How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

May 26, 2015

Memorial Day, for real

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 01:23

My connection to Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, is well-established. I was born into its communal observance in Israel, I have observed it personally since the loss of two friends from my battalion, and I have been bringing the communal and personal together in San Diego for 15 years as the MC of the community Yom Hazikaron ceremony.

The observance of Memorial Day in the United States as the “official beginning of summer” or just another reason to have a mattress or car sale has always bugged me, but I thought I’d been noticing a difference over the last several years, what with two very visible wars and the casualties they brought.

Until this year, though (until yesterday, in fact), I didn’t know that there is a National Moment of Remembrance in the US, intended to bring the entire country together in remembering those who’ve fallen in defense of the nation. I was made aware of this by this NPR story:
This of course is reminiscent to me and anyone else who’s experienced it of how virtually the entire state of Israel comes to a halt on the eve and the morning of Yom Hazikaron, with the sounding of the sirens, to remember its fallen:

So it was that at 3 PM Pacific yesterday, after we returned from a very pleasant weekend spent out of town with family and friends, I sat my three children down for a brief talk about the real meaning of this day, after which we stood silently and watched and listened as Taps was played at Arlington Cemetery:

I am humbled before all those who have died defending this nation and its citizens. May their memories always be a blessing.

May 25, 2014

Uber Night #2: Weddings, drinking, and casual racism

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 00:55

Not in equal parts, mind you… Long story short, I had a couple of fares tonight that were attending weddings in SD, a bunch of folks who were partying (very typical Uber crowd, that), and…

The fare that turned out to be my last of the night, though, was something special. In the Gaslamp District, I pick up a young black man, already quite drunk by the time he ordered the ride, along with a couple of friends. He initially directed me to go to Pacific Beach, but had plenty of time to think about it while we sat in heavier-than-usual Gaslamp traffic (holiday weekend plus the Padres were in town). In the ensuing discussion with his buddies in the back seat (he was sitting in the passenger seat up front), the possibility came up of staying in the area and going to one of the clubs that has a cover charge. Our hero, Karl, asked if one friend would pay the cover for him because Karl covered the cab. When the friend said no, Karl said “Don’t Jew me.” And he kept saying it, in different and increasingly nasty ways (including “You’re so Jewish”), as the conversation continues. After a couple of times, I made some sort of “Seriously, dude?” remark, at which point the guy sitting directly behind me noticed my kippah. He tried to clue Karl in, but our hero was on a roll.

I took this all in with a big smile, totally laughing it off and wondering how long it’d take before Karl realized how far his foot was in his mouth, and it did take him a bit longer, even after the friend in the back told him to look at my head.

He finally did, and I cracked up and said, “There’s no way I’m not getting five stars from you now, no matter WHAT I do… I could punch you in the face and you’d still have to give me five stars.”

The awkwardness finally became too much to bear and they decided to get out and go somewhere local after just a couple of blocks. Karl basically sprinted away from my car, perhaps to try and give his shame the slip.

The thing is, I’m sure Karl is a decent guy. Using “Jew” as a synonym for “stingy” or “cheap” is something he probably grew up hearing, and he never got called on it before. I like to think that the teaching moment I took advantage of will stick. When his friend said, “The driver is Jewish,” I said to Karl, “Doesn’t matter whether I’m Jewish or not, saying that is really nasty.”

Maybe Karl will break the cycle he was born into.

January 12, 2013

Faith in government (and thus, humanity)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — howdoyoujew @ 22:18

My faith in government (and thus, in humanity) is routinely and repeatedly crushed and restored, but rarely does that cycle run its full course within an hour, let alone a few moments. Tonight, I was pointed to this post by Lawrence Lessig, alerting me to the existence, now snuffed out, of Aaron Swartz. As the friend who linked to the post commented, “Morally complicated and sad.”

Within the hour (and just a bit further down my Facebook wall) I was pointed to this official White House response to one of the many online petitions they host, many of which are patently absurd and nonsensical, but, if they reach the required threshold of 25K signatures, get a response.

