Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Loss of a Giant

Many of my associates know that I am the beneficiary of a remarkable man's legacy. In 1858, Peter Cooper, a 67-year-old industrialist who was apparently always dismayed by his lack of formal education, founded a free college "for the Advancement of Science and Art." 140 years later, I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in engineering science and zero debt. Peter Cooper was an incredible combination of entrepreneur, visionary, and philanthropist, deserving of eternal praise.

Many would think that such a remarkable individual could only exist in centuries gone by. Surely, in our jaded times, nobody could do something similar? And yet, they'd be wrong.

Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander died yesterday at the age of 94. Since his 30s, this man did more in each decade of his life than most of us will do in our lifetimes. In 1971, after having already served as a high-profile pulpit rabbi, sociology professor, the dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate school at Yeshiva University, and policy advisor to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Presidents Johnson and Kennedy, he decided to put his studies in juvenile delinquency and youth crime to practical use by establishing low-tuition colleges for lower- and working-class students. 39 years later, Touro College spans some dozen or so colleges in at least four countries, serving tens of thousands of students, including several colleges that serve the specific needs of the Orthodox Jewish community, especially the "yeshivish" branch that would otherwise reject advanced secular studies. Until last year, Dr. Lander oversaw the entire operation and expansion of Touro as its president.

Touro tends to get slighted as a "lightweight" institution, but it was never intended to be a Harvard. It serves communities that might not otherwise have a chance to advance its youth, and it is a testament to a single person's analysis of a horrible social wrong and lifelong dedication to righting it. In an era of self-aggrandizement, this man dedicated his long life to bettering others with an energy and focus that is indescribable. His death is a loss for klal yisrael and all of humanity.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The catchup

It's been three years since I last had a post of any substance here. I guess before I start doing anything, I should at least give a quick summary as to where things stand right now:

Home Life
The Lovely Wife(tm) and I are now the proud parents of two incredibly beautiful, active, and mind-bogglingly stress-inducing boys:

We've traded the ever-shrinking one-bedroom apartment for the ever-shrinking and almost three times as expensive two-bedroom apartment

Fun Stuff
We've caught almost zero shows in the past few years, what with the no time and no money thing (see 1&2 above). Okay, "zero shows" for us is probably double that of what most of our friends see, but still. Going from 30+ shows a year to less than 5 is quite a slide.

Torah Learning
I've been participating in a semi-weekly gemara shiur led by one of my heroes' great-grandsons. We've made two siyumim in the past three years, although that rate is going to slow down considerably, as we're now learning bava metzia. At our current rate, I believe we'll be finished sometime in 2018 (the shiur's been ongoing for over 60 years now, so don't doubt that we'll make it).

I've also become addicted to yutorah as an online source of learning, particularly Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet's classes in History and Responsa Literature. I've gone through several hundred hours' worth of his courses, and am beyond grateful that he has allowed his work to be made publicly available.

Aliyah plans
It hurts too much to even talk about right now.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Could there really be signs of life here?...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

So now you know

After some ten years' worth of experience on this here internet, I have learned that there is no question so esoteric, so obscure, so bizarre, that there isn't someone out there that wants to know the answer. Similarly, the vastness of the virtual world all but guarantees that there will be someone out there whose interests are sufficiently esoteric, etc. that he or she will have the answer. In that spirit, I would like to inform whomever wishes to know that the answer to the question of:
"Is the precise moment when you're walking down a hill, wheeling your son's stroller with one hand, carrying your freshly-drycleaned suit in the other, and talking to your Lovely Wife(tm) on the cellphone held in the crook of your shoulder a REALLY ANNOYING TIME for you shoelace to come undone?" is "yes, it is."

No, don't thank me. I'm just doing my bit to increase worldwide education.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Me, me, meme!

Well, when a multi-JIB award winner tags you with a meme, you can't just ignore it. Well, maybe you can, but then you'd miss out on the opportunity to burnish your already-glistening nerd credentials by mentioning that "meme" is one of 126 new four-letter words now legal for Scrabble play, and we can't have that, now, can we?

Okay, on to the A-Z meme:

