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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Musings For A New Years Eve

1. I never understood the allure of hanging out in Times Square on New Years Eve waiting for the ball to drop while you freeze your tusch. I especially don't understand it on nights like tonight when the wind-chill factor will be around zero. I guess that's why people get so drunk, so as to not feel the cold. Still, it seems pretty stupid.

2. I went shopping grocery today. MHW sent me with a list of about a dozen items. My goal was to finish the shopping assignment without having to calll her once. It almost happened. I was on my way to the freezer area to look for a "small french toast" when I realized the list said "small french roast". Not knowing what a small french roast looks like and not finding anything labeled french roast, I had no choice but to call her.

One phone call per twelve items is pretty good, if I do say so myself.

3. There was a Boars Head van parked in the supermarket parking lot. Since the supermarket is an all-kosher one, I found that interesting.

4. Speaking of vans, earlier this week, we had a bris in the shul. The caterer parked his van right in the middle of the shul parking lot, blocking about 15 cars. Another person parked in the Rabbi's parking area, blocking in the Rabbi. On motsai Shabbos, a female bat mitzvah "entertainer" parked her van on the shul plaza about six inches from the front door. Ich kenesht.

5. 2008 has been a very strange year, professionally. To say that I have never seen anything like it in my 28 years of practice would be an understatement. I fear, however, that we are far from done and that 2009 will be at least as bad. On a personal level, I am fortunate to be a "fireman" when there are fires breaking out all over the place.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Fantasy Football: The Definition of Mediocre

After winning last year's championship, I finished this season appropriately, with a win that left me with a mediocre record of 8-9, my worst year yet.

Congratulations to The Great Joe Schick who had a good draft save for horrible quarterbacks but saved his season by picking up Kurt Warner from the scrap heap. Warner was one of the best players in this year's FFL.

My season went sideways on draft day, mainly because my two first picks, Frank Gore and Carson Palmer, ended up virtually useless. My pick at tight end, Kellen Winslow, was also a disaster. Finally, my first pick on defense, David Harris of the Jets (who was one of the top FFL defensive players last year) missed half the season and stunk in those games that he did play. David Garrard, my backup at QB, was a dud. While I was saved at QB by my backup to my backup, Aaron Rodgers, who had a reasonably srong year, I never did well at running back, relying on Gore, the inconsistent Thomas Jones and Chris Johnson (who was ok). My only really excellent choice was Andre Johnson who was a monster at wide receiver.

My approach to the draft was also bad; I will not make the same mistakes next year. Also, my analyst, who ranks the players for me before the draft, had a sub-par year (he, too, did not do well this year after winning his league championship for the past three years). Finally, I didn't pay enough attention to my team after the draft because of all the craziness I was dealing with at work.

So, hats off to Joe, who is keeping the championship trophy warm, until I reclaim it next year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

MO Props For Rabbi Horowitz

The Jewish Week on the "Teen Whisperer".


Monday, December 22, 2008

Yet Another Reason I Love My Shul

Our shul, as the Bear once described it, is the Nassau Community College of Shuls. (We let anyone in, get it?).

This past Shabbos I saw something that warmed my heart. One of our members was wearing a Davey Crockett Hat, tail and all, during mincha. The best part is that barely anyone seemed to notice.

You gotta love this place.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

De-criminalize Drugs....

...At least for one day.

MHW and I took The Vance to the annual Uncle Moishy gig at the Young Israel of Woodmere. I could have used some hallucinogenics.

If you want to know how it was, just read this. Virtually nothing changed from then except we're all a year older.

I don't view this as a concert, I view it as my ticket to Olam Habah.


Playing Scared

I knew the Jets were going to lose today when they didn't go for it on fourth and a half yard at the 2 yard line in the first quarter. Losers plays that way. I can't imagine Parcells or Belichik settling for a field goal in that situation.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bat Z'kunim

This week's parsha introduces the sibling tension in Yaakov's family. The tension is based on Yosef's brothers' resentment of his stautus as the favored one.

