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Leonard Morgenstern Z”L: A Eulogy

June 22, 2014

My father, Leonard Morgenstern Z”L died in late May. Here is the text of the eulogy I delivered during Dad’s memorial service at Temple Isaiah of Lafayette on June 2, 2014.

And here is a link to my father’s obituary.

A common part of the memorial liturgy is Psalm 15. Adonai, Mi yagur b’ohalecha?

Adonai, who may sojourn in Your tent, who may dwell on Your holy mountain? He who lives without blame, who does what is right, and in his heart acknowledges the truth;  whose tongue is not given to slander; who has never done harm to his fellow, nor mistreated his neighbor; for whom a contemptible man is abhorrent, but who honors those who fear God; who stands by his promise even to his own harm; who has never lent money at unfair rate, or accepted a bribe against the innocent. The man who acts thusly shall never be shaken. 

Certainly, my father could check off most, if not all, the items on this biblical checklist. He was super intelligent but thoughtful; exacting yet considerate. He was always studying something, even to his last days, even if it was a cheap sci-fi novel or potboiler. And per the admonition in Pirke Avot that the “primary thing is not study, but action,” he believed in doing, not just talking; although those who knew him would say that at times he could do more than his share of talking.  Read more…

Eulogy for Leonard Morgenstern Z”L by Jamie Morgenstern

June 22, 2014

My father, Leonard Morgenstern Z”L died in late May. Here is the text of a eulogy by my brother, Jamie, delivered at Dad’s memorial service at Temple Isaiah of Lafayette on June 2, 2014.

Here is a link to my father’s obituary.

My father was not a touchy-feely kind of guy. When I would give him a hug or say “I love you”, he got that deer in the headlights look. That was just not his style. I remember discussing Judaism with him when I was in college. He said,”It’s not important what you believe.”  “What’s important is how you live your life.”

He said “I love you” through his actions, how he showed that he valued us, told us how proud he was of us, complimented us on our achievements, showed up for all our school and life functions, gave us the support we needed to reach our goals. He didn’t say “I love you,” he lived I love you.

As a high school senior, I asked him one day to help me with my advanced math homework which he proceeded to do. At the time, I didn’t realize how remarkable this was. I just thought, well, dads just do that, they know how to help you with your homework, don’t they? Read more…

Simcha in the Seder

March 20, 2013

Note: This article was first published in the Beth Israel Judea Bulletin, March/April, 2010.

Passover is coming. It’s a time to find the best price for matzoh and clean the house of chametz. For me, it’s also a time to crack out the Haggadah and take a fresh look at the family seder. But why the fresh look? After all, don’t we want to focus on the familiar “order” of the Seder, to tell the story with the words of the Hagaddah (the one we’ve always used), and to strive to “get right” every ritual and symbol?

Yes, there’s a comfort in that process as well as a good dose of nostalgia. However, is the Seder about the recalling of past Seders? Or is it more the discovery of fresh ways to make each individual feel as if they had gone out of Mitzrayim. After all, this is what the Haggadah asks of us.

For me, the rituals, symbols and discussions found the Haggadah comprise what we today would describe as an interactive, creative educational process; one that both teaches the Exodus story and finds ways for us to experience it.

On that point, I’m enjoying reading Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts and Activities, written by David Arnow and published by Jewish Lights Publishing. He talks about the educational model of the Seder (as you may know, the Hagaddah is a pedagogical tool as well as a textbook). At the same time, he points out that while the younger generation can learn the story, there’s also a lesson in the process.

Arnow says that:

Telling the story of the Exodus must be geared to the level of understanding of the younger generation — and I would broaden that to include the interests of adult participants as well. Remember, that the Haggadah alludes to the Seder of five illustrious sages who discuss the Exodus all through the night. Children should participate in the Seder, but it’s also important for them to observe their parents and other adults seriously engaging the issues the story raises.

Read more…

An interesting Torah scribal tradition seen in Parshat Balak

February 20, 2013

This is part of a D’var Torah I presented on Shabbat Balak in 2012 at Beth Israel Judea. 

