Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Case Study in Perspectives and Priorities

I dedicate this post on my blog to my uncle, Chaim Perl of blessed memory, who suddenly passed away on Leil Shabbos, August 15, 2014.

Ready or not, Elul is here. Elul is the time to finally stop kicking the can down the road. This past year on Rosh Hashanah, many of us were inspired to engage in self-improvement in one way or another. For some of us it was in the area of our relationship with G-d; this would be the year that our engagement with prayer and Torah study would significantly improve. For others, it was the focus on improving relationships. The myriad of relationships we have in life are often complex and troubled.  It takes a significant investment of commitment, time and energy to ensure that the relationships we have with our spouse, parents, and children are healthy and meaningful.

Despite all the good intentions we may have had at the onset of the year, we find ourselves bogged down with daily routines.  Life is busy and we get distracted easily.  Often times the distractions need to be dealt with immediately.  Keeping our priorities straight and not lose perspective is challenging.  We get confronted with situations that can be so stressful that it knocks us off our mark and we forget about our priorities and the perspectives that we had on Rosh Hashanah.

I am writing this shortly after leaving the shiva that observed the passing of a man I thought I knew. This man was my uncle who suddenly passed away and left behind his grieving wife and six children. His children spoke with pain in their voices but with a deep sense of pride about the man that was their dad. As I left the shiva home I reflected about my uncles rock solid priorities and perspectives.

He had many priorities, but he always put his family first. At 5:30 am, he went to pick up my elderly grandfather to drive him to synagogue so he could attend a pre dawn Talmud class. Afterwards, he drove to attend the Talmud study program that he participated in. Despite the many hours he spent in business, he was always there to go over homework with his kids every evening. In an age where there is not nearly enough times that children hear and feel they were loved, there was no doubt that his family felt the intense love. His wife reflected that in 30 years of marriage, he was home for every Shabbos with the exception of four.

When it came time to select a shul to daven in, he had one criteria -- he must have room for all of his sons to sit next to him. In an age where many  people select the shul based upon the best kiddush club or who they can socialize with, this is all the more unusual.

Even when it came to legitimate grievances that many people have within the Orthodox Jewish community, he maintained the proper perspective.
The issue of rising tuition cost for yeshiva day schools has frustrated many and caused much anger in our communities. My uncle simply told me that the fact that he pays tuition for six children in the yeshiva day school system is the best investment. He and his wife were investing in the long term spiritual growth of their kids.

Rest in peace, dear uncle. Your days in this world were few and finite. Your days in the  world of truth , undoubtedly, will be eternal and infinite.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Happy Mother's Day !!!

Happy Mother’s Day !

I dedicate this blog post to my mother for all of her unconditional love that she provided for our family.

One of the most important day for florists and chocolate makers  is this Sunday which is of course is Mother’s Day. Originally when Anne Jarvis started the campaign for mother’s day to be an official holiday, it was met with resistance and did not come with any commercial association. Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Jarvis’s zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world.
However, as with many worthy endeavors this met some firm resistance. In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller scorned the resolution as "absolutely absurd”.  He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."
This didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.
The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day—newspapers told stories of hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.
Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”
That being said, it is important to have a day that recognizes the true heroes on this planet. I am referring to all the moms out there. They invest sleepless nights for the betterment of their kids. They provide physical and emotional care that each child can thrive in their environment.
There are so many things in life that may seem obvious but are left unsaid. We are so busy that many times it is the most basic things like hugging our kids or saying” I Love you “ that  fall through the cracks. For those of us that are fortunate to have our mom around, let us take advantage of this day and not lose the opportunity to thank our moms for everything they have done for us.

I have included a video for you to watch this week. Please share your thoughts.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Are the Winter Olympics Sexist ?

I remember the thrill I had the first time I watched the Winter Olympics. The 1988 games were held in Calgary and as a young proud Canadian I was so excited that the coveted games were in Canada. There was the “Battle of the Brian’s” in the men’s figure skating. Brian Orser was representing Canada and he was going up against his main rival, Brian Boitano from the U.S.A. I remember feeling disappointed when Boitano outskated Orser for the gold medal.

In 1994, the anticipation leading up to the women’s figure skating was unmatched in terms of drama and suspense. Nancy Kerrigan was physically attacked by accomplices of her teammate Tonya Harding.  Kerrigan recovered and went on to win the silver medal and become a national hero.

I look forward to the games every four years. Or should I?

I have noticed over the years there is a growing difference in terms of the intensity of competition between men and women’s events, governed by the International Olympic Committee at the Olympics. Consider the following:

·         In biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and shooting. The women compete in a 7.5K sprint, a 10K individual pursuit, a 15K individual race, a 12.5K mass start and a 4x6K relay. The men's distances for the same races are 10K, 12.5K, 20K, 15K and 4x7.5K.

·         Cross-country has a similar story, where the men's races are anywhere from 50% to 100% longer than the women's. The longest women's race is 30 KM. The men go 50 KM.

·          In long-track speed skating, the men's longest race is 10,000 meters. The women's is 5,000 meters. In short track, the men skate a 5,000-meter relay; the women go 3,000 meters.

·               The first Olympic women's ski-jumping competition, was scheduled this week for the first time ever, at the Winter Games on a normal hill whereas the men have three competitions—normal hill, large hill and a team event.

The International Olympic committee responded to The Wall Street Journal’s request for an explanation about the differences between the men and women at the games.
Sandrine Tonge, a spokesman for the IOC, wrote: “The Olympic Sports program is established with the active contribution of the international federations and contains similarities and distinctions between the two genders. In cross country and biathlon for example, there are similarities in sprints while traditionally, the long distances are shorter for women.”

(This is only partly true. The women’s sprint Tuesday was 1.3 kilometers compared with the 1.8 kilometer men’s track, a nearly 40% difference.)

What is going on here? In the enlightened world of 2014, why are there are such gaps in the standards of the competition ? Is the IOC suggesting that men are in superior physical shape and can handle more intense competition? Or is there an unspoken understanding that there are physical differences between men and women with no gender being superior and that would result in different expectations standards for the respective sports?

I am asking this question because it seems to me that Orthodox Judaism is increasingly being accused of being sexist and gender bias towards women. This has come under the microscope lately with two Jewish schools allowing women to wear tefilin. We are being told that there should be no differences in terms of mitzvah obligations for men and women. To suggest otherwise and say that there are differences between the genders for tallis, tefilin, and minyan is being interpreted by some that women do not count as being important.

That is quite unfortunate because Orthodox Judaism does not just respect women. We revere women. We also recognize that not only do men and women have physical differences but they have spiritual differences and that while no gender is superior; there are different spiritual needs that are nourished by different mitzvos for the different genders.

Is it possible to view this sensitive and delicate issue this way or not?

In any case, I am still looking forward to the Winter Games, especially Team Canada sweeping the gold in both men's and women's hockey.

Please share your thoughts.

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