"Now Yisrael loved Yoseph more than any of his other sons, ki ven z'kunim hu lo (because he had been born to him in his old age)..." (B'resheet 37:3)

A certain two lovely young ladies who currently reside in our house have been known to suggest to MHW and me that a certain Vance has the status of bat z'kunim.

They believe that we let her get away with stuff that we wouldn't have let them get away with. They accuse us of allowing the Vance to stay in our beds when she wakes up in the middle of the night when we had an absolute rule against that for them and their brothers.

We vehemently deny it! There's an explanation for everything, I tell you!

The good news is that I don't think they intend to kidnap the Vance and send her to Egypt.


"You Can't Start A Fire Without A Spark"

So says Bruce Springstein, mefurash.

So, a big shout out to Jonny and Dina for providing the spark.

V'hamayvin Yavin.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reaching Rabbi Horowitz



Monday, December 15, 2008

The Coming Crisis for Jewish Charities, Part IV: Oy Vey

UPDATE: It's really bad.

As if things weren't bad enough, the Bernard Madoff scandal is apparently reaching into the highest levels of Jewish philanthropy. Not only is it impacting organizations that invested directly with him, it is also impacting big g'virim who were themselves huge contributors to Jewish causes.

So, in addition to seeing small organizations that have lived from hand to mouth (even in good times) suffer because of the general malaise, many high end organzations with endowments in the millions and tens of millions of dollars and more, may find themselves unable to continue.

What a disaster.


"Hurts My Motor To Go So Slow"

Having compleed my 5th (and last) Alyn Hospital bike ride, I am now turning to ther pursuits.

I've gotten back into running for the first time in five years. More about that below. I am hoping to combine my biking and running by doing a number of duathalons, generally two three-mile runs sandwiched around bike rides of 12 to 20 miles.

I also have a hava aminah to run the 2009 New York City Marathon. I know this is insane but I am what I am and that's what's going through my mind. The last time I did it was in 1995, when I turned 40. The first thing I need to do is figure out how to get in. I am thinking of asking Ohel if they can get me a slot in which case I would raise money for them. The second thing I have to do is figure out how to do it withou giving up my biking. I have no intention of focusing exclusively on running. Way too boring and painful.

The interesting thing is that I find myself a much stronger runner today than I was then. I am thinner and much smarter about training and nutrition. Although I just started running again, I am running at about the same pace as I did back then even though I'm 13 years older. (Don't get me wrong; I'm not exactly breaking records. I am ruunning five miles a pop at an 8 minute pace). The frustrating part is that I am capable of running considerably faster but as soon as I start pushing it to a 7.5 minute mile pace or faster, my ankles and knees start to hurt. So, at least for now, I have to hold back.

"...Time I get home my supper be cold."

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Coming Crisis For Jewish Charities, Part III

I received a follow up email this morning from the head of the vaad for the Alyn Hospital bike ride which I completed last month.

The email urged us to follow up with our potential sponsors and try to bring in as much money as possible so that we could reach our goal of over $2,000,000. We are currently holding at $1,600,000.

To put it into perspective, last year the hospital raised over $3,000,000. This year, ridership was down by over 100 riders, mostly North Americans (whose average fundraising is much higher than their Israeli counterparts). I raised over $23,000 this year, down from $25K last year. This put me into third place among North American fundraisers; last year, I was about 6th or 7th.

This is almost all economy related. The implications to the hospital of that lost $1+ million are hard to describe.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thoughts for a Wednesday Night

1. Auto Bailout.

The auto bailout will be a total, unmitigated disaster. A sinkhole. A massive waste of taxpayer money. I understand that the Democrats are beholden to the unions but why would Bush and the Republicans support such an incredibly stupid plan, the virtual nationalization of the US auto industry. The auto companies need to file for bankruptcy and get rid of their union contracts. The government needs to let up on the emmission controls that have chocked the industry and provide the DIP loan to help the auto companies restructure in a sustainable way.

