Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wrapped up Challah and a Mezuza--Profound Life Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor

Dear Henry,
       As you may have, or perhaps, may have not noticed, I am trying to write to you once a week, usually on any given Sunday, (at least until football season starts, when I will be obsessing over the pending Denver Broncos Superbowl championship season for the ages.) As Shabbos rolled around, I was still unsure as to what to write about for this week. The only real excitement that happened was a) I went golfing and B) I learned there is a very popular song called "Gangnam Style," and I learned some of the sweet dance moves-- but not even yours truly was able to figure out the deep inner meaning of that song. And inasmuch as I like writing only about the deep inner meaning of life on this blogg, I wasn't about to write a whole blogg post about any gangnam style, or lack thereof. So, I was stuck going into Shabbos not even really sure about what I was going to write about for this week. That feeling of not knowing what I was going to write about was probably not quite as frustrating as being a Cleveland sports fan felt when Bron Bron took his talents to South Beach.
       Shabbos was beautiful-- but nothing all that exciting happened, and as of 8:30 PM last night, I didn't even have anything to write about. But then, during the rabbis shalosh seudos speech- everything changed. Before he began speaking, I heard an incredibly sweet Holocaust survivor mention that he and his wife really liked the challah that was being served, and he would try to get the recipe for her. (For a story about a different survivor, check out Then the rabbi began speaking, and I was admittedly daydreaming. Rabbi-- if you are reading this blogg- and I'm sure you are reading this blogg inasmuch as thousands of people read this blogg, across the vast globe-- even in places like Canada, Spain, and Russia--please don't be offended. Don't be offended because the only Rabbi for whom I don't day dream while he speaks, is a guy named Rabbi Daniel Martin Wolfe- he speaks very nicely, so it's hard to day dream during his brilliant talks. Anyways, my day dream was abruptly ended when this adorable aforementioned Holocaust survivor raised his hand and told us that every night before he goes to sleep, he goes to kiss his mezuzah, and he feels as if he is giving G-d a kiss, so to speak. I thought this was incredibly touching and beautiful- here is a man who lives with the reality that the Almighty is in his home. A man who saw the most horrific sights imaginable during his lifetime, a man who saw humanity at its worse. This same man did not give up on G-d-- he embraced Him, he lives with Him.
       After the Rabbi was done speaking, and everyone had thanked The Lord for their food and bentsched, (aka recited Birkas HaMazon aka recited Grace after the meal) I noticed this same sweet man setting aside two challos, and wrapping them ever so lovingly for his adoring wife, who was anxiously awaiting to greet him back home. He was doing it discreetly, as if no one would see. But I saw, and I was extraordinarily moved. Here is a man, that has been married at least fifty years putting on a little demonstration- a clinic of sorts- illustrating to anyone who would watch, the secret to a loving and successful marriage. I often find myself in situations where I could grab some leftovers for my wife, that I know she would like. But I usually tell myself, "Danny, its too much of a shlep (inconvenience) to wrap it up, put it away, and bring it home for her. Maybe it would make more sense if I just eat an extra portion, and tell her I had her in mind." But this was not the approach of this man-- this man who has been happily married for several decades understood very well that it was darn well worth the inconvenience of shlepping around some extra challah, if it meant making his wife happy, if it meant showing his wife his love through the act of giving.
      And then I thought about the two different observations I made that evening of this man: A) He told us that he gives the mezuza a kiss every night before bed and B) he packed away some challah to bring home to his wife. I realized that these two items are not at all random occurrences- but they go together hand in hand. The Torah teaches us that it is our job to build a Mishkan- a dwelling place for the Almighty. We assume that this applies to us nowadays as well, as we can all build a 'mishkan me'at' -- in our homes-- so that the point of a Jewish marriage is to build a dwelling place for the Almighty. And its only fitting for G-d to dwell in a place of complete serenity and peace-- a loving environment where the love between husband and wife is palpable. An environment devoid of yelling and arguing and negativity. With this understanding, the way this sweet man behaved last night was entirely consistent. Him and his wife have an incredible relationship. He constantly thinks of new ways to make her happy, even 50+ years into their marriage on a late Saturday night. Therefore, G-d is resting in their glorious home.
   Once a week I will wrap up some challah and bring it home to my prettier, better half.
   Will you?

   My name is Danny Wolfe, and I approve this message.

