The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Thursday, December 30, 2004

My Shul's Loss/Israel's Gain

One of the holy Jews from my shul just made aliyah with his family through Nefesh B'Nefesh. Scroll all the way up to the second picture from the top. What do they mean by "all kinds of Jews?"

Hat Tip: Sarah
More on (No) Talking in Shul

In what I suspect is also a response to the silliest article I have ever read, Rav Mordecai Bulua agrees that talking in shul is a no no.

He concludes:

There's a sign hanging on the door to our shul. It reads: "Fellow Jew, if you came to shul to talk, where do you go to daven?" You can't have it both ways.
More on Tzedakah

My recent post on Gambling for Tzedakah attracted many interesting comments.

Among them:

A commenter suggested that one of the reasons that Chinese auctions and Casino nights are successful is that people write checks for less than $250 and deduct them (dishonestly according to the commenter) from their taxes.

I happen not to agree with his premise that the tax deduction is what makes these events popular but let's examine the tax deduction issue more closely.

I'm not a tax lawyer (it's bad enough I'm a lawyer; thank G-d for small things) but I'm not sure there is anything technically wrong with deducting amounts paid into a casino night or Chinese auction. I think the appropriate way to deduct these contributions is to reduce the amount by the fair value of any prizes won at the event (on top of the value of any meal served at such an event). Having said that, l'maisia, it's doubtful that many people really make those calculations and, therefore, the commenter's point is well taken. In reality, most people do just take the deduction. (If you are unlucky enough to lose everything at casino night or not win any of the Chinese auction prizes, you would seem to be onsides with the law).

I have a problem with a couple of other fundraising methods. One that comes readily to mind is the 'boutique". At a boutique, often held by charities before Chanukah, vendors sell their wares (usually in a shul or school) and all checks are written out to the organization. The organization then pays the vendors for the goods sold, deducting a percentage as their vig.

So, effectively, charitable organizations are facilitating tax fraud by encouraging people to write non-deductible checks in the name of the charitable organization. Lifnei Iver?

My shul has refused to engage in this practice. We run a couple of boutiques each year but insist that the checks be made either to the vendor itself (and the vendor then pays a percentage to the shul) or to cash. I can't adequately describe the grief our treasurer has have gotten over the years for sticking to his guns on this. We do the same thing with the musical events that we run. People either pay cash or checks to cash. We do not accept checks made out to the shul. Again, lots of grief. (The number of times we've turned away people interested in laundering their cash is another story).

On a similar vein, "scrip". You write checks to an organization, they give you scrip in the same amount that is accepted at various local stores in lieu of cash. (In many yeshivas, purchasing a minimum amount of script is mandatory). The stores, in turn, kick back 5% to the organizations. Even though many of the organizations make it very clear that the script purchases are not tax deductible, I still have a problem with it.

Unfortunately, the schools in particular, are desperate to raise funds and resort to these questionable tactics. There ought to be a better way.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Another Kaddish Story

My younger daughter belongs to a choir that practices every Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. There is no carpool so either MHW or I have to take her and wait for an hour. Since I've been saying Kaddish it means that I have to daven Mincha early and chap a maariv in Brooklyn while my daughter is rehearsing.

Yesterday, I dropped my daughter off in Flatbush at 5:00 p.m. I drove to a place that is known as a 'minyan factory' (meaning they daven one minyan after the other, approximately every 15 minutes) and got there at 5:15 p.m.

I walked in to the shul just as they were finishing a minyan. Shortly thereafter, another guy gets up to lead the davening. I take out my siddur prepared to say V'hu Rachum....

Suddenly, I hear, Ashrei Yoshvei....THE GUY IS DAVENING MINCHA AT 5:15 P.M.! (Shkia was 4:32 p.m.)

I left the sanctuary and found another bais medrash downstairs where I hung out for the next 15 minutes. At 5:30 they started maariv.

I love Brooklyn.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

It Was Just A Matter Of Time...