2. Black China.

I spent a good part of two days this week meeting with bankers from what we used to call Red China but now refer to simply as China. What struck me was that all the men wore solid black suits (not grey, not blue, not pinstriped) and all the woman wore black suits. For a while I thought I was in Lakewood.

(I also found it amusing that the bankers were going to Woodbury Common to shop directly after our last meeting).

3. Senior Moment.

My firm put on a seminar yesterday about debt exchanges (Don't ask). A woman in the industry whom I've known for 15 years sat down next to me. While I haven't worked with her in years, I did once work very closely with her. I spent the better part of the seminar trying to remember her name. After 25 minutes I remembered her first name; by the end, I got the first part of her last name, "Long...". I never did get the rest of her name until we exchanged business cards at the end of the seminar.


Today is my father's 4th yahrtzeit.

This is some of what I said at the levayah:

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.
I miss my dad more than ever. As each year passes, I realize even more clearly how wonderful a man he was and how much my father influenced me in every way.

I wish I could tell him that. I wish I had told him that.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Coming Crisis for Jewish Institutions, Part II

When I was chairman of the board of a local yeshiva many years ago, there was one phenomenon that you could count on almost without exception. In virtually every case of parental discord, tuition payments were the first thing to go. The school was left holding the bag in almost every case of divorce and had to fight and threaten to get paid.

Given the current financial crisis, a similar thing is already starting to happen, and will accelerate, albeit in a different context. When people start to feel financial pressure, the monthly payment that goes first is invariably tuition. This, of course, is not surprising. As among missing mortgage payments, real estate taxes, car payments and tuition, the one with the fewest consequences is tuition. Schools will not toss a kid out for failure to pay tuition, particularly under these circumstances.

But what will happen (and, I am told by reliable sources, is already happening in a number of schools) is that many schools will fall behind in paying teachers. (Keep in mind that teachers salaries are, by a very large margin, the biggest expense for virtually every school (unless they've overbuilt and overleveraged).

Behind even tuition in the hierarchy is shul membership. Most people who are in financial distress will not even consider paying shul membership. And, of course, the shuls are even less inclined (and have far less leverage) than schools to do anything about it.

This is, to put it mildly, a shlechta maisa. Most shuls and schools (with some notable exceptions) lived hand to mouth even during the best of times and do not have much in the way of reserves. They are going to suffer mightily. And, exacerbating the situation is that the g'virim and the regular givers, whom they counted on in the past to make up budget deficits, are (as I pointed out in my previous post) going to be much less able or willing to fill in the gap.

This does not bode well for other Jewish organizations. If there is less money available for the two primary institutions, what does that say for organizations that are farther down the list and rely much more on discretionary income?

Interestingly, many of these organizations may be better able to weather the storm. Many are better run than most schools and shuls and have modest reserves to call upon. Many less well run outfits also have much more fat to cut than schools or shuls. While the only way to really save money in a school is by getting rid of teachers (not a realistic option), most large charitable organizations become bureaucracies over time and tend to over hire, like any bureaucracy. They are going to have to make some hard decisions and cut out the fat. Some, of course, will have to cut into muscle and reduce some of the services they offer.

But the mosdos that are going to suffer the most are the Israeli-based chessed organizations and the kollelim. Priority-wise, they are 15th on most people's lists of ten.

Sorry for the pessimism, but I think it's going to get really ugly.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Alyn Day Two: Ostriches, Jets, Cacti, Bulldozers, Borders, Farms and Dead Prime Ministers Homes

This is my account of day two of my recent Alyn Hospital Ride

Although we spent most of the day in the desert, the Negev is unlike any other desert. We passed an ostrich farm, lots of cacti, army bulldozers and tanks, the Egyptian border, farms, saw many air force planes doing manuevers, and, finally, ended up at the guest house at Kibbutz Sde Boker, the place that David Ban Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, retired to.

