Yearly Archives: 2006

Results of my "Question to JBloggers"

Pic taken at the Museum of Science and Industry
in Chicago on 12/24/06

Thanks for all the comments. As pointed out, my ‘age posting’ was the most commented posting in Modern Uberdox history. Well, the average age of my readers is 38.4 years old. I really am surprised that it’s so close to my own age (36). With that being said, the results were not what I expected.
Originally I had hoped that my blog survey would highlight blogs as a kind of a bridge between generations of Jews. In theory, this was a nice idea. It would have added another positive aspect of Jblogging to the mix. The best bridge between generations is our Torah.
Jblogs are a great vehicle for yidden to have an opportunity to read other views on different hashkafos (read legitimate forms of avodas hashem). In a way Jblogs do help some generations understand what frum people deal with and what is on our collective mind.

I did find something that I thought was interesting, although I’m curious if it applies to other blogs besides mine. I realized that I have very few readers who fall into the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1943 to 1960).
I’ve got a majority of Gen Xers, a few Millennials and 6 or 7 readers who are at the edge of baby boomers and the Silent Generation who just turned 60.
What happened to the readers between the ages of 42-60?Are the Baby Boomers simply busier with families and careers? Are they inclined to use the web mostly for business related matters? (I know I have a lot of questions)
I look around and wonder who is successfully doing the fundraising for our institutions? Who is spearheading chessed campaigns and projects? Is it the Gen Xer? Eventually it will be. Those who are being honored at yeshiva and communal dinners are mostly the Baby Boomers. To me they seem to be at the head of communal involvement.

Blogging is fun. I enjoy writing and the allure of having an audience gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, I admit. But I have found myself thinking even before I posted my Question for JBloggers, does my blogging comes at the expense of my own personal involvement within my Jewish community?
Is it the Baby Boomers who haven’t picked up on the medium of blogs or do they know something that I don’t? Time will tell. For now, I continue to write and hopefully will get more involved off-line, as well. Thanks for reading.
If anyone is interested in reading more about generations and their impact on history I suggest anything by William Strauss and Neil Howe or check out

The Menorah in the Window…

I admit, this posting has been sitting in my head for over a week now. I thought it would float away, but it hasn’t.

I find myself constantly seeing menorahs in many different windows.

I actually started seeing them about 3 weeks ago. The first one was in Skokie, IL. The menorah was painted on the window of a pizzeria/sports bar. This menorah was, of course, accompanied by the familiar “Happy Chanuah” painted message, to their Jewish customers. I couldn’t decide if I was supposed to laugh or cry. Then I saw several more in other windows of completely non-kosher eating establishments.

The lighting of the menorah and a ‘traditional’ seder on Pesach are the two most common rituals among our not-yet-observant brothers and sisters. I’ve always thought it ironic that the lighting of the menorah is such a common tradition. The menorah is the symbol of Torah shebal peh, our Oral Law. Our acceptance of this Oral Law is a cornerstone in what helps define the Torah Observant Jew. Yet, it ends on some odd windows. Why?

I think that seeing a menorah painted on a window of “The Villiage Pizzeria” or Burger King does help our brothers and sisters connect with Judaism.
I recently was reading the Sfas Emes and found something amazing. He says that that certain wicks are pasul for use to light neiros on Shabbos, yet acceptable for use on Chanukah. The Sfas Emes says that Chanukah can penetrate a neshama in a way that Shabbos can’t. Chanukah reaches the essence of a yid.
The Thursday before Chanukah I had to go to the post office. The woman at the counter in front of me was having a conversation with the postal officer (who wasn’t going postal). It went like this…
Postal worker: Are you getting ready for the holidays?
Woman: Yeah, Chanukah starts tomorrow night. My boyfriend wants me to light the candles and the whole thing.
Postal worker: That must be nice.
Woman: I guess so. My boyfried isn’t Jewish, so the whole thing is new to him. The truth is that I really don’t want to do it. I haven’t said the blessings in years. I remember my mom mumbling the blessings, but she really didn’t know the words either. I guess I’ll fake it.
Sad, isn’t it? My 4 year old knows the brachos and even what the Greeks did to the Beis Hamikdash (“They put piggies in and stautes”). This grown adult doesn’t even know that much. It’s not her fault. She falls into the category of a Tinuk Shenishba.
I got out of line and ran to my car. I came back into the post office as the woman was leaving and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Would you like this box of candles. The blessings are in English on the back of the box.”
She smiled and said thanks. I don’t always carry extra candles with me (although I have in the past). I actually had just bought them for our kids, but it’s no big deal to give a 19 cent box of candles to another Jew.
I don’t write this to blow my own shofar. I write it make a point. What I did wasn’t special, it’s just my personality.
There are Jews everywhere who just don’t get it. They never had the opportunity to learn what we know. Or the learned it, but it was shoved down their throats and it tasted gross. Every day I daven for an opportunity to be a klei to bring others closer to Hashem. That day, I happened to have my eyes and ears open. It doesn’t always work out, but sometimes it does.
Last Shabbos night my son and I walked to shul the ‘long way’. I wanted to see some of the windows in our neighborhood. Home after home with menorahs in the windows. I said to my son, “I am very happy. Do you know why?”
He answered, “Because we live in Jewish neighborhood, and Baruch Hashem, there are a lot of menorahs around.”
He, of course, was right. Chanukah is almost over, but the reality is that where are always wicks that are waiting to be lit.

