Will We Fight the Evil Influences Around Us?

Menorah

Why is this Hanukkah different than all other Hanukkahs?

While many people around us think that Hanukkah is all about oil that should have only lasted for one day but lasted for eight, we know that there is much more to this holiday.  It is a celebration of the Maccabee’s defeat of the Syrians.  More than just a military victory, Hanukkah recognizes the miraculous efforts of our ancestors to keep Judaism alive in the face of growing Greek influence.  Hanukkah is really about the miracle of Jewish survival and thriving throughout the millennia.

We now live at a time when we face threats as individual Jews and as a community that are unprecedented in this country.  It seems that every day there is another news story about attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions; in the last few days we have seen a deadly shooting at a Kosher supermarket in New Jersey, an assault of a Jewish woman on a New York subway, vandalization of a synagogue in California, and the desecration of cemeteries and the American Jewish University.What should be our response?  Throughout the centuries Jews have always been ready to move, to head to the next place that would take us in after our adopted homelands became too dangerous.  Are we there yet?  Is it time for us to pick up and leave?  Or do we look to the Maccabees as an example and come together to battle the forces that would seek to destroy us?

We cannot wait any longer.  On this Hanukkah, as a community we must confront the very real threats that exist.  This year, it’s not just about the menorah, the latkes, and the jelly donuts; it is about what we will do to ensure a thriving Jewish future.  May the Maccabees inspire us to fight for what is right; our very lives depend on it.

To Schvitz or Not To Schvitz?

Finnish sauna II

Last week I had the opportunity to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time: visit the Cleveland Schvitz. For the Yiddish-impaired, Schvitz translates as “sweat,” but informally refers to a sauna or steam room. The Schvitz in Cleveland is an entire complex, a building all to itself. There is a large sauna room, changing/locker room with beds, shower room and cold pool; there is also a wonderful restaurant serving steaks, salmon, tuna, etc.

I went with my brothers-in-law and a couple of friends and the experience was everything that I thought it would. I had the feeling that I was stepping back in time to a cultural institution from the “old country.” The food was as good as I had heard–perhaps even more than I expected.

At the JCC, whenever I work out I spend 5 minutes in the steam room after my workout. This is different, though, since the Schvitz is more of a dry room than a wet one. Last year I went to a Korean Spa near Baltimore and it was a similar experience, right down to the excellent food; the only difference was the the place in Maryland was co-ed. The Schvitz is all testosterone.

I enjoy a quick Schvitz; it relaxes me and helps to clear my head. I use those few minutes to do some PT exercises to ward off my old tennis elbow. I wondered, however, whether there really is any benefit to using a sauna/steam room. What I’ve heard is that it is a good way to relax and it helps to sweat out the toxins in our bodies.

I did a little research on the internet (so it must be true) and found that there seems to be some real benefits to the Schvitz. The heat causes an elevated heart rate which can have the same positive effects as cardiovascular activity, but at a much lower level. Asthma sufferers may find some relief in a sauna as well as those with certain skin conditions. One article I found came from a reputable source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/saunas-and-your-health. Its conclusion is that Schvitzing is not dangerous as long as we follow safe practices (do not combine with drug/alcohol use/observe reasonable time limits/hydrate). There are studies from Finland (where else?) that see to indicate that sauna use leads to longer life spans, but that will need more research. As for sweating out toxins, the article states that this is done more through our internal organs than through sweat. In the meantime, the article suggests that the benefit is really the sense of relaxation and wellness we may feel in the Schvitz.

To Schvitz or Not to Schvitz? I vote for Schvitz. We all need to take care of ourselves, and if the sauna/steam room helps us to relax, there seems to be no reason not to Schvitz.

Too Much Truth in Advertising?

nutrition label

I am old enough to remember when cigarettes did not have health warnings and when they were regularly advertised on TV. I also remember when food products did not have nutrition information on their packaging. Much has changed over the decades–overwhelmingly for the good of our health. Now, it is possible to find many restaurants–especially fast food establishments–that list calorie amounts for everything on the menu.

