Monthly Archives: December 2010

The living yerusha of Rav Dessler zt’l

Photo from here

The 24th of Teves marks the 57th yarhtzeit of HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler. In the past I’ve posted stories regarding Rav Dessler (a link for those is at the end of this post), but I think, for myself, that it is important to remember that Rav Dessler was able to impact both the lives of Western Jews and also that of the Yeshiva world of E”Y. He influenced both baalei batim and yungerleit, This global effect might have been due to his Mussar upbringing while learning in Kelm. Unlike the next generation of baalei Mussar, the Alter of Kelm focused on creating people, not yeshivos or roshei yeshiva. His view was more concentrated and that was passed on to his talmidim.

It’s that focus that enabled Rav Dessler to teach in London, head the first kollel in the Western hemisphere, and go on to become the mashgiach of  Ponevezh . His focus was on how the individual can m’Kadesh Hashem through relationship. No matter if it was a rebbe-talmud relationship, a parent-teacher relationship, or a husband-wife relationship. Looking through Michtav M’Eliyahu or any of the volumes of Strive for Truth it is clear that Rav Dessler is speaking to the Jew of Today. We all struggle with our Yetzer Hora, we all want to look at our actions as choices not habits, and we want to emulate Hashem. Constant examination of how we can improve our mitzvos bein adam l’Makom and bein adam l’Chavero is part and parcel of being a Torah observant Jew.

I can think and dream about a vibrant resurgence of a Mussar movement for this generation. I can sit and email like-mind people about the importance of self-growth and the foundations of Mussar that, like a cassette tape, seem almost obsolete to the average twenty-something. I can and I do. However, I can also look at Rav Dessler’s life and see that had he confinded is ideas to the written word or interacted with a limited number of people, his impact might have been much more localized. He made the best of every enviorment he found himself in and constantly tried to reach is potential. For him Yiddishkeit and growth were inseparable and not a spectator sport.

I titled this post “the living yerusha” because no matter if you are learning full-time or working you are in contact with people. It’s those relationships that constantly require examination. How do we interact with others? Are we giving or taking from someone? What example are we setting for our children? Do we give enough? These questions are important, because within them lies the potential to make ourselves like Hashem. We can become a Giver and bring a level of kedusha to something as simple as offering directions to someone who is lost, complimenting a co-worker, or setting the table for dinner. That’s Rav Dessler’s living yerusha.

For previous posts regarding Rav Dessler click here.

Chovas HaTalmidim: Back for the Attack

Originally translated and published in hardback in 1991 (and paperback in 1995) by Aronson, Feldheim has just republished a new edition of Chovas HaTalmidim by Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro zt”l, the Piaseczna Rebbe.  Feldheim is offering a fantastic intro price of only $19.99 for this volume which is over 640 pages.
It seems that from their website, Feldheim plans to reprint many of the Rebbe’s works in English.

I’m guessing that this is similar to their republishing of R Daniel Korobkin’s translation of the Kuzari.

While I happen to own the original verison of A Student’s Obligation, I’m looking forward to the new edition, since I believe it will have the Hebrew, as well (I’ve been bugging my seforim store about this since before Chanuka).
I cannot even begin to explain how moving and influential this sefer has been to me.  Originally published in 1932, the lessons with it seem as if they are written for us, today.
I have previously blogged about the sefer’s introduction here.

The question

During my two years of learning in E”Y I would about once every two or three months make my way to the Israel Museum.

I’ve always enjoyed art and of course that particular museum houses items of historical and religious significance. Once, there was an exhibit that was simply a plastic card holder with stack of black postcards with the following question printed in Hebrew, English, and Arabic:

Who are you close to?

It’s a good question. If you are married, then ideally, you are close with your spouse. You might be close with siblings or friends from: high school, college, yeshiva, work, the blogosphere (I think these days that may count), or even Facebook. There are those that we text, Skype, call (I think people still do this), or just say hello to during kiddush. You might be particularly close with a Rabbi/Rav/Rebbe. You might just have one or two really good friends. There are those would might even say they are in the process of attempting to be close to Hashem.

