29 May 2012

I Am a Rabbi, Not a Political Scientist

I went to rabbinical school for numerous reasons, but none of them were to become a political scientist. Nor, for that matter, was it to become expert in geopolitics. I will say that my rabbinical school succeeded in teaching me important elements about Judaism and more, omitting political science. If I really wanted to, I could take university courses in becoming well-versed in politics, political science, and geopolitics, perhaps moving on to earn degrees in such topics. And, inasmuch as I do enjoy being aware of what's going on in the world, not to mention being able to speak knowledgeably on such topics, I have no interest in receiving training or earning degrees in political science.
Considering the aforementioned, it is, to one degree or another, generally beyond my expertise as a rabbi to comment on or voice my opinion on geopolitical matters.
That doesn't mean, however, as a generally educated person, that I can't speak on such topics without at least a modicum of knowledge....

24 May 2012

On the Desire for a Star Wars Theme Park

The original land speeder at the Discovery Science Center
      With tomorrow being the 35th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie, I strongly believe it would be great for there to be an entire theme park dedicated to Star Wars.
      Having visited the Star Wars exhibit at the Discovery Science Center last month before their four-month-long time there was up, I realized there is a great desire (I want to say "need", but that's an over-statement) for a Star Wars theme park.  The exhibit, "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination", featured costumes, models and more from the movies, as well as little videos that described the making of the movies (I really enjoyed the sound designer discussing how he came up with significant sounds), which were all great (there was also some scientific aspect of the exhibit, meant to connect people (especially kids) to science and make it seem interesting (but I skipped those parts)).  What struck me was that there was a constant queue to enter and this was simply a science center.  Granted, one could have paid extra to ride the "Millenium Falcon Experience", but I skipped that, as well.
Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland
     A further realization for me on the great desire for a Star Wars theme park is that every time we go to Disneyland, there is not only such a ridiculous queue for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (which we've never ridden since it opened (well, there was that once, but that was a sneak preview) because of the wait), but also all of the marketing they do to get people to go to Disneyland just for that ride.  They also have a nearby area at Disneyland with "Jedi Training Academy", where kids can get "trained" in waving around a plastic lightsaber by an actor playing a Jedi knight and then storm troopers and Sith come out on stage, etc., which always draws a crowd. 
On a speeder bike at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2007
And add to this list another Southern California theme park with a Star Wars element: Legoland.  Also, when I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios, where they also have Star Tours, they had a very nice surrounding area that was reminiscent of Episode 6.  I think they could definitely do all of this on a massive scale, resulting in a theme park of its own. 
     Just as people are entertained by the movies, television shows, video games, etc., an entire theme park (and not just one ride in a theme park) seems to be the next level of Star Wars entertainment that would garner a lot of fan interest (and if the value of providing that entertainment to its fans was not enough, those in charge of running the Star Wars empire would be able to be motivated by all the dough they would be able to reap).
Star Wars theme park as envisioned by Tom Hodges
     Fortunately, I am not the first, nor am I the only person, to realize that this idea makes sense.  There are a couple of websites dedicated to ideating this theme park, such as Star Wars Resort and Star Wars Theme Park.  If you are a fellow believer in this cause, you can also 'like' "Please Create a Star Wars Theme Park".  If you are a visual learner, you can check out this drawing of what such a theme park might look like.  As for location, although I am biased, I think it should be in Southern California (where people can go to other theme parks as part of their touristic experience (or just their experience of living in SoCal)), Florida (such as near Disney World), or even somewhere else (a leading contender could be in NorCal near the trees that look like they're on Endor)....
     One of the great things about Star Wars is how much material upon which to draw there is for creating rides, museum-like elements, games, and more for a Star Wars theme park - and that's just in the movies.  It could be expanded to included the television shows about the Clone Wars, or even the video games, or even possibly the books (I think we can omit "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor" and "Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure", as well as "Star Wars: Droids" and "Star Wars: Ewoks").  There would be so much fan interest of all ages that would be willing to visit this theme park and spend money to go (and purchase merchandise, etc.) that it would be a worthy investment in creating.  However, this theme park might have to wait, as George Lucas might not be too particularly fond of it....

22 May 2012

30 Days of 30 Drinks by a 30-Year Old Project Update: Week Four (Part 1)

Straining a Haymaker into an old-fashioned glass with ice
Since I will be taking a one-week break from my 30 Days of 30 Drinks project, set to resume following Memorial Day weekend, here are the drinks from this half-week:
        Day 15: Rob Roy (Base spirit: Scotch)
        Day 16: Caipirinha (Base spirit: Cachaca)
        Day 17: Haymaker (Base spirit: Bourbon)
Previous Weeks: Week 3 ("Gin Week"), Week 2, and Week 1.

