Category Archives: Dad

My 7th year of helping terminally ill children and their families

Chai Cyclist
It’s Neil and I need your help.
Sometimes, we are privileged to see when we can make a difference in the world and in the lives of those you need help. As I write this, I humbly and gratefully thank those of you that have committed to sponsor me for the past 6 years as I have raised money for Chai Lifeline by Biking the Drive (Lake Shore Drive). In edition to be the top fundraiser for Chai Lifeline’s Bike the Drive for multiple years, by sponsoring me we have raised over $12,000.00. I am extremely proud to say that I will be hitting the pavement again on May 25, 2014.
Chai Lifeline is a unique and amazing organization. They help children and their families cope with the diagnosis, treatment and aftermath of serious pediatric illness. They provide year-round emotional, social, and financial support to families every day. Families in the Midwest turn to Chai Lifeline for access to more than two-dozen, year-round, programs and services, all free of charge and delivered with love and respect.
Since my father, of blessed memory, lost his quick battle with Leukemia in 2009 I have always dedicated my bike ride and funds raised in his memory. It is always bittersweet when the ride is over, since I have such great memories of calling him after my my first event telling him that I had biked a total of 30 miles (I had planned on biking only 15) and how proud he was that I was able to help such a worthy cause.
Not only do I bike in memory of my dad, but I bike in memory of my in-laws, Dan and Rita Huth, of blessed memory. I bike in merit for a speedy recovery for children who are sick in our community. I bike in honor of friends who are going through difficult times. I bike because Joanie, Eli Meir, Rena Sara, and Mimi believe in me. I bike because I want my family to know that when something is important to you and you can help others, then you give 101% and don’t give up.
I have increased the miles I have biked every year, even in the rain. What started out as 30 miles has now become 55 miles. I have also set the sponsorship bar higher every year. This year my objective is to raise at least $3,000.00 by May 25th. I know that sounds like a lot, but really it can happen, with your help. 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.
So, if you have ever enjoyed a post of mine in the past 8 years, then please think about sponsoring me (for any amount). Also, for what it’s worth, when training and on the day of the ride I listen to about 3 hours of shiurim. I am happy to so in zechus of a refuah shelayma of in memory of someone. Just give me the name.

I am grateful to all of my previous sponsors and I know that you will, once again, help me reach my goal. All you need to do is to make any donation that you can! If interested, please feel free to forward email to anyone you feel might be open to this opportunity to help. Feel free to spread the word via social media, as well (don’t worry, I will also be using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get the word out). To sponsor me all you need to do is to go to:

3rd yahrtzeit of my dad a"h

Note I wrote that was saved by my dad a”h

Tonight, the 16th of MarCheshvon, is the 3rd yarhzeit of my dad, Albert Lyon Harris, Avraham ben Zorach.  My brother made arrangements to be in town and we went to ma’ariv so that we could say kaddish together.

Of course, seeing my dad’s brother and sister with their spouses at our son’s bar mitzvah recently has brought up the natural feelings of loss, even before the yahrzeit.  Not having my in-laws or my father present for our simcha was hard.  However, the loss of a loved one in this world does help crystallize the feeling of loss the I now experience during Tisha B’av, the day of national mourning for the loss of the holy temple, the Beis Hamikdash.  It also puts more feeling behind the 12th Ani Ma’amim which affirms our believe in the revival of the dead in the time of Moshiach.

The note above was something that my father saved, for some reason.   My bar mitzvah was December 3, 1983.  Later in the month we must have gone out for Chinese food and I wrote this note.  I guess I gave it to my dad.  About six years ago, he had purchased a Hebrew/English gemara Pesachim on eBay and sent it to me.  Sitting between the pages was the note about the Chinese food.  He got a tremendous kick out of the fact that before I kept Kosher I hated Chinese food, yet I now love it.  His foresight to keep this note and send it to me is a reminder that he remembered the little things about me when I was growing up (that I had forgotten about) and figured that eventually I would change my tune and taste buds.  We should all see our loved ones for who they are and for who they may become.

2nd yahrzeit of my father a"h

So, tonight marks the second yahrtzeit of my father Al Harris a”h, Avraham ben Zorach. While the picture on the the right might not be the clearest, it was taken on his last visit with us in Chicago, in July of 2009, only three and a half months before he was niftar. 

