Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chanukah Harry Saves Xmas

What accent?

So actually - people regularly tell me that I don't sound like I'm from New York. They're wrong - but this website seemed to get it right...

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Hat tip to Mobius

A wrong turn at Albequeue

Fortunately, in my many wanderings around the country and the world, both for work and for fun, this has not yet happened to me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Chanukah Vids...

This was forwarded to me...

This one was posted on jspot

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Helping The Cause

Obnoxious as I may be, this post is my contribution to the Google Bomb which links the words miserable failure to Dubya's bio on the White House website.

(If you do a search on Google for those two words - your first search result (or what you'd get by clicking the "I'm feeling lucky" button) is George Bush's bio on the white house website.)

You can learn more about this here.

Happy Chanukah

Well here we are - half-way through the Festival of Lights 2006.

Oddly enough I visited the East Peoria Festival of Lights last week (it's not far from Bloomington). The lights and animations and decorations were really spectacular and quite beautiful (the pictures on that website don't begin to do it justice). And I learned that there is such thing as The American Bus Association and that they have a top 100 list. There was however absolutely no reference to Chanukah (which is what I always think of as THE Festival of Lights). Apparently though - LOTS of holidays in many cultures are called the Festival of Lights, including notably Diwali

But anyway - Chanukah... every year around now, there are lots of comments out there - about how it's a minor Jewish holiday and people make too much of a big deal about it in America and about how we're trying to compete with Christmas... Eh - I'm not sure I agree. I'd argue that Chanukah is actually a pretty serious Jewish holiday, maybe even more so today than it ever was in the past. And I don't think this has anything to do with miracles or oil or the Holy Temple or even a military victory of the few over the many. Yes, Chanukah is about all those things . And yes it's also a time to light candles, sing fun songs, eat yummy but not-so-healthy fried foods, and trade presents with loved ones. But most importantly, Chanukah is the quintessential story of modern Jewish identity. The Hellenists sought to learn from the Greek culture of their neighbors, while the Hasmoneans/Maccabees wanted to preserve the essence of Jewish tradition. Today - most Jews in America and in so many other Diaspora countries - heck even in Israel - are constantly defining and redefining what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. For sure - I am. Judaism says much about how to live one's life. But so does the Western World - and so does the rest of the Eastern World for that matter. I don't think I could live in a solely Jewish context... I would never be able to live in Borough Park or Mea Sharim in a totally Jewish bubble without world news and baseball and Star Trek and Harry Potter and MQ Series...and books and people who think differently from me. But I would not want to live without the Torah and the rich 3000 year old tradition that comes with it...the dysfunctional family stories in Genesis and the practice of Kashrut that keeps me mindful of what I put in my body and the concept of Shabbat that reminds me to take a break sometimes and the belief that actions matter and people are responsible and accountable for what they do and the notion that I can make the world better than it was when I found it.

Whereas Judaism has traditionally been about separations:
  • milk & meat
  • linen & wool
  • life & death
  • kosher & traif
  • Shabbat & the work week
  • holy & mundane

I believe that today Judaism is about balance - in so many ways:
  • needs of the Jewish community & needs of the larger world
  • traditions of the Torah & newly acquired knowledge from physical and social sciences
  • being faithful to G!d & being true to one's self
  • being true to one's self & taking care of one's family
  • taking care of one's family & being mindful of one's community
  • being mindful of one's community & being loyal to one's country
  • being loyal to one's country & being loyal to Israel
  • caring for the Jews in Israel & caring for the non-Jews in Israel
  • caring for the welfare of the Jewish state & the welfare of a Palestinian state
Or to borrow a line from Conservative Judaism - it's about both Truth & Faith.

Chanukah is all about finding balance between the two worlds - Jewish and Non-Jewish - and the tension that floats around that balance. This is something we deal with every single day (or at least *I* do) I think this holiday is among the very important festivals of the Jewish year.

