Time for a Little Self Promotion

As weird as it may sound coming from someone who has worked in sales and marketing, I hate self promotion. However, sometimes self promotion becomes necessary. In this case, I have decided to start a new podcast titled "Not a Rabbi".

The idea behind the podcast is to have an orthodox jew who isn't a rabbi (a/k/a yours truly) and discuss topics that are going on in the Jewish community and have made some news on a larger scale. Additionally, people can read a lot of information about Orthodox Jews that is not necessarily true or correct. The goal of this podcast is to have a nuanced conversation about what middle of the road Orthodox Jews believe about those issues.

I have two episodes uploaded and I'm working on the third episode now. If you are looking for a new podcast to listen to, give thie one a try. I hope you'll enjoy listening to it. The podcast is available via Apple's Podcast app, in Google Play, or almost anywhere you get your podcasts served.

Stupidity at the ARJC

Yesterday, the American Republican Jewish Coalition (a group I had never heard of until this weekend) held a gathering featuring the president. There were three main things about this little shindig that has Jewish Twitter (Jwitter?) talking about. Some of these are problems, in my opinion, and some are not. Let's try and take these sequentially.

  1. The Day of the Meeting - The day the meeting was held was a Saturday. Yes, that's right a Shabbos. The Shabbos is supposed to be a day of rest and no work should be done (of course the Orthodox Jews have a lot more restrictions than Conservative or Reform Jews.) I think it is in bad taste and a poor choice for the American Republican Jewish Coalition to have a political gathering on Shabbos. I do want to be fair and make a counter point. It is possible none of the people responsible for putting this together have an idea about what Shabbos means and how important it is to many Jews. Regardless I think since they were working with the White House (where at least one Orthodox Jew in a position of power) there should have been some feedback about the day.
  2. Trump Dealing the Dual Loyalty Card - You need to be fair and where there is anti-semitism you need to call it out regardless of where it comes from. The President of the United States to the American Republican Jewish Coalition that Israeli Prime Minister was "their Prime Minister". In my opinion, this is nothing short of saying that Jews have dual loyalty.
Thanks to Yair Rosenberg for tweeting this out

If we are calling going to call out Ilhan Omer for her accusing Jews of having a dual allegiance, we need to call out anyone who does that. This includes the President of the United States.

3. Dayenu - Near the end of the section of the Seder where we retell G-d taking us out of Egypt there is a part which is almost always sung called Dayenu (translated as "It would have been Enough). The song has a verse about a miracle G-d performed and ending with the chorus of "It would have been enough". It seems that they created their own song based on what President Trump has done.

Some commentators like Jonah Goldberg didn't like this revision.

I understand his point, but I will disagree. I don't think that this is a big idea. Yes, it is a degree of a cult of personality and it would be if former President Obama had a similar song. However, in the scope of things, I don't think this warrants as something to get bent out of shape about. As a nation, we have been slowly but surely creating a cult of personality of whoever the current is at that time. This is a societal problem I don't think we will be solved anytime soon (for a good book on the topic check out The Cult of the Presidency written by Gene Healy).

The biggest problem here is the dual loyalty accusation. These kinds of things can't stand. It doesn't matter who is saying it.

Yeshiva Crowdfunding Campaign – Please help out

My yeshiva, Yeshiva Derech Chaim has launched a fundraising campaign that is ending today, Wednesday, April 3rd. The purpose of the campaign is to raise money for the Rebbeim (teachers) so they can be up-to-date on their salaries for Pesach (Passover). I want to give something, a small token of gratitude, for the Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbeim who have helped me get to where I am today. I am asking you to contribute and help the yeshiva reach its goal. Donations of any and all denomination are welcome and EVERY DOLLAR IS BEING TRIPLED! Your contribution will go a long way to helping the Rebbeim and yeshiva. You can donate by clicking https://rayze.it/derechchaim/abenedict

Thank you.

Are Twitter’s changes really that bad?

Before I start with the meat of the article, I'd like to stipulate several things:

  1. I disagree with what Twitter is doing to third-party developers.
  2. I disagree with Twitter's potential idea to force tweets of alternates opinions into someone's feed.
  3. I agree with Twitter not kicking Alex Jones (I am not a fan of Mr. Jones in any way, shape, or form). Although if they would kick him off for the reason they gave (IIRC Inciting violence - in this case against the parents whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook shootings) it is a defensible position. 

Now that we have gotten the throat clearing out of the way I want to look at the technical issues of Twitter shutting off some API to third-party developers. 

Here is a screenshot I took from the latest update to my favorite Twitter client, Tweetbot:

When I look at these four big changes, I don't get the feeling that they are so bad. In fact, I would argue it's not a bad thing for your timeline to not be automatically refreshed and instead be refreshed every 2 minutes. The biggest thing to me is the loss of the activity tab. However, is not having that information a deal breaker? I don't think so. 

Let me reiterate, I am not looking at any of the "political" choices Twitter has made and is looking to make. Just looking at the technical limitations Twitter is putting onto third-party developers. From what I can see you can still use third-party apps and not be affected all that much. 

Birds and Mastodons – A Brief Comparision of Twitter and Mastodon

We've known for a while that Twitter will be limiting third party applications (like the excellent Tweetbot which I use on both macOS and iOS). There is even a federation of third party developers trying to fight the change Twitter wants to make. It's understandable why Twitter is making these changes; they want all the eyes on their web site for the advertising. It's ironic because a lot of why Twitter became popular in the first place is because of the third party applications that were out there flogging Twitter when it first came into existence. 

