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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The First Day

The following is an article that was, more or less, published in last week's Mishpacha Magazine. I am grateful to Mishpacha for publishing it but, IMHO, their editing (they edited out 250 words) left much to be desired.

So, here it is in it's unabridged (and slightly revised) form.

I was sitting at my desk on a hot summer day in July, 2005. It was about 2 p.m. when the phone rang. I recognized the number displayed on my phone. It was Sara’s cell phone.

"Hi, What's up?"

"Ohel called. They need to place a ten week old baby. A girl."

"What's the story?"

"The baby is fine. Her mother is in the hospital. They think it may be post-partum depression. Ohel tried a number of foster families without success. They were pretty concerned."

"How long?"

"Ohel said probably a couple of months but it's unclear."

"What else do you know?"

"Nothing. That’s all that Ohel knows right now. What do you think?"

"Well, the burden is much more on you. If it's ok with you, it's ok with me."

"Good. 'Cause I already told them yes. The baby's coming this afternoon."

Ohel is the first agency contacted by New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) when a Jewish child is brought into the foster care system. Ohel is given a very short window to find a placement in a Jewish home with certified foster parents. If a Jewish home cannot be identified, the child runs the risk of being placed in a non-Jewish family. That’s why it’s so critical that Ohel has available Jewish foster families who can be contacted at a moment’s notice.

Sara and I were certified as foster parents in the spring of 2000. Raising our kids in a comfortable environment in the Five Towns presented many challenges and we felt that engaging in this type of hands-on chesed would be good for them. We also felt that we had a stable and structured home, which, we were told, was important for fostering. Our home was also, Baruch Hashem, a happy and fun place where a sense of humor was a must.

Working with government agencies responsible for the welfare of New York City’s children, Ohel has been providing certified Jewish foster homes for almost 40 years. During the past 15 years alone, over 350 foster children have come through their doors. The children range in age from newborns to 18 year olds. Sometimes they come in sibling groups. They come from all kinds of homes, ranging from non-observant to Modern Orthodox to Chassidic. They are Bukharian, Russian, Sephardi, Iranian, and Ashkenazi. The children, especially the older ones, often come with emotional or psychological issues, some more pronounced than others. (The act of being removed from one’s home alone is usually very traumatic). Foster children need foster parents who are loving but structured, non-judgmental but firm, and, above all, patient. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt.

Many children had passed through our home since we were certified but we had never before fostered an infant. Our next youngest child was 13 at the time. We hadn’t changed a diaper (other than our newborn grandson’s) in ten years. We no longer had a carriage, nor a playpen, baby bath, swing, baby clothes, or formula. So, Sara made a call to a younger friend from shul and by that evening our wonderful circle of friends had provided virtually everything we needed. I came home from work early that evening. We anxiously awaited the baby.

We waited. And waited. Nothing. No baby. No word from ACS. Midnight came. We went to bed, our door open so that we would be sure to hear the bell. Sara and I had a very fitful night’s sleep.

The next morning, we got a call from OHEL. How did it go? How did what go?, we asked. They quickly made some phone calls and discovered that ACS had messed up. The baby was delivered later that day.

In the beginning, Meira stared straight ahead when we held her, expressionless, as if to say, “What’s going on around here”? Thankfully, this look lasted only the first few hours; she quickly began to warm up to us. The kids made a big fuss over her, as you would expect, fighting for a chance to hold her. We bathed her and put her to sleep. We took turns feeding her through the night. This was a new experience for me; Sara had nursed all the other children so I never got to bottle-feed them in the middle of the night. While getting up in the middle of the night to feed a baby was not necessarily part of my plan at age 50, I found it surprisingly comforting. Meira was relaxed, staring at me with her big black eyes.

When you sign up as a foster parent, it is important to know that you are signing up your entire family. Your children are a big part of the team. They must ‘buy into’ fostering because they will inevitably have to sacrifice. They will sacrifice their time and, more importantly, some of your attention. From that sacrifice, however, they will learn life lessons that cannot otherwise be taught. They will see things that they would not otherwise see. They will grow and mature in profound ways.

Ironically, Sara almost never answers her cell during the day. But she picked up that phone call. Who could have imagined how profoundly Sara’s two minute conversation with Ohel would change our lives forever.

