Times: How did Jewish Actor Kirk Douglas Quit Smoking Cigarettes?

Kirk Douglas passed away at 103 today. He quit smoking cigarettes years ago. His story is below, reposted from 2010... Please, if you smoke, stop today!

On occasion, we suggest to people we know who smoke cigarettes, and sometimes even to random smoking strangers, that today is the perfect day to quit smoking cigarettes.

Here is Kirk Douglas' first person account from the Times in 2003 of why today is the best day of your life to quit smoking cigarettes. (Yes he was Jewish, born born Issur Danielovitch, now 92 years old. He played the Jewish Col. David 'Mickey' Marcus in the film, "Cast a Giant Shadow.")

If you do smoke cigarettes, please do quit today.
My First Cigarette, and My Last

My father, a Russian peasant, came to this country in 1910. Like all of his pals, he smoked. It's hard for me to picture my father without a cigarette in his mouth.

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for February 2020 - Beginning Talmud Study and Playing Golf

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for February 2020 - Beginning Talmud Study and Playing Golf

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

As I approach retirement and anticipate having more time on my hands, I have decided to take up two new pursuits: studying the Talmud and playing golf.

For Talmud study, I was thinking of learning at the rate of one page per day via the Daf Yomi program, as relatives as well as friends at my synagogue have advised. Perhaps you know of it?

As for golf, a couple of outings a week seems ideal, and again both friends and relatives insist that they will tolerate my incompetence and help.

But there seems to be so much involved in just getting started that part of me thinks both pursuits may be too elusive.

Am I taking on too much in my golden years?

Bewildered Beginner in Bergenfield

Dear Bewildered,

Not at all! I applaud with all my heart your ambition to expand your emotional, intellectual, and physical qualities at a time in life when many of us face the awful prospect of living out our later days in quiet desperation. I’m with best-selling author Daniel J. Levitin, who in his book, “Successful Aging,” enthusiastically commends those who set out to tackle bold new challenges in their mature years.

Go for it!

In fact, you already have started — by seeking assistance from relatives and friends. So, in offering my own advice, I’ll do likewise through the insights of two special advisers, my own sister, Dr. Miryam Wahrman of Teaneck, and my longtime golfing friend, the golf writer and editor Robin McMillan. Each has experienced what you are facing now. It is true that while Miryam is talmudically enlightened (or so she tells me), Robin still has trouble breaking 100 on the golf course, but both enjoy their avocations immensely. This, I think, is your true goal as you approach retirement.


Thanksgiving Sermon of Rabbi Zev Zahavy from 1943

Here is my dad's incredible inspiring and uplifting sermon from 1943 for the holiday of Thanksgiving. It was a dark year in the history of humankind. Yet Rabbi Zahavy found ways to weave together precepts from our classical Jewish tradition to give hope and optimism to those who faced the bewildering frightening world of 1943.

I read this sermon every year and it inspires me more each time. My father was an impresario of the rabbinic pulpit.

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.

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.


High Recommendation: Tello Mobile Service - a good idea for existing Sprint Customers

After many many years with Sprint, I have switched to Tello Mobile. They are a discount MVNO for Sprint - a mobile virtual network operator. That means they provide the Sprint network to you for calls and data - at a substantially reduced price. 

Until 11/1/19 you can switch and get your first month of service for $5. I find the $19 monthly plan to be sufficient to my needs. Unlimited text and talk and 4 GB of data.

The sacrifice for this? I gave up an unlimited data plan and free roaming - but I do not think I will miss either of these. I might miss their global roaming - but that was a throttled and limited convenience. Wherever I travel, I use a local sim card.

It's not the savings of money that drove me to switch. I grew tired of Sprint's terrible service. They did not deliver a promised offer after I added a new line. And they started signing me up for services that I did not want. And it took them weeks to unlock a phone for me for use with any sim card.  I was wasting a lot of time trying to get Sprint to do or fix things on my plan.

And it is easy to switch.

You can port your Sprint number to Tello and use your existing Sprint phone and sim card. All you do is supply Tello online with your phone's MEID and SIM numbers - which you copy from your relevant phone setup screens - and give Tello your account number at Sprint and PIN number.

It takes a few hours for Tello-porting to occur, if you start the process on a weekday morning.  When ready, you will know because your calling capability will stop on your phone. Your phone will need to be rebooted by calling a simple code the Tello support team will give you. After a few minutes and a few restarts, you will be a new Tello customer. 


When my Father was Rabbi at the Park East Synagogue

Praying and the synagogue were central to my life since my early childhood. My father, Zev Zahavy, was the rabbi of several distinguished New York City synagogues on the West side and then the East Side of Manhattan. I recall many times accompanying him to his work. His study in the synagogue was off to the side of the main sanctuary, lined with books, filled with a musty smell and having the creakiest wood floor I ever walked on.
The author (right) with his Dad (center) in 5715 in the synagogue sukkah

The synagogue in Manhattan at that time was a stately place with formal services, led by a professional Hazzan. My dad wore a robe and high hat - black during the year and white on the High Holy Days.

He was famous in the city for his sermons. He labored over them for hours. He would send "releases" to the local papers (like the NY Times' 230+ citations of his sermons -- here in online book form) to let them know about what he would be preaching on Saturday. Those were the fifties and the Times and other papers covered the Saturday and Sunday sermons. Frequently we would look around the sanctuary to see if the reporter from the Times was present. We'd know because he'd sit in the back and be writing feverishly on his reporter's pad. (Not iPad... real paper pad.)