Whole wheat Lukshin in the Free Range Chicken Soup.

(I have to admit I couldn't taste the difference. I must be getting soft).

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mi K'Amcha Yisrael - In Three Parts

1. Yesterday, Asara B'teves, a fast day, I got up, as usual, at a few minutes after five. Every morning I go to a 6 a.m. shiur and try to give myself enough time to get a big cup of coffee at the local Dunkin' Donuts. On this morning, instead of the usual one or two people in the store, there was a line going out the door..

A whole bunch of Jewish men (most of whom, by the way, looked like they hadn't missed a meal in quite some time) were lined up to beat the fast day rush. I don't think the workers knew what hit them. Never had so many egg-and-cheese-on-a-croisant been ordered before 5:30 a.m.

2. I daven mincha each afternoon at a local investment bank minyan a block from my office. Usually about 25 men attend. Yesterday, because of the fast day, the organizers arranged for a Sefer Torah (the smallest one I have ever seen)and moved the minyan to a larger conference room where about 45 men showed up.

3. The investment bank minyan had an early maariv corresponding with the end of the fast. I decided to leave after the minyan and, on my way to the train, I stopped off at a pizza store to break my fast with some soup. Once again, the place was jammed with Yiddin doing the same.

Mi K'Amcha Yisrael?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Dm Goes Wild

Hasidic Musician and I share a common 'guilty pleasure'. We both like collecting Jewish Music, particularly Israeli 'Ba'alei Teshuva' music and what he calls Chareidi Rock. (I also love finding 'lost Carlebach tapes' and unheard or relatively unheard Carlebach niggunim).

In his latest post, he reviews a whole bunch of new stuff that he picked up in Israel during a recent trip.

A few points in response:

1. Thanks for the monumental effort and the leads; I will look for some of the stuff you cite during my forthcoming trip to Israel (although I will have to wait a year until I listen to it).

2. Questions: Has he heard the music of Michael Shapiro, a Breslov BT of the early 80's who produced six amazing cassettes (now available on CD) and then seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth (I know where he is and how to get his music, if you are interested). Also: What's your take on the two Ain Od Milvado CDs? I find them depressing but many disagree with me and love the stuff. Recommendation: Daniel Ahaviel's Bigdei Hamelech, a wonderful compilation of Chassidishe niggunin featuring Daniel on his fiddle.

3. I urge him to listen to Aron Razel's Shir Tzion a couple more times. There are a few tunes, including Mincha, that I think are fabulous. The stuff is very jazzy and different and takes some getting used to. But, he is right for giving Razel credit for what he's trying to do (which no one else can even approach).

4. I don't know what to make of Adi Ran. I just don't 'get' it. I've tried. I also didn't get Sinai Tor's first CD. My son says the new one is great but I haven't had a chance to listen to it and now I won't be able to for a while. Finally, I just don't go for Revah L'Sheva.

5. I like Yitzchak Fuch's new CD more than Dm does. Ditto for Beit Hakedusha (they are apparently not recording together anymore).

Dm's post, while welcome, drives home how hard this year of avelus will be for me because of the absence of music.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Missing Kaddish

The last week has been very strange. I go to a 7:00/7:10 a.m. minyan every weekday morning. As with most shuls, the first kaddish is said between 5 and 7 minutes after the posted starting time. In nusach Sefard there is only one kaddish said at this time, following "Rabbi Yishmael". (In nusach Ashkenaz there are two said at the beginning of davening).

In my minyan, there are usually at least three people saying kaddish. Virtually every day for the last week, I have said the first kaddish alone but the other kaddish-sayers have been there for the three that we say at the end of davening.

I'm trying not to be self-righteous, but I have to admit that I am appalled. I just don't get it. It's one thing to miss a kaddish in the middle of the day if you are jammed at work and you just can't get to a minyan (something that, so far, BH, I have been able to avoid). I can even see coming late for a Shabbos morning minyan when you can't use an alarm clock (this, too, is not something I anticipate happening to me; I am a natural early riser).

