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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Losing The Shul

I've been attending my shul for about 13 years. I served as president for six of those years and as chairman of the board for about the last five. When I started there were about 70 member families of which about 40 were core. Today there are something like 250 member families (and tons of freeloaders).

When I started, there were a handful of baalieh tefilah. They ranged from very good to good to acceptable, with a couple of kalyikles who were painful to listen to.

(A friend from high school once remarked that in most places money talks; in Orthodox shuls, money sings).

But one thing virtually all of them (with one exception) understood, is that davening for the amud at my shul meant a lot of communal singing. Consequently, it also meant choosing niggunim that everyone knew. While there was a natural tendency to use Carlebach niggunim, the shul was by no means a "Carlebach Minyan" and any niggun was ok so long as the kehilah knew it, it was simple and everyone could sing along.

As the shul has grown, some excellent baalei tefilah have joined. Some not-so-excellent baalei tefilah have also joined and some truly dreadful ones have joined. The gabbaim have done a very good job of weeding out the brutal ones.

What they haven't done (and what is very hard to do) is reinforce the principal that davening for the amud is about engaging the kehilah. For example, for the past few months we have had many baalei tefilah get up on Friday evening (when the shul is routinely packed to the rafters) and use complex, unknown, shiny shoe niggunim for Lecha Dodi, taking the wind out of the sails of the kehilah and wasting the amazing energy of the mispalilim. There are few things (in this context) more disappointing.

The same thing has happened on Shabbosos and yom tovim.

While there are many more important issues facing Klal Yisrael, after stewing about this trend for months, I finally brought my frustration (which is shared by many) to the attention of the Rav. The good news is that he agrees with me.

The question is how to address the problem.

As the Rav said with a smile at the end of our conversation, "That's why they pay me the big bucks".

IYH, we will take back the shul.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I rarely post on political issues. But Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate was so incredibly uninspired that I couldn't help myself. It would not surprise me in the least if he loses in November.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Yosef Karduner will be back in the metro area in late October and early November. If you are interested in booking him, please be in touch.


My Chavrusah

My Chavrusah returns with his family to Israel tomorrow for his "Aliyah Bet".

They originally made aliyah in September, 2006, but have been back to the states for each of the past two summers while My Chavrusah was getting his masters. This time, they are returning for good, with no plans to spend any extended time back in galus.

(This, combined with the fact that OYS is returning, on the same flight, to The Mother Ship for shanah bet, is going to make tomorrow a difficult day indeed at Chez MoC).

My Chavrusah and I just finished Moed Katan. We made a siyum on Shabbos afternoon at Seudah Shlishit. (As one of my friends said, "little masechtas for little people").

We met a 5:45 a.m. each morning and learned for 45 minutes before the 6:30 minyan. What is especially noteworthy is that My Chavrusah continued to get up that early even after he finished his masters and could have slept in (a little; he still would have had to contend with two kids under the age of 3.5).

On Sundays, My Chavrusah and I changed gears (figuratively and literally). We davened at the YIW Vasikin minyan (starting as early as 4:58 a.m.), drove to the North Shore, and knocked off between 30 and 70 miles on our bikes. As the summer progressed, this entailed a greater degree of mesiras nefesh on his part since he was getting stronger and stronger and could have left me in the dust by the end of the summer).

This has been a very special summer for me. (As My Chavrusah said at the siyum: A special bond is forged between two men in Spandex shorts). I am going to miss My Chavrusah (and his wife and kids) more than I can say.

Labels: ,

You Can't Fool The Heart Rate Monitor

A corollary to the expression, "You can fool some of the people all of he time, etc." is that "you can never fool the heart rate monitor".

This past Friday and Sunday, I did difficult 40 mile rides with my chavrusah. Trying to keep up with him was quite challenging but the results were excellent. I finished the ride in a personal best time and my average heart rate for the ride was around 80% of my maximum heart rate.

(As an aside, my resting and normal heart rates, as well as the range of my heart rates during excercise, are freaky. My resting heart rate is in the low 40s. My normal heart rate (say, sitting at my desk in the middle of the day), ranges from 48 to 52. My aerobic zone is between about 135 and 170, extremely high for someone my age).

Yesterday, I did 27 flat miles, out to Point Lookout, by myself. I was tired and ran into a fierce headwind on the way back. Each time I tried to convince myself that I was working as hard as I could, I would glance down at my monitor and notice that I was dogging it; my heart rate just wasn't reflecting enough intensity.

