Thanksgiving Turkey Drumstick Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Pie Table Song - A Lone Pumpkin Grew

Thanksgiving is upon us and we sing traditional holiday songs at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Here are the words to one of our favorites...

Oh a lone pumpkin grew on a green pumpkin vine.
He was round
he was fat
he was yellow.
"No silly jack-o-lantern shall I make," he said.
"I'm determined to become a useful fellow."

So he raised up his head
when the cook came around
and at once he was chosen the winner.
His fondest wish came true
he was proud pumpkin pie
and the glory of the great thanksgiving dinner...

For the glory of the jack is in the lantern
as he sits up on the gatepost oh so high;
and the glory of the turkey is the drumstick
but the glory of the pumpkin is the pie.

Here's a YouTube 2009 home video of the song -- we don't know the folks -- it sounds like our familiar melody and we heartily endorse it.


Thanksgiving Sermon of Rabbi Zev Zahavy from 1943

Here is my dad's sermon from 1943 for the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Click here for Rabbi Zev Zahavy's 1943 Thanksgiving Sermon, published by the RCA, Rabbinical Council of America.

A big hat tip to Zechariah for finding this and sending it to us.


Times Sunday Review - An Ironic Juxtaposition of Compassionate Doctors and Greedy Pharma

In the Times Sunday Review today (my favorite section of the Sunday paper) I found an ironic juxtaposition of compassionate doctors and greedy pharma.

Nicholas Kristof describes how a doctor in Nepal has devised a "simple cataract microsurgery technique that costs on $24 per person and is virtually always successful." Dr. Sanduk Ruit has already restored eyesight to more than 100,000 people. 20 million more blind people worldwide can benefit from this. This illustrates medicine in its finest and most compassionate mode.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania describes a different scenario in his discussion of a new class of cholesterol lowering agents. Pharma companies plan to charge $14,000 a year for the drugs. And it is not even clear how much benefit these drugs will provide their users.

He asks whether the potential value of the drugs is worth the expense. In this hypothetical cost-benefit analysis, Emanuel implies that big pharma is greedy and it will cost all insured citizens money out-of-pocket in the form of higher premiums to defray the costs that will be generated.

In health care nobody will convince me otherwise: to better our world, we need more compassion and less greed.


Thank You New York Times for introducing me to virtual reality for free today

The Times delivered a cardboard virtual reality viewer to my door today with the weekend paper.

I had no clue what it was or how it worked. I followed the steps and folded the viewer, downloaded the app, put my android phone in the viewer, and played the videos.

It was incredible, magical and mysterious.

Mashable explains:
After an October announcement of a partnership with Google to produce virtual reality (VR) films, The New York Times has launched its new VR app, appropriately titled NYT VR, on Thursday. The app debuted with two feature films, one titled The Displaced tells the story of three children swept up in the world's refugee crisis, and the other shows making of a recentNew York Times Magazine cover.
If you did not get one from the Times, buy yourself a cardboard viewer and try it out.

VR is going to be big.


My November Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column - dreams, insomnia, budgets and bereavements

Dear Rabbi Zahavy: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I often have vivid and dramatic dreams. When I wake up I remember the details. At times this disturbs me because I don’t know what’s going on in my head and what these dreams mean. Do you have any special Talmudic insights that will help me?

Seeking Interpretation in Tenafly

Dear Seeking,

We Israelites certainly have claimed for ages to have some special insights into dreams. Ancient interpreters among us believed that dreams were portents of the future. And modern Jewish interpreters have insisted that one’s dreams reveal the workings of the unconscious psyche.

If not for the grandiose dreams of our ancestor Joseph, he would never have been sold to slavery in Egypt. And if not for his rise to power after his predictions of years of plenty and years of famine based on Pharaoh’s dreams, our biblical ancestors likely would have perished in famine, and we Jews would not be here today.

More recently, a great Jew, Sigmund Freud, revolutionized psychology with his insistence that dreams provide windows into our past experiences that trigger our fears and phobias. He proposed as well that our dreams can be a source of self-knowledge into our deepest hopes and aspirations. Some believe that dreams emerge from the unconscious mind processing the day’s activities, as well as concerns, stresses and emotional pressures.

