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):

bar_mitzvah_torah_reading

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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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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Happy Birthday NHL–The Sky Is The Limit!

Posted by TechyDad on August 17, 2015 under Aspergers, Autism, Birthday, NHL

NHL-At-The-BeachToday, NHL turns twelve years old.  He is officially one year away from being a teenager.  That’s a scary thought as part of me still thinks of him as my little baby.  The time from his birth to now has rushed by in a blur.  I’m sure there was some wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff going on since it both seems like a lifetime ago and yesterday when he was a little baby.  Part of my brain keeps insisting he’s a baby but the other part is starting to plan for him having his bar mitzvah driving a car, dating, going to college, and other milestones of him growing up.

Still, as much as I like to look forward, I think that birthdays are a great time to look back as well.  We’re constantly and changing.  The people we were a year ago are nothing like the people we are today.  I figured this would be a good time to think back on everything that NHL has accomplished this past year.

First and foremost is middle school.  Going into sixth grade, we were afraid of how NHL would do in middle school.  Given his Asperger’s syndrome and his problems with executive function, we were sure that the transition from class to class would throw him off.  We mentally prepared ourselves for a year-long fight to help prop him up as he crumbled apart.

That fight never came.

What we failed to see coming was that NHL, like many on the spectrum, thrives on schedules.  He likes knowing just what is coming and hates when plans consist of "well, we’ll see what happens."  Furthermore, when a schedule is set, changing it causes disruption equivalent to have a 8.0 earthquake hit.  In elementary school, there was one teacher teaching everything (except for a few special classes).  This meant that the teacher could extend one lesson a bit longer if he or she felt like the extra time was needed.  For NHL, though, these willy nilly schedule changes rocked any security he had in the world.

In middle school, though, there was a loud buzzer that would ring to signal the end of class.  It didn’t matter if the math teacher really felt like she needed five more minutes to finish this lesson.  The buzzer sounded which meant this class was over and they had to get to their next one.  The structure of this routine (combined with an amazing sixth grade support team) helped NHL shine as a student.  As for us: for the first time since NHL first started daycare that we really felt like we weren’t fighting major battles.  There were times when we had to go up to bat for NHL, but it felt like we were moving couches and painting rooms, not trying to get four walls and a roof in place.

NHL’s second accomplishment is the nature of his academic achievement.

NHL began to take pride in his grades and loved school.  Granted, I think he has always liked school a lot, but there were times when these "like school a lot" were punctuated by moments when he cried over going back into bad situations.  This year, though, he LOVED school the whole way through.  His love of school translated into a love of learning and he really showed how powerful his brain really is.  He got silver honor roll the first two semesters and, not satisfied with that fantastic performance, made a declaration that he would get gold honor roll the next time around.  He put in the hard work, stayed after school when he needed additional help, and pushed himself.  In the end, he got gold honor roll in the third semester.  They don’t give this award out in the last semester, but he would have gotten it then as well.  To give an example of how much he pushed himself, his science final exam took his class grade down because he "only" got a 97 on the final.  Previously, he had a science class grade of 100.

Another example of NHL pushing himself was when he participated in NYSSMA.  His band teacher wanted him to play the snare drums, but NHL had his eyes set on timpani drums.  I’m not a drum expert by any means, but from what I can gather, timpani are much harder to play – in part because they need to be tuned.  While NHL was waiting to be called in, he talked with a girl from his class.  She mentioned how she was really nervous.  NHL, however, was perfectly calm.  There was no sign whatsoever of any kind of performance anxiety.  He was going in to do something he loved doing and was totally confident in his skills.  (I envy him when he’s like this.)

I was allowed in for the first part of NHL’s performance.  He was asked to tune the first drum and was allowed to use a bell as a reference tone.  Then, he was asked to tune the second drum to a different tone using only the first drum as a reference.  He carefully tuned the instrument.  When he was done, the instructor asked if he was sure that it was right – seemingly giving him a chance to correct a mistake.  He confidently said it was right and then the instructor dropped the "you made an error" façade and agreed with him.  The end result was that he did really well in NYSSMA.  His band teacher thought that timpani would be too difficult for him, but he set his mind to the task and pushed himself until he achieved his goal.

NHL also accomplished a lot in social development.

Due to Asperger’s Syndrome, NHL has always lagged behind his peers in social and emotional development.  He may have been 11 years old, but socially and emotionally was about 8.  Needless to say, an "8 year old" in a class amongst 11 year olds – especially one with an intellectual age of about 14 – doesn’t tend to make a lot of friends.  It’s not that NHL didn’t want to make friends, but he genuinely doesn’t know how to or just what constitutes a "friend."  (I have similar issues with this, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)  Still, he learned how to work with other kids and while this might not have turned into a ton of friends, it has laid some important groundwork.  He seems to have a slightly better idea of friendship and can interact better with his peers.

As an example here, I submit the case of the white water rafting trip.  NHL typically doesn’t like being splashed.  He detests water in his eyes and, so, we were very apprehensive when we were told that there would be a white water rafting class trip.  We won’t even go into the fact that he can’t swim.  (See my embarrassing pool lesson post from nearly 6 years ago.)  It didn’t help when a teacher joked with NHL that she was going to squirt him with water during the trip and he took this a) seriously instead of as a joke and b) as an statement of malice from the teacher directed at him.  We decided that it would be best for me to accompany NHL to help defuse any meltdowns before they occurred.

