Category Archives: coffee

Starubucks’ Blond Roast and kiruv

In 2007 I wrote a post titled Kiruv Models for  In it used Starbucks as a model and today I find myself doing the same.  At locations across North America Starubucks revealed their new “Blond Roast”, a light roasted coffee being introduced to attract those who are buying coffee at donut chains and fast food joints.  “We know we’re not serving those customers now. We’re going to bring in new customers,” Andrew Linnemann, director of coffee quality at Starbucks, said of Blonde, in an article today in the Chicago Tribune.

For the people like me, I love a dark roast.  That’s why I like Starbucks (at a cRc recommended kiosk).  I have never had McDonald’s coffee, but Dunkin always tasted watered down.  Over the years Starbucks has introduced “new” things into their stores that seem to grab customers like skim milk, soy milk, and blended frozen drinks.  Some have been more successful than others.

This trend of attracting those who are not part of your market share has always been important in kiruv.  In the past few years this has surfaced in the following ways:
  • The success of The Mussar Institute, popularity of Dr. Alan Morinis’ books, and the introduction of “Mussar” as a buzzword among non-Orthodox branches of Judaism prompted Aish’s Jewish Pathways (self-contained distance/online learning) to get Dr. Morinis to author a “Mussar Program” offering.
  • Popularity of the Maccabeats’ pop music parody vidoes have spawned (time and time again) private individuals and kiruv organizations to put out their own “Jewish” versions of music videos (of course Shlock Rock originally and skillfully did this eons ago).
  • NCSY, the most successful Orthodox youth group, has cornered the market of teen outreach since its’ inception.  In the two years Chabad has begun massive outreach in the form of CTeen,.  “CTeen is a social club where teens learn about themselves and their heritage through giving to others and participating in interactive, hands-on activites.  With over 85 chatpers, CT is the fastest growing network for Jewish teens.”  They even are hosting a massive shabbaton in NYC next month.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I guess those who serve light roasted coffee (a code word for watered down coffee) will be thrilled.  In regard to the bullets above, I’m not sure what the approach should be.  The Mussar Institute has made Mussar relevant for thousands of people (their Facebook group alone has almost 800 members).  More and more I read about Reform and Reconstructionist groups running Mussar programs.  I think that it’s about time adult kiruv groups serve up “Blond” mussar programs to the non-Orthodox community.  The Maccabeats had two very successful parodies and this Chanukah they went with a more traditional route by covering a song by Matisyahu.  NCSY continues to be on the cutting edge of programming, but Chabad has massive funding behind all of their programs.

Opening up your doors to a new market is always a risk.  As is changing the way you make your signature product.  We do, however, have an amazing an unique product to offer…Hashem’s Torah.


HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt"l, Howard Schultz and the Holocaust

In memory of the the Rosh Yeshiva, a great-grandson of the Alter of Slabodka, I’m reposting a “famous” story involving HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel z”tl and Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and a lesson from the Shoah.

The story below, from Am Echad Resources, was written by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks). This article is excerpted from a speech he delivered, and is reprinted courtesy of Hermes Magazine, Fall 2001, a publication of Columbia Business School.

When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.
What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.
We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.
Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do — it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget?” And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away — you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”
The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.
“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.
“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.
“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'”
And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”
And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

The middah of chillaxing and coffee

I have always looked for places to recharge, to think, to read, to relax.  Not so much because my life is so chaotic, but because I value the middah of chillaxing (which falls somewhere between yeshuv hadaas and menucha).    This is probably a leftover habit from my high school days.  I loved hanging out in used book stores and pretty much anywhere that offered bottomless cups of coffee.  After high school when I lived NYC,  I also sought outdoors/nature type locations where I could just sit for a while and think/meditate/hisbodedus (of course that can be done anywhere).  When trying to chillax, the constant was always coffee.  I inherited from my father a’h a love of good coffee and the joy of searching for off-the-beaten-derech places.  It’s the slacker in me that loves sitting with a cup of something caffeinated and a sefer.   
Speaking of coffee, I know I’m in the minority among bloggers, but the cRc’s “Starbucks beverage guidelines” have only helped me in my search for a great place to chill-out with an iced beverage.  For me, it only really means giving up iced coffee at some places and I’m fairly open to their recommendations. 

When I lived in NYC I had a close friend and we would trek all over Manhattan checking out coffee joints.  For me, places that we liked fell into one of two categories:  spots I would recommend to others and those few places that I’d keep to myself and not even take a date to until I knew that I’d marry her (for fear that if we stopped dating she would tell her friends about the coffee bar and then it would become frequented by other frum people).

