Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Uber Jewy-ness of HQ Trivia's Scott Rogowsky

There's a collective excitement in the Jewish community when pop culture gets all Jewy (to borrow a term that very well might have been coined by Sarah Silverman). In the case of the trending trivia game du jour, HQ Trivia (created by Jewish entrepreneurs Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll), that Jewy-ness has been exhibited by Scott Rogowsky.

Rogowsky, who is quickly carving out his niche as the Alex Trebek of the Digital Age, is none too afraid to let his Judaism come through while hosting the twice-daily mobile trivia game. The people's favorite host missed last night's HQ Trivia because, well of course, it was the Jewish holiday of Purim. In what might have been the first time EVER in the history of anything pop culture, we were told someone wasn't coming into work because of Purim (a rather minor holiday on the Jewish holiday barometer of holiness).

While Rogowsky might have been out partying for Purim last night, he showed up for the afternoon session of HQ Trivia and didn't disappoint by throwing in several Purim references, including "hamantaschen," "Queen Vashti" and even a more esoteric "Mishloach Manot." My wife and fellow HQ Trivia fanatic called me right after the game to exclaim, "Did you hear how many Purim references Scott made? Does he realize most people who were playing had absolutely no clue what he was talking about?"

Rogowsky's comedy has always focused on his Jewishness, including a YouTube video with almost 1 million views that has Rogowsky walking the streets of New York with Hasidic men asking him if he's Jewish. JTA, in late December, ran a feature on Rogowsky in which he talked about his bar mitzvah, anti-Semitism and Hanukkah presents. "Notably, Rogowsky is very vocal about his Jewish identity; live on HQ he’s referred to himself as the 'Semitic Sajak' (that’s in reference to 'Wheel of Fortune' host Pat Sajak) and the 'Meshuggeneh Martindale” (as in Wink, the host of 'Tic-Tac-Dough'). He has wished winners 'mazal tov' and, on the first night of Hanukkah, he wore a vibrant blue-and-white suit emblazoned with Stars of David.'

Knowing how Rogowsky is so vocal about being Jewish, before Purim, one HQ Trivia fan even tweeted to him trying to get a Purim shoutout. That was probably unnecessary since it was a sure bet it would get mentioned.

While I don't get quite as excited about Jewish references in pop culture as others, I do recognize that it is a way to introduce more people out there to Jewish terminology. As a member of Rabbis Without Borders, I learned several years ago that there's some value in reaching beyond the traditional borders of the Jewish community to share some of our Judaism with the broader world. In a non-traditional (okay, very non-traditional) way, Scott Rogowsky is bringing Jewish terminology to the masses. His role as host of a quick (less than 15 minutes) game show that reaches over a million people a couple times a day gives him quite the forum to teach a few Jewish words or concepts. That's quite a large Hebrew School classroom Rogowsky has. Happy Purim Scott Rogowsky and thanks for being so punny on HQ Trivia!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Reflecting on CES 2018

In early January, I made my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). A couple days before the official opening of the largest tech expo in the world, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) puts on an event called CES Unveiled to provide a small taste of what attendees can expect to see at CES. As I walked into the hotel ballroom for CES Unveiled this year I saw a photographer taking a photo of the CEO and president of CTA, Gary Shapiro, who commutes from his home in Franklin, Michigan to the CTA offices in D.C. Shapiro jumped off the ground as high as he could as the photographer managed to catch him many feet off the ground in mid-air.

That photo was appropriate because it summed up Shapiro’s excitement for the 51st CES – the largest show in CTA’s history. Trying to put into words everything I saw and experienced at this year’s CES is an impossible task. The most common question I receive after I return each year from CES is: What was the most impressive new technology there. That is no simple question because wherever you turn, there are impressive tech innovations that will revolutionize our world.

The show has grown over the years and now seems to take over the entire Vegas strip. More than 3,900 exhibitors showcased world-changing technologies that spanned more than 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space across Las Vegas. Shapiro’s excitement for CES was shared around the world as there were close to a million tweets about CES 2018 on Twitter. This year’s CES will be remembered as the year when a blackout shut down large parts of CES for over an hour, but overall this was a minor interruption in an extraordinary event. As news reports correctly pointed out, the Amazon Alexa and Google Home technology is becoming commonplace in most home appliances and tech products. Kohler even unveiled an Amazon-Alexa controlled toilet. Yes, a toilet! Intel even got itself into the Guinness Book of World Records when its advanced software fleet of 100 drones that were controlled without GPS by only one pilot put on a spectacular light show over the water at the Bellagio Hotel.