‘Two months’ has turned into almost four years. Meira has been with us every day since. She is as much a part of our family as each of the other kids. She is one of the ‘sisters’. Growing up surrounded by teenaged siblings, Meira sometimes acts like 4 going on 16 (how many four year olds do you know who like avocado more than candy?). Like any child her age, she tests our patience and our resolve. But she makes us smile and laugh much more frequently. She makes our backs creak (picking up a big toddler at the age of 54 is not so simple). But she keeps us young. She is delightful and adorable.

Fostering enriches the lives of foster children and foster families alike. However, it is certainly not for everyone. Ohel provides extensive training to all prospective foster parents to assist them in this important decision. Ohel continues to partner with those parents with ongoing support and case management once a child is placed in a home.

If you have it within you, fostering is a wonderful, important mitzvah whose rewards far exceed its sacrifices. And I don’t mean that in a spiritual way; I mean the rewards in this world, not the next (that is the Ribbono Shel Olam’s cheshbon). Knowing that you have given a needy child some love, some stability, some structure, a friendly smile, seeing their smiles, hearing them laugh, is worth it all. Knowing that you have played a small part in helping to save a Jewish neshama, a Jewish world, is priceless.

In late January, we worked out an agreement that would allow us to adopt Meira. B’ezras Hashem, the adoption process was finalized on Lag B’Omer.

Now the real work begins.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, please call Ohel at 718 851 6300.


Well, Excuuuuuse Me!

Last night when I arrived home from work, I was greeted, as usual, with a spirited "Hi Abba!" from the Vance (How much longer will that last?, *sigh*, but I digress).

I noticed that she was wearing a lovely, Springy, new dress and I said, "Vance, you're wearing such a pretty dress!"

She turned to me, looked me in the eye and said, "It's not a dress, it's a jumper."

Well, Excuuuuuse me!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chaim Dovid and Aaron Razel at Aish Kodesh

Chaim Dovid and Aaron Razel return to Aish Kodesh for a joint musical performance Thursday, June 4th at 8:00 p.m. They are sure to play a bunch of stuff from K'Shoshana as well as a bunch of their own tunes.

Sadly, I will have to miss it. Happily, the reason I will have to miss it is because I will be flying from London to Israel at that very time. But you can go....

Admission: $15

Separate Seating


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ivdu Es Hashem B'simcha


Hat Tip: OOD


Benching Gomel. A Deep Halachic Question

Does one bench gomel when traveling from Mars or Jupiter? Technically, one might not be crossing over a body of water. I'm just not sure.


Times Square

I've worked in midtown for about 20 of the past 23 years, since we moved to the Five Towns. During that time, I've walked to work almost every day no matter what the weather. And, since I'm my father's son, I walk fast and go with the flow of traffic lights so that I never have to stop.

This morning, I made an exception. The Bloomberg administration has turned much of Broadway, from Herald Square North, into a pedestrian mall. I had to see it with my own eyes. It was actually very pleasant. I'm a fan.

My conclusion: Despite the fact that it is not the most direct way to get from Penn Station to work (Broadway actually veers west) and that it will require me to stop for some traffic lights, I think I will walk up and down Broadway to Penn Station this summer.

I must be getting mellow in my old age.


The Vance Digs Sir Duke

On Sunday, I tried to make a deposit at the Citibank ATM but it refused to take my money so I went to a teller in the bank proper. I wasn't really paying attention to the background music but, apparently, The Vance was. She suddenly shouted out, "That's Stevie Wonder!"

THe teller literally did a double take, looked down, and started laughing.

I guess it's not everyday that a four year old recognizes Sir Duke.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

MoC in the Jewish Star

On Meira's adoption


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is It Safe?

Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: You're talking to me?
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Is what safe?
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it.
Szell: Is it safe?
Babe: No. It's not safe, it's... very dangerous, be careful.
I was reminded of this clasic scene between Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier from the movie Marathon Man by a story a business asociate recently told me.

My colleague is a partner at a large New York law firm. He does a fair amount of work for me but, more importantly, has recently gotten into biking in a pretty serious way. He's in the market for a new performance road bike and I've been helping him out.

Last Friday he went into the bike shop in Teaneck to start the process. Unfortunately, he didn't realize that buying an expensive bike takes a lot of time and didn't call ahead for an appointment. When he showed up, there were two people ahead of him shopping for bikes (albeit not high performance bikes). It was taking them a lot of time.

One of the shoppers, upon examining a series of different bikes, kept asking the salesman, "Is it safe?"

The salesman kept assuring him that all the bikes were safe.

The shopper looked at my colleague, rolled his eyes, and said, "You believe this guy? He'll say anything to make a sale!"

Is it safe?


