Friday, May 27, 2016

Honoring a Homeless Woman Who Died in a Hit and Run

In Judaism, one of our most important mitzvot (commandments) is what is known in Hebrew as chesed shel emet. Loosely translated as dignity for the deceased, we Jews believe that every human being deserves to be buried back in the earth with respect and honor.

In my twelve years as an ordained rabbi I have had the chance to fulfill this commandment countless times by officiating at funerals. This past week was the most unique funeral I have ever been a part of and it was also one of the most meaningful examples of chesed shel emet.

Over a month ago I received a phone call from a Christian funeral home in Mount Clemens, Michigan. While Mount Clemens had a Jewish community a couple of generations ago, I don't believe there any Jewish people living there now. The funeral director, Michael Kolb, told me that he had an unusual case of a Jewish woman who died and asked if I would officiate at the funeral in Port Huron. I knew this was an odd situation because according to Jewish custom, we bury our deceased immediately after death meaning that most funerals I officiate take place a day or two after I'm called. In this situation, Mr. Kolb asked me if I was available for a funeral a month later.

He then explained the situation to me. It turned out that a homeless woman named Eleanor Denise Smith was killed in a hit and run accident in Port Huron last year. She had identification in her belongings, but without confirmation from a family member, investigators couldn't positively identify her. After someone mentioned that they knew her from San Francisco, a chest X-ray from there was found in late November, providing a positive identification.

Kolb did some research and found that Smith's mother was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Port Huron. Port Huron also once had a small Jewish community, but now there are only a handful of Jews left and the cemetery doesn't even sell burial plots anymore. Kolb wanted to do the right thing and bury Smith beside her mother at the Jewish cemetery in Port Huron.

Before Smith was positively identified as a Jewish woman, her body was given to Kolb's funeral home in January and cremated there. Kolb then launched a GoFundMe fundraising campaign in February to raise the funds to bury Smith with her mother. After a few days there wasn't much money raised, however, following an article in the Times Herald donations began pouring in and finally reached $2,880.

The funeral services for Eleanor Denise Smith were held this past Wednesday at Mount Sinai Cemetery in Port Huron. Close to twenty people, all of them strangers to Smith, gathered around the grave site for the burial. Since there were no relatives in attendance, I began the eulogy by explaining that our community and everyone gathered around the graveside are the family of Eleanor Denise Smith. I explained how we were each fulfilling the commandment of chesed shel emet and ensuring that one of God's children returned to the earth with dignity. I feel honored to have been able to have a small part in ensuring that Eleanor Denise Smith had the funeral that she deserved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Holocaust Survivor Sings National Anthem at Detroit Tigers Game

It's not unusual for a big name celebrity to sing the National Anthem at a Detroit Tigers' home game at Comerica Park if it's the Postseason. I've heard the Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Zooey Deschanel, Demi Lovato and several others during the playoffs. However, when it's a regular season game, the National Anthem is usually sung by someone local who has a good voice. This can be a military veteran, a local cantor, a school choir or even the cast of a local stage performance (the cast of Mitch Albom's "Hockey, the Musical" sang the National Anthem before a Tigers home game last week.

Across town at Joe Louis Arena, the Detroit Red Wings don't invite anyone to sing the National Anthem. Singer Karen Newman has had a lock on that job at Red Wings games for over 20 years. The fans love Karen Newman's rendition and the players consider it a good luck charm before games.

Perhaps the most famous rendition of the National Anthem was by Jose Feliciano, who set off a firestorm when he performed his own soulful arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner at Detroit's Tiger Stadium before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. He had been invited by Tigers' broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell and many around the nation were outraged by his rendition. Harwell stood up for Feliciano and the two became lifelong friends.

It's unusual for the National Anthem at a sporting event to get much media attention unless something goes horribly wrong like the singer is off key, forgets a line, inserts a different word or trips on the way out to the field or court. Whitney Houston's Super Bowl rendition garnered national attention because it was so beautiful, but that is unique. This past Saturday afternoon's rendition of the National Anthem before a Detroit Tigers' home game at Comerica Park has been covered by CNN, People Magazine and a host of other media outlets -- and for good reason.

