Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tenth Anniversary - Nope. Not Wedding. That'll Be Eighth. Next Month.

Well, I just realized today, Erev Tish'a B'Av, was the tenth anniversary of the greatest mistake of my life, probably the one that caused me to be, ultimately, turned off to so much about Yiddishkeit and certainly the one that led us to all the financial troubles we've had, which, in turn, eventually led to us having to declare bankruptcy.

Yep. It's the tenth anniversary of my getting accepted to yeshiva (Chofetz Chaim, by the way), and actually deciding to go. What a stupid, stupid, STUPID mistake. Instead of taking those three years and doing something useful with them, like continuing my interrupted education (I had gotten my BA, but nothing further) and getting a graduate degree in something useful that would have served me as a career for a long, long time, I decided instead to waste those years and go wallow in some yeshiva.

What a waste. What a waste. What a stupid, stupid waste.

Yes. I have regrets.

Well, I guess it just adds to the mourning, which is, after all, the theme of the day - mourning what we lost and mourning lost opportunities...

From Not Always Right - Great Site About How Often the Customer Is Simply NOT Always Right...

Great story from the recent Comic-Con in San Diego:

I Find Your Lack Of T-shirts Disturbing
(Note: I’m selling t-shirts at Comic Con in San Diego. Two men are dressed as Star Wars characters come to my booth.)

Jedi #1: “Man, these shirts are all great. I don’t know how I’ll pick.”

Coworker: “Well, they are two for $35, so you can get any two you like.”

Jedi #2: “Is there any deal for three?”

Coworker: “Nope, just by twos.”

(Suddenly, the second Jedi activates his light-up light saber and speaks in an angry, menacing tone.)

Jedi #2: “How about now?!”
Not Always Right

Lack of Emunah! Caught Red-Handed!

So, the rabbi of the Young Israel I attend gave his usual between Mincha=Maariv drash last night. The topic, of course, was Hilchos Tish'a B'Av. He ended with a rather, I thought, peculiar bracha: May we merit this be the last Tish'a B'Av we fast and mourn, and may the next one be a day of joy and happiness and redemption, etc, etc, etc.

Except for one problem. This was last night, about twenty-four hours BEFORE the fast begins. What did he mean THIS Tish'a B'Av should be the last one? Does he lack the Emunah in of the Thirteen Principles of Judaism? The one that goes like this: "Ani Maamin b'emunah shleima b'vias hamoshiach, v'al af pi sh'yismahameha, im kol ze acheke lo B'CHOL YOM SHEYAVO?" - "I believe with complete fatih in the coming of the Messiah, and although he may delay, I anticipate EVERY DAY that he will come."

Well, if we anticipate Mashiach's arrival EVERY SINGLE DAY, what kind of message was the rabbi trying to convey? That he does not, perhaps subconsciously at least, truly believe Mashiach could arrive ANY DAY, even today, or even tomorrow, on Tish'a B'Av itself (after all, what more appropriate day IS there for Mashiach's arrival than Tish'a B'Av?)? Does it mean the rabbi has some deficiency in his own belief? I certainly hope not. He's a really great guy whom I really admire. I'll have to mention it to him when next I see him...

Now, then. May we merit THIS Tish'a B'av be a day of joy, happiness, celebration, and, most of all, complete Geualah.


Solomon Dwek disowned by father...

Oof. That's GOTTA sting! Apparently, according to the article, Rabbi Yisrael Dwek, the moser's father, has publicly disowned his son on Shabbos:

A lot of people might like to wring his neck, but the sleazy real-estate mogul who ratted out everyone from politicians to rabbis in a massive corruption case is apparently already as good as dead to his father.

Israel Dwek -- the father of Solomon "Shlomo" Dwek, who helped the feds nail three New Jersey mayors and several rabbis in Brooklyn last week -- plans to sit shiva for his son because he is so disgusted with his turning on other Jews, reported the Web site

Shiva is the traditional Jewish mourning period held after a family member dies.

The father -- citing "the Talmudic Law of Moser that prohibits a Jew from informing on another Jew to a non-Jew" -- renounced his son from the pulpit at his synagogue in Deal, NJ, on Saturday, the site said.

Israel Dwek is a revered leader of the Sephardic Jewish community in the wealthy enclave.
Way to go, Rabbi Dwek.

Oh. And Ha'Makom Yenacham Otcha B'Toch Sh'ar Aveilei Tzion V'Yerushalayim. May you and your know only good things from now on and may you and your family be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

UPDATE: According to a reader, this story is not true. According to VIN who researched the story, he denounced moserim from the pulpit but no more than that.

