Sunday, January 30, 2011

SuperBowl or SuperFicial?

There once was a time when television programming sought out advertisers to compensate them for their efforts in bringing remote happenings to one’s living room. Political events, moon landings and general news items were felt to be important enough to warrant the expense of filming, production and broadcasting.

However, (in the pre CNN era) there were not that many newsworthy events to support 24x7 analysis, and television conglomerates quickly realized that they would need to “create” news. Not necessarily would it be newsworthy, but skits, comedies and other routines were created for the sole purpose of selling advertising .

This continues to our time where the bulk of television broadcasting is created for the sole purpose to sell advertising time.

Which brings us to the Super Bowl. In an ironic twist of fate, this most Super of all the Bowl games is watched by many people who have no interest in sports whatsoever. Companies vie for the honor to spend several million dollars on advertisements, and it is the ingenuity, cleverness and not wanting to miss the latest and greatest commercials that drive many to watch the contest.

Over one hundred million people watched the game last year. Yet my faith in humanity is restored as I noted that over one billion people watched the Chilean mine rescue. As we move closer and closer to the era when everyone will wear a Dick Tracy screen on their wrist, as we move closer and closer to Day of all Days, as we move closer and closer to most super event of all time, let us all pause to realize what has true meaning in life and what is merely a pastime.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shabbos is the Antidote to Modern Technology

The pace of technological advance is mind-boggling. In the span of a few decades we have gone from the phonograph to 8-Track and cassette, to CD’s, DVD’s and finally the I-pod. We’ve gone from the telephone to beepers to cell phones and texting, from pinball machines to handheld I-pads, from television to YouTube, from VCR’s to On Demand, from physical libraries to online digital book/Seforim collections, from calculators to PC’s; culminating in the connectivity of the World Wide Web.

While such advances are for the most part welcome, certain aspects cause me to pause, and wonder if we really are better off now or then. Gone are the days when the family gathered around the record-player to share the latest music together, gone are the days when the office did not have their personnel on a "leash", gone are the days of leafing through the rare books room in the library, and gone are the days when you called a librarian for information.

What aroused my lament was my recent stroll down a crowded Manhattan avenue. I passed several Starbucks style coffee shops. There were singles and couples sipping lattes and espressos and all eyes were focused on their electronic devices. The sad part was that the couples were not interacting with each other – unless they were texting.

Modern technology has killed the “Hobby”. Stamp collecting, coin collecting, playing a musical instrument, all this is going the way of the dodo. Children no longer play outside, no longer go the park to shoot hoops or the breeze, as they are totally ensnared by their personal electronic devices.

Not too long ago the Jblogosphere was abuzz as to whether the halachic ruling forbidding electricity on Shabbos would need to be revisited. Automatic bathrooms, hotel locks, automatic lights and doors abound. Kindles are replacing books which seem to be disappearing at a rapid pace.

While we do not frown on technology as do the Amish, we should be thankful for the Shabbos gift that we received thousands of years ago. Learning in Shul with physical Seforim with a humanoid as a Chavrusa will reJewvenate us on a weekly basis; allowing us to remove the leash and keep our sanity in the frenetic reality of the new world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Baruch Dayan HaEmes - Zaidy is Gone

Moshe Yess, the inspiration for a generation of Jews, among them Abie Rottenberg of Journeys fame, has passed away. BDE.

From the forward to the Journeys songbook, 2004, by Abie Rottenberg:

... Later that year I was made aware of and purchased an album entitled "Megama" that was produced and recorded in Israel by two very talented musicians named Moshe Yess and Shalom Levine. What a revelation! Intelligent, thought provoking, tear inducing English lyrics about Torah and Jewish identity - delivered in a delightful blend of folk, country and Jewish music styles. When I first heard "My Zaidy" (the Moshe Yess classic on Jewish continuity) I was awestruck and deeply moved! "It can be done!" I marveled, and duly inspired, resolved to try my hand at the craft. Now, more than two decades and four albums later, it is high time I acknowledge their role. I am forever in their debt...