Accent: Noo Yawk, with a few wrinkles (my mother's sister is my "ahnt," f'rinstance). Hebrew accent: very guttural sepharadit, although I had more than one Israeli cabbie think I was French (insert crude Francophobe joke of the day here)
Booze: Wine, religiously (in the sense of "kiddush," not the sense of "regularly," thank you). The occasional beer (Sam Smith's taddy porter, imperial stout, or oatmeal stout; Guinness; Sam Adams; the dark stuff at McSorley's), and a margarita once in a blue moon (Rainie Cole at Rose's Turn whips up a mean one). There's a few bottles of dinner wine in the apartment that I really need to open already (our place maintains an ambient temperature between 2 and 3 gazillion degrees; not quite ideal wine-cellar conditions), including the Gush Etzion Cabernet Sauvignon that I had a tasting and was very impressed with.
Chore I hate: None more so than any other; I tend to ignore 'em all equally.
Dogs: Hello? Lifelong Manhattan apartment-dweller here! I don't mind them, but never had one, and really never considered changing that.
Essential Electronics: My palm pilot before it died, after which I decided the heck with this, and went back to pen and paper. I might be able to live without my Mac, but it and its predecessors have been with me for nearly 20 years, so I'd hate to try.
Favorite Perfume/Cologne: Um, did you not see the "straight" part on the blog title? Arrid extra-dry deodorant. When Jupiter and Venus are in conjunction, and The Lovely Wife(tm) insists on my going all-out, I might clear the cobwebs off the bottle of Old Spice in the bathroom cabinet, open it, and say "nah."
Gold & Silver: Left hand, ring finger. Worn for sixty-five months straight, and, G-d willing, never coming off except for washing. That's it.
Hometown: Washington Heights, New York (the realtors can try calling it "Hudson Heights" or "Upper Manhattan" or whatever else they want - I know where I came from, and I'll never be ashamed of it).
Insomnia: I've got a seven-month-old who's started teething. 'nuff said
Job Title: Quality Manager
Kids: Aforementioned teething seven-month-old
Living arrangements: The ever-shrinking one-bedroom apartment.
Most Admired Trait: Ability to get along with people from every conceivable (and most inconceivable) background.
Number of Speed Dials in your cell phone: Twenty, of which I call three with any regularity. Isn't entering those things a pain?
Overnight Hospital Stays: One for myself, when I conked myself on the head in second grade and got a concussion (my sister still thinks I did it to take attention away from her kindergarten birthday party). Once as a volunteer, keeping a young Yemenite boy with leukemia company.
Phobia: I'm terrified that I might stop dreaming some day.
Quote: Million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten (Terry Pratchett)
Religion: (singing at the top of his lungs) oh, gimme some of that old-time... (looks around, quiets down)... No, I won't tell you; try to figure it out.
Siblings: Younger sis, younger bro.
Time I usually wake up: 5:00am, and that was even before baby 'frex came on the scene.
Unusual talent: can simultaneously roll and fold my tongue. Can sing showtunes in Hebrew, confounding and astounding piano bar patrons.
Vegetable I refuse to eat: Broccoli. George Bush Sr. and I don't agree on much, but we got that much in common.
Worst Habit: Cannot keep my life in any sort of organization.
X-rays: Dental, and I think I got one when I had back pain a few years back. The one on my head (see the "O" section above) showed nothing (bah-dum-bum-BOOM!)
Yummy foods I make: Fruit tarts, focaccia, lemon-rosemary sorbet, seriously garlicky potatoes, and poached salmon. Dang, now I'm hungry...
Zany idea: Have the little TVs that they put on those gym treadmills controlled by how fast you go and how long you stay on, so that if you only go 3 miles an hour, you can only get C-SPAN, but if you keep up a good pace, you can get HBO.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Post Shoah Posts

Yesterday was yom hashoah, the holocaust memorial day, and fans of the Jewish blogs should not be surprised as to how we chose to commemorate. David over at treppenwitz gave a wonderfully poignant post (get the tissues ready before you read) on one man's story of survival, while dovbear links to an insider-joke satirical piece. Me? I caught a show.

Well, not an entertainment piece. My shul (synagogue) put on a staged reading of Address Unknown, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor's powerful short epistolary novel describing the rise of the Nazi movement and its devastating effect on two men. I found the staging to be generally effective, but I thought that the most powerful sight of the evening was before the first line of the show was even said. Prior to beginning, the two performers lit six candles in the middle of the stage (a long-standing practice at Mt. Sinai, commemorating the six million Jews killed). Immediately, an elderly man sitting near me, a genial neighborhood dentist with a practice probably going back forty years or more, starting quietly sobbing in his seat, his face wracked in indescribable pain. Address Unknown has an incredibly powerful ending (I sat numb the first time I read the novel's last page), but it was the start of this performance, and that man's look of devastation, that I will carry with me.

There's no shortage of "phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes" imagery used to describe the post-holocaust revitalization of Judaism. Zionists point to the state of Israel, the "ultra-orthodox" point to their ever-expanding population growth and thriving yeshivas, and secular Jews point to the prominence of proud Jews in prominent positions in the worlds of art, science, politics, and what-have-you. To me, though, a most fascinating look at how far we've come came from yesterday's news. When the Satmar Rebbe, the leader of a generally isolationist chassidic sect, died last Monday, thousands of mourners flocked to Kiryas Joel, a major Satmar enclave. The Times Herald-Record reports, that, to keep traffic moving and ensure the safety of those attending:
... the funeral procession was led by New York City police to the Yonkers-Bronx border, where state police took over the escort... At the first word of the rebbe's death, first responders fanned out to staging areas throughout Southern Orange County... State police, the sheriff, the county executive and other top officials had begun to gather in the county's Emergency Operations Center by 9 p.m. to coordinate the response... Firefighters and emergency medical technicians mustered at firehouses and ambulance garages in the Monroe area.

Two generations ago, in an advanced and civilized nation, police officers and public officials tormented, tortured, and killed religious Jews. Yesterday, a group of Jews who are far more "outsider" than those in Germany and Poland, received service and protection from officials and officers who will never understand their ways, yet strive to protect their ability to keep them. It's become traditional to ask G-d to bless America during the seventh inning stretch of baseball games, but there's no question that He's already blessed us who are here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Matzah, Matzah, Man

Ugh... two sedarim and about forty tons of unleavened bread going through the digestive system make for a very sleep-deprived Efrex.

Baby 'frex is now consistently rolling from his back to his front, which I suppose after the three thousandth time will cease to elicit squealing, cheering, and serious consideration of future Nobel prizes, but hasn't just yet.

Y'know, I'm almost hoping the Mets start losing, so that we can have decent conversations in the office again. We're so scared of jinxing the current winning streak that we've hardly talked baseball at all. This is a very dangerous thing, as it means that now I can start talking Scrabble with Richie. When we're not working through the legal anagrams for "sedarim1" (itself a legal word, by the way), we're busy yakking it up about the nutjobs who play this game. Someday, I guess I'll get back into working on my competitive skills; I'm still on the club email list, and it's interesting to see people who I know get better and better (one guy whom I've played twice looks to be getting ready to jump into the "big head" division at the club, and a couple of other people have been placing regularly at the top of the weekly tournament ranks). They handed my you-know-what to me when last I played 'em over a year ago; I shudder to think about how I'd fare against 'em now.

1SIDEARM, MISREAD, and ADMIRES, in case you were wondering.