29 December 2013

Beginning a Tanya-Reading Project

For a few years, I've been wanting to read through the Tanya (a/k/a Likkutei Amareem), written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, since it is a fundamental work of Lubavitcher Hassidim (a/k/a Chabad). This particular sect of Hasidim is not only the most well-known, but also the most financially successful group in Jewish life in recent years, enabling their further growth.  My interest in understanding what makes Chabad tick was also fueled by there being a large amount of Lubavitcher Hassidim in my area.  So, I decided I wanted to read through the Tanya/Likkutei Amareem and decided to buy a Tanya/Likkutei Amarim and, a little over a couple of years ago, I did.  However, aside from getting together a few times with a local Chabad rabbi, I haven't read much of it since then.
So, I realized that I needed to make a project out of it for me to write about it in order to keep me reading it.  So, I decided I'm going to start reading through the first part of the work, the Sefer shel Beinonim, chapter-by-chapter alongside writing about each chapter, so look for those posts to go up on my new blog :)  Wish me luck this time....

26 December 2013

New Blog! Launching Today!

Since beginning to blog exactly 101 months ago (yes, that's 8 years and 5 months) today, I have posted up over 600 posts on this blog (and yielded over 100,000 page visits!), which has been great.  However, over the past few months, I've been yearning to share my views in a different forum (with a bit of a different voice), with, hopefully, a broader audience.  

So, a few weeks ago, I began preparations for my new blog and today, it officially launches/launched! ---> http://DrewsViews.info.

This doesn't mean that I'm shutting down this blog or even stopping blogging on this platform.  It does mean, though, that posts I'm hoping are for broader consumption will be there, whereas more personal posts will go up here.

Yes, I had some issues with my blog in the spring and the summer of 2006 (7.5+ years ago!), where I had been faced with pressure from some rabbis at my rabbinical school about my blogging, so I began to ponder my blog's existence and my continuing blogging (you can tell from the posts that spring that I was trying to not get myself in trouble...)  That then led to two further posts, wherein I enunciated my frustrations with blogging and tried to figure out my blogging voice.  Eventually, I decided, that summer to step back from blogging (considering retiring from blogging entirely), but fortunately, I couldn't stay away and decided to continue sharing.  (Yes, I haven't done much meta-blogging since then, continuing on to blog, but I don't know that anyone really misses it.)  

Anyways, I recently realized that although I want to generate content (especially Star Wars-related (but not only)) for a broader audience, I figured this particular blog is not necessarily the place for it, thus I decided to separate my blogs (and my writing voice on each of them).  As such, there are actually a fair amount of posts on this blog that I decided are worthy of sharing on my new blog.  Thus, I've been sharing collections of links to posts on this blog on my new one that are relevant for that blog, as well, and will continue to do so.

Of course, I still have my professional website up at RabbiDrew.info as well as my quotes blog :)  Feel free to come back here, but definitely check out the new DrewsViews site!

25 December 2013

Talmud Tuesdays?

Yesterday, I posted a few posts up on my new blog (to launch tomorrow) listing posts I've posted up on this blog about the Talmud (feel free to check them out!). They are
As well as Thursday's
Just as yesterday was Tuesday and I posted up a bunch concerning Talmud (and rabbinic literature), I may decide to post about the Talmud and related topics on my new blog on Tuesdays, thus Talmud Tuesdays (or, better, #TalmudTuesday)!  We'll see how I move forward....

23 December 2013

"Firefly" Re-Enters My Life

Having not seen "Firefly" in eight years, I've been recently desiring to watch it again, especially when people make occasional references to it...  Fortunately, a catalyst entered the picture, resulting in my re-watching it!
Originally introduced to "Firefly" on a visit to my sister in the fall of 2005, I then watched the series that fall and finished up with watching "Serenity" eight years ago.  However, a lot of time has transpired since then and I decided to re-watch it.  Granted, one of the aspects that makes it easy to watch, in addition to the quality of the show, is that it is not a significant time commitment, having been cancelled after only a dozen or so episodes airing.  I imagine that's one of the aspects of it that has helped turn the show into a cult classic.
However, this past Hanukah, my sister (again) and her husband gave us, for a gift, the recently-released "Firefly The Game".  I am not much of a board game player, so it was kind of a strange gift, not to mention that I haven't seen the show in eight years.  Although I have greatly enjoyed playing the game, it has been kind of frustrating that I don't remember most of the show. Nevertheless, I am glad that they gave us the game as a gift, since it has re-sparked my interest in watching the show.  Fortunately, my wife has agreed to watching it with me, so that is great :)  
We began watching "Firefly" last week and it is, indeed, a great show and is helping me understand the game ;)