I actually also think it has become important if for no other reason than it's the one holiday of ours that so many non-Jews know about.

And So I really do think it's important for Jews to light the menorah and display it prominently in their windows. I do think it's important that we display Chanukah decorations and sing Chanukah songs and tell everyone that we're Jewish in addition to being whatever else we might be (American, European, Asian, Gay, Straight, Man, Woman, Techy, Trekkie, Reading Nut, Athlete, Mets Fan, Yankees Fan, Mac User, PC User, whatever). This is a time to celebrate one's identities - and find meaning from them all.

I think that has always been very central to how Chanukah has been celebrated - and (people may think I'm nuts for this) - I think this has influenced the celebration and commercialization of Christmas very significantly. There certainly weren't any Xmas lights much before 100 years ago - but the Jews and Chanukah injected this concept of asserting (religious) identity into December - and I think that caught on. All those Xmas lights and songs and whatnot...may well have started with us and our candelabra that is to be displayed prominently in the window solely for decoration. There were menorahs in the window long before there were blinking lights on the neighbor's bushes.

Now for some Chanukah links...

Nuckin' Futz!

The boys at JibJab have put out a new animated movie that looks back on 2006. It really has been a weird year...

Friday, December 15, 2006


Hazon presents The Jew and the Carrot...a new Jewish blog about Jews, Food and Contemporary environmental issues.

Visit today - and subscribe to the RSS feed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Torahs Have Left The Building...

After 53 years, Congregation B'nai Israel in Fair Lawn, NJ closed yesterday. Well - technically 'closed' is the wrong word - we merged with the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.

Congregation B'nai Israel is the place where my Jewish journey began. In so many ways, it has been a second home for my family. My sisters and I were bat/bar mitzvah'ed there. I said Kaddish for my father there every day for a year back in high school. My parents were active members and volunteers - at one point, my father was on the board and my mother was the Sisterhood President. The men and women who ran that place have always been a lot like extended Uncles and Aunts. As I grew up, I took on some fun and interesting Jewish jobs...I led the Junior Congregation for a time...and more recently, I've been the shofar blower.

Back in the day, I remember two overflowing sanctuaries on the High Holidays (we had to rent an extra Rabbi). There were babysitting services, and there was Junior Congregation and Shabbat for Tots. The Hebrew School had a music teacher that every class would visit once a week. There was a totally awesome Purim carnival and dancing on Simchat Torah.

But in these last years, the shul had become a shadow of itself. The congregation has been dwindling and the financials have been in deficit. My family established an award in my father's memory, to be given to a graduating Hebrew School student every year. Things have been so bad, that for the last two years, there were *no students* in the graduating class - so we could not present it. Many factors led to the decline...Fair Lawn's Jewish population has been steadily becoming more Orthodox (there are a LOT of Orthodox shuls in town least 7 I think...) We have not been able to retain a Rabbi for more than a year or two - and sadly (I'm sorry gents if you're reading this), the last two were just not dynamic enough to attract young families. Years ago, B'nai Israel disassociated itself from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to save on dues - that was a mistake. B'nai Israel never switched over to become Egalitarian - that was a mistake. We never upgraded from the old Silverman siddurs, machzurs, and other religious books - again a mistake. And then there's just the competition factor - the other two Conservative shuls, Fair Lawn Jewish Center and Beth Shalom, had nicer buildings and more money.

When I heard that we were going to parade the Torahs from the old shul to the Fair Lawn Jewish Center building, I was expecting a sad, depressing day. I suppose it was sad, but more than that, it was really quite moving and uplifting. Hundreds of people showed up at B'nai Israel (from BOTH shuls) around noon Sunday. We took the Torahs out of the ark - many congregants were each given keters and yads and other Torah accoutrements to carry. Beautiful white Chuppas and lace umbrellas were opened and one or the other was held over each Torah courier. A trumpet player played traditional Jewish wedding music - right from the beginning it was clear that I had misread the day; this was no funeral march; it was the marriage of two congregations. The police closed off streets - as the whole congregation followed our Torahs out the door, into the roadway, and around the block.Several of the people who ran the shul all these years, the Gabbis, Ritual chairs and officers climbed onto a flatbed truck, holding the Torahs - and a procession of cars followed them in a parade across town. The police estimated over a hundred cars participated...I can't even begin to guess at the number of people who showed up...