Obama and Israel

A few people have recently asked me whether Obama's stance on Israel, as well as that of his administration, concern me, upset me, or make change my mind about supporting him.

Here's my answer: Do I like that Obama is trying to set policy for Israel within Israel? Absolutely not. I hate it. I vehemently disagree with him and his policies. Based on all very objective, very empirical evidence from the Palestinian Authority, there will never be peace between them and Israel. They've stated it explicitly time and again, most recently saying quite clearly that their objective is STILL the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. I do not think Obama and his administration are being intellectually honest here. And I NEVER said I would be likely to agree with Obama about Israel. In fact, I said quite the opposite. Remember, when it comes to Israel politics, I'm VERY right wing.

But we have to remember this: Clinton was a lot of talk. It was George W. Bush, twice illegal president of the United States, who drafted (well, his people did, anyway) the "Road Map to Peace" that was to be the guidelines Israel and the Arabs were to follow toward an ultimate and lasting peace between Israel and the PA. Israel did its best to live up to its obligations. The terrorists did not. But BUSH was the first to put in writing that Israel give up land it had rightfully conquered AFTER BEING ATTACKED in the Six Day War. Bush. Not Obama. Bush. Israel's "best friend ever." The Obama administration is simply following, more aggressively, Bush's policies, which, though I think following ANY Bush administration policies is bad, is worse in this case, as Obama really has no right to follow those policies and make demands on Israel when the Palestinians are not, in ANY way, living up to their end of the "Roadmap."

So, do I like what Obama and his administration are doing? Hell, no. But I did not vote for Obama based on what his policies would be toward Israel. Israel, with God's help, will take care of herself. Notice, Netanyahu became PM just as Obama became president - the perfect counter-balances to each other.

However, no. I have NO regrets about voting for and supporting Obama. I voted for Obama based on who I thought would be the best president for the United States, not for Israel. McCain could NEVER have achieved anything. He was a pushover, and his campaign proved it. And Palin would have screwed up this country even more than it was already screwed up. I think, given time (remember, Obama's only been in office seven months), the economy will recover under Obama's guidance. I think the healthcare overhaul, which is taking a while to get underway because they NEED to find the best balance possible in the best system possible.

So, no. I do NOT regret voting for Obama. In fact, I'm quite happy with my choice. And no. I do NOT like his policies toward Israel. But that does not make him a bad president. A bit naive, perhaps, when it comes to Israel, but not a bad president.

Re-Post - William Shatner Poetizes Sarah Palin...

In a brilliant tribute to his own now famous (or, maybe, infamous) reading of Rocket Man, Captain Kirk himself takes the Poets' seat again to read Sarah Palin's farewell speech as a poem... Absolutely brilliant! :)

Youtube had to get rid of this, so I reposted it from NBC.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ah. Finally the Answer to a Most Pressing Question...

Ever wonder why the Starship Enterprise has the two warp nacelles and the cylindrical bottom (aka the engineering section) in that particular shape? Here's the answer! :)

By the way, I did see the new Star Trek movie. I really and truly enjoyed it. It was like visiting an old friend. Ironically, the only part I didn't really like was Leonard Nimoy's performance. It was very wooden. What a shame. It was otherwise a really great movie!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Laffa and Pita bread recipes

I've been enthusiastically baking laffa bread the last few Fridays. I'd been looking for a recipe for a long, LONG time. Since our move to the Midwest, we simply haven't had any, and there is none to be found within at least 400 or 500 miles. In any direction. I found this recipe and we all really love it. In truth, it's a simple pita recipe. The laffa is just made a bit differently than the pita. If you know of a better recipe than this, PLEASE leave for me in the comments or email me! Thanks!

7 cups bread flour
one package dry yeast
3 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar (a bit more may be added if desired)
1 teaspoon salt (again, a bit more may be added for a saltier bread, but don't overdo it!)
4 tablespoons olive oil (I use the mild kind, but any will do).

Mix the yeast with the flour. Add water, sugar, salt and olive oil and knead for about 10 minutes, until dough is smooth, shiny, and slightly sticky. Add flour if needed (too wet) or water (if too dry).

Transfer dough to a large greased (I use olive oil) bowl (in truth, I just knead the dough in a giant bowl to begin with and when I'm done, I take out the dough, grease the giant bowl, and return the dough to the bowl). Generously rub top and sides with olive oil. Allow dough to rise to double its size.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces (you may get one or two more, and that's fine). Roll each piece into a ball, place on a floured surface, cover with a damp towel (I just wet and use a paper towel) and allow to rest for ten minutes. Roll out each piece into a 12-14 inch round.

