Sunday, January 28, 2007

All Minyan, All the Time

There's a corner of Borough Park, Brooklyn, NY, that epitomizes the New York moniker as "the city that never sleeps" in a way one wouldn't normally expect. In this article in today's NYC edition of the New York Times, you can read about:
". . . Congregation Shomrei Shabbos, a 24-hour synagogue where a service begins every 15 minutes. What started more than three-quarters of a century ago as a tiny congregation has grown into a mainstay of this community: transit hub, soup kitchen, community center, bookstore and prayer hall all in one."
I definitely have my issues with the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox and their relationship to the world, but I have to smile as I read this even as I know my full participation in their minyan would not be welcome. It's fascinating to read how the surrounding environment has grown around the activity generated by the shul.

Thanks once again to orthomom for showing me different places in the Orthodox Jewish world. I have a feeling this article will be making the rounds in the Jewish blogsphere.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ahead of the curve

I have always lived with clutter--I'm convinced it's just part of my nature. In fact, it's when I straighten things up that I have problems locating the things I need. In what looks like a complete mess, I can usually get to the object I want fairly quickly. I'm not really proud of this, but I've come to accept it and just try to not let the mess get overwhelming. When that happens, I'm usually spurred to clear it up and vow to keep it neat. But within a short amount of time, the piles reappear and the cycle starts again.

You can imagine the smile on my face as I read the article in the January 29th issue of Time Magazine, Messy is the New Neat. The first paragraph goes right to my heart:

"Neatness is overrated. Let those stacks of paper pile up on your desk. Don't worry about the laundry tossed in the corner. Let the icons clutter up your computer screen. And whatever you do, stop obsessing over your letter-perfect filing system. Bless your mess, says a new group of "mess-iahs" spreading the gospel of healthy disorganization."

The article continues with quotes like "Moderately messy systems outperform extremely orderly systems," "Filing away loose office papers can be similarly counterproductive," and "Decluttering [your home] not only wastes time but also saps a home's sense of character."

It's nice to know that I've been on the right path all along. Now, if I can just stay in the "healthy disorganization" zone and not go too far over the edge, I've got it made.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rainfall Box Score

You don't have to know me that well or that long to know that I am a sports fan. I'm most passionate about baseball--I grew up a Mets fan, but for the past 20 years I've bled green and gold for the Oakland A's. I also follow football-New York Giants; basketball-Warriors and Stanford women's and men's teams; and soccer-Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday and whatever team catches my fancy during World Cup. I am a loyal fan, sticking with "my guys" through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Part of being a true sports fan involves reading the sports section of the paper each day, checking the box scores and the standings. During the baseball season I also keep up with the top performers in each league with the listings provided each day.

My friend Stuart pointed out to me that I follow the yearly rainfall totals in the same manner, pitting the current totals against both last year's at the same time and the normal for the date. As weird as that is, I have to admit that he's right.

To the right you see the chart that appears on the weather page of the SF Chronicle each day (it's not on the online weather page, only in print). Listed for the major California cities are the totals for the last 24 hours, for the season-to-date, for the season-to-date last year, and for the norm-to-date. The last column lists the normal season total.

I've circled the San Francisco stats--for a larger view, click on the photo. We've been in a dry spell, so there's no current rainfall, and to date we're behind the season norm and way behind where we were last year at this date. I remember last year noting how far ahead we were of the normal to date. So you can see how I do indeed follow this like it is a race, relishing being "ahead"; hoping for a better showing when we're "behind."

Living in California makes me conscious of the need for rain in its season, since the rainfall stops once summer arrives. Having a Jewish spiritual practice enhances that awareness, as the prayer for rain is included in our liturgy during the fall and winter. Being a sports fan gives me the perspective to look at the specifics of the rainfall, recognizing the need for the good and bad times to balance out.

So LETS GO RAIN!!!! At this point in the season, we need to catch up.......

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet - Art Buchwald, 1926 - 2007

"I'm Art Buchwald and I just died"

Yes, Art Buchwald died today. A Pulitzer Prize columnist, he was one of the great political satirists of the 20th century. "Being funny," he said, "is the best revenge."

As remarkable as he was in life, he will also be remembered for the manner in which he faced his death. With his health failing--a lost of his leg due to complications with diabetes; kidney failure that forced him into a 15 hour a week regimen of dialysis--he chose last March to stop his dialysis treatment. He entered hospice, told by his doctors that he would be gone within a month. Five months later, still alive with his mental acumen intact, he was able to go home to spend his remaining days as he wished. He spent his dying time the same way he spent the majority of his years alive, writing about the experience.

