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."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dads and Grads Technology Gift Guide 2015

As a father I can tell you that the typical Father's Day gifts of golf shirts and tools just don't do it for me. Most dads these days would prefer to get cool tech toys! There are so many great tech gadget ideas for both Father's Day and gifts for high school and college graduates. Below is the tech gift guide I put together for the Detroit Jewish News and Huffington Post:

Dads and Grads Tech Gift Guide 2015
Rabbi Jason Miller

We're already in graduation season and Father's Day is quickly approaching. That means everyone's looking for the perfect gifts for Dads and Grads. In the rapidly growing technology industry there are hundreds of wonderful options for gifts, finding the right one for the celebrant can be tricky since it's such a crowded field.

For fathers and graduates who love music, you can't go wrong with outdoor Bluetooth speakers, but which ones? Maybe you're looking for the perfect cell phone, case or other mobile accessories? Or, maybe you're looking to improve the television viewing experience for the couch potato dad? I've researched dozens of options for tech gifts for Dads and Grads:

TiVo Roamio Pro - Ideal for the dad who enjoys watching TV or the college grad who loves streaming movies. This is TiVo's best DVR yet. Simply put a CableCARD in and there's no more need for a cable box. Great for mobile TV viewing with the Android and iOS mobile app. Six tuners to record six shows at once and phenomenal search capability within your cable guide and streaming networks. 450-hour HD recording capacity. Online content from Amazon, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora and YouTube.
Priced at $599.
Slingbox M1 - Another must have for the TV watching fan, the Slingbox M1 hooks up to your cable box so you can watch cable channels live or your DVR recordings anywhere with the SlingPlayer app. The quality is great (high definition video up to 1080p) so long as it's a strong Internet connection. SlingPlayer even works overseas so you'll never miss your favorite shows and can watch your cable TV's On Demand offerings from anywhere. You can also schedule DVR recordings while away from home and cast your SlingPlayer using Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Fire TV and Roku.
Priced at $149.99.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Reality TV Show Puts Needy Families in Moral Quandary

In my recent contribution to, I take a look at the ethical issues of a new reality TV show on CBS. It's often said that these reality TV shows are simply a magnifying glass on American society. Well, I certainly hope that our society is better than this!

Why ‘The Briefcase’ Is the Worst Reality TV Show Ever
CBS's new show "The Briefcase" takes advantage of desperate people and calls it entertainment
By Rabbi Jason Miller

This summer marks a milestone of sorts for the reality TV genre. It was 15 years ago that the television show “Survivor” became a breakout hit and gave birth to a new industry. Some of the most successful reality shows have helped talented individuals who may otherwise have gone unnoticed begin lucrative careers. But most of the reality TV productions tend to bring out parts of society that are unethical, exploitative, and just plain wrong.

The most extreme example of this aired its first episode two weeks ago on CBS. “The Briefcase” features financially struggling American families and showcases their many hardships. These are men and women who are down on their luck, out of work, and seem miserable. The premise of the show is that they are surprised with a gift of $101,000. Of course, there are strings attached.

CBS Reality TV Show The Briefcase

These impoverished, hard-working people are given an unfair decision to make upon receipt of the “fortune.” They are told that the rules of this game (and it appears to me to be a game of playing with people’s minds) are that they can either choose to keep the money, which they desperately need, or gift all or part of it to another family in need. They aren’t told the other family has also received a similar briefcase and instructions.

Reaction to the show has been very critical, and an online petition calling for CBS to cancel the show has more than 100 signatures.

The biggest problem of the show is that it’s meant as entertainment. Yet the families featured on the show aren’t actors—they truly are struggling. They have lost hope as they try to keep their homes, feed their children, and pay their medical bills. Putting them in front of television cameras and presenting them with a “Faustian bargain” is cruel and unusual.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Are the Cleveland Cavaliers a Jewish Team?

I've always been of the opinion that one should, first and foremost, cheer for one's own hometown sports teams. For example, I've never understood how someone from Detroit could randomly choose another NFL team as "their team" instead of the local Detroit Lions (despite their lack of a single Super Bowl championship). However, when it comes to the playoffs, if one's own team isn't playing then it is acceptable to adopt a team and cheer for that team.

Here in Detroit, it's become the accepted practice to cheer for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA postseason when the Detroit Pistons are not playing. While the Cavaliers might be one of the Pistons' closest rivals, Detroiters feel a connection with the team and can't resist liking them. Such has certainly been the case with me.