Now, there are two ways of baking:

Method 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. place rounds on a cookie sheet (covered with parchment paper) and bake for about ten minutes.

Method 2 (the one I use simply because I haven't tried Method 1 yet):

This is easiest of you have an electric burner.

Turn burner on to a medium high heat. place a large pan or wok BOTTOMS UP over the burner and bake the laffa on the bottom of the pan (I happen to have a new pan I never used, so this worked well for me). Bake until bubbles form and bottom of the laffa begins to develop some brown spots. Flip and bake other side. Make sure the laffa is COMPLETELY flat, otherwise you'll have unbaked edges. I use a spatula to flatten the bread when I turn it over.

Recently, I started using an 11"x11" stovetop griddle (two, actually, over the large burners). I use a slightly lower heat. This method takes far less time and I think they come out even better than baking them on an upside-down pan.

Remove from over or pan (depending on what method you use) and place inside a towel (any kitchen towel will do. Let cool for about a minute, and then immediately transfer into a plastic bag and close it up! The moisture from the heat is what will make the laffa very pliable, moist, and yummy. Keep adding laffas to the bag.

Enjoy warm. You may freeze these. When you reheat, reheat IN the plastic bag so they stay moist.

Hope you have as much fun making these as I do!

P.S. To make these into pitas:

Follow steps UP to the part where you divide the dough:

Divide dough into TWENTY equal parts, roll into balls, place on floured surface, and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Roll out each ball into a 10-12 inch round and about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes, just until the pitas swell up and begin to show golden spots. Avoid over-baking if you don't want to end up with giant pita chips.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Cover pitas with a kitchen towel for a few minutes to keep them soft. Enjoy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Want to Go Home...

It's been my mind a lot lately. I really want to go back to Israel. Problem is, if we can't make it here financially, how are we supposed to make it there? So, I have to come up with a long term plan. It needs to involve me actually making some money here, going back to school to get a graduate degree, and making sure, should we decide to make Aliyah, that at least I, preferably both of us, have jobs in Israel. As I understand it, now is a great time to make Aliyah as the economy there is better, for the first time in history, than it is in the US.

But there's more to it than that. I have felt my connection with Judaism, Torah, and God slipping drastically in recent months. I'm always quite angry at God. The only time I ever feel a real connection is when I'm learning Navi, davening on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (and yes, I STILL do daven thrice a day and put on talis and tefilin for shacharis), and when I'm listening to older Jewish music (pre-1990 - anything after is pure crap). Aside from that, I just really feel no connection, except to one thing, which is a constant at this point: Eretz Yisrael. I miss it. I love it. I cry when I think about it. I cry when I daven about it. I cry during the three haftarot preceding (especially Shabbos Chazon) AND the seven proceeding Tish'a B'Av. On a side point, what really upsets me is that I daven in a Religious Zionist shul, and during these deeply moving and emotional haftarot, through my own tears, I see and hear people talking and chatting, not paying any attention to these haftarot (and even the ones who do pay attention so not seem to have any kind of emotional response) and the message they convey. It is deeply upsetting to me.

A friend, who also happens to be my rav, discussed the mourning period known as the Three Weeks. For a memory refresh, my issues with the Three Weeks are recorded here. I mentioned I find the idea of building UP to the worst day rather than down seems a bit backward when it comes to mourning. This is especially poignant to me having experienced going through aveilus after my father died (and yes, I'm still quite angry at him and do very much despise him, but I'm passed that now!).

He said, and I agree, one does build up, whether it's Rosh Chodesh Elul to Rosh Hahshana to Yom Kippur or Shiv'a Asar B'Tammuz to Tish'a B'Av, one builds up to the culmination.

Good. But, I said, I still don't agree, as mourning is supposed to dissipate, not get worse, and this is a mourning period, unlike the Yamim Noraim, which are does of repentance, and DO legitimately build up.

So, he asked me: "Do YOU deeply feel the loss of the Bais HaMikdash EVERY SINGLE DAY?"

I answered, honestly, that I did. Not for the Bais HaMikdash itself or even for what it represented, which was a closeness to God, because in truth, WITH the Bais HaMikdash, WITH the opportunity for such closeness, that closeness was squandered.

No. I feel, daily, all the time, the loss of the what the Bais HaMikdash was SUPPOSED to represent. It was a place where ALL Jews, regardless of HOW they worshipped God or HOW they followed legitimate halacha and a Torah lifestyle, were supposed to come together in Achdus, in universal unity. They were supposed to come together, bound by a love of their land, Torah, and each other, following the creed of "V'Ahavta L'Rei'acha Kamocha" - loving one's fellow Jew as one loves oneself.