In a NY Times website feature, "The Last Word," people the Times deems noteworthy get the opportunity to give some parting words to the world, creating their own video obituary. We can all be grateful they included Art Buchwald. I encourage you to view his piece, which you can find here. One of my favorite moments is when Buchwald talks about Nixon. While Buchwald is grateful for the huge amount of money he made writing about Nixon, he admits that his "biggest hurt to this day" was not being included in Nixon's Enemies List.

Zichrono l'vracha - He left us many of his memories, and we are blessed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There's still work to be done

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, and the blogsphere was full of tributes to that great man, complete with audio and video links. If you've never experienced his "I have a dream" speech, I encourage you to sit back and watch it in it's entirety--here's a link. His stand for a non-violent path towards freedom for all rings true to this day over 40 years later.

The enemies of equality and unity are still around us, using technological advances of our time to spread their hatred. If you have any doubts, Google Martin Luther King. Towards the top of the list you'll find a site called "Martin Luther King, A True Historical Examination" The description of the site is "The truth about Martin Luther King: Includes historical trivia, articles and picture. A valuable resource for teachers and students alike." Seems legitimate enough--the address for the site is How can that be anything but real??

But you'll soon see the true purpose of the resource--it shouldn't take long. Under the guise of historical reference this site has been created by Stormfront to spread their hateful ideals of white supremacy and domination. While the readers of this blog will catch on quickly to their propaganda, what about the influence this will have on school-aged kids all over the world?

Sexual pornography is not the only danger lurking on the internet. We need to be aware of the need for media literacy, to teach both children and adults to discern the difference between sources of information and forces of manipulation.

There is still work to do to keep Martin Luther King's dream alive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It's a life cycle kind of day. But while reading the featured wedding in this past Sunday's NY Times (see post below) sickened me, reading this obituary in today's SF Chronicle fed my soul.
"There are tears on the computer keyboard today as I write this obituary to announce the passing of John Levy."
We then learned the story of John Bernard Levy's life. Born in Germany in 1921, a highlight of his childhood was a visit aboard the airship Graph Zeppelin. A low point, the arrest and subsequent death of his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. Mr Levy escaped to Switzerland, obtained a visa for Paraquay, and immigrated to San Francisco after the war. He is described as "an exceptionally kind and generous human being . . [he] had no immediate family, but always considered his friends to be family. He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him."

When I got to the part that read "His greatest pleasure in life was holding his annual birthday party," I felt a tie to this man I never knew. Someone else who understood that one's birthday is a way to honor all lives and spread joy to others. The joy he spread is evident in the anonymously written notice that came straight from the heart.

I wish I knew this smiling man who obviously shared his bright spirit with others.

John Bernard Levy - Zichrono L'vracha
I know your memory will be a blessing to your many friends.


Readers of this blog know about my practice of reading the wedding announcements in the Sunday NY Times. Sometimes there is a notice of a semi-celebrity couple. But this past Sunday's wedding pages contained an announcement that was, to say the least, distasteful to read.

The featured vow highlighted the wedding of Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee. There are so many aspects of this event that are so wrong, but the worst is the justifications and rationalizations these two obviously self-absorbed people make about their relationship. To read Ms. Saidman's quote, "For us to be together, it couldn't have been a harder path" makes me ill.

Rodney Yee came to fame as a yogi (although I would not describe him as such) while teaching in the Bay Area, and I know far too much about him. In the NY times article it is mentioned that their affair started in 2002 while they were both married to others. To say they "had formed a close student-teacher relationship" is an understatement. They both justify their actions in the name of overriding, passionate love. An article about their relationship appeared in New York Magazine in May 2005.

I've read some comments on this in the blogsphere, with some people taking the attitude, "they're adults, they fell in love, it happens, what's the big whup." Well, the big whup is that this is far from the first time Rodney Yee has had an affair with one of his students.

In 2002, while his relationship with Saidman moved from platonic to "something between us that was unavoidable," he was already in the midst of a scandal centering around his sexual affairs with students. In fact, the scandal broke because one student he was involved with discovered he was having an affair with another student. In a May 12, 2002 SF Chronicle story, the former student said, "I became involved with Rodney when I was emotionally and physically very vulnerable and sought his help as my teacher. . . Rodney's misrepresentations to me, to other students and to his family about his sexual involvement with students represents an abuse of power and is unbecoming of a healer or a teacher."

What does Rodney Yee say on the subject? In a 2004 issue of SELF magazine, he admits his sexual relationships with students. "The reality is that most teachers fall in love with their students, but sex is such a small part of it." He did say that teachers should not get involved with their students, but "every once in a while, just like in therapy, there might be real chemistry between two people. It's a decent guideline, but you shouldn't be crucified for not following it. . . I don't understand what the big deal is. It's private. It's none of your business or anyone else's." I'm so outraged by this that I won't even comment. I think his justifications of consistent abuse of the teacher/student relationship speak for themselves.

