have sleeping problems based on their voting record, mostly because they’re too complacent and content to feed on the bullshit that the political machine and mainstream mass media feed them. They also probably think that, in the few cases where they actually do care about something and it’s not going the way they want, they can’t make a difference, so they don’t try, and resign themselves to the status quo. I want to raise my daughter to be a true critical thinker with advanced analytical skills applicable to all aspects of life, and to always know that she CAN, in fact, make a difference, so I will not be one of the mindless masses meandering about making do with meaningless materiality.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the 5K walk… Anyhow, after that we went home and all three of us took a nice nap, then got our day going getting ready for the family-and-friends feast at the Meltzers’, which didn’t disappoint. Among the highlights of the afternoon/evening was finally meeting and getting to know Rav Menashe East and his wife (and their adorable infant daughter). We’ll be spending a considerable amount of time next summer with them in Israel, so it was good (not surprising, but still good) to discover they’re cut from the finest quality menschlichkeit cloth.

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