Monday, April 26, 2021

CES 2021 - A Much Different CES Experience

The year 2020 was so full of changes and disappointments that it is no wonder we began 2021 eager for things to return to normal. That certainly was not the case for my CES experience in January. The annual international electronics show has become a regular activity on my calendar at the start of each year and I was especially looking forward to this year’s convention for several reasons. First, it would be my tenth CES in Las Vegas. Second, I had to miss the 2020 event because I had to travel to Phoenix to officiate a bar mitzvah. 

 While I was able to attend this year’s CES, it was certainly a change from past experiences. The Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES, made the difficult decision of making this year’s show fully virtual. I am glad they were able to still convene the world’s best tech showcase, but virtually attending from home was vastly different than actually being in Las Vegas and being able to touch the cutting-edge tech gadgets and futuristic electronics.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association opens CES 2021, the first virtual CES

Surprisingly, this was one of my favorite CES experiences yet. That must sound surprising since it lacked the sights, sounds and feels of a typical CES. However, this year, I found myself much more available to sample the panel discussions, lectures and new product presentations (I also didn’t have sore feet from walking miles around the mammoth convention floor). Tech luminaries from around the world addressed the challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic and put forward their revolutionary solutions as we face an unpredicted future. I learned a new term from a leader at Procter and Gamble, who referred to the way tech companies have been forced to adapt this past year as “Constructive Disruption.” 

It was fascinating to hear some of the world’s most creative and innovative technologists explain how they were forced to shelve the products they had been working on for years in order to quickly create the new technologies our world required as we battled a global pandemic. I heard government leaders explain their role in helping to democratize high-speed internet and ensure the infrastructure was in place for 5G. I was intrigued by how rapidly the field of digital health has been growing and how new technology owes so much to space exploration. 

I remain in awe of how the Consumer Technology Association was able to pivot so quickly to a fully virtual show this year and I am grateful I participated. I learned a lot and truly experienced a different aspect of this phenomenal tech show. Hopefully, next year I will be back in Las Vegas and will be able to have a tactile CES experience once again.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Monday, December 28, 2020

New App Enhances Prayer During Pandemic

Prayer in Judaism is an interesting concept. While there is nothing inherently wrong with one praying by oneself, there is certainly a preference for communal prayer. Worshiping k’yachid, or individually, satisfies the Jewish obligation for daily prayer, but there are several sections of the prayer service that can only be done when a minyan (prayer quorum of ten people) is constituted.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the strong desire we have for communal worship has posed a challenge to clergy. Certainly, technology has solved many of the inherent problems that occur when it is impossible for community members to congregate in person due to health risks. We have seen how video conferencing apps like Zoom have become commonplace for group worship. But we have also seen examples of what happens when technology fails, as it did for dozens of congregations dependent on the synagogue website company Shul Cloud, whose servers failed on Yom Kippur, the most heavily trafficked day of the year for virtual synagogue prayer.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

How to Host an Intimate Party at Home [Sponsored]

If you have plans to host an intimate party at home for a special occasion or just to have friends over for a small gathering to relax and be with good company, it may seem a bit challenging to make the necessary preparations. Especially if you don't have hired help and intend to do things yourself. However, holding parties at home has its benefits too. Because it is intimate, you and your guests are more comfortable in familiar surroundings. You can also accommodate your guests because you probably have considered how many people you are inviting and how to make them fit into your house. Just the same, there is a warm feeling with people you care about enjoying a party in your home. And to liven up the evening, you can get to handle the bar services for you.

If you have some concerns about setting up your intimate party at home, here are some tips to help you with your preparations.

Plan in advance 

Even if you aren't expecting many guests, planning in advance will make the preparations much easier. You can start making a detailed list of things you have to do, the guests you are inviting, the ingredients for your dishes, dinnerware, invitations, etc. That list will ensure that you don't miss out on those little details that will count a lot for your party to succeed. You should send invitations early so that your guests can keep their schedule free for the affair. It is also a good decision to have the party on a weekend so you and your guests can linger and relax without worries about work the next day.