Hermina Hirsch with Detroit Tigers mascot "Paws"
Hermina Hirsch with Detroit Tigers mascot "Paws"

Holocaust survivor Hermina Hirsch, age 89, had singing the National Anthem before a Detroit Tigers game on her bucket list for many years. She's a native of Czechoslovakia and has been a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. When Hermina was was only 17-years-old, her family members were sent to different concentration camps. She and her older sister were shuffled between five concentration camps, including Auschwitz, before finally being liberated in January 1945. Hermina has lived in Metro Detroit for over 60 years and currently lives in Southfield.

Before the Tigers' season began in April, Hermina's family, including her granddaughter Stacey Hirsch, with whom I attended Bloomfield Hills Andover High School, began a social media campaign to get the Detroit Tigers organization to invite Hermina to sing the National Anthem before a home game. A few people, including Stacey's cousin Amy Gantz Gers, asked me for help and I was glad to get the word out on my social networks and also suggested the names of two executives in the Tigers organization who might be able to expedite the request. After the local Detroit news media picked up on the story, as well as a few national media outlets, the Tigers acted quickly to invite Hermina to sing the National Anthem.

Hermina was escorted to the game this past Saturday at Comerica Park against the Tampa Bay Rays by her husband Bernard Hirsch of 69 years (who is also a big Tigers fan) and other members of her family. She did a wonderful job singing the National Anthem and the Tigers got a big win, beating the Rays 5-4 with home runs by Cameron Maybin, James McCann and J.D. Martinez. After the game Hermina told CBS Detroit News, "At my age, I figure that this would do it. I don’t want to die before I sing at a baseball game."

Hermina Hirsch sings the National Anthem before Detroit Tigers game

Even People Magazine picked up the story and included a photo of Hermina by my friend Jorge Lemus. Unfortunately no one at People Magazine caught the error in the magazine stating it was a Detroit Lions game rather than a Tigers game! Oh well, the bottom line is that Hermina Hirsch can cross this momentous experience off her bucket list.

Friday, May 20, 2016

LL Cool J is a Good Friend to the Jews

I just read an article in the Jewish Journal about a recent appearance that rap legend LL Cool J made at a benefit for The Ulmer Institute. The article, titled "LL Cool J discusses his Jewish friends, Israel and more," includes an interview LL Cool J gave at the event.

Rap Legend LL Cool J with Rabbi Jason Miller
LL Cool J with Rabbi Jason Miller

The event Wednesday night supported TUI, which focuses on treating, researching and training around trauma relief for using methodologies developed by Israeli psychiatrists. Its founder, Faith Central Bible Church Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, is a friend of LL Cool J, who served as an honorary host of the event.

I'm not at all surprised that LL has been getting more involved with the Jewish community, Black-Jewish relations, and that he expressed interest in visiting Israel soon. I had the chance to shmooze with him a few years ago and he told me then that he was hoping to get to Israel soon.

LL Cool J even offered a "L'chayim" greeting to me on video:

Here is the complete interview with the Jewish Journal:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Advice for Rabbis Giving Advice to Bar and Bat Mitzvah Teens

The first time I officiated at a bar mitzvah was when I was the visiting rabbi at a young congregation in Virginia during my senior year of rabbinical school. I was a 27-year-old without children and not quite sure what to say to a 13-year-old Jewish teen. My wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was tirelessly trying to determine what advice I'd have for this yet-to-be-born child, let alone come up with some meaningful words of a wisdom for a teenager. I tried to channel what my own rabbi had said to countless bar mitzvah boys and bat mitzvah girls over the years as I sat in that congregation.

I don't recall exactly what I said to that young man in Virginia, but it was likely a trite bar mitzvah charge in which I said he's the future of the Jewish people, and I encouraged him to continue his Jewish education and the performance of God's mitzvot (commandments) as he walks humbly in God's presence... or something uber-rabbinic like that.

