Monthly Archives: June 2011

Isn’t "half-Shabbos" only half bad?

This is probably not a surprise, but I’m not in favor of “half-Shabbos”.  In fact, I strongly suggest that if you haven’t read Rabbi Maryles’ post on the subject from last week, then you should.

Of course, it’s not just high school age teens.  I know of twenty-somethings that do this, too.  Like germs, technology trends, fad diets, and a funny clip on YouTube… it’s everwhere.

If I found out that my own son or daughter was texting on Shabbos, I’m not sure what I would do (it would probably involved some screaming, sadly).  Most likely, I’d start playing the blame game.  It’s pretty easy to blame the school and the parents for not teaching our youth to appreciate the beauty of Shabbos.  It’s even easier to look at our shuls, Rabbanim, and community leaders and think that if there was more real leadership or a feeling of passion about Yiddishkeit then these kids would feel some busha about texting in parks or behind closed doors.  I’ve read about this in blogs for almost a year.  I’ve seen the comments, schmoozed with a few friends about this and there’s one question that I haven’t heard.

What were these people doing on Shabbos before they started texting and using their phone on Shabbos Kodesh?  Probably tearing toilet-paper, picking out the bad jelly-beans from the good ones, watching movies on Shabbos with their iPhones on Netflix (with headphones), chewing treif gum or even something worse.  The odds are that someone who is keeping “half-Shabbos” by texting has been involved in other less-headline grabbing aspects of chillul Shabbos for some time.  I know, you’re thinking, “You are right, Neil.  I’ve read countless articles in the Jewish Week, Jewish Press, Chicago Jewish News, and the Baltimore Jewish Times about so many high school age teens that are being rebellious by double-knotting their shoes on Shabbos.”  In fact, if we assur’ed lace-up shoes, then we could stem the tide of kids at-risk.

If we want to really isolate the blame as to why “half-Shabbos” has become a trend then we have to swallow the hechshared or other-the-counter-approved pill and look at the person reading this (I’ll take care of looking at the person writing this).  It’s us.

We are to blame.

If you choose to blame the schools or the shuls, then stop.  If you think the schools and shuls should be more involved in promoting the concept of Ahavas Hashem and the importance of building a relationship with Hashem then you have to be the one to discuss it with those people in charge.  If you think that parents who try to be friends with their kids instead of being parents are to blame for not being more aware of what their kids are doing, then learn how to approach the parents.  Now, it could be that parents and educators don’t have the tools needed to approach those that keep “half-Shabbos”.  Then we need to pull together Rabbis, educators, Kiruv-types, and adolescent psychologists to figure out a game plan.

I’m an optimist by default.  This “glitch in the matrix” is just that, a glitch.  This is just a trend.  We, as an observant community, have dealt with both youth and adults not keeping “full Shabbos” in the past.  In fact, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter encountered it when he moved to the port city of Memel of Lithuania, a community that wasn’t so into keeping Shabbos:

Reb Yisroel did not take a harsh, uncompromising stance against Sabbath desecration in that setting. Instead, he resorted to a soft, graduated approach. In his first sermon he explained the concept of Shabbos to the people on their level, concluding that chillul Shabbos at the port was intolerable because of the writing involved – the major Sabbath desecration of running a business. He did not discuss the actual portering of goods. Many agreed that they could postpone their writing until the weekdays, while the loading and unloading continued.

Some weeks later he suggested that without too much sacrifice, it should be possible not to send shipments, even if goods did arrive. Slowly this approach too became acceptable to the merchants. After a period of time, he convinced them that even the unloading was not vital – and the Jewish merchants of the city ceased all their port activities on the Shabbos. A revolutionized Memel emerged.  (From Tnuas Hamussar vol 1, page 186)

One of the many things to learn from the above story is that you can’t always have an “all or nothing” approach.  That doesn’t work all the time.  In fact, we don’t even need to look to a story about Jewish life in 1860, I can look to our times.  There’s a group called Reboot who started a campaign a few years ago called the Sabbath Manifesto.

It wasn’t started by a kiruv organization, an outreach yeshiva, or an umbrella organization that represents Torah Jews.  It was started by diverse group of non-Orthodox Jews.  They try to and have been successful in getting people to reduce using communication devices on Shabbos.  They even sell a cool sleeping bag to put your cell phone into.  The had a national day of unplugging in March and had thousands of people unplug from their phones for a Shabbos.

Most social trends like inter-marriage, assimilation, and substance abuse tend to start outside of our own dalet amos and eventually filter into our heimishe velt. Maybe trend of unplugging will reach those choosing to keep “half-Shabbos” and filter into our own heileigah homes and schools.

In the meantime, if you’re one of those who keeps a “half-Shabbos” then remember, you’re still half-way closer to “full Shabbos”.

* A special thanks to R Yitzchok Lowenbraun and AJOP for featuring this post in their weekly newsletter.

