Archive for April, 2010

A Jewish Perspective on the Volcano, the iPad and Us!

Unless you’ve had your head stuck under a rock, you are aware of the Iceland volcano that began erupting on March 20th 2010, and for all intensive purposes shut down Europe (Flickr Pictures and YouTube Video here). Indeed, as reported here, President Obama, as well as many other leaders of the world where unable to fly in for the weekend funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynsk, due to the volcanic ash cloud that disrupted European air traffic. Personally, I’m still aware of several bochurim as well as families that remain stuck in various parts of the world, because of the volcanic ash. Despite the fact that this volcano was located in Iceland, it affected the global economy in addition to families and businessman. All in all, the airline industry reported a loss of nearly 2 billion dollars due to the volcanic ash!

Just this past Erev Shabbos, millions of people celebrated Earth Day, in which they remember, appreciate, and respect “Mother Nature.” On the other hand, Chazal instructed us to not have one day to introspect upon the Earth. Rather, Jews are meant to constantly learn from natural disasters or the like and ask, “what is Hashem trying to tell us?” We should think, “what message should we, the Jewish people, perhaps be hearing a bit louder?” And yet, while it’s certainly true that after the earthquake that crippled Haiti, Jews quickly arrived and made a Kiddush Hashem (all you needed to do was follow this Twitter stream to read of the daily chessed performed by the IDF), by and large the Jewish community was not caught and crippled by the earthquake in Haiti.  Hence, for the most part we have carried on with our busy life.  Typically speaking, human beings react only when something happens directly under our nose. If however, something doesn’t come  within “our daled amos” it seems to not really register on our radar, nor does it evoke us to ask, “what might Hashem be trying to tell us?”

To that end, being that the volcano did not take place in an isolated area such as Haiti or China, but rather affected travel even to and from Israel, and has and continues to hamper hundreds of bachurim, Roshei Yeshivas, and Rebbes-the entire spectrum of the heimeshe olam,  Rav Shmuel Brazil, at his Shabbos Dvar Torah, decided to comment on the volcano, and give us all a bit of hisorerus from current events. Below are merely some of his insights as I recall them, mixed in with additional points and comments of my own.

First and foremost, I’d be remiss to point out that in my conversation with Rav Brazil prior to the beginning of Mincha, he noted, that in all of his lifetime, he can’t remember a time in which there has been soo many natural disasters occurring one after another (Indeed, right after Shabbos, I read of the latest Tornado here in which to date, 10 people have tragically perished). It seems apparent that Hashem must be trying to awaken the world, and more particularly Klal Yisrael, to something…

Rav Brazil began with a few introductory remarks, and then quoted a small Kuntres authored by Rav Yaakov Emden titled, Migal Oz. In this booklet there is a chapter called: Gehonnim. In this chapter Rabbi Emden quotes the Gemorah in Eiruvin 19a,  that relates to us that there are 3 physical openings to Gehonnim in this world. He proceeds by explaining that one of the openings to Gehonnim is, “well known and even recorded in a Sefer called Roshmei HaKadur, that there is a mountain in Iceland that spews ash from Gehonnim!!”

That’s right!

This isn’t any sort of volcano.

This isn’t any sort of natural disaster.

It is a volcano that spews ash from Gehonnim itself. It’s no wonder that a couple of puffs from this volcano had such an impact!

Rav Brazil continued by asking, “Does anyone know the name of the volcano?” Indeed, even newscasters have trouble pronouncing the name. Frankly, I find it easier to say five times Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current leader of Iran, who also seems to spew a stream of lava like vitriol towards the Jews, then to pronounce the name of the volcano called Eyjafjallajokull (thanks to Rabbi Mordechai Dixler you can learn here how to pronounce the name Eyjafjallajokull).

To answer the above question, Rav Brazil took a more esoteric approach. He suggested that due to the speed in which we commute and communicate these days, we live in a reality that it’s becoming common place for people to not properly stop and think about the words we speak and emit into the atmosphere. How many politicians or sports figures do we know of that on a weekly basis claim, “I didn’t say that!” or “you quoted me out of context,” despite the fact that we have them recorded making such statements. Unfortunately, society is headed down a course in which we are not giving our words and commitments much weight or thought.

Hence, in the current state, our dibbur, and certainly that of Klal Yisrael’s, is not so Kadosh. Instead, it’s in a rotten state of kilkul. Unfortunately, there are Yidden of all stripes and colors who speak with such sina (hatred) and not with an ounce of ahavah (love) that we are becoming more jumbled and fractored than unified. Sadly, with each passing day in which we do not refrain from all words of disunity and Lashon Harah, we invariably will come across to the rest of the world as if we are just as jumbled as the name of the volcano!

