Balak

It’s not often, at the age of 52, you can say you did something for the first time in your life.  Well, this last Friday evening I did.  I delivered the Dvar Torah at the Friday evening service at my synagogue.   It is basically a five minute (as the Rabbi insisted!) oral book report on the story from the Torah being read that week.  Here’s mine…

The Torah portion for this week is Balak, named for the evil King of Moab.  There are six Torah portions named for individuals – Noach, Sarah, Yitro, Korach, Balak, and Pinchas.  Three of them are named for non-Jews – Yitro, Noach, and Balak.  Only one is named after an evil person, Balak. In this reading, we learn that Balak hires the prophet Balaam, who was a well-known character at the time, to curse the Jewish people as they approached Moab.  The Israelites had already defeated both the Canaanites and the Amorites along their way, and the Moabites were next in the way.  Balak wanted to stop them in their paths, or at least divert them from Moab.

There is a lot going on in this Torah portion, which is the only one in the Torah NOT told from the Jews’ perspective.  The parsha not only includes a plague upon the Jews that results in the deaths of 24,000  because of sexual transgressions but also has the only reference to a talking donkey found in the Torah.  Now, the use of a talking donkey in literature has been used for impact and symbolism in other great works, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and of course Shrek 1, 2 and 3!  What struck me the most, however, was Balaam’s observation of the way the Jews had arranged their tents and how that observation affects us to this day.

He observed that the tents were set up so that no one’s tent opening was across from anyone else’s tent opening.  This observation, a short sentence in Numbers chapter 24, verse 5, has come to have great meaning and relevance in our prayers every day.  We begin every morning service with it: “Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisra’el.”  In English “How great are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”  Our daily use of this phrase itself has had some controversy over the centuries with one Rabbi in the 1500’s actively campaigning to remove it from the daily prayers because it was stated by the evil Balaam.

Over the years the Rabbis have interpreted this to be an observation by Balaam of a society of mutual dependence, modesty, trust, and mutual respect; qualities that to this day have kept the Jewish community strong.  What is important to note is that the Israelites behaved this way without knowing they were being watched.  It is what they did.  How would our society be different today if this is how we all acted?  If we had trust and mutual respect of everyone?  If we behaved in this way whether we knew someone was watching or not?  If we, as individuals, not only respected others but also trusted others for what they do in their tents, in their homes, in their everyday lives and coupled that with exhibiting behaviors that displayed an integrity and humanity, whether someone was watching or not?

But why many ask has this been adopted as the first sentence to be stated as you enter the synagogue and begin your daily prayers.  This, of course, has been debated over the years.  Many believe it to be a reminder – of both the well-being of the physicality of our dwellings and places of prayer AND the intellectual and emotional well-being of where we live and pray; of our community.  This little sentence, spoken by a bit player in our Torah, has taken on such grand meaning and introspection for us in our daily prayers.  So next time you sing “Ma Tovu”, think about it, think about our homes, our synagogue, our community, and ask yourself if you are doing what you can to keep them “in order” physically, intellectually and emotionally, whether someone is watching or not.

Just Two People on the Planet…and a Leprechaun in the Hood.

IMG_20170316_110918Heading uptown on the 1 train, I boarded along with the man seated on the left in this photo, let’s call him Don.  The man on the right was already sitting there, let’s call him Roger.

Don, dressed in an expensive suit with a fancy silk tie, pulls a section of the USA Today from his very nice brown leather briefcase.  Roger, who unfortunately apparently has had years of dental issues and has but one tooth remaining, leans over and asks “So, what’s the good news?”

Don turns to Roger and says, “Trump.  Trump is the good news!  He is going to get rid of all the waste in the government.  It’s about time someone runs it like a business.”  Roger retorts “That’s interesting, I never heard a businessman’s perspective on Trump.  That’s very interesting.”  They continued briefly on about Trump for about a minute.  I figured it would end there. Au contraire!

Don now leans over to Roger and asks, “So who do you think is going to win this thing?”, obviously referring to the upcoming NCAA tournament and showing Roger the brackets.  Don said he was going with Villanova because he was from the Philadelphia area.  Roger thought Gonzaga would do well.  Then that conversation ended.

Not half a minute later, Roger turns to Don and wishes him a Happy St. Patrick’s Day and asks him if he has any plans to be drinking some green beer.  Don said he doesn’t drink and has no plans.  Roger suggested lemonade.  Green lemonade.  Don said he might try that and they discussed how neither had anything green to wear.

Roger then shared a movie recommendation with Don, pulling me into the conversation.  “Have you ever seen ‘Leprechaun in the Hood‘? Ice-T is in it and it’s hilarious and scary at the same time.  You can catch it on Netflix.”  I asked what it was rated but he wasn’t sure.  Roger insisted again, “You gotta see it!” as I made note of it on my phone.  Don seemed less interested although I watched him silently mouth the words of the movie title with a clear question mark following them.  We were approaching my stop on 79th Street, when Roger informed both of us, “If you see this movie, you will never f**k with a leprechaun ever again!”  Duly noted.  Thanks Roger.

 

 

Digital Urban Commercial Archaeology

I was walking through the 34th Street / Herald Square subway station yesterday and walked by an area being renovated.  The renovations had exposed a sign for Korvette’s embedded in the tile.  It brought back fond memories of the Korvette’s my mother used to take us to in Paramus, NJ.

korvettes

Korvette’s was the place I bought my 45’s (also known as 45 rpm records, or singles), most of which I still have.  I remember my Uncle Jack telling me that E.J. Korvette, which was the full name of the retail chain, was short for “Eight Jewish Korean Veterans” who founded the store.

jack-in-the-army

Uncle Jack just happened to be a Jewish veteran, but of World War II [Uncle Gasper, on the other hand, was a Korean vet, but not Jewish].  Unfortunately, the story about the eight Jewish vets was not true. I did however find an interesting tidbit about WHY this sign was where it was, which you can read here.

This post, however, was not intended to be about Korvette’s (although a future one likely will be).  This post is about “Digital Urban Commercial Archaeology”.  I am going on the record as the FOUNDER of this discipline!  Also as the founder of the Society for Digital Urban Commercial Archaeology.  Watch for our website soon (www.sduca.org) and if you want membership information, contact admin@sduca.org.

So what is it? It is the piecing together of the history of the findings of remnants of old businesses in an urban setting by searching for information online.  Yes I made it up… but I realized it is what I do, so might as well call it something.

Below are other findings from my photo collection that I will be researching and sharing in future posts.  See you then!

Great video of my beloved #NYC

Second hand noise

So this guy is sitting next to me on the train… he starts doing his email on his iPhone so every time he sends one it goes “Swoosh!”. I’m thinking “OK, a couple of emails and he’s done.” Nope. Now it’s time for solitaire. Dink. Dink. Doink. Dink. “Hey dude, you can put that Jack on the Queen…and either turn your effing volume off or put in some earphones!” No, I didn’t verbalize it.

Why is it that people think it’s fine to engage in their own form of entertainment and share the sound with the rest of us?  For decades, the Surgeon General told people smoking could kill them. It wasn’t until the scientists showed that second-hand smoke could kill the other guy that smoking bans popped up all over the country! [Which of course pushed those smokers out to the street where sidewalk pedestrians like me get to partake in their smoke…but we saved the other bar patrons from it!]

I’m going to start a movement. Going to find some scientists who will prove his stupid game sounds will cause me cancer or deafness or a mental breakdown. That’ll do it!

By the way, I think while I was tapping this out, he glanced over here, saw the title, and turned off his sound. What’s the word for visual eavesdropping?

Here’s to the Ladies who Lunch!

Let’s say you’re a well-off New York woman in the late 19th century, and you’re on an excursion to Ladies Mile—the area roughly between Broadway and Sixth Avenue and 10th and 23rd Streets where the city’s chicest emporiums and boutiques were located. Shopping is time-consuming, and your stomach starts growling. Where could you grab a […]

via Where fashionable Gilded Age ladies lunched — Ephemeral New York

Happy Birthday to all of you

I realized that I knew several people with today, September 16th, as their birthday [Maria, Donna, Breyon, and Emily… at least].  That led me to wonder what the most common birthday was – well it turns out there are several answers.  I have checked a number of studies and there seems to be three common answers: September 16th, September 30th and October 5th.  That of course leads to the question of what is the average human gestation period?  Answer: 280 days. Now, doing the math backwards from those three dates you get December 11th, December 25th, and December 31st.  I guess two of those are no surprise.

By the way, besides February 29th, the least common birthday is December 25th.

Heard on the Street I

“Let’s get over this idea of snapping turtles. You’re not getting them.”

Taxi

Checker Cab
A Checker Cab

I was walking along West 81st Street yesterday and saw this wonderful specimen of a Checker Cab parked on the street.  It appeared to be a working cab, but the last one checked out in 1999 [See New York Times article here].  I do recall riding in one or two when I was young.

It made me think about Latka Gravas working on them in the garage while Alex, Elaine and Tony schmoozed.  I loved that show.  The best scene, bar none, was when Jim had to get his drivers license – “What do you do at a yellow light?”

Now, apparently, the only Checker Cab you can get in New York City is Checker Cab Blonde Ale brewed by NYC’s own Chelsea Craft Brewing Company.  I think I might go get one.

Noise pollution

I enjoy peace and quiet. Remember when the biggest noise annoyances we had were airplanes overhead and people talking during the movie? Now we are bombarded everywhere we go with people’s phone conversations, phone notification tones, game app “music”, and the tinny sound of loud music leaking from earphones of people who can’t afford good ones.

What is it that makes people think this is okay? What happened to thinking about others? Something has changed, caused by this omnipresent digital tether we now all have in front of our face more often than not.  Ironic, I know, that my recent living has been highly impacted by the existence of these devices. And many of you who know me know I am as addicted to the device as the rest of them. But can’t we just keep it a little more quiet please? Where’s the crying baby when you need one?