The ride itself was straightforward. 72 mainly flat miles (in a fair amount of wind) with a moderate climb at the very end. What made the day interesting was the pace. We finsished the ride at an average pace of 18.5 miles per hour.

I spent much of the morning in pacelines which made dealing with the wind manageable. It is a very cool thing to see single-file pacelines strecthing out over 30 riders. We were so fast that we reached the lunch area by 11 a..m.

I had one of those unfortunate moments just after lunch. I was back in the paceline for the next segment (20 miles to the final reststop) when my chain came off. The paceline was going so fast, and the wind was so strong, that although it took less than a minute to fix the chain and get on my bike, I was dropped. I tried hard to make up the time, and was making some progress when the chain came off again. All hopes of catching the group were over.

I spent the next hour cranking as hard as I could to make up as much time (or lose as little as possible). I ended up passing 8 riders (who were too tired to work with me) but never made it all the way back. That segment really wiped me out but I was able to hang on to a paceline for the final segment, 13 miles to the finish.

While I am clearly a piker, I feel comfortable that I made the right choice joining the challenge ride. There would never have been the opportunity to do the kind of sustained fast riding I did today on the regular route. And, there is virtually no waiting around. We ride hard and take short breaks and short lunches. (Of course, there is no point in me taking a camera because there is no time to take pictures).

Another interesting thing that happened is that some riders who were strong yesterday really struggled today. A couple bonked and others barely made it. (One rider who struggled yesterday was voted off the island by the staff; he joined the regular ride today. Boy, I'm glad that wasn't me! Leaving the challenge voluntarily is one thing, but getting the boot is more than I could handle.)

So, on a relative basis, I am actually doing pretty well.

Of course tomorrow is the first real test.

82 miles, including a descent down and climb up the Machtesh Gadol (the Great Crater) and then the big enchilada, Maale Akrabim (the Scorpion's Ascent). Maale Akrabim, which is about 6 miles in total, has a 1.7 mile one section that averages a ten percent grade and maxes out at 24 degrees).

We'll see if I'm still so smug tomorrow night.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Coming Crisis For Jewish Institutions. Part I

I have written previously about the coming crisis that will befall the Chareidi world because of the fallout from the financial meltdown. I observed that the current paradigm, where a large percentage of men learn full time, will be severely tested, and, in all likelihood, will have to change.

It is abundantly clear that these same pressures are going to be felt by virtually all Jewish mosdos, from Modern Orthodox to Chareidi and to all social-needs related institutions that are less well-defined hashgachicly.

Under halacha, Jews are required to give maiser (10%) on their income. So, based soley on simple math, there will likely be much less maiser money available as many people lose their jobs, others, particularly in the financial sector, will receive much smaller bonuses, and many businesses, especially but not exclusively those that are high-end businesses, will be doing less well.

But I think it will be even worse than that. I think many people, especially those who have previously given generous amounts of tzedakah, give not on a straight line basis but on the basis of how much discretionary income they have available after they take care of their sizable personal "nuts".

Let's take an example.

Let's assume a young investment banker made in 2007 a base salary of $150,000 and a bonus of $250,000, for an after-tax income of approximately $260,000. On a straight maiser basis he might be expected to give approximately $26,000 to tzedakah.

Let's assume this year the same banker makes the same $150,000 base salary but got his bonus slashed to $100,000 for a total after-tax income of approximately $150,000. On a straight maiser basis this banker would still be expected to give $15,000 to tzedakah; down $11,000 from the previous year but still a substantial amount.

The reality is probably very different.

