Thursday, September 24, 2015

Learn Something Online in the New Year

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are holidays of transformation. Many rabbis encourage congregants to use the High Holy Days as a time of reflection and personal growth. In sermons, rabbis speak of mending fences and healing fractured relationships, improving your outlook on life and making a difference in the world. This past Rosh Hashanah, however, I decided to talk about transformation in terms of taking on something new.

Rather than preaching about the importance of being a better person in the coming year -- something I've certainly spoken a lot about in Rosh Hashanah sermons past -- this year I decided to give some practical advice to the congregation. My message was that is never too late to transition to something different.

A generation ago it was commonplace for people to stay in the same profession and even the same job for a lifetime. By the time they retired they felt it was too late to start something new and different. Today's generation is less static and more flexible. That doesn't mean simply having the courage to transition from one profession to another. It can mean taking on a new hobby, going back to school or even launching that company you always dreamed about.

No matter how old you are or how comfortable you are with your status quo, I encourage you to consider taking on something new in the new Jewish year of 5776. Whether you're interested in learning a new language, taking a cooking class or learning to read Torah, the necessary resources are available today thanks to the power of the Internet. Of course it takes a commitment and no matter how busy you are these days, time will never stand still to allow you to take that class without making a sacrifice.

Technology today makes learning a new skill or hobby so much easier. Never before in human history has the access to education been so readily available. Reliable online classes are everywhere. Khan Academy can teach you new skills and YouTube videos can teach you new hobbies. You can get that master’s degree online that you probably thought was out of reach at this stage in your life. In the Digital Age, it's possible to simply take a walk every evening and learn a new language along the way. Listening to educational podcasts during your commute to work can be rewarding and provide you with the proficiency to transition to a new career.

Here are some recommendations for transformation and educational growth in the new Jewish year thanks to modern technology:

With the evolution of the Web and mobile apps, being able to write code has never been more in demand. Coding isn't just for young college students; it is an ideal skill for retirees as you can work from home. One Code Academy student went from knowing nothing about coding to building one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reboot's 10Q Project for Yom Kippur

Over the past few months, I've been fielding a lot of questions about atonement in the Digital Age. Everyone wants to know if it's kosher to simply post a general apology on Facebook and call it a day. In the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I talked about whether we can we adequately perform teshuvah (repentance) before Yom Kippur using social networks like Facebook and Twitter? I was quoted in a Jewish News Service ( article about Yom Kippur atonement in 140 characters or less.

This is nothing new. We've been discussing whether text messages, social media updates and tweets are viable forms of performing repentance during the Jewish High Holidays since they became available forms of communication. These same questions came about after the telephone, fax machine and email were invented. I maintain that for real repentance to be performed we have to seek out individuals. If face-to-face communication isn't a possibility, than using any form of modern communication will suffice, but generic posts on social networks just doesn't cut it.

Yom Kippur - Twitter - Atonement - Rabbi Jason Miller

While technology might not have revolutionized how we Jews perform repentance, there have been some wonderful technology-related contributions to the spiritual experience during these Days of Awe. One of my favorite innovations is Reboot's 10Q project.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Iran Nuclear Deal Divided Our Jewish Community: A Tochecha for our Discourse

The following is the sermon I delivered on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 2015/5776 at Congregation B'nai Israel in Toledo, Ohio.

A new rabbi comes to a well-established congregation. Each week on Shabbat, a fight erupts during the service. When it comes time to recite the Shema, half the congregation stands and the other half sits. The half that stands say, "Of course we stand for the Shema. It’s the credo of Judaism.

Throughout history, thousands of Jews have died with the words of the Shema on their lips." The half that remains seated say, "No. According to the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, if you are seated when you get to the Shema you remain seated."

The people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, "Stand up!" while the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing, "Sit down!" It’s destroying the whole decorum of the service and it’s driving the new rabbi crazy. Finally, it’s brought to the rabbi’s attention that at a nearby home for the aged is a 98-year-old man who was a founding member of the congregation. So, in accordance with Talmudic tradition, the rabbi appoints a delegation of three, one who stands for the Shema, one who sits, and the rabbi himself, to go interview the man. They enter his room, and the man who stands for the Shema rushes over to the old man and says, "Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to stand for the Shema?"

"No," the old man answers in a weak voice. "That wasn’t the tradition."

The other man jumps in excitedly. "Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to sit for the Shema?"
"No," the old man says. "That wasn’t the tradition."

At this point, the rabbi cannot control himself. He cuts in angrily. "I don’t care what the tradition was! Just tell them one or the other. Do you know what goes on in services every week — the people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing."