Sometimes we are hoist on our own petards.


Monday, August 25, 2008

There's No More Ice Cream When I Say There's No More Ice Cream!

Yesterday afternoon, MHW and I took our two grandchildren and The Toddler to Adventureland. A wonderful time was had by all (once I got past the pounding heat-related headache).

After going on various helicopter, caterpillar and clown rides, we bought the kids some Hershey's ice cream. The smallest cup they had for sale was a three scooper.

I was not surprised that, after a long day climbing in and out of rides and walking around the park, the kids were hungry and would do a nice job on the ice cream. I was surprised by the kavanah with which they dove into their cups.

Even the little one, who is only two, finished her entire portion.

But the best was our grandson. He methodically finished his entire portion but refused to concede that the ice cream was gone. He kept scooping out the soup-like melted part on the bottom of the cup for about five minutes after each effort produced marginally worse results. I asked him a couple of times whether I could take his cup to throw in the garbage and each time he refused.

Finally, after I asked him if he was planning on eating the cup, even he had to agree that there was really nothing left.


How I Met and Married MHW: The Long-Awaited But Anti-Climactic Conclusion

Today is the 27th anniversary of my marriage to the most perfect woman in the world, (whose only fault is that she's a terrible speller, Hashem Yirachem).

Two years ago, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, I penned a series (with apologies to my friend Robert Avrech) of posts of how I managed, in seven weeks, to con MHW into marrying me. (To put it into context, in today's world of shidduchim, no one would have thought to set the two of us up, and, if they had, it's doubtful that MHW would have agreed).

Because I get distracted easily, I actually ended the series one post early. We are holding by the day of our engagement, April 19, 1981, the first day of Passover.

If you haven't read the previous posts, here they are:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

And now, for the anticlimactic conclusion:

Upon unexpectedly running into MHW on Presidents Day, I decided, on the spot, that I was going to marry her. (We had gone out a couple of times two years earlier). While this was cocky beyond belief, there was not even a scintilla of doubt in my mind that MHW would, one day soon, become Mrs. MoC. The problem, of course, was how to convince MHW without scaring her off.

As you can read in the previous posts, in a very short time, I succeeded. By putting on a full-court-press of charm, wit and sensitivity, I overcame MHW's initial view that I was some kind of weird oysvorf.

OK. How to close the deal?

Remember. This was before the day of elaborate engagement planning (where everything, including the hall, the band, the color of the wedding party's dresses, etc., is settled on before the "engagement". This was before the groom would go to great lengths to plan some clever or goofy engagement surprise.

So, we found ourselves sitting on lounge chairs in my future in-laws' backyard in Far Rockaway, Ir Hakodesh, on the first day of Pesach. After talking for a while, I romantically said, "So, do you want to get engaged today?". MHW responded, "I guess so".

We were done. (That's traders' talk for "we had a deal").

The next step was to drop the news on my future in-laws.

Although we were hoping to do this in private, my in-laws' good friends were in the house (they were ALWAYS in the house) and we didn't feel like waiting all afternoon so we took my in-laws aside and spoke. We went back upstairs, broke the news and had a lichayim. As I recall, I walked back to my parents' home in Cedarhurst to give them the good news. (My mom, with whom I shared my prediction on Presidents Day that I was going to marry MHW, believed then and believes now that the sun revolves around me and so never doubted for a minute that I would).

The rest is a blur.

Twenty seven years later, I am still smiling over the con of the century.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Am I, Chopped Liver?

The Toddler is very much into routine and structure. She seems to take comfort from going through the same routine every day. This is especially so in the morning when she wakes up and at night from bath time to bed time.

So, for instance, if you forget to wash negel vasser with her when she wakes up, she will remind you.

In the evening, after supper, she loves to take a bath, then watch a video while eating a cut-up fruit (with a plastic, not metal, fork). She will want MHW (rather than me) to carry her up the stairs to bed (even though she is now huge relative to the diminutive MHW). MHW will then take her to the bathroom and have her brush her teeth, read a book or two, say Shema and sing "Hamalach Hagoel Oti".

For some reason, TT is ok with the idea of me cutting up her fruit, turning on a video and giving her the bath but not so much with the reading or Shema parts. I'm not sure why but that's the way it is.

Whenever I try to do Ima's parts, TT gives me a hard time. Whenever she gives me a hard time, I say, "What am I, chopped liver?" She always laughs (even though she doesn't know exactly what I mean) but usually stands fast and waits for MHW.