Rabbi Jason Miller With Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and former player Zydrunas Ilgauskas
With Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and former player Zydrunas Ilgauskas at a Friends of the IDF Event in Cleveland

Owned by Jewish philanthropist Dan Gilbert, the Cavs have become something of a first cousin to the Detroit Pistons. One might find it odd to enter the Downtown Detroit headquarters of Quicken Loans, the company Gilbert owns, and see a basketball court bedecked in Cleveland Cavaliers colors and logos. For Detroiters, however, this seems natural. In both Detroit and Cleveland, we've found a mutual appreciation for Gilbert, who has used his philanthropy and business savvy to bring a dual renaissance to Detroit and Cleveland, two major U.S. cities that have struggled financially in the past several decades. (Gilbert owns a casino in both cities, the Quicken Loans Arena ("The Q") in Cleveland, the Lake Erie Monsters hockey team, the Cleveland Gladiators arena football team, a large Downtown Cleveland office for Quicken Loans employees there, dozens of Detroit-based companies, and has bought over 75 buildings in Downtown Detroit).

Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt
With my son and Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt

Not only have the Cavs become the adopted team during the NBA playoffs for Detroit Pistons fans, but recent articles have called the Cavs "Israel's Team." Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even phoned Head Coach David Blatt, who has Israeli citizenship, to wish him luck and tell him that the entire State of Israel was behind him. Almost a decade before the Cavs hired an Israeli coach, my first experience with Dan Gilbert's Cavs had a connection to Israel. I was invited to Quicken Loans Arena in 2006 to watch the Cavaliers take on Maccabi Tel Aviv in a pre-season game. The night before I attended a dinner at a synagogue in the Cleveland suburbs where Dan Gilbert was honored by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The two teams competed again before this season, but this time around it was more personal because Blatt used to coach Maccabi Tel Aviv.

My son and his friends with Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt

I would argue that the Cavs are a Jewish team too. If they win the NBA championship this year (the series begins tonight), they wouldn't be the first team with a Jewish owner and Jewish coach -- the Detroit Pistons won in 2004 with Larry Brown as coach and Bill Davidson as the majority owner. But there's a very Jewish feel to this team in which Gilbert and star player LeBron James had to perform teshuva before the season to repair their fractured relationship. When LeBron returned to Cleveland after his sojourn in Miami he had to apologize to Cleveland fans for his undignified exit a few years back and Gilbert had to make amends to LeBron for his unprofessional public letter. There's certainly a Yom Kippur sermon in there about healing relationships.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Sheryl Sandberg's Wise Words in the Face of Tragedy

One of the most challenging aspects of being a rabbi, in my opinion, is finding the right words to bring comfort to those mourning following the tragic death of a loved one. Aside from the traditional Hebrew phrase we offer mourners, I often find myself left with only four words to offer to those grieving: "There are no words."

After my infant nephew died and people were at a loss for words, I simply uttered, "There are no words." Truthfully though, there are words. And the words aren't necessary from those who are offering comfort. Sometimes the most meaningful words are from the mourners themselves. Those who are in pain from grief can actually find tremendous comfort in their own words.

This was not the case in the Torah following one of the biggest tragedies. After the sudden death of two of Aaron's sons, the Torah explains how the father handled his grief. Using only two words, we are told "Vayidom Aharon," Aaron was silent. So often, silence is the most natural way for mourners to deal with the shock of a sudden death of a loved one. However, after time ones own words may bring comfort.

Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg
Credit: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Such was the case today with Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive whose husband, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly last month. In a Facebook post today on the occasion of the completion of the sheloshim (30-day) period, Sheryl posted a beautiful and inspirational message on her public Facebook account. Her aim was to give back some of the words that were most helpful to her during her period of immense grief. She writes that she received wisdom and advice from close friends and strangers alike. She specifically singles out her close friend and Detroit native Adam Grant, who taught her three things essential to resilience. Sometimes rather than try to come up with the right words to offer to a mourner, we should just listen.

Sheryl's Facebook post has already been shared close to 40,000 times and major media outlets have helped circulate it. Mark Zuckerberg, Robert Scoble, Randi Zuckerberg and many other leading technology executives have commented on her post as well. Sheryl's words are too important and impactful not to share:

Sheryl Sandberg:

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.