1000 Words


Monday, May 18, 2009

Nothing to Prove

Yesterday, I rode 75 kilometers at a lovely organized ride in Norwalk, CT., called the Bloomin' Metric. I was riding with a group of friends from past Alyn rides and was planning to do the full metric century when I ditched at mile 25 and decided to do the shorter option.

It had been a very cold and wet morning. My toes were cold (although the rest of me was very comfortable; I had dressed perfectly for the conditions save for not wearing my polypropylene booties) and my right knee was still sore. In contrast to the previous Sunday, which had been glorious, this was not the type of day that I would have particularly enjoyed another 17 miles on the road.

I zipped back to the base (the last 20 miles were pretty easy). I was back in my car by 11:30 and home an hour later. One hour after that, I was at the Kulanu fair with MHW and the Vance. And, since I didn't work too hard over the 45 miles, I wasn't useless the rest of the day (as I might have been had I done the full 62).

All in all, a good decision.

My point? Once you've done the Alyn ride, you can make mature decisions like this because no one can accuse you of wimping out.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Eitan Katz under OOD's Chupah.

Click here. Two video's at the top of the page.


Common Sense

Do I look like I'm under 21?

Twice in the last few weeks, I've been "carded"; asked to show ID that proves that I'm over 21. The first time was when I ordered a beer during a long delay at the airport in Cleveland. Then, on Tuesday night, at Citi Field, ame thing.

I would say it's flattering, but it's not. I'm 54 and I have grey hair and a grey beard. A ten year old can tell that I'm older than 21. It's just plain stupid.

Can' anyone just excercise judgment or common sense anymore or has that been taken away by the nanny state and plaintiff's lawyers.

Ich kenesht.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Your Honor, We Were Just Kidding!

I called MHW this afternoon. She was food shopping with the Vance because the Vance's pre-school has no sessions today. The Vance was giving MHW a particularly hard time today. It could be she's very tired from all of yesterday's excitement. It could also be that that's what 4 year olds do.

I said to MHW, "You think we can give her back? 'Your Honor, we were just kidding!!'"


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Mommy, Am I Adopted Now?"

Last week I got a call from our lawyer asking if this Tuesday, May 12th, would work for the finalization of the adoption of the Vance. This came as a surprise since, only a week earlier, she had asked me whether the second week in June worked. (A facilitator working for OHEL apparently actually facilitated).

MHW and I cleared our calendars. We weren't going to let this opportunity pass. (We were also pleased that May 12th turned out to be Lag B'Omer, very fitting since the Vance, whose real name is Meira, has brought so much light into our lives).

We showed up at the Queens County Family Court at around 9, my in-laws eagerly joining us. We were soon met by our lawyer (with whom I had only spoken to on the phone). She was a lovely women who immediately hit it off with the Vance. You could tell that she loved what she was doing.

Shortly thereafter, we were met by a swarm from OHEL, led by David Mandel, its CEO. Also attending were Shelly, the head of foster care services (and our very first close connection from OHEL dating back almost ten years), Chaya Suri, the supervisor of the Vance's case, Ruth, the Vance's caseworker, who was instrumental in brokering the open adoption aggreement, and even Rena, the Vance's former caseworker who doesn't work for OHEL anymore but wouldn't have considered missing the moment. MHW and I were so touched by the presence of the people whose hard work and mesiras nefesh were responsible for getting us to this point.

The scene in the waiting area was pretty weird. Hugs, pictures, the exchange of stories, more pictures. The Vance, didn't really know what was going on but was happy to be the center of attention (and receive a few toys from Ruth). As disruptive as her visits to OHEL sometimes were, she always liked to go because of how well everyone treated her at OHEL. She, Miss Personality, was a star there. She was very happy to be among her friends again.

After a half hour, we were called in. Unlike previous court appearances, this proceeding was in a conference room with Judge de Phillips at the head of the table.

MHW and I affirmed that all the informaation we had provided on our written submisions was true and correct and that there had been no material changes. The clerk then had us confirm our signatures as well as the Vance's new name. The Judge then put some stuff on the record and signed the order of adoption.

As he signed, he said, "When I sign this order of adoption, I am signing an order of love."

He then spoke for a few minutes. MHW were wracking our brains to recreate his moving words. This is the best I can do right now but one of my friends is trying to get a transcript from the court (We think it was recorded).