While the big news coming out of CES was about the billion-dollar brands, like LG, Samsung, Google, Amazon and Panasonic, that showcased their latest consumer products, what I always enjoy the most is visiting Eureka Park at CES, which has 900 startups reflecting the vibrant future of the global tech industry.

I loved learning more about tech innovations like virtual/augmented reality, 5G, smart cities, digital health, and artificial intelligence. What I was very excited to understand further were autonomous vehicles. Before CES officially opened on the first day, I headed to the area in the parking lot where the ride service company Lyft was offering complimentary rides around the Vegas strip in autonomously driven BMWs. I inquired as to how I could get a ride and was told to use my phone at exactly 10:00 AM to order an autonomous Lyft ride.

I then headed to a conference session on the state of artificial intelligence featuring Deepu Talla, the vice president and general manager of Autonomous Machines at NVIDIA. Talla discussed the future of autonomous cars and the artificial intelligence breakthroughs from various industries. He documented the rise of artificial intelligence from early tech periods beginning with the advent of the personal computer to mobile technology and then cloud technology until the current era of AI, which will include autonomous vehicles.

At the end of the session it was 10:00 AM so I took out my phone and ordered my autonomous Lyft ride. The modified BMW 5-series was outfitted with Aptiv’s autonomous driving technology. A human driver sat in the driver’s seat and a representative from Aptiv (formerly Delphi Automotive) sat in the passenger seat. Nandita Mangal from Aptiv explained that according to Nevada law the man in the driver’s seat would actually drive the car while we were on private property (the parking lot of the convention center and any hotel parking lots), but when we were on the street the car would go into autonomous mode. Mangal is in charge of the user experience when it comes to Aptiv’s autonomous driving technology. We had a fascinating discussion about the pros and cons to the consumer when autonomous vehicles become mainstream.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Matisyahu Opens Up About Pushing Jewish Teens Off Stage at Maccabi Games

Matisyahu wasn't always Matisyahu.

Born Matthew Paul Miller, the singer/songwriter's career took off in the early 2000's during a phase of his life when he was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Six years ago, the reggae vocalist and alternative rock musician famously shaved his beard and stopped wearing a yarmulke in public. His religious transformation, divorce and struggle with addiction led to his well-received "Akeda" album. Matisyahu’s latest work, "Undercurrents," is the first album he’s produced by himself.

Matisyahu - Interview with Rabbi Jason Miller 2017

The artist, who brings his tour to St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on December 12, took the time to talk to me for an interview in the Detroit Jewish News. In this candid interview, Matisyahu opens up about his religious journey and shaving his iconic beard. He also, for the first time, addresses the controversial concert at the Maccabi Games this past summer, in which he pushed Jewish teens off the stage during the show.

Here's the audio of the interview with the published interview in the Detroit Jewish News below that:

Rabbi Jason Miller: What are the high points of your career?

Matisyahu: There’s been some great moments. The time I got to go on stage at Bonnaroo [Music and Arts Festival] 2005 with Trey [Anastasio of Phish] singing “No Woman No Cry.” That was a definite high point. I also got to sing “Roxanne” with Sting at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv. That was incredible. Those are probably the two biggest artists that I got to sit in with in big stadiums. One of the memories just popping into my head was after the whole BDS thing in Spain, coming to Israel a month later and the warm feeling I got from everyone in Israel was very special for me.

What do you love about coming to Detroit, a city that like Matisyahu, has been on a transformative journey lately?

I have a song on the new album called “Back to the Old” and I think Detroit is one of those cities where young people who left the city have a real pride in the city and return when they’re older. And my first paid gig ever was in Detroit – at the Detroit Auto Show for Volkswagen. Every hour on the hour, I would play music at the Volkswagen display.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Rabbi Refuses to Give Menorah to Trump White House for Hanukkah Party

It was big news when NBA superstar Steph Curry chose to not go to the White House with his Golden State Warriors team to meet President Donald Trump after winning the 2017 NBA Championship. But he's just one player. After voicing his decision, President Trump uninvited the entire Warriors team. Next to opt out of a White House visit was the entire Women's Basketball team from South Carolina. The team, which won its first NCAA championship in April, was invited to attend a reception at the White House, but declined the invitation.