Prepare your menu

If you love to cook, coming up with an excellent menu should not be a problem. You just need to make sure that the dishes complement each other. It is also wise to prepare recipes that you have done before and enjoyed. You would not want to experiment with new dishes and discover that they are not what you expected. If you are not cooking, having your dishes catered would be a good idea. Pick out your caterer and work closely with them to come up with the perfect menu for your party. 

Have a good stock of drinks

What's a party without drinks? Wine is always the safest bet, and you can pick from a variety of choices that will complement your dishes. Mixed drinks and beer will always be welcome at any party, especially among close friends. It would be best if you also had non-alcoholic beverages on-hand for guests who prefer them. Have some snacks available, too, so everyone can munch on them while enjoying their drinks before or after dinner.

Provide the right atmosphere

You need not go overboard with the decor, but flowers on the dinner table will look lovely. You can also have scented candles that always set the mood. Have some carefully picked music playing in the background for the perfect intimate party atmosphere.

When guests arrive, make sure that you enjoy the party to the fullest. You deserve it after the hard work you put in.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Ways Spotify’s Jewish Music Makes Me Feel Like a Kid Again [Guest Post]

While growing up in a devoted Jewish family, music was everywhere. Whenever there was a celebration or a special family gathering, someone would start a tune and the others would follow. Sabbath meals would never go by without singing. Most of my family was tone-deaf, but that didn’t bother us from enjoying Jewish music. It was one of the links that bonded us together. Now, when I bring memories of my family alive, they are always related to specific songs. 

But as I grew up, I forgot all about that tradition. I moved away and I was rarely present at family gatherings. After a year of terrible personal loss, I instinctively reconnected with all my cousins and uncles. At one occasion, we all started singing. Suddenly, my entire childhood came alive. I started searching for Jewish songs and I figured out how to download music on Spotify. Music became an important part of my healing process. 

How Spotify’s Jewish Music Reconnected Me with My Childhood

Music Brings Back Memories

When I got back to my empty apartment after that family trip, I felt inspired to do something for the first time in months. An idea came to my mind: I’ll search for some Jewish music online. Maybe it will calm me down like it used to do. Maybe it would help me feel that connection again, so I’ll know that I never stand alone. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Uncle Moishy on Spotify. That reminded me of all the cassette tapes that my father used to buy: MBD, Country Yossi, Naomi Shemer, Megama… and I found most of this music on Spotify. I needed my cousin’s and Google’s help to retrieve all the names and tunes from my memory, but I ended up with a collection of Jewish music that helped me reconnect with my old self.          

Music Calms Me Down

In my early childhood, music served as a pacifier. Whenever I was nervous, sad, or refusing to go to sleep, my mother would choose one of those cassettes and play some “safe” music, as she would call it. I remember how it made me happy, calm, and sure that everything was going to be alright. 

Jewish Music Helped Me Build an Identity

As I was growing up, music got another purpose for my family: it helped them teach me how to identify as a Jewish. All songs helped me develop a connection to the Hebrew language and Israelian culture. It’s the part of my heritage that I tried to suppress when I grew up and started trying to look cool. But it was always there, and it was in the time of personal loss when I realized how much I needed that part of myself back. 

It Makes Me Curious

I created several Spotify playlists revolving around Jewish music. This doesn’t mean I’ll delete my entire Pink Floyd library. It’s also a part of my identity. But I’ll never allow myself to lose this deep connection with the values my family helped me develop. Oh; and I rediscovered Leonard Cohen, who was my sister’s favorite during her teenage years. I was a rebel who thought Cohen’s music was boring. Now, it’s the Spotify playlist I keep going back to. 

In a Symbolic Sense, Jewish Music Helped Me Find Myself

Yes; I was lost. During that dark period of my life, I felt utterly alone and helpless. That family reunion reminded me of the joy and spirit I used to feel as a young child. I realized that it wasn’t just the childhood years that made me happy. It was the community. Music was a big part of that community, and Spotify helped me to rediscover it. 