My most recent search in Chicago has brought me to a cross-roads that I often think about.  Allegiance to the spirit of the independent coffee bar versus  the consistency of a corporation.  The inner post-punk in me loves the feel and look of an independent  store.  However, it only takes one bad drink to realize and appreciate the uniformity and reliability that is offered by a “chain” of big green Starbucks locations.  I am all for non-chain places, but there’s a comfort and reassuring feeling of going to a big green.  Sort of like when you enter a new shul and find a familiar siddur or chumash, you feel more at ease.    Chicago happens to fit both bills.  With some web-base hunting, I’ve found some interesting locations to grab an iced latte.  That’s the good news.  The bad news, is that a majority of the places with high reviews are not open past 8 pm.  Granted, being married with kids, if I am out past 9PM it usually means I’m grocery shopping or at minyan, but late hours is key for a coffee bar.  Chicago, being the first city outside of Seattle to have Starbucks locations, also has plenty of locations all over open until, at least, 9 PM. 

The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value.  Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it.   I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes. 

Years ago, I dreamt of opening up a slick coffee bar (under an acceptable hechshar, of course).  It would have various sefrei machshava available for the customers, offer a retreat from the hectic daily routine, be semi-family friendly, double as a performance space, be an acceptable location for high school aged kids to hang out, be “Jewish” enough for non-orthodox Jews, but not too “Jewish”, and offer informal learning in a laid back environment.   The floor would be unfinished, there would be a minimum of one wall with exposed brick, the ceiling would have pipes and free hanging lighting, Reb Shomo playing softly over the sound system , and if you opened the front door for someone, you be paid with a “Thank you”.

Alas, I’m happy these days to find someplace with free parking and no annoying music.

The need to spend time alone and without seeing people that I know is something that I tend to value.  Don’t get me wrong, I love people and can pretty much talk to anyone, but being by myself (with something to read) every once in a while is something that I appreciate it.   I know many people who “veg out” in front of the TV or unwind by going online (I’m guilty of this, too), but I find more of a lasting value in sitting in the shade at a park, biking, or in this case,  inside somewhere drinking an iced beverage and turning pages every few minutes.  A throwback to my more carefree days, probably.  I look at it like a retreat, like Shabbos or being in a Sukkah.  A temporary recharge.

Starbucks turns 40 and I’ll be drinking…

This morning on Facebook, I posted:
Tomorrow is a big day, as Starbucks unveils a new cup size for iced drinks called the “Trenta”- 31oz. No, I don’t work for SBUX, but I find it funny that technology makes things smaller internally and Starbucks tries to educate us that we need more externally.

While I have been a fan of Starbucks since ’92, I am also aware that since January of 2008 the cRc has been, well, not as into Big Green as I am.

Without getting into links, pdfs, and checklists, my celebration of Starbucks’ newest iced drink size, all 31oz of it, will be low-key, as I run into a building that houses a kiosk.  While SBUX is telling us we need an even bigger sized iced coffee, those who are careful with what they put in their mouths kashurus-wise are using their research to let the public now how limited their choices might actually be.  

I will say, that I survived Starbucks switching from making Frappuccinos out of coffee, sugar, milk and ice to becoming a product I wouldn’t digest.  I survived White Mocha switching from a Kof-K D.E. syrup to something I haven’t ordered in a billion years, and I’ll live with the “checklist”.  I’m curious why the all important checklist hasn’t been circulated among shuls in Chicago, but I’m sure that day will come.  Meanwhile, I pray I have as much passion about my own religious lifestyle as those out there who are passionate about important topics of the day like the decay of morals in society, rampant drug use among teens and adults, sexual predators, kids at-risk, and, oh yeah, what can I drink at Starbucks and where can I buy it.

If your biggest problem is the location of where you can get a drip coffee or an iced Americano then you’re way ahead of me.


I have a friend who was living in E”Y and is now moving back to America.  I mentioned to him that it might be a good idea to keep an item or two in E”Y, so that he still has a connection to the land.  Before I returned after spending time learning in E”Y, I left a set of Mishna Brurah there with a friend.  Eventually I will end up reclaiming it.  I also have a few items that I can’t seem to allow myself to get rid of that in their own strange way allow me to have a connection to E”Y (even if it’s just in my head).