A true win in the eyes of the non-sports fan

I am not a sports fan.

I could blame it on the environment I grew up in, since my hometown isn’t home to any professional sports teams. I was never particularly athletic, but did play some soccer when I was in elementary school. That, aside from posing as a skateboard, was the extent of my active involvement in any sports. Of course, I bike (for information about this and how to help me raise money for Chai Lifeline click here), but it’s more of a hobbie. My father a”h was an avid tennis player and golfer back in the day and he loved to watch college basketball, especially our local team, the Wichita State Shockers. We would attend many games during the season and always watch them on TV. As I got older, my interest in spending time watching games with my father dissipated, as I moved towards things like comic books, decisively counter-culture music, and Yiddishkeit.

My lack of interest in sports as an adult, you see, has nothing to do with religion or frumkeit. In fact, not being able to chime in about various sports news, scores, and game highlights is somewhat of a social damper for me especially during Kiddush on Shabbos. As I’ve posted before, my son (in 5th grade) is a huge sports fanatic. Aside from being fairly athletic (he gets this from my wife’s side of the family), he is a avid fan of professional sports. At White Sox games he has completely held his own when talking about plays with adults sitting near us and will even record games off the radio with his mp3 player so that he can listen to them if he falls asleep.

As a father I know and have seen how sports can be a “father and son” bonding thing. I make an effort to always find out the scores of games in the morning, so that I can tell him who wins and I often will be the one to give him a newsflash about when someone is traded from one team to another. My son understands that I take an active role in what interests him, even if I remain on the sidelines. Playing sports is more than just exercise, it builds teamwork, confidence, and teaches one to follow directions. As I have seen for the past few years in the little league that my son plays in, with the right role-models there are many opportunities to teach the importance of both good sportsmanship and also Kiddush Hashem (as in the real mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, which classically relates to how other Jews see you).

After a recent little league baseball game my son’s coach emailed us about a decision he made towards the end of the game. I admit, I had to read it a few times and even wiki’ed a baseball term. It seems that the coach decided, “to walk one player from the opposing team to load the bases so that there could be a force play at every base in the event that the subsequent batter put the ball in play the ball in play.” As it turns out, my son’s coach “unintentionally violated the rules by ordering an intentional walk so there would be a force play at every base when the next batter came up to bat”, as he wrote us in the email. He concluded his email, which he asked us to read to our sons, with these words:

“As I have discussed making a Kiddush Hashem with the kids over and over, I feel that I may have done just the opposite. I take full responsibility for what transpired and as the coach of the team, I am fully accountable. Please let the boys know that I am sorry that I let them down and I will try to be better in the future. As role models, we can never let our desire to win supersede our obligation to act with derech eretz and proper respect for our fellow players.”

My son’s team has a fairly good record so far this season. There will be more games won and probably a few that he will lose, but this was a true win. I hope in the years to come when he sees his father make mistakes along the way or when he, himself, makes the wrong call at some point, he will be able to look at the intellectual honesty and Torah true menschlikeit that his coach demonstrated.

Rough Drafts, Sloppy copies and Shavuos

In a discussion with my 5th grade son about a research paper he was completing I attempted to explain the importance of a rough draft, as a blueprint for what would be his final product. My 3rd grader, who was listening (and thinking her brother was getting a lecture) chimed in, “My teachers call it a sloppy copy.”

I have always enjoyed the origins of slang words/phrases that seem to make it into our general daily conversation. My fascination probably is rooted in some adolescent form of, as R Mordechai Torczyner would call it, “coolkeit”. Fortifying myself with the language of our youth makes me feel younger and it is less painful than dieting and exercising.

So, I have to wonder, when a “rough draft” start being called a “sloppy copy”?

I am not against the name change, just taken back. This is, again, an example of Niskatnu HaDoros, the diminishing of the generations. “Sloppy copy” seems so, well messy. “Rough draft” does sound abrasive, but it’s a draft. It implies putting in time and effort into making something. There is a feeling of a work ethic associated with a “rough draft”. To me a “sloppy copy” is when you photocopy something and pull the original off the copier glass at the last minute so that the far right side of your photocopy is all wavy and blurry.

Now, with any draft or copy (even this post, which had two drafts) the goal is a completed product that has a feeling of shlaymus (wholeness). The Torah, and both sets of luchos, is a perfect draft in its’ original form. No editing or revising needed. I hope I have used the past 49 days to fix up my, as the kids call it, “sloppy copy” and make myself ready to receive the Torah.

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In Rav Moshe Weinberger’s Perkei Avos shiurim that I listened to this past Sunday, while biking, he mentioned a few ideas that I’d like to expand upon, L’zecher Nishmas the 4th yahrzeit of Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a”h, my mother-in-law.

