Friday, March 27, 2009

Birthday!!! (Almost)

Hi, all!!

Tomorrow is my 31st Birthday!! HOORAY!!

As excited as I am, it's kinda a weird number, you know?
Like, 30 was such a big deal, but 31 is just so.... odd.....

Lindsay and I are going out for a fancy-shmancy dinner tonight,
followed by karaoke at Iggy's (of course!!).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grammar Girl's "How to Write a Great Blog Comment"

I'm a big fan of Grammar Girl, a weekly podcast (available on iTunes) by Mignon Fogarty that highlights a different grammatical question or hint each episode. She also posts the transcript of her show on her website, and this one I found particularly relevant (in a "meta" kind of way). I would LOVE to hear your responses to what Grammar Girl has to say about "How to Write a Great Blog Comment." Enjoy!!!


Rule #1 -- Determine Your Motivation

People have different reasons for writing blog comments. What's yours? Are you trying to get the attention of an influential blogger? Drive traffic to your own blog? Establish yourself as an expert on a topic? Do you appreciate the person's work and want to say thank you or brighten his or her day? Do you disagree so strongly with what you're viewing or reading that you simply can't let it stand without a rebuttal? Sometimes, understanding your motivation will help you decide what kind of comment to write.

Rule #2 -- Provide Context

I know as you're writing your comment *you* know what you're responding to -- maybe it's the article or video or maybe it's someone else's comment, but when people come to the page later and read the comments, it isn't always immediately clear what you're talking about. It's most important to provide context when there are a lot of comments. If comments are coming in really fast, for example, yours can get separated from the comment to which you're responding.

For example, instead of just starting out "Humidity is important too!" it's helpful if you start with some context like "User Squiggly1234 has a point about chocolate storage temperature, but has missed one important variable" and then go on to talk about humidity. That way other commenters won’t be confused as to why you started talking about bad hair weather on a post about chocolate.

Rule #3 -- Be Respectful

I shouldn't have to tell you this, but comments that start out "You're an idiot," are laced with profanity, or are just plain disrespectful, undermine the authority of your argument. Nobody gives much credence to an obnoxious troll. So aside from the pleasure you get from annoying people, you're wasting your time writing such comments. Always remember there is a real person reading your comment. It's easy to be mean while hiding behind the anonymity of the Web, but you shouldn't say anything you wouldn't say in person.

Rule #4 -- Make a Point

Sure, most bloggers will lap up short comments like "Wonderful!" "I love it!" and "Thank you," and if all you want to do is express gratitude or brighten their day, comments like that are fine, but you'll make a more lasting impression and a more meaningful contribution to the conversation if you say a bit more. Why is it wonderful? Why did you love it? It's even more important to make a point when you disagree. It's a waste of time to just write "You're wrong," or a longer ranting equivalent. Make sure you include the reason you disagree. It's easier than you think to avoid making a point. Consider the comment "You're spreading lies by saying the ideal temperature for chocolate storage is 28 degrees. At that temperature, the chocolate will go bad." Really, all you've said is "You're wrong." You need to say *why* the temperature is wrong. Say what temperature is better and why. Maybe say where you get your information. Is it based on your experience, the recommendations of the Chocolate Storage Association, or just your own wild guess? Make a point.

Rule #5 -- Know What You're Talking About

When I read comments I’m always amazed by how many people admit (admit!) they have no idea what they're talking about and then go on to make recommendations, suppositions, or write long rambling analyses based on nothing more than a pure guess. I swear I've read comments like "I've never worked with chocolate before, but I think 29 degrees would be better than 28 degrees." That kind of comment is not the way to get positive attention from an influential blogger or establish yourself as an expert. If you have a question the author didn't answer about why 28 degrees is best, it's fine to ask; but when you're commenting about something that's based in facts, you're not adding anything useful when you write comments based on your intuition. You're not under orders to comment on everything you read. Save your time for commenting about things where you can actually say something useful.

Rule #6 -- Make One Point per Comment

People have short attention spans, and in my experience attention spans are shorter on the Web and even shorter when people are skimming comments. A comment should be just that -- a comment -- not a manifesto. If you have something so complex and important to say that you can't do it in a few short paragraphs, start your own blog. If you have two separate things to say about the video, photo, or blog post, it's usually better to break it up into two separate comments. Remember, people are often skimming.