It's not only athletes who are refusing invitations to the White House. It will be very interesting to see how many Jewish leaders opt out of attending the annual Hanukkah reception at the White House next month. Invitations have already gone out and presumably only rabbis and other Jewish leaders the Trump Administration thinks would accept have been extended an invitation. However, there are likely to be many invitees, even ardent Trump supporters, who will cave to pressure and choose to not attend the Hanukkah party at the White House this year based on actions and public statements by the President himself.

What's interesting to note is that, while there hasn't been any news yet about people refusing to attend the Hanukkah party, there has already been talk of a Reform rabbi who has turned down the White House's request to borrow a menorah from the synagogue to be kindled at the reception.

President Obama lights a menorah in the White House. President Trump is having trouble getting a menorah loaned to the White House.
President Obama lights a menorah in the White House. President Trump is having trouble getting a menorah loaned to the White House as one rabbi has already refused on ethical grounds. (Obama White House Archives)

The rabbi, who is at a Reform congregation and wished to remain anonymous, shared the account after nixing the White House representative's appeal to borrow a menorah to be used at the Hanukkah party. I learned about it from another rabbinic colleague, who posted the story on Facebook:

"I received this from a rabbinic colleague I deeply respect, and was deeply moved by their integrity and bold resistance:
Just got off the phone with someone in Washington, D.C., who is helping to plan the White House’s Hanukkah Banquet this year. It seems the White House was interested in borrowing a special hanukkiah to use in this year’s celebration.
I told her we are honored to be asked.
I told her I wish I could say yes.
I told her that Hanukkah’s celebration of religious freedom, spreading light in the face of darkness, cultivating hope instead of fear, is antithetical to everything this White House has embraced.
I told her we would have to say no.
Then I received a second phone call, that this conversation should be kept confidential. I asked why. Because it wouldn’t be appropriate, I was told. Because this is how things are done in Washington, D.C., I was told.
I told her I would take that into consideration.
I did.
And then I wrote this post."

I'm sure this wasn't an easy decision for the rabbi to make because there's a certain amount of clout in having your menorah be the one used in the White House. After all, most menorahs that are borrowed by the White House to light at the annual White House Hanukkah party are already famous or have some meaning as to why they were used.

So, already an NBA star, a women's college basketball team and a menorah have opted to dis the President and stay away from Trump's White House. It will be interesting to see who else does.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

When You’re Unfriended in Real Life

The schools of the great sages of the Jewish people, Hillel and Shammai, were known to debate each other on just about every topic. The students of these two schools rarely agreed on anything; each strongly and passionately arguing the opposite position of the other, albeit always with respect for the other’s opinion.

In Judaism, we believe that each human is created in the divine image and, thus, we have the responsibility to treat one another with respect. However, many of us humans don’t act with godliness when participating in Facebook discussions involving political viewpoints.

The 2012 election was bad when it came to a lack of civility on Facebook, but the 2016 election a year ago was many times worse. I’m scared to think of what 2020 will bring us. Many close friends unfriended each other on the social network, relatives blocked relatives and, even worse, long-term relationships in real life were severed because of hurt feelings during political arguments. While the election might have been over on November 8, 2016, the heated arguments on Facebook have continued. In the past year, with a President known to send out many divisive tweets before most people have had their first cup of coffee, the Facebook battlefield has only intensified.

Many friendships have been damaged permanently because of politics on Facebook

If you have a Facebook account, you likely witnessed at least one unfortunate interaction in the past couple of years. It has been impossible to post anything about either presidential candidate without a couple of trolls coming in to paste the latest talking points from the most extremist online blogs they could find to bolster their position or refute everyone else’s opinion.

This has been true on both sides, from the extreme left and the extreme right. On social networks, especially Facebook, people have learned to hide behind their screens when they say these hateful things, but it affects all their relationships and not only their virtual relationships. In the run-up to the 2016 election, most political opinions on either candidate would be met with attacks in the comment section of that post. Many of the comments were not fact checked and some were outright myths that had already been debunked by, the fact-checking web site. In the past year, tempers have flared even more with friends attacking friends on Facebook over everything from the NFL's national anthem controversy and the Second Amendment to the Russian interference in the election and Trump's policies. No topic is off limits when it comes to firing shots in the comment section of Facebook and real friendships become the collateral damage.

