Blog: September 2012

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Rosh Hashana (2nd day)

Several years ago we added a service for the second day of Rosh Hashana. The other holidays are celebrated for two days outside of Israel and one day there, but Rosh Hashana is celebrated for two days everywhere. The Reform movement follows the Israeli calendar (holding that the reason for the extra day no longer applies), but many Reform congregations eliminate the extra day for Rosh Hashana too. Our rabbi decided (with support from other leaders) that if we say we follow the Israeli calendar we should really do it, hence the second day.

Our second-day service is more intimate than the first-day service, but is still a complete service. Members of the congregation share in leading the service and do the torah-reading. There isn't a big sermon like on the first day, but there's a shorter message.
Over the years some people have told us that this is their favorite service, preferring it over the grand service on the first day.

As expected, turnout is rather lower for the second day. We started in a year where the second day fell on a Sunday and got about 50 people that year; on weekdays attendance is lower. Last year at this service we re-dedicated the chapel after renovations and got an attendance boost. This year, the second day was on a Tuesday.

We had about 80 people. Some were visitors from out of town who came with members, some I didn't know at all, and some sought us out because we're apparently the only local Reform congregation that does this. We got lots of thanks and compliments after the service.

One lesson I take from this: we have got to start advertising this. We offer a service that fills a void no one else is filling, and we do it well. We don't require tickets on the second day; anybody who hears about it is welcome to come. Next year I want to work a little on helping people to hear about it, like we did with our amazingly-successful children's service on the first day. (Last year we outgrew our space, so this year we rented space down the street at the JCC. As long as we were renting a hall anyway, we invited the community -- and got twice as many people as last year.)

Our second-day service is really pretty special. I'm glad we started it.


I'm typing this from my new Android tablet -- an ASUS Transformer with keyboard dock. It's quite spiffy! (And a well-timed gift, as I was still cogitating over my dead iBook.)

It works well as a tablet -- nice display, the apps work the way I expect, and it didn't take too long to figure out some of the interface quirks (which may be real or may be signs that I've used an iPad). The on-screen keyboard is "fat"; I don't know how else to describe it, but it works (and, not surprisingly, with better accuracy than my phone). The hardware keyboard is of course smaller than a conventional one, so currently I'm making lots of typos but I'm touch-typing. The keys are closer together than I'm used to and it feels like I'm hitting them harder than I'm used to, particularly the keys toward the edges (that are less likely to be struck "straight on"). I'm still faster with the hardware keyboard than the on-screen one, though, and it doesn't take up half the screen. So, bottom line, when I want to do extensive typing I can slip it into the dock, and otherwise its a nice 10" tablet.

Please feel free to tell me about all your favorite Android apps. I have an Android phone so I know a few, but tablets and phones are different.

Good news: somebody has ported emacs to Android and it's in the store (free). Bad news: it seg-faults for me on start. It's a known problem but the suggested work-around didn't for me. I've contacted the author.

The dock provides a USB port and there's a file-browser app. This is very promising.

How in the world do I get the Google+ web site to let me use the regular, not mobile, site? I know there's an app but I don't like it; the web site is just fine with the real-estate available on a tablet. But when I try to use it it forces me into the mobile version, which isn't as good. (Not as bad as the app, but not as good as it could be.)

The previous paragraph might describe a specific symptom of a more-general problem. General solutions also welcome. :-) (Stack Exchange, by way of contrast, uses the mobile site on my phone but the regular one on the tablet, so it's not as simple as checking for mobile devices.)

There are two browsers pre-installed, "browser" and Chrome. I wonder why. I wonder what "browser" is.

LJ oddity: I'm typing this using the (regular) web site, not an app, and when typing this text is a smaller variable-width font. When focus is elsewhere (like when I typed the tags), it changes to a larger fixed-width font (Courier, I assume). I want that all the time! (This is the HTML editor, not the rich-text one.)

I'm not very good at finger-based cursor placement yet. I wonder what typos Ive introduced while editing. :-)

More to come as I use it more, I'm sure.