It’s funny how the mind works. A few months ago when R.E.M. broke up I had a flashback to my sophomore year in high school. It was a Thursday night in the fall of 1985 and my father was driving me from Wichita, KS to Kansas City- a three our drive. It must had been fairly late at night, because we were listening to Larry King’s talk show and he had Michael Stipe (lead singer from R.E.M) on as a guest and there were tons of calls to him about the state of college music.  My dad thought it was cool that “my music” was being talked about on the radio.  That wasn’t the cool part.  The really cool part was that my dad was driving me all the way to Kansas City, so that I could catch an Amtrack train to St. Louis to attend an NCSY shabbaton (youth group retreat weekend).  He drove me and then drove straight back home.

So, tonight marks the second yahrtzeit of my father Al Harris, Avraham ben Zorach.  While the picture on the the right might not be the clearest, it was taken on his last visit with us in Chicago, in July of 2009, only three and a half months before he was niftar. 

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l taught the world that it is giving that leads to love, not love that leads to giving.  Meaning, that the love we have for another is a natural outcome of our giving to another, of the deeds we perform.  Deeds that come from giving, like driving me three hours away to catch a train. 

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.

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

Stopping in the name of love

Picture from here

On the second day of Sukkos, I stopped saying Kaddish for my father a”h.  It was odd.  That’s really the only way to describe it.  After months of saying Kaddish after Kaddish after Kaddish, it just stopped.  As I sat in shul between mincha and maariv I couldn’t help but think about the passage in Halachic Man, when the Rav describes his father view about the sunset at Ni’elah on Yom Kippur and the halachic change that takes place.  I was moving from being one who is “saying Kaddish” to one who is listening to someone else say Kaddish.

It is a noticable phase of aveilus, sort of that the end of this year is almost over.  Today I davened in a Chol Hamoed minyan organized by the day school that two out of three of our uber-kids attend and there was no one in the minyan saying Kaddish.  I felt a little sad that no one got the opportunity to answer Amen to another’s Kaddish.

Another interesting aveilus-related thing is that I am not going around in a circle during Hoshanos.  As an avel, I am to stay away from any outward simcha, such as the hakafos that we do during Hoshanos.  Missing all of the awesome Simchas Bais HaShoeva events around Chicago is also pretty bunk.  Simchas Torah is also something that I’ve sort of been dreading for the past number of months, since I cannot dance.  I can walk around once per hakafah, but that’s it.  I enjoy dancing, especially with my 5th grade son, but this year I will mostly be a spectator.  This will allow me to learn a bit more than usual (a good thing), but it’s bitter-sweet.  Following Halacha and the answer that I received when I asked a shilah regarding this topic is a challenge.  Not because I am looking to question “authority”, but I know how much of an effect dancing can have on my own body and I appreciate being able to do something that is so physical l’shem mitzvah.

I suppose that I am fortunate to be able to consicously know that I’m exercising my own bechira (free will) by following Halacha.  That, in and of itself, is pretty cool.

What to show your kids…when you live in Wichita, KS

My parents use to love taking my brother and I for day-trips on Sundays, when we were in elementary school.  Mostly these ended up in small towns in Kansas, towns with one grocery store, one gas station, and only one place to eat.  A few times during these Sunday drive we would end up about  80 miles Southwest of our home in Wichita, Kansas at a place called the Gypsum Hills (or the Red Hills).
For a little kid it was cool.  We’d ride in the car “forever” and then get out and run around, climb hills and collect pieces of gypsum.  Good times!

What I realized when I was much older was that my parents weren’t just coming up with crazy day-trips to keeps up from watching TV all Sunday.  They were attempting to expose us to different scenery from the typical flat-lands of Wichita.  It’s the same reason that we went to “young peoples” symphony concerts, art museums, and hung out all week at Riverfest (there are plenty of life lessons to be in watching a bath tub boat race).  It wasn’t just exposure to culture, but a desire to give us a broader picture of what life had to offer.  My mother, who grew up in Dallas, TX, and my father a”h, who grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania wanted to give us an appreciation for the arts and nature.  My brother, as a result, became very attached to nature, while I ended up spending many afternoons at that MoMA.

The underlying theme of these Sunday trips and countless schlepping to various locations was that giving us a view of the “bigger picture” was a good thing.  Today, as a parent of a daughter who is almost 4, a daughter who is a 3rd grader, and a son who is a 5th grader, I see the importance of this.  Letting my kids see the bigger picture is key.  It helps to give them a frame of reference (and reverence).  That’s why I try to point out when someone does a Chessed (kindness) for someone else or when I see an older man or woman davening with real kavanah (concentration), a person who gets new eye glasses l’Kavod Shabbos Kodesh, or an individual who has daily challenges and still remains postive.  Those are things that I value.  I’m not anti “the arts” nor am I against showing my kids the beauty of Hashem’s world, we do those things, too (mostly as age-appropriately as I can).

