Home Again   Leave a comment

Note to software companies that host their annual user conferences in Vegas: I hate you.

If you’re going to plop a bunch of business and IT folks in the middle of Sin City, PLEASE have the decency to start your morning events later. After cruising around the Bellagio (starting to show its age, by the wasy) all night I really don’t need to try and be awake for an early morning breakfast followed by a droning CEO exlaining their latest innovations in buzzword-ese. Seriously. The morning sessions looked like something out of Zombieland without the cool banter.

On the other hand, I did get an IHR (Ironic Hell Reference) which I’m always a fan of. An IHR requires a few things. First, the person deliving the IHR has to go out of his or her way to get the attention of the Jew Who Will Burn. It can’t just be a passing conversation that you hear – they have to be targeting you. Seconod – it has to be situationally stupid – i.e. something about the way the comment was delivered or the situation itself has to make it look especially dumb. Previous IHR’s I’ve run into have involved things like wild, very uniformed ideas about Judaism that were so attrociously wrong that even gentile onlookers cringe at what a nincompoop the speaker is.

In this case I was at a slot machine (not much of a gambler but when in Vegas I’ll pick a machine and donate some money to Las Vegas economy) with a group of fellow travellers to the conference. We were having a good time when a small group from Somewhere With A Southern Accent saw us – and more specifically, me. They were smoking, drinking, gambling, and generally just doing what everyone else in Vegas is doing.

“Huh, I didn’t know a Jew was supposed to gamble. Thought that wouldn’t be allowed.”

“Well, what do you expect. It’s money isn’t it?”

Chortle.

Froma gentile in my group: “And what are you doing here? Starting a prayer group?”

Nastly look.

“Well, all I know is if you’re going to Hell anyway you probably don’t worry about morals.”

Amazed looks from my group and then a couple of snorts of laughter,

“Um, You know how dumb that sounds when you’re walking around a casino?’

Confused looks. Apparently they didn’t get the irony. Then they left.

On the plus side, an IHC quite often leads to those around me learning something since they will often follow up (after the obligatory comments about the jerks) with a few questions about being Jewish – which allows me to dispel a few rumors and/or explain some of the differences between Jewish demoninations, etc.

And then I hit a nice progressive payout that covered dinner that evening for everyone in the group. Just to keep the good vibes going we went to a kosher Chinese restaurant off the strip and I treated everyone to their first kashrut-certified meal.

And now I’m back home and so tired after a week of conference and casino madness (those machines are EVERYWHERE out there and the noise gets very annoying) I’m tired enough to sleep through the rest of the weekend.

Shalom.

Posted March 30, 2012 by Mr. Shiny in Food and Drink, Judaism, Society

The Best Part   4 comments

I try to look back at situations and events I’ve been in and pick out what the “best part” was for me. This started as a self-enforced habit to help me go out and do things that I didn’t want to do.

I used to avoid a lot of things because I could very quickly look at the surface of the proposed event/activity and know that I wouldn’t like it. Example. When I got to an age when everyone wanted to go clubbing I found every excuse in the book (and invented a few new ones) not to go. Reason? I “knew” in advance that being in a dimly lit club surrounded by deafening techno music, overpriced drinks, and overdressed drunks was something that held no interest for me. Puh-lease. I played D&D as a kid when I wasn’t learning to program with my Trash-80 (the Model 1. Cassette drive for data storage. No floppy disk. RF output so strong it put static lines on the family TV when I had it turned on) or reading a book. So I knew that I would not like a club. Eventually, of course, I got wheedled/cajoled into going. You know what? I was right. I didn’t like it.

However.

At some point I started people-watching. Will that guy over there figure out that he has no shot with the girl he’s buying all the drinks for? Will that other guy be able to navigate to the bathroom without falling face-down? Eventually I met a few others who were there “at gunpoint.” We started betting on club stuff. 20 bucks says the idiot in the Ramones T-shirt is gonna barf after his next drink, etc.

I still don’t particularly like clubbing – but I can find something to take away from it.

Eventually I started applying my Best Part rule to almost everything – even things I wasn’t disliking in advance.

Today I went to a Community Gathering (focus group) at my shul bent on defining who we are as a congregation and where we want to be in the future. The purpose of the meetings is to help the Rabbinical Search Committee put together the parameters to find a new permanent rabbi. It was very well run and and I’m glad I went. The input from the various meetings will hopefully be of use to the committee. The fun for me was seeing the personality quirks and opinions that bubble out of people when they are discussing Real Stuff. People can politely chat about How The Kids Are Doing or the week’s Torah portion until the cows come home. But on the subject of What Our Shul Should Be? The answers are as varied as the congregants. On the macro level the conversations go as expected. More interesting to me are the little slips: a little comment gains whole volumes of meaning due to the tone of voice. Does eveyone ignore it? Or does someone counter with a polite riposte, also with a little bit of a tone?