Researchers in the United Kingdom are suggesting that yet another level of labeling on food products could help to combat obesity. They studied the effect of PACE (Physical Activity Calorie Equivalent) labeling on calorie consumption. PACE is a fancy way of saying what activity, with how much intensity and for how long would a person need to do in order to burn off the calories in the product they are eating. For instance, PACE labeling could tell you that a cupcake has X number of calories and that a person would need to run for 15 minutes at 4 miles/hour to burn off those calories.

Here is a link to the press release on the study: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2019/december/labelling-foods-amount-of-physical-activity-needed/ and here is the link to the article on http://www.cnn.com: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/11/health/physical-activity-food-labels-wellness-scli-intl-gbr/index.html .

The research seems to indicate that when people have a greater sense of what those calories actually mean, they will make wiser choices about the food they eat. This is similar to the way that many weight loss apps allow users to know the exact number of calories in what they are eating while also “crediting” users for exercise they do.

There is some concern that this information could have a negative effect–in particular on those with or vulnerable to eating disorders. The PACE labeling could be used incorrectly and force such individuals to feel that they must burn off all or most of what they eat.

It will be interesting to see if this trend makes its way to other side of “the pond.” What will the reaction be here in the US? There was opposition to cigarette labeling and nutritional information on packaging–mostly by those who had the most to lose when the public knew the true health impact of their products. What the public think though? Too much info, or information is power?

Hello! (I must be going….)

Image result for hi my name is

There was a big question mark back when my 20th High School Reunion rolled around.  Would I go or wouldn’t I?  I hadn’t gone to any of my previous reunions–mainly because I was usually travelling or it took place on Shabbat, but also because I didn’t really enjoy high school that much.  I felt like I didn’t share a lot in common with most of the other students; I couldn’t get away to college fast enough.

When the time came, I did decide to attend.  I went in with the following rule:  “if you didn’t talk to me in high school, I’m not talking to you tonight.”  I was pretty defensive about it all, but as soon as I walked through the door, it was great to see old friends.  Past concerns melted away and they were replaced with warm memories and lots of laughs.

That was many years ago (when I lived in Toledo) and, while I have reconnected with a few on Facebook, most of them have once again drifted off.

That experience gives perhaps 1% of the drama and anxiety surrounding the 20-year reunion of Jacob and Esau in our weekly Torah portion, Vayishlach.  The last time I saw many of my classmates we were getting our diplomas; the last time the brothers saw each other one had stolen a blessing and the other was threatening to kill!  Despite Jacob’s trepidation and planning, the reunion went smoothly.  In one of the most touching scenes in the Torah they come together, hug and weep.  Overall, it is a fairly brief reunion and the two head their separate ways; they do come together again to bury their father, Isaac, when the time comes.

The story of these twins and memories of my high school reunion remind us all that people dear and not-so-dear come in and out of our lives at different times.  It is rare that friendships last throughout the various stages of our lives; when it comes to friends, usually there are only a few to whom we hold on over the decades.  Family, however, is another matter.  Ultimately, it is sad that Jacob and Esau were never really able to patch things up, and our tradition tells us that we still suffer the consequences of that rift.

Not every relationship can be saved.  Not every relationship deserves to be saved.  Perhaps the lesson is to make the most out of the time we have with those we love; we never really know just how long they will be a part of our lives.Shabbat Shalom!

How to Help Your &%$#ing Workout

Image result for potty mouth

Today I was working with one of my clients doing bench step-ups; these are not easy and when she lost her balance she let out a word not used in polite company. She was mortified–I think because not only am I a personal trainer, but I’m also a rabbi. She apologized, and I let her know it was OK. In fact there is a study that shows that swearing may actually help your workout.

Research from Keele University in England and Long Island University in Brooklyn shows that swearing can help us push through a difficult workout. It has also been shown to have an analgesic effect; letting out a curse word when we stub a toe or bang an elbow can actually decrease our sense of pain. The study shows that swearing can increase our endurance and strength. The final analysis: dropping the f-bomb can help to manage pain–whether sudden and unexpected or the anticipated pain of a difficult workout.