The Talmud has a handbook approach to dream meanings in Berakhot. “A dream follows its interpretation,” is one of the sages’ well-known principles. It seems to mean that a person ought to go to a good dream interpreter to get an optimistic forecast for those mini-revelations of personal future events.

According to the Talmudic approach, dreaming about specific rabbis had different meanings. If you dreamed about the patriarch Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, for instance, that meant you’d be rich. Back when I wrote my PhD thesis on the rabbinic traditions of that rabbi, I spent day and night learning about him and certainly I did dream about him. I’m still waiting for the promised meaning to be realized.

You are lucky if what you call “vivid” dreams are in fact lucid dreams, meaning dreams in which you actively participate in adventures as if you were somewhat awake. Few people are fortunate enough to have that kind of interactive dream activity regularly.

My advice is not to fret about finding deeper meanings. Pay no heed to the great interests and impacts of the dream interpretations that came before you in our people’s history.

And although there are rabbinic prayers to recite to correct for troubling dreams, I’m not recommending that you try them, unless you believe they will help you.

You live in the here and now. When you wake up after a torrid night of dreaming – lucid or otherwise – perhaps you can say to yourself with amusement, “Wow, that was an interesting story episode in my personal dramatic series.” Our private dream reveries can be exciting, scary, upsetting, enigmatic or just entertaining. Own your dreams for a few minutes, relish and appreciate them, and then move on to attending to your daily affairs.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Often I have trouble sleeping. Some nights I get only 4 hours of sleep. What can I do to fix this?

Wide awake in Wayne

Dear Awake,

I believe sleep is way overrated. You get what you can and, unless you operate heavy machinery or pilot a plane, you will make it through the day with as much or as little as you can get. Even if you get too little sleep and get a bit drowsy at 2 p.m. the next day, you won’t face any real danger.

Sure, there is an idea afoot in our society that you should get seven or more hours a night of sleep. And there is a prevalent notion that modern life and its inventions have made getting “enough” sleep more difficult.

But in a story in the Times published on October 15, “Do We Really Need to Sleep 7 Hours a Night?,” the paper reported on scientific studies of primitive tribes who had no electrical or technological innovations in their societies. The studies found that, “the average amount of sleep in these people was well under what is recommended to us as adequate sleep, and these were very healthy people who are not suffering chronic disease and insomnia.”

Famous insomniacs in our tradition include Achashverosh, who during a sleepless night discovered that Mordechai had been the person who saved his life from an assassination attempt. King David also slept very little, as did the Gaon of Vilna who reportedly slept only two hours a night. In addition, we have mandated sleepless nights – in particular, the first night of Shavuot, when many stay up all night to learn Torah.

So sleep seven hours a night if you can. And, if you can’t, go with flow. Do some crossword puzzles, read a book, study some Talmud, write an advice column, or get up and wrestle with an angel into the wee hours of the morning. There simply is no use stressing out about getting too little sleep.

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My shul board of directors has become secretive about some details of the annual budget and finances. Recently the controlling group of the board approved spending more than was allocated by earlier budget votes. I feel worried and somewhat angry about the way they are handling these matters. What’s my best course of action?

Ought we Audit in Teaneck

Dear Audit,

A synagogue is most commonly both a communal organization and a not for profit charity. If your shul is such an entity, you are justified in objecting if it is not fully transparent about financial matters and not totally frugal about keeping within the bounds of its voted and projected budget.

If the controlling directors of the institution deviate from those paths, perhaps they have a good reason for doing so. Whatever the situation, you should realize that anger and worry will get you nowhere.

If you feel strongly that your shul is acting improperly in financial matters, you have a few choices. You can accept the messy way things are, or you can walk away and join another shul. Or you can try to fix the situation, to make it right.

If you opt for the latter path, know that your chances of success will be small. Keep in mind the principle that my very favorite biblical verse, Kohelet 1:15, tells us: “That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.”

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

After my uncle died my family decided to delay for several days telling my father – his brother – about it because my father was in the hospital after having surgery. I feel that concealing that loss from him was wrong. Shouldn’t we always be upfront, regardless of the circumstances?

