Don’t Let Amelek Win – NHL’s Bar Mitzvah Speech

Posted by TechyDad on September 21, 2016 under Bar Mitzvah, Judaism, NHL

bitsela-7br-800x603During NHL’s Bar Mitzvah, he gave a speech, called a Dvar Torah, about the Torah portion that had just been read. I asked him for permission to reprint it here and he agreed. So, without further ado, here is NHL’s Dvar Torah:


In my portion, it says:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the lord your God grants you safety from all of your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heredity portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Why Amalek? Why do we need to blot out the memory of Amalek? Why not other groups who have persecuted Jewish people throughout history? For example, why not the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites for hundreds of years? Or other groups who attacked the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness? Why is Amalek singled out for this treatment?

When Amalek attacked, they did not attack the Israelites’ military. They did not single out the strong fighters or other military targets. Instead, they went after the weak and defenseless people straggling behind the group. Other groups attacked directly instead of aiming for innocent civilians.

The Torah says that we should blot out the memory of Amalek. However, the Torah also says not to forget. How can we do both? If we blot out their memory, doesn’t that mean they would be forgotten? And if we do not forget, doesn’t that mean that we have not blotted out their memory? While it is true that blotting out their memory means eliminating them completely as a people, we also must remember what they did because other people can do what Amalek did.

There is a famous saying by Spanish-American philosopher and poet George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, Amalek was not unique. There have been many other events in history that mirrored Amalek’s actions. Haman tried to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire by using power over them from King Achashverosh. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler tried to kill many different people, including the Jews, using Germany’s military might. During the Sudan civil war of 1985, Salva Dut was around 11 years old when he was fleeing to Kenya though the Akobo Dessert. Looters from another tribe stole everything that the people traveling with Salva had including their clothes, food, and water. Then, they killed Salva’s uncle – the only family Salva had with him – right in front of him.

So why is it so important to remember? Won’t these tragedies still occur even if we recall each and every one of them? Do we have any power to stop them or are they inevitable? The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We can make a difference if we act and it is easier to act when we remember what has happened before.

Mordechai and Esther led the charge to stop Haman. Their actions stopped Haman’s plot and saved the lives of many Jews. During the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler helped save 1,200 Jews. Schindler ran a factory that employed many Jews. When the Jewish people were being sent off to the Concentration Camps, Schindler bribed German officials to protect his employees and their families. This was very risky for him to do. If Schindler did nothing, he would have been just fine because he was a member of the Nazi Party. If Schindler was caught, he would have been killed for defying the Nazis. By the end of the war, his employees and their families were safe. Schindler had spent his entire fortune and had to rely on support from other people including the Jews he had saved. Schindler was named Righteous Among the Nations and was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to receive this honor.

Another example of people standing up for what it right no matter the risk was the Underground Railroad during the nineteenth century. The members of the underground railroad helped escaped slaves get to Canada where they could be free. This was very illegal at the time. Armed bounty hunters and federal law enforcement agents were hunting the escaped slaves. If the escapees were caught, they would be taken back into slavery and anyone found assisting them would have gotten in huge trouble. Despite this risk, the people running the Underground Railroad still hid, fed, and provided shelter for the escaped slaves.

So, does this edict to not forget only apply to Jews? After all, some might say we should only look after our own people. What business is it of ours if other people suffer? Pastor Martin Niemöller was an outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler. He spent 7 years in Nazi concentration camps and is most remembered for the following quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

His point was that if you do not stick up for others when they need help, there will not be enough people to speak for you when you require assistance. Therefore, we should concern ourselves with the plights of others, even when it has no impact on our day to day lives.

So, what kinds of situations does this apply to? It is easy to say “I will definitely stand up if another Holocaust happens.” But do we? Time after time we turn the other way when groups of people are persecuted. We do nothing because we believe it has nothing to do with us or we convince ourselves that we have too many problems of our own to deal with. Sometimes we remark about how awful the situation is and how somebody should do something, after which we do nothing and just continue with our day to day lives. It can be very easy to say you will act, but hard to break out of your average routine.

The bigger tragedies can seem overwhelming, but what about day to day injustices? Surely those are more manageable. And yet we still find it all too easy to look the other way if we see someone who is being bullied or someone whose life has taken a bad turn. For example, someone that is homeless and is asking for money to feed their family. While it may be easy to walk away and think that this has nothing to do with you, how would you feel if you were the one being bullied or that was homeless. Wouldn’t you want people to help you?