I think that we would all like to be close with our children, but not at the expense of what often gets throw around as “kibuv av v’eim”. However, being close with someone means that we have to be willing to share our successes and our losses. If you cheated on your taxes, would you tell your best friend? If you let a “not nice word” slip out of your mouth in a moment of frustration, would you tell the guys you sit with in shul? If you figured out how to make an extra $200 a month by selling certain items illegally, would you tell your wife? If you got a promotion, would you tell your neighbors?

Then, there’s R Yisrael Salanter, who said, “A man can live until the age of 70 and still not know himself”.

Within these words lies what is part the challenge for those who are attracted towards working on themselves and their relationship with Hashem. It’s that challenge that sometimes drives me. It’s what made me take that postcard at the museum and hold onto it.

Getting the band (that I don’t have) back together

Summer 1990

Recently I’ve been wanting to acquire two things.  Both are probably due to what is termed a “mid-life crisis” (my Hebrew birthday was the 21st of Kislev and will be falling out in a few days) and attempting to recapture my youth.  First, I am ready to start driving a “Smokey and the Bandit” Trans Am and I want to start sporting a goatee, instead of my short beard.  It’s high time that I shake things up with my image.

Just kidding. Now I’ll be serious.

Firstly I’ve been thinking about growing my bangs out.  I had rockin’ bangs in the late 80s and I think that it’d feel younger with something hanging down over my forehead.  It really won’t happen because I have no interest in that “in between” stage of waiting for bangs (been there, grown that).

Secondly, as I’ve jokingly told my wife and a few friends, been think of getting the band back together.  Of course, that would be the band that I never had.  Two days before Chanukka I felt an urge to buy a guitar and start taking lessons.  I, once upon at time, from first through fourth grade played guitar.  Due to a geographic move I wasn’t able to continue.  At the suggestion of a good friend I decided to sit on this urge and see if it’s a real desire or just a fleeting idea.  I’m still sitting.  However, the initial catalyst is that I know that it shows a lack of middos on my part to just sit and complain about not finding J-music that I like and I’d rather be pro-active and just make my own.  There are a nice amount of frum musicians in Chicago and if motivated I’m sure I could cold call a few and ask if they want to join my band that I don’t have.  Then we could play the music I have in my head and the seven odd songs that I haven’t written yet (but know the pasukim/phrases that would make up the lyrics).  I would convince my closest friend here to play drums and I would sing, maybe strum guitar (if I take lessons), or play my instrument of choice…the slide whistle.

It’s the perfect time in my life to start a band. My kids are still young enough that I can play for a while, get it out of my system and still not tarnish my family’s image when it comes to future shidduchim. I have a few ideas for band names:

Shelaymus (refering to perfection & a reference to mussar)
Vytair (Yiddish for continue)
The Noise Kloiz (a Klotz was another name for a shul/sheibel that like-minded people belonged to)
Husker Nu (a pun on Husker Du)
Hispa’alus (literally “with energy and passion”, a method of mussar study innovated by R Y Salanter invovling repeating phrases in a melody and invovling your whole body)
Oi Vaad (a play on words of the Canadian metal band named Voivod and also a reference to Mussar vaadim)
Derech Eretz (way of the world, good manners)
Novordorock (play on words of the Novordok school of mussar and their network of 70+ yeshivos)