Rabbi Jason Miller giving words of advice to a bar mitzvah boy in January 2004

I reflected on that moment last week after seeing a question that came through one of the rabbi discussion groups to which I'm subscribed. A first-time congregational rabbi asked what other rabbis like to say when they have that special moment to speak personally to the bar or bat mitzvah toward the end of Shabbat services. Some rabbis chimed in that they try to focus on what a wonderful job the bat mitzvah did of preparing for the day and how well she performed. Other rabbis suggested praising the bar mitzvah for his mitzvah project and congratulating them for taking the time to perform this act of charity. These are all kind and meaningful sentiments to offer to these Jewish teens on the biggest day of their lives thus far, but the more I thought about it the more I considered that we rabbis should take a different approach to speaking to the bar and bat mitzvah teens who stand in front of us during what might be the most impressionable period in their lives.

Friday, May 13, 2016

2016 Graduation Gift Guide - Tech Edition

For the past several years at this time of the year I've put together technology gift guides for "Grads and Dads." It made sense since "dads" rhymes with "grads" and, after all, Father's Day does always fall around graduation time. This year I've realized that the tech gifts that an 18-year-old high school graduate or a college grad might like are not necessarily the same that your 60-something-year-old dad would want for Father's Day. So, I've gone through hundreds of offerings and put together two separate lists of amazing gifts -- one for the grads and one for our dads.

Today's high school and college graduates are difficult to buy tech gifts for. This is the generation that has grown up with their own smartphones and tablets. They don't know what it's like to ride in a car without GPS and texting their friends from their Apple Watch has become second nature. There are some ideal gifts for this cohort when you consider they care about style, enjoy listening to their music everywhere and they love taking and sharing photos.

Featured: HP Envy Curved All-in-One - This is the ideal all-in-one computer for the incoming college student or the recent college grad. There's not enough space in this article to fully explain how cool this product is, but I'm guessing that HP named it the Envy because the graduate who gets one of these as a graduation gift will be the envy of her friends. This model is the world's widest curved all-in-one PC and its 34-inch diagonal curved display will truly impress. As if the display isn't enough, the state-of-the-art audio by Bang & Olufsen turns this all-in-one into a rockin' entertainment system with dynamic sound. With a 6th generation Intel Core processor, up to 16GB of RAM, the Intel RealSense 3D Camera and NVIDIA GeForce 960A graphics, this is a powerful computer for a dorm room or first home. Available with Intel Core i5 or i7.  $1,649.99 (i5)

Hurom HK Slow Juicer - There was a time when college students survived on Ramen noodles and soda. Today's students are more health conscious and eating healthy is a priority. This hi-tech slow juicer from Hurom would be a valued addition to any dorm room or sorority house. The Hurom has a patented Slow Squeezing Technology that operates at only 43 rotations per minute, which allows it to cold-press raw foods, extracting the smoothest, most delicious juice that is full of nutrients. The Hurom has a compact footprint and an elegant design. Available in Wine and Ivory colors. $439

Parrot Bebop Drone 2 - College campuses are the ultimate places to capture beautiful video footage from the skies with a new drone. The Parrot Bebop Drone 2 would make a wonderful gift for the high school graduate looking to impress his friends at college this fall. I loved flying my original Bebop drone, but my only gripe was the short battery life. This second iteration of Bebop is the first leisure drone in the 500 gram category with a 25 minute battery life giving it almost twice the amount of flying time as its predecessor. With a reinforced structure and flexible propellers, Bebop 2 is sturdier too. It boasts a 14 megapixels camera and shoots 30 frames per second of video. Too bad they didn't have drones when I graduated high school! $499.99

Behmor Connected Coffee Brew System - While a coffee maker has long been a staple gift at graduation time, it's the 21st century and that means young people should have a smart coffee maker with an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. This allows the college student or recent grad to customize her cup of joe and control it from her smartphone with accuracy. From anywhere on campus, the student can use the app to connect to the Behmor Brew System and make a personalized cup of coffee. $299