I was recently tutoring a young woman for her bat mitzvah and we were studying the Tower of Babel story within her Torah portion. I explained that God was so angered that humans would try to build a tower to the sky that God punished them by confounding their languages so they couldn’t communicate with one another. Immediately, this wise 13-year-old girl said, “In my bat mitzvah speech, I want to talk about how we communicate with each other.” And she immediately hit the nail on the head by explaining the negative effects that occur from the way teens talk to each other in the 21st century. Rather than speaking face-to-face, today’s teens send coded text messages, Snapchat messages that disappear after several seconds, and comments under the photos they post on Instagram. The language they use is different from what any prior generation would recognize as English. One misinterpreted emoji or abbreviation can mean the end of a friendship.

On Facebook, it’s not only the teens who resort to insults and abusive language when someone offends them with their strongly held opinion. Earlier generations wouldn’t understand how your crazy liberal uncle can get into a heated debate with some girl you went to summer camp with a few decades ago.

When adults begin threatening to “unfollow” or “unfriend,” we quickly find ourselves feeling trapped and annoyed in a fourth-grade-esque insult circus. Cutting off contact with someone with opposing ideology will never further discussion, debate and democracy. Sadly, a lot of people on Facebook are close-minded, unwilling to listen to opposing opinions.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

What a Year for Jews in Baseball!

For any baseball fan who pays special attention to the few (very few) good Jewish baseball players in Major League Baseball, 2017 was a very exciting year. And the excitement started even before the MLB season kicked off. In a Times of Israel article, I wrote about the memorable seven days of March that were magical for the ragtag Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Nate Freiman of Team Israel referred to his squad as "The Mensches of March" and they were known for their iconic "Mensch on the Bench" doll and for donning yarmulkes during the playing of Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem) before games. Team Israel became the pride of every Jewish kid around the world who had been waiting for their big Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg-esque excitement.

With the bar mitzvah boy before the Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia

The next big moment in Jewish baseball (at least for me) came in late July. I flew to Philadelphia to officiate the bar mitzvah of a special needs boy before the Philadelphia Phillies game. About 100 of us gathered in a party room at the ballpark to watch this young man be called to the Torah (yes, I brought a small Torah into Citizens Bank Park!) along with his therapy dog (it was a bark mitzvah too!). Officiating a bar mitzvah before a Major League Baseball game inside the stadium was pretty cool and I couldn't imagine what could top it on that special night. And then the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th inning, pinch hitter Ty Kelly, a nice Jewish kid from Dallas, hit the walk off RBI to win the game for the Phillies. The bar mitzvah boy was ecstatic (along with the other Philly fans in the packed ballpark). The 29-year-old Kelly, who proudly wears a Jewish star necklace, has a Jewish mother and played for Team Israel this past year.

The excitement of the 2017 MLB season for fans of Jewish baseball players continued right up to the very end with two elite Jewish sluggers squaring off against each other in the World Series. Both Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros had memorable postseason performances. Pederson had 3 homers in the postseason and Bregman had 4 homers and 10 RBI in the postseason. Had the Dodgers emerged victorious, Pederson was surely a candidate for World Series MVP.

Alex Bregman, of the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros, is one of the top Jewish MLB players today

The 2017 World Series had a couple notable moments for Jewish baseball fans. Pederson had all 3 of his postseason home runs in the World Series, giving him the record for most home runs by a Jewish player in one World Series, moving him past Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Bregman also makes the Jewish baseball record books becoming the first Jewish player to win a World Series game with a walk-off hit (in game 5 of the World Series). Both Bregman and Pederson homered in Saturday night's game 4, making them the first Jewish baseball players on opposing teams to homer in the World Series in the same game. Wow, that's a lot of records for one World Series.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Do You Know this Wealthy Jew?

A quick Web search of the Detroit Jewish News Archives from the past two decades will yield a handful of covers featuring head shots of some of our Jewish community’s most successful businessmen who are remembered for their generous charitable contributions. These individuals were mega-wealthy, but they were glorified for their mega-philanthropy. What many may not realize is that the founder of our faith was a wealthy businessman too and the Torah’s first Hebrew might serve as a paragon of virtue for today’s mega-wealthy.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Lech Lecha, Abraham is commanded by God to "lech lecha," that he should leave his ancestral land and travel to a new place that God will show him. Right after this divine order, we are informed about Abraham’s financial status. V’Avram Kaved Meod (Abram was very rich.” Our patriarch was rich in cattle, silver and gold. There is much to be learned from this word kaved, or rich. The word most often used for rich or wealthy in the Torah is ashir. So we must be curious about the choice to use kaved here.

