21 June 2017

My First Book Gets Published


Earlier this year, my first book got published! While I have held off until now sharing this news with the world, I figure it's finally time to share :)

The book, Talmudic Musings: 50 Essays on Talmudic Terms, Ideas, and More, was published by Hadassa Word Press, a publishing company in Germany (the book is also available for sale on Amazon). While I had been thinking of gathering some of my essays that I had previously published on my various blogs, I hadn’t been actively looking to publish. However, once they reached out to me, I got curious. Although I had gone back and forth whether or not to proceed with putting it together, I ultimately decided to do it.

So, I gathered fifty of my blog posts on Talmudic topics, whether from this site, the short-lived Drew’s Views, or Matters of Interest, and set about converting them into a Word document. This was not simple and took a lot of work not only copying-and-pasting from the web pages, but also creating footnotes from the relevant endnotes (not to mention taking hyperlinks and noting them, as well).


While most of the essays remain in the form that they appeared online, some got some additions, most notably “Sages and Doctors Face-Off: Consideration of a Story in the Talmud” (pp. 78-84). This essay got a fair amount of addition from its original version, with both elements from Jennie Rosenfeld's 2009 dissertation ("Talmudic Re-Readings: Toward a Modern Orthodox Sexual Ethic”) and from Facebook comments in the discussion on the original piece.

I also created an index of sages mentioned - both for tannaim and amoraim (with stammaim getting their own separate section) – an index of Biblical literature references, and an index of rabbinic literature referenced. All of this took even more time.

For those less familiar with my style and approach to the essays included within this volume, here is how I wrote about it in the introduction (p. 1):
It is unclear to me as to how one would categorize the style of writing within this volume. It is neither necessarily academic, nor is it necessarily traditional. Of course, these terms do perhaps describe the style, perhaps they don't. The essays herein are not intended to serve as proper academic articles, per se, but hopefully will be of interest to those interested in such pursuits. Many of them seek simply to raise ideas, offer some possibilities, and serve as a helpful consideration for the texts under discussion. Many of the essays herein are attempts at laying the groundwork in aspiring to come to a better understanding of the texts, but not necessarily all-encompassing about the texts, nor serving as the final word on them.
While many of the essays may try to advance novel understandings of the particular texts in the Talmud, many are not intended to do so. Indeed, the style of many may be considered almost like encyclopedia entries on the topics, with straightforward explanations. A number of them seem to encompass both of these endeavors. Not infrequently, I come across certain topics, texts, or phrases discussed - whether in printed texts or orally - in a manner that does not seem correct, even if it is a prevalently understood one. Many of my essays in this volume were inspired by these seemingly incorrect understandings that I sought to correct.
I hope the essays included within this book are helpful for those considering various texts within rabbinic literature. Putting them in a book, going beyond simply having them on a few blogs, ensures that – even if the blogs go offline – the essays will remain in this world. 

Of course, the question of who will purchase this book is another matter, Owing to its price tag, I’m not sure how many people will pick it up. However, if anyone knows of any libraries (perhaps university libraries?) interested in such a work, please let me know or them know. It would be great to make this work more widely available.

15 December 2016

Looking Forward to My Third AJS Conference



Having attended the Association of Jewish Studies Conference twice before, I am very much looking forward to being able attending a third time. Having first attended in 2008 in Washington, DC and attending the following year in Los Angeles, I am glad that it is returning to Southern California, enabling my attendance.

With it taking place in San Diego, it is easy for me to reach, travel-wise. Of course, I am also grateful to my wife allowing me to go and her taking our kids for those days.
I am curious to see who will be there. One thing I have already noticed is that several of those presenting papers are people whom I know and are my peers, which will be great and did not happen in either of the previous conferences.

I am greatly curious to see how different the tweeting is. When I attended in 2008 and 2009, while I was engaged on Twitter about the conference, it seemed there weren’t many others engaging in it.  However, I am hopeful that there will be more discourse taking place in that space about the conference.

One thing to which I am looking forward is being in a space where there is such great intellectual discourse, curiosity, and scholarship, and being able to soak in it and to be enriched through the experience. I love such cerebral gatherings and events, especially on topics of great interest to me. 

I am also looking forward to re-connecting with people who are engaged in these endeavors and whom I haven’t connected with in-person (as opposed to online (primarily Facebook)). It will be great to be enriched through these conversations and see how my knowledge and experience will be enriched through these interactions.

I am most looking forward to sessions on rabbinics (such as rabbinic literature, Talmud, etc.), but – as in my attending previous AJS conferences – also seeking to go beyond just that field. Obviously, I am also curious in Bible, but we shall see which other panel discussions in other fields I attend.

