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Thoughts from a Real American

The polling-booth line was already out the door at 6 am when I arrived to vote. Some Bethelites had arrived at 5:15 am to be able to vote and get to work or make trains on time. The rule prohibiting campaigning near the voting area meant that no one wore campaign buttons or t-shirts, so I had no idea about peoples’ voting preferences. Even as we sleepily joked about someone’s doing a coffee run, I was aware of the seriousness of our purpose. We had come to the voting booth determined both to have our say and to deal with whatever came at the end of the day. We were Americans, awake at this hideous hour, doing sacred work. The day wore on with extreme fatigue, and I, not knowing of course how the elections would turn out, nonetheless left “away messages” on my g-mail and instant message accounts that said “God bless America.” To some it may sound overly dramatic, but I am deadly serious: except for Israel, to which I have a strong attachment, I cannot imagine a country as magnificent a…

Got a peeve? No problem.

No, I didn't ask if you had a problem. I said, "thank you."

When did "you're welcome" go extinct? I know that in some other cultures, the response to "thank you" may be the equivalent of "no problem" (i.e, ein davar - it's nothing ... in Hebrew; de nada - it was nothing ... in Spanish).

But when I say thank you to someone, I don't want to know that you potentially had a problem with what I asked for or what you offered to do. It sounds as though the person I'm thanking would NOT have done the action if it had been a problem.

Sometimes I'm tempted to respond "well, excuuuse me for asking."

And while we're on the subject of thank you/you're welcome - I really get annoyed when I say "thank you" to someone - and the person responds, "thank YOU." It's a one-upmanship that drives me nuts. I hear this a lot on talk radio - from the intellectuals on NPR to the screechers on the other radio ta…

Back to School

There are a lot of things I do on a daily basis beyond the usual personal hygiene chores of tooth brushing, showering, etc. One thing I have long wanted to do - but have never given myself the drive or discipline - is do what the words above the entrance to my synagogue say I should do: Aseh torat'cha keva ... set a fixed time for study.

The online study opportunities have always seemed out of my intellectual reach and I have become overwhelmed by the amount of work involved. So it was with some hesitation but lots of determination that I joined a group called "Sefer Ha-Bloggadah."

It's a two-year daily study of Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends) organized by participants at the National Chavurah Committee.

Compiled by the Hebrew poet Hayim Nachman Bialik and the editor Yehoshua Ravnitsky, it is a collection of thousands of stories and folklore from the Talmud and throughout rabbinic literature, from the creation of the world to the world to come. At the end of the …

20%

20%.

That's an estimate of eligible voters who made their way to the polling booths in my town's most recent local election. 20%. That means that if that election had been a Shabbat morning minyan, 8 Jews turned over their most precious civic right and privilege to 2 people. The "good" news is that in a national election, the town might get 80% of eligible voters showing up. This is good news?

I learned this today when I picked up absentee ballot applications for my three children this afternoon. I've voted absentee in local elections - as frustrating as it was to watch my vote go up in glorious defeat once, it was very satisfying to know that my vote in a recent election might have been the one that made the difference.

But those percentages really bothered me, so I did some research.

Out of about 200 countries:
1. 23 have compulsory elections (the rest are considered "universal" or voluntary);
2. 2 have an upper age limit;
3. 4 countries do not allow memb…

Nachamu, Nachamu - All is Well

(I presented this to my Board of Trustees in August 2008.)That there is a Torah portion for this coming Shabbat is nothing remarkable; every Shabbat has a corresponding Torah portion. And it’s also not especially notable that the Haftarah this Shabbat equally relates to the Torah portion and to the calendar; after building up to Tisha b’Av with a series of Haftarot that bawl out and chastise the Israelites, the Haftarah for the Shabbat immediately following Tisha b’Av, known as Shabbat Nachamu, the first words of the Haftarah, does the opposite: the Israelites need to be comforted by and reassured of God’s love. The disaster has taken place and it is now time for communal healing. The people need to hear God’s reassuring words – all will be well, all will be made whole again. God is watching, helping, healing – all we have to do is believe and work hard to make things right again. For me personally what is remarkable and noteworthy is that Nachamu was the first Haftarah that I ever ch…

Anti-Reform Reformers?

I'm really struggling with this one.

During a recent public (and mixed, meaning there were people there who are not Jewish professionals, or better yet, professional Jews) discussion on the relationship between Judaism and nature, a professional Jew who is affiliated with the Reform movement commented on witnessing Reform Rabbinic students at the top of Mt. Sinai during a sunrise tefillah. Many of the students wore tefillin, all wore tallitot/kippot, and all were facing east. Except that *Jerusalem* was to the *north,* yet they were facing *east.*

I heard much derision in the commentator's voice: the voice/words implied they were worshipping the sun and not praying to God, they were obviously ignorant of the fact that Jerusalem was to the north, they were obviously ignoramuses ... leading the audience to infer that the Reform movement is being led by a bunch of ignorant, uneducated morons.

Here are the questions I'm struggling with.

1. Why were these Reform rabbinic students …

When Pols Behave Badly

What gives in New York State? And how is it all of a sudden open season on wives?

First, (former NY Governor) Eliot Spitzer does the nasty with prostitutes, and "dr" Laura (ick) blames his wife for "obviously" not putting out. Then there's word that he may have used public funds for - well, I don't even want to think about where the money went. Am I the only grossed out at the mental visual of Eliot Spitzer with a hooker? Bleah.

Now (current NY Governor) David Paterson, "who has admitted having a number of extramarital affairs, indicated that if he ever used campaign money in the course of those relationships he would have properly reimbursed the campaign account" (NYTimes, March 19, 2008). What does this mean? "Gee, Mom, I would have shared the cookie I might have taken from the cookie jar without your permission with my sister?"

"A number of extramarital affairs..." Turns out these are what caused "Mr. Paterson (to ask) ..…

The Blank Page

I am afraid of heights, down escalators and a blank page with a looming deadline. That said, whenever I have something I want to shout out to the world, I rarely have the mechanism or the opportunity. Hence, "The Note: A Cantor's Random Insights."

Do I expect anyone to read this? Not really, but hey, you never know.

And so, on to Post #1.