Fighting against indifference and taking action can be very difficult. Oftentimes the urge to do nothing is overpowering. However, this is all the more reason why we need to heed the Torah’s words and do not forget. So the next time you come upon someone who needs help, don’t let Amalek win. Do everything in your power to help those in need.

 

NOTE: The Bar Mitzvah Torah Reader image above is copyright Bitsela, used courtesy of free-bitsela.com.

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So Proud Of My Bar Mitzvah Man

Posted by TechyDad on September 19, 2016 under Bar Mitzvah, Judaism, NHL, Religion

On Saturday, NHL was called to the Torah for the first time. This rite of passage welcomes him as a man in the eyes of Judaism. I’m still beaming with pride.

To clarify, all that is required is that you get called up to the Torah, say an opening blessing and a closing blessing and you’re done. That’s the most basic requirement. There are traditions that the Bar Mitzvah boy (or Bat Mitzvah girl) read from the Torah and sing a Haftorah portion (an excerpt from one of the books of the prophets that is linked in some way to the Torah portion), but this doesn’t need to be done at all.

So what did NHL do? First, he led the service as we took out the Torah. Then, he read from the Torah (a long passage, might I add) as B and I were called up. Next, came his big moment. He was called up for the first time as a member of the Jewish community. He sang the opening prayers, read from the Torah again, and then sang the closing prayers. After this, he gave a speech about his Torah portion (a Dvar Torah) before reading his Haftorah.

As he walked across the stage to speak with the rabbi, we got to pelt NHL with candy as a traditional wish for the target to have a sweet life. It’s also a favorite among kids who then get to storm the front to gather candy. NHL was lucky that we chose the soft Sunkist Fruit Gems. My parents packed projectiles that included Hershey’s Kisses. Those things sting – or at least would have if I hadn’t been smart enough to duck behind the podium right after finishing my Haftorah. Back to NHL, though, I am happy to report that I hit him with my first throw.

Moving on, we said the traditional parental blessing over NHL and sang a quick song thanking God for letting us see this wonderful day. NHL sang the Ashrei (another prayer) before we put the Torah away and, later on, sang some closing prayers with his brother and cousins.

So how did he do?

From his practice sessions, I was confident that NHL knew his stuff.  I was sure that he was ready, albeit nervous – a perfectly normal reaction to such a momentous occasion. Still, as NHL often does, he blew away my expectations. He nailed all of the Hebrew readings and many people commented on how great his speech was. More than one specifically said that it greatly moved them. I will admit that I helped him craft the speech, but I was more a guiding force – helping direct him on the best way to make his point. The content and especially the delivery was all NHL. (NHL has given me permission to publish his speech on my blog so look for that later this week.)

I’m having trouble coming up with words to say how proud I am of NHL. He has put in a tremendous amount of effort into his Bar Mitzvah preparations. He would practice in the car on the way to school and then again at night after his homework was done. He went to temple with me countless Saturdays during which he didn’t just observe the service, but interjected himself into it. That Ashrei prayer I mentioned earlier? He was the regular reader of that virtually every Saturday we attended services. And after that prayer, he would walk around behind the Torah shaking everyone’s hands. So many other Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids show up at temple for the first time on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah day and then vanish forever. NHL has showed that he likes having a place in the synagogue. Though, I might give him a week off this coming Saturday – he’s earned it.

And the reading from the Torah that NHL did? Reading Hebrew is hard enough with vowels. Believe me, I know. I can read Hebrew but at a snail’s pace. I rely on having memorized virtually all of the prayers over the years. If I had to lead a service going solely by reading the Hebrew, the three hour long morning service would likely take a good ten hours or more. When you read from the Torah, though, all of the vowels are removed. Consider that for a moment. D y knw hw hrd t s t rd nglsh wtht vwls? Srsly. t’s xtrmly dffclt t d.*  Now take some text in a completely different language and remove the vowels. Or better yet, here’s a glimpse of NHL’s text from a photo taken at one of his practice sessions (since photos weren’t permitted on the big day):

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Could you read that? I certainly couldn’t. I know that NHL memorized much, if not all, of it, but the sheer fact that he fit that much in his brain and still had room for everything else is amazing. I’m in awe of my son and will be telling him how proud I am of him until he’s sick of it. Then I will proceed to tell him a dozen more times before considering whether I should lay off of it for a couple of minutes.

