Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hanukkah and the iMenorah

If you go to the iTunes App Store you will find an application for your iPhone or iTouch for Hanukkah. It will guide you through a digital lighting of the Hanukkah menorah. Light the candles and watch them burn as the blessings play. So here is the question: is this same as lighting the menorah? There is nothing quite like watching the candles burn. Nothing can replace the flickering of real candles. Will there soon be an app for yahrtzeit candles? There is of course something lost in the digital revolution. I have found an endless amount of information and reading on the internet. I can search through every Jewish book ever written with one stroke of my laptop's keypad. It is not the same as holding a sefer--a book--in my hand. Yet there is also something gained. One of the mitzvot of Hanukkah is to proclaim the miracle. I can light my menorah in my home and be enthralled by the burning of the candles or I can walk around with my iTouch blaring Maoz Tzur. More people can learn and read about Judaism than the rabbis of old ever imagined possible. Now you can light the menorah in the most public place of all--the iTunes store. That is really proclaiming the miracle of Hanukkah!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Electric Cars

I read Tom Friedman's column in this morning's New York Times with great interest. You can read the column here. He discusses an Israeli inventor, Shai Agassi, who may very well change the way we drive around our suburbs. You can read Agassi's blog here. I am unsure what I think about Agassi's idea—although it stirs my Jewish kishkes that he is Israeli. I have been driving a car and filling a car with gas for nearly thirty years. It is hard to imagine breaking such habits. I am unsure if the idea can even work. Yet his idea gives me hope. It says: there are people who are trying to change the way we get to and from places so that we can alter our dependence on oil. There are people who understand that we must change course. It saddens me that the American auto industry fails to grasp how much it must turn, that the world needs it to change. This industry should be leading us. I should be reading about their inventions instead of their need for billions of dollars. Detroit helped to build this country. Henry Ford revolutionized the industrial world. Yes I am aware and it is impossible to forget that he used his profits for evil ends when he distributed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But in the ark of a Detroit synagogue—hmm could that be my brother's synagogue?—there rests a Torah donated by Henry Ford's great grandson. In that Torah are to be found the teachings of hope and our capacity to change. We can change. We must change. Whether or not it will be Agassi's idea or another's, Hummers should no longer dot our suburban landscape. I hope GM, Chrysler and Ford can recover the leadership they once offered this country and lead us through the next revolution in driving. I hope my grandchildren have to ask me, "Grandpa, what is a gas station?" I hope they don't have to ask me "What is a Ford?"

Shared Blogroll

There is so much information to be found on the internet. Some of it is excellent. Some of it should never be published. So I have added a new feature to my blog. On the right sidebar you will find the Shared Blogroll. It lists worthy articles from the many blogs I now read. You can view the complete list of shared articles by clicking on "Read more…" Lately, I have found the most interesting articles on The Jerusalem Post and Jewcy. There is a wide variety of opinions out there and I try to read those that I agree with and especially those that I disagree with. The danger of the internet is that you can surround yourself with agreement. You can find thousands and thousands of people who share your opinions. You can find a web page devoted to whatever esoteric interest (or obsession) you might have. And if not, you can write a blog and then your opinion and your interest seem to magically gain legitimacy, authority and approval. (Hmm...) But countless internet pages do not make an idea true. The task is to find ideas that challenge your notions, to build your opinions on new and different ideas. I want to be shaped by ideas, not shape my ideas around like minded opinions. My soul is nourished by machloket l'shem shamayim—arguments for the sake of heaven.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Son's Bar Mitzvah

This past weekend we celebrated my son becoming a bar mitzvah. What follows is part of what I said to him... While it is true that Shira made me a father, you Ari made me a man. I know this might sound strange and that most people think that you become a man on your bar mitzvah or better when you get married or perhaps when you get your first job, but for me becoming a man is realized when there is another young man watching you and following you. It is one thing to have a father looking over your shoulder and saying, “Did you remember to do your homework?” Or, a grandfather who might say, “Give your grandmother a kiss.” It is quite another matter when it is a son looking over your shoulder. My son watches me like the king in the Torah portion Toldot. You watch me and I feel your perceptive stare and I feel your mind thinking, how do I speak to my Susie, how do I talk to my parents, how do I comfort my congregants, how do I treat strangers? Ari, having you as my son makes me a better man. Every day I thank God for my family. On this day I especially thank God that you are my son. I have a son who is a lot like me and a little not like me. I have a son who is loving and caring, honest and forthright, a son unafraid to challenge me and perceptive beyond his years. Ari you are a blessing. And I thank God for bringing you into our lives. Ari, I love you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Riches by the Pocketful

Hadassah Magazine November 2008

Like my grandfather, I am a proud Jew and a proud American, but there is something else in my pocket that defines who I am. Though I am a rabbi of a congregation, I don't carry the keys to a synagogue in my pocket. Instead, I carry the keys to a church--the Brookville Reformed Church on the North of Long Island, founded over 270 years ago. For over 10 years Reverend Allan Ramirez and his congregation have allowed my community to meet there for Shabbat and holidays. I doubt the original founders of this church could have imagined that one day a rabbi would lead a Jewish congregation in song and prayer, that the Hebrew words of the Jewish tradition and the melodies of my grandfather's past would fill the church sanctuary. This, too, is what is good and noble about this country. Here in the United States, a church can help sustain a synagogue. Christians can say to Jews, "Come, fill our home with your melodies." Some days I look out of the window of my study and I see my son, Ari, and his best friend, Hugh O'Connor, sitting on the curb talking. Ari tells me that they are talking about religion. I suspect they are talking about girls and sports. As I watch them, I reach into my pocket and finger the church keys. They are a reminder that in the United States it is natural and normal that a Jew and a Christian are best friends. One day soon, my synagogue will have its own building. Still, I hope Reverend Ramirez will let me to keep the church keys so that they might forever remain in my pocket and forever remind me of what I love about this country to which my grandparents brought my family.

The complete article can be found by following the link on the Blog's sidebar.