Rule #7 -- Keep it Short

This is really an extension of Rule 6, make one point, but since it's possible to go on and on about one point, I thought I'd also remind you to keep your comments short. Again, it's a comment, not your own blog post.

Rule #8 – Link Carefully

If you're posting a comment with the hope of driving traffic to your own site, think carefully before you include a link in your comment. Of course you should include your link if the comment box has a place for it, but leaving a link in the body of your comment is a risky thing. Many people think it's great marketing, but a minority of people think it's obnoxious and pushy.* If you decide to do it, make sure you've written a thoughtful comment that truly contributes to the conversation on the owner's site, not a useless comment that's just a transparent excuse to leave your link. It's also considered more acceptable if your link points to something you wrote that's relevant to the conversation, not just a link to your general landing page.

Rule #9 -- Proofread

I know it's hard; those boxes in which you write comments can be tiny, and they usually don't include a spellchecker. But proofreading is important because if you have a lot of typos or misspellings, it undermines your authority. Any troll who disagrees with you can just say, "What do you know about chocolate storage, you can't even spell 'their.'" If you have trouble proofreading on the Web, write your comment in a word processor where you can see the whole thing and run it through spellcheck, and then paste it into the comment box.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shining the Mirror on Ourselves

An excerpt from my sermon last Friday night:

It may surprise you to learn that mirrors, and objects used for reflecting, have been such an enduring part of the human experience. In this week's Torah portion, a combined parasha entitled Vayakhel-Pekudei, Moses and the Israelites are completing the building of the Tabernacle as their continue their desert wanderings. Throughout the process, Moses has requested that the men and women bring items from their households to contribute to the building. They've brought linens, threads of various colors, gold, silver and copper, and even animal skins. In Exodus chapter 38, verse 8, when a holy wash basin is being described, the text tells us, "Moses made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting." These mirrors, made of copper, must have been highly valued in the Biblical world. The comment about their inclusion, seemingly minor, inspired Rashi, one of our greatest commentators, to share a fascinating midrash about women and their role in the evolving Israelite community.

Rashi brings the explanation that when the women first brought the copper mirrors as a contribution, Moses was reluctant to accept them. The reason is because, in Moses' view, they incited vanity and superficiality. God, however, told Moses to accept those mirrors and that they were indeed very special - in the following way. Those very same mirrors had been instrumental in the creation of the Israelite nation. How? You are going to love this. God told Moses that, in Egypt, the men had come home exhausted from their back-breaking work, and the women used mirrors to help them to present themselves to their husbands in an enticing manner, leading to increased procreation... Thus the Israelites continued to increase in number under the slavery in Egypt.

Because of mirrors, the people of Israel survived their enslavement!

But what about Moses' original concern – that mirrors inspire vanity and superficiality, like the story of Narcissus. Mirrors are able to disclose a kind of truth about the one who gazes into it. There are even superstitions that focus on the mirror seemingly absorbing a piece of your soul when you gaze into the glass. But, perhaps the truth telling can help us become better people.

An old Jewish legend tells of a rabbi who traveled to a village where only a single, poor Jew lived. Although destitute, the Jew opened his house to him, shared his meager meal, and apologized that he couldn't show more honor to his guest. Upon leaving, the rabbi blessed his host and wished him well. Thereafter, the poor man's lot improved so much that he soon became the wealthiest man in the village. He even hired a guard to keep away the beggars from clamoring for tzedakah (charity).

When the rabbi returned a year later, he had to plead with the guard to let him see his master,and then he was rudely ushered into the house and made to wait. When at last the man appeared, the rabbi asked him: "Look through the window. What do you see?"

"People going about their affairs," answered the man.

"Now look in your mirror. What do you see?"

"Only myself."

"The window and the mirror are both made of glass," observed the rabbi.

"The only difference between them is a silver coating. It's time to remove it."

Shocked and sobered by the rabbi's words, the man promised to change his miserly ways from that day forth.

The Israelite women teach us a very important lesson when they bring forth mirrors as their contribution to the tabernacle.