   Danny Wolfe

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Business Trips and Stupid Cellphones


Dear Henry,
       Tomorrow morning I embark upon another 'business trip' which requires flying somewhere, and saying goodbye to my family for a few days. This morning, as I received a call from a computer who works for United Airlines, kindly asking me if I cared to have him/her check me in, (see my post for a more vivid account of computers who talk to me ), I was reminded of the last time I went away on a 'business trip' away from the family. Heck, it was only like 10 days ago, so its hard to forget.
       Basically, two weeks ago I attended a conference with over 100 other immensely talented rabbis not unlike myself,  and then had some other internal meetings. I began to notice as I went away, that it was very hard to keep in touch with my other half, my lovely, beautiful wife, (see for more on this), and my delicious sweet, precious children. Paradoxically, I found it even harder to keep in touch with them on my local business trip, than when I go to Israel for birthright trips. On a birthright trip, with my wife seven-hours behind me, by the time my day was over, and ready for bed, she was available to talk, just having fed the kids dinner. And I would be able to see (via Skype) my beautiful family before falling fast asleep, after a jam-packed day shlepping around Israel. I would then set my alarm to a very early hour in the morning, so that I would catch my wife right before she goes to sleep, and she would catch me up more on what happened in the last 6 hours, and I would catch her up, on what happened in my last 6 hours--admittedly, not too much.  I would thus cap my mornings, and my evenings with the daily hi-lights of my trip-- seeing my beautiful family. Henry, right about now, you might be asking where exactly I am going with this whole shpiel. Heck-- I'm asking myself where I am going with this whole thing. The point is, that not being on the same schedule--being an ocean apart-- made it easier to be in touch-- precisely because we were not on the same schedule.
       Two weeks ago, being in meetings and sessions all day, it was darn near impossible to be in touch with my wonderful, beautiful, sweet, adorable, and adoring, wife and kids. Being in the same time zone, we were both going, nonstop, all day.  By the time I was ready to shluffie, she had been sleeping for a few hours. I would call her early in the morning, but she is physical unable to speak, or move, in the mornings. Six and a half of the best years of my life (marriage) has taught me that not everyone is a chipper morning person like yours truly.  However, while I was on a trip to Israel, we didn't have this problem, because when I was waking up, at 6:00 AM, so was she- at 11:00 PM.
      The point of that awkwardly long introduction was that I learned from my last trip that it was darn hard to be in touch with my beautiful, adorable, loving family. And that was very hard. So on Thursday morning, after having been gone since Monday morning, I made sure to be at the airport super early, as I could not physically wait anymore to see my family. My kids were pumped up for me to pick them up from camp, and my wife was just as excited to see my beautiful, aging face. All of us were ecstatic to at long last catch up on the last 5 days. When I finally got to the gate, after waiting in a very long line, they were advertising that the flight was overbooked, and they were offering a $500 flight voucher if anyone would volunteer their seat. My flight was leaving at 8:30 AM- the next one was leaving at 3:00 PM, getting to Cleveland at 5:00. Apparently, no one was all that impressed with the $500 offer, so United bumped it up to offering $700 to anyone who gave up their seat. I didn't blink. It wasn't worth it. I told my kids I would pick them up from camp- golly-- I was going to pick them up from camp, and no amount of money was going to deter me. I later realized that my flight got in at around 10:30 AM. My kids got out of camp at about 3:00 PM. Thus- if I would have taken the $700, and gotten in at 5:00-- I would have only missed out on two hours of quality time with my kids, who would be eagerly waiting in the car to pick me up from the airport, if I opted for the later flight. And yet, as I look back, those two extra hours with the kids was worth every penny of the $700 that United tried to give me in order to sacrifice those two precious hours. I would choose spending two hours with my children, all day, every day, over a lousy $700 flight voucher from United.
       Once I made this realization, oh Henry, I learned a very valuable lesson that applies not only to my own life, but likely also to the lives of those thousands of my devoted readers out there in Canada, Israel, Turkey, India, and the United Arab Emirates. And that is, Henry, that time in general-- and quality time with loved ones in particular-- is a very, very valuable gift. Certainly more valuable than a $700 flight. So I asked myself when I caught myself reading ESPN on my Iphone 4S, while playing with my kids-- what the heck am I doing? Now I have the privilege of interacting with my delicious children, and I am reading about a Gators Linebacker who got arrested for barking at a police dogg? Are you kidding me? How can I waste such a precious gift-- this valuable time with my children? How many of us don't know our loved ones because we are too busy watching TV with them, instead of interacting and communicating with them? How much of us would only have a conversation with a loved one, if only we both wouldn't constantly be checking our text messages? How many of us are spending more time with angry birds than we are with our increasingly angry loved ones and family members? Its time that all of us-- yours truly especially included-- leave the phones upstairs, and start enjoying and experiencing the ones we love.
       If I can pass up on $700 at the expense of losing two hours with my family, doesn't it make sense that I should also be able to pass up on Facebook for a few lousy hours? We all cognitively know what's really important in life. Its about time we start living according to this basic understanding. Henry, For a MINIMUM of thirty minutes a day, commit to turn off your stupid cellphone. It will change all of our lives.
         My name is Danny Wolfe, and I approve this Message.