In modern Hebrew, we use the word kaved to mean heavy, as in a physical weight, but it can also mean a burden. Rashi mentions this meaning in his commentary on the verse, and adds another meaning of kaved that we are familiar with from the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments -- kabed et avicha v’et imecha (you must honor your parents). Similarly, from the same root is the word for an honor that is given out in synagogue, a kibood. Finally, the word kaved also means liver, which is the heaviest part of our body. So, in the Torah portion, we learn that Abraham is very wealthy and that the term used to demonstrate his wealth is an unusual choice.

"Kaved" is used to tell us that Abraham was weighted down with many possessions because of his wealth showing that it can be a challenge to have a financial fortune. In the very next verse, we learn that Abraham traveled from the Negev desert to Beit El “in stages,” which Rashi explains as meaning that Abraham took the same route on his return staying in the same places he had lodged on his way down to Egypt before he had wealth. This means that while Abraham is wealthier now, he has retained his humility and doesn’t choose to stay in nicer places. Abraham, our patriarch, was not altered by his accumulation of wealth. Recognizing the tendency to be burdened by money and possessions, Abraham maintain his kavod (honor) when he became kaved (wealthy). This is not always the case.

We tend to only see the positive side of enormous financial wealth. But, having power and wealth can be burdensome, it can be a challenge. In our society, such a vast possession of wealth requires much responsibility and integrity. It catapults people into the public eye, living life in a fishbowl, having every business decision scrutinized, every investment maneuver questioned. There are many advantages to a life of wealth, but it must be done while maintaining kavod.

There is much to learn from our patriarch Abraham. He was wealthy, but he was also well respected and humble. A model for us in modern times, Abraham possessed the dignity to keep him from a life of over-indulgence in material wealth. Many of the mega-rich tycoons in the corporate world of the 20th and 21st centuries were not paragons of virtue. Their wealth became burdensome, they became greedy and many ultimately got into legal trouble before their ultimate downfall. Such has not been the case with the Detroit Jewish community’s leaders over the past century. By and large, our community has been blessed with a disproportionate number of mega-philanthropists who have used their fortunes for the common good, bolstering noble causes in our community. Like our patriarch Abraham, the pillars of our dynamic community have maintained their kavod while being kaved.

For further discussion:

1. Have you noticed behavioral differences in friends or relatives who have become wealthy suddenly?

2. What are ways we can teach our children to make philanthropy a priority in their lives?

Originally published in The Detroit Jewish News

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Free Speech vs. Respecting the National Anthem

The following is the sermon I delivered on Yom Kippur:

A story: In a synagogue somewhere (it doesn’t matter where), the rabbi instructs the congregation, “Please rise for the Torah processional as the ark is opened and the Torah is taken out.” The rabbi notices one of the synagogue regulars has remained in his seat. He thinks this is odd and makes a mental note to ask Mark during the kiddush following services why he didn’t stand. After the Torah reading the rabbi again directs the congregation to stand and, once again, there’s Mark sitting in his seat.

At Kiddush, the rabbi approaches Mark and greets him with a “Shabbat Shalom.” The rabbi asks Mark if everything is OK and he says it is. The rabbi says that he noticed he did not stand when the Torah came out of the Ark or when it was put back during the recessional. The rabbi peppered him with more questions. “Is there a handicap that prevented you from standing? Do you have a bad back? Do you now get dizzy if you stand?”

Mark then looked at the rabbi and explained, “Because I’m a gay man. I cannot agree with what the Torah says about me or my friends in the gay community. I’m silently protesting the verse in Leviticus that deals with homosexuals. You want me to stand out of respect for a document that, in essence, calls me morally reprehensible – an abomination.

Well, the rabbi thought, on the one hand, it is our synagogue custom that everyone who is physically able to, stands when the Torah is carried around the congregation. But, on the other hand, we subscribe to the democratic ideals of free speech in our country. So, Mark is violating our synagogue policy, our minhag hamakom (our community’s custom), but I also respect him for taking a stand.