The best part?

Before the meeting started I planted myself next to a very senior citizen. On general principle I tend to do that for a couple of reasons. The first reason is altruistic: if the person needs any assistance I can give it. What can I say? Show me a lady walking toward a door and I open it. Show me someone gathering stuff to carry and I ask if I can help. Where I come from that’s just par for the course. The second reason is self interest: I am addicted to the stories our elders have to tell. While in high school I was in National Honor Society and our group would go visit people in a local nursing home. They were just people like anyone else but they were people who had already lived through everything a human goes through and were still here to talk about it. More importantly, they wouldn’t be here much longer so you have to listen now or you may not get another chance. So the best part for me today was sitting next to a nonagenarian jewish guy and just letting him talk.

 

Posted March 25, 2012 by Mr. Shiny in Judaism, Society

The Local Rabbi   Leave a comment

This last week we had our traditional Purim service and our excellent Purim Spiel, but today was the Purim Carnival – an event for the kids to dress up in their costumes, play games, and have a cookout. The Brotherhood always does the grilling so I went up there early today to help bring out the grill, set up the tables, and help get everyone served. It was a very nice time for the adults and since I heard lots of giggling from the kids I’ll assume they were having fun as well. Missing were the rabbi and his fellow travelers who took off today for their trip to Israel – hopefully they have a wonderful and moving trip and return to us safe, sound, and with great stories.

After the shut down and clean-up phases were done I headed back home to get my weekly chores done – groceries had to be bought and laundry had to be done. This last week was the annual incentive bonus at work so I stopped at an ATM to deposit the check. While I was standing there pressing buttons (yes I want to proceed, no I don’t want a printed receipt, yes please email my receipt, yes please give my card back, no I don’t want a danish but thank you for asking, etc.) a car pulled up right next to me and I heard “Shalom!”

I glanced up not really expecting to see a chasidic  – there are lots of people, usually not Jewish, who say “shalom” on general principle to anyone wearing a kippah. This time, though, it was definitely one of us. I finally convinced the machine to let me have my card back and went over to say hello. It was an interesting conversation. He asked me who I was and if I was visiting. I told him I had lived here for ten years and that my shul was B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley. He asked if I was born Jewish or if I had converted (which I had always been taught was not appropriate to ask of people but I’m guessing the Segregationist crowd feels differently if they think the person might not be a “true” convert – meaning one who wasn’t converted by a Segregationist rabbi.) I told him I had converted. He asked if I was as B’nai Tzedek when I had done so. I told him no and told him the congregation and rabbi (Bernie King, of blessed memory). I had figured out at this point that this must be the local Chabad rabbi but he hadn’t said so, so I asked who he was and he introduced himself then. He gave me his card and asked for my email address so he could put me on their mailing list to keep me abreast of what was going on in town.

Over the past year or so I’ve met a number of his congregants. The conversations have always been pleasant enough though a bit strained as they learned that I preferred to drive several towns away on a regular basis to a shul rather than go to the local chabad center. When I mentioned that I’d met several of the locals he said that they had told him about me. I wonder how he will speak about me now. I am openly Jewish and in many ways more observant than a lot of jews of various denominations. I think besides him I’m the only guy walking around in town wearing a kippah which means when I meet people and talk with them and (when they ask, which happens a lot when you walk around “wearing it”) explain Judaism, I become the face of Judaism for them. And yet, according to his tradition I’m not Jewish. Yes the rabbi made me go through all the halachic requirements for conversion but since he isn’t part of the orthodox they disallow his actions.

If the conversation continues I’ll be interested to see how it goes. I have met Chabad rabbis before and their attitude ranged from nastiness (Ptooey, you’re not a jew!) to offering to “make it real” (If you want to really be Jewish you have to do it right. We could talk sometime…)

Wherever he is in that spectrum I hope he isn’t holding his breath for a big reaction from me. With Chabad I always take the subject of “Jewishness” with a grain of salt: it is, after all, a bit odd to be lectured to about Judaism from someone waiting for the second coming of Schneerson.

Posted March 11, 2012 by Mr. Shiny in Chabad, Conversion, Jewishness, Judaism, Society

Relations   Leave a comment

I clicked over to cnn.com tonight to see what was happening besides U.S. politics and found a couple of interesting tidbits.