How to give a good d'var torah

Somebody asked: how do you prepare and deliver a good torah talk? Where do you start and how do you make it engaging? There are other good answers there too and I encourage you to look; here's what I wrote: Read moreā€¦

HHD to-do list, synagogue edition

I'm going to be just a little busy at my synagogue:

Rosh Hashana (RH) evening: help lead one song (sure, easy)

RH morning 1: chant one aliyah of the torah reading (I've done this portion before so it's just review)

RH morning 1: help prevent civilization from breaking down at children's service (after morning service). Apparently I am qualified for this by being a responsible adult who doesn't have kids, and therefore I don't care about the service itself.

RH morning 2: chant one aliyah (assigned a few days ago; need to review)

Yom Kippur (YK) evening: read something I have yet to write on the theme of "ki anu amecha" (the "you are our shepherd / we are your flock" poem). I was specifically asked to do that text.

YK morning (early service): chant haftarah blessings (need to practice the slightly-different text with accompanying melodic changes). I'm not actually going to that service otherwise; I'll slip in during the torah service. Apparently the slightly-different wording/melody scared off the first several people they asked, and they fell back on me (even though I wouldn't otherwise be there) because they knew I would just make the problem go away. :-)

YK morning (later service): help lead our new "ruach" service; this is the minyan-style service that we did for the first time last year largely through my instigation. This year I will add time-points to the post-its I insert into the rabbi's copy of the prayer book. Ahem. (Normally, who cares? But this day is so heavily constrained that we really can't slip.)

YK afternoon: chant one aliyah; read something I've drafted but not yet finished on redemption (also a specific request).

Daf bit: B'rachot 43

Our rabbis taught: six things are unbecoming for a scholar:

  • He should not go abroad scented. R. Sheshet says this applies to his clothes but not his body because perfume hides body odor. There is a dispute about whether hair is like the body or like clothing.

  • He should not go out at night alone. This is to avoid suspicion. But he can go out if he has an appointment with his teacher because people will know that.

  • He should not go abroad in patched sandals. This applies to the upper but not the sole, and applies when he is in public but not when in a home. Also, this applies only in summer; during the rainy season it's ok.

  • He should not converse with a woman in the street. R. Chisda says: not even with his female relatives, because people won't necessarily know they're his relatives.

  • He should not take a set meal (meaning one where you recline, apparently) with ignorant people. Why? Because he might be drawn into their ways.

  • He should not be the last to enter the beit midrash (study hall). The g'mara does not here address the problem that somebody has to be last. Perhaps "scholar" means only one who is accomplished, and there are always students around who have not reached that level?
    Or perhaps the last two enter together so neither is "the last one". Those are guesses.

Some add that he should not take long strides or carry himself stiffly; the latter is akin to pushing against the heels of the Divine Presence. (43b)

We are not told how a community that doesn't know who his female relatives are would know that he's on his way to study at night.

There's a lot of good discussion in the comments, including about aspirational versus practical rules.


Technically the high-holy-day season began with the first day of the month of Elul a few weeks ago, but some think of it as starting with S'lichot, the recitation of penitential prayers that begins (for Ashkenazim) several days before Rosh Hashana. That was last night.

Until now I had only ever gone to Reform services for this, and this year I was feeling the need to experience something more traditional. My Orthodox shul of choice for such things is Young People's Synagogue, which I've visited a few times on Friday nights. They didn't publish a time for S'lichot on their web site, so I sent email to the president of the congregation to introduce myself and ask. I got a nice, prompt reply welcoming me and giving me the information I needed. He mentioned that Dan Leger would be speaking; Dan is a member of Dor Chadash who I know from the Tree of Life morning minyan (yeah, Pittsburgh is like that), so that was an extra bonus.

The people I met there last night were very nice, and it's the first time I've seen other women there. (Women don't generally come on Friday nights.) I think there were about 25 people there, about 25% women. One man who greeted me said he'd seen a video of me on YouTube, which I wouldn't have expected as a primary search result. (I think it's the only public video that names me, actually.) He didn't mention this journal, which I would have thought to be the more-likely search result. But I just checked Google, and wow have things changed: the video is #2, my user page on Mi Yodeya is #3, and this journal is #4. (Someone else from there visited this journal after I wrote about them another time, BTW. If any of y'all are reading this, hi!)

