Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Exhibit Two Gets Aished! 

(Exhibit Two at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem earlier this month)

A bit of explanation is in order.

Aish = Aish HaTorah. [1]

Aish HaTorah is an apolitical network of Jewish educational centers in 35 branches on five continents. [2]

Aish is all about Jewish education and kiruv… drawing Jews closer to G-d. [3]

There is an expression for Jews who, through the educational and kiruv work of Aish HaTorah, become more connected to Judaism and more observant. It is said they get “Aished.”


[1] The name Aish HaTorah literally means “Fire of Torah.” As Elie Weisel said: “Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival.”

[2] Aish HaTorah is a Jewish outreach organization started in Jerusalem by Rabbi Noah Weinberg z”l in 1974. Aish HaTorah’s goal is to revitalize the Jewish people by providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect. Aish HaTorah is regarded as a world leader in creative Jewish educational programs and leadership training.

[3] Aish’s educational philosophy is that Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood. We learn the Torah’s wisdom to enrich our own lives, and to share these ideas with all humanity.


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I’ve not yet had the opportunity to see Ken Burns’ masterful work, The Civil War.

But I did see this one clip. [1]

A week before the Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, wrote home to his wife, Sarah, in Smithfield. The letter was written from Washington, D.C. July 14, 1861, on the eve of his unit moving out to war.

He wrote the letter in anticipation of his death.

It is, to me, the most moving love letter I’ve ever read. By the end, I was reduced to tears.

(Bull Run, Virginia – View of the battlefield)

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the First Battle of Bull Run.

In this 150th anniversary of those horrible, bloody years of the American Civil War, please take a few minutes and listen to Sullivan Ballou’s heart-felt sentiments.


[1] The music in the background is entitled Ashoken Farewell.

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Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”

This is his answer.

Truly inspiring.



Today, Friday April 6, at sundown is the beginning of Passover. It is by far my favourite holiday.

I will be leaving for Toronto Friday morning.

This blog will shut down until after Passover.

I hope to return Monday April 16.

Until then, may you all have a meaningful and spirit-filled holiday season.

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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending Shabbes with my rebbe and mentor, R’ Michael Skobac [1] and his charming wife, Chashi.

R’ Skobac is Master Po to my Grasshopper.

(R’ Skobac and I SO don’t look like this!)

Shabbes dinner featured a spelt/kamut challah that was out of this world!

He was kind enough to share the recipe with me… and here it is!

R’ Skobac’s Healthy Challah for Dummies (and those short on time):


  • 3.5 cups of spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup of kamut flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1.5 tablespoons of honey


Mix ingredients well into a dough. Divide in two and shape into round loaves.

Bake both loaves on a cookie sheet (covered in parchment paper) @ 350F for 40 minutes.

Check to make sure they’re done and ENJOY!

Simple. Fast. And for those intimidated by baking anything more complicated that muffins or banana bread, a really great way to feel like you know what you’re doing.


[1] Rabbi Michael Skobac – one of the world’s foremost authorities on Missionaries and Cults – is the Director of Education and Counselling of Jews for Judaism (Canada). He was educated at Northwestern University and Yeshiva University and has been involved in Jewish education and outreach work since 1975. (He and I also sit together at our little shtiebl, Congregation Bais Dov Yosef in Toronto [aka The Holy Strudel King]).

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This Wednesday night, March 7, marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Purim, commemorating the events of the biblical Book of Esther in ancient Persia (now Iran). The wicked Persian premier, Haman, plotted to wipe out all the Jews (sound familiar?) but was ultimately thwarted. Purim falls into the “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” category of Jewish festivals and holidays.

As part of the celebration, Jews traditionally bake three-sided fruit or poppy-seed filled turn-over cookies called ‘hamantashen’ (also spelled ‘hamantaschen). Their triangle shape is because it is believed that a tri-cornered hat was worn by the wicked Haman (i.e. the ‘Haman’ in ‘hamantashen’).

In the spirit of the festival, I offer you Chabad‘s ‘Quick & Easy Hamantashen’ recipe. Enjoy!


1 (18.25 ounce) package moist yellow cake mix

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water


1 cup fruit jam (any flavour) or 1 cup prepared poppy-seed filling or 1 cup chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cookie sheets.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix and flour. Stir in the eggs and water to form a stiff dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thickness.
  • Cut into 3 inch round circles and place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Place a teaspoon of filling into the centre of each cookie and pinch the sides tightly to form three corners so that only a little filling is visible. Moisten with water, if necessary.
  • Bake hamantashen for 6 to 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned.
  • Allow cookies to cook for 1 minute on the cookie sheets before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Recipe yields 2 dozen hamantashen.

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Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson [1] is America’s nattiest nerd, its chicest geek!

He’s a sharp-looking scientist. A trendy twerp. He looks great. He is handsome and well-spoken, funny, witty and charming.

And he’s smart. Sweet Lord in heaven, is he ever smart!

(America’s most dapper dweeb!)

He’s the kind of smart that takes very complicated super-brainy stuff and breaks it down into simple bite-sized easy-to-digest pieces that the rest of us plebes can handle. And he make it fun in the process.

And because of that, you remember what he says just as much as how he says it.

He can talk to us in our language without making it sound like he is talking down to us.

He makes science fashionable and fun. His enthusiasm is infectious. You get interested in astrophysics because he is just so darned excited about the whole subject.

Tyson doesn’t intimidate you with his intellect. He beguiles you with his boyish charm.

And that is why we so desperately need him.

At a time when certain segments of society deny science and pooh-pooh basic theories, when ‘Truthiness’ trumps Truth and when Reality is accused of having a well-known liberal bias, we need him more than ever.

The world is a better, richer place because of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

It is a place where curiosity, literacy, education,  intellect and expertise are not dirty words.


[1] Neil deGrasse Tyson (born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist and science communicator. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Earlier this month (February 7, to be exact), was the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat. Like some other Jewish holidays, it occurs on a full moon.

But unlike Purim (the following full moon), Passover (the next full moon after that) or Succot (either a Harvest Moon or Hunter Moon), the Tu B’Shevat full moon happens in the dead of winter. It is also known as the February Moon or Snow Moon. When I was a little kid, standing outside on a cold winter night, I would look up at the Ring Around the Moon, awed by its simple beauty. At the time, my mind, uncluttered as it were with scientific facts, was able to appreciate its heavenly glory with pure innocence.

And it is in the dead of winter that you are most likely to see a Ring Around the Moon, aka a Lunar Halo. Still, thin clouds of ice crystals hang in the cold, wintry sky creating these gorgeous lunar halos. Refraction of moonlight by the hexegonal (six-sided) crystals produce a slightly colored halo with its characteristic radius of 22 degrees.

Luckily, there are times even now when, caught unawares by natures grandeur, I am pulled back to a child-like wonder of nature and the cosmos. It could be anything. The Harvest Moon, huge and warm, emerging just above the dark silhouette of a treeline; the Leonids meteor shower streaking overhead; and on the iciest and coldest of nights, Light Pillars.

I love for moments like these. They make me appreciate life. They make life worth living.

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