Category Archives: humor

The typically pretentious blog posting that most people won’t read, but I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time

OK, I know, it’s a long title. The truth is that this posting has been brewing in my press pot of a long time. I hope that my few readers will allow me to go in a slightly different direction just for one posting. Rav Yisrael Salanter’s final two midos are coming very soon.

Fact: Whenever I post a comment on my own blog, the following message appears in my Hotmail inbox:

The sender of this message,, could not be verified by Sender ID. Learn more about Sender ID.
From: Neil Harris
Sent : Monday, August 21, 2006 9:57 PM
To : neilsharris @>

Subject : [Modern Uberdox] 8/21/2006 09:57:46 PM

Could not be verified by Sender ID?!? What’s this all about?

Hotmail doesn’t recognize my email address when I post a comment to my blog. You’ve got to be kidding.
During Elul, it seems that introspection is about as commonplace as the ads for a new Sukkah in any great Jewish newspaper.
Not recognizing yourself is usually a bad thing, right? I’m not so sure about that. If one approaches the Teshuva process and is successful, then we change who we are. If we change ourselves, then not recognizing who we once were is a great thing.

As I reflect on the the past year (along with everyone else) I can divide the year into two different sections.
1) Life before moving to Chicago vs. Now living in Chicago
2) Life before blogging vs. Life as a blogger

Both sections share very common elements. In the moving to Chicago arena, I’ve been given an opportunity to start fresh in terms of who I am, and what identity I make for myself and my family. While we moved here knowing a few people, it’s really an open book.

The blogging arena is also much the same. By posting on a blog you reinforce your own identity. Or create a new one.
Plenty of people have very solid and legitimate reasons for blogging Anonymous. I greatly respect that.

I chose the other path. I use my name. I’ll be honest, one reason is that I want to be heard. I don’t mind saying this, only because I could have just as easily written this posting in a journal and kept it on a shelf (I’ve, in fact, kept journals for years). As a result of blogging I’ve been able to write more in the past four and a half months than I’ve written in the past four and a half years. This is a major accomplishment for me. Another reason is that using my own name helps keep me in check so I write as truthfully as I can and I don’t use my blog to slam others or go off on them for whatever reason sounds good at the time.
I do wonder if people who read my blog have some image of me that isn’t quite who I really am?

Cute quote time….
“I am not who I think I am; I am not who you think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” (I heard that it was written by Goethe)

I’ve thought about this line many times since I started my blog. It totally applies to the blogosphere. Bloggers blog about different things. Each blog reveals a little about someone. Some blog about personal issues, others about d’vrai Torah, others about their family, others about social issues. We all have something to say.
One blogger, who I respect and admire for their quality of writing, Torah knowledge, and overall menshlikeit mentioned to me “that what we blog is not who we are, but what is at our essence”.
Just think about that statement for a second…

Let’s take my blogs’ name. It’s is really a humorous label. It’s a phrase that I hadn’t seen used before and I thought it was catchy, in light of the fact that we live in a generation of people trying to Uber-Frum themselves in the eyes of others. In the 12th chapter of EYES TO SEE, (thanks to my friend in Atlanta for turning me on to the book when it came out) Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz writes about the “Selectively Pious” Jews out there who pick and choose different aspects of Bein Adam L’chavero and Bein Adam L’makom to observe. Both types of Mitzvos are of equal importance. I try to bring that out in what I write about.

Remember when you first created you blog? I do. I debated about what to write for the blog description in the “settings” section. I finally settled on “ideas about Kehillah, Hashkafa, and Avodas Hashem”. Pretty general and not too creative. What I didn’t realize then was that Kehillah would end up referring to the online community and bond that bloggers create.
So back to my problem with Hotmail…Why won’t it verify who I am? I think the answer is that neilsharris at doesn’t refer to the real me. It’s just an address. And not even a physical address. You can’t Maquest an email address. It doesn’t reference where I am or where I live. While devarim or words (written or spoken) reveal one’s machshavos or thoughts, an email address reveals nothing. It’s just something on a screen that can be deleted. I find this lesson to be great mussar for myself. What I think of as my identity isn’t really an identity at all.
It’s Elul, and I need to figure out who I am and where I am.
Reb Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that “You are wherever your thoughts are. Make sure your thought are where you what to be.”

If interested in buying a copy of EYES TO SEE, it’s available at most seforim stores or online here.

Tagged…I’m it!