Ok, these are only ideas. Nothing is set in stone.  Speaking of which, I was thinking about “Even Shelayma” as a band name, since it has that “rock” thing (and is also the name of a sefer containing idea’s by the GRA), but it’s to similar to Evën Sh’siyah.  I can totally see the band that I don’t have performing at the Chicago Jewish Music festival (held every three years) or even playing a gig at someone’s Purim seudah.  Of course all merch for band would be available from and I could even make some bumperstickes that say:  If you don’t like my driving then go against the system and purchase a song by the band (fill in name of band here) on iTunes.
While the music would be rather fast paced with emphasis on base, guitar, and drums with catchy harmonies, the pasukim and lyrics would resonate with the thinking Jew (or the Jew who isn’t even aware that they need to be thinking) that wishes to be passionate about their Avodah and relationship with Hashem and those around them. I don’t think any tracks would be vehicles for kiruv (like Journeys’ “Conversation in the Womb”), but you never know. I sort of imagine songs that you would want to crank up when driving in the snow during carpool, yet melodic enough that you can slow them down and sing them as niggunim at the Shabbos table or after havdalah, to start out the week pumped and ready for action. Maybe I’ll even start singing a little this week after havdalah. I always tell my son a short short mussar idea, usually from R Yisrael Salanter, so to add a niggun for another 30 seconds couldn’t hurt.
I don’t think the band would be invited to any gigs in day schools, since our music wouldn’t sound traditionally Jewish (unless we sang acapella, then anything goes). I also don’t think we would make a video and put it on You Tube, I’ll leave that for the Maccabeats and other boy bands who would have more universal appeal. For sure we would not get booked for late night talk shows or multi-day music festivals, since Mattisyahu seems to have that covered quite well and affectively (I might add).

We’ll probably only play in someone’s basement or the social hall of a shul somewhere. Maybe if we get a following (as in people related to those in the band) we could even get booked at a local restaurant. That would be super-sweet, especially if I can work out arrangements for the band to get unlimited Coke or Diet Mountain Dew. I guess that when the band that I don’t have finally forms and starts playing, then we will only have one true way to see if we’ve made it. The true tell-all sign of our success will be if we get banned and an article appears on Yeshiva World News, Matzav, and VIN about how our music is an affront to Emunas HaChamim and listening to us is far worse than not allowing internet in your home (but letting your teens have a cell phone with unsupervised web access).

Is it a dream? Probably.

I’ll add it to my current dream list:
Health for my family
Financial Security
Writing for my Nineteen Letters blog again
Starting two mussar vaadim in Chicago (one for those already observant and one for those who are currently non-observant)
Taking my son to a Piamenta concert
Helping my children reach their potential and feel fulfilled
A long and happy life with my wife
Getting the band (that I don’t have) back together


I have a friend who was living in E”Y and is now moving back to America.  I mentioned to him that it might be a good idea to keep an item or two in E”Y, so that he still has a connection to the land.  Before I returned after spending time learning in E”Y, I left a set of Mishna Brurah there with a friend.  Eventually I will end up reclaiming it.  I also have a few items that I can’t seem to allow myself to get rid of that in their own strange way allow me to have a connection to E”Y (even if it’s just in my head).

For example, I have several siddurim from my time in there that I will open and daven from several times during the year (especially during the Shalosh Regolim).  I have my old combat boots, that I took with me to E”Y on my high school NCSY summer tour in 1987 (when/where I became observant).  I bought these in Wichita at an army/navy store and I still use them once in a while.  They really are not great for the snow in Chicago, since they have metal “vents” for breathing, but I can’t let myself get rid of them.  I have an old “kartis” or bus pass that I laminated and use as a bookmark.  Then there’s the spoon.  Ah, yes… the spoon!

The spoon rocks!  It was made in E”Y and I bought it in Machane Yehuda.  It’s sort of a teaspoon and is about four inches long. Since buying it in 1990 I’ve used the spoon for stirring coffee.  I use to keep it in my pocket so that whenever I had coffee, I wouldn’t have to bother with a flimsy plastic stirrer.  After getting married and having our first child, it became the unofficial cereal spoon for our kids before they were big enough to use the adult silverware.  My children even refer to it as the “Eretz Yisrael spoon” or “Abba’s special spoon”.  Of course, when I bought it, I never envisioned that I would have it for so long and that my own kids would be using it.

Book, photos, artwork, magnets, or other items remind me of where I have been, but in truth, these are just display pieces.  It’s those things that I can use in my everyday life that really remind me that I need to connect to something or someplace.

