When Values Clash…on Iran

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This past week has been a very troubling one.  The killing of Soleimani has heightened tensions with Iran.  The circumstances of a Ukrainian airliner’s crash in Tehran are murky.  Iran has targeted US bases in Iraq.  It is a real morass.

There is little doubt that Soleimani was not a nice guy.  There is little doubt that the Iranian regime is problematic at best.  And yet, we worry about the possibility of an armed conflict and what it might mean for those who will have to fight it…as well as those who may get caught in the crossfire–including those in Israel.

I am reminded of my study of Talmud.  The Talmud’s style is to ask every question imaginable (even those you could not imagine!).  It debates each opinion and even itself.  It digs deeper and deeper until we may forget the original question.  Rabbis disagree with each other on issues of law and conduct.  It is full of “on the one hand…and on the other hand.”

What is happening in the Middle East now (as always) is more complicated than it seems.  Nothing is truly clear cut.  It is difficult to know what the US Administration’s motives are.  We cannot know what the Iranian regime is thinking. We do not know all the intelligence that is out there.  We tend to follow whatever news source confirms what we already think from our own political or emotional perspective.

It is not easy to know what to think for certain…which is why the last week has felt like a dive into the Talmud for me.  And why so many of us are so worried.

One thing that is clear from our tradition is that there are times when values may clash with each other.  Sometimes there are two options that both seem right, or that both seem wrong.  How do we know what to choose?  How do we know what to believe?  Judaism teaches us that when values come into conflict we must try to follow the example set by the students of Aaron the Priest:  we must love peace and pursue it.

There are times when war is necessary.  First, however, we must seek to avoid it all costs.  If there is a way to save a life, it must be a priority.  May our tradition guide us and our leaders through the rough waters ahead.

Shabbat Shalom!

Turning Dreams into Reality

Dream Catcher

Torah portion, Miketz, it is Pharaoh himself who dreams; Joseph’s interpretation of those dreams and his knowing what to do with those interpretations catapult him to the second highest office in all of Egypt.
Herein lies an important distinction.  It is one thing to dream (or to be a dreamer).  It is another thing to be able to interpret or understand what the dream means (like, I shouldn’t have had a burrito before I went to bed!).  It is quite another thing to take that interpretation and convert it into a plan of action–which is exactly what Joseph did.  Dreams without a strategy remain just that:  dreams.


This is a timely message for us as we approach the new secular year.  Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions which are, in a way, dreams that we have for the new year.  Making a resolution, however, without a concrete way to make it all happen is an exercise in futility and/or folly.  If we think about the resolutions that we have made in the past, how many of them went unfulfilled simply because we did not really think through how to make them a reality?  This is true whether the resolution has to do with study, work, relationships or physical fitness.  No plan equals no success.


This is a concept that Joseph understood well.  He was a dreamer and he understood others’ dreams too.  What set him apart was what he did next.  As we begin 2020, we should ask ourselves as well…what must we do next to make our dreams a reality?

Hello! (I must be going….)

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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!

Jacob and Esau at Thanksgiving Dinner

I always read Parashat Toldot with extra interest since I am a twin.  The story of the rocky relationship between Isaac and Rebecca’s sons, Jacob and Esau, begins in our Torah portion.  From the very beginning, we are told that Isaac favored Esau and Rebecca favored Jacob.  We are told that this is because of the different lives they led.  As we know from the rest of the story, “playing favorites” did not really work out for the family.

As a child, my parents always made sure that they supported whatever my sister and I did.  They never dressed us alike; they wanted us to have our own identities.  They also made sure that we understood that we could follow whatever path we wanted in life and we would be loved and encouraged.  To this day, my sister and I (and our older brother) have a close and loving relationship.

Just yesterday, many of sat down to a festive Thanksgiving Dinner with our families; it may have been wonderful or perhaps less than wonderful.  Often, the discomfort comes from events that happened years ago.  Sometimes we can repair, but other times–as was the case with Esau and Jacob–we understand that it may not be possible.

All the more reason for us to think carefully about how our actions today can affect the connections we hope to build and maintain in the future.Shabbat Shalom!

Vegetarians…We Are Not Alone

Impossible Burger at Hell's Kitchen, Minneapolis

It used to be a pretty lonely business going out to eat in a restaurant as a pescatarian/vegetarian. Other folks see 100 items on the menu, but we see 5 or 6…or at least we used to.

There is a boom in the plant-based food industry and it is not because there are suddenly more vegetarians or vegans. The NPD group, a market research firm based in New York State, is reporting that of all those purchasing and eating plant-based burgers 89% are not vegetarian or vegan! 89%!!!

