Keeping Kosher on an Airplane Part 1

Keeping kosher is seemingly easier than ever before. Wherever you turn you can find a slew of kosher products bearing at least one reputable kashrus symbol on the front or back of the product. However, when it comes to keeping kosher on an airplane, things can get tricky. For instance, people need to be aware of issues such as, should one wash or not wash on “mezonos rolls,” and the topic of ordering coffee on an airplane (see number eight here).

One issue that I’d like to bring to light is that the kosher consumer should even be aware of the kashrus of their soft drink!

Case in point, I was recently on a flight that departed from Israel and was headed to Newark, New Jersey. I had ordered a Coke Zero, which is a soft drink that is considered kosher both in Israel and North America. Still, (and this was the second time that this has happened to me on this type of flight) I was handed a can that originated from of all places Japan!

I don’t have a clue as to how this can of soda got to Tel Aviv, and then was on a plane headed to the United States. What I do know is that you can’t just drink any can of Coca-Cola and assume it’s kosher. Donneal Epstein, in his book, Halachos for the Traveler writes as follows:

And so, while I was really  counting on that caffeine, I decided to pass on drinking the can of Coke Zero. I encourage all of you kosher consumers out there to be diligent—even when it comes to ordering a soda aboard an airplane!

photo of the plane via caribb

The Spiritual Message of the London Olympics

The summer Olympics in London are set to begin in less than 24 hours! For many, it gives them a chance to root for their nation to a global audience. As someone who was born and raised in the United States, I always used to take a peek to see where the U.S. is projected to finish in the gold medal standings. The chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic team calls it a stretch for Americans to win the most overall and gold medals at the London Olympics. Indeed, China is projected to take home this achievement and win roughly 100 gold medals (see here).

Nowadays, however, I’m looking for the inspirational story coming out of the Olympics. I believe that the person who carries the most inspirational of stories is not a young phenom.

It has been nearly half a century since Japanese Hiroshi Hoketsu first participated in an Olympic Games. Now, aged 70, he has set his sights on the London Olympics after qualifying as part of Japan’s dressage team last week. You can read more about Mr Hoketsu here.

In truth, we have seen a Jewish person, who became inspired by water, and decided right then and there to mount his spiritual comeback, despite being just one year younger than Torres. According to Jewish tradition, there was a simple Jew who worked for Ben Kalbah Savuah, one of the richest men in all of Jerusalem. Once, while shepherding his flocks, he gazed into a pool, and noticed a hollowed-out rock resting under a waterfall. He silently contemplated how a rock, one of Nature’s most dense substances, had been hollowed out. His curiosity got the best of him, as he decided to analyze this peculiar find. After some time, he noticed that water had, over a long period, drop after drop, caused a drastic change in the appearance of the rock. This event allowed him to reach the following conclusion:

“If a rock, though extremely hard, can be hollowed out by water, how much more so should it be possible for Torah, which is compared to water (in that is vital to the nourishment of the soul), to change my heart, which is certainly softer. I will begin to study it, and try to become a Jewish Sage!”

Despite being 40 years old, the shepherd began by learning how to read the Hebrew Alphabet. Ultimately, he went to Yeshiva and devoted himself to full-time Torah study for a whopping twelve years. As the years passed, the shepherd received Rabbinic Ordination, and became known to all as the famous Rabbi Akiva. He opened his own Yeshiva, and developed a following of 24,000 students.

There is a modern day expression developed by the shoe company Nike, that directs society to seize any moment of inspiration and well…”Just Do It!” As illustrated from the above two examples, God created human beings with the innate ability of free will, which by extension sets us apart from any other creature on God’s Green Earth. The fact that we have free will should remind us all that we have the power to always climb (or swim) to achieve accomplishments that seem at the surface physically impossible. Likewise, at a spiritual level each and every Jew has the ability to ascend spiritual realms and achieve everlasting meaning in their life-even if you may think that you are too old, or simply don’t have enough skills.

So the next time you feel a wave of inspiration I have 3 words for you: Just Do It!

For more Jewish resources on the Olympics see Jews around the World: Olympics Special! Prepared by JewishInteractive.net, this page features a creative way to integrate Jewish studies into the Olympics and also provides you with the following two links:

The Munich Olympics: A Prezi accompanying a presentation by school children

Download the text that accompanies the presentation.

If you are headed to London to cheer at the Olympics, then I encourage you to heck out YeahThatsKosher’s List of Kosher Spots.