Post # 40-Wow!
(Preface)Lakewood Venter tagged me. I at first I wasn’t to thrilled about being tagged, I admit (although as I emailed to Lakewood Venter, it’s an easy positing topic). I’ve seen these tags and unless one’s blog is based primarily on what goes on in ones’ life (an online diary format), I really feel that being tagged isn’t too interesting. I thought that most readers (who don’t personally know me) could care less about the person behind the blog.
On the other hand, after looking though Parsha Eikev (with my kids in the Parsha Reader and then more carefully with several meforshim), I changed my mind:
(Actual Post)
A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-yielding olive and [date] honey. Devarim 8:8

I started thinking about the Sheva Minim and their nature. In their original form, as created by Hashem, they have a function in the world, they serve a purpose. Yet, if crushed, squeezed, dried, or processed in other ways they have other uses as well. Each of us has a purpose in this world and like the Sheva Minim, we all have potential for other purposes.
At times I too need to be crushed, squeezed, dried, or processed in other ways . There is more to me than my outer appearance, like the Sheva Minim. And at times there’s benefit to showing more that what’s on the surface.For those who know me personally, what I write is pretty much what I think about, what I say, and how I see things. For the casual reader that looks this blog, for whatever reason, and wants to see something beneath the surface of “another frum blogger”, I submit the following:

Things I want to do before dying:Go back to Eretz Yisrael
Be zoche to see grandchildren and great grandchildren
Have enough income so I don’t have worry about tuition payments, bills, etc.
Publish, edit, or write for a frum version of the “New Yorker” magazine
Take up golf
Lose 10 pounds

Things I can not do:
Speak Yiddish
Eat Yogurt
Lein Torah
Two things at once
Quote pasukim al peh
Go without coffee for more than one day
Go quickly through a grocery store

Things I can do:
Listen to my kids’ infectious laughs for hours on end
Pull a decent shot of espresso and froth milk
Dishes (not always as clean as someone would like them to be)

Make Sushi
What attracted me to my spouse:Her high regard for Emes
A few other things I’d rather not post

Things I say most often:
Please and Thank you
So, where do you daven?
Gevalt Yidden!
That’s so Shtetl-fabulous!
What should we make for dinner?
I was reading a blog and saw…

Books that I am currently reading:

Eyes To See-Rabbi Yom Tov Schwatz (re-reading, as it’s one of the most influential books I own)
Horeb-Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch (thanks to Zev for giving me a copy)
Praying With Fire- Rabbi Heshy Kleinman
The Road Back- Rabbi Meyer Schiller (just finished it again, I read it every summer)
Up In The Old Hotel- Joseph Mitchell
Magic Tree House series-with my son (thanks to my neighbors)

Movies that I love:
All the Star Wars flicks (except for Episode III, I’ve known the ending since 1983)
Logan’s Run
What Dreams May Come
Say Anything
The Shawshank Redemption
Well, that does it. I guess you know all about me now. I now tag Rafi G, the first blogger to ever link anything I posted. FYI- I asked Rafi for reshus before I tagged him… I feel that derech eretz has a place in the blogosphere.
Comments and questions are welcome (although I might not reply right away). Have a great Shabbos Kodesh!

The Lighter Side of Being Uberdox

One of the things I enjoy most about using an eruv is walking to shul Shabbos morning with a cup of iced coffee. I’ve found it to be rather hot in Chicago, even when I go to a hashkama minyan. The iced coffee makes the walk all that much better. The minyan starts at 7:30 in the morning, but I’ll be honest, I usually get there by 7:49. So, I’m walking to shul, coffee in hand, and I see an older woman in her 60s-70s walking towards me on the sidewalk wearing a sweat-suit and a sun hat. As we get closer to each other I say, “Good morning,” expecting a similar response. Instead I get, in a thick russian accent, “Good Shabbos.” Beautiful!! The Berditchever would have loved this lady.

We’ve only been in Chicago since the beginning of March, and I really oscillate between two different shuls on a regular basis. I (and my family) really haven’t found our shul. There are plenty of places (B”H) to daven in West Rogers Park, but it’s hard to choose a makom where we want to daven. More often than not, I attend this hashkama minyan that is housed in a rather large congregation. The minyan is great. 50-70 men, a few women, d’var Torah after mussaf, and a great kiddush. Everyone is really friendly.