STM Haven Laptop Backpack - STM makes the most stylish computer laptop backpacks around and they rolled out their new Velocity Collection earlier this year. Students schlep their laptops everywhere and that means across campus on a bike or on foot rushing to class. The STM Haven is a 15" backpack that comes in four colors, offers ample space and most important -- superior protection for the computer. It features STM's patented CableReady Organization and Air Channel Comfort technology to provide extra ventilation and comfort. I receive compliments all the time for my Haven backpack, especially at the airport. $99.95

Polaroid Cube+ HD Action Camera - Have a graduate on your shopping list who is active and loves sharing videos of their activities? The Polaroid Cube would be a fitting gift for them. With 1080p HD video, a 124 degree wide-angle lens and a long lasting battery with 90 minutes of life, a 128 GB Micro SD, and bumper case this is the ideal action camera. The magnet on the bottom of the Cube lets the user stick it to a helmet, skateboard or any metal surface for amazing video results. Accessories include a helmet mount, waterproof case and bike mount. This new model looks basically the same as the original Cube, but has some major improvements in its features like Wi-Fi. $149.99

Ronin Element Phone Case by ElementCase - Not all phone cases are created equally. A nice graduation gift would be a sturdy and stylish smartphone case and these can be purchased for around $50. ElementCase, however, has designed a high-end case with highly refined style that is much more expensive than your average case, but worth every penny. The Ronin Element case is available in Bamboo, Walnut and features impact resistant Precision Modular Chassis, CNC machined wood side rails, a genuine top grain leather wrapped back plate and a matching top grain leather pouch included. Anyone fortunate enough to receive this case as a graduation gift will appreciate its design and craftsmanship. $199.95

weboost eqo Phone Signal Booster – Every high school and college grad has their own cellphone. It is 2016 after all! The biggest complaint these young people have is when they can’t get a good cellular signal for their phone. This could be their campus apartment building with old walls or a fraternity house with poor connectivity to local cellular towers. The eqo booster from Weboost solves this problem. With a 1500 square foot coverage area, urban gain strength and the fastest network speeds, this device will be a godsend for young people. It’s set up for multi-user so it will vastly improve cellphone quality for many individuals in the same house or apartment – everyone’s phone gets boosted automatically and it works with all devices. Setup is simple and quick (minutes). $349.99.

BlackRapid Sport R-Strap – There’s no better gift for the photography aficionado who is graduating this spring than high quality accessories. Photography is an expensive hobby and lugging around a heavy SLR camera can get tiring. BlackRapid makes these best photography accessories because they keep both comfort and style in mind. The Sport R-Strap is perfect for the active photographer as it has an ergonomic fit and a “Brad” (underarm stabilizing strap) to keep the camera close during extreme adventures. $73.95

Leef iAccess iOS microSD Reader – Young people love shooting videos and photos with their phone, often maximizing the amount of space. Rather than having to move all this data to a computer, the cloud or a storage device, Leef came up with the iAccess iOS microSD Reader. This memory solution is expandable in nature, allowing you to never be limited by the quality or quantity of footage you want to view or edit on your iPhone or iPad. Simply attach the reader to the iPhone or iPad and insert a mobile memory card.  Leef also sells iBridge Mobile Memory, a storage solution for iOS or Android that adds up to 256 GB to your device. $49.99


Master & Dynamic ME05 - A true music lover would really appreciate these high end earphones from Master & Dynamic. The company has developed a reputation for sound, durability, and style in only two short years in business. These beautifully designed earphones come with extra pairs of silicone ear tips, replacement acoustic filters, a leather storage box and a cable clip. Sure the price tag seems high for earbuds, but after the graduate listens to one song with the ME05s, trust me you’ll see the price was just right. Comes in brass metal, palladium, black metal and gunmetal. $199.99