What Does Jewish Music Mean to You?

Jewish music is a generic concept that’s hard to define. It has transformed over the years, and each generation has its own understanding of the term. But when you hear it, you know what it is. It has its way of bringing you back to your roots.

James Dorian is a technical copywriter. He is a tech geek who knows a lot about modern apps that will make your work more productive. James reads tons of online blogs on technology, business, and ways to become a real pro in our modern world of innovations.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Atoning Over Zoom: How Video Technology Will Connect Jews During High Holy Days

At the beginning of 2020, most people hadn’t even heard of Zoom, the video-conferencing application. By early April of this year, we were all using Zoom for work meetings, the kids’ school, funerals, shivas, Passover seders, Shabbat services, and to connect with family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a rabbi, I have officiated over a dozen bar and bat mitzvah services and two baby naming ceremonies using Zoom over the past six months.

Zoom has become the new normal for us as we learn how to best connect with each other virtually during the pandemic. Thankfully, 21st-century startups like Zoom have made tech advances making virtual meetings even easier than in prior years. Over the summer, knowing the High Holy Day season might arrive before synagogues were able to re-open, rabbis and cantors around the world began preparing for what would become the first all-virtual Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur season.

Some congregations will offer hybrid services with some participants onsite, while most congregations will be fully virtual. There will also be synagogues that have pre-recorded the holiday services and some that will offer a live-stream with some pre-recorded segments. In order for Zoom to work well with the needs of clergy for the High Holy Days, my colleague Rabbi Joshua Heller has been in direct communication with the video conferencing company to urge them to make some changes to accommodate congregations. I spoke with Rabbi Heller, who authored the teshuvah (rabbinic position paper) allowing synagogues in the Conservative Movement to offer virtual services on the Sabbath, about the changes Zoom has made as well as what he sees as the future of virtual prayer services. Rabbi Heller has a degree in computer science from Harvard, was the first full-time director of the distance learning program at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and has a local Metro Detroit connection being married to Wendy Betel Heller, a native of West Bloomfield.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Learning New Tech Can Help Us Connect During Covid-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has expedited our adoption of new technology and forced us to put it to use to stay connected.

COVID-19 has affected people’s lives in tragic ways. The pandemic has also caused us to adjust to new realities like our kids being home from school for the final few months of the school year. There have been countless events canceled, including vacations, summer camp, concerts, fundraisers and sporting events. Our children have been disappointed because of commencements and graduation parties that could not take place.

However, there are “silver linings.” One of the unintended consequences of working at home for the past few months, in addition to increased family bonding time, has been an increased reliance on technology to stay connected. For many in our local community, that has been positive, allowing them to learn new skills and become more comfortable with virtual work technology. Some business owners have even questioned why they should continue to pay rent for their office if they can be just as efficient working from home.

“I saw firsthand how video conferencing technology like Google Meet was beneficial in enhancing the learning process,” said David Hack of Farmington Hills, whose son recently graduated from Hillel Day School.

“Watching my son use Google Meet and Zoom to have virtual interaction with his teachers prompted me to look into using Zoom to meet with my clients in my dental scrap business. When dental offices were closed at the end of March, I was able to connect with my clients and not miss any planned sales meetings. I’ve learned a lot lately about new ways of having meetings.”

For Jeff Dwoskin, a local standup comic from West Bloomfield, technology tools like social media and video conferencing have long been part of his communications arsenal. However, he learned new ways of utilizing mobile apps to shop for his family’s groceries.

“Our family went all in on Instacart. At the beginning of the governor’s ‘Stay At Home’ order, it was near impossible to get a time on Instacart, but I became an expert on figuring out the timing of placing our shopping orders online. We literally didn’t go anywhere for months and Instacart was our lifeline.” Dwoskin also used the time away from his office to launch his own podcast.

