09 February 2015

Recent Trip to Israel

With my family at the Western Wall
Recently, I went with my family on vacation to visit Israel, primarily to visit some of my wife's family, but also to show Israel to our daughters, and, of course, for us to enjoy Israel, as well.

While I had been recently in May to co-lead a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, it was my first time back in Israel on vacation in three years.  While the weather was mild and only slightly chilly (okay, it was good weather), I, unfortunately, got sick on one of the flights there.  I then spent the rest of the trip trying to recover.

Nevertheless, it was nice to be there and reconnect with the land, with some family, and bumping into other folks there.  Of course, it was also great to have our girls have such an experience and, for the older ones, hopefully remember their trip.

25 November 2014

Back into Brewing Beer!

It's been a while since I last brewed beer, largely because we haven't had a kitchen. The last time that I brewed beer was actually not at my house and I left it, unfortunately, too long fermenting, so I had to dump that batch. So, last week, I finally brewed once again and, similarly to that previous batch, I put 6 pounds of extra pale malt extract in along with California Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP001).

And here is the hops schedule:
90 minutes before end of boil - 1.5oz Centennial (9.0% AAU)
75 minutes before end of boil - 1.5oz Columbus (15.6% AAU)
60 minutes before end of boil - 1oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
45 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Centennial (9.0% AAU) & .5oz Columbus (15.6% AAU)
35 minutes before end of boil - 1oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
15 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
10 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
5 minutes before end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)
end of boil - .5oz Citra (14.2% AAU)

Looking forward  to seeing how this lighter brew will turn out :)

01 September 2014

Thoughts on She-lo Asani Ishah (ברכת שלא עשני אשה)

Growing up, there were different things in life that I perceived in which I felt grateful that God created me a male and not a female.  The most obvious of these to me was appreciating the ability to urinate wherever (especially outdoors) when I needed to and not needing to sit down.  Moreover, the lines at bathrooms were significantly shorter (or non-existent) for us males, which was nice to be able to take care of one's expulsive business swiftly.  

And, as I grew older, I also did not have to deal with menstruation or carrying a child, let alone giving birth to a child, etc.  I took cognizance of these physical differences and thanked the Lord for not having saddled me with these biological challenges.
As I became an adult, I also noticed social challenges in different societies with being a woman versus being a man, including - but not limited to - the ability to walk (or go jogging) on a street at night and not be so scared of being raped or otherwise assaulted, verbally harassed, etc.

I thank God every day that I do not have to withstand the challenges of being a woman and am doubly thankful that our tradition has a blessing not only for us men to thank our Creator for having done as such, but also that we are able to connect to our Creator in such a way.  
I have never seen this blessing as a way to denigrate women or to express our superiority over them, but simply to acknowledge to God how thankful I am that I don't have to deal with the same challenges as women. 

13 August 2014

Forthcoming Posts on נידה (menstrual impurity)?

Eight years ago, while in rabbinical school, the focus of our studies centered around the Jewish practices around menstruation.*  During that time - fall-winter 2006-2007 - I had a lot of thoughts concerning what we were studying and - what I consider to be - some interesting reads of the the texts of our tradition.  However, for whichever reasons, I did not write about many of them.

While I wrote about one such topic concerning a Talmudic text ("White Days") and also a couple of topics, as well ("My First Attempt at a Critical Text" and "Explaining My Disgust with the term "'Family Purity'"), there are certainly other texts I had encountered during my time studying this topic about which I have kept wanting to write.

So, I am hoping (but not promising) to write some more about this topic, primarily concerning rabbinic texts, although I may be discussing some medieval texts, as well (very useful for rabbinical students!).  All of these posts will appear on Matters of Interest.

* Years later, I was amused when I was speaking with my local Moishe House about doing a program on menstruation in Judaism that they were utterly shocked that we had spent time - let alone so much time - to Jewish women and their menstruation.

12 August 2014

Fifth Batch of Homebrew

Yesterday, I brewed my fifth batch of homebrew beer and, just like my fourth batch, I used California Ale Yeast (White Labs WLP001), although I decreased the amount of extra pale malt extract to only 6 pounds, making this the lightest amount of malt extract I will have used in my brewing. Although I was pleasantly surprised with my previous batch, I still thought it was a bit on the malty side, so I sought to reduce the body of it. Plus, this batch will be ready for the football season, for which I would prefer a more sessionable ale!

