Articles From December 2015

Quest for the Eternal


I apologize to all those animal lovers out there, but I must state my firm opinion: Animals are dirty, gross, yucky. Choose whatever word you want, but don’t bring them into my house. I just don’t like animals. I do not think that they are cute and cuddly. I think they are, well, I already expressed my view, so we’ll leave it at that.But…Hashem has a great sense of humor. He gives animal-hating women sons! I have a rule in my house that the boys must empty their own pockets before putting their clothes in the laundry (or throwing them on the floor under their beds!). If they don’t empty their pockets and their treasures get ruined in the wash, well, let that be a lesson for next time. I absolutely will not stick my hands into little boys’ pants pockets. What if there’s a snail collection in there?

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We Had to Read the Label: Kashrus in the 1950s


If you watch shoppers in supermarkets, you will see them carefully studying the labels on products they are not acquainted with. Are they checking if the baked beans contain pork, perhaps, or the cookies lard? No. Today most people read labels to stay healthy! Once upon a time, however, the main label scrutinizers were Jews. Few products in the 1950s had a hechsher on the label. The observant consumer therefore carefully studied the ingredients. If the product said contained gelatin or lard, it was of course treif. But with labeling rules lax, if a miniscule amount of lard was in the product, the manufacturer did not have to list it. Or the manufacturer may have greased the pans with animal fat. There was no way to tell.

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“How’s Your Weather Feeling?”

snow man

As the winter months get underway, many a wistful glance is cast out the window. People from all walks of life look forward to the first snowfall of the season. Children yearn to fling themselves down a hillside of snow, while others look forward to building a snowman complete with a carrot nose. What most people don’t know is that the group of individuals who most look forward to the upcoming blizzards or any form of inclement weather, for that matter, are teachers. In contrast to the mailmen and mailwomen who follow the creed, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” we teachers have established our own motto: “Pray for snow, pray for sleet, because that will keep us off our feet.” We rally, albeit quietly, right along with the students, check the weather reports and secretly hope that during the wee hours of the night a blanket of snow will quietly fall, keeping us snug in our beds – not that we don’t love teaching, of course!  

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Ask the Shadchan

jewish dating

To the Shadchan:

I’m almost 20, and my father says that “we” aren’t ready to start dating. What might be more accurate is that he is not ready for me to start dating, because he is scarred from his involvement in my sister’s dating experience. My father watched, feeling both hopeless and helpless, as my older sister entered an unhealthy marriage. Her marriage ended in divorce, but baruch Hashem, a few years later, my sister is happily married and flourishing in her beautiful new marriage! My sister has already replaced hard times with stunning memories and a bright future, but my father has not been able to do the same.

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Two to the Galil


Yerushalayim is really a small town, and life brings people from disparate backgrounds together. Such was the case when I met Yehoshua, a chareidi scribe (sofer stam), a few years ago. He invited me for a Shabbos a number of weeks ago, where I got to know his family a little better, including his eight children.

Three things struck my attention. The first was the poverty. The family couldn’t afford meat for their Shabbos lunch meal. The main course was vegetarian cholent and chopped eggs with onions. The second thing I noticed was how well the kids bonded and took care of one another; they seemed pretty happy. The third thing I perceived was that one of the kids, Shloimie, had rotted teeth. You couldn’t help noticing it because he had such a beautiful smile and the face of a bright and sensitive child, and the decaying teeth marred it.

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Shalom Bayis


Dear Dr. Weisbord,

I have a 14-year-old daughter, the oldest of many children. We have a relatively peaceful house – at least we did until she started acting up. Getting her up every morning is a screaming battle. She sleeps late and misses her ride, then demands that I take her to school. We have brought up our children to help for Shabbos. Everyone pitches in to get ready. But this teenager finds a way to get out of helping. Usually, she claims a stomachache. She manages to avoid whatever I ask her to do. She also can’t be bothered with her family in other ways. She has friends in school and talks to them at night and gets together with them. But she rolls her eyes at any suggestion or activity that we do as a family.

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Journey to the Old City: The Aliyah of Rabbi and Mrs. Motti Berger

old city

A magnet for spiritual seekers and tourists from all walks of life, Yerushalayim’s Old City is filled with visitors exploring ancient ruins, shopping for souvenirs, and meandering along its alleyways. I, too, stride the age-polished cobblestone paths on this quiet winter morning, in awe of this Golden City of Old, the heartbeat of our Nation, the Holy City that manifests majesty and glory.  I contemplate, as well, the contrast between this morning’s peaceful quiet and the ancient history of contention and bloodshed that these very streets have witnessed. Focusing on my destination, I wonder about the Jewish Quarter’s few thousand Jewish inhabitants. What’s it like to spend one’s days so close to the makom hamikdash?  To have the ability to walk down to the Kotel in a matter of minutes? To encounter strangers from all over the world mere steps from one’s doorway? 