Congratulations, NHL. You did amazing on Saturday and I’m so proud of my Bar Mitzvah Man!

 

 

 

* For those really confused: “Do you know how hard it is to read English without vowels? Seriously. It’s extremely difficult to do.”

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The Great Underwater Debate

Posted by TechyDad on September 9, 2016 under pool, Summer, swimming

TechyDad-UnderwaterThis past summer vacation was a momentous one for the boys. After years of trying to find the right place to teach them, we finally got the boys swim lessons that worked. They learned how to float, how to tread water, how to jump into the pool, and how to propel themselves forward. The boys took to the water quickly and going to the pool became a new favorite activity. Of course, this was fine by me because I love going to the pool. There’s just something about swimming that has always appealed to me.

Of course, our increased pool time also revealed a slight problem. You see, unlike my boys, I never had swim lessons. My sister and I would go over our neighbor’s pool and I wound up teaching myself how to swim. I’m fine with swimming above water, but when I go underwater, I do something that drives B up the wall. I hold my nose.

Yes, I never learned how to blow out of my nose to prevent water from flooding back in. JSL and NHL know how to do this thanks to their lessons. They can go underwater without clamping their nostrils shut. I, on the other hand, can’t. I’ve tried, but no matter what I do I always wind up with water going up my nose. Then I emerge from underneath the surface gagging and coughing.

I know that B wants me to stop with the nose holding out of a fear that the boys will pick up on my bad habit, but I’ve made it clear to them that they are better swimmers than I am because they don’t need to hold their noses. And given that I can one up them in so many ways in the pool (swimming faster, holding my breath longer, etc.), they love being ahead of me in at least this one area.

JSL-Underwater

I began to think that I was alone among adults. That I was the only one who held his nose when he went underwater. As I mentioned it during various pool trips, though, more and more adults confided in me that they too held their noses when they go under. Perhaps I’m not such an outlier after all.

When you go underwater, do you hold your nose? Or can you submerge without obstructing your nostrils?

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The Journal – A Short Story

Posted by TechyDad on August 26, 2016 under Stories, Writing

write.pngI’ve been hanging out on Reddit for awhile and stumbled upon a subreddit (a forum dedicated to a single topic for those of you who have ever been on Reddit) called Writing Prompts. Here, people will post simple ideas and other posters will run with it creating amazing short stories. Earlier this week, I posted the following premise:

You receive a mystery book in the mail. Every page begins “Today I will…”. You soon find that if you write something on the next blank page in the morning, it will happen by evening. One morning, you wake up to find someone has already written “die” on what was the next blank page.

I’ll admit, I didn’t get many responses.  Only two people replied and each kept their story around two or three sentences long.  I began to think of a short story to fit my premise and came up with the following short story. I’ll admit that I deviated from the description a bit, but I’m really happy with the result. I might have to write more of these short stories and post them.


The Journal

Andrew put down his pen next to the bottle of white-out. What had he just been doing again?

“Why did you do that?” Gerald asked.

Andrew stifled a laugh. Gerald’s voice always became high-pitched and squeaky when he was upset.

“What do you mean?”

“You wrote in my journal.”

Andrew looked at the book lying on the table. Each page began “Today I Will…” and Gerald had a habit of writing in the book first thing every morning. He wasn’t sure why Gerald kept this thing anyway. Maybe as a motivational tool? Andrew was always more of a take-life-as-it-happened sort of guy.

“Yeah, sorry about that. It seemed funnier in my head, but looks kind of lame actually written out.”

“Now this is going to come true.”

“Dude. It’s just a journal.”

“That’s just it. It’s not a normal journal. I got that months ago. It just arrived out of nowhere. Whatever I wrote in the journal in the morning happened by sunset that day.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“No, I’m serious. Remember three days ago when I won $100 in that Lotto drawing?”

“Yeah.”

“Look at the entry for that day.”

Andrew turned the page back. Sure enough, that entry read “Today I Will win the lottery.”

“Total coincidence,” Andrew scoffed.

“What about a week ago when Mary agreed to go on a date with me after months of rejections?”

Andrew turned a week back. Gerald had written “Today I Will get Mary to go out on a date with me.”

“You could have written this afterwards,” Andrew said.

“You’ve seen me writing in it every morning,” Gerald replied.

“Okay, let’s say I believe you. That’s just normal day-to-day stuff. Well, maybe the Mary thing was extraordinary but what I wrote just isn’t possible.”

