Friday, September 30, 2005

six degrees of wikipedia

This is a classic example of something I've thought for a while would be a great game, but someone beat me to it.

six degrees of wikipedia

The truth is that I was playing my own version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" at least as far back in 1988. I (or a friend and I) would take any two actors and try to connect them. I even made a primitive database using Leonard Maltin's movie guide (I still have the 1988 book, it occasionally helps when I have to remember who was in a movie on Shabbat) and Apple's AppleWorks on my Apple IIe. (By the way - talk about great programming - they had a word processor, a database program and a spreadsheet - and it all fit on a 5.25 floppy, no hard drive and 256K of RAM!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

roller coasters or just coasting

I haven’t written much lately.

I’m not sure exactly why. I had a lot to say about the period leading up to the disengagement and the withdrawal itself. Soon after, we went on vacation for a few days. And ever since, I’ve been very busy with all sorts of preparations for the holidays in our beit knesset. Plus work related issues as well.

So I’m busy. But I was busy before also. So I’m not sure that it was only that. Maybe I have less to say, but more likely I’m not sure how important it is for me to say everything on my mind.

Probably if I think of something significant, I’ll write about it, and then get back on the track of writing regularly.

We took the kids on a company sponsored event to Superland, an amusement park in Rishon LeTzion. Usually, my wife likes going on the higher rides (like Ferris wheels) and the roller coasters, and I pass due to a fear of heights. But I remember around 9 years ago, a few days before we made aliya, we went to my brother-in-laws Bar Mitzva party at an amusement park outside of Chicago. My wife was 7 months pregnant, so we both skipped the roller coasters.

But there was one “exciting” ride that I wasn’t nervous about. It was one of those movies where the chairs move and you feel like you’re in some very fast moving vehicle. When the chairs move down and the scene in the movie drops, you feel like you’re really falling, and everyone screams.

But my wife, being pregnant, couldn’t sit in the moving chairs. She needed to sit in the stationary ones, although she could watch the movie. She said afterwards that we all looked so strange - why were we screaming and getting so excited about a movie?

Maybe this is what’s going on with my blog. Perhaps I realize that I look to the outside observer like I’m flailing about in my chair, when there’s really nothing exciting going on.

(This of course would be the opposite of when I “
see the fish”. Or is it?)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A funny new page from Snopes

Snopes takes on companies whose domain names have unintendedly risqué double meanings.

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Business (Domain Thing)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Pesach, Chanuka and Purim and the Disengagement Crisis

As I’ve mentioned before, the fact that the withdrawal from Gaza took place right after Tisha B’Av was timed perfectly - at least for drashot.

I’m sure that there will be ways for even not-so-creative rabbis to work it into their speeches on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur as well.

But what about the other holidays? Don’t they deserve the right to be associated with this issue?

So let me present: Pesach, Chanuka and Purim and the Disengagement Crisis

The families that left or were forced to leave Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron are facing an existential crisis. They are dealing with finding new homes, new communities, new jobs, family challenges. This is understandable.

But what about the people who didn’t live in the destroyed communities? Many of them are also facing a crisis now, but this is a crisis of faith. They didn’t believe that something like this could happen, and they don’t know how to relate to the State, Zionism or even religion and God in its wake.

I think the antidote to this crisis can be found in one word: gratitude. It is an essential Jewish belief, and its importance can be seen in these three holidays.

Pesach: One of the highlights of the seder for me has always been the song Dayenu. As a child I enjoyed the repetition and melody, but as an adult I find great meaning in it. The message is amazing if we think about it: Even if we don’t get everything we want, everything we deserve, everything we’ve been promised by God - it’s enough! If we received the Torah, but didn’t enter the land, it would be enough. If we entered the land, but didn’t get the Beit HaMikdash, it would be enough. I believe that song is the difference between the Zionist movement and the haredim. We can sing a modern dayenu (entering the land, having a state, Jerusalem, etc), and at any point we should be able to say “Dayenu!”. On the other side, the haredim can’t seem to say that “if we entered the land, but didn’t get the Beit HaMikdash, dayenu”. And while we can always pray for more, for the most, our relationship with God must be based on dayenu. We have received so much, to deny what we have is not only not proper gratitude, but nearly blasphemous.

Chanuka: The fact that we celebrate Chanuka at all is a sign of our belief in dayenu. Although there were great miracles at the time, only a few hundred years later, the Temple was destroyed. We don’t directly benefit from any of the victories of the Macabim. But we still say Hallel over 2000 years later! Why? Because we’re thankful for what we get from God even if it doesn’t work out the way we’d like. We have plenty to say Hallel about today. (In fact, I’d personally be willing to ignore Yom HaAtzmaut as a special day, if we’d say Hallel every day of the year.)

Purim: In Pirkei Avot it is written:
"Whoever repeats a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world. As it is said: ‘And Esther said to the king in the name of Mordechai’"

The Maharal explains the connection as follows: If Esther was able to attribute the source of the plot against the king to Mordechai, even though there was no obvious reason to do so, it shows that she had a strong ethical character. She was the kind of person who had gratitude and could recognize the good that a person had done, even when it wasn’t necessary. According to the Maharal, only that kind of person can bring redemption. Because when God brings miracles, He wants us to accredit them to Him. If we don’t do so - the miracles won’t come. So God knew that in a story like Purim, where the miracles can be hard to see, it would be important to have them come via a person like Ester, who would later make a holiday, instead of denying the divine significance.

The situation today is rather similar. First of all, we need to recognize the good that those around us do. Even when we don’t see a benefit in recognizing their goodness. The army, the police, the judicial system - all have much to their credit. So do many politicians, even the ones that we strongly disagree with. So we must be careful to credit them for the good they have done.

But additionally, we need to thank God for the miracles we do get. Not only focus on what we don’t. Otherwise, we really won’t be worthy of such miracles in the future…