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To Be a Guest…To Be a Host

set table

It’s a bright November day, and the radio keeps me company as I drive around doing errands. I listen to the excited conversations about preparing for the holiday: how to bake the turkey, when to take it out of the oven, what side dishes to make, when to make them, how many people are coming, and more. Recipes and menus are discussed; questions are asked and answered. Worried cooks are reassured that their turkey will be just perfect. And all this is for just one meal, once a year!

How different it is for religious Jewish families, who prepare a Thanksgiving-like feast every week! Two-, three-, and four-course meals are set out for our families. And then there are the guests. The concept of inviting acquaintances and even strangers for a Shabbos meal is unique to our community. It is not uncommon to meet a stranger at a party, a shiur, or the supermarket and invite them to your house for a Shabbos meal and/or to sleep over.

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Your Car Insurance: An Un-Boring Analysis

car insurance

Rabbi Berel Wein tells a humorous story about the time his plane ticket was cancelled due to a mix-up. Twenty minutes before take-off, the airline quickly seated him in first class, next to the vice-president of TWA. The vice-president noticed him reading the Chumash in Hebrew. After a few moments, he leaned over and asked, “What language is that book written in?” 

“Hebrew,” Rabbi Wein replied, sweetly. “You mean there are still people left in the world who read and write Hebrew?” he responded incredulously. “I thought it was a dead language.” "Well,” Rabbi Wein explained, “there are millions of people in the world who read, write, and speak Hebrew. In fact, your airline flies regularly to a country where Hebrew is the official language, spoken by millions of people.”For some reason the VP disliked the response. “I see that you and I have nothing in common,” he muttered, turning away.

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Esther Lebowitz, a”h


On a balmy Monday afternoon in 1969, the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkos, life in Baltimore changed forever. After being dropped off by her carpool, a cute, vivacious 10-year-old Bais Yaakov girl, Esther Lebowitz, was brutally raped and murdered. I speak as a member of Esther’s family, a family that has lived in Baltimore for four generations before me.

Much has been written about Esther and those tragic days, and a plethora of additional information is readily available. What is not so understood is how this incident altered the landscape in our town, and how Esther’s memory continues to affect our community.

Before the tragedy, life in Baltimore was more trusting. Little kids walked down the streets without parents fearing for their safety. Although increases in crime had already begun to take a toll on the Baltimore scene, after the brutal murder of Esther, the basic human trust for one another was gone.

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Park Bench Therapy


It’s been eight days since I returned from visiting my son Shimon and his family in Kiryat Sefer, and I still find myself looking at my watch between 9 and 11 a.m. – that is, 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Israel time. That’s the time my daughter-in-law Tziporah and her friends meet for “bench therapy.”

Right in front of my children’s apartment building, there is a large sandy playground that young mothers and their children flock to daily from far and near. Although there are playgrounds every fourth or fifth building, this one is among the most popular.

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At the Forefront of the Fight against BDS: Eleven Questions for Prof. William A. Jacobson


Many of you might be familiar with the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement against Israel and how it has begun to gain a foothold in the United States, particularly in academia. Ironically, BDS violates the very core of academic freedom by prohibiting free speech and equality. BDS singles out Israel – and Israel only – for universal censure. The pages of this magazine have begun to detail the rise of this movement, which is just another veiled anti-Semitic attack on Israel and the Jews. It is imperative for us all to get involved.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor William A. Jacobson recently. Jacobson is Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, and publisher of the highly-regarded blogs “Legal Insurrection” and “College Insurrection.” Jacobson has become well-known in helping to lead the fight against this malicious anti-Semitism.

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Ask the Shadchan


To the Shadchan:

I am listed as a reference on the resumes of a few of my friends, and I get called fairly often to describe a girl to a prospective mother-in-law. I know how important it is to be positive, but I also want to tell the truth. Recently, a mother called me and asked a question that I didn’t know how to answer. Actually, I was speechless.

 This was a boy who was considered a prize, and lots of girls wanted to get a date with him. The mother asked me many questions to determine whether my friend – let’s call her Shoshi – would be suitable for her son. The last question was, “How would your friend react if she found out she was infertile? What if she had triplets after just a year of marriage? What would be her attitude?” I didn’t know what to answer. Should I say what I thought the mother wanted to hear? I wasn’t sure what that was. Should I make up something? I couldn’t do that. The question was unanswerable, anyway. After all, how could I possibly know how anyone would react in such made-up situations? How can I know how I myself would feel?