When I get home, I give my wife a copy of the Likutei Peshatim (Rafi and Zev will know what this is). It’s a fantastic weekly publication put out by the Hebrew Theological College (as I call it. Everyone else says “Skokie Yeshiva”) and contains several d’vrai Torah, a Halachic Corner, and several questions on the parsha. I think for most people the highlight is that it is really is the source for community announcements and mazal tovs. As I play with my kids my wife asks me, “Neil, where are your cuff-links that belonged to my grandfather?”
Good question. I wasn’t wearing them, but did wear them last Shabbos. “Why do you ask,” I answered.
My wife then quotes an annoucement in the Likutei Peshatim: “If anyone found a square shaped while gold cufflink with diamonds, lost this past Shabbos in West Rogers Park, please call 773-619-7875.”
Again, “Where are your cuff-links?”
I go to the bed room and look in my wife’s jewelry box. I grab both of them, and head back toward the living room. I stop and open the closet, then say, “Well, let me check my rain coat. I think I wore them the last time it rained.”
My wife then said, “Your rain coat? The one you left in shul for, like, a month?”
“Do you think I lost my cuff-links?” I asked with a smile. “And if I did, why wouldn’t I list our phone number,” I said as I handed her my cuff-links. As stated in a previous post or two, my wife is, more often than not, right about most things. This past Shabbos was the exception.

The rest of Shabbos Kodesh was just as great. After lunch, with the bribe of brownies and a trip to the park, my kids took a nap. A true rarity. Everyone had a great time at the park. My kids played, and I finished (for the second time) RABBI FREIFELD SPEAKS. It’s awesome. I never learned in Sh’or Yoshuv, but I’m close with people who do. BTW, I’ve been blessed to spend the Yorim Noraim there for the past two years and it’s an unbelievable experience.

Sunday night we made what my kids call “Abba Pizza”. It’s their fancy name for homemade pizza. One of the realities of moving from New York to Indianapolis was that for 7 1/2 years we were without a pizza shop (imagine that). Of course, whenever we were in NY or Chicago we’d eat pizza out, but my kids (girl 4 and boy 6 1/2) grew up with homemade pizza. When we moved to Chicago I kind of decided that we’d stick with making our own pizza (most of the time). I want my kids to grow up appreciating what they have. Just because there are places to get kosher pizza doesn’t mean that you have to go to them all the time.

I’ve got to start preparing for Midah #5, but I’ll end off with a quote from the Rav Freifeld book:

Our problem is not that we don’t have the opportunities
to grow. It is that we don’t have the proper will and desire to grow. In all
circumstances, there are always excuses. The kids were sick. The boiler broke. I
had to work overtime. I was so tired when I came home and had to spend time with
the family. We know the excuses, and they’re all valid excuses. But they don’t
really explain our failures.

We fail because we despair of being successful. We fail
because we do not belive that we have it within us to succeed. It is not the
interposition of obstacles that prevents us from succeeding, but our own lack of
confidence and determination and sheer will.

We fail because we are making a
mistake. Because the truth is that we do have it within us to succeed. Because
the truth is that each of us possesses the most incredible divinely-empowered
instrument that can help us smash all obstacles and scale all peaks. It is
called the human will. (Page 25)

This is pure Slaboka, passed down from the Alter (Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel) to Rav Hunter to Rav Freifeld. It’s how I humorously define Modern Uberdox… rising above what you think you can do.

Am I Less Deviant Now That I’m Older?

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending an amazing Shabbos with a very close friend of mine (and his brother) from my shanna bet year in Eretz Yisroel and college days. Shabbos afternoon my friend asked me a pretty simple question:
Am I less deviant (read punk, individualistic, free-thinking, non-iconoclast, etc) than I use to be? Good question. Although, I would have expected nothing less from him.

I have often wondered the same question myself. From the time I was in high school and became frum until now, how much have I changed? In terms of how I look, its a radical change. It’s rather easy to externally blend into a frum lifestyle. I pretty much look like most people on any given weekday or Shabbos. Years ago, I stopped trying to show my individuality by what I wore on the outside. If you met me, you’d think I’m a pretty normal guy. That’s because I am.His question did get me thinking, though. Have I changed or mellowed out over the years? Probably a bit of both. The conversation with my friend reminded me of two great quotes. Both of them are from an interview with Sonic Youth in SPIN magazine that I read back in September of 1992.

“If you’re not growing, then you’re not living.”
“At times, the most conservative people or ideas are really quite radical.”

We are defined by our thoughts, speech, and actions. I’m told that the Baal HaTanya wrote about this quite a lot. We should not be stagnate. Just as we are inclined to attach ourselves to Hashem through Mitzvah observance, our natural inclination is to grow. I believe the above quotes are a more modern day versions of this:
There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
Something as seemingly simple like grass has an urge to grow. Something so basic, knows that there is more to life if you reach upward.

I gave this entry a lot of thought over the past few days. I think that there us much more room for individuality when you set parameters for measurable behavior. If one “marches to their own beat” then you don’t have any way to judge just how different you are than anyone else.