So we arrived at our new shul. The Fair Lawn Jewish Center Torahs were taken out of their ark. There was dancing and singing...and suddenly there were no more CBI Torahs and FLJC Torahs - there were only "OUR" Torahs. Once they were put away, we heard some decent speeches by Rabbis and layleaders. Lots of FLJC people randomly approached CBI people to shake hands and say "welcome". The President of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center Lenny Kaufmann announced "This morning our ark was half empty. Now it is full."

Simon Says Santa...

Oh yeah! Once again this year, you can be the boss o' Santa.
Go to and give him some orders.

I recommend trying these:

do some pushups
pull down your pants
drink a beer
knock over the tree
kiss mrs. clause
do a split
moon me

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What he really thinks...

The folks at Saturday Night Live found the "special director cut" of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto.

See it here

More real than you thought

Did you know that Looney Tunes characters have skeletons?

Let's Eat!!

After many threats, New York City finally came through and banned most trans fats from restaurants!!!

This is really excellent.

Now if only the city would stop persecuting cyclists!

Equality in Conservative Judaism

Last week, Conservative Judaism authorized a law opinion that permits gay men and women to become Rabbis - and permits Rabbis to perform "commitment ceremonies" for gay couples. As one can imagine, this has been a very hot issue for many years. There's been much written about this all over the Jewish press and Jewish blogs - and there's little that I can add.

In short, I'll say that I view this as immensely positive.

Some reading on the topic:
Some more background about what happened last week:
Some resources:
Now if only the Boy Scouts would stop discriminating against gays!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Father where art thou?

This story is pretty bizarre. Gotta love that fake-clergy getup - it tricks people EVERY time.

Friday, December 1, 2006

The Ice Man Cometh

It's a winter wonderland today in Central Illinois. It's not so much that it snowed for 24 hours, it more like "iced".

Desperate to prove that I'm either dumb, crazy, or as we New Yorkers say "fearless" (and also because I left my laptop at work and could not work from the apartment), I ventured out to work. The office is of course closed. It's a huge complex - and entirely deserted except for me and a few brave and cold security and groundskeepers. (I wish I could post a picture of it, but I have this feeling that if I posted an image of this place - under any weather conditions - heck if I say the name of the company on this blog - they'll first shoot me and then fire me.) Truth be told, it looks a lot like I'm in the movie Fargo right now...there's no one around, and you can't tell the Earth from the sky.

There's a picture here of my neighbor Shawna cleaning her car (mine is on the right). She and I worked out there for the better part of 1 hour making them cars road-worthy... There was literally a 2 inch coating of solid ice over everything, and we immediately discovered that our ice-scrapers and snow brushes were entirely was like using plastic against a brick wall. This storm meant serious business.

So we were actually out there cleaning the cars with HAMMERS. Sadly, my mine took quite the beating - and didn't make it. Over the course of my wanderings in these last 5 years, I have spent entire winters commuting every week to some notoriously cold places - and I've experienced some serious winter weather. There was Sioux Falls and Minneapolis (yes that one's hard to forget: 36 straight days below zero...I remember the morning radio DJ announcing excitedly "Folks we're having a heat wave! It's 16 degrees warmer today than it was yesterday! But it is still below zero."), Toronto, Boston, and Chicago - and in all these places, I have never EVER needed to resort to "man-tools" in order to clean off a car before (and I've never broken anything either). Those big cold cities are nothin'! Bloomington has now won an extra special place in this road warrior's heart.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Nuclear Deterrent

So - in "the U.S. government's first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president" - we're apparently withholding cigarettes, motorcycles, jewelry, and mp3 players from Little Kim. Why do I think this is absurdly pointless?

