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. 

Chapter 1, Scene 1

This is a little something I’ve had rattling around in my brain. I’ve decided to start posting it here where I could possibly get some feedback.

The synagogue was a bit run down. I could tell the first second I walked into the building where the main sanctuary was located. The carpet was threadbare and the pews, made of beautiful oak, had not seen a refacing in several decades. I looked up to the balcony where the woman’s section was I was able to tell that it was in the same state of disrepair. There was even plaster falling off the pillars. I asked myself “What have I gotten myself into?” more than once but I was confident that I was the person to take over as Rabbi and revitalize the congregation. For better or worse, I was now home.

“Ah, Rabbi! I’m glad you made it!” a deep baritone voice rang out from the back of the synagogue. It was Jeffery Davies, the president of the congregation. He quickly walked over to me and clasped his hand on my shoulder. It was like a vise had gripped onto my shoulder and would never let go. “How was the move?” he asked, “Is your family starting to settle in?”.

“Yes” I replied. “My wife and the children are getting things settled. Well, my wife is trying to get things settled and the kids are exploring the house and finding all the good places to hide. I should really be there but I just needed to come and see the shul for a few minutes before I get back to helping them.”

Jeffery looked at me for a minute and gave me a knowing look. “The shul is really quite something to look at and be amazed by. The congregation was founded in 1869 and we’ve been at this location since since 1950. It must have been something to see in it’s heyday. Walking into the place must have given someone a sense of awe.”

He was about six feet, three inches and still very strong in spite of being nearly 70. Davies was the owner of the largest appliance stores in the neighborhood. He built the business from nothing and must have shaken a lot of hands to build up the muscles. He was still involved in local politics so I knew I needed to have him on my side. He was there now but I had a feeling keeping him there wouldn’t be so easy.

“I agree one hundred percent” I told him “the pictures that are left really don’t do it justice. I would have liked to see it in its full splendor. I hope that we are able to get it to half of what it was. If we do that then I’ll be satisfied”. I looked at my watch to check the time and give a subtle cue that I wanted to leave. “I need to get back to the house and see how bad the kids are distracting my wife from starting to unpack. I’ll talk with you after evening services Mr. Davies, is that OK?”.

“It’s completely OK and please call me Jeff. There is no need to be so formal Rabbi”. He said without a bit of irony. “Enjoy your time with the family and I’ll have my wife bring over something for you all to eat for dinner. I know how hectic day one of a move can be.”

My Dream “Weird Al” Concert Set

He's done it again. "Weird Al" Yankovic has released another single last week. This time a polka based on the songs from the hit musical Hamilton.

I don't really like to heap praise on someone but "Weird Al" is someone who I think deserves the praise. He has been in the music business for a very long time and can parody (and sing) almost any kind of song. Moreover, what he is able to do with an accordion is nothing short of amazing. Also, he is now on tour again (about the only way a musician makes money these days).

My first memory of hearing a "Weird Al" song was in 1983 and it was in a friend's room where I heard "Another One Rides the Bus", "Ricky", "I Love Rocky Road", "Stop Dragging My Car Around", "My Bologna", and the rest of his first album. It was like nothing I had heard before. To my 12 year old ears it was quite subversive. Needless to say I've been a fan of his ever since that point. 

This got me to wondering. If I were to have a private concert from the Mad Scientist of Music, what songs would I like to hear? Considering that music is subjective I am sure that everyone will have different answers to this. I think the easiest way to do this is to break up the songs into three clear groups: Originals, Parodies, and Polkas (medley of songs done in a polka style). The songs will be mostly in alphabetical order.

Originals

  • Mr. Frump In the Iron Lung
  • Buy Me a Condo
  • The Check's in the Mail
  • CNR
  • Dare to Be Stupid
  • Dog Eat Dog
  • Good Enough For Now
  • I'll Sue Ya
  • Midnight Star
  • Mission Statement
  • Mr. Popeil
  • Nature Trail to Hell
  • One More Minute
  • Slime Creatures from Outer Space

Parody

Polka

This is probably a little longer of a concert than he would typically perform but being that he won't be performing a private concert for me, I don't have to worry about the length of the thing. 

P.S. Al – If you are reading this and want to give me a private concert; give me a call.

Nick Gillespie on Jake Tapper

While reading Reason’s take on last night’s town hall shown on CNN I saw this gem:

…it’s good to see a thoughtful, well-informed news anchor and interlocutor who consistently asks difficult questions of all his guests and also gives them the time to answer.

I’m in complete agreement with Mr. Gillespie. I’ve been a fan of Tapper since his days as White House correspondent at ABC.

Prophet Isaiah’s seal found?

This is potentially a big discovery.

The oval-shaped bulla, however, is not intact. On its legible portion, there is an inscription with First Temple Hebrew letters that seem to spell out the name l’Yesha’yah[u] (Belonging to Isaiah). On a line below, there is the partial word nvy, which presumably spells out “prophet.”