I think most parents want the best for their own children and attempt to give them/expose them to ideas and values that are dear to them.  As I get really to start a New Year, I hope that what I show my children (via my own behavior) things that can have a positve impact on them.

"Oh, yeah!"

As I write this, there are a few tears in my eyes. I guess this the the postive side of a flashback. Since my father a”h has been niftar I’ve become a fan of sugar-free grape drink mixes. One of the many things that I didn’t find out about my father until after his death, was that he loved sugar-free Kool Aid. In fact, I just made a cup.

As I kid I remember making it at home, but my mom wasn’t a big fan due to the potential of massive stains on carpet and clothing. Since finding out my dad liked it and trying it myself when I was sitting in Wichita, KS, I’ve been buying it. My dad made it “by the pitcher”. I’m more into the single serving packets of either the Target or Walmart brands. Both are pretty good and you can also get the “white grape” which still gives you a pretty good grape taste, but if you drip it on your shirt it doesn’t really leave a stain.

So why am I misty-eyed? I made my bracha on my drink and took a sip. As I was drinking it I began to think about the fact that on some level my father a”h probably got some zchar for drinking this kosher item. My father a”h, wasn’t observant. He was raised fairly traditional, reguarly attended services on Shabbos and was always available to help with a minyan. My flashback, in this case, is all of the times he drank and ate kosher while visting me.

The lesson is in this, if anyone is actually reading this post, is that despite differences, friction, arguements, theological discussions, stereotypes, etc. that one may have to deal with with relatives who might be of “lesser observance”, the silver lining might be a shared bag of pretzels or a beer. Other times it might be you actually learning a thing or two, like the fact that sugar-free Kool Aid is pretty tasty.

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!!!

Help this blogger raise money for Chai Lifeline

Dear Readers,

On Sunday, May 30, 2010 I will, for the third year year, 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.

Last year was amazing. While I had only planned on biking 30 miles, I ended up biking all 45. This year I’m aiming for an even further distance. The experience of biking with friends and strangers for an important cause like Chai Lifeline was very rewarding. The weather was great and my family was so proud of me.  You can read the details here.

Many of you helped me raise money over the last two year and I was told that I actually brought in the second largest amount of sponsorship for 2009’s Bike the Drive program. Thanks to you, we made a difference.

Years ago, we purchased a car and got a “gift certificate” for a sporting goods store. Aside from skateboarding, I’m really not much of an athlete.  So, I ended up buying a bike (and one for my wife). While I do like to bike with my family around the neighborhood, I’ve very glad that I’m able to help Chai Lifeline.  To use my bike and get sponsors that can help Chai Lifeline is an amazing mitzvah opportunity.

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.  I have seen how much they do for families, especially when the outcome is devistating.

My objective is to raise at least $2,500.00 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.

I know that time are tough, believe me. But your help in donating any amount can make a difference. 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.

When I train and ride this year I will be listening to lectures about Jewish thought and personal growth. In past rides I have been able to dedicate my biking as a merit for several sick children who personally get help directly from Chai Lifeline and also in memory of departed loved ones and others close to me.  So even if you don’t donate, please let me know if you would like me to have someone in mind when I’m listening to a shiur.

This year my ride will be much more personal, since my father, of blessed memory, passed away in early November of 2009. I’ve mentioned it a bit on my blog, but not the details.  He had very quickly gotten diagnosed with leukemia and while in the hospital he had contracted pneumonia. Sadly, it was too much for his body to handle. I’m fortunate that I was able to fly out to Wichita, KS to see him and be with him for his last 48 hours.  My father, Albert Lyon Harris, Avraham ben Zorach, was always supportive of me helping Chai Lifeline. He and his wife not only give financial support to my endeavor, but were very proud that they could help an important organization like Chai Lifeline. I remember calling my dad after last year’s ride and he was so thrilled to hear how far I had biked. So this year, I’ll be dedicating my ride to my dad.

If interested in helping me please feel free to click here or please send me an email. I would also be thrilled if you could forward this post to others (or even link). Thanks again for all of your help.

Neil Harris