My hops schedule is as follows:

90 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Galaxy (15.0% alpha acids)
75 minutes until the end of boil - 1.5oz Columbus (15.6% alpha acids)
60 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Galaxy (15.0% alpha acids)
45 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Mosaic (11.6% alpha acids)
30 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Mosaic (11.6% alpha acids)
15 minutes until the end of boil - 1oz Chinook (11.4% alpha acids)
at the end of boil - 1oz Chinook (11.4% alpha acids) & .5oz Columbus (15.6% alpha acids)

Hopefully, it ferments nicely!

11 August 2014

Surprisingly Satisfied with My Fourth Batch of Homebrew

Over a month ago, I brewed my fourth batch of homebrew beer and am actually surprised how well it turned out.  Really my first thought on drinking it was that I was surprised that any deficiencies it has are not readily noticeable.  My first batch and my second batch were to heavy on the body and the third batch was better, yet I was not a fan of what the Belgian ale yeast had done to it.  Also, as opposed to the earlier batches, I don't have to worry about the foaminess overflowing (the second batch was crazy), as this has a mellow foaminess on top.

The body is pretty solid - not light, but not heavy, either.  It's got a really good amount of hops, which is noticeable (but not overpowering).  I think there's some slight fruit aroma to it.  One drawback (for me) is that it is still a bit on the malty side, but it's certainly a lot easier to drink than my previous batches!

07 August 2014

Some Reflections on Hillel Institute 2013 [Throwback Thursday]

Eric Fingerhut addressing Hillel staff at Hillel Institute 2013

With the summer Hillel Institute going on this week, I realized I have not yet shared my thoughts on last year's Hillel Institute (no time like the present!).  At the time, I had not known that it would be the last full Hillel Institute with all staff present (and which I will miss), but I enjoyed it, nevertheless, with it being my fourth consecutive such conference in the summer with fellow Hillel staff.

To begin, I was very glad that those who put last year's conference together decided to rethink how Hillel Institute runs as opposed to the prior three years. I am thinking primarily of getting rid of the Track Sessions, which were the focus of the conference in which we were with our staffs with a few other Hillels and going through some thinking about our Hillels and moving forward for the year to come. Not only do we not need to do it there, but it was, largely, a waste of time and frustrating and we could be gaining tangible elements to bring back with us and by which to be enriched. 

They did so with giving us options, which was splendid! There were two majors which had three sessions and a minor which had two parts.

The first major session I attended was on Jewish Professional Development, which was with a bunch of rabbis, so it wasn't the typical group.  In the first two sessions, the discussion leaders "lifted up the hood" on the curriculum so we could go through it, which was interesting to see it from that perspective, which is also helpful in seeing how they had put together a curriculum for new professionals to consider their Jewish identities. 
Rabbi Daniel Smokler leading a lunch and learn session
The third part featured Rabbi Daniel Smokler, which was amazing and, clearly, the highlight of the conference for me.  Rabbi Smokler led a discussion, in which we flew through ideas, tools, and methodologies for our work and understanding young Jews.  It was very impressive.  His whole talk deserves many, many words, but, instead, you can listen to it for yourself (which he graciously permitted me to record).

There was an option of a lunch and learn session - I chose to go listen to the one in which Rabbi Smokler was speaking and it was a great discussion.

The second major I attended was on fundraising ("development"). I was hoping it would be about making asks, conversing with donors - skill sets for raising money. Well, apparently, that had been in the first time slot (while I was in the Jewish Professional Development session); however, mine was for development professionals  about thinking about time spent on development and coming up with a development plan etc. so I left in the middle of the second session to go make better use of my time and schmooze.

There were also a couple other sessions with just rabbis, however, they mixed in some rabbinical students and non-rabbi Jewish educators, so it did not have the same flavor as being with just rabbis, which was not as powerful as in previous years in which it was just rabbis.

After having gone to City Museum for three straight years as a night out, it was very good for us to not return.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy City Museum and it's great to go once or twice, but four times would have been too much.  Instead, we went to Dave and Buster's, which was great, especially since they had an open bar :)

Rabbi Julie Roth & Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman of Princeton & Berkeley Hillels
The "minor" that I attended was really, really good!  I was very impressed with the Berkeley and Princeton Hillels for not only coming up with qualitative metrics (which is, apparently, rare amongst Hillels) but also skillfully weaving it with their vision, goals, mission and strategies. Some of the staff had shared that having goals helped them have a clearer sense of their roles and towards what they were all working.  Afterwards, it dawned on me that the phenomenal material and ideas shared would be amazing for ALL Hillel staffs to be considering.  I hope they will continue to share their great work.  It also got me to think about one of the aspects they shared - surveys reflecting goals and what we want students to come away with.

