Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Beginning of the End, 2600 Years Ago

A year and a half before the summer of 586 BCE was the winter of 588/587 BCE. Precisely 2600 years later, taking into account that there was no year zero, is the winter of 2013/2014. In other words, it's a century marker for Asarah b'Tevet.

I wonder if it was as snowy back then. The snow, of course, being one reason I didn't post this on time. :-)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's kind of weird: In the run-up to the release of the latest jobs report, there were articles saying things like, "Waiting to see how much the shutdown affected the job market." Now, we all know that the effect should be diddly-squat. But clearly, the apologists were laying the groundwork for excusing yet another bad report.

And the report was released, and lo and behold, it wasn't so bad. (This is the new normal. We expect bad and are delighted at less-than-bad.) Admission of guilt from the MSM? Of course not! "Economy dodged bullet" or some such nonsense became the theme instead.

Touching History

I've written about this before, but more happened this year, or at least I learned more, so here is the story I posted to Facebook. A bit of credit due to the "anonymous" commenter on the original post, as will be seen:

In 1898, Mrs. Imam Sassoon of Bombay commissioned a Sefer Torah, to be written in Baghdad on deerskin and enclosed in an ornate silver case. It eventually made its way to the Old City of Jerusalem and Yeshivat Porat Yosef.

In 1948, the Old City was taken by the Jordanians and the yeshiva was destroyed. This Sefer Torah caught the eye of a soldier, however, and it was spared, winding up in the palace of King Abdullah (great-grandfather of the current king of the same name).

The next year, Golda Meir was in the palace for secret talks along with another Foreign Ministry representative, Eliyahu Sassoon, and they were shown the Torah by the king. They convinced the king that it wasn't right to hold a Sefer Torah hostage (see Shmuel Aleph, Chapter Five  ) and he let them take it back with them. (Only then did Sassoon realize that it had been commissioned by his own great-grandmother.) It was donated to the Beit Knesset of then-Chief Rabbi Herzog, and ended up in the Judaica museum of Heichal Shlomo, then the seat of the Chief Rabbinate, where it remains until today.

The Beit Knesset in which I daven every morning (and layn) is in Heichal Shlomo, and once a year that Sefer Torah is taken downstairs and read from our Bimah. I've been waiting for the day since I first saw it happen over a year ago, and sure enough, they brought it down today. Some people from the museum brought in the Torah and joined us for tefilla, the security guard (who I knew was a real shutterbug) took pictures, and a curator gave a short talk before I read from the Torah.

It's funny: You approach something with that sort of history, at first, with a sense of awe, not even wanting to get too close. By the time you've spent five minutes with it, it's like an old friend, and you're handling it (always respectfully, of course) like the Sifrei Torah with which you're much more familiar. But the awe remains as you look at it, read the pesukim ("Hashem Yilachem Lachem" is one on the case itself, for some reason, prophetically enough) and dedications engraved on it, and think of its story.

I said I waited for the Torah's re-appearance this year. Forgive me for anthropomorphizing, but I get the feeling the Sefer Torah itself waits for this day all year as well. I'm honored we shared in the simcha.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

שלשלת הדורות

The aron hakodesh (and matching bimah) in my beit knesset are originally from Padua; they were built for the Sephardi Beit Knesset there in the early 1700's and brought to Israel along with many other Italian aronot (and, sometimes, complete batei knesset) in the 1950's. (The Padua community wrote a beautiful letter to accompany it; scroll down to see it and click to enlarge.)

It's an extremely impressive work of art in and of itself- the Ramchal, who was rav in Padua when it went up, was inspired to write a whole book and poem on it when he saw it. (That first painting is by Yitzhak Holtz, an artist and one of our mitpallelim, a Levi who regularly washes my hands.) It's held up very well over the years and remains magnificient; the whole shul, in fact, including its more modern elements- not to mention its wonderful members- is very nice indeed, and regularly awes visitors who've just stopped in for Mincha.

In any event, the aron has an elaborate fence, wrought iron with gold leaf, around the duchan. And every now and then, as I turn around to begin my bracha, my tallit catches on that fence. (Mostly Shabbat, for some reason- maybe because my Shabbat tallit is newer and has more puffy fringes, or maybe because the tekhelet strings on that one are quite long. Or maybe because I'm the Shaliach Tzibur almost every weekday. :-) Or, most likely, because there are many more kohanim on Shabbat, so I'm closer to the railing.)

It can be a bit annoying, especially when I'm trying to raise my hands to deliver the bracha and physically can't because my tallit is literally holding me down. And annoyed I was for the first few times, until a nice thought came to me: I bet the kohanim back in the mid-1700's had the same problem. I like connecting to previous generations that way.

By the way, check out that tekhelet link. I'm supposed to be the YU liason, whatever that means, but I'll enjoy it whatever my role.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Yamim Noraim, in more ways than one

I love reading between the lines of articles, I said to the spouse this morning as we strolled down the street together:
Anita Bürgler, a 43-year-old Swiss kite-surfing fanatic, chose this resort town on the Strait of Gibraltar to spend her first-ever Spanish holiday. She heard it has some of the strongest winds in Europe.
In Tarifa, she found the wind-swept coastline that she expected. It might have been just a bit crowded for her taste. The shore is, she said last week, "just very busy, with too many other surfers to really enjoy myself."

So she and her 45-year-old partner, Urs Baur, who also had never vacationed in Spain, spent much of their two-week holiday enjoying other activities that included whale watching, hiking and a day trip to the picturesque town of Ronda.
And so Europe dies. (I won't spell it out.) There are some who say God is taking revenge. For now, I just find it interesting and a bit scary.

Some observations from Rosh Hashana:

-The beit knesset put up their white parochet for the season. After birkat kohanim, I noticed it was dedicated in honor of a bar mitzvah 1972. Wow- he's 54 years old now.

-Putting two "missable" lines (Zachrenu and Mi Kamocha) before the required one (HaMelekh) may not have been deliberate, but it's a stroke of genius nonetheless- it helps you remember the last. Of course, I know that I'll mess up continually for a week, only to start doing it automatically next Sunday. Thirty days? Ha!

(I must add that putting HaMelech HaMishpat halfway through is also smart- that way you might realize you missed the previous change before you finish the whole thing.)

Thursday, August 08, 2013


Interesting calculation I made: The general custom is to sound the shofar one hundred times on each day of Rosh Hashana, except for Shabbat. (OK, our shul blows it a few more times, but let's talk generally.) In addition, we blow it on two other occasions, in both cases four times: Every weekday morning of Elul, starting yesterday, and at the end of Yom Kippur.

Now, Elul has 29 days. We don't blow the shofar on the last day, leaving 28. In any 28-day period, there will be four Shabbatot, so we blow it on 24 days in Elul. (The last day of Elul can never be Shabbat, so all four Shabbatot will be in the 28-day blowing period.) Add Yom Kippur for the 25th day, multiply by four, and you get...another hundred, exactly. Interesting.

Stay tuned for...oh, I don't know: My calculation of how many times, exactly, we hit our chests on Yom Kippur. :-)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31!

Wow! Less than ten minutes left in the month and I haven't posted! Well, it's been a busy time. The big birthday was today- multiple of 19, Hebrew/English nearly aligned- and my parents reminded me it's been 25 years since my bar mitzvah. (I actually was having fond thoughts of my bar mitzvah rebbe this week. Hopefully I can post more about him soon.) It's been a great week- layning on Shabbat, a karaoke party Sunday, a wedding Monday, a show Tuesday, and finally, today, after many great Facebook wishes and phone calls, a birthday buddy's party. (I discovered yet another one today- I have at least three, not counting Harry Potter and his creator.) All shared with my most excellent spouse, which only makes it all the better.

That's all for now, and let's all have a great year!

Friday, June 07, 2013

"since he was Scottish (and at least slightly crazy)"

A day late, I'm watching Reagan's famous D-Day speech. That reminds me that I've been long delinquent in posting these two obituaries for the late Bill Millin. I especially recommend the very end of the first link.

Here are two clips portraying him in The Longest Day. (Yes, that's Sean Connery.) The title of this post is from the article on Cracked.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One thing I'll say about the Jerusalem light rail- it's keeping fresh my old skill, gained in the NYC subway, of being able to stand on a moving train without holding on.