Dan's talk was enlightening but doesn't summarize well (now, at least). After the talk and some Q&A, the service began. The service was in a small booklet just labelled "S'lichoth" (or maybe "Selichoth") from Birnbaum. I'd like a copy of this service but Amazon and Google are failing me, so it's probably out of print. I assume I can find the traditional liturgy in several other places, including as part of some machzorim, though the smaller stand-alone format is nice. Suggestions welcome; a complete and reliable English translation is an important feature. (No transliteration please; I don't need it and it takes up space.)

As I expected, the service was all in Hebrew. I was running about 25% on comprehension (with some 100% passages that I know from other places, including the Yom Kippur service and torah), so I switched between the Hebrew and English as needed. The chazan did a good job of signaling where he was, and somebody occasionally called out page numbers. (I wonder if that's usual or was for my benefit (visitor of unknown skill).)

Even with my imperfect understanding, I found I was really engaging with the traditional liturgy. The melodies for the sung parts were easy to pick up, and those parts tended to be the ones where I knew what the words meant, which certainly helped. I had not previously realized that the traditional liturgy repeats the list of divine attributes more than once; that provided "mileposts" in the service the way the kaddishes do in other services. Each time through the context was a little different and it seemed like my reaction should be a little different (and would be, with practice and fluency). The service had a level of gravitas that I've found lacking in other s'lichot services I've been to, without feeling overdone.

After the service I was chatting with someone while helping to clean up the nosh from earlier, and after asking about Yom Tov services I was given a bulletin listing all their upcoming events. My congregation joins together with another for festival morning services; Sukkot will be at their place and I'm not sure I really want to walk two miles each way for that. YPS is just down the street and seems like a friendly place. The "main" service (for any day) is the morning one and I have a Shabbat morning minyan I'm very attached to, so Sukkot is an opportunity to visit them when much of their community will be there. They've invited me to come, and I plan to accept that invitation.


Community-anthropology notes for my own future reference: More than one man who greeted me offered me a handshake. All women were wearing skirts/dresses, but some had short sleeves. Some hats, some not.

Air Canada fails, but First National VISA comes through

Air Canada sold me a ticket that couldn't possibly work, treated me badly, and cost me two days, and then they refused to compensate me (there's way more there that I haven't published, ending with them telling me to get lost). So I filed a complaint with First National Bank of Omaha, the issuer of my VISA card, in late July.

departures board with long delay

The first-tier customer-support rep who took my call collected very basic information about my complaint and told me that a representative would call. Instead I received a letter a couple weeks later, in mid-August, saying they had investigated my claim but, since Air Canada had transported me, albeit badly, there was nothing they could do. I called the person who signed the letter, and our conversation went roughly like this (I'm summarizing slightly):

Me: This is not how your representative said this would go. I'm very disappointed that my case was closed without even talking with me. By the way, I'm a customer of 19 years who's only once before ever asked you for anything.

Her: They did transport you. If you hadn't used the rest of the ticket we could have helped you. You have to take it up with them.

Me: When the problem arose I was stranded in another city. Three times. They had me over a barrel, don't you think? Also, they sold me a ticket that could not possibly work; isn't that at the least misfeasance if not fraud?

Her: I can talk to their bank (instead of the merchant) and try to work something out. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't -- it's basically a professional courtesy. What do you think is fair compensation? A full refund probably isn't going to happen.

Me: They did transport me, as you said, but they messed up my vacation and cost me extra money besides. I think a refund of half the ticket price is fair.

Her: I'll see what I can do. It may take a month.

Today I received a letter saying they have credited me for half the ticket price. The letter says "this is an attempt" and that if the merchant disputes it they will have to charge me again. So now we wait. Let's hope that this bank-to-bank negotiation is usually settled at that level without further interference.