Monday, November 28, 2011

Black hat Friday

Now this was funny: Was in the long Shluchim line to buy a new hat on "Black Friday", so renamed it "Black Hat Friday". Seems the ever-present Crown Heights paparazzi picked it up :)


Thursday, November 17, 2011

An address for blessing

You can barely take a step in the modern world without everyone knowing where you are and what you're up to. Take your choice: You can Facebook, tweet or simply change your BBM or Whatsapp status to instantaneously geotrack yourself.

This morning, I got to use that connectivity for good cause. I was privileged to visit the "Ohel" of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Some casually call it the Rebbe's resting place. Kabbalah describes a Tzadik's grave as holy ground and a portal of connection to on High. Either way, it's an inspiring place and a well of blessing and miracles. 

Arriving at the Ohel, I updated all the relevant social networks and set about preparing to daven. I expected to get a number of requests for prayers. Nothing could have prepared me for the cascade of messages that clogged my phone over the next hours. 

No Facebook update I've ever posted garnered a fraction of the responses this one did. Just about everybody on my BBM list replied. Sadly, a large portion of the list was for people who need healing. A good portion was for people seeking their soulmate or hoping to fall pregnant. Many simply asked for a general brocha. 

During that brief Ohel visit I learned a few things:

I learned that every person needs some blessing in their lives. I saw that we need to appreciate those times when the blessings we need are not for the serious problems that others are facing. I also got to experience the overwhelming unity and goodwill that comes from sharing an opportunity for blessing with others.

Most inspiring of all, I learned that the Jewish soul instinctively knows that we have an address for blessings. Dozens of people sent me hundreds of names within moments of me inviting them to share my visit to the Ohel. Almost none of these people have ever visited the Ohel personally or met the Rebbe. Most of them have never studied the philosophy behind praying at a Tzadik's grave and how or why it works. They just have built-in faith. 

I stood at the Ohel feeling blessed for being there; for having an address to turn to for a blessing; for belonging to a People who naturally share that connection.

May all those blessing requests be fulfilled.

New York cabbies are an eclectic spread of American minorities, each a little quirky and with a story to tell. Often, as you exit the JFK terminals, hours of cabin fever give way to cab-angst. 
My flight had been smooth, arrival in New York sluggish (believe it or not, the US Immigration's computers were down) and stepping into the cool morning air a relief. 
Despite the grey drizzle, the dispatcher was chirpy and getting a taxi was remarkably painless. My chauffeur for the morning was an elderly African American fellow. I couldn't initially ascertain if he'd actually woken up before taking the wheel. His slur and half-closed eyes belied the verbal torrent that was about to greet me. But, that's how the New York cabbies work. Each has something to say.
"Ya gonna tha' syngog by the cemtry?" he wanted to know. Once I deciphered his question, I was impressed that he had identified me as a Chabadnik and knew exactly where to deposit me. 
For ten minutes en route to the Rebbe's resting place, he rambled on. I understood about a third of what he had to say. Apparently, I got the meaningful bits. 
At some point, for some unknown reason, he started discussing people who hate other people. His outlook on the subject was simple. And bull's-eye.
"Ya gotta 'member you're just a pile of dirt. A pile of dirt!" He swiveled back to see my reaction and mistook my horror at his almost hitting another car for admiration. 

"Now, thinkaboudit- wouldya git angry at a pile o' dirt? If you held sand in ya hand, couldya hate it?"
There it is: Real-life wisdom, distilled in endless circuits along busy city streets. 
It's an overcast Wednesday morning, I'm on the way to the Rebbe and the taxi driver is sharing Chabad teachings. 
People only hate people when they take themselves, and each other's foibles, too seriously. Let go of some ego and people don't get in your face that much. 

About 100 years ago, a Chosid came to the third Lubavicther Rebbe (the Tzemach Tzedek) to complain. He argued that his fellow Chassidim "walked all over him" every time he entered the Shul. The Tzemach Tzedek's reply: "Don't try spread yourself over the whole Shul and nobody will step on you." 

"Let my soul be like dust to all", we intone at the end of the Amidah. Our forefather, Avraham, was first to say it: "I am but dust and ashes". Avraham didn't hate a soul. He defended the undefendables of Sodom and Gommorah. 
Humility is the vaccine against hate. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What would you do for "The Cause"?

I almost didn't recognize a portion of our Shul members this past Shabbos. Guys who are normally suave and presentable walked through the doors with bristles on their upper lip. One fellow mistook one of the moustache-sprouters for John Cleese and another admitted he felt like Mario from the video games. Between the sideswipe glances, chuckles and eyebrow-raises, we managed to make it through the service.

Just before Shul I got to ask a couple of the new moustachios how the lip-hair had been received. One admitted that his coworkers laughed and the other complained that his wife didn't approve of his. So, why did they do it?

Apparently, this month is also known as Movember. For one month, guys grow their moustache and raise sponsorship for taking the dare. All money raised goes towards funds for men's health issues. Participants itch, look geeky and tolerate smirks for a month in support of "The Cause". Not everyone who does it knows what "The Cause" is (I checked), but they have been convinced that "The Cause" is worth looking silly for.

Ironically, many of these same brave-hearts wouldn't dare walk out in public with a kippa on their heads. Apparently, we have lots more work to do to teach people how valuable "The Jewish Cause" is.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Open Letter to the Russell Tribunal| News24

My, my... what do we have here? Tolerance and even-handed, open debate? Apparently not.

No surprises here...

Open Letter to the Russell Tribunal| News24