It just occurred to me that not only are these prime examples of the things government and the people who make it up are capable of, for worse and better, but that they’re both STEM-related. Whatever that implies.

January 10, 2013

Inspiration, long lost, rediscovered

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 23:30

My last couple of years of high school I participated and competed in Speech & Debate (also known as Forensics). I did some humorous interpretation (HI), some dramatic interp (DI), some original oratory (OO – are you getting the hang of the initials now?), and even dabbled in the Debate part (not my preferred event; we did it as a favor for another team. That’s a story for another time). I was pretty good in my area/region, took home a lot of trophies, and came very close at least once to going to the State Championship. It was a very good time. We were coached by a tremendously talented English teacher, Ray Schaefer, who often had the team (and other students) up to his ranch near Palmdale for overnights, picking cherries from his orchard, playing pool in his barn, eating meals with his family… So besides the terrific public speaking/performance experience, being involved helped us grow holistically, interacting with our peers from our own and other schools, traveling and competing with a diverse population of performers and coaches, immersing ourselves in works of literature and entertainment, truly growing. But this post isn’t about me.

I can recall the titles, and even some of the lines from much of the work I performed, but I don’t remember much of anything about my school teammates’ work during that time, with one notable exception. I was lucky enough to be around to see Adam Gordon join our troupe and (as a rookie, I believe, in his sophomore or junior year) interpret P.D. Eastman’s classic “Are You My Mother?” for the Children’s Storytelling event.

The interpretive events (HI, DI, Storytelling, and others) were not exactly acting; there were rules in place about maintaining eye contact with the audience (and judges), and most people limited the range of motion and movement they employed because most of our competitions took place in school classrooms, with all the desks still set up, and you never knew what obstacles you would run into in an unfamiliar room if you blocked a scene a certain way and needed to move around.

Adam’s talent, though, couldn’t be constrained by these limitations. I know how foggy and unreliable memory can be, but I refuse to accept that my recollection of his performance is anything but accurate. He ran all over the room. He did amazing voices. He came right up to people’s faces – the audience, judges, everyone – to ask, “Are you my mother?” in the little bird’s voice. Watching him perform was transformative. It was probably the first time I saw someone “own a room,” and I learned a lot from him, even though he was a year behind me in school. I learned about interpreting and performing the written word, about channeling and sharing creativity, and maybe most of all about basic dedication to a craft and investment in yourself. Every time I saw Adam perform – and I saw him in practice and competition many times – I saw him pour all his effort into it. I still see him often in my mind’s eye, full of energy, a force of creative nature.

I can say without exaggeration that Adam’s energy has inspired and influenced me for decades, as I’ve done public speaking gigs, taken on tasks I wasn’t entirely prepared for but was eager to learn, and, ultimately, when I read stories, including “Are You My Mother?”, to my own kids.

It was thus particularly jarring to learn today that Adam Gordon died on January 3 of a rare cancer he’d been fighting for a couple of years. I felt, to use a tired but appropriate cliche, like I’d been punched in the gut, and that feeling stayed with me all day. I’m connected with many schoolmates from that period on Facebook, and I have many other friends who have offered words of comfort throughout the day, but the sense of loss is enormous. I’d been out of touch with Adam since I graduated from high school, but feel like I’ve lost a constant presence in my life.

Adam was married (to his high school sweetheart, if my eyes don’t deceive me, based on a picture of them on his Facebook page) and had two children, who I’m told go to our high school alma mater, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies. I mourn with them, pray that they know no more sorrow, and assure them that Adam’s memory will be – indeed, already has been – a blessing.

Please, take a moment or ten to tell those closest to you how much you love them. And consider making a donation to the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, or one of the many other cancer research and treatment centers working to eradicate this awful thing from our midst. And look at Adam’s art, the stuff he created with his own hands as he was fighting this battle that eventually took his life, and rejoice in the capacity of a human being to conquer the unconquerable and leave a powerful, lasting, positive legacy even when faced with incomprehensible tragedy.