My Zaide

My Zaide lived with us in my parents’ home,
He used to laugh, he put me on his knee.
And he spoke about his life in Poland,
He spoke, but with a bitter memory.

And he spoke about the soldiers who would beat him;
They laughed at him, they tore his long black coat.
And he spoke about a synagogue that they burned down,
And the crying that was heard beneath the smoke.

But Zaide made us laugh,
Zeide made us sing,
And Zeide made a kiddush Friday night;
And Zeide, oh, my Zeide,
How I love him so,
And Zeide used to teach me wrong from right.

His eyes lit up when he would teach me Torah,
He taught me every line so carefully.
He spoke about our slavery in Egypt,
And how G-d took us out to make us free.

But winter went by,
Summer came along,
I went to camp to run and play.
And when I came back home, They said, “Zaide’s gone,”
And all his books were packed And stored away.

I don’t know how or why it came to be,
It happened slowly over so many years,
We just stopped being Jewish
like my Zeide was,
And no one cared enough to shed a tear.


And many winters went by,
Many summers came along,
And now my children sit in front of me.
And who will be the Zeide of my children,
Who will be their Zeide, if not me?
Who will be the Zaides of our children,
Who will be their Zaides, if not we?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Flatbush Jewish Journal

Whenever I visit Flatbush, I come away impressed with the Yeshiva community that resides there. Torah Vodaas, Chaim Berlin, Mir and many other Yeshivos comprise a middle-ground that is not too extreme in either direction in terms of religiousity.

I love the many Seforim stores, such as Eichler's and Zundel Berman's. There are more bakeries, pizza shops and restuarants than one can imagine. Not to mention a "shul on every block".

In this age of proliferation of electronic media, the death of printed media is to be expected. Most cling to life by offerning online versions also. So it is quite surprising that Flatbush is now home to it's own newspaper, reaching many thousands each week.

The Flatbush Jewish Journal is up and coming, particularly it's letters to the editor section. Recently, one of the readers complained to the editor that the FJJ should not post pictures of women, as don't the Yated, Hamodiah etc.

Although I am a strong advocate of Tzeniyus, I am not Tali-ban about it. The Jewish Observer and Artscroll have featured pictures of women for many years. I was therefore quite gratified to see Rav and Rebbitzen Pam's ZTL picture prominently displayed on the cover of this week's issue. Give me more of that old-time religion!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Why Not Me? - Rav Gifter ZTL

If you are an avid Jreader, you couldn't help but notice that this week marks Rav Mordechai Gifter's ZTL 10th Yahrtzeit. There were articles in the Yated, Ami, Mishpacha and Hamodiah, to name a few.

Rav Gifter, one of the first American born Gedolim, traversed the ocean in his thirst to find authentic Torah study. He learned in Telz, ultimately marrying into the Rosh Yeshiva's family and becoming Rosh Yeshiva himself in Cleveland.

Rav Gifter was known for his strong views, but many vignettes reveal how much he understood American yeshiva bochurim. When some visitors from Eretz Yisrael protested the ball playing on his sprawling campus, Rav Gifter backed his boys one hundred percent, explaining that America is different. When Rav Schach ZTL was not enthralled with the new Artscroll Gemoroh English translation, it was Rav Gifter who averted his negation of the project.

But the most interesting story in my opionion was the "why not me"? It is said that as a youngster, he had framed photographs of the Gedolim on his wall accompanied by one blank frame with the message inside reading "Why not me"? Rav Gifter did not hang pop icons on his walls, in the false hope that some publicity would rub off on himself - rather he set goals to remind himself that the framed individuals reached high levels of learning because they constantly applied themselves. If I apply myself, he said to himself, I can also reach such heights.

Lehavdil, it can be said that many Jbloggers are driven by the same need to make a difference. Most make a positive difference, and unfortunately some exist primarily to "wikileak" all the bad that exists in the community. In any event, everyone is capable of making a difference. Why not YOU???

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