Monthly Archives: October 2010

Stolen Torah recovered thanks to cragislist

This is straight from CNN:

Stolen Torah returned to Arizona synagogue after Craigslist ad

From CNN’s Dan Gilgoff:

A Torah that was stolen from an Arizona synagogue on Monday has been returned after a Craigslist ad offered a $500 reward for the scrolls, the synagogue’s rabbi said Saturday.
“The hardest thing to figure out is what this person was expecting to do with it,” said Rabbi Reuven Mann, who leads the synagogue in Phoenix. “There is a market for people that buy and sell Torahs, but it has do be done legitimately.”

A member of Mann’s congregation, Young Israel of Phoenix, posted the Craigslist ad Tuesday, a day after the Torah – which the rabbi says is valued around $35,000 – was discovered missing in an apparent theft.
“I thought that the person who took it didn’t know what they were doing,” said Sam Saks, who placed the ad, noting that a prayer shawl and tefillin – boxes containing scripture that some Jewish men wear during prayer – were also missing.

“The Torah itself was a big enough heist,” Saks said. “If you’ve already stolen a Lexus, why would you take an ashtray?”
“Reward – Torah scroll, Hebrew – $500” his ad said, “…no questions asked.”

The ad included pictures of Torahs – which contain the first five books of the Bible inscribed by hand – in case someone had found the congregation’s scroll but didn’t know what it was.

Saks said he received an e-mail response later Tuesday, from a woman who claimed to have found the Torah in a Phoenix trash can.

When the woman did not immediately agree to return the Torah, Saks e-mailed her a message from Mann and the congregation’s president explaining its significance and asking to get it back in time for Friday night services.

“The trick was to let the person know we were not interested in legal action and that we just wanted to the Torah back,” said Saks, who is an attorney.

Saks asked her to meet him at the synagogue on Friday afternoon. She showed up Friday morning instead, dropping off a garbage bag containing the Torah, in the same condition as before, the prayer shawl and the tefillin.

The congregation’s president, Farley Weiss, said that he has asked Phoenix police not to press charges. “The explanation that this woman gave us is that she had nothing to do with the crime,” Weiss told CNN.

The Phoenix Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday night.

Saks declined to share the woman’s e-mail address, saying he promised to maintain her anonymity.

She has not yet claimed the reward.

“We may not share the same religion,” Saks said the woman, who described herself as a Christian, wrote to him in an e-mail Saturday night. “I believe there is a higher power and believe that there is a right and wrong.”

Blame it on the bus

We (meaning my wife and a couple we’re close with) have running joke that when our kids exhibit behavior or say something that is totally beyond appropriate or not in line with the way of a young mensch/maidel-Yisrael, we say that they must have “learned it on the bus”. (Note: We have busing in the afternoons from school to home for our kids, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Agudath Israel of Illinois. This is truly a bracha in many ways.)

Yesterday my 5th grader told my wife that the bus driver and, even, several 8th grade boys have been “swearing” on the bus and that he and a friend were going to speak to the principal about it. I asked him exactly what words and he told me. One started with S and one with F (and it wasn’t Simcha and Freilich, although if we lived in an extremely anti-chassidishe world, it would be really funny if those words were considered “swear words”).

So, I asked him if he had known about those words before yesterday. He had, but he had never actually heard them said. This opened the door to a short conversation about Nivul Peh and the responsibility to use the mouth that Hashem gave us for serving Hashem with our words. I suppose that I should be happy he lasted this long without really hearing those kind of words.

I know there are times when I’ve gotten injured or angry about something and before I know it I’ve uttered a word that I normally wouldn’t think of using. People slip (commit an aveira, distance themselves from Hashem’s Kedusha, call it what you wish) and hopeful try to better themselves. What bothers me is that I happen to know a handful of people who I think of as good Yidden, but who will casually throw in an occasional Simcha or Freilich when they feel like it. Now, it may be a habit leftover from their past, it may be that they feel it’s acceptable to do so based on the culture (since those words are allowed in PG-13 movies, songs, tv), or their way of expressing themselves within a religion that seems to have laws about everything, or because English isn’t viewed as loshon haKodesh. I’m sure they have their reasons.

What bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. Some parents would say that if I don’t like what my kids are being exposed to on the bus, then speak to the Agudath about getting a money back from what I initially paid for bus service and just pick up my son from school myself. That’s one way to deal with it. My son and his friend are attempting to see if the administration of the school can try to do something, first. Again, what bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. On the bus with an adult who is busy driving the bus (which is his job). On the bus that has a group of 4th-8th grade boys hanging out on their way home from school. On the bus without any “adult” watching their behavior. Without anyone to be accountable to.