BeoPlay H7 - After four or more years of hard work in college, your favorite graduate deserves premium headphones. This over-ear model from BeoPlay will cause any young music lover to realize that Beats by Dre might be the popular headphone choice, but it’s not the quality choice. These wireless headphones are comfortable and produce the most amazing sound quality you’ll ever hear. One charge and they’ll last an entire day. An intelligent battery-saving feature will turn the headphones off after 15 minutes of idle time. To control the headphones, simple finger gestures on the side will answer calls, switch music tracks and adjust the volume. $449

RIVA Turbo X Portable Speaker - Portable Bluetooth speakers are very hot right now. The ability to connect a phone to a portable speaker and let your friends enjoy your music is key for young students and grads. RIVA's Turbo X is a personal entertainment system that is compact, stylish and boasts beautiful sound quality. With RIVA’s ADX Trillium technology for truly immersive sound, Trillium Surround for an enhanced movie & gaming experience and a turbo mode to boost music up to 100 dB, this model is at the top of its industry. $299

3D Sound One Audio Headphones - These wireless headphones are priced more affordably than the BeoPlay model, but still offer high quality drivers (40mm) and a strong battery life (18 hours). They charge with a micro-USB connector and are lightweight enough to forget you’re even wearing them. These headphones are ideal for the gamer or graduate who loves watching movies with some audio privacy. $249

AfterShokz Trekz Titanium - I’ve been a big fan of AfterShokz headphones for years and for good reason. They are comfortable, boast high sound quality and have a unique design. They make a great graduation gift for anyone who is active. These headphones don’t go into the ear or even over the eart. They sit comfortably close to the ear using bone conduction technology so you can still hear your surroundings for safety. Trekz Titanium are lightweight, deliver premium music play and are designed with athletes in mind – sweatproof and secure. $129.99

BlueParrott B350-XT Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headset – Hands down this is the best noise cancelling headset product based on both quality and comfort. VXI won a CES innovation award in 2015 for this headset. A special Parrott Button can be set to mute, speed dial and or several other options. When it’s noisy in a classroom, dorm room or apartment, these are ideal noise canceling headset that will cancel up to 96% of ambient noise. It’s easy to stream music or GPS directions to the headset and connecting to a phone is simple with NFC pairing. Battery life is 24 hours and the headset recharges with micro USB. $129.99

Creative iRoar Sound Blaster Speaker - This has been billed as “the Most Intelligent Speaker on the Planet.” The Creative iRoar is designed to provide the best audio performance despite its small size. The sounds is clean and accurate, making this a definite favorite gift this graduation season. The best characteristic of this speaker is its ability to be personalized with a platform that allows for value-added third-party add-ons. With a huge 20-hour battery life, Creative iRoar is one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers on the market. No surprise it was honored with a 2016 innovation award at CES. $369.99

CordCruncher Tangle Free Earbuds - For those looking for a much less expensive option for the graduate, have a look at CordCruncher’s array of fashionable and colorful tangle-free earbuds. Using their patented tangle free cord management system, these earbuds are designed and engineered to never get tangled. No one enjoys taking the time to untangle earphones so this will make a practical gift. They are available in 4 colors: cobalt blue, glo green, poppin pink and gun metal gray. $20.99

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Michigan Public Radio: You Can't Wish Israel a Happy Birthday

On Thursday, the modern State of Israel turns 68 years old. To mark this milestone, Lisa Lis, a local friend of mine, chose to wish Israel a happy birthday when it's her day to sponsor a day's broadcast on the Michigan Public Radio Network. Since Lisa and her husband Hannan, a native Israeli, have donated at least $365 to Michigan's public radio station this year, they were informed that they could have a personalized message read on the air six times during their sponsored day.

While many donors to the University of Michigan operated radio station opt to wish a happy birthday to an individual or a happy anniversary to a couple, Lisa felt it would be appropriate to congratulate Israel on 68 years of independence. According to a few Facebook posts by Hannan, however, MPRN nixed Lisa's idea because it would be an act of advocacy. I immediately recognized the problems with this public radio station blocking a donor's desire to offer birthday greetings to a democratic nation.