Now, I must tell you that I made up this story. But it does serve as an appropriate analogy for the ongoing debate about NFL football players “taking a knee” and refusing to stand during the National Anthem before football games as a form of a protest. I’m not going to get into the reasons WHY these professional football players are choosing to protest… some say it’s because of police brutality, others because of our President’s choice words in condemnation of their protest, and others because of the lyrics in our nation’s anthem. What I do want to discuss today is how we ascribe holiness and meaning to objects, and what happens when our embrace of freedom of speech gets in the way of how we feel about these objects of meaning.

First, take a moment to think about how you would respond to my made-up character of Mark. If you were the rabbi – or a fellow congregant in Mark’s congregation, what would be your response to his decision to not stand for the Torah processional and recessional because he’s at odds over what the Torah says? It’s a plausible act of conscientious objection. What if a group of women in the congregation refused to stand because they didn’t agree with the Torah’s views of women? What if all the non-Kohanim in a congregation objected to the privileges ascribed to the Kohens and refused to stand when the Torah was paraded? That would be a lot of people sitting down in protest!

From just one congregant refusing to stand, it could catch on and then there’d be large-scale protests in congregations around the country – maybe the world. Would we commend the protesters for holding their ground, or would be feel they were disrespecting our Holy Torah?

Remember, ultimately, it was humans who ascribed such holiness to the Torah. And it was humans who ascribed meaning to a poem by Francis Scott Key. Is it not each individual’s right to determine if they should stand or sit for the Torah? For the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner? What if someone chooses to sit for the singing of Israel’s national anthem – Hatikvah? Are they wrong? Are they inconsiderate? Or, are they merely expressing their beliefs and making a statement?

It’s a challenging situation and it’s certainly more complicated than simply saying everyone who is of able body MUST stand for the National Anthem. Looks look at how this controversy began in the NFL.

On August 14, 2016, quarterback Colin Kaepernick chooses to sit for the National Anthem and no one noticed. Mostly because the TV cameras never used to broadcast during the National Anthem unless it was a big playoff game or the Super Bowl. A week later, again Kaepernick sits during the anthem, and again, no one noticed. The following week, he sits and this time he is met with a level of vitriol unseen against an athlete. Even the future President of the United States took shots at him while on the campaign trail. Kaepernick went on to explain his protest had NOTHING to with the military, but he felt it was difficult to stand for a flag that didn't treat people of color fairly.

Then on August 30, 2016, Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret turned NFL long snapper, penned an open letter to Colin Kaepernick in the Army Times. In it he expressed how Kaepernick's sitting affected him. Then a strange thing happened. Kaepernick was able to do what most Americans to date have not... He listened.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Remembering Dick Lobenthal - A Legend

And the king said to his soldiers, “You well know that a prince, a great man of the Jewish people, has fallen this day" (II Samuel, 2:38).

I took Richard Lobenthal out for breakfast six years ago with the purpose of interviewing him about his life. My editor at The Detroit Jewish News gave me the go-ahead to write an extensive article about Dick's career with the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), which spanned four decades. At that breakfast I took copious notes -- over 10 pages filled with anecdotes from a decades-long mission of fighting hate. Several times over the past 6 years I considered writing that article, but it always felt too soon. I felt that if the article was published, he would soon die. So, I never wrote that article, but I still have the notes and plan to write it this year.

With Dick Lobenthal at the Anti-Defamation League's Centennial Celebration in 2013

I first met Dick Lobenthal at Michigan State University because he was the guy we called whenever there was anti-Semitism on campus or an anti-Israel speaker was coming. I got to know him very well in the summer of 1996 when Daniel Harold and I were his interns at the ADL office in Southfield. After that summer, I returned to MSU to discuss my summer "field experience" with my professor, Michael Schechter. He asked what I thought of my time at the ADL and I said something to the effect of, "This summer I had the honor to get to know a Living Legend."

Watching as Abe Foxman greets Richard Lobenthal at the ADL's Centennial Celebration in Detroit

The last time I saw Dick was when I took him out for lunch before his surgery. He seemed so brave about his prognosis and kept saying that he'd rather talk about me and my family. I honestly didn't think he'd live this long after the surgery, but it shows what a determined fighter he was. Dick's daughter, Lisabeth, asked me to share some stories about this great man at his funeral:

When the Detroit Jewish News emailed me yesterday and asked me to write Dick’s obituary for the paper, I did the normal thing. I went to the Jewish News archives online and did a search for Dick’s name. My eyes got about this big! Dick Lobenthal is mentioned in about 600 different issues of the Detroit Jewish News from the early 1960's to as recently as a couple years ago. Now, that’s pretty impressive considering it means that he’s mentioned in something like 10% of all issues printed during his time here in Metro Detroit.