Risha Ring, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, said she has been grateful that the pandemic has forced her to push the organization to begin using technology like Zoom. “All of JHSM programming and our meetings (locally and throughout the state) are now on Zoom. That technology has saved our organization. In fact, now people from as far away as Iron Mountain and the Soo [Sault St. Marie], plus the whole west coast of the state, are now our partners in sharing Michigan’s Jewish history. That couldn’t have happened without our quick embrace of video conferencing.”

At Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, the entire catalog of programming and prayer services has become virtually accessible through Zoom. The congregation’s communications director, Susie Steinberg, explained that her unplanned move home from the synagogue office came with many challenges, but it has also expedited her dependence on the internet to do her job.

“I was thrown in headfirst to master new skills to effectively do the job at hand, which was to communicate virtually,” Steinberg said. “I learned how to fearlessly (and I started with great trepidation) use AnyDesk to remotely connect to my office computer, how to multi-task with only one computer screen and, most importantly, to Zoom.”

Steinberg added that now that the synagogue’s staff has moved back into the office, she and her colleagues have a “new bag of tricks, but, most importantly, a confidence that we can meet challenges and create new and often exciting outcomes.”

Some of the new technology adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic is specific to certain industries. Clio Software, a comprehensive case management tool for law firms, has been around for many years, but these months away from the brick-and-mortar office compelled attorney Jamie Ryke of Bloomfield Hills to become dependent on it. Ryke, a partner in the Probate Law Firm of Thav Ryke and Associates, said that he has fallen in love with Clio because it’s a “complete management system for lawyers. It has combined the most important things I use daily to be organized and successful, namely my calendar, email and billing software.”

Ryke added that he has never been as organized as he is now. “Learning to maximize the Clio application has made life easier. I also have appreciated being able to attend legal hearings from home on Zoom, since it means I don’t have to drive all over the state anymore.”

Technology will continue to make our lives more organized and allow us to feel closer to others, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has expedited our adoption of new technology and forced us to put it to use to stay connected.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Jewish Live, the 24/7 Festival of Digital Judaism

The Covid-19 pandemic has made us feel physically distant to each other because we cannot congregate at our synagogues, community centers, or summer camps. However, the Jewish community has not shifted away from community during the quarantine. Rather, we have been brought together virtually thanks to the Internet and streaming video conferencing. While we cannot pray inside the local synagogue buildings we are accustomed to, we are able to virtually “attend” just about any synagogue we want using applications like Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube.

Three cutting edge Jewish visionaries saw this 21st-century phenomenon as a prime opportunity to launch a website that is “one-stop shopping” for those interested in plugging in and learning or praying with a community of Jews anywhere in the country. Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg of the Judaism Unbound podcast linked up with Apryl Stern to create, which is a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future with funding from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.

JewishLive Website

The three out-of-the-box thinkers saw in early March that Jewish events were suddenly being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They wondered how they could help fill the void of in-person Jewish events taking place, like conferences, synagogue services, Jewish musical concerts, and lectures. These in-person events would have to migrate to the digital landscape, they realized. Libenson and Rofeberg were already familiar with this landscape because they migrated there when they launched their popular podcast.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Jewish Legal Matters in the Age of Coronavirus (Covid-19)

We are all learning what it means to live in communities in which we need to exercise social distancing and enhance our typical personal hygiene regimen to safeguard against the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Hillel Day School, the Jewish elementary and middle school I attended in the 1980s and the school two of my children currently attend (they will graduate in June), has suspended classes amid the positive Covid-19 test of a member of the faculty. In the Jewish community, the closing of synagogues has raised halakhic (Jewish legal) questions about how to constitute a minyan (quorum of ten individuals) so that those in mourning and observing a yahrzeit can recite the Mourner's Kaddish.