Lisa and Hannan Lis

First, the name "Israel" could belong to an individual since it's a popular name for men. After all, the State of Israel was named for the biblical character Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Thus, Lisa could simply be wishing a friend named "Israel" a happy birthday.

Second, Michigan Public Radio took issue with Lisa's choice of words. She was going to include the term "blessing" in her greeting. That, the public radio station deemed too religious. I find that interesting since it's a public radio station and there are a lot of public entities that do not shy away from religion or blessings. Our national and local governments are opened with prayer each day, our courts ask witnesses to invoke God's name when taking an oath, and our public squares have Christmas displays each winter. Does Michigan Public Radio never mention the word "blessing" in their broadcasts? Do they ever have religious matters discussed on their radio station?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Tips for the Frugal Kosher Traveler (Sponsored)

Sponsored Post
At least once per year, everyone gets the desire to take a vacation to somewhere fun and intriguing. There are plenty of obstacles that can get in the way of planning and enjoying a vacation: work schedule, family life and finances are all things that have to be juggled in order to get away for a few days. Another major concern for planning a vacation is dietary restrictions, which can make it difficult to truly travel anywhere in the world without worry. If you need to save money, want to travel and wish to keep it kosher, then continue reading to discover some tips that any frugal kosher traveler needs to know.

Consider a Staycation

While it may not have all of the flare and prestige that a traditional vacation comes with, a staycation can be one great way to enjoy a bit of fun and relaxation – all without breaking the bank or being in an untenable position when it comes to being kosher. You will save tons of money – the majority of what is traditionally associated with a vacation – and will not have to worry about food, accommodations and a variety of other expenses. Additionally, you'll save time in the form of reduced traveling and can spend more time enjoying activities, entertainment and leisure nearby.

Pick an Accommodating Destination

As if saving money wasn't enough of an issue to consider, juggling your diet while on vacation or traveling can be an even bigger struggle. When planning a vacation, be sure to check ahead in advance to see whether or not kosher menus are available at the hotel or accommodation. Additionally, do some research to determine whether or not there are restaurants and other establishments in the area that provide kosher meals. In some cases – like when planning a Passover vacation through a company like Leisure Time Tours– you can rest assured that your meals will match your commitments. However, it is always our responsibility to check ahead of time with local establishments to ensure kosher food is available.

Other Important Tips

Be sure to always pack a few comfort foods and snacks from home for any vacation: this will help you save money and guarantee that you always have some kosher snacks on-hand. For food in particular, be prepared to pay a bit more when on vacation than you might when at home – if you've been frugal when it comes to planning your vacation, this should be easy enough. Consider a trip to Israel, as you'll be able to find relatively low-cost travel packages and never have to worry about kosher selections or availability. When away from home and in unfamiliar areas, consider calling a local synagogue for advice on where to find kosher items in local stores. Always be willing to research any destination ahead of time, and book your flights or hotels in advance (this will save you money).

Anyone who wants to travel should look at saving money as a fun challenge rather than a requirement. Seeking out kosher items while on vacation can be a bit like a scavenger hunt as well, but proper planning will ensure that you can enjoy a low-cost vacation while adhering to your diet.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Mother's Day Gift Guide - Tech Edition 2016

Mother's Day is coming up soon and if you're like me, you're thinking that mom, grandma and your wife are tired of getting flowers and massage gift certificates each year. It's 2016 and that means the women in your life will appreciate getting technology gifts just as much as your dad on Father's Day.

From tablets and fitness tracking watches to smart home appliances and high quality headphones, there are so many impressive tech gadgets to choose from this year for Mother's Day. Mom might not be craving a drone yet, but she'd appreciate a security camera or a smart scale to track her daily health. Most of these products are easy to use right out of the box so you won't have to spend a lot of time helping mom with the setup or teaching her how to use them. Whether you're shopping for an elderly mother this Mother's Day or you want to show your wife how much you appreciate all she does for your kids, you can't go wrong with any of these cool tech products -- and of course you'll find yourself wanting to borrow them too!