Awards Ceremony
Some other reflections about the conference:
  • As always, Hillel Institute is a great opportunity to meet really great people as well as re-connecting with folks from my past.
  • I was disappointed about the hours in the day - would've really enjoyed spending some more time in deep conversation with certain people. However I did enjoy those that I did.
  • I was glad that colleagues were interested and willing to read the articles/essays on rabbinic literature on which I've been working in my free time. I was really appreciative of one colleague who spent some significant time with me going over my pieces (it was also flattering that he told me he enjoyed them).
  • I got to exercise for three straight days while there (I ellipticalled Monday through Wednesday).
  • Hanging out with fellow rabbis from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was nice, and much appreciation to the school for having the vision to sponsor beers for us to hang out together.
  • After having one or both of our children with us for the first three years, it was nice to finally have no children with us and not worry about babysitting and being back in the room to be with a sleeping child (or two). It was incredibly liberating!
  • The food was okay - I wonder if I, perhaps, got my expectations up from the previous year.
  • The weather was so good. After the first year of over 100-degree temperatures, last year's weather was pleasant :)
  • Unfortunately, there was not much twitter action :( I am not sure why there was a drop off from last year. At least there was some action during Eric Fingerhut's plenary speech.
  • The awards presentations were really great, as had been in the previous three years.
I don't know if I will ever return to Hillel Institute in St. Louis, but the fourth of the four that I had attended was certainly a high note :)

25 July 2014

Ninth Year of Blogging: Embracing my Identity as a Blogger

Today marks my ninth anniversary since having begun blogging (yay!) and this past year was one of my most exciting years of blogging.

Deciding in December to spin off an "impersonal blog" in order to have a more public self-blogging persona, leaving this blog to remain as my "personal blog" was a big move for me, for my identity, and for my sense of self.  It was great!  For a half-year, my Drew's Views project went well and I enjoyed having that more public website. Amongst other things, it resulted in my first press pass, I spun off a separate Star Wars blog, and got some positive feedback on the panel presentations about which I had wrote at Long Beach Comic Expo.

I followed up the Drew's Views project with the launch of Matters of Interest earlier this month.  Moving away from a fixed weekly content schedule, it has freed me up to post about things of interest as they come up.  I also intended to cast my net wider [content-wise] and I have a great feeling about it :)

My quotes blog moved this year from being  "DKquotes" on Wordpress, I moved it to its own domain and a more general name, "Excerpted", of which I am still glad for the broader appeal.  While I have struggled to figure out the right layout for the site, I have mostly hewed to an 11-post/per week schedule - one in the morning, Sunday-Friday, and one in the afternoon, Sunday-Thursday.  The content derives from excerpts I find of interest in whatever I am reading.

Lastly, the first blog to be spun off within the past year was my professional blog/site, which was something I had actually intended to do years previously, but only actually did in August.  I had been wanting to do so that there was a very clear delineation between my personal blogging and my professional blogging.  I wonder (but don't know) if this spinning-off of that blog was a catalyst (albeit delayed until after the birth of my third child) for deciding to not only split the personal blogging and professional blogging, but also my personal blogging from my impersonal blogging (resulting, initially, in Drew's Views).  

A big factor in the explosion in my blogging over the past year was realizing that there is only so much time in one's life and that I might as well try and go for it
, while another factor might actually be technological: with a tablet that has a keyboard (that I got last summer (the keyboard; the tablet I have had for two years)) that makes it easier on which to type than my laptop, it is so much easier to whip up content), which has helped me to embrace my identity as a blogger.  After all, I've now been blogging for nine years.

