Category Archives: Wichita

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.

Reflections of a chassunah

Sunday night my wife and I attended a beautiful chassunah in Minneapolis. The chosson was a close family and childhood friend from my hometown of Wichita, KS. The kallah resides in NJ (where they are now living). Aside from meeting a group of the kallah’s friends from NJ, the chosson had family and friends come in from across the county (and E”Y). The mesader kidushin came in from E”Y and is a grandson of Reb Yaakov zt”l (and also a former teacher of mine). Some of his friends were from his summer camp days, others from college, and some were people who he had grown close with on his journey to observant Judaism. In addition to that, my brother was also there. Also I met up with a very old friend who is now very involved in a very important aspect of outreach.

For me, there were a couple of things that stood out from the whole event.

I was asked to be an “aid” (witness) under the chupah, which was humbling, I also ended up meeting a gentleman who is a Rav and originally grew up in London. I asked him (based on the fact that he looked old enough to have grandchildren) if he had ever had any contact with either Rav Dessler zt’l or Rav Lopian zt”l. He told me that as a young boy he met both of these lighthouses of Mussar. He also commented that his his “day” being a “Rav” or Rosh Yeshiva was an earned title of kavod. Unlike today, he told me, when everyone gets called “Rosh Yeshiva” and if you write a sefer or speak somewhere, then you are considered “popular”. He also mentioned that the emphasis on chiztonius is much greater today than when he was growing up.

Dancing was insane. It was the first chassuna I had attended since getting up from aveilus. The fact that it was for a family friend made it even more emotion for me. To dance with the chosson and his family was amazing! Especially since they were not at my own wedding.

For me, there was also an element of introspection (possibly brought on by a few l’chaims, I admit). By default, until recently, I was pretty much the only one from my “generation” and peer group from Wichita that became observant. While I gravitated towards NCSY, the chosson joined Young Judea and was involved with their camps and post-high school programs. While his observance might be viewed as “recent”, it was obvious that there was visible hashgacha pratis involved in every step of his journey. It’s refreshing to see that and usually it’s easier to view Hashem’s involvement with others, than to see Hashem’s hand in our own lives. As I watched him interact with Rabbis he is close with, friends from his past, present, and future I felt a sense of comfort, I guess, in knowing that another Yid has found his place.

In a brief conversation with the old friend who is involved in kiruv, he confirmed something that my wife and I had known for a long time, that my current profession isn’t really where I should be putting my energy into. I’ve know this for a long time, and while I am very thankful that Hashem has given me an opportunity to receive a parnassah, that feeling of fulfillment isn’t really there. You know, I look in the mirror everyday and I see that I don’t have much hair left. It doesn’t bother me that much, because I know that this is just how it is. I will lose more hair and my yarmulka will just get bigger. I deal with it. But when you have someone else point out that you don’t have as much hair as did years ago, then it sort of gets to you. Not in a bad way, but there’s that outside confirmation of what you’ve known for a long time.

To give me even more food for thought, when we boarded the plane (towards the end of our Hebrew anniversary) we found out that we were the only two passengers. Once I got over the feeling of being a rock star, I sat back and thought about the fact that ultimately in my own marriage it’s really just my wife and I alone in the plane that Hashem is piloting. I also thought about something said over in the name of the Alter of Novaradok.

The Alter said that someone not familiar with a Torah lifestyle might look up at a plane flying in the sky and see how small it is. He might even not believe that there could be people living aboard a plane because, to him, it just looks so small. However, once someone has begun to learn Torah and keep mitzvos, he realizes that you can be above the ground and life. You realize that what seemed so small is really quite big and can travel great distances very quickly. I think this applies to myself, as well as the chosson.


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.

J-Music and my angst

Four years ago, I blogged about my search for the type of Jewish music I would love to hear and I know that I’m not alone in my search for a “fresh sound” (see this post by the Rebbetzen’s Husband or this classic by A Simple Jew).
For me, the Jewish music I crave would combine the musical sensibility and passion of Carlebach, Diaspora, Yosef Karduner, Yitzhak HaLevi, Ruby Harris, Piamenta, and the Rabbis’ Sons. If you really want, slip some Blue Fringe, C Lanzbom, or Yeshiva Boys Choir in there, as well.  Now take that list and throw in the power and edge of Husker Du/Bob Mould, Bad Religion, Black Flag, or even a little Green Day or Foo Fighters and a pinch of R.E.M, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, or The Police… just to balance things out.

It will probably never happen. In my humble opinion, the reason isn’t because of lack of musicianship, lack of now Observant Jews with a musical background, or lack of money to put out a CD (these days people record albums in their basement and simply sell MP3’s online). The reason is because of the stigma that is attached to rock and in-your-face-obviously-non-Jewish-music.

Were four frum college students to record acapella versions of the songs of the Ramones and replace the lyrics with “oy” and “neiy”, making niggunim, then put out a CD a week before Pesach and call themselves the Rimonim, I’m sure it would be the biggest hit ever. Why? Because for some reason acapella has became a somewhat acceptable heter for completely goyishe music that many b’nai Torah would never listen to.