Finally, while he’s not officially an Olympian, how can I not link to the story of  the Chassidic Jew, Reb Ephraim Goldstein who carried the Olympic torch. He has worked with seven charities and runs a soup kitchen. If there’s anyone who is showing us how we can help Klal Yisrael and rekindle our united spirits during The 9 Days, we need to look no further then this young 22 year old man.

Shuls Can Learn from Retail Stores

The Shul I attended during my childhood had a greeter (see this New York Times article on how nuanced of a job upper class doormen have serving as a greeter on down). This job wasn’t taken lightly at all. In fact, it was filled by none other than a noted author and radio personality. Week after week, he would sit by the front door, and last row in Shul, to make certain that a tourist, newcomer, visitor, or unaffiliated Jew was guided to their seat, and also had a Siddur, Chumash, and even a Shabbos Meal! As someone who travels for many weeks throughout North America each year, I can attest that this type of warmth is something that is not exhibited in many Shuls—let alone outreach Shuls (although I must give Aish LA credit for having a greeter).

What prompted me to remember this childhood memory, is that just the other day, Professor William Kolbrenner, author of Open Minded Torah, asked, Is Torah a ‘product;’ are rabbis ‘salesman?’ This question got me thinking. I don’t believe that a Rabbi is a ‘salesman’ and that his Shul is his ‘used car lot.’ That said, I do think that there are things, such as having a greeter, that a Shul can have, and by extension, bring people closer to Torah, increase their  membership, make Minyan more of a warm and friendly place, and so on and so forth. As such, Shuls need not look any further than yes—of all places—retail stores such as a Apple on down, as to how to how to subtly engage the newcomer or unaffiliated into the services that much more. After all, from the pleasant music to the choice of floor tiles, the environment in a retail store is almost never arbitrary. Indeed, we find that Halacha already helps us by mandating that the Bimah be in the middle of the sanctuary. In so doing, this makes the place in which the Torah is read, a very central and inclusive spot in the overall layout of a Shul.

Apple retail stores are king at creating an “ownership experience” and more brand loyalty with customers. At Apple retail stores, the laptop screens are all adjusted precisely to the same exact 70 degree angle—not just for uniformity and aesthetics, but, according to Forbes, to get you to adjust the screen—touch the computer and get engaged with it. This is done intentionally with the hopes that this will create an “ownership experience” and more brand loyalty with customers. Studies have shown that people are more likely to walk into a store and buy a product(s) if they simply touch them.

In light of the above, if Shuls were to simply display their Siddurim and Chumashim in a creative manner that will be respectable to the Sefer but still subtly says, “touch me,” or “open me,” we may just find that from the start, there may be that many more people who would be that much more comfortable with simply having these books in their hands. Truth be told, I think it doesn’t even take a creative display of these books—what it does take is to display them in a place that any “new user” could easily find them. I can’t tell you how many Shuls I’ve walked into and had to find the Siddurim all the way in the front right section or in the middle. That is certainly not the most ideal place to find a Siddur—to say the least!

All in all, I’d love to see the greeter become just as trendy as a Kiddush Club! Alas, I am compelled to believe that I may be asking for too much. That said, if we simply looked at the layout of our Shuls—or in some cases reevaluated them—we may find that while still staying within the time honored framework of Halacha, we could better engage people and create an experience that will feel more comfortable and allow a person who has made that leap, and walked into a Shul, to move in a positive direction.

Donald Trump’s Kosher for Passover Vodka!

I really should have posted this here when I saw this billboard last summer. However, with the upcoming Purim holiday, I’d be remiss to not feature these images here. Indeed, at first glance one might think, “is this a Purim prank!?!?!” After all, Donald Trump is known for hawking anything and everything under the sun from hotels to menswear! And yet, when I was walking down the hill that leads into the Charedi community of Sanhedria Murchevet I could not believe my eyes. There was “The Donald” grinning and offering his Trump Vodka to all the people who might see the billboard. What’s more, the billboard boast that it has not one but two Kosher certifications (one of them being a Badatz Hechsher) and is also Kosher for Passover!

That said, I went to Trump.co.il and could not find anywhere on the site that confirmed that it is Kosher let alone for Pesach. Still, being that the Twitter world was up in arms with the picture that Donald Trump’s daughter tweeted of her homemade Hamentashen here I figured that I’d share another Jewish item that comes from the Trump Mishpacha! Purim Sameach :-)

Flickr user Avital Pinnick also saw this billboard and I used her picture as the picture above.



