The ominous Nine Days, that culminate in the somber day of mournful remembrance called Tisha B'av, will soon begin. Most people in our community have, since childhood, been warned and exhorted to be extra careful and cautious during this period of time. We are taught that these particular days have a history of being especially tragic for Klal Yisrael, with many great misfortunes having taken place over the centuries during this time of year. To that end, for example, despite the oppressive summer heat, we are not allowed to go swimming, since the potential for injury or even death is increased. Traveling is also greatly discouraged, as is any activity that has an element of risk.
In my previous column I noted how the great sage Hillel, when asked to teach the entire Torah in the time it took for a man to stand on one leg, stated without hesitation that people should not do to others what they wouldn't want done to them - and that the rest was commentary on that point.
Back in the day when I was growing up, members of the Jewish community were categorized into three groups - Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Those who kept kosher and were shomer Shabbat were considered Orthodox. Period. How men or women dressed, their choice of head covering - or not - was irrelevant. In fact, going to public school didn't disqualify you from being viewed as Orthodox. The fact that you brought your own lunch, while everyone else lined up at the cafeteria for burgers and French fries confirmed your religious status.
While some people have the extreme mazel of knowing within an hour of their date that the person sitting across from them is the "right one," the vast majority of those on shidduch (blind) dates aren't so lucky. I would guess most first dates are parve - with the consensus being, "I had a nice time, but not amazing."
Dear Readers, As a change of pace, I wrote a short story with the hope that it might provide some insight as to how young children can assess ordinary situations in a way that may be surprising to grownups.
I was eating in a restaurant recently, enjoying both the food (post-Pesach) and the company, when a few minutes into the meal the sound of a baby shrieking shattered the subdued ambiance. I looked around and saw a young mother and father sitting at a table, a baby carriage nearby. To my annoyance, they continued just sitting there, despite the fact that their child's cries had become more strident and ear shattering. They seemed oblivious to the noise, and were not in any hurry to do something about it. It was only after they noticed that people at other tables were eyeing them with mild (to extreme) disgust that the mother stirred herself to get up, pick up the infant - who looked to be about one month old - and try to calm him down.
There is an old joke that describes a passerby who sees a man repeatedly hitting his head against a wall. Each time his head hits the wall, the man yelps in pain. Concerned, the first man runs up to him and asks why he keeps banging his head when it obviously hurts when he does so. The man answers, "Because it feels so good when I stop."
The Haggadah brings to our attention the "Four Sons," each of whom has a distinct nature that essentially represents the main types of Jews who cross our path. The one we most admire is the "wise" son. He is the kind of young man every parent, prospective in-law and teacher dreams of having come into their life. He is intelligent, sincere and inquisitive and has a thirst for knowledge. He knows where he comes from and embraces his Yiddishkeit.
Many of us in North America, even in areas that are usually relatively toasty during the winter months - like Maryland and Washington, DC - are impatiently counting the days until spring and the promise of warmth and sunny days. Even rain is looking good these days.
If you look at an ad or a commercial, more often than not the hype will be about the "new and improved" version of a product. The emphasis is on the fact that it's "newer" and thus better than the "earlier" version.
Several weeks ago, there was a flurry of articles in various newspapers about the possible release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit via a prisoner exchange. Some seemed quite optimistic that his tragic situation would finally be resolved. Sadly, to date, nothing has changed and he remains a prisoner, concealed and cut off from those who cherish him. In addition, the frum world has been rocked by several scandals involving pillars of the community whose moral integrity and Yiddishkeit seemingly have been overwhelmed and enslaved by the yetzer harah. Below is a petition to our Heavenly Father for rescue from the evil - both external and internal - that threatens our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Consumers beware: Shopping, gift-giving, vacationing, even making money may be hazardous to your health. Indulging in what should be routine activities can - due to a seeming epidemic of "who cares?" - induce extreme frustration, stress and anxiety, causing your blood pressure readings to be more like those of a thermometer just pulled out of a feverish child. Way too high.
As I eyed the delicious, calorie-rich dessert buffet at a singles event I recently attended, I surveyed the crowd surging around me, and contemplated what, in the scheme of things was harder to do - lose weight or set people up. Both are very challenging, require a lot of "will" power - combined with tons of resolve, patience - and most importantly, "pep" talking.
ZOA -The Zionist Organization of America hosted its 112th Annual Gala Dinner in New York City last week, and since I happened to be in the "neighborhood," visiting the tri-State area for an upcoming simcha - I decided to attend.
With Chanukah - the Festival of Lights quickly approaching, Jews the world over are busy planning get-togethers, preparing or buying latkes and donuts, shopping for gifts for children and adults alike and generally looking forward to having fun and a much welcome break from the daily grind of life.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev marks the 10th yahrzeit of my father, Chaim ben Aaron-Yosef Hakohen. Lately, whenever I think of him, the image that pops into my mind is of him sitting at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of "grishek." I think we would call it porridge - although that term seems to be outdated these days.
I have been to many singles get-togethers over the years, and have noticed an unfortunate tendency by both men and women to give members of the opposite gender a quick glance over. Each is then given the label of being a "loser," "winner" (one worth making the effort to meet), and those who are "OK, but not really my type; so why waste my time and energy?"
I know that just the title of this article is going to cause an uproar in some circles, and I know that some people might be aghast at how I can even ask that question. To some it is obviously halachically unacceptable to postpone starting a family. After all, the Jewish people are exhorted to pru urevu - to be fruitful and multiply. So, let me say at the onset, this is something every engaged couple should discuss with their rav. Getting a heter - even for a few months- just might be a lifesaver.
A few years ago I wrote in this column that at the bris of my oldest son - held in a shul whose members were for the most part elderly - a wizened old man approached me, peered into my face and muttered in a raspy voice with a Yiddish accent, "May your children sit shiva for you." I was too stunned to say anything to him and just shook my head as he walked away. I thought, "nebach, he must be demented."
In my previous column, I wrote that helping to foster a positive self-image in one's children is the greatest gift parents can give them. Similarly, self-like (not to be confused with narcissistic self-worship) is a key component in having a successful life.
The new school year is starting and parents across the board are busy getting their children ready for school. New clothing, books and study aids like calculators have been bought and bus service and car pools organized. As the year progresses parents will do whatever it takes to help ensure their offspring do well in their Limudei Kodesh and secular studies, including helping with homework or even enlisting a tutor.
Last time I wrote about the misguided attitude toward sports and exercise that seemingly permeates many frum circles. Some askanim view physical activity as unnecessary, needlessly diverting precious time from Torah study.
A recent article that appeared on the haredi website, yeshivaworld.com, described how askanim in Israel had approached HaRav Aryeh Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, armed with a kol korei against vacations during bein hazmanim. Their goal was to get his haskamah in their mission to stop bachurim from doing what they felt was an inappropriate and wasteful use of time - hiking, swimming, nature walking, sightseeing, etc. (generally vacationing from their studies).
Maybe because Tisha B'av was on our minds, as were recent dismaying events both in Israel and closer to home, but what had started as a relaxed, light-hearted lunch with friends took a dark turn when someone mentioned a recent tragedy involving a young child. Another friend shared an equally horrible story. We acknowledged that lately we all had heard of so many "umglicks" - horrific events afflicting members of the community.
The other day, while schmoozing with a friend, the conversation (as chats often do) turned to food. My friend talked about a delicious dish she had eaten as a guest during Shavuot. She mentioned how she planned to replicate it in her kitchen, but hadn't gotten around to it yet.