This is according to an article which recently appeared on http://www.nbcnews.com. Here is the link: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/almost-90-percent-people-eating-non-meat-burgers-are-not-n1082146

My wife and I went out to dinner with friends this evening and one of them ordered an Impossible Burger (so did I!). He is a meat eater, but we convinced him to give it a try. He liked it. As the article states, it seems that plant-based foods have crossed a threshold; taste has finally caught up to what consumers are looking for. Those looking for variety in their diet want to try new things, but will only stick with it if the taste holds up. Products like the Impossible Burger or nearly everything made by Gardein (www.gardein.com) hold their own against animal-based products.

Of course, just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean that it is necessarily healthier to eat. When you order a burger at a restaurant, it may have some salt, pepper, and other spices mixed in but it is otherwise usually not highly processed. Compare this with an Impossible Burger’s ingredients and you’ll see that it is quite processed indeed.

Even so, as the taste meets a higher standard and profitability grows for plant-based food companies, we can expect to see more variety and more healthy options available for everyone–not just vegetarians. Given the impact of the meat industry on the environment, this could be a win for the planet as well.

This is an interesting and exciting trend and it is nice to know that as vegetarians we are not alone.

More News on Dementia and Lifestyle

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Well, it’s not really “news” since it is simply reconfirming what we already have seen in recent research.

There are studies recently shared at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference last week that show that there are five factors that have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life.

Both studies pointed to:

  1. A healthy diet
  2. At least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  3. Light to moderate drinking (alcohol)
  4. No smoking
  5. Engaging in mentally stimulating activity

Engaging in all five decreased risk of Alzheimer’s by 60% compared to those who only had one healthy behavior. Those who added only one of the habits above saw their risk lowered by 22%!

It is becoming more and more clear every day that the decisions we make about our lifestyles at every point in our lives have implications downstream. There is no point at which we are “too late” to add healthy behaviors, and when we do add them the impact is noticeable.

For the full article in http://www.cnn.com, click here: https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/14/health/dementia-risk-lifestyle-study/index.html

Judaism teaches us that we are to pursue life. This means we cannot simply wait around and see what is in store for us health-wise. We must at every moment, make healthy decisions; not only will we sense the difference now, but in the years ahead as well.

Losing Weight: It’s All About the Math

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Those of you who follow my blog know that for the last few months I have been “struggling” to take off the weight that I put on during my mostly sedentary recovery from foot surgery.

Newsflash: going on a week-long Alaska cruise does NOT help the cause. Luckily, I only put on two pounds during the vacation, but it could have been worse.

When I returned home, I had the latest issue of ACE Fitness Magazine weighting for me. Much of the issue was devoted to discussions about nutrition and weight loss. There were articles about the latest trends in dieting (Keto, for example), the debate about whether eggs are good for us or not, as well as the latest research on the role of carbs.

The issues are usually not clear cut. Keto, for instance, is an effective method for dieting IF you can actually stay on the diet. The food choices are so limited that it is estimated that 50% of folks who try it do not last long enough to see results. It is also not recommended for older adults since the lack of protein in the Keto diet can contribute to loss of muscle mass–a serious issue as we age.

As was the case in many articles in ACE Fitness Magazine, the conclusion is that “more research is needed.”

So what do we know? A simple truth: weight loss is achieved when we burn more calories than we put into our bodies. It is a simple question of mathematics. If we eat 3000 calories worth of food but only burn off 2500 each day, we will put on weight (approximately one pound/week). On the flip-side if we burn 3000 calories per day and only eat 2500, we will lose about a pound a week. Simple math.

How does this effect me in my weight loss journey? I have started using the My Fitness Pal app again; I stopped on the vacation. This app (there are others out there) allows me to calculate how many calories I am ingesting, how many I am burning through exercise and activities of daily living, and suggests a proper calorie intake per day to achieve my goals. I have to be super-diligent to make sure I enter in the info in order to actually have this work. The app works on one simple principle as well: math. The numbers don’t and won’t lie.

We should all feel free to try different diet plans, but there are certain underlying truths:

  1. Eat less processed foods.
  2. Increase consumption of vegetables and fruits.
  3. Eat fats and carbs in moderation; try to switch out saturated fats for unsaturated fats.
  4. Burn more calories than you consume through eating.

I will keep you posted on my journey. The fact that yesterday was a Jewish fast day (17th of Tammuz) did help the cause, but I know there is a lot more work ahead to get me back to where I was pre-surgery.

Good thing I always did well in math class!