Judge de Phillips said that we felt privileged to be there and to meet us. He said loving children is an act of humanity and that the more people who love children in this world the better off we are. He said that that to raise a child is a courageous act and that adoption was an affirmation of man's humanity. He said that, in a way, those who are loved by their parents are all "adopted", whether their parents are birth parents or not. Finally, he said that he was 72 years old and had presided over many adoptions. This was the first time he had seen so many agency staff present. He thought that was "wonderful".

We then posed for pictures with the Judge and (this being a Jewish thing) had some cookies (that Shelly had smuggled into court. The courthouse guards are usually very strict about not letting food into court. When Shelly explained that it was to celebrate an adoption, they waived her in, no problem).

As I left the conference room I told Judge de Phillips that we were privileged to be in his courtroom.

During the entire proceeding, the Vance was playing quietly with the new toys that Ruth had brought and didn't seem to be paying much attention. As we left the conference, she turned to MHW and said, "Am I adopted now?"



In my business, to confirm that you've completed a trade, you say, "I'm done on the purchase of $X of ABC loan at Y%."

MHW and I just came back from Queens County Family Court.

We're done on the adoption of the Vance.

What could have been a formal, anticlimactic process turned into an extraordinary, moving moment because of the presiding judge who literally brought us all to tears.

Mazal tov. It's hard to believe. Thanks to so many. I will post much more later.

Hodu L'Hashem Ki Tov.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the first five posts about the Vance (f/k/a The Baby and f/k/a The Toddler)


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Lag B'Omer at Aish

This coming Monday night, May 11th/18 Iyar, Aish Kodesh will be having it's annual Lag B'Omer Hilula L'Chvod the Yahrzeit of R. Shimon Bar Yochai. The Hilula will take place at the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst (SPruce and Broadway in Lawrence)beginning at 9:00 p.m. It will once again feature the Divrei Torah of Rav Weinberger, along with the music of Eitan Katz, Nochi Krohn and Avi Feinberg.

Suggested Donation: $10 (I suggest you take that suggestion seriously).

Separate seating.


Rabbi Horowitz Speaking Tonight

At DRS High School in Woodmere, 9 p.m.

Raising Normal Children (or something like that; I'm sure it will be well worth the time).


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Strange Visitor From Another Planet

I usually daven at the 6:30 minyan at my other shul. This is the quintessential commuter minyan. No fooling around. Quick and to the point. The Rabbis never daven there so they don't have to wait for them to finish Shemah or Shimonah Esrai. You get the point.

The other day, I walked in and saw that one of the stranger men from my main shul took the amud because he had yahrtzeit. I knew this was going to be entertaining.

Rather than the staccato cadence that we are used to hearing at this minyan, our friend was davening in a sing-song way. And he was s-l-o-w. V-e-r-y s-l-o-w.

It was amusing to see the reaction of the rest of the kehilah. They didn't know what hit them. The eye-rolling really hit a peak when our friend sang Tzur Yisrael right before the amidah as one would on Shabbos (but, not, interestingly, at our shul). Yikes!

Davening took ten minutes longer (approximately 30%) than usual. In spite of this, there was no effort to lynch the chazan and everyone behaved very calmly (those that stayed; many people were gone way before the end of davening).

After shul, a friend who had just recently started davening on weekends at my main shul came over to me and, with a twinkle in his eye said, "One of ours, huh?"


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Rabbi Horowitz: Remembering the Kids



Monday, May 04, 2009


From David at Treppenwitz

My choices in bold. If neither is in bold, I don't care.

Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate
Nestle's or Hershey's
Scotch or Bourbon
Road Bike or Mountain Bike
American League or National League
Hitting Pitchers or Designated Hitters
Ketchup or Mustard
Ice Cream or Sorbet
Downhill or X-Country
Mac or Windows
Horns or Synthesizers
White Wine or Red Wine
Aisle or Window
Non-Stop or Stopover
Root Beer Float or Ice Cream Soda
Creamy or Chunky
Smoking or Non-Smoking
Plane or Train
Sailboat or Motorboat
White Gold or Yellow Gold
Rocks or Neat
Dog or Cat
Candybar-style or Flip-phone
Steam-room or Sauna
Tea or Coffee
Sugar or Splenda
Fiction or Non-Fiction
Burned to a Crisp or Bloody as Hell
Martin & Lewis or Amos & Andy
Flats or Heels
Pants or Skirts
Army or Navy
Dark Meat or White Meat
Sauce or Dry Rub
Automatic or Stick Shift
Bar Soap or Body Wash
Set Menu or À La Carte
Dressed Salad or Dressing On The Side
Cut To The Chase or Shaggy Dog Story
Long Hair or Short Hair
Driver or Passenger
Coder or WYSIWYG
Crossword or Sudoku
Chess or Go
Boxers or Briefs
Now or Later
Indoors or Al Fresco
Coke or Pepsi
Betty or Wilma
Ginger or Maryanne


Advice from the Bike Rebbe for the MMBC

1. If you wake up and it's raining, turn off your alarm, fluff up your pillow, and go back to sleep. There's another ride just down the pike.

