Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Native Americans and Twitter and Rockies, Oh My.

Dear Henry,
      One thing that I am darn proud about, is being from Colorado. Colorado is hands down the best state in this beautiful country of ours. Growing up, I would ski to school, tip over cows on Saturday nights, and during the cow-tippin offseason, I would spend my Saturday nights hanging out at Super Walmart. Life was chilled out and simple. When one needs to shift lanes, the person behind him allows the other car to go ahead, in front of him. People do not cut one another off. People are very polite. When the speed limit is 55 MPH people go 45-50 MPH.  On one occasion, when we were visiting Denver after spending a magical year living in the Holiest city on the planet- Jerusalem aka the City of Gold aka the Holy City-- My wife and I and two children were walking in the King Soopers (the local grocery store), taking up the entire aisle, making the aisle as impassible as a fallen tree makes a creaky bridge in a wooded mountainy meadow in Finland.  Suddenly, we heard a very polite request, "Excuse me...I am so sorry, but would you mind if I could please get through? So sorry to inconvenience you!!" The good folks out west are VERY friendly.
      To top it off, we had the Broncos and Avalanche to root for growing up, both winning two championships during my youth. The Nuggets made many playoff runs, only to routinely fall in the first round-- year after bloody year. The Rockies, however, have made a habit of finishing rock bottom basically every year.  I put up with it though, during my 18 years living in Denver, because we have season tickets, and I would routinely go with my father. I was an extraordinarily cute little boy--not much has changed--  and I would often leave games with balls the players tossed up to me.  Those games are undoubtedly among the highlights of my youth. One specific ritual we had, was that my father would pull us from school to take us to Opening Day. I will never forget the time he totally surprised us, and took me in 1995 to the first ever game at Coors Field, against the New York Mets (remember them-- they will come in to play later).
       The game went quite long. The 6th inning became the 7th inning. We did the 7th inning stretch. The 7th inning became the 8th inning. the 8th inning became the 9th inning. The 9th inning became the 10th inning. People were sissies, so they started leaving. I moved down to the first row behind the Mets dugout. Bret Butler tosses us up a ball. The 10th inning became the 11th inning. The 11th inning became the 12th inning. You get the idea, but I'ma keep going, because this is my blogg, and I can. The 12th inning became the 13th inning. The 13th inning became the 14th inning. We did the 7th inning stretch, which I thought was strange, inasmuch as it was the 14th inning, and not the 7th inning.
      Then, Dante Bichette steps up to the plate. I swore to myself when I got older, I would grow a mullet like him. In fact, one of my favorite websites of my childhood was ratemymullet.com. At the time, I didn't realize how hard it is to grow a mullet when you are rapidly balding faster than Husein Bolt runs the 100 meter race.  In the bottom of the 14th, Dante took one mighty swing of the bat, hit the ball with a thunderous roar, raised his fat arm to make a fiery fist pump, and he trotted around the bases in glory, as he hit a walk off shot to end the game. (http://wapc.mlb.com/col/play/?content_id=7667603&topic_id=33627488&c_id=col&tcid=vpp_copy_7667603&v=3)
I still get the chills watching that.
     But Henry, 1995 was a very long time ago. Since then, they have stunk it up worse than a shvitzy four year old coming inside after playing in the humid sun all day, and worse than a 2 year old girl potty training, and accidentally missing the potty when she tried to relieve herself. They had a fluke season in 2007 where they got swept out of the World Series in 2007 by the Smelly Sox from Boston. They have made the playoffs three lousy times in their pathetic 20 years of existence.
   And now, lets fast forward, from their opening game in Shea Stadium, in 1993, to August 8th, 2013. On  August 8th, I quit being a Rockies fan. They just ended their season by finishing their road-trip with a 1-9 record. But whats worse, oh Henry, is how they lost, and to whom they lost. The trip started against the Braves with 9-8, 11-3, 9-0, 11-2 losses to the Braves. And it ended by being swept by the Mets- arguably the only team in the MLB who has been more pathetic than the Rockies in the last 20 years. That loss in August 8th to the Mets, completing the sweep-- was it for me. I was checking out.
   But, this was mainly just a big, fat, unnecessary, digression. Let me get to the point.
   Let me first introduce my main point by just informing my thousands of readers, from Canada to Mexico, to Israel, France, Russia, and now, most recently, Australia of a new up and coming website about which you might not have heard, but which will play a critical role in my overly-over-drawnout story. I am extraordinarily tech-savvy, so you might not be aware of this, dear readers, but there is a new website called www.twitter.com that is a new type of facebook. Famous rabbis, like  myself have accounts, with myriads of followers. We can tweet (ie. write) very short messages including 120 characters to our devoted followers. This is the newest trend nowadays, so naturally, I have a blossoming account. Check me out at @dannywolfe1. When I resigned from being a Rockies fan, I became a Cleveland Indians fan. The logic was as follows. My Better half is from Cleveland. The Indians are from Cleveland. Therefore, I should love the Cleveland Indians. And I do. So I thought that my hundreds of Twitter followers would want to know about my not-so-sudden change of allegiance. So I sent a Tweet,  (ie. a message) that in addition to going to my hundreds of followers, also went to the Rockies, and the Indians. It said as follows:

swept to the ? You mean nothing to me. We are done. Its been a depressing 20 years. Bye. I am now an fan.

The Cleveland Indians liked these chain of events, so they wrote back to me as follows:

       The Indians thus officially welcomed me to being a fan of the Tribe. And this point is exactly what I wanted to discuss with you on this chilly 65 degree evening in Ohio. Someone, who works for the Cleveland Indians marketing department, wrote me a tweet, giving me a warm welcome. They said something kind to me. And, Henry, it made me feel good. Someone said something nice to me, and it felt great. And this is a profound lesson that you, Henry, and my thousands upon thousands upon thousands of readers should take to heart. People like when you say kind things to them. People like when you compliment them. It can completely change someone's day--heck, it might even completely change someone's life.
     Think for a moment, the last time you were told a compliment. What was it? How did it feel? Sometimes we (especially those of us of the male persuasion) feel like its unnecessary to compliment because something is so obvious. For example suppose our spouse is wearing a pretty outfit, we feel like we don't need to compliment, because obviously she looks beautiful. But how many times does this spouse then change her outfit, and then when we look at her in astonishment, she explains she changed because she knows we didn't like it?  How often do we feel under appreciated, or stressed out, and one little compliment is all it would take to turn around our entire mood?
     The Torah teaches us that we need to have an "ayin tova-" a good eye. This doesn't mean to make sure not to swing at balls when you are batting at home plate.  It means that you have to train yourself to see the good in everyone around you. It will change your life. You wont be focussing on the negativity any more, and you will only see the good. For homework, dear henry, please compliment one person every single day.  As much as this will impact and empower those around you-- it will reshape how you yourself view the world.

  @Indians-- it feels darn good to be part of the Tribe. Thank you.

  Your biggest fan,
  Danny Wolfe


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Olympic Figure Skating, Ms. Pacman, and the Shofar