I am especially surprised because I would never have expected this from those who are coming late. And, I know that the Rav of our shul has spoken to at least one of the guys on more than one occasion about the importance of coming on time for kaddish.

I don't really know why I'm blogging about this but I guess I just had to get it off my chest.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Amud

There exists a protocol for who gets to daven for the amud (lead the weekday services). It goes more or less as follows:

1. A man sitting Shiva for a parent
2a. A man observing the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the date of passing) of a parent
2b. A man during the shloshim (first thirty days) of avel (mourning) for a parent
3. A man during the first 11 months of avelus (the period during which he says kaddish); and
4. A man during the 12th month of avelus (after he has completed saying kaddish).

(This protocol is suspended on Rosh Chodesh, Chol Hamoed and, in many shuls, Chanukah and Purim, during which days avelim are not permitted to lead the services (as they are not on Shabbos or Yomim Tovim. Also, there are various rules about how out-of-towners with higher priorities rank compared to shul members with lower priorities. We don't need to go there now).

During the shiva, my brother and I alternated leading services. During the shloshim, (which ends next Shabbos), until this morning, I have been fortunate enough to lead every single service (other than on Chanukah). Since there have been no others observing shloshim in the places I've been davening, I've gotten priority.

Davening for the amud has unexpectedly become very important to me both because it is considered a kavod (honor) for the deceased and for more mysterious reasons that (similar to my feelings about kaddish) I really don't understand. (And, it is important to note, while I have davened for the amud from time to time on Shabbos and Yom Tov, I don't have a taiva for the amud at all)

This morning was disappointing because a member of the shul who normally never comes to the morning minyan showed up for his father's yahrtzeit. Initially, I felt a rush of resentment to this 'interloper' moving in on my 'turf'. (I did take over at Ashrei). This, of course, was silly and immature since I have no greater entitlement to the amud than he and, if I were observing yahrtzeit I would certainly want the amud. Nevertheless, I felt a void, as if something had been taken from me.

Can anyone explain this strange phenomenon?

Thursday, December 16, 2004


My life these days is dominated by Kaddish. I think about it constantly, I even dream about it. My schedule completely revolves around going to minyan three times a day, on time, in order to say it. My brother and I are resolved never to miss a single Kaddish over the next eleven months; we figure it's the least we can do to honor our father. We also find it profoundly comforting. I'm not sure why.

I have been trying to work out exactly what Kaddish means. I don't mean literally. I know what the words mean. But why does saying it make me feel the way it makes me feel?

I recently started corresponding with Robert Avrech, first about his wonderful new book, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, and then about a whole range of topics. He and his wife are amazing people. Scanning his blog (every post of which I have already read) I came across this heartbreaking post about his last kaddish for his son Ariel:

The Last Kaddish

The Kaddish has been called an echo of the Book of Job. Job said: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him." The Kaddish is an expression of faith on the part of the mourner that although he is grief-stricken, he still believes in God, still trusts in the meaning of life. It is the ultimate anti-existentialist statement. Karen and I will mourn forever. We are riven as day follows night. Our son will always be dead, and a central portion of our lives died with him.

This Shabbos I recite the last Kaddish of the eleven months for Ariel.
I stand in shul, eyes closed, swaying back and forth, chanting the words with (I hope) perfect diction and true feeling. I want the b'racha to go on forever. I want to stretch the words like a giant rubber band and make them reach from earth to heaven. There are at least another dozen mourners in shul, all with much louder voices than mine, but I hear only one sound. Is this my voice? I see Ariel as he used to be: sitting in shul beside me. Is this my voice? I study the delicate architecture of his face. I melt as Ariel's lips move, savoring each syllable, whispering the sacred Hebrew text. Is this me? I study his long tapering fingers as they turn the pages of the siddur. I lean over and bury my lips in the plush groove of his neck. It is my voice. I am close to the end. It is my son. I take three steps back and three steps forward. I finish the Kaddish. I open my eyes and I see a dozen men in shul gazing at me. Some have tears in their eyes. Several nod, tacitly acknowledging the finality of the moment. I open my eyes and I see light. I open my eyes and I am swimming through layers of memory. I open my eyes and I see splendor. I open my eyes and I see my son, my son, Ariel.
I cannot compare the unfathomable loss of a child to the loss of a parent who lived a full and happy life. Nevertheless, I am indebted to Robert Avrech for his deep insight.