Forthright in Fairlawn

Dear Forthright,

Many families have had analogous situations where some bad news was withheld from someone for one reason or another.

Occasionally a story of this kind of omission is quite a public matter. Just recently Kansas City Royals baseball player Edinson Volquez pitched six innings in Game 1 of the World Series. Not until he was done was he told that his father had died shortly before the game.

There may be good reasons to justify withholding bad news. In Volquez’s case, the family decided that he should not be distracted from his life’s dream by bad tidings. They believed he would have ample time to mourn a few hours later.

In Jewish law, in the period before the burial of a dead relative, a mourner is exempt from all mitzvot. It is presumed that his or her grief poses an inescapable distraction, and creates an emotional state that has an immediate and personal impact on the bereaved. In such a state a person cannot and need not perform religious obligations.

It’s not universal, though, that a report of a loss will impede an athlete’s performance or even, for that matter, a sports team’s or a troop of soldiers’ performances.

There is a famous story that football coach Knute Rockne, hoping to inspire his team, Notre Dame, told his players of the tragic death of their hero, the great player, George Gipp. “Win one for the Gipper,” he said, and sent his team out to beat Army in a 1928 game.

In the realm of the military, accounts of heroic martyrs are often used to stir soldiers to bravery and passion in battle, precisely because the dramas can hit emotional chords and trigger strong reactions.

Your family was actively dishonest in withholding the sad news, as was Volquez’ family. In each case they justified the decision not to tell the bereaved.

I hope that Kansas City Royals management did not actively convince the family to delay telling Volquez. A baseball team has a primarily financial motive for having its best prepared ace go out and pitch a good game. That’s not a factor I would want to have thrown into the decision-making process about informing a person about his father’s death.

In the realm of medical practice, truth telling, or veracity, is an important bioethics principle. But so is non-maleficence – or “do no harm.” When the two principles conflict, sometimes it is appropriate to withhold information that might affect someone’s health and well-being.

My bottom line advice is that we do not always have to be honest if it may cause harm. Sometimes physical and emotional health, or a person’s life’s dreams, or the national honor may be at stake. Each situation should be examined with a cool head, keeping the well-being of the bereaved at heart.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his PhD from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author many books, including these Kindle Edition e-books available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi Zahavy” – which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

The Dear Rabbi Zahavy column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Please mail your questions to the Jewish Standard or email DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.


The Times Misunderstands Mindful Classrooms

The Times covers a new trend and it misunderstands what mindful classrooms are all about. Elizabeth Harris writes about what's going in NYC schools and gets it wrong at many key points.

For starters, the title misleads. In the print edition it is, "City Classrooms Give Pupils a Moment to Turn Inward." Well, that is not what mindfulness is all about.

And so, perhaps someone figured that out by the time it got online and there the headline became, "Under Stress, Students in New York Schools Find Calm in Meditation."

And even that is not the essence of the practice of mindfulness. Most people who have not practiced mindful meditation misunderstand what it is.

Here is one bad part of the article:
Donna Hargens, the superintendent of the Louisville district of Jefferson County’s public school system, said that in classrooms a teacher’s reflex is to say, “ ‘Focus! Why aren’t you focusing?’ But what does that really mean, and have we given them any tools to help them do that?”
Mindfulness is not about focus. It's about awareness of everything around you and inside of you. It's the opposite of focus. It's openness. Knowing and recognizing what is going on in your head and near your body. And then, taking control of that environment and those forces and letting them go!

When you do that, and you must do that, then you can turn to the essentials in front of you and feel their presence without hearing all the noise that deters you from it.

So the Times gets it wrong. See that, hear that, read that, and let it go.

Can't sleep? The New York Times says not to worry

Do We Really Need to Sleep 7 Hours a Night? asks the Times' Anahad O'Connor.

I believe sleep is way overrated.

You get what you can and, unless you operate heavy machinery or pilot a plane, you make it through the day with as much or as little as you can get, without any real danger.