- Each of us has something to contribute to our community, and it is not up to us to judge the relative merits of the contribution.

- Mirrors, when used for selfish vanity, can keep us from seeing the world around us, but when they are used to help us create something sacred and open, they can help us make the world a better place.

In this current economic climate, these two lessons ring even more true. Each one of us has something to contribute, and it might not always be the most obvious offering. Your time, wisdom, enthusiasm, support, and love can be as valuable, and usually even more valuable, to your friends, family, and community, than your checkbook. Just because you can't give money doesn't mean that your contribution isn't important to those around you.

Also, for those among us who may not be hit as hard by the crisis, please do not let that layer of silver keep you from seeing those outside who may need your help. Open the window and share some of your silver with those who are without.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sites and Sights of Israel

Had a great time with those of my classmates who were able to attend the conference in Jerusalem. We celebrated five years since we were ordained! Here, we are giving the typical Israeli hand-gesture which means, "Wait!"

I spent Shabbat in a community called Modi'in, with old family friends of ours. After a wonderful Shabbat service at Kehillat Yozma, I was able to join our friends for a delicious, fun dinner.

A frequent graffiti spotted throughout the country: Am Yisrael Chai - The People of Israel live.

Crazy piles of paprika! At a spice shop in Tel Aviv.

Entrances to the courtrooms at the Israel Supreme Court (located in Jerusalem). Designed to invoke the ancient gates of the Old City, at which the judges would sit and adjudicate.

The Sabra cactus (what we call a Prickly Pear) - Israelis are called Sabras because they can be prickly on the outside, but are sweet and soft on the outside.

A picture of a mountainside village in the Golan.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jenny Update!

Well, a quick update for those of you who follow my Jenny Craig chronicles. I hadn't weighed in for a few weeks (mostly because of the Israel trip - I didn't want to worry too much about my eating while I was there). Then, it was really hard to get back on track when I returned. I don't know what I was afraid of - but it was so difficult to get up the momentum to go back and weigh in.

I suppose I was scared that all of my hard work, and all of my success, would be so fleeting - that I would come back, weigh in, and find that I had gained it all back. An irrational fear, I know, but my weight loss attempts in the past have never worked. I have a sense of impending doom - like, when it is all going to stop working?

Luckily, I decided to "bite the bullet" - before the triple b'nai mitzvah service I had on Saturday morning, I drove over to Jenny Craig to see if they were open. And they were. I didn't have an appointment, so I just walked in and asked if I could weigh myself. They said yes, and that I could just add the information to my folder.

So, I walked over to the scale, took off my shoes and jacket, and stepped up....

And I was down!!!

So, the new grand total weight loss?

27.2 pounds lost!!

How can this be? I was looking forward to the big "25" pound milestone, and I blew right past it!! I guess I am really internalizing a lot of the new skills I am learning, and I am making lots of good choices. I'm going to keep going, and I hope that this is going to last!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hello to Wantagh!

Shalom, all!

Those of you who aren't from New York are probably asking, "Who/What is Wantagh?" Well, it is a lovely community on the South Shore of Long Island. It is known as the gateway to Jones Beach (quite a fun beach, with a fabulous concert pavilion - that's where I saw the True Colors Concert Tour last year).

It is also the site of my NEW JOB!!!

Yes, my friends, I will soon have a new position. I will be in NYC at my current congregation until the end of June, then I will be becoming the rabbi of a warm, welcoming community in Wantagh. As we get closer to July 1, I will share with you more about the transition, my excitement, the bittersweet nature of leaving my current congregation, and all of the rest.

This is the major reason that I haven't been posting much lately, but I couldn't tell you about it just yet. I have been heavily involved in interviews since November/December, and I really wasn't sure where in the country I would wind up. I was primarily focusing my job search in the Chicago and the NY areas, though I interviewed in many other locations just to spread a wide net.

And, for some reason, a divine hand is keeping me here in New York. I have felt such an incredible sense of homecoming with this new congregation. It already seems like it is a match made in heaven (literally!!).

(I also learned that a number of my new congregants have been reading my blog - so, hello to you!! Leave a comment and let me know that you stopped by!)