2. Keep your tires at the proper psi, and bring a mini-pump and CO2 cartridges. Take at least two tubes and, if you're riding anywhere in New York City, take four. LEARN HOW TO CHANGE A FLAT!

3. Put your phone in a plastic baggie with a good seal (unless you have a waterproof pocket in your jersey) whether or not it's raining; sweat can just as easily ruin your phone. Same thing for a camera.

4. If you're bald(ing) wear a shmata on your head. Besides soaking up sweat, it will prevent you from getting a nasty sunburn (Helmets have holes, y'know).

5. If you're dumb enough to ride in the rain, get a rain slicker. They are pretty effective and will keep you reasonably warm.

6. Get a riding vest; good for early morning rides where it's cold for the first few minutes of your ride. They can easily be rolled and put in your jersey pocket. Same thing with sleeves and leggings.

7. Powerade, not water, in your bottles. Always ride with two bottles if you are on a long ride (particularly if it's not a supported ride). NEVER let yourself run out of water of powerade. (Go into a deli if that's the best you can do).

8. Eat well the night before a ride. Don't eat within three hours of the ride; it doesn't help.

9. Eat within a half hour/hour after your ride. Even a chocolate milk is a good recovery drink if you have nothing else. You have burned a lot of calories; you need to replenish.

10. Take a couple of Cliff Bars or Mojo Bars (or whatever you favor). Helps prevent bonking. You never know what awaits you at rest stops. Good to have something of your own.

11. Bring Advil. For SO many reasons.

12. Body Glide and/or Chamois Butt'r for the tush. V'hamayvin Yavin.

13. Suntan lotion. All over, but NOT on your forehead. Duh.

14. Wear a Road ID bracelet or anklet. Very important. Crashes can happen to anyone.

15. Bring some money. You never know when you need to go to Costco to buy some pants.

16. Bring a change of clothes for the car for after the ride. The faster you get out of your sweaty bike kit the better.

17. Wear sunglasses if it's sunny. (I know, very profound. But very important).

18. More important than anything...Have fun and ride safely.


Kiddush Hashem

As you can imagine, there are countless thoughts still swirling around in my brain about OOD's wedding and I am still overwhelmed emotionally. Those thoughts and feelings I will keep to myself.

I will share the following.

I work in a small office and invited all of the professionals, none of whom are Jewish, to the wedding. Since none had even been to an Orthodox Jewish wedding before, I also sent around a "primer", walking them through the wedding step by step.

Well, they were all completely blown away by the experience. From the food to the badekin, through the ceremony and dancing. They were amazed by the whole spectacle.

When I cam back the next morning, the four women profesionals jumped me and started asking me questions. Two of them are mothers; one of two high school age girls and one of a five year old. What impressed them the most was how lovely OOD's friends were. They were deeply impressed by how beautiful they looked, all while dressing so modestly.

The mom of the teens (a religious Catholic) is in the midst of a battle with her own daughters over what they will be wearing to senior prom (She asked me to email a picture of the bride so that she could show her daughters how it is possible to look beautiful without "letting it all hang out"). The mom of the five year old, a very proper preppie-type, was astonished and expressed her ongoing concerns about keeping her own daughter "tzenuah". (They did ask me "what's with the wigs", but that's another story).

So, BH, along with everything else that was holy and beautiful, the wedding was an immense kiddush Hashem, at least to the people in my office.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

With Age Comes Wisdom

Against my strong recommendation, the members (with one exception) of the Melaveh Malka Biking Club decided today to ignore the weather reports and embark on the 42 mile Bike New York bike ride. While I haven't spoken to them yet, I assume that (i) it was a miserable day, (ii) they got totally soaked, (iii) the ride stunk, and (iv) they had a lot of fun.

This is something I would likely have done myself at the age of 35 notwithstanding the warning of a wisened old 54 year old. At 54, I never would have done this ride.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

The Friendly Skies

This article nails the nonsense of air travel. It really hit home in light of my recent track record of being stopped and searched on a very regular basis (including on my way back from Cleveland last Monday).