Now, if you think that’s impressive, consider that, in addition to being quoted in articles – mostly about combating anti-Semitic attacks both locally and abroad – and the mentions about basic ADL business, the vast majority of those mentions are promoting Dick’s speaking engagements. In addition to the radio shows, the phone calls, the letter writing, the op-ed publishing, the advocacy work, the fundraising, the reading and research that he was doing, Dick Lobenthal was doing speaking engagements all the time. Those speaking engagements were not because Dick Lobenthal liked to hear himself talk. They were because he was teaching… he was an educator. He was teaching people to love, not hate. He was preaching tolerance and understanding. And he was indefatigable in this work. Our world, as we all know, is still a very fractured place, BUT, I truly believe the world is a BETTER place because of Dick Lobenthal and the godly work that he did.

In 2005, I invited Dick Lobenthal to speak to students at the University of Michigan Hillel

Two Stories:

It was my Freshman year at Michigan State. Admittedly, I was a naïve, Jewish kid from Metro Detroit who hadn’t been exposed to anything! I went to Hillel Day School, was active in a Synagogue Youth Group, went to Camp Tamarack, etc. Now, here I was an 18-year-old at MSU and now involved with the Jewish Student Union. It seemed like each week that Fall, another Nation of Islam representative, Israel-basher or Holocaust denier was coming to campus. Put simply, there was A LOT of “Hate on campus.” We college kids didn’t know what to do. Do we sit in silently in the audience to witness these speeches? Do we protest? Picket outside? Sit down in the crowd and wait for them to say something offensive and then get up and walk out?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Back to School Tech Product Roundup

Does it feel like the summer just started? Well, it’s already back to school time. Those are words that most kids dread to hear and most parents look forward to hearing. This has always been my favorite time of year because there are so many new tech products on the market. “Back to school” tech products don’t just mean cool school supplies and gadgets. There are many new products available that will make everyone, from teachers to executives, more productive.

Back to school time also means companies are beginning to release their new and exciting products for the holiday season. From virtual reality and drones to security cameras and 3D printers, these many new products are unbelievable. In this roundup of products, I have included everything from smokers for your Labor Day barbecue to fun drones that will make videography more fun for everyone in the family. Affordable 4K televisions for your college student and educational games that will keep everyone on their toes this school year. Why wait for the holiday season to splurge on new tech products? Check out this great list of exciting new gadgets.

Featured Laptop:

Huawei MateBook D – I’m a big fan of Huawei products (I love their phones) and this 15.6-inch notebook doesn’t disappoint. It’s the first lapper of this size to launch Dolby Atmos Sound System providing an immersive sound experience with Dolby custom-designed and tuned speakers. It’s so thin and light that all ages of students will be able to carry this powerful computer to classes each day. It has NVIDIA GeForce 940MX Graphics with 2GB GDDR5 video memory to ensure extraordinary work and entertainment experiences. Comes with Windows 10 Home and a i5 processor, with 1 year Office365 included.

Featured Phones

Moto e4 Phone – There was a time when young students weren’t allowed to take a phone to school, but no more. Now that our kids can have phones, we want to equip them with one that is powerful, but not too costly. This ridiculously inexpensive smartphone is sure to impress with its 5” HD display and compact design. Don’t let the price fool you because this phone has most of the same specs phones five times the price do. It has a fingerprint sensor to instantly unlock your phone, a quad-core processor and 4G speed. The camera lets you take sharp photos, even in low light conditions. The removeable battery, which is becoming more uncommon in phones, lets you swap a new battery after a couple years of use. It also has a selfie flash and its splash resistant.

BlackBerry KEYone – A friend of mine who is a long time BlackBerry aficionado endured years of jokes at his expense for his seemingly outdated phones. He finally succumbed and switched to an iPhone, but that was a mistake. He should have waited for the KEYone to be relieased. This phone features a 4.5 inch 1650×1080 pixel resolution display with a Snapdragon 625 processor coupled with 3GB of RAM, 12 megapixel rear and 5 megapixel front cameras, as well as a long-lasting 3,505mAh battery. It has the BlackBerry standard full QWERTY keyboard, of course. At $549.99, it’s sure to give the iPhones a run for their money.