24 July 2014

A Special Place in My Memory: BBYO Programs at BBPC

Listening to participants presenting at ILTC 2012
Last June, I had a feeling of missing something in my life and I realized what it was.  For most of the previous summers, I had spent time at a B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) summer program at B'nai B'rith Perlman Camp (BBPC).  Whether it was the special energy of the programs amongst the youth and staff, the summer weather of the mountains, or something else, having spent 8 of the previous 15 summers there, it had become a typical part of my life.
As a participant, I first spent a month in 1998, spending three weeks in BBYO's International Leadership Training Conference (ILTC) and a week at BBYO's International Convention (IC).  The following summer, I enjoyed a month at BBYO's International Kallah, going home for a few weeks and coming back for another week at IC.  In 2000, during my summer of graduation, I came for IC.
I did not stay away for long, as I came back two summers later, staying for seven weeks, staffing the whole summer as a cabin counselor (we were called "ad[ministrative] staff" back then (nowadays, the position is called "madrich"), for both Kallah and ILTC.  I returned the following year in 2003 in the same capacity.  I had decided to return these years while I was in college, yearning not only to pass along ideas, tips, and other such wisdom from my BBYO time as a participant to these up-and-coming BBYO members, but also to serve as a positive role model who was an observant Jew, which was quite uncommon around BBYO.  I finally came back for a third consecutive summer, although - due to not liking the director of Kallah (we did not get along well) - I served as an ad staff for two consecutive Chapter Leadership Training Conference (CLTC) sessions and then ILTC.
When I finished that summer ten years ago, I then headed off to New York City to begin my studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and was ready to move on.  And, indeed, I really had pretty much nothing further to do with BBYO (it also was in the pre-Facebook era, so people did not stay in touch the same way we do nowadays).
However, a friend's status update on Facebook a few years ago put out the word that BBYO was looking for Judaic Educators for their summer programs and I decided it would be nice to re-connect with my BBYO roots.  Having two children, I decided not to stay the whole summer and only work as one of two Judaic Educators for ILTC.  It was good, although not without its challenges.  I then decided to return in 2012 and it was good, with a good team of people committed to the Judaic curriculum.  In addition to sharing our Jewish heritage with these young Jewish leaders, it was also really great to share some morsels of my BBYO experience (which surprised many of the participants there that I had been in BBYO) with these up-and-coming BBYO leaders.
By last summer, with a third child on the way, and two at home, I realized I should remain with my wife and children, rather than going away for nearly three weeks in the middle of the summer.  So, I don't know if I will return to spend time at a BBYO summer leadership program, but I enjoyed my time not only with the people and the programs, but also the place.  There is just something special in the air and it will retain a special place in my mind when it comes to the summer.
[Some other posts of mine about BBYO]

23 July 2014

Unpleasant Experience at Adar Pizza

A couple of weeks ago, while in Las Vegas with my family, as I mentioned earlier, we visited a bunch of kosher restaurants and I sought out to write about all of them (and other kosher options) (see here for my series).  However, there were a few at which we were unable to have the time to sit down and eat, although I stopped by the three kosher restaurants to stop by and get a sense of them.  However, I had an unpleasant experience at one of them.
When I stopped into Adar Pizza, the woman behind the counter was on the phone and busy, so I simply told her that I just wanted to look at the menu, which she somehow did not understand, since she asked me if my order was to stay or to go.  So, I repeated myself and then she repeated herself, which I just stopped trying to inform her, since she was too busy to listen to me.  So, I looked at the menu, to get a sense of their offerings, even though I had eaten there several times before in previous visits to Las Vegas and took a picture of the menu to get a sense of their prices.  
While she was still on the phone, I began to walk out; as I opened the door, I also took a picture of the restaurant for the blog post about it and she yelled at me (suddenly, somehow, she was not too busy for me), saying that I needed permission to take a picture in her restaurant.  She then ordered me to come up to the counter in the front (even though I was on my way out), which - for some reason - I obliged.  She then got really upset that I had taken a picture without asking.  

So, I asked her if I could take pictures inside, which she refused.  Then I asked her if I could take a picture of the outside of her store, which she also refused (which is bizarre, since anyone walking along could take a picture of the outside).  She followed that up with a threat to take my camera away if I ever came back and took pictures. (Business owners: it might not be a good idea to threaten to steal customers' items if they visit you....)

That ruined the rest of my day - I was still shaken and upset about it. Sure, there may have been a language barrier between us, but why she got so mad at me, I do not know. We began coming up with different possibilities: she's paranoid, she did not want people seeing how not particularly visually aesthetically pleasing it was inside, she wanted to assert herself, etc. Who knows? Nevertheless, it was terribly upsetting and unnerved me for the rest of the day.
Look, I have enjoyed the pizza there in our previous visits and it's the closest kosher restaurant to the Las Vegas Strip; however, I seriously doubt that we will ever return there, considering how rudely I was treated there....