"That was the tradition," the old man says.

This is a joke, of course, but, these days, I can commiserate with the rabbi. In 2015, it's sadly become the tradition that half of the Jewish community is arguing with the other half; they’re talking past each other, and this heated debate has got me as frustrated as the rabbi in the story.

This past summer, the discourse in the American Jewish community over the Iran Nuclear deal has been horribly gut-wrenching. I have found myself cringing at the battles that have been waged -- Jew vs. Jew. The rhetoric has been cruel, venomous and downright dangerous to the future vitality of our Jewish community.

The NY Times reported that the attacks on Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat of New York, since he announced his support for the nuclear accord with Iran have been so vicious that the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Anti-Defamation League both felt compelled this week to publicly condemn Jewish voices of hate.

On the other side, three Jewish Democrats in the House who oppose the deal released a joint statement denouncing “ad hominem attacks and threats” against not only supporters like Mr. Nadler but also Jewish opponents, who have been accused of “dual loyalties” and treason.

Greg Rosenbaum, the chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said, “We are on the verge of fratricide in the Jewish community, and it has to stop. He noted that there are Jews avoiding organizational meetings, and even religious services, simply to avoid discussing Iran.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Bruce Jenner and My Father-In-Law: Transition and Transformation

The summer of 1984 was my first exposure to the mega-international sporting event known as the Summer Olympic Games. At eight-years-old, it was the summer of American patriotic pride and athletic world domination for the United States. My favorite athlete that summer was Carl Lewis, but I also remember my parents pointing to the athlete in the tank top and long hair running with the Olympic torch and telling me about the great Bruce Jenner, who famously won the gold medal in the Decathlon event of the 1976 Summer Olympics eight years earlier. Of course I was already familiar with Bruce Jenner because I was an avid player of the Apple II computer game, Olympic Decathlon, in which Jenner was a character.

Transformation of Caitlyn Jenner

To say 2015 was a year of transition and transformation for Bruce Jenner would be quite the understatement. The famous Olympic athlete who became a reality TV star seemed to transition from male to female in front of us all. The legendary American male athlete Bruce Jenner will be known to my children's generation only as the woman Caitlyn Jenner. With the popularity of such TV shows as Amazon's Transparent, transsexuals are becoming more accepted in our society. Jenner's decision to begin transitioning to a woman must have been extremely difficult and, while her transformation was extreme, she still serves as a wonderful example for us all during the upcoming Days of Awe, a time of transformation.

Jenner's lesson is that it is never too late to transition into something different. A generation ago it was commonplace for people to stay in the same profession and even the same job for a lifetime. By the time they retired they felt it was too late to start something new and different. Today's generation is less static and more flexible. That doesn't mean simply having the courage to transition from one profession to another. It can mean taking on a new hobby, going back to school or even launching that company that has only existed in your dreams.

My father-in-law is a prime example of someone having the courage to transform. He spent his entire adult life working as an Ophthalmologist, but a few years ago he jumped headfirst into a very active retirement phase of his life. Rather than hanging up his lab coat and parking himself in front of the television or simply playing golf every day, he registered for a handful of art classes. Almost three years later he has transitioned into a very impressive artist. He's busier now than he was as a physician as his weeks are overloaded with classes and significant art projects to complete.

Continue reading on the Rabbis Without Borders blog at

Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to School Tech: Technology Gadgets for College Students

The college students of yesteryear packed their laptop computer and a graphing calculator when they went off to school in late August. Today's tech-focused coeds take a large array of tech gadgets with them to campus. From Bluetooth speakers and keyboards to drones, fitness wearables and Go-Pro cameras, the 21st century undergrad makes Elroy Jetson look like Pebbles Flintstone. This back-to-school tech list has both the practical and the just plain fun gadgets for those headed off to academies of higher learning who are desiring high tech.

Parrot Bebop Drone: A drone might not be a required device to pack for college, but it will certainly be a fun, attention-catching toy for a creative college student. This compact, durable, easy-to-use quadcopter is great for capturing overhead video and photos. The Parrot Bebop is one of the most popular recreational use drones on the market and its small and lightweight enough for out-of-the-box usage. The Bebop's camera has been improved from previous drone models and has a 180-degree angle of view with a 14-megapixel sensor. The Bebop can be piloted with a smartphone or tablet. With a GNSS chipset with GPS, Glonass and Galileo built in, the Bebop will return to its take-off location on its own and hover in place 2 meters above the ground. It can reach speeds of around 45 mph. You'll have to recharge the Bebop's battery often between flights, but it will be fun to capture video footage on beautiful fall days from high above the campus.