Dear Henry,
      I wanted to share with you a little known fact about me, that you might not even be aware of. That fact, is that when I was four years old, I embarked upon a long path of competitive figure skating. Momma and Dad would take me to the rink, 6 days a week, every morning at 6:00 AM before school, and I would practice my routines. I would do triple and quadruple axles, double toe-loups, I had even mastered the biellmann position, and even the twizzle (my nizzle). I worked very hard from age four until sixteen, when I had qualified for the US National olympic team. It was very exciting, I was set to perform in Salt Lake City, only a few hundred miles from my home city, Denver Colorado. All my loved ones were gathered to watch me perform. It was also electrifyingly exciting, because I was the heavy favorite for the gold metal.
        I could not contain my excitement as my family gathered in the arena right before I was meant to perform. I was going to be performing to my favorite singer-- Celine Dion's heart-warming version of my favorite love song of all time, "Beauty and the Beast." At that point in life, I had not even stopped to contemplate the disturbing meaning of that song. As I sat waiting in the changing room for my big moment for which I dedicate the last 12 years of my life, I noticed, that right off the locker room, was a game room. I realized I still had about fifteen minutes till showtime-- so I went to take a look. To my utter delight, they had my favorite arcade game on the planet-- Ms. Pacman-- and it did not cost a thing. I went over, and started playing. One thing lead to another, I beat level after level, I was zoned in, until I finally heard on the loud Speakers, "DANNY WOLFE, you are up! WHERE ARE YOU?" I looked at my watch, and to my complete horror, realized I was supposed to be on the ice seven minutes ago. To my tremendous agony, I had been disqualified.
        Henry, obviously, this story is not true. If I were an olympian for any sport it would clearly be for weight-lifting. However, I think the message of this story is very powerful, and timely. Yesterday morning was Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the month of Elul. You see, Rosh Chodesh Elul means that Rosh Hashana is just one month away, and every morning in synagogue from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Rosh Hashana (with the exception of Shabbos) the shofar is blown. Yesterday, as I heard the sound of the shofar, I got the chills, and I started to literally shake. After not hearing that holy, powerful sound in a full year, it really woke me up. It was very powerful. In one month, we are all coming to be judged by the Judge of all Judges. It is said that in Pre-War Europe this time was incredibly intense. People really began working on improving their relationship with the Almighty, and their relationships with each other. They began intensely trying to perfect their character traits. If someone struggled with anger, they worked very hard to obliterate anger from themselves. If people were haughty, they worked on becoming more humble.
     To not fault of our own, we live in a completely different world. From a very young age we are told that we must go to school. After school we are told we have to go to more school. After more school we are told we must go to graduate school. After Grad school, we get jobs. After working a few years, we get married. Then when we hit our 40s we realize that we hate our job, we do not know our spouse, and we have no idea how we got here, or what the heck we are doing with our lives. This is called a midlife crisis. This is called sleepwalking through life.
      The Rambam writes that the shofar awakens us from our slumber.
      Every morning in the month of Elul, and on Rosh Hashana, we are awoken from our slumber by the powerful, awesome blast of the shofar. It is up to us if we are going to hit the snooze button, or actually wake up and get out of bed. If only in my olympic story, someone would have given me a reminder before my performance! Then I could have gotten ready. Right now, with the shofar we are getting that reminder. Right now we should be thinking about what we can change to become better people. Maybe my relationship with my parents can use some mending, and I should call them more. Maybe I should not have said that nasty remark to my sibling, or my ex-best friend and it is time to apologize. Maybe its time to think about something I can do to get closer to G-d, whether its study Torah with a rabbi, start to pray routinely, light Shabbos candles, or take on more Shabbos observances.
      I challenge you, Oh Henry, and my thousands upon thousands of readers in countries like America, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Spain, Germany, and Israel, to write down two things, right now, that starting tonight, you will start working on to become that incredible person that the Almighty knows you are destined to become.
     One month from now is the most important time of the year. It is our turn at the olympics. We have been building up the whole year, for this powerful moment.
     Are we going to show up, or play Ms. Pacman?

    Forever Yours,
    Danny Wolfe

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Starry Nights in Jerusalem and Bunny Bunny