Many kids, even from the best, frum, homes don’t feel that accountability all the time. That feeling that is stated as the first thing in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the concept of “Shevisi Hashem l’negdi tamid – I have placed Hashem constantly before me”, is something that goes beyond home, shul, and school. This, in my own opinion, is half of the problem. The other half, and maybe the root of the problem, is that some kids (and adults, like this writer) forget that the greatest Yetzer Hora is to forget that they themselves are the son or daughter of the King.
Call it a lack of B’tzlem Elokeim.
Call it being in the dark about Gadlus HaAdom.
Call it not understanding the goal of shelaymus.
Call it a result of not knowing that D’veykus with Hashem is a good thing.

How do we act when we think that no one is looking? The bus just happens to be the lab where the experiment takes place. The drive to work is also the lab. Being in your office is the lab. Going shopping is the lab. We control the results of the experiment.

For sources on Nivul Peh, see R Morechai Torczner’s HaMakor site.
For resources about why not to curse, see the Bleep! site.

cRc Kosher App now available for iPhone and iPad for free

Davka Corporation just developed and released the Chicago Rabbinical Council Kosher app.

The information presently includes their lists for kosher Slurpees, Beverages and Liquor as well as our guide for checking fruits and vegetables and a list of over 80 cRc approved hechsherim (with contact info).

In today’s world when it seems that some things, like scotch and bourbon can go from accecptable to no-recommended overnight, this is a great way to stay informed.

It’s really user friendly, easy to read, and well designed.
Check it out here.
The cRc’s website can be accessed by clicking here.

The (moving) Sign of the Times

Photo taken by me

I usually steer away from writing things that express my opinions, especially regarding the community I live in (which I happen to like).  However, yesterday was the last day of business for Rosenblum’s World of Judaica, which is moving out of my neighborhood to the suburb of Skokie, just about a 15 minute drive from me.

I understand why they are moving, due to the cultural change in our neighborhood’s main drag, Devon Ave.
Rosenblum’s was sort of the last great anchor on the street (which does boast a fish market, two all-kosher grocery stores, a bakery, a number of shuls, a certified Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins, and several shomer Shabbos businesses).

As I walked around the block from where I live to Rosenblum’s yesterday afternoon, I was sad.  Back in the day, well between 1998-2006, when we would come up from Indianapolis to visit friends, buy fresh meat, and occasionally eat out, Devon was different.  There was, at the time, also another seforim store, a pizza joint (we still have several in the greater Chicago area), another fish market, a sit down Chinese restaurant and more importantly, there was a feeling of a “Jewish” neighborhood.  For me, the main attraction was Rosenblums.  I love walking through the aisles and seeing both the newer seforim and older “one copy left” type books.  They have an extensive music section, gifts, kiddush cups, menorahs, kids items, etc.  They sell siddurim, chumashin, machzorim, etc to many instituions aross the country.  My father a”h was the one who arranged for his congregation in Wichita, Kansas to get their Artscroll sidduim and Stone chumashim from Rosenblum’s.  Each member of their staff, even yesterday when they were swamped, makes you feel you are their only customer.

In addition, they serve the greater community, meaning not just the Orthodox.  Many non-Orthodox customers came in to buy items and many gentiles, too.  Many a Sunday I would walk to their store, around the corner from me, and as I was looking for a Pirkei Avos or a shopping for seforim from the “school list” for my kids, I’d hear Mr. Fox giving a tour and having an intense question and answer session with groups of non-Jews or high school or college comparative religion students.  The store itself was/is a reminder that that we are, as clichéd as it sounds, a “people of the Book”.

We, as a family, pretty much split our shopping between Rosenblum’s and the other store in town (just a mile north), in hopes of supporting both Jewish businesses.  However, the convience of having a store so close to home is something that I will lament.  While it’s a loss that most people in my own neighborhood will probably feels bad about, I doubt that most will not talk about it until a store moves into their old location that doesn’t serve our Jewish community.  Then they will say, “I wish Rosenblum’s had stayed.”  

The good news it that their new store will be bigger, have free parking, is only about 15 minutes from me, and is more accessable for those in the suburbs.  Another plus, is that it seems a new pizza/itialian restaurant will be opening right next door to them before the end of 2010.