May Hashem give Karen and Robert strength and comfort.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Sarah's Mystical Weekend

Don't miss Sarah's 22 part (so far) chronicle of her mystical singles Shabbaton.
Hasidic Musician Avoids A Wedgie

Blog in Dm has a great post that includes a rant by a correspondent about lousy "Carlebachy Jam Bands". I have previously blogged about the lack of talent among most of the groups in this genre.

I wrote:

A couple of months ago I was talking to my Rebbe about Jewish music. A couple of folk-rocky, post Carlebach, non-Shiny Shoe CDs had been released in the previous few months. It seemed clear that the artists and producers putting out these CDs were motivated by all the right things and were not doing it for the money or fame. Nevertheless, the CDs were, IMHO, derivative and not particularly melodic. Mediocre, at best.

(Indeed, there are many groups like that out there and I have met a number of them. They are very sweet and real and all they want to do is inspire other Jews with their music. Unfortunately, they simply aren't particularly original or good.)
Dm's response to the rant is thoughtful and as usual, spot on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

One Size Fits All

I just received a really nice fleece jacket from a partner at one of the law firms with which I do a lot of work.

Only a couple of problems:

First, I am in avel (mourning) for my dad and am not permitted to receive gifts (especially during the shloshim (first thirty days), and

Second, it is a size XL and I am 5"4" and weigh less than 130 pounds.

I sent my law firm friend a note of thanks, telling him that I look forward to using it when I grow up to be as big and strong as he and that in the meantime, I can share it with the same time.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

MoC Recommends: A Wonderful Children's Book

I just finished a wonderful book, The Hebrew Kid and The Apache Maiden, written by Robert Avrech whose awesome and heartbreaking blog I have been reading from the very beginning.

Rather than write a review here (which I stink at) I found a nice review at that pretty much reflects my thoughts:

The Hebrew Kid And The Apache Maiden is a wondrous novel that anyone of any age can easily relate to: one of courage and optimism in the face of adversity; of finding hugely comforting friendships in the most unlikely of times and places. The text is rich with powerful imagery, fluid prose, wonderful dialogue and a hearty dose of Jewish legend.

Written from the depths of a tormented soul as his beloved only son lay dying of cancer, Robert Avrech has endowed us with a priceless gift. Artfully and delicately, the author weaves his own soul's journey-the universal truths of faith,loyalty and love- into the very fabric of this heartstoppingly poignant
As they say in the 'hood, "What he said."

In an era where the only books targeted to frum kids seem to be 'Tzaddik Books' (a topic for another time) or tales of characters that are outside our kids' grasp, this is a refreshing change of pace. As the reviewer wrote:

What I found most alluring, was Robert's entirely true to life portrayal of character. Robert deviates from many of his Jewish contemporary fiction writers for young adults, who often create larger than life characters. With a supreme grasp of human nature, Robert Avrech spared no details that would dilute the character's essence. The story exposes us to some of life's harsher realities, but ultimately the characters' reactions lead us to shape and define them clearly-as is often the case in the shaping of our own selves.
I have already bought a copy for my little one (please don't tell her; I'm giving it to her tomorrow) and the 14 year old daughter of a friend (who read it in one night and loved it). You can give it to your kids on condition that they let you read it afterwards.

You can get it at most Judaica stores and here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

My First Night of Chanukah: Orange Latkes, a Sad Candle-Lighting and a Non-Hefker Shtender. UPDATED

I left work early yesterday in order to light the first Chanukah candle with my family at a reasonable time. After lighting, we sat down for dinner. I was greeted with a plate full of latkes, one of the traditional Chanukah foods. Except that they were orange. I made eye contact with MHW and she smiled.