The usual disclaimers about initial findings applies. The findings may change based on additional research.

Superman to be Jewish?!

Brian Michael Bendis who wrote almost every single comic for Marvel for what seems like forever, left the Merry Marching Society and is now working for their rival D.C.

Being that Bendis is Bendis D.C. decided he should be writing one of their tentpole characters, Superman (his first issue will be in May). Here is where things get a little interesting for me. Bendis seems to want to somehow give the Big Blue Boy Scout a connection to Judaism.

I feel it’s important to point out that Bendis doesn’t say anything explicit about giving Superman any kind of Jewish heritage (otherwise I would have quoted it here). However there are hints that Jewish comic fans may be interested in when his first issue hits the stands in May.

Thoughts about “Thoughts and Prayers”

It’s really upsetting to read about another school shooting like the one that happened yesterday in Florida.  I believe that there is a middle ground somewhere to be had so that basic freedoms are kept and guns are out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them. The fact that the perpetrator of this heinous crime seems to have gotten the guns legally seems to indicate there is a failure somewhere in this process.

What exactly should be done is a debate for (maybe) another post. For the time being I’ll direct you to what I think is a very reasoned post from Reason.com (pun is completely unintentional – this time) about this topic. The main thing I wanted to talk about is the much maligned phrase “thoughts and prayers”. I think that people who lampoon, make fun, or chastise those who use the phrase are wrong. I completely understand their anger but I think it is misplaced.

It’s misplaced because this always falls along the political side you’re on about this topic. For example, those who believe that there should be very strict gun laws will only chastise the people on the other side of the opinion about using the phrase. If someone on their political team would use it there would be nothing but crickets. (I also think Twitter and the “hot take” have seriously degraded conversation and debate about controversal topics but that is maybe another post for another time.)

However the main thing reason these people should not be chastised is because right now what else is there to do for the people going through the hardship? Let’s take Joe (or Jane) Politician. Unless the politician is local to the incident, they really can’t do anything else. Could Politician have done something preventive so the horrific event doesn’t occur? Maybe they could have but in the here and now there isn’t really anything else Politician can do aside from offering “thoughts and prayers”.

Maybe you would argue that the politician really doesn’t mean that and they is just offering lip service? That is a very cynical approach to things and in a situation like a school shooting I would presume that the use of the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is heartfelt.

Let’s start trying to raise the level of discourse and start giving people who want to offer “thoughts and prayers” the benefit of the doubt that they really mean what they say.

More about Jews in comics

I know that I have written about this previously but this is a topic that really interests me. About two months ago in a issue of Ms. Marvel an honest to goodness Orthodox Jew was introduced as a supporting character in the book. What’s more interesting is that the character is treated with respect and his beliefs are respected.

Another interesting aspect of this introduction is the writer of the book G. Willow Wilson took the time to be interviewed by Tablet Magazine and she shows an amazing amount of sensitivity to the subject. I’m now a fan of her work just because how thoughtful and sensitive she is to these kinds of things.

Remembering my Grandmother

My dad and I have a weekly appointment to talk on Sunday mornings. This morning our conversation was as usual, we focused on how my grandmother was doing. Her condition had been going down hill since the end of August when she broke her leg in three places and needed surgery. It was later discovered that she had a lump in her cheek that turned out to be cancer which had spread so much that radiation therapy or chemotherapy wouldn’t make a difference. About an hour ago my dad called me from the hospice care and told me she had passed away. She was 87, a few weeks shy of her 88th birthday.  
Wedding photo of my grandparents John Benedict Sr. and Fay Benedict
Date unknown
  Lots of people have good memories of their grandmother and I’m no different. She (along with my grandfather) was a rock for me when my parents got divorced and their house was a refuge for me during those stormy years. My grandmother always made sure that I had a fun time. One of the things I distinctly remember is that on nights I would be there (often to sleep over) is the ice cream with the home made chocolate sauce. It was something that was always done with love and caring.    Her positivity and her joy for life. My grandmother (or “Mum” as I called her) always had this positivity about her. It didn’t matter what you wanted to do and she would try to move heaven and earth to help you and was always in your corner. This was evident even when she was trying to improve herself. I remember all of the ways she tried to break bad habits. Even the when I saw her for the last time (in a weird twist of fate the aforementioned broken leg happened the day we were driving home from our Pittsburgh trip) she was extremely positive.  As you can see from the photo at the top of this post she enjoyed life. That picture was taken at my niece’s Bas Mitzvah (she was holding her great-grandson) where we we had four generations of Benedicts in the same room. It was a very meaningful moment to me and I’m sure to the rest of my family.    I’m going to miss her. I have so many good memories of her and will always treasure those memories. Her memory should be a blessing to our entire family.