As I was writing this, I thought about Parshas Korach. I must admit, I really wasn’t thinking, but remembering Rav Soloveitchik’s view of Korach, as found in REFLECTIONS OF THE RAV . The Rav states that “Korach was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism, which regards one’s personal feelings as primary in the religious experience. The value of the mitzvah is to be found not in its performance, but in its subjective impact upon the person.” This was how Korach thought. Rav Soloveitchik felt that “there are two levels in religious observance, the objective outer mitzvah and the subjective inner experience that accompanies it. Both the deed and the feeling constitute the total religious experience; the former without the latter is an incomplete act, an imperfect gesture. The objective act of performing the mitzvah is our starting point. The mitzvah does not depend on the emotion; rather, it induces the emotion. One’s religious inspiration and fervor are generated and guided by the mitzvah, not the reverse.”

A few months ago felt compelled to actually submit something to in reference to a list I had seen a while back. I received the following response to my submission:This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.
A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:
mailbox is full: retry timeout exceeded

Not good news for the Jews. I was pretty bummed. So I sent the email again. Same response.
In an attempt to answer the question that became the title of this posting, I submit the following:

My additions to “Top 10 ways you know you are a JEWISH HIPSTER”:
Your Itunes Library includes: Shlomo Carlebach, Shalsheles, Husker Du, C Lanzbom, Chaim Dovid, The Yitzhak Halevi Band, Rabbis Akiva Tatz and Moshe Weinberger, Bad Religion, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir
You turn “I Wanna Be Sedated” into a niggun
You quote the Kuzari and Kerouac in the same breath

You cancel your Rolling Stone subscription and start getting the JEWISH PRESS
Your cell phone ringer is a version of “Ki Va Moed” with killer electric guitar
On Sunday afternoons you Skateboard to Mincha, because the shul parking lot is good for shreddin’
Your wife’s mini-van’s radio is preset to both news-radio and the local alternative station
Your Shabbos Hat Box is covered with band stickers

When you hear the term “hardcore” you think of Black Flag and Novorodock
Your kids share your love of all things Piamenta

If you’re reading this (and you know who you are, because you went by a different name when you were younger) thanks. It was great seeing you again.

Lakewood Vs. New Square

“…and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” (Shemos/Exodus 19:2) Rashi says quite clearly that B’nai Yisroel were like one person with one heart. It was, in fact, the only time we all agreed on anything. This is what I usually think about on Shavuos.

On the second day of Shavuos this year, as I was reading a copy of the Yated Ne’Eman I laughed out loud. Then I shed a tear.

The fine print of this ad for Lakewood Farms Orange Juice reads:
Don’t be fooled with new designed easy pour containers that contain only 59oz. and cost as 64oz. [Yes, this is what was printed] At Lakewood Farms, we never cheat. Our Orange juice still contains 64oz., freshly squeezed from fine Florida Oranges. A wise consumer chooses carefully.

Wow!! Lakewood has finally attacked New Square. And what great timing. As yidden across the world celebrate Shavuos, as we receive the Torah as one people, as we put aside our differences and concentrate on how Hashem’s Torah unites us all…the war for the who’s orange juice is more heimish breaks loose. Now I did see the repacked “easy pour” New Square. I even bought it for Pesach, along with my Tropicana. I actually commented to my wife about how it might be deceiving to consumers when they finally figure out they’re only getting 59 ounces of juice. But I chose to buy it. I knew what I was paying for. And the truth is, I hope, that most people know what they’re paying for. It’s their money and their choice.

You never see an ad for Coke stating that you shouldn’t buy any cola that comes in a blue can, do you? You never see Artscroll ads stating that they use special thinner paper so that their 2 inch thick sefer really contains more pages than a regular 2 inch thick sefer, do you?

I find it sad when Derech Eretz and Mentschlekeit go out the window for quick $2.99. I ask myself, “How can I raise my children to be B’nai Torah when Lakewood Farms has to slam New Square?” This ad on page 48 of the Yated is only a small example of the bigger picture. I’m surely not the first to mention it, but Lakewood…Litvish. New Square…Chassidish.

It’s not just that one derech is right, it’s that the other derech is totally wrong. That’s the real problem.

We quickly forget that prior to reaching Har Sinai, we crossed the Yam Suf. Each shevet had their own route. Each shevet actually had their own nuach (so I’ve been told). We all are different. We dress differently, we have different minhagim, send our kids to different schools, and we have different outlooks. Yet, for the Kavod Hashem, to accept the Torah, we were one. Why couldn’t I have read about Achdus on Shavuos after a night of learning, instead of about orange juice?

PS: My thanks to Yitzy and Rana Wechsler for letting me read their copy of the Yated. For the record, my family is a Tropicana family. I don’t have anything against Heimeshe brands, but I’d rather show Tropicana that having hashgacha matters to me, as a consumer.