In her never-ending campaign to provide the healthiest foods possible, MHW has adopted numerous chumrahs. One of the more recent ones has been to ban anything white from our diets. White bread, white grains, white rice, and now, white potatos, have all been crossed off the list. (So, we eat whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and sweet potatos. B'Chasdei Hashem, there is still a Shabbos exception; we are still permitted to have regular lukshin with our (free-range) chicken soup and MHW (after almost causing a revolution in the house with an attempt to bake whole-wheat challah) still bakes wonderful, bleached-flour challah.)

Many people like sweet potatos. Indeed, my kids gobbled up the sweet potato latkes without complaint. I, on the other hand, was thinking, "I wonder if Mendy's (a Deli near my office) has greasy potato latkes"?

Just a I was thinking this, MHW, as if reading my mind, said, "You can always get regular latkes in the City". I guess that's what happens after 23 years of marriage. I will be making the trek over to Mendy's this afternoon.

After dinner I drove over to my mom. Shortly after I got there, she lit the Chanukah menorah. It was probably the first time in her life that she had done so. It was certainly the first time in 57 years. It was profoundly sad and she was crying. The chaggim are going to be very difficult this year.

Later, I went to maariv. I am now a prisoner of the clock. Everything I do for the next 11 months is related, in one way or another, to the three times a day I have to say kaddish. I am trying very hard not to miss a single kaddish.

As an avel, it is traditional that I move my seat from my normal makom kavuah (permanent seat). I moved a few rows back in the bais medrash and I saw a shtender with the following note taped on: "This shtender is not hefker. (meaning, loosely, that it belongs to someone) Please do not change any of the settings."

My immediate inclination was to change the settings. It took all my will power to act like an adult and leave it alone. A sign like that is not dissimilar to telling a little kid who is eating blueberrys, "don't stick the blueberrys up your nose". It probably would never have occurred to him, but now that you mention it....

UPDATE: At lucnh today, I was privileged to be mikayeim the minhag of eating real latkes, having purchased from Mendy's two of the greasiest potato latkes that I've had in a long while. Greasy is good. Mendy's rocks.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Escalators and My Dad

This morning, as I was leaving Penn Station to walk to work, something happened that made me think of my dad and smile.

At the 34th Street exit there are usually three working escalators and one very long and steep staircase. Two of the escalators usually go in the direction of rush hour and the other in the opposite direction.

This morning, one of the escalators was broken so there was only one going up instead of two. Consequently, there was a line to enter the escalator that went back about 40 feet.

Having been raised by my dad, it would never occur to me, even on a normal day, to take a crowded escalator when I could walk up the stairs quickly. On a day like today, when one had to wait almost a minute to even get on the escalator, it would have been blasphamas to take the escalator. As I ascended the stairs, I was thinking that I just don't get the mindset of people who would rather wait on line for a crowded escalator than climb a few steps and get out quickly. I know it's a mishugas, but that's how I am.

When I got to the top, I smiled because I know my dad would have been thinking the same thing. Until his late 70's my dad was very physically fit and young for his age. He walked miles a day and swam at least three times a week. He hated waiting on lines. He was always in a hurry to get where he was going. And, he was the type who thought that escalators were for the old and weak.

I am so much like him in this respect, it is scary.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Hakaras Hatov

I would like to express my thanks and appreciation, from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who either blogged about the passing of my dad. R. Shmuel ben Moshe Dovid, z'l, or left such sweet and comforting comments.

A special thanks to Ben Chorin who was in galus and actually took the time to visit me in person during shiva. Also, to those of you who, lo aleinu, recently (or not so recently) lost parents and could especially empathize, I appreciate your thoughts and wish you nechama. I was especially moved by Prodly who lost his dad 11 years ago when he was just a kid. I left my home almost 30 years ago and, yet, I profoundly feel the the loss of my dad. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for Prodly. May you continue to have strength.