         Danny Wolfe


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

America's REAL Heros


Dear Henry,

       I worked at Jeff's Diner as a waiter for about 6 months when I was 16, and I can tell you, its hard being a waiter. Its darn hard. Its probably harder than being a paint salesmen, but its not as hard as being a youth director. But in any case, its hard. You might be asking, oh Henry, whats so hard about being a waiter? The answer is that when you are a waiter, you have to deal with hungry people, and when people are hungry, they aint so rationale. They just want to eat. And when I worked at Jeff's Diner, a kosher restaurant, people REALLY wanted to eat, because they were fellow Jews, who really enjoy eating. And many times, these people bring in their elderly parents and grandparents and great grandparents, which becomes very difficult, because if you put the tomato on the wrong part of the sandwich, grandma is not so happy with you, and she lets you know it. In short, working in a kosher restaurant is one of the hardest things to do, because not only are you dealing with hungry people, but you are dealing with well-meaning Jewish hungry people, who are often elderly.
       With that lengthy introduction, oh Henry, I want to tell you about my night tonight. I went to an assisted living home where the elderly go when they advance in age. We went for dinner, to eat with my wife's precious, sweet, lovely grandmother. Grandma, however, is a little bit forgetful. As the ladies were serving us, waiting on us, I was very impressed, because they were dealing with hungry, elderly and forgetful Jews. How did that manifest itself? Grandma asked the nice lady for a slice of onion. By the time the nice lady finished taking all of our third and fourth requests for more applesauce, another fork, more water, two cups of orange juice, another cup, and an extra straw, as she was walking away, not sixty seconds more than the first request-- grandma called her back, to request another slice of onion. With a smile on her face, and not the slightest bit of agitation, the woman readily agreed to get grandma more onion.
       This seems like a simple story, but I believe it teaches us two fundamental life lessons. The first life lesson, is a lesson clearly taught in the Torah, and that is that we should not judge anyone until we are in their shoes. For many middle-aged folks, it is annoying when their parents start forgetting things. However, before we get annoyed, we should think what it would be like to be in our parents' shoes, being so forgetful. What would it be like if I did not remember what I did five minutes ago? What would it be like if I was nervous I would forget my apartment number? What would it be like if I didn't know who came to see me today, or what my plans were, or what day it was? It would be terrifying.
Before being annoyed that our grandparents forgot our name, or who we are, or where we live, we ought to first put ourselves in their shoes. And we should also cherish our own minds and memories, and be grateful for our ability to remember and have a mind that works properly.
        But what I really wanted to do in this blogg post was to give proper props to the incredible individuals who work at these old-age homes.  In a world where we idolize athletes, fame, and wealth, these people who work with the elderly very well might go unnoticed. My jaw literally dropped, as I saw these individuals return to our table, each time taking orders from all of us and Grandma, and responding with more patience and love than the previous time. I remembered the saintly women who dealt with my own grandmother during her last days in this world. My grandmother was afflicted with a very serious form of Alzheimer's, and she totally had lost her mind.  Yet it became crystal clear to all of us, that the women who worked there deeply cared for, and loved her. These people's deep patience and love is something that we all need to strive for.
       Life Lesson number two here, is that we need to evaluate who our heros are. Why are they are heros? Should we idolize individuals because certain unique individuals-- like myself-- were blessed with incredible super-human athletic talent? Or should we look around, and identify and give proper props to those people who really act in a heroic manner?
      Lets stop trying to be football stars--and start trying to be waiters in old-age homes.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