The portion of Balak is filled with wonderful stories, miracles and great characters. And it also holds a number of very beautiful Hebrew poems: the prophecies and blessings of Billam. In the story, Billam and his client, the Moabite king Balak, climb ever higher on the mountains surrounding the Israelite camp and prepare to launch curses down upon them. However, each time Billam is supposed to launch a curse Billam offers a blessing ­– all of which is really a MacGuffin, since from the very beginning of the story we know that the Holy One won’t let Billam curse Israel and Billam knows this.

There are interesting traditions that we can see in the final blessing. In almost all modern Torah scrolls (meaning scrolls from the last 150 years or so), the first letter of each column of text starts with the letter “vav,” except in a few instances, depending on the scribe and the tradition that the scribe is “scribing.” This tradition goes back more than a millennia and wasn’t always approved of by various rabbinical authorities. So, depending, there can be 5 columns, or 6, or 7 or even 8 columns in a scroll with a different letter than a vav. There’s no halacha on this, rather, it’s a scribal custom.

The tradition, in part, comes from from a play on words. In Parashat Terumah Ex. 27:11, the hooks that will support the panels, or columns of the Mishkan, are called “Vavei Ha’Amudim.” With a double play on words, we uncover the scribal tradition: Amudim means columns in the Torah  – the written not the physical columns – and  “vavei” is the plural of vav.

According to the Kabbalists, the letter vav is an extended yod and symbolically represents the pulling down of the Divine wisdom into this world. At the top of each column in Torah, we see the representation of the Infinite Divine wisdom acting in the world.

So, each column begins with a vav, except when they don’t.

Read more…

Is Your Passover Seder a Museum?

February 19, 2013

This post was originally published in the BIJ Bulletin, March/April 2011.

There are many emotions that come to us during the Pesach holiday and especially during the Seder meal. The Seder along with the Haggadah comprise an exceptional educational tool, bringing stories, teachings, rituals, symbols, food, song, smells and even argumentation, to teach us about the Exodus story.

This educational process seeks to open our heads and our hearts: the former to learn and understand the details of the Exodus story and the Pesach customs, and the latter to imagine that we were slaves and to feel the emotion on becoming free. We recently witnessed that joy reflected in the faces of Egyptians in Tahrir Square.

Of course, we don’t just recall the Exodus at the Seder. The meal brings to mind dear family and friends who sat beside us in past years, some of whom are no longer with us. We can almost hear their voices reading from the Haggadah or calling out from the kitchen whether we want one matzah ball or two with our soup.

These family memories have a serious emotional weight and can make it difficult to make any changes to the Seder, from the text that is read to the food that is served. Changes can be seen as a disrespect to our elders as well as creating a break with a beloved tradition. I bet that every one of us can find something about their family’s Seder that they consider an essential tradition.

Read more…

Interesting Problem of Jewish Samoa and the International Date Line

December 29, 2011

Samoa is moving its place on the dateline and the solution involves deleting a day, Friday December 30 and go straight to Saturday. But what does this mean for the observance of Shabbat? Well, the answer “depends.”

Our early ancestors must have thought the world was flat, after all we Jews were scattered to its four corners. Yet today we can travel back and forth over the dateline in a single day (or hour). How do Shabbat-observant Jews understand places that might be a day behind or ahead on ones own understanding of when Shabbat happens.

I own a number of iOS apps that use GPS to help users know when Shabbat and holy days will occur. But what rulings do they use to figure it out?

I uncovered several interesting articles addressing the issue. The first is from Rabbi Dovid Heber at Star-K Online, the Kashrut certification site. Read more…

Editing Failure of English-Hebrew Dictionary

December 20, 2011

I recently purchased the Oxford English-Hebrew/Hebrew-English Dictionary published by Kernerman – Lonnie Kahn. This is a hardcopy dictionary, just to be clear. It was edited by Ya’acov Levy. And it has a significant usability failing: that means you Mr. Editor Levy.

Hebrew is gender-based. Nouns have a gender and that’s important to writing and speaking. You need to know the gender of a word and it’s not always apparent by a look. Some words have “irregular” plurals that appear to be in the opposite gender.

So, if you look up a word in the English-Hebrew side of the dictionary, you would expect to see the gender along with the listing of the Hebrew words. But no. The English listing provides the part of speech for the English word and just the Hebrew words. No gender listing. To find that out, you have to flip the book over to its Hebrew side and search for the listing. Two steps.

There’s plenty of room on each line for the information, the gender and plural even (if irregular).

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