We need to recognize that our words buzz around like this video of air traffic. We need to remember that there are ramifications to the way in which we speak and communicate. We live in such a quick and technologically advanced world, that sometimes we forget to think before speaking, or pressing click and sending an email with insensitive words, or commenting with sinas chinam to a blog post or the like. Airplanes are arguably the greatest vehicle to allowing an individual to experience just how fast of a world we live in nowadays. A journey that used to take months, is now completed within a couple of hours! And yet, while you certainly need to buckle your safety belt and listen to the instructions of the captain, an airplane can not even take off the ground without the use of technology.

Technology, commented Rav Brazil, is tov (good) and can also be rah (bad). However, if we succumb to the focus of constantly be engulfed in the culture that follows the latest technology trends and fads, and hence begin to stray from no longer being conscious of thinking before we speak, then Hashem can elect to flick his own switch, so to speak, to keep us grounded. There was nothing that anyone could have done to remove the volcanic ash from the sky. Thousands of people the world over just had to wait it out. However, it’s up to us to decide how we would utilize this time. I heard of one person who said, “well if I can’t make it to my business conference, I might as well sit and learn!” And so, he chaperined and learned many more hours of Torah then he intended on beingable to learn during this episode. Conversely, there were other Jews who decided to simply pass the time by reading a USA Today cover to cover. And you know what…to each his own! That said, this volcano did bring globalization and the comforts of air travel, to halt. In so doing, it afforded us the opportunity (it was up to each individual to utilize it) to think and introspect.

We need to remember that words, which although not visible, nonetheless travel throughout the world. Our words travel to the various olamos all the way up to Shomayim. We ned to never forget that our machshavos (thoughts), our masos (actions), but most importantly our dibbur (speech), is what sets us, human beings apart, from any other living being in this world.

We need to remember that it’s really quite simple: If  Klal Yisrael speaks nicely and proper, and by extension act as true Kedoshim, holy people, then we will all make it to a life in Gan Eden. However if we live a life of speaking (and that includes all forms of communication) Lashon Hara, then Rav Brazil reminded us all that there is room for all of us in Gehonnim!

Technology is a wonderful asset. It has advanced communication and made travel efficient, and dare I say seemingly effortless. If however, we loose sight that our goal is to be as it says (in what is now last weeks Parsha) Kedoshim, holy, because Hashem is holy, and instead chase after the next piece of gashmius or technology then we will quickly erode. With that said, perhaps we can finally understand why at the same time as the volcanic ash was distributing air travel, the latest gadget from Apple, the iPad, was mysteriously banned from entering into The Holy Land.

As I’m certain you know by now,  if you flew into Israel, you could not bring an iPad into the country…it was immediately confiscated!  While the Wall Street Journal to TIME Magazine all speculated as to why it was not allowed to enter Israel, no one could get a real straight answer. There were rumors floating around that the reason was for military precautions or due to collusion to not allow the iPad into the country until it was going to be sold in Israel. However, I’d suggest based upon the above thoughts that this, albeit temporary ban, was ultimately not another political or military conspiracy. Rather it was all part and parcel of Hashem’s subtle message to the Jewish people. He was subtly reminding us that we should really worry about how we can strive to have more Kedusha enter our lives. This time period of Sefiras HaOmer, is not supposed to be the time of the iPad. For us, it’s supposed to be the time of the iClimb, as we each work on our various attributes so that we can climb and correct our middos, and by extension, reach the holiday of Shavous as Jews in a perfected state of holiness.

Again, do I think it’s a coincidence that right after finishing the double Parsha of Achrei Mos-Kedoshim, I read that Israel has, just as mysteriously as the ban came, finally decided to lift the ban and allow the iPad (back) into the country?

I think not…

Hashem never intended to withhold gashmius or technology from us altogether.

Do I think that it’s a coincidence that no industry, aside for the airlines was as severely affected by this volcano as that of the import and export fish?

I think not…

After all, we all know that when Yaakov Avinu blessed Yoseph’s two sons and all of their descendants he compared them, and hence the Jewish people, to fish. There are many other sources, ranging from the Midrash Rabbah on down, who also compare the Jewish people to fish. See also here. All in all, if the fish industry which are comparable to the Jewish people were affected by this volcano, I view it as yet another gentle reminder from our Father in Heaven that we should listen and be affected by the subtle yet powerful message emanating from  Eyjafjallajokull.

Finally, Rav Brazil concluded by citing this article. Apparently, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano isn’t necessarily the main problem. It’s Katla, Iceland’s noisier neighbor, that’s the real concern. If lava flowing from Eyjafjallajokull melts the glaciers that hold down the top of Katla, then Katla could blow its top, pumping gigantic amounts of ash into the atmosphere. The potential eruption of Iceland’s volcano Katla could send the world, including the United States, into an extended deep freeze. Lashon Harah is worse than shefichas damim, murder, for it parallels avodah zara, idolatry and immorality as well. Rav Brazil left us all with the following question, “Does one not think that Hashem may be sending us another subtle message hidden in the name of this second volcano? I don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that this second volcano means murder in Aramaic?”