Priced: $499

Ultimate Ears UE ROLL: Everyone knows college students love their music and they have to be able to take it with them. In 2015, no one is shlepping a heavy stereo to the park to play Ultimate Frisbee, but simply putting on your favorite playlist on your cellphone won't be loud enough either. The UE ROLL from Ultimate Ears plays your music loud in every direction. This is the most powerful, yet small wireless Bluetooth speaker. For added sound you can double up with a second UE ROLL or use one of Ultimate Ears' other Bluetooth speakers like the UE MEGABOOM. This comes with a downloadable mobile app for remote on/off and custom wake up settings.

Priced: $99.99

Friday, August 21, 2015

Does Facebook Lead to Depression?

For the past few years I've been reading a lot about what's become known as "Facebook Depression." When an old friend who has since moved out of town came to visit and told me she had deactivated her Facebook account (I hadn't noticed), I asked why. She explained that she and her husband had been struggling to have another baby and seeing so many posts from her friends announcing they were pregnant was enough to drive her insane. Rather than endure the abundance of joyful posts of healthy ultrasound images and photos of pregnant bellies and newborn smiles, she simply pulled the plug on her Facebook account. What follows is my recent article on the so called "Facebook Depression" in the Detroit Jewish News:

In 2004 when Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg started The Facebook he never imagined that ten years later there would be over 1 billion users on the social networking site. He also never imagined that it would be painfully difficult for him and his wife to see the happy photos uploaded to the site of their peers smiling with their newborn babies.

On July 31, Zuckerberg made a public post to Facebook announcing that he and his wife Priscilla Chan were expecting a child. While nothing would be unusual about such an announcement on Facebook – they occur every day – the Facebook founder and CEO elaborated on the challenges the couple endured in sustaining a healthy pregnancy.

“Priscilla and I have some exciting news: we're expecting a baby girl!” Zuckerberg continued, “We want to share one experience to start. We've been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way… It's a lonely experience. Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you -- as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own... When we started talking to our friends, we realized how frequently this happened -- that many people we knew had similar issues and that nearly all had healthy children after all. We hope that sharing our experience will give more people the same hope we felt and will help more people feel comfortable sharing their stories as well.”

It’s entirely possible that that Zuckerberg and Chan were suffering from what has been labeled as “Facebook Depression.” In their dark days of suffering through the emotional pain of their miscarriages, we can only assume that using the social network that he created became something of a torturous activity. Scanning through dozens of joyous memory-filled photos on Facebook of friends’ children likely had negative effects on their well-being. Each status announcement that rose to the top of their Facebook Newsfeed broadcasting another pregnancy or birth or milestone reminded this famous couple of their inability to sustain a pregnancy and produce a viable offspring – one they undoubtedly looked forward to showing off on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why This Rabbi Appreciates Gangsta Rap

‘Straight Outta Compton’ and Black Lives Matter

When I was supposed to be learning Torah trope in my bedroom at 12 years old in preparation for my bar mitzvah, I would often sneakily substitute the audio cassette of my cantor singing the musical notes with a cassette of Run DMC, Ice-T, the Beastie Boys or Sugar Hill Gang. A few years later I would discover one of my favorite rap groups, N.W.A. Of course, my parents weren’t thrilled that the music CDs I was playing in my car contained the infamous “Parental Advisory – Explicit Content” stickers, but most of my driving at that age was back and forth to the synagogue for Jewish youth group events so they let it slide.

Rabbi Jason Miller with O'Shea Jackson, Jr. who plays his father Ice Cube in the movie

I continued to enjoy the Gangsta Rap genre into college, adding Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Geto Boys and Warren G to my typical mix of Ice Cube, Eazy E and Dr. Dre. However, when I headed off to New York City for rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary I left my rap CDs at home. It just didn’t feel right to be listening to the explicit lyrics that many consider misogynistic and pro-violence while studying Torah and Talmud in a seminary. My love for Gangsta Rap seemed to dissipate in the ensuing years as I became a rabbi and started a family.

Last month I realized that my love for Gangsta Rap had just been put on hold. I was invited to a private advance screening of the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” at a local theater outside of Detroit. I invited a few different friends to attend the screening with me, but they were either busy or not interested. So, I called my father and he accepted the invitation. I cautioned him that the movie would contain the same explicit music I listened to in high school that he had frowned against. He understood, but was willing to give the film a chance.