18 May 2012

30 Days of 30 Drinks by a 30-Year Old Project Update: Week Three [Gin Week]

Holding a Jasmine cocktail, the last of five Gin Week drinks
Continuing on with my 30 Days of 30 Drinks by a 30-Year Old project (week 1 and week 2), I made five more drinks and videos this week.  This week, I thematically went with gin as the base spirit, calling it "Gin Week".  Before getting involved with mixing drinks a half-year ago, I don't think I had ever had gin or gin in a drink EVER.  Now, I've found gin to be an interesting spirit, which is sad considering that it is not a particularly popular spirit in America (vodka much outpaces it, with whiskeys and tequila being more popular).
The five gin-based drinks I made this week:

Day 10: Gimlet
Day 11: White Lady
Day 12: Negroni
Day 13: Tom Collins
Day 14: Jasmine 

Stay tuned for next week, either on my YouTube channel or look out for #30Days30Drinks on my twitter account.

10 May 2012

30 Days of 30 Drinks by a 30-Year Old Project Update: Week Two

Holding a Manhattan in hand
Continuing on my project I announced two weeks ago, I have made videos of me mixing drinks this week, continuing what I started last week.  Here are this week's cocktails:
Day 5: Old-Fashioned
Day 7: Gold Rush
Day 8: Manhattan
Day 9: Cosmopolitan
I hope you keep on enjoying my videos on my YouTube channel!

06 May 2012

30 Days of 30 Drinks by a 30-Year Old Project Update: First Week

After my post with the announcement that I was embarking on a new project of making several videos a week, each with a new cocktail or mixed drinks, I began! 
  1. Day 0 - Simple Syrup & Sour Mix
  2. Day 1 - Martini
  3. Day 2 - Chocolatini
  4. Day 3 - Sazerac
  5. Day 4 - Margarita
Today, I posted Day 5: Old-Fashioned and will continue throughout the week on my YouTube channel.  Follow along!

02 May 2012

Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship

I participated this year in a unique opportunity for rabbis produced by Clal - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.  Called Rabbis Without Borders (RWB), the fellowship consisted of meeting four times in New York City at Clal's offices in midtown Manhattan for two days apiece (thank God, during the week and not on shabbat).  One thing that immediately stands out for any rabbi or, for that matter, anybody in the Jewish non-profit world is that the fellowship pays entirely for the fellows' travel and hotel stay (and not a hotel half-way across the city; the hotel is located less than a block away from their office), which sends a message before one even participates that they are serious about what they are trying to accomplish.  
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield (Clal Co-President), Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu (Rabbis Without Borders Director), and Rabbi Irwin Kula (Clal Co-President)
               In my cohort, there were twenty-three participants, hailing from all across the country (plus two out-of-country fellows (one in Vancouver, BC and the other in Kingston, Jamaica)), all in different rabbinic positions, with most holding pulpit positions.  The age demographics were interesting, as I was one of three of the youngest at 30 (okay, I was the youngest, but the other two were close), with most of the participants in their 50s and 60s.  This year was the third such RWB cohort, with plans for future years of the program, including an alumni retreat with other RWBers.  
             Each of the four sessions centered around a particular topic: the first was on Sociology of Religion in America, the second on Technology & Communication, the third on Politics & Religion, and the last one on Happiness.  Each of the sessions featured guest speakers: the first featured Professor Gustav Niebuhr, the second featured Daniel Sieradski and Rabbi Owen Gottlieb, the third featured Steven Waldman, and the fourth featured Emiliya Zhivotovskaya.
Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard dropping serious knowledge
             Although the featured guest speakers were great, the most important pieces that I got out of the program were from the Clal rabbinic staff.  Rabbi Irwin Kula and Rabbi Brad Hirschfield were tremendously instrumental in pushing ideas.  Although he was only there for one session, Rabbi Dr. Tsvi Blanchard, who is one of this country's most insightful rabbis, ran a text study that was mind-blowing to everyone in the room.
             The most significant (although there were many throughout all four sessions) take-away for me came from Rabbi Kula, who said that, "Judaism is a technology that helps humanity to flourish."  This and other following insights all came from this tremendously significant discussion (that I can't recommend highly enough - download it now (heck, I'm downloading it now, even though I was in the room at the time and took copious notes)) (another good download from that session is Rabbi Hirschfield's reflections on sociology of religion in America and its relevance for American Jewish life, which is available here (and is in response to Professor Niebuhr's talk on five significant issues for religions in America, available here)).  Typically, we think of rabbis as teaching Jewish wisdom to Jews so that they can do Jewishly and stay Jewish and be Jewish, etc.  What Rabbi Kula was pushing was to consider rabbis as more than just for Jews, but more broadly considering them as American wisdom teachers.  Rabbis possess wisdom and practice to help human beings to be better and this technology is Torah.  And not just teaching Jews in order to protect American Jewish life (worries about security and survival is what is at the core of organized Jewish life in America), but to teach Torah to anybody who is interested in improving their lives through Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield leading a discussion
            There's more, of course, but the central piece was thinking more broadly about the Torah and Jewish wisdom that rabbis in America can impart to the society at large.  Their hopes are to not only continue adding to their alumni lists of rabbis who've been pushed in and considered this way of thinking, but to impact and shape the American rabbinate (who they see as important pieces of Jewish life) and, more broadly, the American Jewish landscape.  Time will tell if Clal will be able to achieve these effects, but they are certainly doing well in their efforts and I am glad I had this excellent experience.