The 26th Yartzeit of Rav Hutner zt’l

Today, the 20th of Kislev, is the Yarzeit of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, zt’l. In memory of the former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, there is an excellent article writen in the Yated. Here is an excerpt:
He never forgot the private individual; he gave of his soul to others and not just his time. Once, someone asked him for a decision in a complicated personal matter, and after a long while Rav Hutner told him he still did not have an answer. He explained: “In my Chumash it says, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This commandment requires a man to relate to a question from another as if it were his own question, and how he would behave in such a situation. True advice comes only from such empathy. You turned to me in your time of trouble, but it takes time until I can bring myself to live in your situation.”

Once, an avreich came to ask advice for a cure for the despair that bothered him in his avodas Hashem. Rav Hutner explained the difference between pain and despair: “Despair is being tired of living. Become alive and automatically there will be no place for despair! You can either emphasize the recognition of despair, or arouse the vitality that comes from faith in the holiness of a Jew in any situation that might be. If you live with this foundation of faith you will become living person!”

The entire article can be found here.

Over the years as I have met individuals who learned by Rav Hutner I have heard several lesser know stories about him. Here are a few:

On morning Rav Hutner took several of his tamidim from Chaim Berlin in his car (with his driver) for a ride to Prospect Park (Brooklyn) on a crisp October day. They got out of the car and walked to the pond in the middle of the park. Rav Hutner instructed the group of 3 bochrim to look at the lake and pointed out that you could see the bottom of the pond. “This mind of the Chazon Ish is as clear as this lake”, Rav Hutner said. Then they returned to Chaim Berlin.

Before shofar blowing (right before musaf) on Rosh Hashana, Rav Hutner once asked a student in the yeshiva to go check on another student who was in the dorms due to an illness. Of course the student when to check on his ill friend. After davening he returned to let the Rosh Yeshiva know about his sick classmate. As I heard it, the bochur asked Rav Hutner about the halachic problems of missing shofar on Rosh Hashana. Rav Hutner replied, “Do you think that on Rosh Hashana Hashem sees any difference between mitzvos bein adam l’chavero and bein adam l’makom?”

As yeshiva was let out late one afternoon several boys were standing in front of Chaim Berlin as the Rosh Yeshiva and his wife left the building and walked toward their car (which was waiting for them). One boy opened up the front door of the car for Rav Hutner and then opend up the be back door for the Rebbitzen. Rav Hutner looked at the the young man, tapped his cane on the ground (for effect) and said, in perfect Oxford English, “What, pray tell, do you think you are doing?”
The boy replied, “I just wanted to open the car door for the Rosh Yeshiva.”
Rav Hutner then said, “What makes you think that I don’t want to sit with my wife? Remember this: No one or nothing ever comes between a husband and a wife”.

Other postings online

For several months I’ve had the opportunity to have a few things posted on

When they were originally posted, I chose not have links posted on my blog. In an effort to give a clearer view of who I am, I now submit the following links:

PSSD: Post Shavuos Stress Disorder
What’s so important about the number 316?
Family Feud
My Name is Not Neil
Being Thankful for Thankgiving


My wife and I have noticed over the past few weeks that little baby girl Uberdox has a great smile, k’ayin hara. We don’t remember the other two kids smiling so much at such a young age.