With this change about to happen combined with my wanting to leave Twitter (something I have been thinking about for a month or two) I started looking into alternatives. The first one I heard about was a service I am not going to link to or really mention because it has a lot of neo-Nazi types there and quite frankly it freaked me out. Needless to say I wasn't going to participate there. 

A few days ago I heard about another service that was running called Mastodon. It is open source and distributed and looks interesting. I decided to sign up and give it a try. Here are some initial thoughts about it and how it compares to the 800-pound blue bird

  • It's distributed so this means there are multiple instances with different focuses (Sci-fi, politics, etc) and you are able to follow people from these different instances on the instance you are on. I decided to sign up for the general instance. These different instances may have different rules so you need to be careful.
  • The interface is four columns across. One for your post (which they call a toot - ah open source don't ever change!), the second for your home feed (those people you are following), a third for any notifications (replies, favorites, and the like), and the fourth can be a big firehose (the local timeline - all the people logged into the same instance) or a gigantic firehose (the federated timeline - everyone on all instances). Be warned, the information comes fast and furious.
  • On the desktop side, there doesn't seem to be a lot of options for a client. I've tried out one from the App Store and it is OK, I guess. The story on the iOS side is better. I went with an app called Tootdon and it seems to be a good solid app.
  • I wish it had a way to remember where you were up to on the site. When there are new toots in the local or federated timelines you go straight to the top. I'd like to be able to pick up from where I left off and see what's new from there.
  • One of the things that I've really liked about Twitter is Tweetmarker (the brainchild of Manton Reese), it allows you to sync where you are up to and pick up on any device that supports the service. This is a feature. service that would be wonderful to have on Mastodon. 

There have been other services out there that tried to beet Twitter at the microblogging game. Can Mastodon do that and gain a critical mass of people? To be very cliché, only time will tell. 

With Friends like these…

Well, I was hoping that after my open letter to a friend some basic decency would have happened. I try to be an optimist and believe in the innate goodness of people. Sometimes I am wrong and this is one of those times. 

Friday was a hectic day for me as I got called to deal with an emergency computer issue at a site. While I was waiting for something on site I decided to get my iPad started and see what was going on in my friendly slack channel. However, it wasn't so friendly. My friend (we'll call him #1),  who decided to leave the channel instead of treating someone (let's call him #2) who has different views with respect, went and banned #2 from the Slack channel. Why did this happen? I can't imagine any other reason than being out of spite. 

Because we wanted to keep our small group connected and not lose another person we switched services again. This time we are now on Discord. I don't care what service we use (I suggested Lotus Notes and Yahoo! Messenger) as long as we are connected and keep respect and tolerance of differing views. 

The fact that #1 would do this to someone really shows poor judgment and I have to wonder about their priorities. I wouldn't have expected someone to do something like this and I'm incredibly disappointed what our political discourse has come to. 

An Open Letter to a Friend

Dear Friend,

About a week ago you left our little slack channel never to return. I joined our little group about 15 years ago while we were on IRC. Although we have had members who have passed away or have fallen by the wayside for other reasons, I feel your leaving the channel was a shortsighted at worst and dumb at best. In the spirit of  John Adams in his letter to Thomas Jefferson when they renewed their friendship "You and I, ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.", I'd like to explain where I think you've gone wrong.

Not to put too fine a point on it, you decided to leave because you couldn't handle having people in the channel with different political opinions than you (myself included). The biggest crime was that they voted or may have voted for our current president. You considered this " wrongthink " and worked on changing their minds any chance you got. Having a civil conversation with you about any "hot issue" topic was impossible because you could not see past the fact that they were wrong and not paying attention to the "evidence" you provided. When they had the gall to disagree with you (not just ignore your provocation) matters got worse and the incivility was ratcheted up to 11 (as we know that it one more than ten). 

For some reason you didn't want to be civil in any of these conversations. It is almost as if you felt that people who had different opinions then you should be punished and treated like little children who needed to be taught a lesson by a wiser, older adult. These rules put out by Rabbi Sacks would have been helpful. It's a shame they didn't come out before you left.

In a personal level, I feel that there was animosity toward me because of my being a religious Jew. On a number of occasions you made comments that at the line of anti-semitism if not over the line.  I called you on these statement and you always shrugged them off saying "it's how my friends and I always talk to each other". For all of your talk about inclusiveness and diversity my differences didn't seem to matter and I could be made fun of as the "outsider. 

In spite of this, there were times when you did wonderful and kind things for me. The most recent time was when I was mentioned I didn't have Netflix because it wasn't in my budget. What did you do? You went and gifted me a year's subscription to the service. I will be forever grateful for that kindness you showed me.

I hope that in time you decide to come back and join us when you get tired of the echo chambers you've decided to silo yourself in. If and when you do come back I hope that you have come to understand that when there are differences in opinions you should treat everyone with respect and a knowing that people are allowed to have different opinions. It's what makes the world go around.

Ends and Beginnings

I got the news last week. It was news I was expecting but it still hit me like a ton of bricks. The seminary is closing because of enrollment, or lack thereof. I'm going to be getting the place closed down this month so I will have that salary still coming in. However starting August 1, I need some work for the mornings (I already have an afternoon gig that I have signed a contract for). I have my resume on the site but if you need a word version of the resume you know how to find me.

Here are some highlights:

  • I've taught elementary, high school, and college. 
  • Students enjoy my classes
  • I have an MBA
  • In addition to my teaching the last 4 years I've been the Administrator of The Brooklyn Seminary - Gesher Ladaas. 

The lack of enrollment aside, why did the seminary close? That is a good question. I have a post-mortem on the seminary, but it currently exists in my head. I'd like to write it down at some point. If I do I'll be posting it here.