Finally, for anyone who has read my previous blog posts here on attending AJS conferences (see below for a listing), will see that my writing style has greatly improved over the years since then. Also, I don’t plan on throwing all of my notes on to the screen. Furthermore, I think I took notes using pen and paper, then transcribed them, thus there are some non-sentences going on in some of those posts. Instead, I am aspiring to take notes and do writing on my tablet, which will yield an easier transferring of notes than transcribing. Also, I don’t think I will be throwing all of the panels on the same post.  Hopefully, if I am able to compose them well enough, I will post them separately on Matters of Interest.

In any event, I am greatly looking forward to attending!
 

Listing of previous posts on AJS Conferences:

08 June 2016

First Month of Having a Son Kicks Off a Few Other Firsts

Podcasting with Skywalking Through Neverland
The arrival of our first son this spring - after producing three daughters - kicked off a month with a few other firsts for me.  Each of these things would have been special unto themselves, but I found it fascinating that they all occurred within than first month of having a fourth child, our only son.

The first of these firsts occurred the day after my son was born - when a piece I had written weeks before was published on Mayim Bialik's website, Grok Nation. While my post was about raising daughters as a father who is really into Star Wars, the irony was that it was published one day after having a son!  In addition to having a piece of my writing get to a place with great visibility and a lot of readers (which is really flattering, especially after having considered myself an insufficient writer for most of my life), it was also my first time getting paid to write a blog post!

The next of these was also Star Wars related: appearing on a Star Wars podcast!  While I have sought establish my bona fides as a Star Wars fan by blogging, it was great to be able to share my thoughts on Star Wars in a different medium.  Moreover, the podcast, Skywalking Through Neverland, apparently has a lot of listeners, so it was wonderful to have such an audience.  Having met the couple who host the podcast in the winter, it was great to discover that they, too, reside in Long Beach. When the blu-ray for The Force Awakens came out, they kindly invited me over one evening to watch the deleted scenes and featurettes, while commenting on them.  Our comments would then be split up on two separate episodes of their podcast.  Since then, I have returned on a couple of occasions to speak about books for their podcast.

The final first was beer judging! Yes, that means drinking various beers and not paying for them. Moreover, we even got paid a little money for our time!  If only this occurred more frequently….  The competition for which I judged beer was the LA Beer International Beer Competition.  The set up was that judges received sheets of paper with rubrics for scoring, providing comments, and  noting off-flavors, while working with a partner in a dyad.  We got some interesting beers, definitely not typical-tasting beers, but yummy, nevertheless.  What was surprising to me was that I was able to detect some off-flavors, which my tasting partner did not, such as vinegariness in stouts and vegetalness in IPAs (or DIPAs or TIPAs), since I was clearly the younger and lesser-experienced person. In any event, it was really great to be able to take part in the experience, not only for the beers, but also connecting with different people there and for the simple honor of being invited to take part in it.  Ass a post-script, people subsequently asked me which beers I enjoyed the most: inasmuch as I wanted to tell people, we were only given numbers for the beers - not the names nor the breweries of the beers, since it was really anonymous.  Nevertheless, looking at the top three winners in our category, I will say two things: 1) they were really good and 2) I now know which are the three winners (and I will definitely buy those beers).

I really hope that there continue to be new firsts in my life, as I enjoy these exciting new developments.  I will say that there have been some more, especially with beer-writing, about which I hope to share soon :)

13 April 2016

New Child - What's Next?

With each child we have had, my life has changed.  With the addition of a fourth child in our lives, what is next for me?

The birth of our first child was the biggest life-changing experience of my life.  Having to not only take care of a living human being, but also to have responsibility for it was an awe-inspiring new facet to my life.  Moreover, this responsibility will stick with me for the rest of my life. It was a huge change to not only our lifestyle, but also on our outlook on life.

The addition of a second child brought about more responsibilities to life and was also a shock to our system.  Inasmuch as I had thought we had parenting down with one child, having a second child is a big surprise! Nevertheless, we managed and had the parenting of two children thing down.  A little over a half-year after our second daughter had been in our life, I discovered an interest in cocktails - both making them and consuming them.  I don't think this interest in cocktails was unrelated to my being a parent to a second child. I don't mean that it drove  me to drink; rather, it was a way to gain a hobby and express some of my individuality.

This need to express some individuality was not willy-nilly out of thin air. With more children, not only is one's time consumed, but so, too, is one's energy, as well as one's identity.  I think that this new interest of mine was borne out of a need to develop a separate interest area for my identity and adulthood. Eventually, the cocktails led into spirits (as they are the building blocks of cocktails (as well as liqueurs)), and then, eventually, into beers.

When our third child was born, one thing I did to further the aforementioned trend was to being brewing my own beer.  This was a really neat way to better understand beer and to do something that helped me to further get into an interest of mine, apart from being a father. However, I also realized that while my identities as a husband, father, and rabbi were important, I knew something was missing. There was an important identity piece that needed to be developed.