I must admit, as a parent, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that you can hold a little baby in your arms, make funny noises and faces and get a beautiful smile that lights up a room. It is true nachas.

This got me thinking about how I show joy (or don’t appreciate the tov) towards Hashem. My creator is constantly making things happen in hope of invoking a smile from me.

I’ve heard the shmuzzes and read the seforim about how “happiness is a state of mind”.
In fact, I heard on a tape by Rabbi Pesach Krohn that according to Rav Hutner, the eye interprets how we see, the ears interpret what we hear, the nose interprets what we smell (you get the idea). Rav Hunter asks, “What does the mind interpret? It senses happiness”.

I know how happy I feel when I make the newest member of our family smile. I can only guess that this parallels how Hashem must feel when I chose to smile at all the brachos that are constantly being showered upon me. I need to take a minute and smile more often.

Still hoping for more comments on the post below.

A Question for all JBloggers…

I’m trying to do some research for a future posting. I’m trying to find out the average age of most Jbloggers or comment posters.
How old are you? Please feel free to reply as “Anonymous”. Thanks and please tell your friends.

Neil Harris: 35 (but not for much longer)

‘Mapquest Yiddishkeit’

Don’t let the title throw you off, just stick this one out for a minute or two. I’ve been living in Chicago for nine months now, and I really have no clue about where things are geographically. I don’t really use a map anymore, I use Mapquest. I can tell you what exit I need to take to get to a museum, or how many miles I need to go until I turn left to get to someone’s house, but I can’t place too many locations on a map. I’ve become a product of what I’d like to call the ‘Mapquest generation’.

I contrast this with living in New York (1991-1997) where, I felt, I had a pretty good grasp of where thing were in each borough and Long Island (with the exception of a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn and all of Jersey). The main reason that I knew how to get places was because I used maps, not Mapquest. I knew streets as streets, and what was located nearby because I used a map.

With Mapquest one only knows how to get to their location, not what else is around the area.
I think there is a difference between knowing the directions of how to get to a hashkafic location and knowing where ones’ hashkafa is relation to other hashkafos.

I just hope I don’t raise a generation of ‘Mapquest Jews’. What I mean is Jews who know only how to get to their own derach and don’t see where they are in relation to other acceptable avenues and streets of Torah Judaism. Understanding where you are holding and respecting other is key how we function with a frum society.

The ‘Maquest model’ does have some redeeming value. For me it can serve a very useful function. When I am not on target with my Avodas Hashem, there is value in just getting basic directions to where I need to go, without the details of the surrounding area.

I know there are areas in which I slack. Davening b’tsibur is a challenge for me, at times. Applying the Mapquest approach would mean that I should focus only on my destination, in this case getting to a minyan. Where I am, in relation to others, in Avodas Hashem is only important in terms of chizuk.

It says in Peirkei Avos, “Ha Makir Es Makomo”, one should know ones’ place.

Scandal + Wrongdoing = PR Nightmare

Sadly, people make wrong choices. Some choices that our observant brothers and sisters make seem to be brought to light in blogs, print, radio, and TV. From sexual misbehavior to financial misrepresentation to a break in trust with kashrus…we see it all, these days. While different forms of media, both Jewish and non-Jew, expose these terrible events within our communities, for me, as an observant Jew, it’s a public relations nightmare.

I, who has chosen a path of ethical and religious life, am often bombarded with questions from both non-religious relatives and non-jewish friends.
“How could a religious person do such a thing?”
“Isn’t a Rabbi a holy person?”
“Don’t you answer to a ‘higher standard’?”
“Is this what you’re raising your kids to be like?”
“Doesn’t your Torah teach you ethics?”

I’ll stop. You can probably think of half a dozen other questions. What do I do? How do I respond? I don’t really have the answers. I’ve told people the standard, “Don’t judge a religion by the people” line, but that really doesn’t cut it.

The truth is that we all have to answer for our actions. The concept of reward and punishment is fundamental to Judaism. When I’m finally judged, the excuse of, “At least I didn’t pass off non-kosher chicken for kosher,” doesn’t really matter. We are judged against ourselves and our potential.
Does anyone have any other ideas about how do deal with these issues?