Regardless of whatever “death” this second volcano may allude to, be it economic or what not, we should take the current events and not shrug them off. Instead, we should view them with hisorerus, to help us continue to climb forward towards our cleansing process that we partake in during this time period of Sefiras HaOmer and the acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai, which we celebrate on the upcoming holiday of Shavous.

Educating the iGeneration: Hundreds of High Quality Free Fonts!

Several months ago I was asked to give a presentation at the KISHOR SOCIAL MEDIA CONFERENCE held in Jerusalem, Israel. My particular topic was, The Facts: What Your Students are Doing with Social Media. And so, since the presentation I have found myself being asked in various venues for my insights as to how we can attempt to reach and inspire the iGeneration. The answer is not a simple one. If however we are to start somewhere, I believe the answer lies in how we present our ABC’s! Allow me to explain…

Let’s be honest.

Being a teacher has  never been a simple walk in the park! Today, students readily have the latest gadget available to them at home…and even in school. For instance, see the caption to this picture taken by an Administrator at a well known Yeshiva High School in New York. It’s no surprise that one may postulate that it’s arguably harder than ever before to get a student to look at a source sheet or a text book. After all, as the New York Times reported here, children ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of some sort of a screen, including but not limited to:  computer, television, and their very own smartphone.  Moreover, the new Pew Internet Report on Teens & Mobile Phones has documented that 1 in 3 teens sends more than 100 texts a day!

As the Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s, I find myself particularly aware of this phenomenon. It is not surprising to me to read that it has been documented just how much girls are more voracious texters than boys. After all, the Talmud (Kiddushin 49b) related to us all many years ago, that regardless of the means of communication, women “speak” a lot more than their male counterparts.

All things considered, in today’s day and age it is even possible for a student to physically sit in a classroom but not really be “in class?” You see, there are teenagers who can text for hours on end, while seemingly sitting in the classroom “listening” to the teacher. In actuality, they have their cell phone neatly situated behind their back and are sending virtual notes to their friend across the room or in another classroom. Indeed, it has been reported that 64% of teens with cell phones have texted in class and 58% of teens whose school bans phones have texted in class! Furthermore, prior to the concept of SMS or texting, if a teacher managed to intercept a note being passed in a classroom, one might have been able to make sense of the words and discern what was silently taking place in your classroom. Nowadays however, a teacher needs a Dictionary of Texting Terms so that he/she can decipher such abbreviations as OMG, DMC, or LOL :)

All in all, I believe that if a teacher or lecturer is using source sheets or has prepared a presentation for the class to view as a Power Point Presentation or wants to engage the classroom utilizing a SMART Board, one of the easiest, quickest, and most cost effective ways  that you can captivate your audience (other than saying that whomever comes to our school receives an iPad and MacBook as this University did to incoming freshman!)  is through the use of relevant typography. Indeed, as proven here and here certain fonts can convey to the brain a wide array of emotions. In so doing, you aren’t just putting words in front of your audience. Rather, you are forever aided by the eternal appearance of each and every letter that exudes from the page. Indeed, I found a font that the letters from A to Z very much appeared like a Krembo. I used this font for a class entitled, Eating is Tikkun, in which we learn about some of the spiritual activities that takes place when we eat. That said, from the moment my students saw the font they remarked, “hey that kinda looks like a Krembo!” In so doing, the class began with the students doing the engaging…and not the teacher, and by extension, I found that they were much more captivated to learn about the topic.

Just as the companies that market their gadget are keenly aware of branding and font usage, we the educators of the iGeneration, should consider means (I believe I am merely presenting one) in which we can utilize similar methods and techniques to maximize the learning experience.

And yet, procuring a database of such high quality fonts may come with an expensive price tag. A company wanting to sell you the latest tech-toy may have such finances, but certainly in the current recession, I am not aware of any school or educator who has extra money laying around to invest in additional fonts. Accordingly, while there are still some people who associate Twitter, as being a website that informs you what your friend had for breakfast, there are millions of people who realize that if you follow the right Twitter Accounts, it can and is an effective tool to come across valuable information in a short amount of time.  In light of the above, thanks to Twitter, I have managed to slowly collect, over the past several months, hundreds of high quality fonts that will enable you to build and enhance your branding, or strengthen the words in your presentations, classes, flyers, essays, and so on and so forth. Best of all, they are all FREE!!

To access the fonts simply click on any of the 14 images found below and you will be directed to the appropriate link.

I’d appreciate hearing from you in the Comment Section (found all the way at the bottom) as to other methods you have tried/considered using to teach and reach the iGeneration.


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