The first was a look inside a political rally in Iran, where a lot of the basic freedoms we take for granted aren’t necessarily there. I used to work at a company owned by a couple of Iranian guys and a good number of my co-workers were from Tehran or its general vicinity. It was always hard trying to relate to the stories they told about life in their home country because their idea of what a government is allowed to was so radically different than mine. One day they were talking about a debate going on in Iranian circles about the morality of “ritual rape” – meaning the practice that forbids executing a woman if she is a virgin. To make sure this doesn’t happen, a condemned virgin would be married to someone the night before the execution so that she could have the marriage consumated and be executed legally. I have no idea how common the practice is, I just know how much it bothers me that something like that could even be a debate. It is practices like that which make me so glad to be here – and even more determined that one group’s views not be imposed on others – like, say, forcing a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion.

The second piece that caught my eye was a story about a private Jewish school in Texas withdrawing from the playoffs because a game occured on the Sabbath. Another case of cultural differences, but happening here. Should the governing board change the game for the sake of one group that is different? I am (from a Reform standpoint, at least) Sabbath observant: I don’t shop, I don’t go party, I don’t conduct business. There are times (ranging from events that friends are having to car repair) in which it causes complications, but I am the one who decided to keep the Sabbath and I don’t expect the world to remake itself around me because of it. More interesting to me were some of the comments on the article – how absolutely caustic some people are about anything they don’t happen to agree with. Not content to just disagree, not understand, or walk away; they feel the need to attach and demean. Sad.

 

 

 

Posted February 29, 2012 by Mr. Shiny in Judaism, Society

Candles, Posts, Post Offices, and Roles   2 comments

If I’m going to put a blog up it apparently means I have to write things to post on it.

On the plus side, I couldn’t be happier with my new job. When you go in for you 90-day review and your manager says “Don’t worry, this won’t be so much a review as it is an ego-stroking session.” that’s a good thing. Very good. Baruch hashem and so forth.

I’m not sure whether to count the rest of this on the minus side or not. Today I met after work with a couple of members of Brotherhood to discuss the annual Yom Hashoah candle project. Each year the Brotherhood buys, packages, and sends all members a Yom Hashoah candle along with a return envelope for those who wish to send a donation in thanks. Those who can’t do so get a free candle for the holiday and those who can give us a source of revenue for our efforts to support the synagogue. Pretty straightforward and good and all that and I’m glad to be a part of it. We discussed the details, made sure those of us doing it this year know how to go about it, and decided how to divide up the major tasks – my biggest job, being of relatively sound mind and body (and having a truck and being capable of lifting things without blowing a knee) is to get the wrapped candles delivered to the post office.

However, any gathering of more than one Jew tends to lend itself to discussions of What Things Should Be Like At The Shul. Especially at times like this when the synagogue’s founding Rabbi is retiring and everyone is gathering around to See What Happens Next. There are few things you can count on happening, I am told. There will be those who know that things will undoubtedly change and they want to always remember what it was and so they just call it quits. There are those who have problems with others in our community and will use this as an “excuse” to call it quits rather than join together, which requires effort. And because of this, there has to be an effort to get others involved in caring for and nurturing the shul as we move forward.

This is where I’m not sure what to do and how to feel about it. It was noted that there are precious few of us in the Brotherhood who are not in danger of needing denture cream sometime soon. That’s an overstatement, but not by much. I should know: until the past year you couldn’t pay me to be a member of a synagogue. Why? Because in the view of a lot of Jews my age synagogue are for Old People, Old People’s Parents (found in synagogues and Florida), and people my age who have kids and whose parents have guilt-tripped them into showing up on Family Service night.

In a Reform congregation I’m an oddball and I know it. In the past that’s why I was never there. What were my options? I was raised by a mother who is very outspoken about how women are treated and am constitutionally incapable of going to a shul where she would have to go sit behind a wall. Just can’t do it. I got very tired of showing up at a place and being asked (sometime directly, sometimes nicely) Why I Was There. The easy answer was to not be there.

At some point I realized that I’m an oddball all over the place. I’ve come to accept it, even embrace it. Oddballs (sometimes this is good, sometimes it isn’t) don’t do what Everyone Else does and when we do it’s often not for Everyone Else’s reasons. I’m a person of principal, deciding that I believe X and therefore I will do Y because of it. That’s quite often lonely, but it makes a difference. The world doesn’t get changed by everyone else, it gets changed by oddballs. I don’t know that I’ll change the world. Probably not. But I do know that shuls have died out in times like this because of not enough people being willing to stick it out and make it work. I’ll do what I can.