So, what’s a guy like me to do. I’ve got my kids, finally, getting hip to “Hafachta” (Diaspora) and “Hashem Melech” (Yosef Karduner). I constantly play Piamenta’s “Mitzvah” album and find myself humming everything from the Offspring to They Might Be Giants. There’s no middle ground. I get it, it’s like Havdallah (hmm… good name for a band. I should have them record my little niggun). It’s that separation between kodesh and chol. However, part of internalizing Havdallah is that we take that kedusha and infuse it into our six days of chol. It’s funny. Musicians have been banned, black(hat)listed, and looked down upon because they have chosen to mimic or base their songs on non-Jewish music. I can hear it (no pun intended).

However, look at the consumer food industry. Baruch Hashem we have many non-Jewish owned companies that are producing warehouses and truckloads of products with hechsharim on them. Ketchup, canned beans, sugar, pasta, soda, oven bags (we call them chullent bags), salsa, and the list goes on. Now, if I can buy those items, many which have been influenced by non-Jewish food trends, and I’m making a bracha on them (before and after), then it’s ok. I’ll go step further. Let’s say that a frum company in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Toronto (for those readers in the Great White North) decides to make (we’ll really they co-producing and co-packaging, they are not “making” the items themselves) their own brand’s salsa, canned beans, dishwashing soap, or chocolate chips. What makes that ok?

I know. Because it’s important for us, the consumers, to helps support frum people and companies. If I can buy a heimishe packaged product instead of a non-Jewish owned product or a “store brand”, then I’m helping to complete the circle of life (the Yidden make/package the food and then other Yidden buy/consume the food). It’s part of what makes America great… free enterprise. I’m all for it.

That being written, we know that many Torah observant Jews are listening to non-Jewish music. Why not quench their thirst with music made and sold by frum Yidden? We do the same thing with everything from orange juice to chocolate syrup. There is a possible light at the end of the tunnel, though. But, first you’ll have to let me reminisce about my high school days.

I grew up in a city that didn’t always have concerts featuring band that I liked in high school. Wichita, Kansas was only three hours from Kansas City, so many of the bigger names would play there. We did get our share of smaller bands on independent labels come through, but it wasn’t a concert destination. The lack of punk/alternative shows helped produce a semi-thriving local band scene. With everything from folky-R.E.M.esque bands to bands that played faster that the speed of light, were were consantly looking forward to watching them play everywhere from bowling alleys to “under 21” clubs to living rooms. It was great. These bands combined the sounds of “our music” with local references and kept us happy and buying cassette tapes.

The aforementioned light at the end of the tunnel may be in the many observant communities that are home to fantastic day schools, excellent yeshivas/girls schools, innovative chessed programs, and effective kollels and outreach programs. Call it the “out-of-town-sound”, if you will. It’s the local Jewish bands. These are bands where you have FFBs and BTs getting together to create music that they want to play. Often these band have blended several styles of music into something that sounds a little familiar to our favorite “non-Jewish” music, but distinctively original and interlaced with pasukim that are just as familiar to us. They may rock hard and have a dedicated following that spans a generation, but their success and popularity still is under the radar. There are many of these bands out there in many of our communities, I think.

Baruch Hashem, there are a few fairly local bands in my neck of the woods that I enjoy listening to. They are both comprised of skilled musicians who have various professions. In Chicago there’s Even Sh’siyah, Ruby Harris, and a little further away in Milwaukee you can find The Moshe Skier Band. All are solid and passionate about their music. If you are looking for something “new” and not a low-toner-produced-photocopy-of-bad-non-Jewish music, then check them out.

But, there have to be more bands out there. If you know of local bands in your area, please let me know by way of commenting or simply emailing me.

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.

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.

A local favorite

(Photo from here)

Growing up, I thought it was normal to have a 44 foot tall sculpture of an Indian warrior in your city.  Above is the structure known to all as the Keeper of the Plains, located in Wichita, Kansas at the point where the Little Arkansas (pronounced in Kansas as Ar-kansas) and the Big Arkansas rivers merge.  During a short visit to Wichita last week I stopped by to see the Keeper.  It’s still there, standing tall.  A symbol of the greatness of Native American culture that existed long before Kansas was even a state.  Oops, I almost got policital for a second, sorry.

The scupture was designed by a Native American artist named  Blackbear Bosin and it happens to be a local landmark.  It also happens to a bit on the unusual side, I admit.  It just stands there, being proud and facing the point where the two rivers meet.  My parents took me there several times when I as younger.  It was always a destination when relatives came to visit.  It’s name defines it, it symbolically stands guard over the land, keeping it safe and allowing residents to use the plains as they see fit.  To plant, grow, build, to make the plains their home.  Hmm… I think I’m waxing lyrical a bit too much.

Really, it’s only cool if you’re from Wichita, because it’s local.  Like the local sports team that everyone follows.  Like the local bands in any given music scene that only you have heard of.  Like the local Rav that does more outreach in a week than most people do in a year.  Like the local restaurant that makes that one item that you can’t get anywhere on either coast.  Like the local one guy in shul who seems to know all the answers in every halacha shiur.  Like the local short-cut that will get you home faster than the main streets.
It’s all of those little things that make us feel comfortable when we are “home”.  Having that bond of “common knowledge” can bring people closer together.

We are all, in some ways, locals.  However, we are also just visiting.

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.