For example, I have several siddurim from my time in there that I will open and daven from several times during the year (especially during the Shalosh Regolim).  I have my old combat boots, that I took with me to E”Y on my high school NCSY summer tour in 1987 (when/where I became observant).  I bought these in Wichita at an army/navy store and I still use them once in a while.  They really are not great for the snow in Chicago, since they have metal “vents” for breathing, but I can’t let myself get rid of them.  I have an old “kartis” or bus pass that I laminated and use as a bookmark.  Then there’s the spoon.  Ah, yes… the spoon!

The spoon rocks!  It was made in E”Y and I bought it in Machane Yehuda.  It’s sort of a teaspoon and is about four inches long. Since buying it in 1990 I’ve used the spoon for stirring coffee.  I use to keep it in my pocket so that whenever I had coffee, I wouldn’t have to bother with a flimsy plastic stirrer.  After getting married and having our first child, it became the unofficial cereal spoon for our kids before they were big enough to use the adult silverware.  My children even refer to it as the “Eretz Yisrael spoon” or “Abba’s special spoon”.  Of course, when I bought it, I never envisioned that I would have it for so long and that my own kids would be using it.

Book, photos, artwork, magnets, or other items remind me of where I have been, but in truth, these are just display pieces.  It’s those things that I can use in my everyday life that really remind me that I need to connect to something or someplace.

My 5 second rule

No, not the one about food falling on the floor.

In Elul I started holding my food or beverage of choice (usually iced coffee) in my hand for at least five second prior to making the appropriate bracha.  This has allowed me to have more patience and also lets me think a bit before actually making a bracha.

Recently I’ve expanded this rule to my cell phone.  When I get a text I make myself wait at least five seconds before even reaching for my phone because I want to remember that I’m in charge, not my phone.

My Shabbos with the Men’s Club

In the summer of 2007, my family and I spent a Shabbos outside of Chicago at a resort with over 500 members of the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Club officers, die hard members and a few spouses. I was not a participant in their annual national convention, but worked as the event coordinator for a caterer that has a nationally know hechshar, who was hired to make the meals for these men and a few women. I had several interesting observations over the weekend.

  • Many Men’s club members/officers I met told me that for all the work they do in getting people to commit to minyan (even once a week), wearing tefillin (they have a world wide campaign), and congregational involvement they lose some of their best to the local Orthodox shuls. This happens mostly because either those Conservative members feel they will gain more knowledge by involvement with Orthodox shuls, or in many cases the local “Chabad rabbi meets them and starts learning with them”.

  • Most of the topics of their educational sessions, based on my schmoozing with participants, lacked any discussion regarding a relationship with Hashem, and instead, focused on social responsibility. I grew up in a ‘traditional’ shul in Wichita, Kansas and experienced much the same with my own education. It wasn’t until my exposure to NCSY that God was even mentioned. That was one of the things that drew me to Torah observance. Sadly, this lack of discussing one’s relationship with Hashem seems to still be a problem.

  • The weekend took place during the Three Weeks and one participant walked out of services on Shabbos night, not because there was someone playing a guitar and singing Carlebach, but because he viewed the singing as a violation of “the prohibition of not listening to music and being joyful during the Three Weeks” (his words to me).

  • There were at least 6 times that someone brought me over to their friends and said “this is what my son or son-in-law looks like” (I have a trimmed beard and was wearing my Shabbos hat).

  • As a general statement, I will say that even the most educated of the group that I met were basically in the dark about the day to day life of an orthodox Jew. I got many questions asked to me ranging from tearing toilet paper on Shabbos to what kind of coffee to drink while driving cross-country.

  • They are (the Men’s Club, that is) very interested in Orthodox outreach techniques, why Discovery Seminars work, the mechanics of NJOP programs, and the word ‘keruv’ (their spelling) came up in many conversations that I had and was even printed on baseball caps that were sold on Sunday morning.  Of course, most of their interest is in doing outreach to intermarried couples, as I was informed. 

On man in his late 60s-early 70s came up and asked me why it was a problem to open Splenda packets on Shabbos. I told him because that it’s an issue of breaking the printed letters. He then said, “Well then cutting a cake with writing on is also a problem on Shabbos, right?”
I answered him and then said, “Thanks for the questions. You have a real Yiddishe kup.”
He smiled and told me proudly that he must have gotten it from his great- great-grandfather. He informed me that his grandmother’s grandfather was Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor z’tl. My heart skipped a beat and I got the chills. In fact, I have the chills right now typing.
I asked, “From Kovno?”
“Of course”, he answered.
I informed him that his relative was the authority on Jewish Law for his generation and that I had attended Yeshiva University, which is named after his relative. He told me that he’s been contacted several times by YU about coming out for a visit.

