Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Apps you MUST have if you go on Birthright Israel

Dear Henry,
       I am currently preparing to embark on my fifth Taglit Birthright Israel trip with Israel Free Spirit aka the awesomest trip provider in the world, in the past three years, and I figured that I owe it to my thousands upon thousands upon thousands of readers across the planet; many of whom are Jewish, to share some of the wisdom that I have acquired from this once in a lifetime experience. I thought that since we are now in the year 2015, and phone applications, or "apps" as they are trendily referred to, are very popular, I owe it to you-- my devoted readers to compile a top ten list of "Must Have Apps" if you are going on a Birthright trip. Before I begin, I must make clear that I do believe everyone is better off by not getting a data plan in Israel, but by using the old school rental phones which came straight from the 90s. However if one does not heed my advice, then these are the critical apps to have. I will list them from least important to most important.

10. Google Translate- Even though most Israelis speak some English, in certain parts of the country, for some reason, they do not. It can be maddening; like, how can not everyone speak English. This app though is super helpful, and user friendly, and allows you to speak to it, and will play back a translation. It also easily switches from one language to the next. In short, its awesome. Especially when you are starving, and looking at a menu, and have no idea what it says.

9. Globe Convert- One of the most frustrating things about being in a foreign country is not understanding the currency conversion rates. In Israel it is no different, and it can be exceedingy frustrating when you see that it costs 15 shekels for a lousy falafal. Eventually, once you get over the shock of paying so much for things, it begins to feel like Monopoly money, and then you lose all your money. Therefore, its a good idea to have a currency conversion app. This app also supposedly converts metric units as well; it is annoying that Israelis don't use ounces, and pounds, they use something called kilos, and meters... Very confusing and frustrating. This app helps with the headaches.

8. Daily Water- In Israel it is very hot. Very very very very very very hot. Today it was 105 degrees. You gotta drink a ton of water. This app helps remind you. Being dehydrated and having an IV pump you liquids is not an ideal way to spend your Birthright Israel trip. So drink, and drink and drink some more.

7. The Israel App- I have no idea what this app is, but its called the Israel App, so odds are its a great app to have for birthright.

6. Whats App-This is an extremely popular app in Israel, and it allows you to text, and have group chats with anyone in the world who has the app and is connected to data or wifi. It works even for those unfortunate souls out there who don't have iphones and imessage. This app is especially good for keeping in touch with your 8 Israeli soldiers after the trip, but you can also use it as a texting app to America, as long as the people you are texting also have it.

5. The Siddur App- Israel is an extremely inspiring place. You might feel the need at some point to pray. The Siddur app allows you to open up the traditional Jewish prayer book, and recite your favorite prayers. The good news is that G-d understands all languages and you can always just speak to him from the heart.

4. Glide- This Israeli- made video messaging app is very cool. Instead of sending text messages, you can send videos, recorded in real time. People can watch them as they are recording, or can catch them later. There is a great group messaging feature, and its a very good way to stay intimately connected to your birthright group when you all get back to the States.

3. app- This App is like SnapChat, instagram and twitter all rolled up into one. You can record yourself or surroundings for about 20 seconds, and then people can respond to you. It would be a great way to chronicle your trip so you can relive it 6 months down the line, and a great way to follow up with your new pals from the trip. Make sure to follow me, the SelfeeRabbi.

2. Instagranny- This is a must have app for birthright. It works a lot like Instagram, and it allows you to spice up your pictures with a large assortment of grannies, a couple grandpas, and even a few kittnes for any occasion. For example, I stuck in a granny in a picture with me and my wife on Masada. All your friends will think you made good friends with a ton of different grannies, and it makes you look very, very cool. Thanks to Mel for the awesome referral.

1. Snoopify- This is the winner. It works just like Instagranny, but instead of putting a granny in a picture, you can Snoopify any photo by inserting Snoop Dogg, or Snoop Lion as he was formally known into any picture of your choosing. I owe a big thanks to one of my past participants from two summers ago , Jake for the referral.