09 December 2013

How I Got Started Getting Into and Making Cocktails

Holding a Canadian Cocktail (from my video series)
A couple of years ago, while visiting some friends, I noticed a book in their apartment building's vestibule (as part of a pile of ownerless books) about cocktails.  Being on a trip (I was in NYC for the first of four sessions of the Rabbis Without Borders fellowship), I was looking for interesting reading material and my interest was piqued by seeing the book.  Part of my initial interest was seeing the cover of the book with its nostalgic look back at the perceived heyday of cocktails.  So, I picked it up and began to learn about the cultural   of cocktails in America, which was fascinating enough.
Now, I had not been new to alcohol prior to then, but I would have the occasional drink or beer, but I wasn't particularly knowledgeable about options (there are several times when I would go to bars with people and have no idea what sorts of drinks I should get). I got interested in and started liking wine in my young-20s after having seen Sideways with my family. In my mid-20s, during rabbinical school, I began to tolerate and even sort of like beer (well, more specifically, lagers). And I had some cocktails with my wife in my upper-20s (although she would advise me what to order, since I wouldn't know what to order (usually, she recommended an amaretto sour (which I enjoyed!)).
Holding a Caipirinha from my video series
When I began reading this cute cocktail book, one thing I read about was about the interest in it and how people were into them in the middle of the century and that although they had gone away in popularity,  they were making a comeback. I also realized that the instructions to make them were simple enough to manage,  so I decided I would take it up as a new hobby.
From November 2011 through April 2012, I explored cocktails as a passion and learned a lot not only about  , but also about making them.  This process included not only building a decently-sized liquor library, but also involved a lot of learning about the constituent elements of cocktails: spirits, liqueurs, as well as mixers.  
Then while leaving the last of the four sessions of Rabbis Without Borders, my colleagues wished me well in my cocktail-making and I wondered if there was a way that they could experience them in some way.  So, on the spot, I decided I would do a video project. The video project upon which I embarked was 30 Days of 30 Videos of 30 Cocktails by a 30-Year Old.  This project consisted of roughly six weeks of five cocktails each, with videos posted daily, Sunday through Thursday.  And it was great!  The project was very enjoyable for a number of reasons: 1) It was structured, 2) It forced me to learn how to make new cocktails (so there was an educational component to it), and 3) It got other people interested in what was going on with the cocktails :)
Once that concluded, I felt a few things: 1) I felt accomplished (in seeing the project through), 2) I felt glad to have had some more video experience, and 3) I felt relieved.  I felt relieved since I had experienced something I had never experienced before: the need to not drink.  My body was not used to consuming alcohol on either a daily basis or with such regularity (and with some videos being filmed twice in one night, I was consuming more alcohol than I was used to).  So, I was very glad/relieved that, shortly after completing my project, I then went away to staff a summer program at a dry camp for a few weeks!
My first-ever daiquiri (from video series)
Upon my return, while I enjoyed making cocktails, I realized that cocktail-making can be tedious just to get a drink and that bourbon was tremendously enjoyable on its own!  So, that fall, I frequently began to turn to bourbon when I wanted a drink rather than a cocktail.  Although I still make cocktails on occasion - especially if there are people over - my interest began turning towards bourbon late summer 2012.  Then, of course, my interest in beer last fall began to take off....  

We'll see how my interest in cocktails will continue....

03 December 2013

My Star Wars Editing Projects

Boba Fett got me started on these projects
In June, while my wife was out-of-town, I decided to have people over to join me in watching something about which I had been curious: Why were people so into Boba Fett?  I knew that he was the bounty hunter who had captured Han Solo in episode V and was part of Jabba the Hutt's partying in episode VI, but why else is he so interesting?  So, I did what any curious person would do: I collated all of the appearances in either cinematic release or television appearances.  Of course, I had to find out all of the places that Boba Fett was shown first.  Then, I gathered them, which was a fun and engaging project.  So, I had the Boba Fett showing, which was great.  
One of my Projects: Removing JarJar from Episodes I and II

I felt good about my Boba Fett Project, however, I then realized "Why stop there?"  I find myself frequently defending Episodes I & II and I realized JarJar Binks had to be removed.  So, I created versions of Episodes I & II with as little JarJar Binks as possible and I also removed the horrible romance scenes in episode II and most of the podracing scene in episode I.

I was satisfied with those outputs.  That is, until I read Nicholas Carlson's Business Insider posting, wherein he writes that people should not "watch the first prequel. It turns out you don't need to. That's good, because that movie is historically awful."  I realized that, yes, most of episode I is useless in the overall scheme of things, but there are some redeeming features that are worth watching in it.  So, I had to do something about that.

I realized that my removal of certain elements in Episodes I & II did not go far enough.  I then removed most of episode I and a minority of Episode II: Episode I becomes entirely about the battle for Naboo and about the Jedi discovering the existence of Sith while Episode II largely remains intact, minus the romantic stuff between Anakin and Padme.  This yields 2.5 hours of screentime, roughly the length of either of these movies.

Whoo!  For the time, I am pretty satisfied about this last project :)  
However, my next one will be to gather all of the Darth Maul material in the Star Wars: Clone Wars series....

02 December 2013

Quoting Rabbinic [and Other] Authors (The Importance of [Rabbinic] Citation IV)

Books don't write themselves
{Previous posts in this series: The Importance of [Talmudic/Rabbinic] Citation, Quoting the Author, "In the Name of"?: A Brief Clarification of Citation in the Babylonian Talmud}

As someone who values the importance of rabbinic citation (á la the Talmud) (see link above), it is important to me who contributes an idea or is responsible for a statement.  Taken to it's logical conclusion, this leads one to quote someone who wrote a book or generated new thoughts by making mention of their name.  So this means not only quoting those rabbis in the Talmud by name (and, of course, as people are wont to do, to also quote the tractate and page number on which their statement has been preserved), but also those that are post-Talmudic.

Something that bothered me when I was in different yeshivot was that people frequently quoted books, unaccompanied by their authors.  That isn't inherently a problem, of course: if someone says "Such-and-such is in the Shulhan Arukh", it's clear that that idea is found in the book that Rabbi Yosef Karo composed, just as, for instance, one would say "Such-and-such a line is found in The Hobbit", and one would know that JRR Tolkien wrote it.  However, what was difficult to process was when people would say "The Mishnah Berurah wrote such-and-such" - that's a book; it doesn't write itself.  It's just the same as "War and Peace wrote such-and-such" - didn't Leo Tolstoy actually write it?

 I decided, whilst in rabbinical school to buck this trend, and actually quote those who contributed their ideas, spent time, ink, and more on getting their books out there and contributing to the intellectual richness of our people's heritage.  So, I decided to quote not only the books in which certain positions or ideas are taken or espoused, but also those rabbis who made them.  For an example of this move, you can check out a responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's that I translated (and taught).

I did receive some pushback from my push to cite the authors and not just their book titles, due to it not being how those in the Orthodox community speak.  Sure, it's a lot easier to just say different ideas are written in books - and I can certainly speak that way - but it's more honorable to those authors to quote them.  That, and it makes more sense when hearing it.

25 November 2013

New Daughter!

With many thanks to God, my wife gave birth last night to a healthy baby girl, weighing seven pounds.  We had gone in to the hospital in the morning and, having been induced, my wife gave birth at 9:59pm.  My wife was pushing and pushing and once we heard the first cry from our new child, we both gave each other a look and were really glad that this pregnancy had come to an end and that we had a new and healthy baby girl :)
This morning, I headed up to LA for the morning service at a synagogue (whose rabbi is the president of the rabbinic organization to which I belong), where I was able to name our new daughter. (It was also the same synagogue where I went to name Lily.)   When I got up and had my עליה for קריאת התורה, Rabbi Kanefsky did a very lovely job with the naming and included some singing to accompany it :)

Her English name is Emma Trudy and her Hebrew name is מלכה גיטל. Her first name is named after my uncle, Malcolm (מאטל בן מרדכי הכהן) and her second name is named after my wife's great great aunt, Gertrude (גיטל).  Since neither of them had children (nor had children who could name their children after them), we decided to name Emma in their memory.

Tomorrow, my wife comes home from the hospital with our new daughter for the first time.  She'll get to join her sisters, who were born previously (see here and here).

15 November 2013

Understanding the Talmudic Phrase מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין (Ma'alin bekodesh v'lo moreedeen)

A common phrase often tossed around at this time of year, with Hanukah coming up in less than two weeks is a Talmudic expression "מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין" (ma'alin bekodesh v'lo moreedeen).  I decided to [finally(?)] compose this blog post after hearing/reading this phrase misunderstood many times.    So, to understand this phrase, we need to see where/when and how this phrase is used in rabbinic literature (for a collection of sources, you can check out this pdf I put together five years ago for a class I taught (while in an internship in rabbinical school):
It appears twice in the Mishnah - here is mMenahot 11.17:
שני שולחנות היו באולם מבפנים על פתח הבית אחד של שיש ואחד של זהב על של שיש נותנים לחם הפנים בכניסתו ועל של זהב ביציאתו שמעלין בקדש ולא מורידין ואחד של זהב מבפנים שעליו לחם הפנים תמיד ....
And another is mShekalim 6.4:
שלשה עשר שלחנות היו במקדש שמנה של שיש בבית המטבחים שעליהן מדיחין את הקרבים ושנים במערב הכבש אחד של שיש ואחד של כסף על של שיש היו נותנים את האברים על של כסף כלי שרת ושנים באולם מבפנים על פתח הבית אחד של שיש ואחד של זהב על של שיש נותנין לחם הפנים בכניסתו ועל של זהב ביציאתו שמעלין בקדש ולא מורידין ואחד של זהב מבפנים שעליו לחם הפנים תמיד
There are two beraitot in the Babylonian Talmud which use this phrase, as well, both in tractate Menahot - here is one on bMenahot 99a:
תנו רבנן: עשרה שלחנות עשה שלמה, ולא היו מסדרין אלא על של משה, שנאמר: ואת השלחן אשר עליו לחם הפנים זהב +מלכים א' ז'+.

עשר מנורות עשה שלמה, ולא היו מדליקין אלא בשל משה, שנאמר: (את) מנורת הזהב ונרותיה לבער בערב +דברי הימים ב' י"ג+.
רבי אלעזר בן שמוע אומר: על כולם היו מסדרין, שנאמר: את השולחנות ועליהם לחם הפנים +דברי הימים ב' ד'+, ובכולן היו מדליקין, שנאמר: את המנורות ונרותיהם לבערם כמשפט לפני הדביר זהב סגור +דברי הימים ב' ד'+.
רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה אומר: לא היו מסדרין אלא על של משה, אלא מה אני מקיים ואת השלחנות אשר עליהם לחם הפנים  זהב? אלו שלשה שלחנות שהיו במקדש, שנים שהיו באולם מבפנים לפתח הבית, אחד של כסף ואחד של זהב, על של כסף נותן לחם הפנים בכניסתו ועל של זהב ביציאתו, שמעלין בקדש ולא מורידין, אחד של זהב בפנים שעליו לחם הפנים תמיד
And the other is found on bMenahot 39a:
תנא: כשהוא מתחיל - מתחיל בלבן, הכנף - מין כנף; וכשהוא מסיים - מסיים בלבן, מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין
So, in the above texts, the first three all refer to vessels in the בית המקדש (Sanctification House [in Jerusalem]), while the fourth text refers to ציצית (tassels).  According to the first three texts, then, our phrase of מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין means that "we ascend in holy [vessels in the Sanctification House] and we do not descend".  However, the fourth phrase points to our phrase meaning that "we ascend in holy items and we do not descend".

Before getting to our Hanukah-related discussion, there is one further amoraic statement found in the Talmud - recorded on bMegillah 21b:
אמר רבי יוחנן: מכאן שאמצעי משובח. ואחרון שקרא ארבעה משובח - משום מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין
Rabbi Yohanan's comment is referring to the menorah in the Sanctification House.  So, thus far, most of the mentions of this phrase have related to items in the בית המקדש.

This now brings us to the amoraic statements related to Hanukah involving our phrase, both found on bShabbat 21b.  Both of these excerpts are related to why Beit Shammai says that the מהדרין מן המהדרין way of performing Hanukah candle-lighting is in a descending fashion and Beit Hillel says to ascend. Here is the first:
אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן: שני זקנים היו בצידן אחד עשה כבית שמאי ואחד עשה כדברי בית הלל. זה נותן טעם לדבריו כנגד פרי החג, וזה נותן טעם לדבריו דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין
And here is the second:
אמר עולא: פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא רבי יוסי בר אבין ורבי יוסי בר זבידא

חד אמר: טעמא דבית שמאי כנגד ימים הנכנסין וטעמא דבית הלל כנגד ימים היוצאין.
וחד אמר: טעמא דבית שמאי כנגד פרי החג וטעמא דבית הלל דמעלין בקדש ואין מורידין.
Sukkot bulls (via Yehoshua of MyMachshevet Blog)
In both of these stories, presented by Rabbi Yohanan (quoted by Rabbah, grandson of Hannah) and Ulla, we have rabbis in the Land of Israel who argue for the difference between the academies.  In the first excerpt, we see that Beit Shammai's reason is presented as reflecting the descending numbers of offerings during Sukkot for each day, thus, so, too, shall our lighting of the menorah be in a descending fashion. Beit Hillel's reason is presented as ascending in קדש.  Although it's somewhat unclear what that is, it can be made clearer through the second story.  One of the Rabbi Yossis argue for a simple matter of days that have come in of the festival versus days that have departed.  The other Rabbi Yossi argues - in my reading - for a connection to the בית המקדש: Beit Shammai says we connect it to the bulls offered on Sukkot like we used to in the days of the Sanctification House, while Beit Hillel says we connect it to the menorah in the Sanctification House, since we ascend in regards to vessels in the Sanctification House and we do not descend.  

In my understanding, yes, there is one tannaitic text that utilizes the phrase מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין as we ascend in holy items and do not descend, but most of the other tannaitic texts and - seemingly - the amoraic texts understand this phrase as we ascend in items/vessels of the בית המקדש and do not descend.  

Let's use this phrase appropriately.

22 October 2013

Beer Growlers

My first beer growlers
Less than a year ago, my brother-in-law brought a glass jug to our house; I asked what it was and he said, "It's a beer growler."  I didn't think anything of it until April of this year when, at a pot-luck beer event I held, someone brought a beer growler.  I asked what it was and he said, "It's a beer growler."  I asked how he got it and he said that he got it filled at a local brewery.  
Beer growler that was a birthday gift

After getting into beer this year, I finally purchased my first beer growler(s) three months ago.  So what is a beer growler?  It is a jug (typically, two liters) that can be taken to a brewery and filled up.  It is called a growler, because, as the story goes, people would tote their beer growler with them and the carbon dioxide coming out of the jug would emit a growling sound.  Thus, it's called a growler.
(If you are interested in finding out more about beer growlers, here is an interesting historic perspective.)

Typically, the pricing for the amount of beer one acquires is cheaper than what one would pay for the same amount of beer purchased in bottles (or cans).  Now, the major drawback to filling up a beer growler is that it is best consumed within a day or two of its filling.  While there might be some people out there who are strict to follow this requirement, I will consume the beer even several days following its filling. 

I have since purchased another growler at a brewery that has a very lovely IPA and also received a growler of a local brewery as a birthday gift from my brother-in-law.  So, at this present date, I now have three 2-liter growlers (from different breweries) and a 1-liter growler.  I may decide to get a plain growler, since it can be used to fill up at multiple breweries.  However, at this time, according to California state law, beer growlers of one brewery are not permitted to be filled up at other breweries.  

I am glad to have discovered beer growlers and look forward to further growler fills!

17 October 2013

Star Wars Taking Over Tomorrowland? Definitely an Improvement

Tomorrowland may turn into Star Wars-land?
Being a regular visitor to Disneyland, we frequently ride in on the Monorail and stop off in Tomorrowland, visiting Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlasters, which is really fun.  Then we leave Tomorrowland, since there's nothing else that we enjoy in Tomorrowland (although I like going on Star Tours, because I am Star Wars fan, but it's not anything I can ride with my children (so I only ride it when I go to Disneyland for a midday break from work)).  One of the major disappointments with Tomorrowland is that it has the potential for so much great energy.  When you first come in from the circle (with the Partner's Statue), you've got AstroBlasters to your left and Star Tours to the right, and then you pass by the shutdown WED People Mover (and the rockets ride that's ride in the middle that congests foot traffic, you have to go off to the right for a couple hundred yards before coming to the next set of attractions.  Sure, Captain Eo is fun to watch the first time or two, but does anyone go back?  Also, Innoventions could be neat, but we never go. 

Lastly, Autopia is HORRIBLY outdated, not to mention really smelly.  Although we try avoiding passing by it, given the choice, but when we ride in on (or headed out on) the monorail, we have to pass it and the fumes, which are always an unpleasant piece of the Disneyland experience.  If it's REALLY about tomorrow, then make the cars run on batteries or something that does not pollute our environment and our olfactory senses.  What needs to happen is get rid of Autopia.  

Although I know there are other rides in Tomorrowland, we rarely ride them (e.g. Nemo has long lines and we don't ride Space Mountain).  So, when I read reports that came out last week that there are serious Disney considerations for the Imagineers to removing some of the rides and installing Star Wars rides, I was/am super excited!  Yes, yes, I know: it won't be completed for a few years and, in the interim, there will be annoying construction going on, but even the construction will be an improvement! 

As MiceAge reported last week, the "aesthetic of most of the land will change to take on the appearance of the Star Wars universe, particularly in the back eastern half of the land."  Not only am I excited that the the Imagineers are going to be improving Tomorrowland, which is a good thing in and of itself, they are going to be doing so with Star Wars attractions!!!  I am so excited!!  Having written nearly a year-and-a-half ago on the great desire (on behalf of not just me, but many thousands of fans) for an entire theme park for Star Wars, this is certainly a happy move in that direction.  While I (and others) might be upset that Disney is not just setting aside space for a separate theme park dedicated to Star Wars, this is certainly a very welcome move!   

MiceAge further writes that 
Disneyland fans will cheer when they learn that the Astro Orbiter will be torn out and removed from its current location at the front of the land, which only served to make that area of the park feel more congested and claustrophobic instead of kinetic and full of energy. The re-Imagineered Rocket Jets spinner is currently planned to land up on top of the Space Mountain Concourse, tying in with a repurposed Starcade upper level next door.
Uh, YES, please!!! As a Disneyland fan, this is a great move! MiceAge goes on:
And the old Rocket Jets spinner and PeopleMover platform gets an extreme makeover, as a landing pad in the Star Wars spaceport that forms the loose theme for the new land. And what’s a landing pad without a spaceship, right? The craft that will have landed there won’t be any old spaceship however, but will be the famous Millennium Falcon that will act as an elaborate walk-through attraction and meet ‘n greet location for your favorite Wookie co-pilot.
Ooooh - nice! Lastly,
The back of the land is where the big new headliner attraction sits, in the place of the existing Innoventions and Autopia. After abandoning previous attempts to utilize the existing PeopleMover track and loading area, the Innoventions building gets gutted and in its place is the pre-show and boarding area for the new Speeder Bike thrill ride. The majority of the track heads outdoors and to the north, demolishing the Autopia freeways and taking over most of that area for the new ride. The outdoor Speeder Bike course is set on the forest moon of Endor where the Ewoks live, and an Ewok village and walk-through attraction will house dining and shops as the Speeder Bike ride zooms nearby.
Soooo smart and sooo looking forward to all of this! All brilliant moves!! Upon the changes taking place, Eric Goldman wrote [a week ago] on IGN that
Tomorrowland is already home to Star Tours and also to the Jedi Academy experience for kids, so with these additions, this would be turning a notable portion of the park into a Star Wars area. In fact, so much of Tomorrowland would now be Star Wars related, with the exceptions of rides like Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters and Space Mountain, it does the raise the question of whether they would even keep the name Tomorrowland (technically, Star Wars takes place in the past after all!).
Of course, this was made possible by Disney's acquisition of Star Wars to install a bunch of Star Wars attractions, but perhaps Disney will see that the demand is so huge for just Star Wars rides/attractions, that they will see this mini-Star Wars Land as a trial project to develop an entirely separate theme park (but I know this is merely a dream that is not likely in the next decade or so).  In the meantime, us Star Wars fans can be happy with a few rides.

16 October 2013

Growing in Appreciation: A Year of Beer

This past year, my appreciation for beer was deepened, broadened, and enhanced.  While I did not like/drink beer in college (I liked wine, though (not that I consumed it much), I did start liking to drink it in rabbinical school (it primarily began in the summer of 2005 (because by October 2005, when we threw our apartment-warming party in Washington Heights, we had stocked our refrigerator full of beers (Coronas and Heinekens))).  While I stuck to lagers, such as Corona, Heineken, and my economical favorite, Budweiser, I didn't venture much beyond that (although I do recall liking Stella Artois, at some point).
When I got into exploring cocktails after turning 30 (about which I will blog soon)), I didn't care much for beer, although I would have it on occasion.  I mainly felt that beers were so filling compared to cocktails (and to their alcoholic content).  Also, beers weren't that exciting.  I remembered seeing shirts with the Benjamin Franklin quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy", and thinking "Why does it have to beer?  Maybe that can be extrapolate to any alcohol-consumption...."
Belgian Ales at a BevMo tasting
Last August, while shopping at our local BevMo, I overheard a cashier responding to a customer that they offer $2 wine-tastings on Saturdays and $1 beer-tastings on Friday afternoons from 2pm-7pm.  Since I couldn't go there on Shabbat (even though it is on my way to shul), I realized that I could go on Fridays.  Not being much of a beer fan, per se, I decided I was an alcohol pluralist and wanted to expand my alcohol horizons and not only was it an inexpensive way to do so, but it's also a nice way to get into the Shabbas mindset. So, I went last September to a beer-tasting one Friday afternoon to try it out (at $1, it's not going to be a waste of money).  I thought it was good and went back the next Friday afternoon.  Then the next Friday afternoon, then the next.  Then I started recommending it to  other people then brought some with me (some of whom (primarily a neighbor, though) would pay for my tasting (not that $1 is a lot of money to shell out for someone else, but it's still a nice gesture)).  

Imported beers at BevMo beer-tasting
I was then going every week, even when Shabbat would come in earlier.  Although some BevMo locations began their beer-tasting only at 4pm, fortunately, our local BevMo began the beer-tastings at 2pm, so Shabbat was not an issue for me to go every Friday afternoon even in the winter.

One of the biggest lessons was that I liked more than just lagers and that there was quite a variety of ale types (including IPAs, which were disgusting (how could anyone drink what seemed to be pine needles (ugh!!!)))!  By November, I had started to really enjoy Belgian ales, such as Golden Ales, but particularly Trippels.  I really enjoyed the sourness of it(?).  That was my preferred beer style for a few months.

However, a change began to occur in December.  At a meeting in mid-December to discuss Jewlicious Festival 9, my predecessor, Rabbi Yonah, offered me a pale ale to accompany a burger (from the delicious Jeff's) and I actually thought it was tasty.  Moreover, the taste of it made me think it would go well with pizza.  So, that evening, I went out and got a pale ale and had some pizza.  Wow!  It worked really well :)

I then picked up Flying Fish's American Trippel.  I really enjoyed the yeastiness of it that was very Tripel-y, but was shockingly enamored with the hoppiness of it.  My tastebuds' curiosity was certainly piqued!  Thus began my interest with hoppiness.  My tastebuds wanted more!!
Some very enjoyably hoppy beers I picked up :)

So, I began to experiment and have IPAs to try to quench my tastebuds' thirst for the hoppiness.  Throughout the spring, I began to have IPAs, then it got to a point where even some IPAs seemed to entirely lack a hoppiness!  
Fortunately, because I do a fair amount of activities with young adults (20s-30s), I was able to incorporate beer and beer-exploration into some of my work. The primary example I use is that of my "Jews, Brews, and Rabbi Drew" series, which are potluck beer events at which I lead discussions on Jewish topics for 20s-30s Jews. It's a great concept!