“That’s what worries me. Who knows what will happen now.”

“Fine,” Andrew sighed. “I’ll just white it out and write something else.”

Andrew picked up the bottle of white-out and used it to erase the words “Get stuck in an infinite loop.” As he picked up his pen, Andrew felt a strange tug on him, as if his entire world were rewinding.

Andrew put down his pen next to the bottle of white-out. What had he just been doing again?

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Happy Birthday To My Teenage Son

Posted by TechyDad on August 17, 2016 under Birthday, NHL

Today is NHL’s birthday. It’s not just any birthday, though. It’s his 13th birthday. This means that NHL is officially a teenager. How did this happen? It seems like only yesterday that little NHL came home from the hospital with us.

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A year later we celebrated his first birthday and he discovered the joys of cake. And that the messier the food, the better.

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As the years progressed, NHL grew bigger and bigger. Eventually, he started school and discovered the joys of learning. NHL loved math and would work it into every project that he could. We would get lovely artwork sent home from school with “1 + 1 = 2” painted in the middle because NHL always wanted to show off his math skills. He loved school and loved playing. He was getting bigger and more expressive. We’d constantly be in awe over what a bright, sweet, and cute kid he was turning into.

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Years later, after many attempts to figure out what was going on with NHL, we received an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. This changed both NHL’s world and my own as I quickly realized that I’m an Aspie as well. Suddenly, all of the “difficulties” that NHL was facing in school, at home, and out in the world made more sense and we found the proper tools to help equip him to tackle challenges that neurotypical kids (and adults) saw as just mundane day-to-day events. It seemed like every hurdle we climbed over was replaced by another, bigger one. Through it all, NHL kept up his love of learning.

This only increased once he hit middle school.  I’ll be honest, we were terrified of the prospect of middle school. The chaotic hallways, overwhelming workload, and rotating mix of teachers/classmates seemed like they would conspire to crush our child. We pictured him having a meltdown in the crowded hallways as he struggled to open his locker while being buffeted by kids rushing to his class and the bell threatening to ring any second. Yes, he would have a one-on-one aide, but would the aide know how to support our child while still letting him handle enough on his own?

In hindsight, we needn’t have worried. The aide was great. He and NHL hit it off immediately and got along great. And those class-to-class transitions we feared? It turned out that he thrived on them. NHL loves schedules. He wants to know just what is happening and when. In elementary school, his teacher could make math run long if need be and postpone English. This would cause NHL to flip out over the schedule being broken. (Being able to roll with schedule changes is one of the many things that neurotypical people take for granted.) In middle school, though, once the bell rang, math was over. The math teacher couldn’t declare that the class was running over for 10 more minutes because all of the kids had to get to their next class.

In his first semester of middle school, NHL got silver honor roll, having gotten one B on a report card otherwise filled with A’s. After his honor roll ceremony, he told us that next semester he’d get gold. We reassured him that what was important was that he did his best. He insisted that he’d get gold next time. And he did. He worked harder, raised his grade to all A’s, and got gold honor roll that very next semester. And the semester after that.  In fact, in the two years he’s been in middle school, he’s only had two B’s. The rest of his report cards were straight A’s.

When he’s not acing tests with a GPA that makes me both jealous (I only got one straight A semester in school) and proud, NHL loves watching TV and playing video games. He’s a total binge watcher. He’ll find a show he likes on Netflix or Hulu and will watch every available episode (usually while his brother complains that NHL is hogging the remote) until he’s an expert on everything there is to know about the show. He’ll also play and ace video game after video game. When it’s just us in the car, he loves telling me – in excruciatingly exacting details – just what is going on in the video games he’s playing. I’ll admit to only half-listening most times (in my defense, I’m driving while listening and the safe operation of the vehicle does take precedence), but I love how excited he gets over his games. He’s a geek and is proud of it.

Speaking of being a geek, NHL also loves playing Munchkin and other games with me. Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow for much in the way of game-play recently, but we still get a game in every so often and I love seeing his smile as he beats me yet again. (I never let him win. He’s just good at the game.)

Now, NHL is a teenager. In one month, he’ll be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. I couldn’t be prouder of NHL. He’s smart, kind, and unashamed of being a geek. In so many ways, he’s my mini-me. He’s turning into such a wonderful young man, but he’ll always be my sweet baby.wp-1471394318472.jpg

Happy birthday, NHL!

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