Shabbos Time Management Part 2

As the Overseas Director of Bnot Torah/Sharfman’s I have the unique opportunity to travel all throughout North America and visit and pray in a plethora of shuls and communities. Indeed, there are some days that I have been in three states in one day! When it comes to Shabbos, I’ve spent that time serving as a Scholar-in-Residence or visiting with friends or family.

Regardless of the state or the size of the community, by and large I have noticed three trends when it comes to Minyanim:

1. The weekday Shacharis Minyanim are seemingly getting quicker and quicker (the quickest one I ever attending was over in 34 minutes!).

2. On Shabbos, the Main Minyan now starts as late as 9:30am. Indeed, even the Shul in which I grew up no longer starts at 8:30am but at 9:00am.

3. Shabbos morning services are seemingly longer than ever. After all, as synagogues expand their Rabbinic staff (for instance I know of several synagogues that have gone from one Rabbi to now four Rabbis in the span of only a decade) catering to a Main Minyan, Young Professionals Minyan, Sephardic Minyan, Teen Minyan, and so on and so forth, there are more and more “commercials” or in other words announcements that are taking up time on Shabbos morning. In fact, I was in one Shul where the announcements alone lasted over twenty minutes…and then there’s the Kiddush Sponsorship announcements etc!

In terms of the first point I raised, I believe the reason is simply a sign of our times. Due to the recession, globalization, technology, or whatever it may be—we live in a seemingly busier and busier world. As such, I imagine that people feel compelled to blaze out of Shul and rush off in the morning to their workplace, carpool, etc. etc. I certainly know that I’ve been guilty as charged when on the road and needing to catch a plane. Likewise, when it comes to Shabbos, this is often the one day that a person can sleep a bit later. As such, for the typical congregant Shabbos morning can not start at 8:00am let alone 8:30am. Sadly, despite announcements and warnings in the Shul email or bulletin, even the 9:00am start time gets in the way with everyone always reciting Shema at its proper time. After all, if services do not even begin until 9:00am and let’s face it—not everyone always shows up to their respective synagogue on time—let alone in time for Barchu…well, you can do the math.

An obvious solution to allowing Shabbos to be a day in which one still has several hours at home to spend with their family is to follow the model that is common in Israel. Shul starts at 8:00am and finishes at no later than 10:15am. This model may work in Israel but will not for a plethora of reasons work for the American model.

As such, is it possible to attend a service that allows for the meaningful sermon, while also providing several hours of family time?

I believe the answer is yes!

You see, as a child I attended a synagogue that started at 8:30am. In subsequent years the Rabbi of the Shul enacted a policy that allowed for services to finish in a timely matter.

He told the congregation that he will give his weekly sermon, assuming that the congregation does its part and reaches the point in the services that he gave his lecture by 11:00am.

If however, due to people dragging out the prayers by saying countless Misheberach’s for every member of their family including their third cousin, or people lining up to submit names for the Misheberach for Cholim—despite the policy that one must have submitted the names to the Gabbai and only those names would be recited, to people deciding to not simply be a Chazzan but to use the fact that they are leading the services to audition for The Jewish Star Singing Competition, then he felt that giving his sermon would be a true tircha dt’zibbur and he would not speak that particular week.

This self-policing was highly effective. People came to Shul and found meaning in the sermon of this particular Rabbi (very much in line with Rabbi Goldberg’s position mentioned in Part 1) and actively made it a point collectively to see to it that the services moved. At the end of the day, it did not mean that there was no singing. Of course there was! It just meant that the service couldn’t lag and lag and lag on. There was a communal sense of responsibility to move the services along. It meant that if the person leading the prayers wanted to sing a tune during Kedusha, he should consider which tune or only during the Mimkomcha stanza and not every section.

Ultimately, this led to people getting to their homes that much earlier and having just a little bit more family time. I don’t think it’s a solution that will work for every Shul. However, by having the congregants self-police themselves it could be a way that would allow Rabbi Goldberg to reach his goal. I’ve certainly seen this method work before with a similar demographic/congregant base to the one that Rabbi Goldberg has at BRS.

Shabbos Time Management

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS). His congregation is rapidly-growing with over 650 families. It follows that he is someone who cares for the needs of all of his congregants. Indeed, the other day, he  asked (here) on his Twitter account the following question, “how would u shorten shabbos morning davening within halachik boundaries in an effort to make it more enjoyable and meaningful?”