The trip went swimmingly, though.  (Pun intended.)  He took a front seat on the raft to help lead his group and didn’t care that this meant he’d get splashed more.  In fact, he seemed to relish when the water drenched him.  In a calm area, when the students and teachers got to use water squirters and buckets on each other, he relished shooting his peers/teachers, enjoyed helping his fellow raft-mates to shoot peers/teachers (by steering the raft in exactly the right direction), and even was happy when he himself got hit by others.  It was all in good fun and he not only recognized this but was fully participating.  Somehow, I don’t think One-Year-Ago NHL would have done quite as well.  At the end of the trip, he begged me to bring him back – only this time with B and JSL.  (Sadly, we didn’t get to go back this summer.  Maybe next summer, though.)

There is so much more I could go on and on about how NHL has grown.  Though I still want him to remain my little boy for as long as possible, I’m constantly amazed and proud of the wonderful man he’s becoming.

Happy 12th birthday, NHL.  To quote Matt Smith’s doctor as he began to regenerate:  "I tell you what – it’s gonna be a whopper!"

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Guardians of the Galaxy Deleted Scenes And The Upcoming Marvel Movies

Posted by TechyDad on October 29, 2014 under Comics, Geeky Pursuits, Holidays, JSL, Movies, NHL

This past weekend, we found some deleted scenes from this summer’s hit Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Here is Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, spending some downtime between beating up bad guys trying to solve a Search-A-Word puzzle.  I’m unsure if his mask is helping him find the words.  No cheating!

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This is the scene where Star-Lord falls through a dimensional rift and winds up in the Angry Birds Star Wars universe.  He has to battle Lard Vader before making his way back to his own realm.

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Ok, so these were scenes from a weekend Halloween activity and not Guardians deleted scenes.  Still the boys had fun and are looking forward to Halloween.

Speaking of looking forward, I just read the “Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3” plan and neither I nor my boys can wait.  In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the rundown.

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/1/2015) – This one already has a great teaser trailer out. (Update: Right when I posted this, a “Special Look” went live also showing some of the heroes trying to lift Thor’s hammer.)
  • Ant-Man (7/17/2015) – It will be interesting to see what big adventure this little hero will have.
  • Captain America: Civil War (5/6/2016) – In the comics, the Civil War story arc started when Iron Man advocated for a law requiring all superheroes to register with the government (and have their secret identities exposed).  Captain America, meanwhile, was against this and the two (as well as the superheroes on both sides) clashed.  Sure enough, I’ve heard Iron Man/Tony Stark will be in this movie.
  • Doctor Strange (11/4/2016) – According to rumors, Benedict Cumberbatch (aka Sherlock Holmes from the BBC’s Sherlock) is being asked to become the Sorcerer Supreme.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (5/5/2017) – JSL is already asking about trailers for this and was disappointed that he’ll likely have to wait two years for one.
  • Thor: Ragnarok (7/28/2017) – Ragnarok is the Norse concept of the end of days, but in the comics (according to my Wikipedia search) it dealt with a cybernetic clone of Thor being made when the original was thought dead.  Will we see Thor and Evil-Cyborg-Thor duke it out on-screen?  And what will this mean for the state we left Asgard in at the end of Thor 2?
  • Black Panther (11/3/2017) – Another favorite superhero of ours.  He will be played by Chadwick Boseman (whose previous works I haven’t seen).  Interestingly enough, Chadwick’s IMDB page says he will also appear in the Captain America: Civil War movie.
  • Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 (5/4/2018) – Finally, the Infinity Saga comes to a head.  We’ve been seeing the Infinity stones here and there and I’m sure we’ll see more before this movie comes out.  What really struck me is that this is Part 1.  They are going to do this right and take their time with the story.  My best is that Part 1 will conclude with Thanos getting the final Infinity Stone and the heroes looking like they’re beaten against his tremendous might.
  • Captain Marvel (7/6/2018) – There are many incarnations of Captain Marvel.  I’m hoping they opt for the Carol Danvers one.  It will be nice to see a powerful woman kicking some bad guy keister.
  • Inhumans (11/2/2018) – The Inhumans are a society of individuals with fantastic powers that keep hidden away from “normal” society.  They aren’t really fully human but aren’t mutants either.  Their leader, Black Bolt can’t speak.  Well, he can, but his voice is so powerful that a mere whisper of his could bring buildings crashing down.  He’s definitely the strong, silent type.
  • Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2 (5/3/2019) – This is the conclusion to the Infinity Saga.  Expect heroes from many movies, not just Avengers, taking part in the final showdown against Thanos.  Just picture Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther fighting alongside Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot.  It will be quite the team up.

Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes from here, I don’t know.  On one hand, I can’t wait to see it all.  On the other hand, by the time Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2 rolls its final credits, NHL will be almost 16 and JSL will be almost 12.  Maybe I can wait after all.

What upcoming Marvel movie are you most excited about?  What superhero would you love to see made into a movie?

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