Hawk, by Adam Gordon. Published by his family with the Facebook post announcing his death on Jan. 3.

January 9, 2013

Figuring out IFTTT

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 18:00

I finally got in and fixed my IFTTT recipe for mirroring my blog posts to Facebook. So, please go read my last post, about the Israeli ad campaign that includes this gem of a banner ad:

“When it’s important for you to know what’s happening with the elections…”

January 8, 2013

No Sacred Cows

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — howdoyoujew @ 16:43

Israelis will make light or fun of pretty much anything, and not just behind closed doors. There’s a radio ad campaign on Israeli Broadcasting Authority stations right now promoting the election coverage on the news station. In the first ad I heard, which was amusing, Michelle Obama is heard trying to get Barack Obama’s attention, but he’s listening to Israeli election coverage on Reshet Bet. Here’s the banner ad version:

Obama Israeli Election ad

Funny, right? Aside from the borderline offensive “black dude with a boombox” imagery (it’s a known issue – a feature, not a bug, if you will – that Israelis are 1) politically incorrect and 2) totally stuck in the 80s when it comes to their vision of the USA).

Later, though, they ran an ad with a guy with a heavy Arab accent. It turned out to be Hassan Nasrallah‘s aide trying to get his boss’s attention, while the head of Hezbollah is listening to Israeli radio to get the latest update on the elections.

I realize this is not nearly as funny in translation, let alone in a bland description, but it is hilarious.

UPDATE: I just heard another one, this time with a guy talking to Ahmadinejad. Told you: NOTHING. SACRED. I’ll try to capture the audio of at least one of these and update if I can.

UPDATE 2 (1/9): Here’s the Ahmadinejad spot. Farsi-speaking friends, is the quick exchange something like “Come on, Reshet Bet again?!” “Quiet! I’m listening to election blah blah!”?

(This is the first time I’m inserting media into a post using the embedded WordPress option, hope it works)

December 20, 2012

Figuring out humor/comedy/what’s funny with my kids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — howdoyoujew @ 17:36

This morning we all enjoyed this bit from Sesame Street, one of the greatest examples of entertainment ever put to media – educational, and with humor that appeals to everyone from preschoolers to centegenerians:
Ricky Gervais sings Elmo a lullaby

Recently, too, on the heels of a sarcastic comment from her mother at the dinner table (“I see you didn’t like that dish at all” after the child inhaled a plateful of food) I explained sarcasm, very basically, to my 6yo. Within seconds, she referenced a bit from another show she’d seen recently (the very amusing Super Hero Squad Show, available on Netflix), showing her perfect grasp of the concept.

I’m a proud and silly papa, I am.

October 18, 2011

Remembering Marla

I didn’t know Marla Bennett personally, but I’ve gotten to know her mother Linda quite well over my years in San Diego. When the Gilad Shalit deal unfolded, and the “mastermind” of the Hebrew U bombing that killed Marla was said to be included in the list of prisoners to be released, I felt a compulsion to talk to Linda. Here is my brief writeup of our conversation:

January 25, 2011

Public speaking & published writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 15:25

My mom recently found my bar-mitzvah speech, written and delivered by my 13-year-old self, Oct. 17, 1982. I’m transcribing it here exactly the way it appears on the yellowed copy I used on the bimah:


In the beginning of the year my mother asked me if I wanted to have a bar-mitzvah. I immediately blabbed out “yes” without even thinking, because at that particular moment as they say, I didn’t know what I was in for. Well, this started some research into what a bar-mitzvah really is, meaning the ceremony and the name we use for a jewish thirteen-year-old having his bar-mitzvah. Initially, most of my information was taken out of books. I say most because for the other part of my knowledge in this case I have to thank my parents. It was through them that I got involved with people that helped me get through the hardships of becoming a bar-mitzvah. One of these problems was-what am I going to write in my drash? Well, yeah, I was gonna thank everybody for coming, etc, etc, but what else should I write? How about this-my bar-mitzvah! okay, now, what does a bar-mitzvah mean to me? For me it means that on that day I get to put on tefillin, go up to the Ark, and read from the Torah in front of many people. It also means that from that day on I will be more responsible for my actions and deeds. Or maybe I’ll write about this: my Torah reading. And since my Torah reading is about animal sacrifices- what kind of animals when- so I said let’s go for it, so here it is. If all this partying was going on in the Biblical era, what a party we would have! You heard me reading it- we’d be sacrificing at least two bulls, one ram, and, get this- seven yearling lambs! Now if you ask me that is total cruelty to animals, right? Right! By the way, since we’re talking about sacrifices here, I was thinking (and I’m not saying this because I want everybody to pity me). Anyway, I was thinking about what I had to do to sacrifice until now to get my bar-mitzvah “chores” done, and what I’ll have to sacrifice from now on. Of course, these things are’nt exactly going to be rams, bulls, or lambs, but things like time. Time with my friends, time of having just plain ol’ fun, time for watching television, and so on and on… Instead of all these activities I’ll be spending my time thinking of how to fit in the community and society.
Which reminds me. I’m about to switch to another language. A language which has been very hard for me to keep alive in our household, I mean for myself. A language that after four-and-a-half years in America it’s also a hard task to keep going when you came here at age eight-and-a-half like I did. By now I’m sure you’ve all realized this language is Latin. No, seriously, it’s obviously Hebrew, so here I go.

Like I said in English, these four-and-a-half years in America were hard. Not only in the beginning when we arrived when it was hard for me to get used to the language, to a new school, and to friends who a) were new to me, and b) spoke only English. I got used to those things within a few months- I started speaking English, and I learned all the time. It wasn’t just because of that. It was hard for me also because all this time I also needed to speak Hebrew at home and somehow not lose my mother tongue. I did this by reading, writing (both writing letters to family in Israel and just writing in Hebrew), and of course talking. Like I said, it was hard. For instance, a few times I needed to ask my parents how to write a certain word, or even how to say a word, but with all these things, and the fact that I very quickly began to think in English, I held on to the Hebrew and even this drash is part of that. Now all this maybe sounds like I’m looking for pity from all of you. And you’re right! Please, I don’t want it to sound like that. But I do want it to sound like I did something. Because I really feel like I succeeded in doing something I’m proud of. I also hope that in the future I’ll continue to hold on to important things like my language. To conclude I will of course say thank you to everyone for coming, and I hope you enjoy!

Hi, I’m back! I want to thank everybody for coming, and I hope you enjoy yourselves.
Couple of comments:

  • I was careful to transcribe this exactly as it appears on the paper I used, so the “are’nt” and the repeated horrible use of dashes and other writing mistakes are preserved. There are a thousand other little things that make me cringe today, but all in all, I don’t think it’s so awful, considering who I was back then.
  • I had apparently not discovered the wonderful invention of paragraphs yet. Ah, the foibles of youth!
  • Way to not mention the name of the Torah portion you’re talking about there. Amateur. It was, in fact, Numbers 28, the reading for Rosh Chodesh. My bar-mitzvah was observed on a Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, because at least one important guest (my bar-mitzvah tutor) was shomer Shabbat and couldn’t have attended the ceremony otherwise.
  • My recollection of this speech includes the memory of getting a big laugh at “Hi, I’m back!” (immediately following the Hebrew interlude), which I don’t think I expected, and which completely sold me on the power of public speaking and my self-perceived talent for it.
  • The original copy is typewritten. Like, from a typewriter.

September 17, 2010

The Sound of Silence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — howdoyoujew @ 13:27

Can you imagine every radio station in the country going silent for 24 hours? It’s hard, huh? But that is exactly what’s going on in Israel right now, on Yom Kippur. Every frequency, every format, every transmitter – silent. I believe TV is off, too. Really lends itself to making it a meaningfully introspective day, with or without the fast.

This is something you CAN try at home: turn all those things off, spend time with your own thoughts, your family, your self.

גמר חתימה טובה May you be sealed in the book of life for a year of health, prosperity, joy, and peace.

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