Rosenblum’s World of Judaica plans to be opened the first week of Novmember at 9153 Gross Point Road,
Skokie, IL 60077.  There phone number remains the same, (773) 262-1700, although I’m not sure how they were able to keep the same area code and phone number, even though they moved out of Chicago.

While the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” certainly doesn’t apply for Devon Ave in Chicago, I can only hope that other stores in the area don’t close or move.

Upon the first yartzeit of my dad a"h

Sunday, the 16th of Cheshvon, is the first yartzeit for my father a”h, Avraham ben Zorach, Albert Lyon Harris.  A few weeks ago my family and I were in Wichita, Kansas for the weekend to join my brother, mother, step-mother, aunts and uncles for the “unveiling” of the matzeiva (grave marker) for my father a”h.  It was bittersweet (much like my father’s favorite type of chocolate).  The comfort and feeling of togetherness was accompanied our collective memory of the last time we were all “together”.

A close family friend who brought in briskets, deli, and breads from Kansas City and thanks to fairly well stocked local grocery store, my wife came up with an awesome menu and fed the entire family (and a few friends) for both Shabbos dinner and lunch.  Even my father, who spent decades in the food industry as a restaurateur, would have been beyond impressed with the amount of food my wife made in such a short amount of time and with very limited cookware.

That Sunday, we gathered together at the Hebrew Cemetary, were my father and others had always made sure was in tip-top shape.  I found myself wearing the same suit and the same shoes that I had worn 11 and a half months and surrounded by many of the same people, as well.  My remarkes said over at the cemetary are below:

There really is no good way to start speaking for a lifecycle event like this.  All I can really think about is that the yartzeit, anniversary of the death of my father, a”h is taking place in exactly two weeks and again here we are again, here I am again, seeing so many people that really cared so much about him.

Marking a grave is a very old Jewish tradition, starting with after Rachel died,  when “Jacob erected a monument on Rachel’s grave” (Genesis 35:20).
In fact the word for stone, ev’en, is a contraction of two Hebrew words, Av, meaning father, and Ben, meaning son.  A gravestone serves as a connection between generations, between parents and children.   It is a physical reminder of a life lived, of the love shared, and the memories made.  As a whole, the eleven months and two weeks have gone by quickly, as individual days, each day without my father has been very long for all of us.  At this time I would like to thanks all of you who have been there this past year for my mother and Dixie.

It was once observed (by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, a dean of yeshiva students in Jerusalem) that a train and a plane can both reach their destinations.  Difference is that train stays on the ground as it proceedes, and a plane not only proceeds in the right direction, but ascends in the air at an optimum altitude and then reaches its destination sooner.  In life, as well, there are two means of advancement.  The first is progressing–but progressing only along the ground, which many people attempt to do at one point or another in their lives.  The second kind of advancement involves lifting oneself up and above this earth- giving one the opportunity to travel faster and reach our destination quicker, but also to soar above the impediments of even mountain-sized obstacles.
My father’s life was very much like that of a plane.  He traveled though his life and let no obstacles get in his way.  He lived a life that made him happy and did many of the things that he dreamt of doing.  He also reached is own final destination, although, much quicker than any of us wanted him to.
We all have good days and bad days, when we are faced with challenages and struggles.  Personally, in the past 11 months, there have been many times when getting though the day hasn’t been easy, but it’s important for us all to follow the path that my father took and continue on the journey and soar above everything that stands in our way.
Additional posts about my father a”h can be read here.

I ask that you please wanted to take a minute and in this coming
 week you attempt to do one extra chessed, act of kindness, for someone.
 The effect can last a lifetime.

Ease of Access to Lifestyles

Graphic found here

Maybe I’m just getting older, but I often find myself thinking, “I remember when…” about a great many things.  Consumer demand, the internet, and mainstream acceptance have made it easier for today’s teens and young adults to become:

1. More observant and knowledgeable about their Yiddishkeit
2. Buy into and feel part of “punk” culture

When I was becoming observant (the thinking, reading, exposure period was between 1985-1987) web wasn’t even around.  This alone allows people searching to get legit information and have a virtual library at their fingertips.  Back in my time, Artscroll was figuring out how to build up their catalogue.  The OU/NCSY publications written by R Aryeh Kaplan zt’l was about all there was to read.  Today, even without living in a large Jewish community, you can read experts from books, e-books (Artscroll actually just rolled out several titles available in the iBook format), order seforim, read Chumash w/ /Rashi online, or even “Ask Moses“.  I mean, come on, today you can even purchase challah covers and washing cups on!  It’s a whole new world and it’s great.