A few nights back I was on a bus instead, coming back from a fascinating trip to Tel Aviv. (See Facebook for details.) A lanky American-accented soldier was showing his papers to the driver to get his free (really paid for by the IDF) ride- maybe he was too fresh a recruit to have the ID- and the driver was a bit skeptical. Finally, the soldier say down behind him. The charedi-ish man next to him- also American- began offering to pay. "I don't want you to get in trouble." "I won't, really. I can pay if I have to, trust me." They went back and forth a bit, the soldier thanking the other man before he got off. Nice.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Sky Is Falling!

You have to love the second item here. (Item number 4 as listed.) Science is beginning to catch up to how, whoa, the planet has not warmed in twenty years. But not to worry! Not only do they have a handy-dandy explanation for it that still manages to blame us poor humans (never mind that print has been going out for only five or ten years or so), they're able to spin it into yet another pending disaster! I guess just as everything was due to "global warming" (and, of course, our fault), so too global cooling is our fault (actually, I see it's already on that list), and it's going to be a doozy.

Don't these people ever get tired? No, I guess not.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


We live across the street from Restobar, formerly Cafe Moment, which eleven years ago today was the site of a suicide bombing which killed eleven and injured 54. Walking past it tonight, we saw a memorial underway: The parents of the victims made a special frame for eleven candles bearing their childrens' pictures. The waiters were all standing alongside; being bareheaded, some were covering their heads with their hands, others with improvised "kippot" made out of napkins.

Hanoch Teller once wrote a story in which a character explains that the phrase "HaMakom Yinachem Etchem" can be read as follows: In the midst of tragedy, sometimes, it's "HaMakom"- this place, the Land of Israel, with all its special qualities- that comforts you.

Friday, February 01, 2013

How'm I doin'?

I remember seeing Ed Koch in person only once. (I imagine I saw him a bunch more times than that, especially in the Israel Parade, but I don't recall them.) I was walking down Fifth Avenue- this was years after he left office- and he was coming out of one the high-end men's shops. A couple of construction worker types were standing on sidewalk and saw him. "Ayyyyy! Ed Koch!" one yelled in thick New Yawkese. He smiled and waved at them. No, he didn't ask them how he was doing, as far as I know, because that would have been too perfect.

"Ehhh...The Vatican think's he's cuckoo. I think he's cuckoo."

"I have the body of a Greek god."

James and Joel, who had a show on the same radio station as him, used to play the above quotes of his, among others, as bumpers. No, they don't have to make sense to be funny.

Gonzo: "Mr. Mayor! Mr. Mayor, I'm looking for a frog who can sing and dance!"

"If he can balance the budget, I'll hire him!"

And a worthy sentiment: "The people have rejected me and they must be punished." And punished we were.

I can't say he was that great a mayor- certainly not as good as Rudy, of course- but he had personality. And that, as we know, goes a long way. My father remembers him as the East Side's congressman. (My father taught at Ramaz.) And his military record should be pointed out. The rest...well, on balance, pretty good, for a Democrat. I shall refrain from quoting R' Kahane.

Oh, and the bridge naming? A lot more deserved than RFK, I'll tell you that.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two Funny Points

Two funny points, just like the title tells us:

A famous painting is up for sale. The webpage describing it ends with this tantalizing note:

"The past few years it has resided in a religious museum [The Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn- NL, via the first link above], but doctrinal differences have insisted that the painting be deaccessioned."

That last word must be a specialized auction house word meaning "sell," but I'd love to know what "doctrinal differences" even means.

Machsom Watch is a typical leftist agitator group who tries to act against the "occupation." Every now and then there's an ad in the paper advertising one of their tours, which I guess are designed to turn their participants against the "occupation" as well. You can see an internet version here.

The kicker line for me always comes toward the end:

"All zones and roads are under the control of the IDF."

Well, yeah, the Palestinians are a bunch of murderous thugs who you wouldn't trust with anything, much less your life, and we need the IDF to defend us. But let's protest the IDF and try to hand more land over to the Arabs, eh?