Hatzalah Chicago

Hatzlah Chicago isn’t active yet. To find out more see their website and read an article about them in Jewish Image.

Hatzalah Chicago is a non-profit volunteer emergency medical service that provides emergency medical response 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at no cost to all who need it, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Hatzalah Chicago’s mission is to improve medical outcomes and save lives by enhancing existing emergency medical services in the Chicagoland area.

In emergency medical situations where every second counts, immediate emergency care can mean the difference between life and death. Hatzalah’s role is to stabilize patients until 911 arrives and then transfer care to them. Company Overview:Hatzalah Chicago was formed to enhance pre-hospital care and develop a higher level of emergency preparedness and support in the Chicagoland Jewish Community by augmenting the existing services provided by the municipalities. In emergency medical situations where every second counts, community members deserve to have access to the best possible care. Within the next year, Hatzalah Chicago’s goal is to provide emergency medical response 24 hours a day, 7 days a week within defined geographical boundaries in Lincolnwood, Peterson Park, Skokie, and West Rogers Park.

Hatzalah Chicago was formed as a branch of Hatzalah, the largest volunteer emergency medical service and ambulance provider in the United States, with over 90 ambulances, several thousand volunteers and numerous branches serving communities throughout the U.S. and the world. In the U.S., Hatzalah is in full force throughout Jewish communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Miami, Maryland and California. While each organization is completely independent, they share the same goal – to save lives.

Hatzalah has proven successful in communities worldwide and is needed in Chicago for the following reasons:

* TO SAVE LIVES. Hatzalah has saved thousands of lives in other communities because its volunteers are local and live and work in high population areas. Hatzalah volunteers will be in our schools, shuls, etc. and can quickly stabilize patients until medical emergency resources arrive on scene.

* TO PROVIDE THE BEST POSSIBLE CARE. Hatzalah volunteers approach each call with a fresh enthusiasm to comfort and save lives. They bring a sense of urgency and compassion that is unparalleled because their patients are also their friends, family and neighbors.

* TO ACTIVATE THE EMERGENCY MEDICAL SYSTEM. Hatzalah members may already be on-scene or called when community members initially hesitate to dial 911 because they are uncertain if medical attention is necessary or are reluctant because they are underinsured or uninsured. A quick assessment by an Emergency Medical Technician may encourage the patient to seek definitive care sooner than they would have otherwise. Better medical outcomes usually reflect faster care.

* TO PROMOTE SENSITIVITY AND UNDERSTANDING. Hatzalah members are trained in both emergency medicine and Jewish law, and with an understanding of the unique needs of the community, are sensitive to cultural considerations and can direct patients to go to the hospital when they may not otherwise. For instance, a Hatzalah member’s explanation of the severity of a patient’s symptoms may alleviate the fear of chillul shabbat and inspire keeping the mitzvah of hatzalat nefashot, a form of patient advocacy that can only be provided from within the community.

My role as a pick-up artist

I often find myself picking up candy wrappers, seforim, and the occasional napkin or fork during kiddush on Shabbos. At times, I’ve even, with a simple greeting of, “Good Shabbos Kodesh”, picked up the ears of those that I pass in the street. I make a point to also pick up garbage in front of an inside my children’s day school when I am there, as well. It is an issue of Kavod HaTorah. The Holy Hunchback, I’m not, but I try.

In Kelm the talmidim fought for the coveted position of being able to clean the Talmud Torah of Kelm and even to take out the garbage (usually a job for the oldest bochruim).

My kids know that if they are walking though shul with me and see a Dum Dum wrapper on the ground that either I’ll pick it up myself or ask them to. They don’t mind picking it up, because were they not there, they know that I’d be the one throwing it away.

I cannot stop people (usually kids) from carelessly throwing candy wrappers on the ground. However, I can make sure that the shul where I daven is fairly clean, if newcomers, guests, or non-observant Jews come by.