My father was ambitious especially about increasing the attendance at the services. We had to count the number of people in shul and discuss that at the lunch table. Then he'd ask us how the sermon was and we all answered enthusiastically every week, "It was terrrrrrific!"

Rude Reader or Right Reader? Your Dear Rabbi Zahavy Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for October 2019

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

During the lengthy Rosh Hashanah services, I was reading a personal book in synagogue to help me pass the time. A person I know saw me doing this and criticized me for my rude behavior. I feel like he was out of line and want to tell him that I did nothing wrong. What is your advice for the best approach to doing this?

Reader in Ramapo

Dear Reader,

Up front, my advice to anyone who receives unsolicited advice or criticism for behavior that is mainly innocuous is to reply to the critic, “Thank you for your suggestions,” and to avoid further confrontations. So that’s what I suggest here as well, because I am assuming that in reading your book, you were not doing anything distracting or disruptive to others during the services.

In fact, what we do during our synagogue services are mainly activities that we could describe generally as “reading a book.” The sanctioned books that we use, of course, are the siddur for most services, the machzor for the holidays, and the Tanach for the Torah and haftarah scriptural readings.

Now if you want to know if by reading your own book you “did nothing wrong” and argue that viewpoint with your friend, well, that involves some further contextual analysis and some lengthier discussion of social norms.

Context does matter. Reading a book quietly in a public setting ordinarily is not rude or improper. So, you start off with a strong justification of the propriety of your actions. And in a general way, your friend was out of line for nosing into your activity.


Ten years later I still agree. Here is what is wrong with our Jewish prayer book commentaries

After reading in a June 2009 morning at KJ some initial and random comments in the new Koren-Sacks Siddur, I was reminded of what in the past I have found lacking in prayerbook commentaries.

They are not complicated enough.

They portray our services as if they are beautifully woven together and, in the case of the longer services, as if they unfold in a gentle rising crescendo of drama from initial inspiring prayers, through more meaningful and expressive liturgies to our culminating praises and petitions.

When you read our most popular prayer book commentaries, you think the correct background music for our prayers would be say something soothing and nearly seamless, like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

I have logged many davening hours and I never saw the Orthodox Jewish services projecting this sort of connected and calm mood.

No I've always thought the services were at best symphonies with abruptly varying movements, often characterized by stark contrasts and even at times by cacophony.

Our Siddur is in fact a complex composite document that evolved over many centuries. Many hands had a role in expressing the values and beliefs that our collective prayers represent. By its own definition, such a work should not be a smooth fabric.

A few times I have attempted to say just this in the modes of expression that characterized our scholarly writings. For instance in a paper I wrote, "The Politics of Piety: Social Conflict and the Emergence of Rabbinic Liturgy," I summarized at the outset a major theme of our more lengthy arguments as follows,
Prayer services do not emerge spontaneously or arbitrarily in a vacuum. They are the public pronouncements of the central values and concepts of the religious leaders who initially propounded them and are social rituals that often emerge out of intense conflict and hard-fought compromise. Specific historical, social, and political conditions contributed to the distinct origin of two major rabbinic services. In the crucial transitional period after the destruction of the Temple, the Shema emerged as the primary ritual of the scribal profession and its proponents. The Tefillah at this formative time was a ritual sponsored mainly by the patriarchal families and their priestly adherents. Compromises between the factions of post-70 Judaism later led to the adoption of the two liturgies in tandem, as the core of public Jewish prayer. But this came about only after intense struggles among competing groups for social and political dominance over the Jewish community at large and concomitantly for the primacy of their respective liturgies. The political, social, and even economic dimensions of the religious life of the synagogues were crucial to the formation of nascent rabbinic Judaism.
I think this is what brings our Siddur alive. It's a story of sharply competing ideas and values all striving for attention within a closed but utterly vibrant religious world. That's the story I'd like to see in some variant form in our prayer book commentaries. It's the narrative of a dialectical theological universe of debate and dispute over which notion we ought to employ to express our most urgent needs before our creator. For instance, do we put our scribal needs at the top of our agenda? Or do we cast our priestly yearnings at the top of our list?

In our Siddur we see a constant flow of traffic, changing of lanes, jostling for position of values and notions, ideas and concepts. And more than this, we see layer upon layer of meaning imposed upon our every practice and festival. Sacred time in our prayer book has mystical, agricultural, historical and Torah-logical importance, all at once. And all of us see different angles of this "lasagna" of religious life.

(When I start using such metaphors, that means uh-oh, I must be getting hungry and it's time to wrap up the post.)

See these among my published writings for more details.

God's Favorite Final Yom Kippur Prayers and the Shofar Blowing that Ends the Fast

Here is what we say in the final pages of my recent book about God's Favorite Final Yom Kippur prayers and the Shofar blowing that ends the fast:

[At]…the final shofar blast at the close of the Yom Kippur fast, …the six disparate synagogue voices coalesce in brief shared characteristic prayers.

So let me recall for you one moment of recurring spiritual grandeur each year—the shofar blowing at the end of Yom Kippur in my unorthodox imagined synagogue.

I stand at the bimah with my friends. We are cleansed of our food and drink, and of our sins. After a day of prayer filled with compassion, we have let go of those negative habits, ideas and actions that separated us from one another. We see each other for who we are, separate personalities with diverse values and goals, united under a roof, in a community, sharing a past and future, and alive together in a productive, vibrant and respectful present. 

Here is my paper, "Yom Kippur: My Day of Compassion" - for your inspiration and enjoyment

Here is my paper, "Yom Kippur: My Day of Compassion" - with some 2017 review and comments.

Use this link if you do not want to go to Academia