Featured TVs

Hisense H8 TV – A generation ago many parents frowned on the idea of a TV in their child’s room because it was seen as an alternative to homework. Today’s generation of kids might spend time watching their favorite shows on Netflix, but they’re just as likely to be watching tutorials for school on YouTube on the 55” display hung on the wall of their bedroom. Hisense offers advanced HDR processing at an unbeatable price tag with brilliant picture quality, built-in wireless, Netflix, Vudu Movies, and YouTube for the latest in entertainment. The 65-inch model retails for $899.99 with smaller sizes offered for less.

TCL S-Series HD-TV (4K) – While Samsung, Sony and Vizio might be the more popular names in the television industry, it’s brands like TCL that are offering high-end 4K models that are more affordable. TCL’s S-Series features Dolby Vision HDR and enhanced front-facing speakers to deliver premium picture quality and superior sound. With sizes ranging from 28” HD displays, perfect for a kitchen countertop, 43” Full HD models great for bedroom watching, to 65” 4K HDR resolution to help turn your living room into the ultimate entertainment experience.

Featured Backpacks and Briefcases

booq SuperSlim 15 – I don’t leave home without my booq case that protects my Microsoft Surface Pro. It’s lightweight and comfortable to carry. The SuperSlim 15 proves to be the perfect companion for comfortable traveling and daily commuting with its polyester interior, functional pockets and padded lip inside its laptop compartment to protect laptops. It features booq’s Terralinq lost and found service and a five-year warranty.

STM Judge Laptop Brief – Ideal for schlepping your laptop around campus, STM’s 15” laptop brief is teeming with pockets, zippers and compartments. The defining feature of the Judge is STM’s trademarked SlingTech technology, which not only guards your digital device but also suspends it above the bottom of the bag, where laminated dual density foam keeps it away from the impact zone. The briefcase also features the innovative Cable Ready cable-routing system that keeps you connected with cords conveniently stowed out of the way.

1 Voice NYC Backpack - Get your student ready for school with the 1 Voice Backpack. This innovative backpack will make busy days easier to manage. School is all about working hard, staying focused and being organized. The 1 Voice Backpack will make school semesters a little smoother. This wearable technology has a built-in 11,000mAH lithium-ion charger enough to recharge your phone 4 to 7 times! No more digging to the bottom of your backpack to find an item. This high-quality backpack has many compartments with easy access and is available in brown, navy blue, and black.

Beckmann Backpacks – I hadn’t heard of Beckmann Backpacks until this year and I’m impressed. These bags are full of pockets, straps and gear loops so that your child can stay organized while at school. The variety of colors and patterns allows kids to really express themselves. Beckmann, a Norway-based company, only makes school bags that are resilient and safe.

The Ruck Backpack by Speck – I couldn’t believe this backpack is only $49.95. I’ll be equipping all my kids with one of these this fall because they are rugged, safe and look cool. The Ruck’s rear padded laptop sleeve holds up to a 15-inch laptop, and there’s extra space in the rear compartment for notebooks, books, and more. A second zippered compartment features a soft-lined tablet sleeve to secure and protect an iPad or e-reader. It also has pockets to store pens, charging cables, and a clip to keep your keys from getting lost. Best of all, the Ruck is backed by a three-year warranty.

Tech Products You’ll Love this Fall

Varidesk Laptop 30 Standing Desk - This awesome standing desk will keep you moving all day and helps you stay loose. The compact design is perfect for any space and it is adjustable to accommodate many heights with its nine different height adjustments. The single, slim work surface is 30 inches wide, so it’s the perfect size for laptops or tablets. Best of all is that it’s fully assembled and ready to use right out of the box.

Mighty – I got so excited when I learned about Mighty because it really fills a gap in the music playing space. Mighty plays your Spotify music on-the-go without a phone. It works with Spotify Premium and pairs with Bluetooth headsets and speakers. It holds over a thousand songs and boasts a battery life of up to 5 hours. It’s also drop- and water-resistant.

Logitech MK850 – For years I’ve only been using Logitech keyboards. I find them to be comfortable, responsive and quiet. With the MK850 set, your keyboard won’t require new batteries for 36 months and your mouse stays powered for 24 months. You can connect wirelessly to your devices with Logitech Unifying USB receiver or pair via Bluetooth.The best part is that you can flawlessly switch from typing on your computer to your tablet with the touch of a button and the mouse pairs with up to 3 devices for seamless multi-tasking. Only $99.99 at