Thankfully, I just concluded my year of saying Kaddish for my beloved father, Gary D. Miller of blessed memory, so I don't have a personal need to recite Kaddish right now. This week, however, I have been asked by many people about the ability to have a "virtual minyan" (using video streaming services) because I have written on the subject in the past and helped my Talmud teacher, Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner, do research on the issue when he was drafting his teshuvah (rabbinic responsum) on the Virtual Minyan in 1998 and 1999. I think that if there has ever been a time when it is acceptable to offer virtual minyanim, that time is now. The technology has advanced so much since Rabbi Reisner first began to look into the matter back in the late 1990s so that many of his initial concerns about lagging video feeds and buffering internet connections are no longer concerns. Further, with so many synagogues shuttered until at least after Passover and people being self-quarantined, it will bring much comfort to so many in the community.

I learned so much from Rabbi Reisner in my first year of rabbinical school and his interest in the halakhic feasibility of the Virtual Minyan on the Internet helped me to begin my own quest to look deeper into the intersection of Technology and Jewish law. Another teacher who taught me so much that first year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary was Rabbi Robbie Harris. Rabbi Harris has written an important piece on how the Jewish community should proceed during this time when we're dealing with the implications of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). I think it's worthwhile to share his thoughts in their entirety below:

Pikuach Nefesh, Social Distancing and a Rabbi’s Case for the Need to Protect Life
Rabbi Robert Harris

A caveat before I begin:  I have hesitated from responding to the Coronavirus since news of it first broke, since I am neither a scientist nor a public health official, but now…  as a rabbi, a faculty member of the Jewish Theological Seminary and as a former member both of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and of the Israel Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee, I want to say clearly and unequivocally:  we must take drastic action to enforce social distancing, in the absence of clear governmental directives. Now is not the time to debate, for example, the fine points of use of electricity on Shabbat, or other, now trivial, matters that typically divide us one from another; we are talking about pikuach nefesh, the saving of human life.

I share these sentiments — not quite a teshuvah, for there is no time to calmly research one, but more than just an op-ed — with a great amount of respect for the various ways in which people of all faiths are struggling to respond to the virus and its implications for our individual, family and communal lives.  But at the same time, I want to shout from the rooftops:  rabbis and clergy people of all faith:  E-services, everyone!!!  Social distancing!  Virtual congregations!  All public religious worship should be set aside until the crisis passes.  If the NBA is canceling basketball games, out of its concern for the sanctity of human life, then how much the more so should we follow suit for the purpose of gathering in worship.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rabbinic principle of pikuach nefesh, let me describe it in the most general of terms:  the Torah states (in a context that has little meaning for the subsequent talmudic discussion or my purposes here): “you shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which humankind shall live: I am the LORD (Leviticus 18:5).  A midrash, or rabbinic interpretation, teaches:  “to live by them — and not die by them!” (Babylonian Talmud, Treatise Yoma 85b).  The Sages considered many applications of the principle they found in verses like these; I will share just one of them here.  It is from the same section in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 84b:

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Holocaust and Antisemitism

When I was in college I took a course called "The Holocaust and Antisemitism." The professor, Ken Waltzer, explained that you can't learn about the Holocaust without having a thorough understanding of the history of antisemitism. He was correct.

I'm now teaching my own college course about the Holocaust and much of my syllabus is based on Professor Waltzer's course from over twenty years ago. A few weeks ago I took my class on a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center of Metropolitan Detroit (the nation's first freestanding Holocaust museum). As we walked around the museum I explained to the students that while the Holocaust is a historical event that happened decades ago, the antisemitism that led up to it continues to this day.

There were 1,879 acts of antisemitism in 2018 according to the Anti-Defamation League, including the attack on the three congregations sharing the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Over the past week alone, we have seen the antisemitic incident of anti-Semitic graffiti carved into a door and drawn on a stairway at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington. We have seen selling Christmas ornaments, towels and mousepads with glorified photos of the Auschwitz death camp. Jewish students are threatened on college campuses and the Jews in London are considering emigrating en masse if Jeremy Corbyn is elected.