That does it for the 10 Apps that you must have on Birthright Israel. Download them now, and have an incredible trip! Make sure to eat and drink a ton of ice coffee, falafal, shwarma, and shnitzel because after your trip you will never again view any of those delicacies the same as you do now.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Don't Forget, G-d also Made New Jersey"-- Profound Insights on the Garden State Parkway

Dear Henry,
       This past Friday morning, I loaded up Hindy the Hyundai with two suitcases, my four delicious children, and the Better Half, and we set off on the road, traveling to the holy city of Lakewood, NJ for the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, the holiday that commemorates the Jewish People receiving the Torah. Unbeknownst to me, this year, Shavuos coincided neatly with Memorial Day, and it is a major travel weekend. As we set out on the road, I thought, "This will be a piece of cake! Lakewood is 3.25 hours away, my kids are excited to see their cousins, and my wife and I can have some good old fashion chattin' time in the car!" As predicted, the first part of the ride went amazing. The kids were happy eating  the endless supply of snacks we packed, and my wife and I were having heartfelt discussions in which we dissected our dreams, goals and aspirations. We thought, "hey, this is going so swell, why don't we go ahead and stop in Monsey at my favorite Pizza place in the world, Pita Land, the home of the infamous blizzard pizza, the pizza that I am salivating over at this very moment, just by writing about it." Sure enough, we stopped there, and we savored the delicious pizza, sushi, and these little heavenly doughy balls rolled in powdered sugar. After that, we stopped at a book store, to pick up some inspiring Jewish books, and then we hit the road for what should have been an hour and a half drive down to Lakewood. As soon as we hit the Garden State Parkway, we were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic. I thought, that's strange, we are we literally stopped on Friday at 1:00 PM? At 1:01 I turned on 1010 Wins, and my boy Pete Toriello informed me that due to Memorial Day weekend, traffic everywhere was awful. Still, I didn't understand why so many thousands of cars were going to New Jersey. Like, I hear they might want to travel to New York, Vermont, Connecticut, heck, even Pennsylvania. But I was unable to fathom why so many people were traveling to New Jersey.
        Regardless, I tried to stay optimistic, and I announced in the car, as we were literally stopped in stop and go traffic, "Don't worry kiddos and Better Half, we only have another 95 miles to go on this lovely highway!" And right as my optimism bucket had reached its peak, my lovely, perfect 4 month old daughter started screaming. But Henry, I am not referring to the type of screaming that I do when riding a roller coaster or tubing down a massive Vail Mountain tubing run.  I mean like shrieking. The type of shrieking I did in Washington heights when I first saw a cockroach. But at least that shrieking I did stopped after two minutes. Little Tzippy, or Zippy is I sometimes lovingly refer to her was not just shrieking for two minutes. Because two minutes became three minutes. And three minutes became five minutes. and five minutes became six minutes. And six minutes became seven minutes. After about fifteen minutes of listening to unrelenting shrieking, I thought, gee, our 30 hour cross country road trip in July is just going to be lovely! And then I thought, maybe if I roll down all of our windows, the sound of traffic will make everything better and, maybe the cars will hear her and move out of my way so I can get there already. Surprisingly, my strategy did not pay off.
       After about 20 minutes of this, the Garden State Parkway split off into express lanes, and local lanes. I thought, for sure everyone is going to be in the local lanes so they can get off the highway whenever they want! I will go ahead in the express lane, and then get their very fast! Sure enough, I was wrong. And as I saw the cars in the local plane flying past me, as we were stuck literally not moving, I became enraged with jealousy. I longed to get to the local lanes. I hoped that those cars in the local lanes would slow down, so that I would be the one gliding past them. Eventually, I got to the local lane, and I did in fact cruise past the suckers in the express lane, and it felt amazing. I even literally stuck my hand out the window and waved to them as I passed them by, leaving them like dust in the metaphorical wind. And then I stopped again, and they sped up, and I felt the rage returning like an unwanted centipede who invades your bathroom.
       And I realized, dearest Henry, how messed up I was acting. Judaism has a lot to say about this lovely episode on the Parkway. Firstly, the Talmud teaches that jealousy is one of the absolute worst character traits a person can have. A jealous person can never be content. He is always comparing himself to others. If he is making $100,000, and his neighbor is at $115,000, his very respectable $100,000 is almost meaningless to him. He is driven to get the $115,000 his friend has. Jealousy ruins people, causes them to lose rationality, and their ability to think. If a person is not happy with his lot, and is not happy with what he has, he will live a life of misery. Living a life constantly comparing yourself to others is no way to live a life.
       In addition, the Torah teaches famously that we have to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. That is a very difficult commandment to keep; how exactly can we be expected to love everyone like we love ourselves? Some commentaries explain that we should genuinely be happy for people in their triumphs, just like we would be happy for ourselves. When our neighbor gets a raise, we should be happy for him. When our cousin has a child after being married for a year, even though we have not been successful in having children despite trying for the last five years, we should be happy for them. When our roommate we have been living with for the last five years gets engaged, while I am still not, I should be genuinely happy for her. And when the cars are cruising past me in the local lane, I should be happy for them.
        Finally, another lesson to learn is that Judaism teaches that not only did G-d create the world, but He continually runs it and sustains it, and He is involved in each and every one of our lives in an extremely intimate way. When the traffic is rough, and the baby is screaming, this is the situation that G-d wants me to be in right now. He doesn't want me looking around, focussing on how so many more people have it better for me. He wants me to keep focussed on the road ahead, and work with what I have,  to make the best of it, and remember that this is an opportunity for me to grow and ultimately become closer to Him.  Henry, keep in mind they don't call me Rabbi D-Swolle for nothing. I am not brolic by going to the gym and lifting the bar a few times. I am huge because when I go the gym, I load up that bad boy with a large number of plates, and I move the weight. I sweat. Heck, I shvitz. I grunt. It's hard. But thats how I grow; thats how I am huge. I need to focus on moving the weight above me at this very moment; not focus on how that little guy over there is easily benching fifty pounds.
       As we were finally getting closer to our destination, and I was mumbling about New Jersey under my breath, the Better Half profoundly said, "Don't forget, G-d also made New Jersey." Indeed, He did make New Jersey, and I am darn grateful He taught me so many darn profound life insights from my short stay there.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rabbi D-Train's Dare