Posted February 27, 2012 by Mr. Shiny in Judaism

Squash Meets Mango   2 comments

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Mango and Walnuts

Tonight I was in the mood to play. I’ve always liked the standard baked acorn squash, but I’m also intrigued by any vegetable or fruit that presents me with a cavity that just begs to be stuffed. Tonight’s experiment (after a day of laundry, watching a soccer game (Liverpool vs Chelsea), and a couple of beers) is acorn squash stuffed with mango, brown sugar, and walnuts. Yummy.

Ingredients: 1 Large Mango, 1 Acorn squash, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. vegan margarine of your choice (softened), 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 Tbsp tawny port.

Pre-heat oven to 400.

Peel and dice the mango.

Cover a small baking dish with foil. Brush a little softened margarine on the foil. Put the diced mango on the foil. Spread remaining margarine over the top and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. of the brown sugar.

Bake for around 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and mix in the port wine and walnuts.

Cut squash in half, remove seeds and fibers, and place in a baking dish.

Spoon 1/2 of mango mixture into each half of squash. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar on top of each.

Bake for around 1 hour.

Posted November 20, 2011 by Mr. Shiny in Food and Drink

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So Far, So Good   Leave a comment

I am really enjoying my new job so far. Seems like a good group of people and the role is interesting and challenging. Of course, I’m a geek, so handing me a bunch of disparate underdeveloped systems and saying “fix all this” is something I find fun. When the layoff at my last company happened, a former boss (who had left the company a few years ago) told me not to worry and that maybe it would end up being a good thing. Not to jinx it, but so far she seems to be right.

This is also the end of my first year at my synagogue. Not as a member, but it has been a year since I first started attending there. It was the Veterans Day service a year ago that I first attended. At the time I was not at all excited about synagogue life. My Jewish life had mostly been spent in independent minyans, seeking out a shul for the occasional service or the High Holy Days. Still, it seemed like a nice crowd and I really didn’t relish trying to seek out or create another minyan.

One year later not only am I a member of the shul but vice president of our brotherhood group which was sponsoring this year’s Veterans Day service.

Baruch Hashem.

Posted November 17, 2011 by Mr. Shiny in Judaism

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Jew Brew   Leave a comment

On any given day I can easily hop on the internet and find a worthy topic of discussion. There are tragedies and triumphs that merit headlines and provoke thoughts, arguments, and bloggers.

Few are as important as beer.

This afternoon I left work (new job going very well BTW), went to the gym and sweated on the elliptical for an hour while watching the Cardinals keep hope alive, and figured I’d scan CNN tonight and pick something to opine about.

Then I got home and realized that I was out of beer. A tremendous oversight on my part, of course, but I’ll rack it up to focusing on my first week back at work. Regardless, it had to be remedied. I hopped over to the liquor store a couple of blocks away and was about to grab a nice IPA when the word “Hebrew” jumped into the corner of my eye.

Can’t be.

I looked again.

And saw this:

Duuuuude. Yes!

So I took it home and sampled. Very good. Not the best beer I’ve ever had but definitely a quality brew.

The company: http://www.shmaltzbrewing.com/

The ratings from the wonderful folks at Beer Advocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/262/726/?ba=bros

The story of the beer’s creator: http://www.noevalleyvoice.com/1998/May/hebrew.html

I love creativeness, I love celebrating Jewishness, and I love beer. So I had to share this.

Posted October 27, 2011 by Mr. Shiny in Food and Drink, Judaism

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How Many Angels Can Dance on the Mast of an Ark?   Leave a comment

Having a Torah study group isn’t as simple as getting Jews in a room and opening up the book. It also involves getting the Jews to agree on HOW to study. Are we reading from the literal perspective? In which case we bicker about where Cain found a wife since he’s the son of the first two people and if he’s not marrying a sister then there must be other people but the Torah teaches that they are the only people….

Yawn.

Sorry, but to me that’s a yawn. To me that line of questioning was interesting only when I was much younger and first starting to look for true meaning as opposed to the basic fairy tale. It’s an important stage of religious scholarship to be sure because it is that line of thought that drives us to question and look deeper, but it’s a bridge that we cross early on in our scholarship.

Or we don’t.