It is also a time to reflect on the tremendous chesed that was displayed during the week leading up to my dad's petira and the 7 days that followed. The chevra kadisha acted with grace and tznius. The Rabbanim in the community helped us in countless ways. Our friends provided us with enough food to feed an army. The many guests who knew my dad well said such beautiful things they made us cry (in a good way). A few people from way back in our lives, whom we hadn't seen for years, made amazing efforts to drop in. Some of the things they said about my dad's impact on their lives were astonishing and I will always be grateful to them for sharing their thoughts and feelings with us. with us. The intimate time I got to spend with my mom and siblings was priceless. I learned many lessons during the shiva.

I will refrain from blogging for the rest of the shloshim (other than a possible public notification or two). Again, I thank you all for your warm thoughts. May we experience and blog about many simchas.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Shmuel Ben Moshe Dovid, z'l. My dad.

This morning, we completed the shiva for my dad, R. Shmuel ben Moshe Dovid, z'l. He passed away on 13 Kislev, Thanksgiving evening, after a long illness. He died peacefully, with no pain, at home, surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

My dad came to America from Romania in 1937. He served in the US Army, mostly in North Africa, from 1942 until the end of the Second World War. He worked very hard and honestly for over 50 years to provide for his wife and family. He left four children, 11 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren (so far), BA"H.

This is part of what I said at the levayah (funeral):

It is customary to refer to your father as Avi, Mori; my father, my teacher. That, indeed, was the essence of what my dad was.

He taught us both concrete things and abstract concepts. He taught us to throw a softball and he taught us to be erliche Yiddin. He taught us a love of baseball and he taught us to be menches. He taught us the importance of being physically fit and he taught us the importance of being real. He taught us to swim and he taught us the power of music. He taught us the importance of a smile and a good word. He taught us about the sweetness of Shabbos. He taught us z'miros in three-part harmony. He taught us that it was more important to get out of the Shea Stadium parking lot quickly than whether or not the Mets won. He taught us that if you walk at a fast pace you get to where you are going more quickly. He taught us to give tzedakah in a tzniusdik way. He taught us the importance of being oskai Tzorchei Tzibur B’Emunah. He taught us the importance of being on time, especially for appointments with the Ribbono Shel Olam. He taught that it was not beneath his sons or grandsons to do the laundry, clear off the table or wash the pots. He taught us a love for Eretz Yisrael. He taught us never, ever, to raise our voices, especially to our loved ones. He taught us how much a person can overcome in life just by force of will and determination.

And, he taught us all this without ever darshaning or giving mussar. Indeed, he taught us all this by hardly saying a word. He taught us all this simply by the way he conducted himself. He understood on a very simple level that he was a Ben Melech, a child of the King, and conducted himself accordingly.

My father was a very special man and we will miss him dearly. I take comfort from the pasuk in Tehillim that I was reading last Sunday night when we thought he was about to leave us. Yodai’ah Hashem Yimai Timmim, V’nachalasam L’Olam Tihiyeh. “Hashem recognizes the days of the righteous and their inheritance will be forever.” The Even Ezra says that nachalasam, the inheritance of the righteous, refers to their children and grandchildren through the generations. The Radak says that nachalasam refers to their olam habah.

May Hashem grant my father the olam habah that he so richly deserves and may he be a meilitz yasher for all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and all the generations to come.
On Shabbos, the day after the funeral, I had tremendous chalishas hadas. While I talked about how great a teacher my father was, I didn't talk about what kind of student I was. Reflecting on this, I realized how far I had to go before I measured up. I have a lot of work to do.

The shiva was a very holy time. Perhaps I will write about it soon. So many people from our past came to confirm all the beautiful things that the Rabbi and my siblings said about my dad at the levayah. It gave us (especially my mom, whom my dad adored for every day of their 57 year marriage) great comfort.