This question elicited several responses. Rabbi Eli Storch of DRS answered (here), ”take away the hosafos in leining. no misheberachs after the aliya. Don’t sing while taking out the Torah,” while Mordechai Holtz, the COO of  Meor, replied (here) that he should consider what I believe to be an even more drastic method. Namely, Mordechai suggested modifying the services to be more akin to, “Israeli style [in which there's] no speech during davening (do it post-prayer where those w/ kids dont feel pressured).” Rabbi Gil Student of TorahMusings.com replied with an answer that I see to be a healthy medium. He wrote (here), that the service should simply offer a “quick dvar Torah rather than sermon and no extra mishebeirachs. Minimize time people are just standing around.”

Rabbi Goldberg countered to Student’s tweet by writing (here), “many, ba’alei teshuva in particular, find more meaning in sermons than tefila.” As an aside, it is worth noting that BRS is very active in all things Kiruv and was recognized as such by NJOP at their seventeenth annual dinner. It follows that Rabbi Goldberg, who also attended Ner Le’Elef, is sensitive to the needs of Baalie Teshuva as he has congregants and their families who are not your typical FFB.

I believe in the importance of community life. However, I believe that something should be done to allow for more “family time” on Shabbos. If anything, due to the length of Shabbos morning services, I find that the communal life can unintentionally encroach upon the “family time.” After all, when the Main Minyan begins at 9:00am it may not endi until 12:00pm. Accordingly, there are people who may not get home from synagogue until as late as 12:30pm.

As such, ones Shabbos lunch may not start until as early as 12:30pm and as late as 1:30pm.ii I took an informal poll of my seminary students and asked how long their Shabbos lunch takes? The answer that I kept receiving was approximately two hours. It follows that certainly in the winter months when Shabbos ends earlier, there is very little time before one must return to Shul for Mincha, Shalosh Seudos and Maariv.iii This leaves little time to learn some Torah on your own, let alone go over your child(rens) Parsha Sheet,iv or learn some Mishnayos or what not (let alone) individually with each one of your children…and this is assuming that the Chulent didn’t get to you and compel you to take the ever so important Shabbos afternoon shluf!

Rabbi Fink of Pacific Jewish Center contends here and here with my position. In fact, he believes that, “Shabbos is for community/connection,” and that “much of the day is spent in Shul. As it should be.”

I have a Mesorah from my Rebbeim on down, that Shabbos is a day to bond with ones family. It is a day to show ones children the true beauty and essence of Shabbos. If not now then when? In fact, by our Sages instituting that we bless each and every child in our family on Friday night, a mere couple of hours after welcoming Shabbos, we are demonstrating the important role our children and “family time” plays into the Shabbos experience! See also Sefer Emek HaMelech (Hakdama 3 Ch. 4) who records that even the saintly Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi valued the importance of “family time” and returned to his family on Shabbos—and then promptly left once again to continue his Torah learning in seclusion.

I believe that one espouses genuine sentiments of Kedusha directly upon their impressionably young children in their home and at their Shabbos table—and not at Youth Groups or a Teen Minyan. Certainly in an era that is plagued with concepts such as, “Half-Shabbos,” if we are able to simply be home and demonstrate our love for the beauty of Shabbos, we can do our part to impart upon our children that this day is filled not with socializing in Shul but with sanctity. Sanctity begins in our home, our mikdash me’at and moves on from there.

Moreover, certainly in today’s world when kids have hours on end of homework and a father and/or mother may return home as late as 8pm tired after a long day at work, Shabbos becomes an even more essential day. It is the one day that a parent is assured that he or she will be able to spend time with his family, let alone transmit the Torah ideals of Shabbos and the beauty of Judaism.

Shabbos is not a day to network. It is not a day to primarily connect with ones community. It is a day, if not the only day of the week, that one can use to strengthen ones home.

Granted, I agree with Rabbi Fink that it’s important to work on communal connections. This can be done on any other day of the week. It can even be done on Sunday. After all, ones kids may be in school or playing little league baseball on Sunday. For instance, Sunday morning is a perfect time to learn with fellow congregants over a brunch or pack Mishloach Manos with other community friends, and so on and so forth.

In 2012, there is only one day that we are guaranteed to have all of our family together without any digital distractions…that day is Shabbos.

Yes, there is time Friday night when Shabbos starts early to learn and spend times with ones children. However, with certainly young children, there are many years in which they are only up for Kiddush and HaMotzei before they fall asleep under the table, on the couch, etc. etc. Likewise, in the summer months there still isn’t that much of a long afternoon that one has available to them. Certainly, if ones son or daughter is going to a friends house, attending a Pirchei, Bnos, or a Bnei Akiva group, that longer Shabbos afternoon isn’t really that long.