The theater was packed with local media, music critics, hip hop executives and members of Detroit’s black community. The folding chairs at the front of the theater would be occupied following the film by Ice Cube, a founding member of N.W.A. and a producer of the film; his son Oshea Jackson, Jr., who plays him in the biopic; the director F. Gary Gray; a couple of the other actors and rapper Big Sean, who would be the moderator of the post screening discussion. I hadn’t been this excited to watch a new film in a very long time.

Continue Reading on the Rabbis Without Borders blog at

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why We Must Take Voting for Judges Seriously

The Torah portion called Shoftim, the Hebrew word for judges, is always read at the beginning of the new month of Elul. The Torah portion begins with a mitzvah -- the commandment instructing us to "appoint judges." Although we still have some time before Elul, the month which commences the period of introspection before the autumn High Holidays, I've been reflecting a lot on the role judges play in our society and our responsibility to appoint them to uphold the law and to render sensible decisions.

Over the past week I've come to realize that electing judges can be even more important than voting for our state representatives and school board officials. In Oakland County, Michigan, where I live and work, Judge Lisa Gorcyca was first elected to the 6th Circuit Court back in 2008. Last November she ran unopposed and won another six-year term that began on January 1, 2015. I didn't know much about Judge Gorcyca, and like most citizens of Oakland County, I filled in the bubble with my pen in the voting booth and didn't think much of it. After all, I had no alternative but to vote for her.

Judge Lisa Gorcyca - Michigan Divorce Battle

As a judge in the Family Division, Judge Gorcyca has been dealing with a messy custody case for several years. The divorced couple -- both native Israeli Jews who immigrated to Michigan -- have been battling it out in court over the custody of their three young children. The ex-wife alleges domestic abuse and the children have refused to have any relationship with their father, who has been back in Israel lately for business matters together with his new wife and infant child. Last month, Judge Gorcyca sent the couple's three children to a juvenile detention facility (and ordered they must be kept separate from each other while there) after they refused her court order to have a loving relationship with their estranged father. In essence, the judge held three minors in contempt of court for choosing to not speak to their father, whom they claim was physically abusive to their mother.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Jon Stewart and Jon Hamm Make a Minyan (or Minion)

Jon Hamm was the guest on last night's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. Hamm came on to plug his new movie "Minions" and things got about as Jewish as they ever have on The Daily Show.

Jon Stewart opened the dialogue by telling Jon Hamm what he assumed Minions is about: "Here's what I hope this movies about, okay? Nine Jewish men looking for a tenth so they they may celebrate Shabbos!"

Hamm then offers up that he knows the common English transliteration of the Hebrew is actually spelled "minyan."

The two go back and forth riffing on the minyan-minion pun, with Jon Stewart offering to be the designated "minyan maker" in a road movie saying that he'd go around to groups of nine Jewish men saying "What do you want some tefillin?" and "I'm the Minyan Man!"

The minyan pun on the animated characters called minions is nothing new. Back in January I was in Las Vegas outside Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino and took a photo with two minions, posting it on Facebook with the caption, "If you need to say Kaddish, it's not difficult to find minions in Vegas!"

minions minyan - jewish group of minions for prayer

With the Minions movie about to be released, there are a lot of other minyan-minions images circulating on the Web. Here are a few:

minions minyan - jewish group of minions for prayer

Jon Hamm is not Jewish, although his long time girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt is Jewish through her mother, meaning their children would be counted in a minyan along with Jon Stewart. So, if you're looking for a minyan (or minions), just ask Jon Hamm or Jon Stewart!

Watch Jon Stewart and Jon Hamm mix it up here:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Positive Side of Social Media in High School

Social Media gets a bad name when it comes to teens. Countless stories exist of teens using social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter to bully, shame and insult their peers. We've heard of students shaming each other with unbelievably mean comments on each other's Facebook and Instagram photos. Even kids in middle school have been found to be "sexting" each other. All of these stories would lead adults to think that a complete ban of social networks is the only answer to end the negative effects of social media when it comes to our children and teens.

And then a wonderful story emerges that highlights the power of social media. A high school graduate named Konner Sauve found a way to exploit Instagram for good. During Konner's senior year at East Valley High School in Washington, he decided he would post photos of every student in his high school onto an anonymous Instagram account. In the caption of each photo Konner posted how he felt about the person.

Conner Sauve - Instragram
Conner Sauve, a high school senior in Washington used Instragram to praise his classmates

Konner wanted to give some encouragement to each teen at his high school. He wrote positive, uplifting and motivational messages. If he didn't know the student personally, he did some research in the yearbook to find out if they played a sport, were in theater or had other interests. In the end, Konner posted 657 photos to an anonymous Instagram account he called "thebenevolentone3."