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A Liberal Sprinkling of Anti-Semitism

college campus

In a frightening scene for Jewish students, protestors at the Million Student March at Hunter College on November 15 screamed, “Zionists out of CUNY!” and “Intifada! Intifada! Long live the Intifada.” Though the nationwide demonstrations were aimed at demanding tuition-free education and the cancellation of student debt, the organizers produced blatantly anti-Semitic tropes both before and during their events, including this Facebook announcement for the Hunter rally:

The Zionist administration [of the college] invests in Israeli companies…that support the Israeli occupation, hosts…study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education….”

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One Night in April


It was the evening of April 24, 1979, and it changed my family’s life, the lives of many in our community, and the lives of a group of teenaged girls we did not know.

The Persian Empire had existed for thousands of years. Somehow, Persia became Iran and the empire shrank, but it did endure into the twentieth century, so that in 1971 Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi declared and celebrated its 2,500th anniversary. There was splendor, glory, and the expectation that another 2,500 years might be in store. Alas, this was not to be, and a short eight years later, it all came to an end. There were riots in the street for months, and in January, the Shah went on “vacation” outside the country. On April 1, 1979, he was officially replaced by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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What’s Your Geduld Rating?


“Have geduld” is a Yiddish expression, usually told to folks who need additional geduld. Nu, you may ask, “voss hakst do ah cheinik, why are you blabbering”? Iz azoy, it’s like this: Without geduld, even things that are possible become impossible! Your response may be, “Zog shoyn, explain it already! What’s the meaning of the word “geduld”?

Nu, have geduld, and it will become as clear as the morning sky in Hawaii. The meaning of geduld is patience, and you have shown great geduld by following this little monologue.

Anyway, some folks have a tremendous amount of geduld, while others have as much gedul as a mahlpeh (monkey) in captivity. With geduld, you can drive all the way to California. Without geduld, driving to a nearby store is a problem.

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It Just Seemed Like the Right Time: Parents Who Made the Move, Part 2


“After 55 years, I figured it was time to relocate,” explains Mrs. Joan Heber, who moved to Baltimore from St. Louis to be closer to her children, Rabbi Dovid and Rebbetzin Baila Heber. “The whole process was really basherte,” adds Mrs. Heber. “My kids said that I was welcome to move whenever I was ready but they never prodded or insisted. I never talked about moving, but about three years ago, I looked at various places in Baltimore. I knew that if I was going to relocate, it would be to Baltimore, for the simple reason that it is closer than Detroit (where my other son lives) to New York, where I have quite a bit of family. Also, I was told that senior housing is excellent here. When I made up my mind, over a year-and-a-half ago, it was kind of a snap decision. Certain things came together.”

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The “Knife Intifada”: A View from “Near Hebron”


Kiryat Arba, Israel

These are hard times. The Arabs of the Land of Israel, some of them with Israeli citizenship and some without, are presently going all around Israel stabbing Jews. In fact, they’re not just stabbing them. They’re throwing rocks at them, running them over with cars, and even shooting at them. It has reached the point where, a few days ago, when our chazan skipped Tachanun at our sunrise service in the Tomb of the Patriarchs – which he often does – and people wondered who was holding a circumcision, one of our local wags commented, “What circumcision? We’re celebrating five hours without a stabbing.…”

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Your Income Taxes 2015


Once again, tax time brings some confusion. Several tax breaks expired at the end of 2014. It is expected that they will be reinstated retroactively, though, and will apply to the 2015 tax year. It is almost December and it has not happened yet. The same thing happened last year, so stand by.

Planning Ahead

The tax fundamentals remain the same. Here are some general planning pointers:

1) Planning helps. For example, if you are married on the last day of the year, you are considered married for tax purposes. So get married in December rather than January.

2) Obviously, the lower your income, the better. Pensions, daycare, work expenses, and health expenses can be paid for with pretax dollars.

3) Sign up for your company’s pension plan. It saves taxes now and prepares for old age later. Not participating is a big mistake, especially if the company matches your contribution.

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Off to Israel!


Last month we took a peek behind the scenes in various Israeli homes. We saw well-behaved children and not-as-well-behaved children enjoying the infrequent visits of their American grandparents. We heard from happy mothers and stressed-out ones, both hesitant and eager to host their parents/in-laws from abroad. As with anything in life, there are always two sides to the coin. How was the experience for the American bubbies? Let’s take a look at what some of your Baltimore friends and neighbors have to say about visiting their Israeli grandchildren.

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A Doctor’s Journey: Diagnosing a Medical Career

health care

Since the advent of Obamacare, much has been written and discussed about healthcare: how it is changing and the challenges we face now and in the near future. This article is a conversation with a family physician, Dr. Bruce Blumenthal, who has worked on the frontlines for over 30 years and experienced those changes firsthand. Dr. B has seen how the changes in the delivery of direct care have affected both the lives of his patients and the way he himself practices medicine.

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