All in all, I’m not opposed to Shabbos being a day for communal events. However, I certainly don’t think that it’s a day in which “much of the day is spent in Shul.” Rather, there must be a concerted effort to find a healthy medium for both family and community. After all, we need unified families to create a strong community.

In a follow up to this post I will share with you a novel approach that I have seen successfully implemented towards solving the fact that Shabbos morning services can easily lag on for hours on end. As such, I believe that it could help—if not serve as a Halachic answer to Rabbi Goldberg’s question.

For more on this topic see Rabbi Reuven Spolter’s post here: http://j.mp/wfaH5G

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i When I use the word end, I am including the holy grail that no one would ever cut out, namely the Kiddush that typically follows Shabbos morning services.

ii After all, sometimes you need to stop by another Shul to wish a Mazel Tov at someone elses Kiddush, Bar Mitzvah, etc. etc.

iii For many reasons from convenience on down, I have seen that people do not return home for this meal and instead remain in Shul, shmooze with their friends at the table, sing some nice songs, and hear some closing remarks on the Parsha from the Rabbi.

iv Children as young as two years old receive this review of the week from his/her Rebbe or Morah. As ones children get older the Parsha Sheet is not only a helpful review for the child, but it may allow one to know what is and isn’t being covered in the classroom. To simply skip this Parsha Sheet would be a mistake. And yet, even if you assume that Mr. Ploni Almonistein has four children and will spend ten minutes on this sheet per child, that means that simply reading it and giving each child the time that they deserve takes a good forty minutes. I know that some parents like to “kill two birds with one stone” and go over the Parsha Sheet at the Shabbos table. In reality though, the Shabbos table is not an ideal time to blow through the questions that each and every child has within their Parsha Sheet. After all, there’s a lot going on at a family oriented Shabbos table. Likewise, one may have children who are at the young age that they can’t be compelled to sit at the table for a long stretch of time. And so, doing this privately on a couch in the morning or after lunch with your arm lovingly wrapped around your child, can impart genuine sentiments of warmth as well as show your child that they have your undivided attention!

Hashem & Technology

Hashem doesn’t have a Blackberry or an iPhone, but He is my favorite contact. He doesn’t have Facebook, but He is my best friend. He doesn’t have Twitter but I follow him nevertheless. He doesn’t have Foursquare, but He is always checked in. He doesn’t have Linkedin but I always feel connected to him wherever I may find myself. He doesn’t have Google but that’s OK because he’s God. He doesn’t even have internet, but I am connected to Him. And even though He has a massive communication system, He never puts me on hold!

Parshas Zachor 2012: Please Light Shabbos Candles 5 Minutes Early!

There is a worldwide initiative that is close to my heart and that I believe is worthy enough to bring to your attention. As such, my wife  will be joining Jewish mothers the world over in lighting Shabbos candles 5 minutes earlier this Friday night (Parshas Zachor/March 2nd 2012).

This dramatic appeal to all Jewish women around the world is meant to to help focus our thoughts on the terrible events that took place now over 2+ years ago–and daven for the speedy refuah of a friend and hero who remains in a coma. On Rosh Chodesh Av, just over 2 years ago Menashe Chaim Ben Shulamit Tufcha jumped into the sewage drain in the Ramat Eshkol park that is known to all as “The Iglu Park.” My children as well as hundreds of other local kids have enjoyed playing at this park. Sadly, a cute three and a half year old Racheli Sofer went to this park and never returned home to her loving family.  You see, Menashe Chaim Ben Shulamit Tufcha didn’t know who she was, but that didn’t stop him from jumping down into a pit that Racheli had fallen into while playing in the park.

Unfortunately Racheli lost her life and Menashe has been in a coma ever since! His wife and 5 young children have been struggling effectively without a husband and father for 2.5 years. For more on this story see here and here.

This Shabbos, Parshas Zachor (the Shabbos before Purim), women worldwide are lighting their Shabbos candles 5 minutes early in the memory of Rachel Bas HaRav Binyomin Yosef and as a merit for a full recovery for Menashe Chaim ben Shulamit Tufcha, b’ezras Hashem. Use the extra time to learn, talk to your kids, say Tehilim or just think. Let this year be a Purim Sameach for everyone!

Click here and here for more video and the story in Hebrew (and some English)

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