Yesterday, as I was on a conference call discussing the upcoming #WeRemember campaign that the World Jewish Congress is launching for the 4th straight year in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I walked into the university building where I teach my weekly Holocaust class at the University of Detroit Mercy. It was ironic that I was about to teach 34 non-Jewish students about the Holocaust while I was talking about the need for more Holocaust education so the atrocities of the Shoah won't be repeated. Still on the phone, I walked down a stairwell and saw a swastika drawn on the wall next to six neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbols.

I brought my entire class into the stairwell and we crowded there as I showed them the symbols of hate on the wall of their university. I asked them what they thought we should do about it. I asked them how they would take what they learned over the course of the past semester in our Holocaust class and use that knowledge to educate their peers, their future children, and their future coworkers. How sad is that only seven decades since the Holocaust there is still so much senseless hate in this world?

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The 5 Most Important Books to Be an Educated Jew

Moment Magazine recently asked me to choose what I thought to be the five most important books to be an educated Jew. This was not an easy request and I took it seriously, going through my Jewish library several times and narrowing down the list. Obviously, the primary texts of our tradition, the Torah, the Talmud, Midrash, and the legal codes, are all necessary to be an educated member of the Jewish people, but I understood that Moment Magazine wanted me to extend beyond those texts.

I considered important books of Jewish history, books about the Holocaust, Jewish cooking books, and even books about Jewish athletes (an educated Jew must know about Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg). Ultimately, these are the five books I chose to recommend. Of course, I could have chosen hundreds more since we are the "People of the Book," but I think this is a good starting point.

The Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel, one of the great theologians of the 20th century, published The Sabbath as both about theology and spirituality as well about modern Jewish life and Jewish law. I first read this short yet eloquent book when participating in a discussion with other Jewish high school students.  At summer camp I recall that the study session brought much meaning and spirituality into my Shabbat experience. Heschel brilliantly explains how our faith is about balancing space and time, creation and rest. Originally published in 1951, Heschel’s words are just as powerful and meaningful today as they were almost seventy years ago.

As a Driven Leaf, by Rabbi Milton Steinberg

To understand the Talmud, one first must understand Jewish life in 2nd century CE. Certainly, this could be accomplished with history books, but it’s much more enjoyable to get this knowledge from Steinberg’s beautiful novel. The protagonist is Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic rabbi who was excommunicated for heresy. Steinberg takes this little-known character and allows us to enter his confused head and heart. We become immersed in the community of scholars who gave voice to Rabbinic Judaism and we see the clash between religious faith and the modern, secular society of Rome. Steinberg’s novel is not only captivating but also a wonderful theological and philosophical work.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner

One cannot understand Jewish theology without reading Kushner’s well-known work. Published in 1981, less than five years after Kushner’s son died from an incurable genetic disease, the book addresses the problems of theodicy. If we believe that God creates and controls the world and is good, how are we to explain evil? Why is there pain and suffering if God loves us? Kushner offers his own theology.

Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish TextsEdited by Dr. Barry Holtz

Back to the Sources is more than a primer. The authors explain the text and then dissect examples to teach the reader how to learn that core text. Holtz, one of my teachers at the Jewish Theological Seminary, believes that each text requires a different learning approach. In editing Back to the Sources, he found foremost scholars to explain the importance of the text and how it informs Judaism. I first used this book in college, referred to it again many times in rabbinical school and have recommended it to countless others.

Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

I was tempted to simply list five of Telushkin’s works here because one can learn just about everything there is to know about Judaism from his books: Jewish Literacy, Biblical Literacy, Jewish Ethics, Jewish Wisdom and Jewish Values. I chose Telushkin’s book about Jewish humor because these jokes teach us more about the Jews and Judaism than most history books. Telushkin chose the best Jewish jokes and then analyzed them to explain their source, why they are funny and why they’re accurate. The book is funny but is also an informative read on important topics like anti-Semitism and other faith’s view of the Jewish people.

This article originally appeared in Moment Magazine