But they didn't. And they STILL can't. Yesterday's events with that horrible moser, the "frum" person who baited people into laundering money for him and then turning them over to the government, is a prime example.

I just finished watching the miniseries Masada (Peter Strauss and Peter O'Toole) from 1981. There was one great line Peter Strauss, as the character of Elazar ben Yair said to Peter O'Toole's character of Flavius Silva. He said (I can't quote directly, but you'll get the gist) the problem Romans are having with the Jews is the Romans' own fault. When the Romans came in, they were a common enemy against whom the Jews could stand united. What the Romans SHOULD do, said Elazar ben Yair, is just leave the Jews alone. Left to their own devices, the Jews will be at each others' throats before long.

Truer words are difficult to find, again, especially light of yesterday's events.

So, yes. I do feel that loss. On a constant daily basis. And I do want to go home. I want to feel my connection to God and Yiddishkeit again. I've lost it, and that loss cannot be replaced with anything but what I've lost. I don't really know any other way to get it back.

Here's to hoping my wife and I can get our lives to a point where, soon, we can make Aliyah, happily and agreeably, and go home, where we belong.


Well, I figure, while I'm blogging, I might as well blog.

So, we finally went through with the bankruptcy. Our credit is shot to hell. The BK will be on our report for ten years. We won't be able to get any kind of credit (not necessarily for credit cards - don't want those EVER again - but for things like home or car loans) for at least the next two to four years.

BUT. We'll be out of credit card debt once we attend our hearing next month. That'll be a huge, $50,000 relief. Now it's time to pick up the pieces and move on. My wife and I are both looking for jobs. Me because my business pretty much died and her because her job just sucks. We'd both love to go back to school, and if I can at least find a part-time job, it's something I might be able to pull off. We'll see what happens. But first I gotta find the job. Here's to hoping!

More to come...

Disgusting Events

Hi all (assuming anyone's still reading this!). I guess yesterday's events are bringing me back out again. I'm sure I don't need to quote any articles or link to anything. It's already quite well known.

There was a big sting operation in New Jersey, in which, among others, a bunch of Chareidi rabbis were arrested for money laundering. Now, obviously I have no sympathy for these scumbags. They broke the law AND halacha, and for that I simply say what I've been saying all along: These groups, with their chumrahs and "holier-than-thou" attitudes, are simply not frum. They disgust me. This is a prime reason why. Not only are they simply NOT shomrei Torah and Mitzvos, they also make all the rest of us who DO try to live a Torah observant life, and even those of us who don't but simply live lives as good people, look awful to the rest of the world. In short, it's pretty damned embarrassing.

But there's more. The informant the articles mention, the witness who was undercover for about two years, is ALSO a "frum" Jew, one under indictment for fraud (not sure what else to call being busted for writing and bouncing a $25,000,000 check), who volunteered to the Feds to bait and incriminate others JUST to save his own skin and get a lighter sentence. Isn't that lovely? He is a Moser, in the worst sense of the word. And here we are in the middle of the Nine Days leading up to Tish'a B'Av, our national day of mourning when we commemorate the destruction of the Batei Mikdash, which God destroyed because of (at least in the case of the second one) Sinas Chinam and people turning others into the government. This is a prime example of the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza story. But at least in THAT story, one may understand WHY Kamtza (or was it Bar-Kamtza? I can never remember) did what he did and caused the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. He was terribly embarrassed and no one spoke up for him.

In this case, this guy got others guys busted just to get a lighter sentence. What a disgusting example of a Jew at his worst.

In the question of who is a worse person here, the money launderers or the Moser (informant), I'm gonna go with the informant. How can a person with ANY kind of conscience do something like this?

Oh, and I might add his father is a very popular and well-known rav in NJ. I've actually met him.

In truth, I'm beside myself with disgust. And then people wonder how it is that Moshiach hasn't come. Is it really any wonder?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Awesome Retrospective About Sarah Palin

This article is just such a wonderful retrospective about how insanely unqualified Sarah Palin was for the job of Vice President of the United States of America, I simply couldn't pass up posting it. Think of it as my own sigh of relief at avoiding such an unmitigated disaster...

It Came from Wassila, by Todd S. Purdum - Vanity Fair

One of the most priceless, and most revealing lines from this article:

As governor, she hired several old high-school, hometown, or political friends with minimal qualifications for important state jobs. One friend, a former mid-level manager for Alaska Airlines, headed the department that reviewed candidates for state boards and commissions; another became director of the state Division of Agriculture, citing a childhood love of cows as one qualification.
Hmm. I guess now we know where she got the idea that being able to see Russia from her backyard gave unprecedented qualifications in foreign policy...

Priceless. Simply priceless...