I guess I am chopped liver.

Labels: ,

Message to NBN

Apropos of this post, I am SOOO much funnier and more polished a presenter than most of the presenters at yesterday's Bloggers Conference. I'm just saying....


"Time It Was and What a Time It Was..."

I received an email from Bob, my boss's boss's boss from back in the day, someone I haven't seen in 22 years. He was the Deputy General Counsel at Chase Manhattan Bank when I was a relative peon. He was a nice man whom I respected.

I left Chase in 1986 and haven't seen him since. (I seem to recall speaking with him once in all that time). He, too, has long since left (in the aftermath of one of the dozens of mergers that has resulted in JPM Chase) and is now a partner at a big New York law firm.

Bob was inviting all the legacy Chase lawyers to a reuinion to be held in late September.

The only person I'm still in contact with from those days is my direct boss yet I find myself nostalgic and I'm looking forward to attending. It must be a sign that I'm getting old.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Relative Pizza Experiences

I just called MHW who was with The Toddler at the pizza store.

I often take TT for pizza on Sunday afternoons. She always asks me to order pizza and spicey fries with ketchup and pickles.

So, naturally, I asked MHW whether TT was eating pizza and fries with ketchup and pickles. MHW said, "no, just pizza". "Didn't she ask you for fries with ketchup", I asked. "No, just pizza. She knows that I'm not going to buy her fries because that would be too much for her".

This is a good example of why our children have been better off with me staying at work as much as possible. I am a softy who will give in to almost anything they ask. MHW has the gevurah (strength) to say no.

Labels: ,

A New Day For Judah

Tomorrow is "Judah's" 14th birthday.

Since leaving our home (for the second time) when he was about 9, he has been living in children's residences. He has been the only Jewish kid in those residences for all those years. Despite that, mainly because of the mesiras nefesh (sacrifice) of a handful of holy Jews who live nearby, he remains very connected. He is connected to G-d and remains connected to us.

One week from tomorrow Judah will be leaving the residence and joining his new foster family. He has been spending weekends with the family for the past few months and it's gone very well. We are very hopeful that his new home will work out.

But we are so happy that he is finally moving on.

It is a good time to give kavod to Judah's wonderful Ohel case worker, Tova Hisler, who has looked after him for the past few years with love and devotion.

May Hashem grant Judah the happiness and stability and menuchas hanefesh (peace of mind) that he deserves.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wishing I Were There

I'm not the type who has regrets. It's just not my style.

I've always been pretty confident in my life's choices and I'm not one to look back and think, "I wish I would have done such and such..." If something goes wrong or doesn't work out the way I plan, I just try to deal with it. Little is gained by regrets.

(And, I've been very blessed so, l'maisah, I have very little to regret (other than the fact that I didn't get the first pick in the FFL draft this year)).

But in reading the posts about the most recent Nefesh b'Nefesh flight by all the bloggers who were on that flight and who will be attending tomorrow's conference, I have to admit that I feel a little regret. On two fronts.

Had this conference happened back in the day, when I was a more serious, consistent and popular blogger (and when there were so many fewer of us), it is much more likely that I would have been invited to participate. Since I rarely post anymore and almost never on topics of substance and since I am no longer relevant, I never expected to be asked. I'm a relic with a base that is 20% of what it once was. But it would have been so exciting to be on the flight with a chance to write about some of the amazing families.

But even more so, every time a Nefesh b'Nefesh flight leaves without the MoC family on it as passengers, I feel a bit of regret. Things are pretty complicated now but, as Reb Shlomo used to say, "One day, one day, one day...".


Monday, August 18, 2008

Fantasy Preview

Instead of Melavah Malkah this past Motsai Shabbos, I feasted on our fantasy football draft.

(Our commissioner, The Great Joe Schick decided to hold the draft especially early, ostensibly to accommodate one of the player's schedules. The real reason was to thwart the annual advantage I have from using the services of my firm's analyst to prepare my drafting strategy. My analyst's own draft is not until just before the regular season starts so he wasn't nearly as prepared as he might have been later).

In any event, I think the draft went ok. My offense is pretty solid (but so is everyone else's) and I think my overall defense is the best in the league.

According to my charts (and I use the term "my" very loosely), I got the third ranked running back, the third ranked quarterback, the third ranked wide receiver, and the first or second ranked tight end. I also got two of the top three linebackers, the third ranked defensive end, the top ranked defensive back and the top ranked kicker. I also have a good backup quarterback (whom I apparently rated much higher than others did) and a couple of players who I got very late in the draft (including Marvin Harrison and Aaron Rodgers) who could be much better than expected/.