Dear Henry,
     My name is Danny Wolfe, and I am extremely attached to my cellphone. I constantly am checking my email, regularly looking up useless articles on and spend way too much of my time staring robotically at my iPhone 6.0. 
      For people like me who are obsessively checking our phones, going to the grocery store can be a difficult chore. Because while we shop we are checking items off a grocery list, far removed from our email, Facebook or Twitter apps on our cell phones. That means that when we arrive at the counter, ready to check out, satisfied with our shopping experience, it doesn't take long until we realize that we have not actually checked our email in 25 minutes, or we haven't seen Facebook in that long. We might be thinking, "Oh golly, I haven't seen my email in the last half hour. Maybe someone emailed me telling me I won the lottery, or maybe I got a new 15 percent off coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond! I better check my email now to see if anything like that transpired. And, once I'm done I need to check Facebook because I am sure one of my 1600 "friends" has posted a new status update, and if I don't check now I might miss it! And while we are at it, I need to check Twitter. Adam Schefter might have a breaking update that the Broncos signed Adrian Peterson, or one of my friends may have tweeted about the beer they drank last night! And after that we might feel the need to check our Linked In app even though we don't know how to use it or why it always is sending us notifications. 
        Suddenly we wake up when the sweet cashier says,  "your total is $86.29. Will you be paying with cash or credit?" We then give a half smile and mumble "credit" as we pull out our American Express card which yields 6% cash back on groceries. We swipe the card, sign the receipt, and go on our merry way.
      I am embarrassed to admit it, but I am guilty of this on a regular basis. Let's dissect what happened here: While I was lost browsing useless information on my phone, a human being, created in none other than G-d's image was helping me by scanning and bagging my massive grocery order. And the whole time, rather than have the decency to engage them in conversation and acknowledge their humanity, I basically told them that I was waaaay too busy to acknowledge their existence with all the important business I had to take care of on my phone. And I ask, oh Henry, how would that make you feel, spending 40 hours a week scanning groceries, while hundreds of thankless people totally ignored you, taking your efforts for granted, not even bothering to lift their heads to speak to you?
       Pirkei Avos, the Jewish Talmudical tractate on ethics enjoins us to greet every person "with a kind countenance." The Talmud elsewhere instructs that it is better to give a poor person the white of their teeth (a smile) than white milk to drink. If we are going to reluctantly give a poor person a few coins with a scour on our face, we would be much better off smiling at them and saying "hello," even if we didn't end up giving them any money.  A great rabbi once said that a persons face is like public property; just like if I leave out any harmful objects extending from my property into public property I am liable to pay for the damages, so too a person's face is public property that hundreds of people encounter every day. If the frown on my face damages people, the damage is my responsibility. I will never forget how utterly depressed I felt when I used to take a train to work every day; everyone in the train appeared absolutely miserable, as if they dreaded going to work. How very sad, thought I, that by the looks on their faces, these people spend most of their lives doing something that makes them depressed.
      Thankfully my wife recently listened to a class online from her favorite rebbetzin, who discussed this at length, and mentioned how she is taking it upon herself to not use her phone in public. Hearing this inspired me tremendously, and I sadly realized how guilty I am of overusing my phone in public, particularly while checking out of grocery stores. I decided on that spot that I would take a sort of pledge to cold turkey, stop using my phone in the checkout line. If I would be offended as the oft-ignored cashier, odds are the guy behind the counter also might take offense. Let us try to make the world a better, happier, more meaningful place. I hereby dare all of my thousands upon thousands upon thousands of devoted readers across the vast expanse of the universe to make a commitment to stop using your phones in grocery stores. Heck, I triple dogg dare you. Whose down?