And it’s not only online.  Many libraries now have fairly impressive Jewish book sections and allow books to be ordered from other libraries across the country.  You can even purchase some Artscroll titles at Barnes and Noble.  This still blows my mind.  The availability of programs like Partners in Torah and Jewish Pathways have allowed those in even very remote areas to grow in the Jewish knowledge.  The ease of access to such storehouses of Jewish knowledge have made it much easier for those seeking answers about Yiddishkeit to truly grown from within.

Contrast this with the ease of those teens or young adults who yearn to be “so punk it hurts”.  Back in my day, you had to actually stay up really late and position your radio just right to catch various music programs on the local college radio station.  That’s were the bands I “grew up with” were being played.  Or, if you had cable, you could figure out a way to stay up late on Sunday nights to watch MTV’s “120 Minutes” a show that aired “underground” music videos and had interviews with non-top 40 musicians.  Both options involved drinking some coffee around 7pm at night.  If you wanted a cool band merch you had to use something called “mail-order” and wait for weeks until your shirt, button, or patch showed up at your door.  You had to hunt down the albums, cassettes, or CDs you wanted.

Today, if you want to be punk, you really just need to go your local mall and enter the chain of stores known as “Hot Topic”.  I walked in once, a few months ago.  They have the clothes, the band t-shirts, CD, vinyl albums, and even a slick kiosk that allows one to order additional band merch and music from a website then get it delivered to the store.  Amazing.  I was impressed, and I admit that I felt a bit nostalgic, when I saw t-shirt for sale from the Ramones, the Clash, and Black Flag.  I won’t even get into things like file sharing (to get the entire discography of most bands for free) and any punk history lessons you want from various Wiki articles.  The commercialism of the punk scene had made it to the masses.  Now everyone could look the part.

And that’s just it.  You can look the part today.  Accessibility for those seeking Yiddishkeit has resulted in an internal growth of Torah knowledge and availability of a few “necessary” items that can enhance your observance.  It is mostly, in my opinion, something that happens from within and then sprouts up to a blossom of Torah observance.

With the “punk” thing (and most cultures/sub-cultures) its almost completely the opposite.  You can adorn yourself with shirts, bracelets, rings (for your finger, ear, or nose), and fill you ears with music that was difficult to acquire even 30 years ago.  However, it’s mostly just a anchor to externally identify with a sub-culture.  Its’ easy of access most not something that moves on from within.

Advice from my father-in-law a"h

The 12th of Cheshvon, marks the 3rd yartzeit of my father-in-law, Dan HaLevi ben Aaron a”h, Dan Huth.

My father-in-law a”h had a very unsual knack for telling over very pithy sayings and coming up with on-target analogies that seemed to make things crystal clear.  My wife happened to have inherited that trait, too.  One of my favorite sayings of his (I’m not sure of the origin of this saying, sorry) is:

If you are throwing roses to someone and it hits them like bricks, then you are throwing bricks.

Often it’s easy something to someone and have it taken the wrong way.  Usually we’re not aware of it, and it’s an honest mistake.  However, even if it wasn’t your intention, your words can end up hurting someone else.  This is called onaas devarim.  Most people are aware of when they say something hurtful, it s a conscious decision.  But, many times we think we are giving a compliment or offering advice and what we end up doing is throwing bricks.  I’ve seen this happen too often (and mostly I’m the one throwing bricks).

Over Tishrei I decided that we (my family, that is) needs to work on being more sensitive to onaas devarim, so starting this Shabbos Kodesh I’m attempting to go through sections of R Zelig Pliskin’s book on this topic, THE POWER OF WORDS, at each Shabbos meal.  Hopefully it will make us more sensitive to the importance of what we say and, more importantly, how we say things.

Written as an aliyah for the neshama of Dan HaLevi ben Aaron

My dad a"h and his barber

Photo from here

We often read about “acts of chessed (kindness)” and the importance of think of others and what their needs are. Last Shabbos, while speaking with the best friend of my father a”h, I discovered something amazing. My father would always pay for his haircuts a year in advance. He did this because he knew that there would be times when people would cancel their appointments with his barber and because times were tough. My father did many things like this, always trying to think of how he could help someone else. He wasn’t “yeshiva educated” or well versed in books regarding Jewish ethics. He was simply a person who tried to think of others.

(Originally written and posted on my blog at