Category Archives: bumper stickers

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

The best T-shirt ever for my Elul

I happen to like things that allow limited space for a given message, like t-shirts and bumperstickers.
On Wednesday I saw a brilliant T-shirt.  It captured an import foundation in personal growth.  Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l, the Mashgiach from the Mir (and a talmud of the Alter of Kelm, the Alter of Slobodka, and the Chofetz Chaim) said, “Woe to a person who is not aware of his faults, for he does not know what he has to correct. But double woe to a person who is not aware of his virtues, for he is lacking the tools for correcting himself“. 

What the Mashigach is saying is that if you don’t know exactly what your good points are, then you are lost. Without knowing exactly what those good points are, the things you excell at and make you who you are, then you can’t get anywhere.

When one reaches Elul, ok when I reach Elul, I usually attempt to figure out what I didn’t work on so much during the year. I look at my Cheshbon HaNefesh (I actually keep one online at and see what my “issues” and things I was struggling with were during the year and where I fell short. R Yerucham’s approach seems different. By focusing on our virtues we not only build up our confidence, but also become more aware of exactly what gifts Hashem decided to specifically give us. This idea is very in tune with the whole “Galus HaAdom” approach of Slobodka, finding the greatness within.

I think that using Elul as a time to bring out my strengths can only help me.  Usually my Elul is sort of a cannonball into a pool of introspection followed by endless laps by way of the Tikun HaMiddos stroke.  Using what virtues I might have to augment those things that I’m weak in brings me to the T-shirt.  Each of us has a “virture” or something that we are fairly good at.  If you don’t want to feel like a baal guyvah, then just accept that someone close to you feels that you are probably good at something.  Our goal is of figure it out and use that as a springboard in other areas.  Look at the T-Shirt below and think about how you would fill in the blank.

At a shopping mall near you: The Mussar Kisok

A few weeks ago I went to a big shopping mall in a suburb of Chicago with my family. Among the many kiosks there I found a “Kabbalah Kiosk”. Like any given kiosk you see in a mall these days, this one was run by several citizens from Israel who had come to America to attempt to make some money.
This one has lots of charms, mezzuzah covers, earrings, necklesses, rings, pictures, ect depicting things like the Ten Sefirot, several Hebrew phrases, and other such Kabbalah items (although they didn’t sell these albums). The young adults selling the items were from Tel Aviv and Yerushalyim, both of them seemed nice. After walking away I thought of that article in the Forward, titled “The Path of the Just: Is Mussar the new Kabbalah?”.
Would there ever be such a thing as a “Mussar Kiosk” in a shopping mall? I doubt it, but if there was, then the kiosk would probably be very hard to find in the mall, as most Baalei Mussar tended to stay away from the spot-light and not reveal themselves. It would be in a place that you might have to walk past once or twice before noticing it.
They would most likely sell all of the products from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, such as bookmarks, posters, tapes and cds.
You would be able to by cool things like micro-sized copies of Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim with keychains attached to them. Or even MP3s and ebooks of Mussar seforim.
You could buy jewlery with silver blades of grass attached to them to remind your wifes and daughters 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)
They might have small “Tefillin mirrors” with the words “Mussar starts here” printed on them.
Paperweights that look like buckets of water to remind people the story about when the Chofetz Chaim was a boy and while other kids thought it would be funny to freeze the water in the buckets for the local water carrier, young Yisrael Meir would empty the buckets as chessed to the water carrier.
Hot coffee and latkes would be available to remind visitors that when Rav Dessler was little boy he use to get up early on Shabbos to learn with his Rebbe before davening. His mother would have hot coffee and tasty latkes (probably small cakes) waiting for him when he got out of bed. While the ikar of getting up was to learn, he himself writes that because of what his mother had waiting for he, he “got out of bed quicker”. This was an example of “Sh’lo lishma, bo lishma”.
They would, for sure, sell the trash can that I have dreamed about, based on the awesome trash cans they had in the Alter of Kelm’s Talmud Torah. These trash cans were designed to be very narrow at the bottom and wide at the top (sort of like an inverted cone). If you were not careful in how you put your trash into it, it would tip over. They were designed to teach the talmidim that each action, even throwing garbage away, has an effect.
You could buy bumperstickers that would say: “I break for Midos Tovos”, “Bein Adom L’Chavero on board”, “If I’m driving to slow, then you might want to work on your Savlanut”, “My other car is a Beis HaMussar”, “Honk if you did Teshuva”, and “If I’m driving too fast, it’s becuase I’m working on the midah of Zerizus”.
Again, I doubt if items a kiosk like this would ever end up in a mall, but I’d love to work there and I’d be smiling big time if someone came over to ask if we sold hammers, as a reference to this Mussar exercise.

Help Chai Lifeline and sponsor this blogger to Bike the Drive

Dear Friends,

In a few weeks, I will join dozens of Chai Cyclists in Chicago’s Bike the Drive, a thirty-mile rally on Lake Shore Drive, to raise money for Chai Lifeline, a wonderful organization dedicated to helping very sick children and their families.