My quest for hoppiness continued until Passover, at which point I had to take a beer hiatus, so my palate for hops dried up a little bit, but it started to return.  Then, in a late-May visit to Las Vegas, my wife challenged me to see if I could go a whole month without alcohol-consumption, so I agreed.  I chose June to just get it out of the way (that, and my wife was going to be gone for half of the month (I find that I drink less with her not around (no, it's not because she drives me to drink; rather, I enjoy her company and presence and am in a happy mood and want to enjoy it))); when I resumed consuming beer, I found that my palate had changed and that my hoppiness barrier was not as high as it had been.  In the last few months, however, it has returned :)
As a post-script to the BevMo's tastings: I was saddened when, in May, I found out that BevMo would be putting their Friday afternoon beer-tastings on hold for the summer (no tastings between Memorial Day and Labor Day) - (especially bizarre for me, considering that those months are when Shabbat enters the latest and a Friday afternoon activity of any sort is much easier to do!). However, after it returned this fall, I went once and they changed many things: 1) the hours were no longer 2-7, but 4-7 (which makes it tougher on us because it's erev Shabbat and I need to be home to help with the Shabbat preparations), 2) the price went from $1 to $2, and 3) they went from having 5-8 beers to having only three! It might not come as a surprise, but I don't know how much I will be returning to BevMo on Friday afternoons with these changes. However, I am still thankful to BevMo for their $1 beer-tastings last year. Anyways, I am looking forward to the next year of beer in my life :)  I now understand those shirts with Benjamin Franklin on them - beer is certainly a special beverage - differently enjoyable than bourbon or cocktails.  I think it is an especially happy-making beverage :)
Addendum: One thing I began enjoying (perhaps spring/summer of 2012 (after the football season)) was to watch "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" episodes accompanied with beer & pizza. At the time, I drank lagers (for some reason, I really enjoyed drinking Sapporo (which Rabbi Yonah got me into) and Asahi, the dry-ness of which went - to my palate - went really well with pizza), which was great. When the football season ended and I resumed watching the series in the spring/summer of 2013, it was markedly different the styles of beers I was enjoying to accompany my pizza and "Clone Wars" experience (e.g. here and here)!

09 October 2013

The Lack of Interest of Young Adults and Synagogues: A Two-Way Street? - A Local Example

There is an article in one of the local Jewish magazines this month, there is an article in which executive directors of one Conservative synagogue and four Reform synagogues in Orange County are asked four questions ("Q & A", Orange County Jewish Life (October 2013), 48-50 (available online here)).  The first three are questions that would one expect to be asked: "What do you think is the key reason why people join a congregation?", "What do you think is the key reason people join your congregation?", and "How has your congregation changed its marketing efforts in the face of changing demographics?".  

However, I was surprised and elated that the following question was posed to them: "Do you have special programs for younger people (21-39)?"  Not only because I know a lot of Jews in that demographic, because I work a lot with that demographic, or even because I am right in the midst of that age range, but also because that is the age range that affiliates the least with synagogues across the country and could use some outreach.  Granted, Jews in this range are rather loathe to join anything, let alone synagogues (furthermore, the pay-to-pray model does not seem to me to be good for this age demographic).  However, I did like the question that did not ask about dues or membership, but about programming (perhaps even outreach to this age demographic), since this age is an opportune moment in young Jews' lives to engage them.
While the first respondent did say something about a special membership category, which sounds great, since this age group doesn't feel particularly compelled to join in the first place.  They also say that they "have several young staff members that bring an exciting vibe to our programming", which sounds great.  The second respondent then discusses programming for parents with kids, but then says outright that they have "no specific programs for 21-39-year-olds" and then they go on to say how they have a variety of programming, except they mention that they have programs such as Mah Jongg and "adult education and book clubs", because those totally draw 20s-30s (not).
It goes downhill from there: the third respondent says "we have special programs for younger people", but instead of specifying any programming, they continue on to say that they "challenge the easy categorization via age", which clearly indicates two things: 1) that they have no idea of the different needs/interests of that age group and 2) that they are BS'ing about having special programs for 20s-30s (especially when they conclude that "we feel that we are uniquely positioned to work with "younger people" of all ages to determine what they feel they would like us to provide to their personal and family lives, and then create the programs and activities that meet those needs.").
The fourth respondent says "our programs are integrated; however, we have revised the point of entry, i.e., dues, for young families."  In other words, "No, we do not have programming for 20s-30s."  Ditto for the fifth and final respondent: "we offer a diverse menu of programs for all of the varied demographic groups within our community."  Which really just means, "We don't cater to the 20s-30s crowd."  
I wonder if these executive directors didn't understand the opportunity that was placed before them: they had a perfect place for a free sales pitch on what made their synagogue attractive and interesting for Jews in their 20s-30s, perhaps attracting interest from other age groups, as well.  Instead, they decided to largely squander this opportunity in not talking about their programming for this age group.  Yes, I understand that this age group is the main child-bearing age demographic and that is why some of the respondents discussed programming for children and parents, but many Jews in their 20s and 30s in Orange County do not [yet] have kids (or even married)....   I want to give these executive directors the benefit of the doubt and hope that they just didn't understand the question and thus, lose out on this great opportunity.  The alternative, of course, is that they did understand, but they don't offer programming for this age demographic (hopefully, because they don't have the critical mass for such programming and not because they simply don't care to program for 20s-30s).
Before I read this article, I thought simply that young adults don't join synagogues because they often wait until they're married and/or have kids, because they don't think that they're relevant to their lives (but once they have kids, perhaps they would join).  However, I now realize that many synagogues (or executive directors) may not have the interest in doing outreach programs for young adults; perhaps, it's a two-way street.