If we don’t then our religious scholarship will be a continuous line of accepting or rejecting Biblical tales solely on whether or not the story presents a logical consistency. Gee, the Noah story doesn’t really nail down how many of which types of animals get on board the ark so the story itself is flawed and therefore we dismiss it. That’s the kind of argumentation I often hear from “rationalists” as a reason to disavow religious teaching as a whole and throw the ethical and cultural baby out with the mythical bathwater.

Those who do cross that bridge are free to move forward in our spiritual growth. The story is a story. The meaning of the story isn’t the story itself; it’s the ideas and lessons the story imparts. From the standpoint of folklore the story’s validity has nothing to do with its historical veracity. Tonight our Torah study group was focusing on Noah. And sure enough we had at least one objection based on a lack of logical definition in the story. At that point the kind of Torah study I enjoy has to stop while we all address that issue and/or try to determine if we are even going to deal with that line of questioning.

On the other hand, if that hadn’t come up tonight I wouldn’t have a blog post, because ironically enough my basic attitude about Biblical study was crystalized for me years ago during another Torah study group that was also studying Noah. The person leading that particular group, in an effort to head off what he considered “juvenile” study, put the Noah story (and Biblical scholarship) into perspective as follows:

Situation A: there was a Noah and he built an ark and loaded a bunch of animals on board and a story got written about it. In modern times we read the story and from it we glean meaning with which to enrich our lives and bring ourselves closer to God and make ourselves better people.

Situation B: there was no Noah and no ark and no flood but a story got written about all that stuff happening. In modern times we read the story and from it we glean meaning with which to enrich our lives and bring ourselves closer to God and make ourselves better people.

If we believe that the second part of those two statements is valid then we need to move past worrying about and bickering over the first part. If we believe that the stories themselves contain valid messages then those messages are what we explore, debate, and expand upon. To me that is the essence of religious study: the basic story is nice in and of itself and provides a basic morality tale, but the real journey is delving deeper into it and finding the true meanings (both the meanings that others in the past have seen in it and the meanings we find today) that are more transformative to the reader.

Posted October 25, 2011 by Mr. Shiny in Torah

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Syria Sucks, I’m Having a Cigar, and my Dog is Depressed   2 comments

Years ago I worked at a company that was run by a couple of Iranian guys. They each had several family members who came to work in the office and because of their connections in the local Persian community it was a very Persian-centric corporate office. I learned a little bit of Farsi, learned to cook Persian dishes to a level that they said was impressive (it takes a real man to whip up ghormeh sabzi), and learned how glad I am that I’m here. Why? Because these were people who were very much in love with and proud of their culture and homeland…and had no desire to move back there as long as the current regime was still in power. One woman told me of her most recent visit back home to see her parents. She was so glad to see her old neighborhood. She described a local park that she loved walking in. And she talked about an old childhood friend who had a great sense of humor…and she couldn’t visit with him because he said the wrong things and had been taken away by the government. They never expected to see him again. Stories like that would serve to remind me how very blessed I am to live here where it is just taken for granted that I can publicly rip into any candidate, office-holder, or political party I feel like and all I really have to worry about is someone (foolishly, of course) disagreeing with me. They crossed my mind again this morning as I sipped my morning tea, ate my cereal, and browsed CNN.com.

Today was my first day at my new job. I was really excited about the opportunity, but also feeling the expected nervousness at starting something new. I did not like being unemployed. Where I grew up you worked from childhood on up: detasseling corn, putting up hay, and various other farm tasks were just part of growing up and instilled a strong work ethic. Two months of having “nothing” to do was not cool. But while I was thinking about that and hoping that this new job works out as well as it looks to, I read the latest on Syria – that the U.S. had to pull our envoy out due to fears for his safety. And just like the stories I used to hear from my middle-eastern coworkers I had two reactions. First, of course, a feeling of sorrow that humans still live in such conditions. I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of not feeling safe and not feeling free to say what I want. And second, that a couple of months of unemployment isn’t so bad when my fridge never stopped being as full of food as it ever was. There was no foreseeable future in which I would end up in the condition that many are in this country, much less people in faraway lands to whom I am connected only through news stories and donations to the right causes. Even if the new job flops over and dies that won’t change.

So I went in and had a perfectly fine first day. Went to the gym afterwards and burned some calories while watching the Cardinals get burned, and then went home to relax with a brandy and rare 2nd cigar of the week (they are normally a once-a-week thing, if that.) while my dog threw me reproachful looks for having returned her to a life where I disappear every day. She had two months of me being around all the time and is not a happy camper.

If I could just get her to read CNN.

Posted October 24, 2011 by Mr. Shiny in General

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