While I normally use my bike for fun, on May 25th I’ll be using my bike to help raise money for Chai Lifeline. I except to be rather tired, but it’s for a great cause. I’m not from the big bikers (in fact, like the old bumper sticker says, “I’d rather be skateboarding), but I’m going to give it a try.

Chai Lifeline provides year-round emotional, social, and financial support to more than 3,000 children and their families every year. In our area, Chai Lifeline Midwest offers access to two-dozen free programs and services that touch each member of the family, helping them to live full and happy lives despite the presence of illness.

My objective is to raise at least $180 by race day and I hope you will help me reach this goal. All donations are 100% tax deductible. If your company has a matching gift program, your gift may be doubled or tripled. You can be part of this amazing event by helping to sponsor me by clicking here and finding my name (Neil Harris) in the pull down menu. It’s fast and easy!

Thank you for supporting me, and in doing so, helping children and their families cope with the diagnosis, treatment and aftermath of serious pediatric illness. Please feel free to forward this to anyone who might be interested in supporting Chai Lifeline.



P.S. Again, you can sponsor me directly on line by going here.
Find my name in the drop down menu and then fill out the form to make your donation. No amount is too small or too big. Thanks!

I’ll be posting training updates and if you would like me to to listen to an mp3 shiur while biking, as a refuah or a z’chus for someone, please feel free to email me at .

How I dealt with the Agudah and Blogs

When I first heard about the Agudah coming down on blogs, I was a bit surprised. I had a real urge to take a picture of one of the local “Agudath Israel” funded schools buses and Photoshop a bumper sticker that read “I BREAK FOR BLOGS”. While I would have found my creation quite humorous, it would not have been very Uberdox. I felt that a more direct and menshlikeit approach would be better than just blogging about how the “Agudah is picking on bloggers” (plus my kid enjoys riding the bus home from school, thanks to the Agudah).

Below is a the text of my letter to Rabbi Shafran and his reply. All in all, I was glad that I chose to directly address my concerns and I was pleased with the reply. I actually left him a voicemail thanking him for his email to me. I hope that someone will post an accurate and non-biased report of what will actually go down at the convention.

November 2, 2006

Dear Rabbi Shafran,
I’ll start off by thanking you for taking a few minutes to read this. I’m sure you’ve gotten a headaches worth of email and phone calls concerning the recent Yated article about the upcoming convention, which quotes Rabbi Zweibel as saying that:
“In recent years, though,” the Agudah leader observes, “due to a variety of factors, the authority of daas Torah has been significantly undermined, even within our own chareidi circles. Most troubling has been the proliferation of Internet ‘blogs’ where misguided individuals feel free to spread every bit of rechilus and loshon hora about rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, all with the intended effect of undermining any semblance of Torah authority in our community.”
I agree this is a major problem. I’m happy to see that it is being discussed at the Agudah convention. I am concerned though. As someone who is a “blogger”, I am worried. I’m familar with all the reasons why certain blogs are totally anti-daas Torah and, in fact, do nothing but promote chillul Hashem, sinas chinam, and a complete lack of respect towards rabbonim. I agree that those blogs are harmful to klal Yisrael.
There are blogs out there that are, in fact, similar to what is produced by Am Echad. Insightful, sensitive, timely approaches to important issues (although they are not was well written as what you write). Some blogs, such as are geared toward the baalei teshuva community and allows Torah observant Jews from across the world to discuss, learn and grow in their yiddishkeit.
I, personally, blog under my own name. I have an average of 40 readers per posting and if I was to stop my blog, I wouldn’t be missed by too many. I hope that in the Agudah’s effort to intelligently and thoughfully deal with the issues that Rabbi Zweibel has mentioned, the end result is not a complete campaign against blogging as a whole. There are plenty of ehrlich frum yidden who learning, davening, give tzedaka, teach, and help raise the next generation of Torah Jews, and happen to blog, as well.
Thank you for your time and if you feel this message should be passed along to others, please do so. I will not be able to attend the convention, but might try to join the Midwest convention. If you feel I should share my views with Rabbi Kalish or others within the Agudah leadership here in Chicago, please feel free to make any suggestion to me. Thanks again and have a great Shabbos.

Neil Harris
Chicago, IL

Dear Mr. Harris,
Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful letter. I personally agree with your sentiments and will share your e-mail with others, including Rabbi Zwiebel. I think I can assure you that Agudath Israel has no complaints against blogs like yours — my own essays are occasionally posted on at least one responsible blog, Cross-Currents. There can be no question that much good is being accomplished by the web-presence of responsible, intelligent frum people… any criticism of blogs from us, as a careful reading of Rabbi Zwiebel’s statement should show, is clearly aimed at the irrresponsible and destructive ones. Again, thanks for writing, and much continued hatzlacha to you, in your blogging and in all else.
Good Shabbos,