Maybe these two people deserve each other. But if I were Colleen Saidman, I'd be prepared for history to repeat itself. She should note this Yee gem from the SELF magazine article, "Some [of the relationships] were OK and some weren't, and I should have made more boundaries. . . I've never had one-night affairs, but deep friendships that moved into sexuality. If that's a mistake, then I've made that mistake." It seems you've made lots of those mistakes, Mr. Yee. Instead of teaching yoga workshops in India with your new wife, perhaps you would be better served by refreshing your own studies of yoga, particularly the yamas, and niyamas. That way you will embody the true meaning of yoga.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This needed a study????

Once again I first heard something on NPR and then read about it the SF Chronicle that made me wonder, "and this is big news because........"

Grant money was spent for a study that concluded that when studies dealing with the health effects of beverages are funded by a particular beverage industry group, the results are positively skewed towards that particular beverage. Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist who led the work, said, "We found evidence that's strongly suggestive of bias." Of course, the beverage industry representatives don't let this go without a fight. "This is yet another attack on industry by activists who demonstrate their own biases in their review by looking only at the funding source and not judging the research on its merits" says Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association.

I don't know why money was wasted to a study to find out about the bias of other studies. First of all, it's pretty much a given and secondly--who really cares. There's also a bit of the pot calling the kettle black in this instance. The grant money came from the Charles H. Hood Foundation, "which finances research on children's issues at Ludwig's hospital." So Dr. Ludwig gets a study that basically acts as an advertisement himself and his work while beating on the beverage industries for studies they use for their advertising.

In my opinion, all of this is a waste of money that could be put to much better and more pressing use in the area of children's health. They should all be ashamed.......

Friday, January 05, 2007

His Memory is a Blessing

It's been 8 years since my friend, Howard Steinman, left us. The hole in my heart has not sealed. That's where I carry him with me--each year with a little less pain.

In the years that have passed I have had Howard sightings. No, I'm not one of those who think he is still alive somewhere--Howard just could not have pulled that off. But some of the spirit that he shared with me in life stays even though he is gone. He makes his presence felt in the familiar face on a stranger, as an image seemingly etched in the wooden floor at Tassajara, or when a lost photograph suddenly drops out of a book. All reminders that he is not forgotten and to smile in honor of his soul.

Each year I mark Howard's yahrzeit. This morning I led the davening at minyan. As part of P'sukei d'Zimra, the Psalms and other selections that are the warm-ups to prayer, we read Shir HaYam, the Song of the Sea (Ex 15:1-18) That is what Moshe and the Israelites sang when they arrived on the other side of the Red Sea, having crossed through the split in the waters that God created for them. I often wonder about its place in the morning liturgy. This morning, with Howard so close, I got a hint of understanding.

I had an image of the Israelites' travels on the edge. First on one shore, the edge of the Red Sea. Walking through with the waters on either side as if on the edge of a knife that split the sea. Then reaching the far shore, the other edge of the sea on one side, the edge of the wilderness on the other.

I find the morning prayers bring an awareness of the path of life. Traveling on the edges is a part of the journey. We hope for a wide, smooth edge but there will always be bumps and narrow places where the balance is precarious. Howard lost his footing. But his spirit stays with me, and maybe it can help me keep mine.

Zichrohno l'vracha -- keeping his memory is a blessing to me.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year in the language of your choice

You never know what you'll learn when you go to minyan.....

I went to evening minyan today--a quick mincha/maarive combo--to help ensure that attendance would get to the 10 required for those who need to say kaddish. We ended up with a nice group of 15, including the four Russian men who are the mainstay of our evening minyan--Simian, Meyer, Sam, and Yitzchak. These men have become dear to me, and I greeted each one with a handshake, a smile, and a hearty "Happy New Year." Each one smiled and returned the greeting with a hand squeeze and in the case of Sam, a kiss for "his dear Malkah."

Elayne Grossbard called me over to the hallway on the other side of the room and proceded to teach me "S'novom Godom," Happy New Year in Russian. I went back to my friends and greeted them again, this time with "S'novom Godom." The smiles on their faces grew wider, and Simian proclaimed that sometime soon, all people in San Francisco will greet each other this way on New Year's Day. We all laughed.

I then began to share the only other foreign language New Year's Day greeting I know, "Akemashtai Omedeto Gozaimas," Happy New Year in Japanese. Just as these words were coming out of my mouth, in walks Keiko Golden. Realizing that she is Japanese, I repeated the words to her. She smiled with appreciation, and told me that it was the first time today someone had said that to her.

We began minyan with these greetings--S'novom Godom; Akemashtai Omedeto Gozaimas; Happy New Year! What better way for all to feel included as we started to daven the first evening minyan of 2007.