Friday, September 22, 2017

5778- l'shana tovah

Wednesday night began, for those in my tribe, a period of introspection.  It was the start of the new year.

I had a traditional erev Rosh Hashanah meal. (Erev means-night of, Rosh-means head, ha-the, shanah year).  But before that, because of the new world of new media, I received dozens of new year's greetings from friends.  It was good to get these notes. All those who pooh pooh the internet and social media ought to give it a try.   It was warming to read well wishes from those whom I likely would not have heard from had I not been connected to them electronically.

It is traditional to dip an apple into honey to begin the year, as a symbol of a sweet year.  So I dipped the apple, and then a piece of challah in the honey, said some prayers that I have somehow retained through the years and ate an unusually full meal.  It was pretty much just what my folks did during the years when I was growing up.

The next day I went to, of all places, an orthodox synagogue. I did this not because I have become orthodox--far from it--but because I like the shape of the temple.  Rather bizarre reason I know.  I live within a two minute drive from Brandeis University. There, there are several services going on during the high holy days. The orthodox building is the smallest, but I find the most attractive. It is shaped like a triangle.

I did not want to attend an entire orthodox service.  I find myself uncomfortable in these because, as my father used to say, these guys are all in business for themselves.  They all are chanting and know what they are doing. I typically need leadership to tell me what page we are on, and require some interpretation by a rabbi.

Not only did I not attend for the entire service, I got there after--by accident--the service had concluded. It had just ended.  What was happening when I arrived was that people were practicing blowing the shofar. A young man approached me, wished me a happy new year, and asked if I wanted to try blowing the shofar.  I declined, but appreciated the warm welcome.  He introduced himself as the rabbi for this group which startled me because really the guy looked younger than my nephew.  Then another young man came over and wished me a happy new year.  It was so sweet.  I asked if I could sit in the sanctuary and the rabbi said by all means.  So, I sat there for about an hour or so thinking about things that one ought to think about when you are assessing how well you did on the most recent revolution around the sun.

After this period of meditation, I started reading the introduction to the prayer book.  I typically don't read the introduction to prayer books. I show up. The rabbi tells me what page they are on, and I read the English translation to the Hebrew.  But this time I read the introduction.

It was a riot. The author was all but besmirching authors of other siddurs explaining why this one was better. The others translate poorly. The others use language that is antiquated. The others are sloppy. And my favorite line and one I am glad I read in an empty sanctuary because I burst out laughing was one where the authors wrote that in the other books there is poor proofreading and some books have inaccurate spellings and incorrect (so help me) grammEr.  Yes, while whining about sloppiness the author spelled grammar incorrectly.

Still the siddur's introduction aside I felt good about my time in the sanctuary and found it refreshing.  I went home and decided to end the day by going to Walden Pond.  There is a part of rosh hashanah where congregants go to a body of water and cast bread crumbs into it symbolizing throwing bad behaviors away.  We never did this as a kid because it is an orthodox thing to do. The rabbi had told me that the congregation was going to do this at a local pond. I figured I would go to Walden Pond because some congregation would be using it for this ceremony.

Nobody was.  I was there and there were others at the pond, but I saw no group of congregants.  I brought a chair and a book so I sat peacefully by the water again assessing how I thought I stacked up on this most recent lap around the track.  And then the best part of the day happened. That which made this rosh hashanah most memorable.  Readers may think nothing of it, but I think a lot of it.

I was still wearing my tie and suit jacket from my trip to the orthodox temple, but I had removed my yarmulka (skull cap) and had taken off my suit pants replacing it with more comfortable jeans.  An announcement came out over the loudspeaker saying that the pond would close in twenty minutes.  I sat for a few more minutes going through my last year and talking to my loved ones--those now gone and those still with us.  Then I yanked my chair up and walked up the hill to the lot where my car was.

As I walked into the lot, I noticed a young woman walking toward me.  I had my specs on and thought I might know who she was.  She smiled at me as we approached. But as we got close I realized I did not know her.  Still she kept smiling.  And as we walked past, I said to this person younger than my nephew, something like hello.  Her response startled me. "L'Shana Tova" she said. A good year.  I stopped and returned the greeting, and said, "how did you know?" She said "you've got a tie on".

Well, I guess, since I was coming from a beach area that might have been a give-away, but still I found this greeting from a complete stranger, out of context from any synagogue, like a sweet breath of fresh air.

What would be so wrong with this world, if we all, regardless of day wished strangers a happy new year.  Today and yesterday are the beginnings of the Jewish new year, but every day is the beginning of a new year.  And it would not be such a terrible thing for people always to say to strangers, L'shana Tovah.  Have a good year.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Flintstones

I am very happy with my dentist.  I was very happy with the dentist who preceded this one. Sadly, he died suddenly in 2004 while resting during a bike trip.

For years afterwards I did not go to the dentist. One day I felt a pain and decided to try a local dentist that rents space near the post office where my mail is delivered. He could not have been nicer. Very welcoming.  Very helpful fitting me in when I did not have an appointment.  He has a partner in the practice. It is his wife and she too seems to be a great dentist.   In addition, I have gone there at times when there was an emergency and even the receptionist seems to be knowledgeable and helpful.  Twice she has taken me into the chair to take x-rays when I walked in off the street without an appointment.