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Monday, May 18, 2015

Parting Thoughts

Dear Henry, and all of the students in Albany we have been involved with over the last three years,
        Since we officially accepted to take a position a month ago in Denver, Colorado, enabling me to make a Lebronesque return to my hometown, my current boss has asked that I officially submit a letter of resignation, which would serve as an official document stating that I am leaving Aish New York. While in life I do not view myself as a procrastinator, for this simple, quick task of writing a brief email, I continually find excuses to push it off. I push it off despite being certain that we are in fact leaving Albany, as we are under contract for a house in Denver, and the closing date is less than two weeks. The reason that I continually have been pushing off writing this letter, is that it is so very hard to leave this position. By leaving this position, I am leaving bosses I have cherished working for, an organization that gave me my first real opportunity that would go on to set me up for my life dream, and the broader Aish family; a family I have been a part of non stop ever since I was 12 years old, being involved in Aish Denver, later Aish Cleveland, Aish Boston, Aish Jerusalem, and finally, Aish New York. As difficult as it is leaving all of that behind, by far, it all pales in comparison to how difficult it is to leave you—the students--behind. We hope that it is no secret that we don’t just view our position as an ordinary job, and we don’t view you merely as people with whom we interact daily on the job. Because the truth is that we literally view you as members of our own family. When you are in pain, we are in pain. When you have triumphs, we bask in pride and happiness for you. And to be honest, leaving all of you behind, our precious students, is excruciatingly painful. It wasn't until this past weekend, graduation weekend, that I fully realized that I will no longer be seeing you on a regular basis, and that is a very difficult reality to come to grips with.
      I wanted to leave some parting thoughts and blessings: To our incredible, inspiring graduates: I stay awake at night fearing that for you, your experience at Aish might just be the temporary, ‘college’ phase where you got into your Judaism; but will have no lasting impact on your life. That notion scares the heck out of me. Judaism is not a temporary phase, or a hobby. It is a lifestyle, infused with beauty, and depth. It is a way of life that our nation has lived by for the past 3000 years, where we have been charged with mission of being a light unto the nations. And while it will not guarantee you success or happiness in your life, and there are no promises everything will go according to your plan, I do guarantee you that it will provide you with a life infused with meaning. Please, all of you seniors, make a definitive decision, right now, to make a commitment in some capacity to how you will continually grow in your Judaism. I will be reaching out to all of you soon, trying to connect you to the post college versions of Aish, all of whom have incredible staff and inspiring programs. I intend on making some sort of weekly/biweekly online class. Decide that you will light shabbos candles every week, have a shabbos meal with your family, pray once a day, etc… But do something, however seemingly small it is. My wife and I took tremendous joy when over spring break, two girls sent us pictures of the foods they were making of recipes we gave them for their spring break shabbos meals away from Albany.
      To all of the students: Be darn proud of your Jewish identities. If you transfer schools or go to grad school, don’t rely on people like our recruiters at Aish to knock on your doors; you go seek out the Jewish organizations yourself, because you are so beaming with Jewish pride, excited to continue your Jewish Journey. There is nothing in the world more depressing than when I ask a table of people if they are Jewish, and everyone denies being Jewish, until the Christian kid points at the Jew, cowering behind his books telling me that he is in fact Jewish. Don’t cower; be proud. Be proud to be a part of the religion that introduced morality to the world, that affirms we are all created in G-d’s image. Be proud to be part of the nation that has sent massive amounts of support to Nepal; that although Israel is but one percent of the world population, 30 percent of the international medical team in Nepal is from Israel. In short don’t be Jew-ISH, be a JEW!
      To the girls: Never forget that you are the holy, pure daughters of our matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. As Rabbi Feldheim used to say, you are princesses; real queens. Never settle for anyone who treats you as anything but the royalty you are. I will never forget on a trip I once staffed, a guy once went on a walk with one of you; I was tempted to take a baseball bat and chase him down, or beat him away. Make sure I approve before getting too serious.
      To the boys: make sure you firmly reject the culture we are currently bombarded with that treats women as objects. Treat them as royalty. Never do anything to them you wouldn’t want done to your sister. If I hear of any of you acting inappropriately, I will find you, and you will suffer the consequences.
     As Rabbi Schorr said before me as he left, “I am your Rabbi for life.” I am not just your rabbi for the 1-3 years you have known me; I am your rabbi for life. Now, instead of seeing each other in person regularly, we will just see each other on Facetime regularly, or for you losers with androids, on Skype. Please invite me to your weddings, keep me posted on your lives, and stay in touch. When you realize how much you long to live in a place which boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, I, or my wife, will welcome you to Denver, with open arms, depending on your gender.

With heartfelt love,
Danny Wolfe