We have been hearing lately that Americans get too little sleep.
Among sleep researchers it is widely believed that people sleep differently today than they did 150 years ago. Many argue that the invention of the electric light bulb in the late 1800s — and all the artificially lit environments that followed — dramatically changed our sleep patterns. Exposure to artificial light at night, whether from light bulbs or computer screens, throws off the body’s biological clock, delaying and reducing sleep, experts say.
This Times article says it is not so.
...a new study is challenging that notion. It found that Americans on average sleep as much as people in three different hunter-gatherer societies where there is no electricity and the lifestyles have remained largely the same for thousands of years. If anything, the hunter-gatherer communities included in the new study — the Hadza and San tribes in Africa, and the Tsimané people in South America — tend to sleep even less than many Americans....
In fact the evidence is accumulating to support the notion that I hold.
“There is this concern in the Western world that we need more sleep and that if you get less than seven hours you’re liable to suffer from obesity and diabetes and heart disease,” he said. “But the average amount of sleep in these people was well under what is recommended to us as adequate sleep, and these were very healthy people who are not suffering chronic disease and insomnia.” 
So sleep if you can and if not do some crossword puzzles or read a book. Stop stressing out about getting too little sleep.


My Missing CRACKER JACK Prize in 1965

How disappointing when the promise of a prize in your box of cracker jack goes unfulfilled.
Back in the Summer of '65, we helped the prize girls be more careful.
The Cracker Jack Co.

August 19, 1965

Mr. T. Zahavy
Atlantic Beach, N. Y.

Dear Mr. Zahavy:

Thank you for your letter which brought to our attention the absence of a prize from a package of CRACKER JACK. We regret this error.

Our company recognizes the great disappointment experienced by anyone not finding a. novelty in a box of CRACKER JACK. We appreciate the importance of its presence in every package.

The only manual operation in the manufacture of CRACKER JACK is performed by our “prize girls.” They drop prizes into the packages as they move on conveyors in the production department. The girls are cautioned about he necessity of a toy in every box, but they may miss one should their attention be diverted. We have circulated your letter to remind them that a missing prize means a disappointed person. We are sure it will help them to be even more careful.

Enclosed, with our compliments, is a small assortment from our current selection of prizes which we hope you will enjoy. Thank you again for taking the trouble to write us.

Very truly yours,
E A Winters
Sales Manager


Division of The Borden Company, 4800 W. 66th St., Chicago, Illinois 60638, POrtsmouth 7-6800


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Are Intermarried Rabbis Kosher? The President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College replies Yes to the Editor of the Forward who said No

Are Intermarried Rabbis Kosher? Previously not. Up until now it has been a given that, regardless of what the realities of the community are, rabbis must marry Jews.

Reconstructionist Jewish leaders have invalidated that assumption with a change in policy that allows their rabbinical students to be married to non-Jews.

The President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Deborah Waxman, replies Yes, they are kosher, in an op-ed responding to the Editor of the Forward who said, No, they are not kosher in her editorial this week.

This is a hot-button issue. So be sure that we will be hearing more about this controversy in the coming months. Here is Waxman's brief and confident reply to Eisner.

Why Fighting Intermarriage Is a Lost Cause - Opinion – Forward.com
In her editorial, Jane Eisner clearly states her difference of opinion with the recent decision to allow inter-partnered candidates to apply to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), where I serve as president. If I understand her point correctly, it is that intermarriage represents a lack of commitment to Judaism by Jews and that we need to hold the line in condemning intermarriage for the sake of the future of the Jewish people. We certainly understand this line of reasoning, and I think many Jews would agree with the basic assessment that we must continue the fight against intermarriage.

Here is the problem. For those of you still fighting, the battle was lost years ago. The Pew report, citing that 58% of marriages since 2005 are intermarriages, has disabused all of North American Jewry of the notion that Jews intermarrying can somehow be stopped by pressure from families, rabbis, or editorials from editors of Jewish publications.

At this point, the Jewish future in North America depends, in part, on our ability to engage intermarried Jews, unless we are willing to write off so many of us. If we continue to alienate them by saying that their partnering with a non-Jew means that they are no longer legitimate in some way as Jews, then we create a self-fulfilling prophecy and drive them away.