The research showed that this does not work with everyone in all situations. People who have a tendency to catastrophize (to expect the worst), did not find relief from swearing. It also seems to have a lesser effect on women than men. To read more on this, see the article from http://www.cnn.com that was quoted and re-reported across the globe: https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/30/health/swearing-good-for-you-wellness/index.html .

My thoughts are that this is interesting, but I wonder if swearing under your breath would be just as effective. Can we say “freakin'” instead of *you-know-what* and still get the same result? Gyms already have enough coarse language and grunting and groaning; is swearing (which may contribute to further breakdown of civility in our society) worth it for the extra rep or the slightly faster sprint? In my humble opinion, the respect that I pay to my fellow gym-goers dictates that I should try to avoid swearing as much as I can. It’s just not nice. Unless, of course, I drop a 25 pound dumbbell on my foot…in which case all bets are off.

78 Years Later

Arizona Memorial

This Shabbat is not only Parashat Vayetze, but it is also the 78th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that brought the US into WWII.
By December 7, 1941, Nazi forces had occupied Poland for over two years and their control over other countries by conquest or acquiescence continued to grow.  The systematic persecution and murder of Jews had already begun.  The US stayed out of the war for many reasons; after Pearl Harbor, there was no choice but to enter the fray.
Historians can (and have) talked about why we did not get involved earlier, especially when there was so much intelligence about the atrocities occurring in Europe.  On a more personal level, we know that as human beings we tend to not get involved in matters unless they directly touch us.  Judaism, however, teaches us that we cannot sit idly by the blood of our brothers and sisters–whether or not they are actually relatives, coreligionists, or fellow citizens.  It is up to us to speak up and act whenever we see injustice.
Of course, this is easier said than done.  We are risk averse, and getting involved often means taking a risk.  We do know, though, that there are times when others have put their necks out for us; we know what it feels like to be helped.  We also know what it feels like to be abandoned.  Our experience shows us that we cannot sit by the sidelines; as Pearl Harbor Day reminds us, unless we confront evil and injustice, they will come and confront us.
We remember those who lost their lives on that terrible day and pray that we learn the lessons of WWII, a time that forever changed Jewish and human history.

How to Keep the Weight Off

Christmas Break 2008 10

This time of the year, many people are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions and a popular one is to lose weight. Just ask anyone who is a regular gym-goer and they can tell you that the first few weeks of January are always the busiest; fitness facilities are loaded with what I call “resolutionaries.”

Of course, a better way to look at this is to go beyond the mere number on the scale. While weight as a number is a data point, our fitness level depends on other factors as well: endurance, strength, power, cardiovascular health, etc. A better resolution might be to “become more fit” or “pursue a healthier lifestyle.” What both of those mean is up to individual interpretation, so it is important to come up with goals that are beyond merely a number on a scale such as “I want to be able to run a mile without stopping” or “I will do 30 minutes of cardio 3 times per week” or “I will begin training regularly with a Personal Trainer.”

Numerous studies have pointed out that we should take a more holistic approach rather than simply focusing on the readout on the scale. In fact, when we focus more on overall health we actually have greater success at weight loss and especially keeping the weight off.

Research shows that those who put an end to their sedentary lifestyle and become more active will do a better job of losing weight and keeping it off compared to those who simply diet. Studies show that dieting can take the pounds off but unless we engage in a healthy lifestyle that includes diet, exercise and other healthy habits (not smoking, getting enough rest, etc.) , there is a higher chance that the pounds will return.

There is no easy fix to getting healthier. Diet alone or exercise alone won’t cut it for the long term. It is all about a lifestyle that promotes healthy habits. A lifestyle isn’t just something that lasts for a month or six months or a year until we achieve our goal weight; a lifestyle is about what we do from this point forward.

As the New Year approaches consider not only the changes you want to see right now, but also how to make them last for a long and healthy lifetime!