My New Hero

Dear Henry,
      I am sorry it has been so long since we last spoke. I think its been a solid two months. I imagine when my thousands of devoted readers wake up every morning, the first thing they do is check their email, facebook, or twitter feeds, for news of my upcoming blogg post, and so to my dear readers, I also apologize.
      There is so much I want to write to you about, but for now, I want to tell you about an incredibly moving story that happened to me this morning. This morning, I woke up a little bit later than usual, which meant that I would go to the latest minyan (prayer service) in town, which started at 8:30 AM. Everything was going great, speaking with the Almighty, connecting to Him and getting close. Then, as I took off my phylacteries a sweet elderly man sitting across from me began to speak to me.
Him: "You think they have this late 8:30 again tomorrow?
Me: "I wish, tomorrow is only 7:50 :-( "
"What's your name?"
"My name is Danny aka the D Train Aka Da Da Da Da D UNIT."
"Where are you from?"
"Originally from Denver, now Albany. How about you?"
      At this point, this sweet man began telling me his life story. The short version is he is 90 years old, he survived the Holocaust, but his home and property were taken away, his brothers who were in the camps with him were murdered, as were his parents, and he has 12 grandchildren and several more great grandchildren. He then told me how every morning he goes to shul at Chabad (as they have the latest week-day minyan in town, 8:00 AM), and on Shabbos he goes to an earlier minyan close to his house (as despite being 90, he is walking to shul every week.)
     As I was speaking to him, I noticed the rest of the crowd had cleared out- the only people that remained were the ones who it took the longest to take off their phylacteries (tefillin)-- this ninety year old man, and the man next to him, who seemingly suffers from Parkinson's. At this juncture, I told myself to remember that while usually I am very good about attending minyan every morning, there are inevitably those mornings that I miss minyan once in a while. But, I asked myself, how can I allow myself to miss a minyan, when these two individuals come every single day? I, who thank G-d get around without any delays, who am blessed with youth and good health, how can I not come, when these special individuals come every day despite the enormous difficulty involved? And so I vowed to myself, (albeit not with taking an official vow) to try my hardest to ALWAYS come to shul in the morning, and to not allow even for that rare exception.
     But Henry, that aint even what I wanted to focus on during this lovely Sunday morning in July. What I wanted to dwell more on, was an incredibly powerful idea I heard from a Holy lady named Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, who herself survived the Holocaust. Just to put matters in perspective, I was once reading a story in her book, "A Committed Life" while waiting for my wife in Batteries Plus, and right there, in the middle of this store, I started bawling uncontrollably. I had the unique opportunity to hear her speak live at an Aish Conference once, and she concluded her tear-inducing speech with a very powerful blessing.  She told us, that she had heard from a Chassidic Master, who himself survived the Holocaust, that if someone lived through the hell of the Holocaust, and yet somehow managed to retain his or her faith and closeness to G-d, a blessing from that individual will come true, and be very very powerful. Rebbetzin Jungreis then blessed all nine hundred of us, listening intently in the audience, and very few eyes remained dry. I recalled this story this morning, as I was talking to my new hero. As we went into the hallway, I told him what this Rebbe had said, and how I have so much admiration for him, and it would mean a lot of he could give me a bracha. As tears welled up in both of our eyes, he gave me one of the most powerful blessings I have ever received.
     Tonight the Jewish people enter into a very difficult month- the month of Av. The Talmud teaches us, that when the month of Av comes in, we reduce our level of happiness, as it has been a month that has been brutal for the Jewish people, beginning from when our Holy Temples were destroyed.  Paradoxically, the name Av, also means father. Somehow, this month which has been so difficult for us, means "father." It is our job to somehow try to remember that everything comes from our Father-- both blessings, and difficulties. Sometimes my children ask me for things- but I know it is not really in their best interest- so sometimes I say no-- and they don't understand, nor are they happy about it.  We have to remember that although we don't always understand everything going on in our lives, our lives are not random- they are closely guided by a loving Father, who loves His children more intensely than any love we can fathom. In this massive, scary world, we must remember that we are never alone.
     The holy man I met today, who despite suffering tremendously, witnessing horrific events, still clings to his Father. We collectively as a people have suffered over the years enormously, and yet we are still here because we continue to cling to our Father. This month of Av, we should cling to our Father-- not because of terror, sadness, or fear, but out of incredible happiness. We should all merit to get closer to our Father, in our holy city of Jerusalem, celebrating at the Beis Hamikdash, may it be rebuilt speedily and soon.
     May the blessing this tzadik (righteous man)  gave to me this morning, come true for the entire Jewish People:
May Hashem bless us and Protect us.
May His face shine light upon us and may He bestow grace upon us.
May Hashem lift His Face upon us, and may He grant us peace.

Danny Wolfe