The second time this happened was Wednesday. Tuesday night, a couple of times, I was awakened with serious tooth pain.  I took a few aspirin at 2 and then at 6 to alleviate the pain, but I knew I had to have the problem addressed. So I went to my friendly dentist.

They have two storefronts and on this day, both dentists were at the downtown Boston office.  So, I just saw the receptionist. She got me into the chair and took an x-ray.

When she saw the image she looked alarmed.

"You're going to have to have that out."

She tried to explain the problem.  The best I could understand was that where I'd once had a root canal there was something growing and causing an infection. When last I had a cleaning it probably looked, she said, as if I might need to have another root canal.  But, she went on, that was not the case.  I needed to have the tooth out, and have it out soon.

So I made an appointment to go to the downtown facility this morning.  When the dentist took a look at the x-ray he confirmed the original diagnosis and said the tooth should have come out yesterday.

Okay, big deal. The tooth is way in the back. I won't look like a relative of the Clamperts when it is over. He'll do what he does and I will be on my way.

He gave me a bunch of novocaine, came back in 10 minutes, gave me a shot more, came back in ten more minutes, and finished numbing me.

What happened next really was comical though I did not laugh real hard.  I said, jokingly, "You just going to yank it out?"

"Basically, yes." he said. "But first we'll try and loosen it."

At this point he took a tool that looked like a screwdriver designed to not look like a screwdriver and jammed it into my mouth.  A few moments later, he took what looked like a pair of pliers designed not to look too similar to a pair of pliers and, literally, yanked the tooth right out of my mouth.

My face must have looked startled.  I mean the guy just yanked the tooth out of my mouth.  When he got it out, both he and the assistant, gushed or gasped.

It felt like the Flintstones.

He still was wonderful and helpful, but I would have thought that the technology of 2017 would have been more sophisticated.   With one big tug that sucker came out. Then he had to go in and get some other culprit. This he did in a few seconds.

I felt fine until about 2 pm when I felt like my head was going to rocket off my neck.  Then I took one of the pills he prescribed and I am feeling just fine now.  In two or three hours the result of the Flintstone maneuver will return, but by tomorrow I should be swell.  Swell as in fine.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

22

The Cleveland Indians won their 22nd consecutive game tonight.  This game is why I, and millions of others, like sports.

The Indians' victory had an effect on the standings, but the passion in their dugout had little to do with their lead in the American League Central. The players wanted to keep the streak alive.

In the bottom of the ninth with one out remaining, one of the Indian studs rammed a double off the wall allowing a teammate to score the tying run.  In the bottom of the tenth a player hit a single that because of unusual smarts and hustle he stretched into a double.  After what amounted to an intentional walk, another Indian swatted a double down the right field line and the team went berserk. And the fans went berserk.

The reaction was not because of a world series game 7 victory, or a pennant clinching--it was because they did something that no team has done for over one hundred years. The Indians have won 22 baseball games in a row.  It is a stunning achievement.

The reaction, the crazy celebration, the Cleveland fans praying and then exulting because of the come from behind victory--that is why sports has captured the attention of millions; why there is an ESPN, and an ESPN2, and an MLB network, and an NFL network and dedicated sports channels on Fox, NBC and CBS.

A post script. It could not happen to a more decent and effective manager--Terry Francona. He managed the Red Sox for years and was terrific here.  The success of the Indians is in no small part because of the managerial prowess of Terry Francona.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

stats

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."
-Andrew Lang (1844-1912)


I came across this quote earlier today and it reminded me of one of my notions about metrics and sports.  We hear coaches and pundits speak about athletes' "intangibles."  By this they mean skills an athlete may or may not have that can not be measured--or at least to date people have not been able to identify a way to measure these intangibles.

It is true in every sport, but certainly in football, using statistics to assess an athlete's contributions is risky business.  Some quarterbacks can put up some impressive numbers but they do not win many games. Yet others have modest records in terms of passing yardage yet they win games.  Drew Bledsoe could throw beautiful passes and often had games with a good deal of passing yardage, but his won loss record was average. Similarly Jeff George had a great arm, but did not win as much as his statistics would suggest.

I just watched an NFL film called Do Your Job.  This was the second version of Do Your Job as a documentary of the same name came out after the Patriots had won the 2014 super bowl as well. The film explains the thinking and preparation that went into the Patriots' victory.   The film documents that decisions by the coaching staff and players that can not be measured were key to the great comeback.  Hightower decided to line up on the outside before he sacked and stripped Ryan in the fourth quarter.  The coaching staff called a pass defense before Ryan was sacked prior to the Patriots tying drive.  

Pundits don't typically quantify smart decisions, they quantify sacks and tackles. But if the tackle was a derivative of a smart decision, then maybe what needs to be counted is how many times a player or coach puts the team in the position to do something that is traditionally quantified.

About twenty years ago the Tennessee Titans lost a super bowl to the St. Louis Rams. The record will show that on the last play of the game a Titan caught a pass and stretched out but was inches away from the goal line when tackled.  The reason he was inches away and not over the goal line was because he had cut in before he was supposed to do so.  Therefore he received the pass away from the goal line and not across it. In the record books the last play will be counted as a reception, but it was a negative play because of a poor decision.  

The Titans themselves were in the game because of a mental mistake that was made by the Buffalo Bills earlier in the playoffs.  The Bills were ready to go ahead on a field goal with seconds to play.  The Bills quarterback was supposed to wait until there were three seconds left before calling time out before the field kicker would come in and do what field goal kickers do.  

Instead of waiting until three seconds remained, the quarterback-Ron Johnson-called time out earlier.  The kick went through putting the Bills ahead, but because the time out was called prematurely, the Bills had to kick off to the Titans who miraculously scored on a trick run back. I once got into a sports related dispute with a fan of the then Bills quarterback. The person I was debating with said that Johnson had done everything to get the victory.  He cited the statistic that indicated that Johnson had moved the ball into field goal range for the winning kick.  But by not waiting a few seconds, a mental mistake that is not tabulated, the Bills ultimately succumbed.

SSo, the quote above resonated. Stats, in sports at least, are used often for support but the illumination they provide is often illusory. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

noam

Dad,

You would have loved yesterday.  Noam, Sammy's younger son, had his bar mitzvah.  The kid did great and was cool as a cucumber throughout.

Sammy, Hillel, Moshe, Bobby, even Jack and Sophie, Matt and Shannon--got some time up on the bema.  (Sophie in Matt's arms).

I thought of you often during the ceremony and how much you would have enjoyed taking it all in. Gail was there, as were several of my contemporaries from the Sukenik crew.  I didn't go with them, but a whole gaggle of Zarembas went to the DC zoo between the service and the party at night.

I've often commented on how nourishing family can be at joyous occasions and even sometimes at sad ones.  It was the case yesterday. Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, we were joined by Hillel and Joan and then a bunch of Zarembas came by as they checked into their rooms.  It was more enriching than the food we were eating at the time.

The opposite is also true. That is if one feels nourished by family,  one can also become malnourished if there are few times when loved ones gather together.  I think that is the case and the absence of the love vitamins can have insidious effects.  Dan and Sara have invited the entire army for Thanksgiving so we will see them all again in a few months.  The food then will be a secondary nutrient.

At the party last night there was a slide show of Noam's life.  It was touching especially when Deborah's image was on the screen.  Also Aunt Ethel was in a few pictures.  Sammy deserves such credit for having reared those two boys as a widower.

You would have kvelled.

And, hey, if you in the next life have any pull, see what you can do about reducing the impact of a hurricane that is now doing quite a bit of damage above where you rest.  The state of Florida is being walloped as I type this.  Bobby is going down this week to make sure the place is still on the ground after the storm bullies its way through.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Happy Anniversary folks


Number 71.  September 8, 1946.

I hope you can see this.  We are still thinking of you.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thank you Rudyard Kipling

Sometime in the 60s or early 70s I was home on a visit. Dad and I were watching the Andy Williams show.  It was a variety program and Williams, or one of his guests, sang a version of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If".  I'd somehow missed that poem in high school or college--no doubt spending time considering some athletic activity or carnal pursuit.

I often don't get lyrics right away, but this one nabbed me. I mentioned to dad how much I liked it. And then, of course, he recited from memory the entire poem.  I decided the words were valuable enough that I would try to do the same.  I have, on occasion, since then tried to recall what I once memorized, sometimes with more success than others.  I tried today with near complete success, but had to look up some lines. Then I worked on it this afternoon. Just now--after the afternoon refresher course--I got it down and wrote it below.

It's a great self-help message.  And important to retain given the challenges of daily interactions which can jostle you off your ethical grid.

What do I think is most significant in each verse?

(1) "Keep your head about you."  Tough to keep your head about you when people keep challenging what you hold to be true.  It is a tight wire act to keep your head and "make allowance for their doubting too."

(2)"meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."  There are triumphs and there are triumphs. If you can separate the meaningless ones from the meaningful ones, then you have a shot at happiness. And, of course, one has to have the good sense to know which are meaningful and which are not.

(3) "force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they are gone".  Just that.

(4) "fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"  it is something to strive for. It is important to remember there are only 60 seconds in a minute.  My dance with mortality is such that I sometimes forget there is an end. It is important to fill the time we have with "60 seconds worth of distance run."

Thank you Rudyard Kipling.


If you can keep your head about you
When all around you men are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can trust yourself,
When all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too
If you can wait,
And not get tired waiting
Or being lied about
Don't deal in lies
Or being hated. Don't give way to hating
And yet not look too good or talk too wise

If you can dream and not make dreams your master
If you can think, but not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to set a trap for fools
If you can watch the world you gave your life to broken
And stoop to build it up with worn out tools

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss
And lose and start at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve their turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to you, hold on.

If you can talk to crowds and keep your virtue
And walk with kings, nor lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run
Then yours the world, and everything that's in it
And what is more, you'll be a man my son