Dear Henry,
      When I lived in Connecticut for a year, I learned a lot of crucially important life lessons. But by far, the most critical thing I learned there was a game called "Bunny Bunny." I am not referring to The Bunny Game , which is a 2010 American independent horror film directed by Adam Rehmeier who also was co-author of the script together with the lead actress Rodleen Getsic. That is not what I am talking about. To be frank with you, Henry-- I haven't seen this film-- or any film for that matter-- since Snoop Lion's Oscar-worthy hit "Soul Plane" in 2004, or "Dude Where's my Car" in 2000.  
       So that is not the Bunny Bunny that I am talking about. Sorry Adam Rehmeier--its nothing personal. The Bunny Bunny to which I refer is an absolutely ridiculously ridiculous, absurdly absurd game that can be played in small groups. The game is about bunnies, and tongas, and hayugens, and upshifting to level 2, and yogaflames, and tiger uppercuts, and sonic booms.  Truthfully I have taken this game with me throughout my travels- in good times and in hard times. I played Bunny Bunny during two of the most special years if my life while learning Torah in the land of Israel. And I played Bunny Bunny in JFK Airport with my birthright group after being notified that our Aerosvit flight to Lithuania was delayed by 15 hours. 
       The game has a lot of depth to it-- depth that I discovered one Purim afternoon after having consumed a few too-many bottles of wine. But Henry, I ain't talking about the depth of Bunny Bunny in this blogg post. Rather, Henry, I plan to talk about something else in this blogg post.  
      First, though, I must give a little background. During those magical years in Israel, as I finished up my rabbinical school, I had the privilege of giving a weekly class (called a vaad) to a group of 8 studly guys who were in a gap year yeshiva program between high school and college. We happened to be the best looking vaad in the whole program, and there were about 130 guys in this program.  They came to me every week, at about 10:00 PM Israel time, or about 3:00 PM EST. I would give them delicious deserts that my wife baked, like challah french-toast casserole, blondies, brownies, krispy-peanut butter balls, etc... We would watch Tim Tebow highlights for about 10 minutes, and then I would dazzle them with my signature life-changing lectures on various Torah topics. One week however, I skipped the life-changing lecture, and instead, opted to teach them the life-changing game about which I now write: Bunny Bunny.
     With that little introduction, we can now begin. Seven days ago, Oh Henry, I happened upon the Facebook page of one of the strapping young lads that was in my vaad. On the page, he had posted a video that he took, of a group of his campers playing the very game that I had taught him, not three years before. And those campers were playing the game exactly how it is meant to be played-- as If I myself taught them, and as my mentor, himself taught me (the guy who taught me in Connecticut)! The campers seemed so familiar to me-- but I did not recognize them. They seemed like my own children-- yet I did not know them. And yet, they were playing Bunny Bunny as if they heard the instructions directly from my mouth! And then, I received clarity on two very significant points.
       The first point on which I received clarity was on a very crucial verse in the Torah, that incidentally is the basis for the entire Passover Seder. The verse says , "v'higadata l'vincha," "You shall tell your son in that day, (Passover) saying, this (eating matzah) is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came forth out of Egypt." Judaism is obsessed with the "Mesorah," or the transmission of the Torah from one generation to the next. About 3300 years ago, the entire Jewish nation stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai, heard G-d speak, and received the Torah. If the average age that people have children is about 30, that means that there have been about 100 'passes,' or 'links in the chain' directly from parent to child, from the Revelation at Mt. Sinai until today. Many of us, however, are fortunate enough to have met our grandparents, and many of us even have them at our Passover seders- this means that there are in actuality only 50 'passes' from grandparent to grandchild, from Mt Sinai until the present. And for those of us, who have met our great grandparents, the number is even fewer. In short, Jews emphasize the crucial role of passing on, or transmitting our heritage,  which we received from our parents and teachers. The Torah of today is the same Torah of 3300 years ago, because of our obsession with accurately transmitting our Holy Torah and our national experience receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  Watching the 'Bunny Bunny' product of my student teaching his campers Bunny Bunny, made me appreciate this concept even more.  One day, one of his campers will teach his/her campers Bunny Bunny, exactly as I taught him, on one starry night in Jerusalem. Then, one of his campers will teach his/her own campers Bunny Bunny, exactly as the strapping lad taught them, who in turn taught it exactly as I taught him one starry night in Jerusalem, who taught it EXACTLY as my mentor taught me, one sunny morning in Connecticut.
     The second point on which I received clarity, is a similar concept, namely, that we never fully comprehend the MASSIVE impact of our actions. I would have never thought that as a result of sharing this game with a strapping young lad, that many, many more younger lads and lasses would later be playing it, with every bit as much enthusiasm as the young lad, and myself. My little, seemingly insignificant decision to teach Bunny Bunny that historic evening, ended up having a massive impact on dozens of lives. And Henry, this applies to all of us, in every area of our lives. We might never know about the huge impact one little smile can make for another person. A great rabbi once said a person's face is a like a reshus harabim-- a public street. Just like one is not allowed to leave obstructively obstructive objects on his sidewalk, (or unshoveled snow/ice), as that can cause damage to the passersby, so too, one is not allowed to walk around with a pout on his face, because that pout affects, and harms the passersby as well. We might never comprehend how a few words of encouragement to a colleague having a rough day can be a game-changer in his/her life. I took notes from my esteemed colleague when he told a toll-both worker-- "Remember, life is worth living!" My whole worldview is changed as a result of a two-minute segment of a class given by a rabbi in Jerusalem to a group of seminary girls. This rabbi 'happened' to speak to the wives of the rabbinical students in my program, and my wife 'happened' to buy some of his MP3 lectures, and I 'happened' to listen to them one snowy morning in Albany on my way to synagogue. As a result of a few lines that this rabbi told seminary girls 5 years ago, the life of another rabbi in a different country has changed forever! And this Jerusalem rabbi has no idea about the impact he made in this particular case!
     The point here, is that it is incumbent upon all of us-- myself, and my thousands upon thousands of dedicated readers in this great country of ours, Canada, Russia, China, and Israel-- to as a starting point-- understand the enormous impact our actions can make upon the lives of those around us. I cannot necessarily go out every day thinking, "What can I do or say to change this person's life forever?" I can however, understand that I have a G-d given ability to positively impact this person's life in a significant way. Therefore it is all of our duties to engage the world with this fact in mind-- and to be beacons of light and pleasantness to everyone who comes our way.
    One special starry night in Jerusalem taught me that as a result of one small action, the whole world can be playing Bunny Bunny.

Yours truly,
Danny Wolfe