Here's a rundown of some quality tech products Mom will appreciate this Mother's Day:

LivSecure Home Security System - This is the best Do-It-Yourself home security kit on the market because it offers a 24/7 monitoring services in addition to being easy to install. The kit comes with an easy-to-use control panel, door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a smoke detector and a key fob. Users can add more sensors in addition to connecting smart thermostats, smart electrical sockets, garage doors, and indoor or outdoor security cameras. LivSecure uses for mobile monitoring, which means you can keep track of your home's security all day and night with your phone or tablet. If you want mom to feel safe, give her the gift of security. Use code MOMSDAY for free equipment. Prices vary based on plan and equipment.

Onanoff iPad Air Sound Cover - Imagine Mom's frustration when she's in her kitchen trying to follow a recipe on YouTube, but the sound of the hand mixer makes it impossible to hear the chef give the next instruction. Onanoff's Sound Cover solves that problem. It is a unique iPad Air smart cover with built-in flat NXT stereo speakers, offering powerful and high quality sound, boosting the iPad's volume by up to 400%. The covers come in gold, grey and tactical black and it is ultra-thin and lightweight. On sale for $129.99

Blink Security Cameras - Blink is a completely wireless, battery-operated system that delivers instant monitoring from any location through the Blink app. More homeowners are turning to security cameras to protect and monitor their homes and the majority of these rely on more than one camera. Blink is affordable and and it's easy to add more cameras. Blink is ideal for a new mom looking for cameras to keep an eye on the baby or for an elderly mother you want to keep safe. Comparable to Netgear's Arlo security cameras, Blink offers motion detection, 720p HD video capture, instant alerts and live on-demand streaming. 5-camera system $299 (add cameras $60)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Planting Trees for Future Generations

A few weeks ago one of the directors of Michigan BBYO (B'nai Brith Youth Organization) contacted me. She explained that as part of an upcoming retreat, the Jewish teens in BBYO were interested in planting trees near their BBYO Bittker Retreat Center and then dedicating each tree in a ceremony. She had heard that I used to lead such activities for Camp Tamarack in Ortonville, Michigan and asked if I would share my resources. Of course, I sent her my files from several years of these tree planting ceremonies and told her how meaningful they were. 

A week later I was asked to contribute a piece for "The People & The Book" section of the Jerusalem Report magazine that drew inspiration from the Torah portion Kedoshim. Knowing that mitzvot (commandments) for planting trees are given in this parashah, I began writing about my own tree planting experiences, discussing those ceremonies at Camp Tamarack. What follows is my contribution to the Jerusalem Report:

Trees for Grandchildren

The joy of planting for future generations

If I had to guess the first time I ever planted a tree, it was likely as a young preschool child on the playground behind Adat Shalom synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I don’t really recall planting that tree, but I know that it was an annual tradition for the little five-year-olds at the shul’s nursery school in the early 1980s.

The next time I was supposed to plant a tree was at a tree planting ceremony outside of Jerusalem during a teen tour following my graduation from high school. However, rather than actually planting trees, we instead donated money for trees to be planted on our behalf the following year since that year was a shmita year, meaning the soil of Israel was being left fallow in a seven-year cycle.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Passover

After Passover in the year 2000 I remember driving back from New Jersey to Manhattan after teaching a Hebrew School class. My classmate, Faith Friedman, was sitting next to me in the car telling me about how a fellow rabbinical school student had just had Hillary and Chelsea Clinton at his family's Passover seder. I listened intently to this second-hand story that David Fine had told Faith.

I couldn't believe what a great story this was. To have the First Lady and Chelsea Clinton sit at your family's Seder and participate must have made for a very impressive evening. President Bill Clinton didn't attend the Fine Family seder because he was meeting with Yasser Arafat at the time.

A few years ago I was in Berlin on a trip with fellow Conservative Rabbis and Rabbi David Fine was one of the participants. On the first night in Berlin, David offered to give me a guided walking tour of the city. After a two-hour walk he asked if I had any questions. I said, "Yes, tell me about that time the Clintons came to your parents' home for the Pesach seder."