28 August 2013

Splitting Broadcasting Streams: A Foursquare-Twitter Experiment

Recently, while considering splitting the streams of my broadcasting of my activities between personal and professional, whether it be Instagram or blogging (or, less recently, Facebook), I have been considering whither I should send my Foursquare check-ins.  

While I have considered creating a separate Foursquare account for professional purposes, so people can keep up with where I am for work, I have - for the time being - decided not to create a separate account.

With that consideration, I have tried different ways of broadcasting my check-ins as it pertains to professional purposes.  I have gone through some changes (see, for instance, picture to the right):

     - Initially, I sent Foursquare check-ins to my personal twitter account, then threw an "RT @DrewKaplan:" in front of those tweets, simply retweeting them via my professional twitter account.

     - Then, I decided I did not need to include "RT @DrewKaplan:" in front of the tweets, since I did not want to (or need to) reference my personal twitter account in my professional account.

     -Yesterday, I decided that there's no reason to send tweets relating to my professional activities out via my personal twitter account: if people want to know what I'm doing personally, they can follow me on my personal account; if they want to know what I'm doing professionally, they can follow my professional account.  Of course, that means I just need to know the settings of my Foursquare account and know to which Twitter account it's sending out.

All of this does not rule out a future creation of a separate Foursquare account for my professional activities, but, for now, I am fine with keeping a unified account.

23 August 2013

My New Rabbinic Blog/Website

After wanting to do it for some time now, I have finally set up a website to broadcast via my "rabbinic personality".  Since before I graduated rabbinical school, I have owned the RabbiDrew.info domain name and kept wanting to use it as my professional website.  A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to start a Wordpress blog through that domain name.  However, I've had issues with GoDaddy in getting it set-up, so I finally just decided to set up a free Wordpress blog, using RabbiDrew.info as a re-direct to it.
This week was my first in posting content to it, with a post each of the past four days (Monday-Thursday) and I am looking forward to continuing to post content to it as it pertains to my professional self.
For a while, I've been wanting to post about activities etc. I've been doing or about work, etc., but not wanting to post it on this personal blog, since that is not my intention with this particular blog.  This bifurcation of broadcasting of mine is exactly as I have done with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

19 August 2013

My Jewish Identity: Someone Else Articulates A Similar View

The question that started it all for me
When I have gotten asked about what inspired me to get more involved Jewishly in my life and identity, I always point back to a particular episode in my life in high school.  It was the summer of 1998 and I was attending BBYO's International Leadership Training Conference, when, as part of a program, a question was posed to us: "Would you rather be leaders who are Jews or Jewish leaders?"  While I do not remember what the context of the program or discussion was, my parsing of that question ignited my interest to live Jewishly.  I certainly do not know what the intent of the querier was, but I understood the question to be bifurcating (obviously, for heuristic purposes) between a leader - let's just say a congressman, since that's what popped into my mind - who, while they may occasionally go to synagogue and occasionally use their "Jewish credentials" to their advantage when it suits them, they do not embody their Jewishness as an integral part of their identity; this is in contrast to someone who, while they, too, are a congressman, they do have their Jewish identity as integral to the warp and woof of their overall identity and don't just use it when it suits them.  

So, I thought that the latter category seemed more authentic and wanted to be like that.  But, the first, and most essential, question is "How do I live Jewishly?"  That has animated me since then.

Of course, this question can be re-understood as what do I need to do to follow Jewish Law (הלכה/halakhah)?  It has been my great interest, especially throughout rabbinical school; I tremendously enjoy learning/studying/exploring halakhah, since that provides the grounding for Jewish life (also, see number five here).

However, what undergirded this notion of wanting to be Jewish and identifying with my people I had never fully articulated, partly because I did not have a great way of articulating it.  However, after having printed out and reading Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD's Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History, and Judaism, I discovered the following passage (here), which greatly reflects my own approach to my Jewish identity:
Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD (here is his dissertation)
I view the world through Jewish lenses—I always have. I believe that living a Jewish life, studying and keeping Torah, and throwing my lot in with my Jewish brothers and sisters gives my life meaning. I believe that by doing this, I am doing something good in a real way, fulfilling some sort of divine mission. I am well aware of the fact that I cannot demonstrate any of this in an objective way; I cannot prove that living a Jewish life bonds me to a divine mission or that it makes the world a better place. However, neither can I prove, in any objective way, that the world is better off with life on it than it would be as a barren wasteland like Mars. The Earth is a collection of stardust, after all, and if atoms on this small planet form themselves into a tree, a person, or a rock, what possible difference could that make in a universe as vast as ours? And yet, somehow I do not live in daily existential angst about my existence, the significance of my life, or even the veracity of my religious beliefs and commitments.
For the longest time, I didn't know if anyone else had a similar approach to mine and I was really glad to find this passage articulating a view to which I can point that reflects mine :)