Part of this identity piece that was missing was that I knew that I enjoyed sharing my ideas, knowledge, and more, but was not doing it fully enough. While I had been blogging on this blog of mine for over eight years, I knew I needed to begin writing more publicly and to embrace my identity as not only a blogger, but as someone who writes in the public sphere. I wanted my ideas, knowledge, and insights to get out there. To that end, I began by creating Drew's Views, which then led me to transition to Matters of Interest for my public writing.

Now that we have a fourth child, it is not that I specifically intend to introduce a new change into my life, whether that be hobby, interest, outlook, or something altogether different, yet I am also fully aware that a new child for me has brought new perspectives for me into my own life. How my identity continues to be articulated or how I will change is something about which I am both excited and nervous as to how it will fit into my already busy life.  We shall see….

31 March 2016

Our Fourth Child: A Boy!

Two weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed the newest addition to our family. Our fourth child was born on March 17th at 1:02pm and, after having three girls, we now have a boy! And, with boys, we celebrated his brit milah a week ago, on Purim, where we also shared his name. His English name is Eli James and his Hebrew name is אליהו יעקב. We named him Eli after my grandmother's grandfather and James after numerous Jacks in my wife's family tree. Since my parents-in-law have eleven granddaughters, we decided we would include my wife's maiden name into our son's, thus Eli James Scheier Kaplan. We are excited about this new addition to our family and hope the best for him!

10 February 2016

Several Hours in Ensenada: My First Time in Mexico

There was a lot of activity on Avenida Adolfo López Mateos
This past summer, my wife and I visited Mexico for our very first time. While on a brief cruise, we got out and explored Ensenada for several hours. While we knew that this was a touristy area, we figured we would enjoy it, nevertheless. We also knew not to expect any kosher food, which is why we stayed on our cruise ship for the morning, so we could eat, before heading out into town to drink. While we heard that it is normally sunny there in Ensenada, it was either raining or simply gray, although not cold, while we were there. While sometimes the rain was light and we could withstand it, we often would have to go inside to avoid the rain.

Enjoying margaritas at La Taberna de Ensenada
We first headed to where most of the shops were, on Avenida Adolfo López Mateos. While walking along this street, the first such place we went to avoid the rain was La Taberna de Ensenada, where we had been enticed to enter, not only on account of trying to avoid the rain, but also because of a good 2-for deal on margaritas. While inside, we also enjoyed the lovely ambiance of this bar.

Tasting in a liquor store
We continued along, eventually being coaxed into a liquor store to try some liquors. In this liquor store, Tequila Room, we were treated to a free little tasting of a reposado tequila, which was decent; then a crema de tequila, of which I had never heard before, but enjoyed its smoothness and sweetness; then a mango liqueur, which was really quite sweet, but enjoyable. There was also another tasting going on in this liquor store, and it seemed to have a different variety of options for tasting.

We then headed out and continued on our way, with many people out on the streets trying to coax tourists to come in and enjoy their various drinks specials. Our group of four - another couple as well as my wife and I - were about to go into one such bar, although it was dark, had meager drinks options and really loud music. Fortunately, I got us out of there - it would not have been pleasant. However, we then went to Papas & Beer, which had very enjoyable music. I had a piña colada, which was decent, although nothing special. We soon realized, while at Papas & Beer that it was a very lively happening party place with some raunchiness, which became quite interesting. So, we then left there and went a couple of doors down for a bar experience that was very different.
Enjoying beers at Hussong's

We then entered into Hussong's Cantina, which had a more down-to-earth atmosphere and definitely something less crazy than Papas & Beer. We found Hussong's Cantina to be a decent bar and we enjoyed their mariachi band, which was taking song requests. Since I didn't realize it was the birthplace of the margarita (and would've ordered one, had I known), I had a Tecate, which I found to be a solid lager.

Bohemia beers
We then continued on down the street, coming upon another bar, where one of our group and I split Bohemia beers. I found the Bohemia (4.7% ABV) to be pleasant and kind of reminded me a little bit of apple juice, whereas the Bohemia Obscura (4.9% ABV) was both calmer of a beer, as well as darker.

We continued along and I was convinced to come into a bar for a $1 shot of tequila. At Phosphorus, I had a shot of Julieza reposado tequila for that $1, which was a nice, smooth tequila. I was then curious to have another reposado tequila, ordering Don Julio reposado tequila. This was pricier, coming in at $5, but it was a smooth, yet very flavorful and spicy tequila.

As we continued along, we returned again to La Taberna de Ensenada to get out of the rain and enjoy another margarita. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at a liquor store into which we had visited earlier. While there, I bought my first-ever bottle of mezcal (reposado). We then did our best to not get too wet from the rain on the way back to the cruise ship.

It was a good several hours in even just that one main strip of shops there in Ensenada. It’s clear that there is a lot more to do there - and that’s just on that one street(!). And, yes, it’s plainly obvious that it’s catering primarily to the tourists, especially those who arrive for a few hours while on a cruise. Yet, it has a certain charm, nonetheless. I would certainly find it fascinating to go again, especially when it’s not raining and to more fully explore the area.