This man has been a former Men’s Club president, congregational president, and most recently in 1997 was the moving force behind for formation of Camp Ramah Dorom. He is, in fact, very close with R Tovia Singer of and has brought R Singer out to his community a number of times. While not following the direct path of his great-great-grandfather, he is nevertheless, someone who is very serious about his Judaism.

It was an eye opening weekend for me. I got a view of the Conservative movement that even some of the most experienced ‘kiruv professionals’ could only have dreamed of.  It confirmed much of what I heard about, but their thought-out interest in outreach was new to me.

I often read on blogs about how the Conservative movement is dying. I really can’t comment on this, since I’m Torah observant. I do know that, based on first hand knowledge from substitute teaching in a Reform congregation, that the Reform movement is attempting to attract families and make their congregations more of a social meeting environment, a gathering place.  Meanwhile Conservative Judaism, as a movement is losing people to both the left and the right.

If the Conservative movement is trying to adapt “tried and true” kiruv techniques and programs that mimic those within the Orthodox community, then we need to step up to the plate and offer something more. More feeling, more accessible learning, more being truly non-judgmental, and more of a meaningful experience in our observant lifestyle.

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.

Biking the Drive

After weeks of training, a few late nights and the realization that I’m not as young as I use to be, I biked with Chai Cyclists as part of Chicago’s Bike the Drive on Sunday.
I started biking at 5:40 am and finished at 9:15 am.  The weather was perfect.  It was hazy (the sun didn’t really start shining until 9:00 am) and 66 degrees when I started. Unlike last year, there was very little wind, which made things great.  I was, thanks to my hours and miles of training, able to bike at a rather steady pace, stopping every every 15 miles to refill my water bottle with Crystal Light packets.  Things were going well until the  last 7.5 miles, then I began to get a little tired.  OK, really tired.  Of course, others were biking too and I knew that I was almost finished. I kept going, like a man on a mission, and finally made it to the end.
Throughout the ride I was listening to shiurim (all available to download by clicking the links) and was able to get through a shiur on the history of the Slabodka Yeshiva, a biography of  Rav Yitzchak Hutner  and a discussion on Perfection in Human Relations.  What Torah I was able to learn was in memory of:
  • Avraham ben Zorah a”h
  • Rivka bas Chaim Yosef a”h
  • Dan Halevi ben Ovadia a”h
  • Pesha bas Shmuel a”h
  • Yakov ben Rav Avraham Yosef a”h
  • Efraim ben Shlomo a”h

and as a refuah shelaima for:
  • Reuven ben Tova Chaya
  • Esther bas Sara
  • Yenta Tzarna bas Etya
  • Ayelet bas Nurit
At  Grant  Park, where the event ended, we were greeted at the Chai Lifeline tent  by their staff and a nice breakfast of cream cheese sandwiches, pastries and orange juice (I was too exhausted to eat, but the orange juice hit the spot).  Also, at 8:00 am I was greeted at Buckingham Fountain by my brother, who had come from out of town for the event and to cheer me on.
After the ride my friend that I’ve been training with and I (along with my brother) went back out our home where we were given the welcome of a lifetime.   My friend’s had come over and all of our kids had lined up in the front yard and made a paper-link-chain for us to cross.   My daughter in second grade had even made a picture for me of a trophy and written “#1” on it.  My wife, who is my biggest supporter, had made an awesome celebratory breakfast of champions that included: bagels, lox, cream cheese, scrambled eggs, whole wheat pancakes and coffee.  I mostly drank and had a bagel later in the afternoon.

After resting for some of the day, we all drove to Six Flags, since the kids didn’t have school on Memorial Day, and hung out for the evening.  It was a great way to end perfect day.

I biked a total of 45 miles (I tied with only one other person for the the longest distance biked) and my sponsorship totaled over $2,800.00, which was the highest amount raised in Chai Lifeline’s Bike the Drive history…thanks to all of my sponsors.

As I had previously written, I dedicated this year’s ride to the memory of my father, Al Harris a”h, who passed away in early November.  He not only sponsored me, but was always amazed by my commitment to Biking the Drive and was very proud of my efforts both in terms of biking and also in attempting to help an important organization like Chai Lifeline.   I know he would have been very proud of what was accomplished on Sunday.  

For those of you who sponsored and encouraged me, thank you!!!