If this banker has two or three kids in yeshiva, has a mortgage and real estate taxes, and has a couple of cars, his nut is pretty big. Yet, with $260,000 of after tax income, it's fairly likely that he can take care of his nut and still have a decent amount of discretionary income left to give to tzedakah. Perhaps he can even give 25% of his discretionary income which could get him close to his overall maiser target. This year, however, there probably will be very little money left over for tzedakah after he's done paying his nut. The likelihood that he will be able to scare up $15,000 for tzedakah is very low. He might struggle just to pay his shul membership(s) and school scholarship funds.

Next: The implications.


Alyn 2008: Day One, Last But Not Least? No, But At Least Not Last

This is the first in a series of accounts of my most recent Alyn Hospital Bike Ride

Today was a very difficult but great day of riding.

It did not start so well. As predicted, jet lagged, I woke up very early, at 2:15 a.m. and could not get back to sleep.

After a short, tedious ceremony (really, how many years can your hear the same shtick?) the ride was launched from the Azrieli Malcha mall and after a steep decline into the valley, we climbed right back up, in the hardest ascent of the day, 12 kilometers to Nes Harim.

We then descended from the Judean hills into the Ellah Valley (the site if the battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1). Some of my friends reached 47 miles per hour on this descent (not me; I am much more cautious after reaching 48 mph last year on a hill where a rider took a dangerous tumble).

The rest of the day featured a series of rolling hills until the 60 mile mark where we climbed another 1000 feet before descending to Be'er Sheva, our overnight location. In all, 85 miles (5 more than advertised).

The difficulty today was not so much the climbing as the combination of the challenging terrain, the hot weather (around 85 degrees) and the blistering pace of the challenge riders. It was all I could do to hold on to the back of the pack.

The good news is that I finished the day safely, I did not get picked up by the SAG van, and I wasn't even last. I actually did very well on the first climb (in retrospect, perhaps too well). I started battling cramping in my legs a bit before lunch but managed to hold them off (lunch could not have come soon enough).

I struggled on the last climb, lost my chain three times, was dropped by the group, but managed to stay out of the sag van. I was, in fact, the last rider up that hill save for the three riders who were scooped up.

The only thing that put a damper on the day was that, after the ride, we stopped at a mall in Be'er Sheva for over an hour in some photo op for the mayor before going to our hotel. What a waste of time (and the last thing you want to do after 85 miles). Not the end of the world but annoying.

After the ride, I got to finally meet Gila over beers (or at least my beer; she drank a diet Sprite) whose account is here.

My hammies are unbelievably sore and I've been trying to stretch them all night. Thankfully, tomorrow's ride is only 71 miles with very little intense climbing. Even better, our start time is 8 a.m., a luxury for this ride.


A Burning Question

Last night the Vance asked MHW for beans for dinner. You know, the Heinz Vegetarian beans as in hot dogs and beans (even though we weren't having hot dogs (the MoC family has hot dogs only at barbeques and then MHW often tries to foist turkey dogs on us. But I digress.)).

Anyway, the Vance ended up not eating them so when I got home, MHW warmed them up for me.

Here's my burning question.

Why do vegetarian beans stay warm for so short a period? This is something I've wondered about for years. Why do they not retain heat for more than two minutes at which point, like cold chulent, they are so much less appealing? Curious minds want to know.


Monday, December 01, 2008

India's 9/11

A few thoughts.

1. Gun "control" doesn't seem to have worked very well in India. Apparently it's extremely difficult to get a gun permit there. Consequently, no one in Mumbai other than the terrorists had guns, including hotel security personnel. Even most of the police don't carry guns. Their bamboo sticks were not much of a match against machine guns and grenades.

2. The "9/11 effect" will last a few months in India, just as it did in London after the Underground carnage. Then it will fade away ans people will get complacent and ignore the reality of what they are dealing with.


Pop Go the Wiggles

I had an interesting few days, with MHW in Israel visiting the kids and me in charge of the Vance, who got sick the minute MHW left for the airport.

Let's just say if I have to watch The Wiggle's DVD, "Pop Goes the Wiggles" one more time, I will jump out the window.