Rav Weinberger asks (in the 2st shiur)  a question based on the Marahal’s Derech Chaim,  “Why does the first mishna start of stating that Moshe received the Torah from Har Sinai, instead of stating that the Torah was received from Hashem?”
Har Sinai was more than just a place, it was a way of life.  The location was chosen by Hashem, just like we, B’nai Yisrael were chosen by Hashem.  Har Sinai was a constant, a visible force.  It was also chosen because of its’ size and the middah of humility, as many of our children have learned in pre-school.  To be someone that receives Hashem’s Torah, means that you are willing to receive from anyone who can teach you.  It’s is we, like Moshe, who have to be willing to learn what anyone is willing to teach us, no matter if they are a Gadol or a Katon.

Peirkei Avos, Rav Weinberger says, is called “Avos” because the Torah within these Mishnayos are based on a mesorah that goes back and is rooted in the yashrus, the ehrlichkeit, middos, and derech eretz of our Avos and Imos.  Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaaov, Sara, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah, like Har Sinai, taught us how to be m’kabal not just the Torah but a Torah lifestyle of middos tovos. Perkei Avos isn’t just the textbook for a course on how to “act frum” it’s teaches you how to live a frum life.  The Avos and Imos, but the Avos gave over the passion of the one writing the textbook.  My wife’s mother was a prime example of this.  She knew what it meant to be frum, to love Hashem, to have a relationship with Hashem.  She gave that over to those she knew, especially to Joanie.

Later in the 3rd shiur, Rav Weinberger gives an insight into the first thing said by the Anshei Knesses Gedolah, “Be deliberate in judgment.”  This teaching is so important when viewed within context of what was happening to the generation at the that time.  It was the end of the era of Nevu’ah, prophecy, and B’nai Yisrael felt that Hashem was abandoning them.  The Mabit (Rav Moshe be Yosef of Tirani) says that being “deliberate in judgment” doesn’t refer to how we view other people, but how we view the events that happen to us in life.

Din is always related to examining every detail of a situation, looking at things from all sides.  He says that we should always realize, even if the darkest times when we no longer have Naviim, that Hashem is always with us.  This is what the Anshei Knesses Gedolah was teaching their generation.

When we are able to “be deliberate in judgment” and see how each detail in our life is connected to another detail, then the  outcome can only be that Hashem is with us.  This was a middah that Rivka bas Chaim Yosef had perfected.  My mother-in-law never looked at tragedy, loss, or any difficulty as a punishment  from Hashem.  She always knew that Hashem was constantly with her, watching, guiding, and protecting.  We should all be zoche to take this middah from Bubbie and giving it over to our own children.

A request from Mrs. Uberdox

My wife asks of my readers the following:
In honor of my mother’s 4th Yarzheit, Take the time out of your day to lend an ear, a shoulder to cry on , give a warm smile and most importantly don’t forget to tell your family and friends how much you love them. Tomorrow simply isn’t guaranteed. The yarzheit of my mother-in-law, Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a”h, starts this Shabbos night.
Thank you.
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5 hours, 52.5 miles, and $2,448

Photo taken by me at 6:30AM on 5/29/11
Sunday at 5:40AM I biked Lake Shore Drive as part of Chai Lifeline’s Chai Cyclists. It was misty and foggy for most of the ride, not exactly picture perfect weather like previous years, but still amazing.  I had hoped to bike 45 miles in just over 4 hours, but in the end I spent 5 hours biking 52.5 miles, the last hour in the rain. 

At first the fog wasn’t a big deal to me, even though it seems that less people we on the Drive this year. When it started misting, I found myself stopping and cleaning my glasses. It seemed like my first 45 miles went fairly smoothly. While I was thrilled to be biking when it was overcast and 60 degrees, the fog was intense and landmark sites like Buckingham Fountain, the Field Museum, and Soldier Field seemed to disappear as I biked past them.

Things were going well until the rain came at 9:30, when they start clearing the bikers off of Lake Shore drive (think of it as the Belt, or the Van Wyke).  We were all directed to take the “bike path” along the actual lake. On any other day this would have been quite the scenic route, but then it the light mist turned to rain for those last 60 minute and time moved slowly.  
It wasn’t all that bad.  Prior to the rain, I was able to listen to the first three of Rav Moshe Weinberger’s Pirkei Avos shiurim, which were great.  The music that played after those kept me moving even as rain seemed to find me, despite my wishes.
It was a victory for me and for the children and families that are continuously helped by the efforts of Chai Lifeline. I was greeted with cheers from the staff and my brother, who came in from Brooklyn, for my accomplishment.

After the event I went back home with my brother and a close friend/fellow Chai Lifeline cyclist (since he drove us downtown) to be greeted by wife, kids and my friend’s family for a gala breakfast that Mrs. Uberdox made for us.

For those that sponsored me, thanks!!!  A blog post or a thank you letter doesn’t really do justice to how you have directly helped Chai Lifeline by sponsoring me for this event.  My total raised: $2,448.