I am potentially weak at second running back position (although one of my three other running backs could be major surprises). I made the decision to go after a top ranked receiver and tight end and top ranked defensive players rather than a higher ranked running back because (i) my numbers showed a big difference between the top three in those categories and everyone else, and (ii) I didn't think others in the draft would rate the running backs I did pick as highly as I did (which turned out to be the case).

In any event, barring injuries to top players, it should be an extremely competitive season. I look forward to defending my championship.


Friday, August 15, 2008


One of the things that got me mad about the article in the Jewish Star about "Adopting Shmuel", was a reference to Shmuel's surprise when his adoptive parents did not leave him behind on vacation (in implied contrast to his uncaring foster parents who routinely did).

Anyone who has fostered a difficult child knows that this is hogwash.

The first year we fostered "Judah" and his brother, they came in August. By the time winter break came around, we, and especially our kids, were fried. The boys, four and five at the time, were unbelievably needy and taking care of the two of them (in addition to the three of our children who were still home) took everything out off us. We needed a break from the boys. Period.

We went to Israel for ten days to visit OOS. The boys went to another Ohel foster home for a respite.

Was that ideal? No.

Did we have a choice? I don't think so.

Could we have survived Judah and his brother bouncing off the walls of an airplane for 12 hours? Would it have been a vacation had we taken them along? I don't think so.

Instead, we came back refreshed, grateful from the break from the constant pressure and chaos that had become our home, and ready for more.

So, any implication that taking a break from foster kids is selfish or unkind is simply uninformed.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Understanding Fostering

MHW and I wrote a column that was published today in this week's Jewish Star (page 5).

We were responding to a well-meaning article in the previous addition that told the story of a young boy who was adopted by a nice family from Queens.

Unfortunately, the article made it sound like the kid was bounced around to a bunch of foster homes and had no sense of permanence or structure in his life.

The truth is that the boy, a sweet but totally out of control kid, stayed with friends of ours for three and a half years until the adoptive family took him.

Five previous families couldn't deal with this boy and two other families who intended to adopt him "gave him back" (to our friends, of course).

The truth is that our friends handled this boy with supernatural patience and care while raising 4 of their own kids. As someone who has fostered an extremely difficult child, I can tell you that you can't even imagine what it's like and the kind of havoc it wreaks on your own family. But our friends hung in there until Ohel found an adoptive family.

(It's worth noting that the couple that adopted him have one grown child. That is precisely the right profile you need to adopt a kid like that. They can focus all of their attention on the boy).

The other thing that people don't get is that fostering is a job. I know that sounds harsh, but that is what it is.

When Ohel calls they are asking you to take care of a kid that needs to be taken care of. Your job is to do the best to make that kid happy and secure and to give him or her structure, warmth and love.

The kids usually come with baggage. They are usually scared. They are often angry.

Your job is to deal with all that.

Sometimes you can't and you tell Ohel you can't and they try to find another home. Sometimes your kids can't deal with it and you tell Ohel to find a new home (You cannot sacrifice your own kids for the sake of doing a mitzvah).

Often it works out (almost always with difficulties that you handle).

In our current situation we've been blessed with a little girl who was removed from her home at a very early age and does not have the pathology that is so often seen in foster kids.

Finally, your job is to do the best job you can for as long as you are needed and then hope things work out for the best. If you've accomplished that, it is worth hoping that the child you've fostered will benefit (in one way or another) from the time he's spent in your home.

The point of our article was that while it's very admirable that a family adopted the young boy in the story, he would not have been adoptable had it not been for the hard work of our friends.


Monday, August 04, 2008

On Drinking

A number of years ago, when I was still president, my shul
decided to go dry, cold turkey. It was at the behest of Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere who persuaded his shul board to ban hard alcohol. Rabbi Billet was looking for community support but, as far as I can tell, we were the only other shul to take that step which seemed drastic at the time.

I wrote about how that unfolded here and here.

I raise this, of course, in the context of the story of a frum teen who was recently busted for wrecking a car, on Shabbos, while totally drunk. This story was picked up in Newsweek, of all places, and is, predictably, raising public consciousness.

It takes strong leadership, like that displayed by Rabbi Billet and Rav Weinberger, to deal with these problems head on. Sadly, what's missing is leadership. Leadership by parents and leadership by Rabbanim and other so-called leaders.

Labels: ,