Cubicle Warfare...

Now this product looks like fun. Quoting the website: "The arms race is on. The workplace has become a dangerous place, but once upon a time, it was all a laugh. Back in the day, your workmates chased each other with squirt-guns, then disc-guns. Everybody laughed when somebody brought in the harmless Airzooka. Gleefully, somebody brought in a marshmallow blaster.

Then it went kinda nuts. Sonic Grenades, catapults, lightsabers, ninjas... Suddenly, it was less about harmless fun. Suddenly, things got serious. Deadly serious. The day that the guy down the hall brought in the USB Missile Launcher was the day the gauntlet was thrown down [...]

This rocket launcher connects to your Windows 2000, XP or Vista machine via USB. Install the included software, plug in the Rocket Launcher, and with 360 degree horizontal rotation and 45 degree vertical rotation, the USB Rocket Launcher can fire over six meters, giving you coverage for over 113 square feet of your workspace."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

How to use a blog...

Well, here we are. I've finally joined the club and started a blog. (Did you know that there are 15,000 new blogs every day?!?)

I am the least consistent person I know...and I really have no idea how often I'll post anything or what exactly I'll talk about. I know enough to not post anything about work and I'll do my best not to reveal anything personal about the many wonderful (and some less than wonderful) people in my life lest all hell break loose. But my bookshelf has everything on it from Harry Potter to volumes of the Talmud to the Satanic Bible to trashy romance novels, books on business, personal finance, computer programming, and a bunch of children's books that I read periodically to keep me sane. My bedtime is different every night, and I can't say I have wake up at the same time either. I'll eat the exact same thing for breakfast for 12 days aside from 4 randomly dispersed days in the middle - and then I'll eat something different every day for 3 days - and then have no breakfast for 2 weeks. Similarly - I expect that there will be days when I post on here 9 times - and then go for a month without saying anything.

So - I do not recommend "visiting" this website often to check on me... (although of course you sure are welcome 'round here...) There's a much better way to deal with this blog and so many other blogs and websites out there. Subscribe to the RSS or ATOM feed! It's free. It's easy. And it will totally revolutionize the way you use the web. You just need to use a "Reader".

Almost every blog and (including this one!) and most news sites publish their content - and you can setup your reader to subscribe to "feeds" from those websites. You do not need to visit every one of your friends' blogs and every news site that you love to see if there's an important update. It's much easier to just open up your reader - and see at one glance if there's anything new you care about.

Being a news junky, I used to visit and 8 zillion times a day - but no longer. Now I subscribe to their RSS feeds here and here. Slate magazine has a really great page about RSS with some suggestions about Reader products to use, although I really don't think you need to download software when there are so many web-based Readers available that you can access from anywhere on any computer.

Definitely make sure you're using the latest version of your web browser - because all the major ones now have specific support for RSS. I use Firefox 2.0 and I recommend it highly to everyone, but the new Internet Explorer v7 isn't terrible either and neither is Safari. When you're using one of these browsers, and you click on an RSS or atom feed link like mine, you should automatically be prompted to subscribe in some special way. Firefox lets you setup a live bookmark - and it'll also give you the option to add it to the Google Mail Reader.

Here are some popular web-based "Readers": is what I use)

Whenever you're on a site that you like and you want to keep track of, look for their little orange "RSS" logo - or search for the word "subscribe" or "rss" or "feed'...and you should be able to find a link to it. If that doesn't work, it's possible that they haven't implemented RSS just yet. But before you give up, try the the website's home page with a "/feed" or a "/atom.xml" after it. (For example - most blogger-powered websites have a "atom.xml" feed which you can subscribe to, even if there isn't a link on the page. Hence, this site's feed is

You can also add RSS feeds to Gmail Web Clips

These sites are really useful for searching blogs:

Here's a screenshot of my Google Mail Reader: