Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Personal Exodus in 2016: Dumbing Down my SmartPhone

3:52 AM
  אני ישינה וליבי ער קול דודי דופק פתחי לי
Dear Henry, 
      It's 3:52 AM on the 4th day of Passover and everyone in my home is peacefully sleeping. But not me. Because like my ancestors over 3000 years before me, tomorrow, on Passover I will be going on my own exodus. I've written about it many times. Spoken about it length.
But tomorrow, I will finally unshackle myself from the brutal grip of my smartphone. And I feel so excited, and so liberated, I can't sleep.

10:30 AM
     A few weeks ago I was travelling by airplane, and naturally when people travel they wait in the airport for their flights. Usually I pass the time on Facebook, Twitter or ESPN. But that particular day I held myself back, and watched everyone around me. And what I saw was scary-- every single person sitting across from me was glued to their cellphone. No one was talking to their travel companion; everyone sitting silently with their sole focus on their smartphones. And I realized, depressingly, that I am no different from everyone else-- I too suffer from nomophobia-a term coined in 2010 referring to "No Mobile-phone phobia. A study a few years ago quoted in Psychology Today found that two out of three people sleep with their smart phones next to their beds. Thirty four percent of people surveyed admitted to answering the phone during intimacy with their partner, One in five people would prefer to go a week without shoes than without their phones, and all in all, sixty six percent of us suffer from this addiction.
     I have seen this addiction affect me in two particular ways. The first way is I egregiously waste my time. It is scary to ponder how many days of my life-- and I am only 30-- I have wasted on the phone. I imagine if there was a tracker, tracking all the time spent on my Iphone, I am pushing several weeks, if not months, doing nothing but reading mindless articles about sports, and watching ridiculous videos I found on ESPN.com. It is scary to fathom what I could have accomplished during that time that I was on my phone. How many more tractates of Talmud could I have mastered? How many more brilliant blog posts could I have written? How much more time could I have devoted to become a better husband, father, friend, and Rabbi? How much more could I have sharpened my mind, rather than mindlessly waste it away?
      This is the first way the phone adversely affects me on a daily basis. But there is another, equally scary way. The most important thing in the world to me is the well being of my family. I want my family to do know how much I love them, care about them, and enjoy spending time with them. I want my children to be thoughtful, creative, and clever. What message does it give, however, when while tucking in my children at night I am simultaneously reading an email, or an article about the Broncos? What message does it give as my son is reading to me some verses from the Torah that I occasionally glance down at my phone? What is the message I am passing on to my 3 year old son that while I am pushing him on the swing I am also busily reading about the happenings about my Facebook friends, hundreds of whom I have not spoken to in over 10 years? Does that show my children how much I love them, and value spending time with them? Or does it, G-d forbid give the message that I love being with them, as long as I don't have to abandon my smart phone in the process? The perceptive child, can easily deduce, that based on my actions, in practice, I would rather spend time with my smart phone than with them.
       And, equally scary is that anyone who knows anything about parenting knows that the best way to imbue a behavior upon a child is to model it. And as it stands now, my children are growing up thinking it is normal and healthy to be glued to a smart phone. True, we do not let them play with it, but my three year old son goes around the house looking for it, and when he finds it, he echoes us, "just one more second..." My fifteen month old princess takes anything in sight, puts it to her ear, and says , "hello." One of her favorite toys, is the plastic toy cell phone, so that she can have a phone like us.
     For a long time I have been aware of this problem of ,mine, but I always brushed it off, saying, "I am a rabbi, and I need to be connected to everyone and everything 24/6. If I get rid of or dumb down my smart phone, I won't be able to communicate with all of our students through Facebook and Twitter like I used to. I won't be in the loop as much as to what is going on with their lives. I need my smart phone! Plus, how could I live without the calendar, with its alerts that I so regularly ignore? No way, not me-- I can't get rid of my iphone. Ideally, if I were an accountant, I could. But as a rabbi? No way.
But, being well intentioned, I took steps to help myself. I locked my ability to use Safari, thinking that would help. But, knowing the code how to unlock it, I would very frequently unlock it when the need arose, (like when I had a few minutes to spare and needed to check up on Facebook or ESPN.) Eventually I deleted my Facebook app. Now, without Safari and Facebook, how much time could I really kill? But, then my addiction to my smartphone switched to an addiction to Twitter. And, one thing, I knew for sure, is that I could not delete Twitter. My almost three hundred followers are eagerly waiting to hear from me, after all.  And I soon discovered that if I looked up the Facebook Twitter handle, I could access Facebook, from Twitter, and this is how I proceeded for months, right back to square one.
     Finally, after a significant health scare of a close family member, I decided that upon her full recovery, I would accept upon myself, to once and for all rid myself of a smart phone containing apps that distract me like email, Facebook, Safari, etc... Our family has gone through a number of scares over the last few years, and G-d is trying to tell me something. This very well could be what He is asking of me. However, once again, I made justifications. I need  the calendar. I need the amazing texting, where you can follow the flow of the conversation-- a feature absent from older "dumb phones." I need Morgan Freeman or Shaquille O'neal telling me how to get to Boulder on Waze. I cant give it up. But once again, after deleting Twitter, I started slipping, and I kept unlocking Safari, landing right back at square one.
     Through nothing less than the grace of the Almighty, last night I received a text message from a friend who told me he saw my last blog entry, about the beauty of living under a rock, oblivious to the outside world, and it really spoke to him, because he struggles with a smart phone, and he is thinking about giving up his smart phone, "cold turkey." I responded that I share the struggle, the struggle is real, and that if he is willing to downgrade to a dumb phone, I too, would downgrade. After a little thought, we agreed it was a deal.
      And that brings me to today, the 4th day of Passover. The day where the Jewish people celebrate their liberation from the bondage of Egypt, the backbreaking labor we endured for an extremely long time. Throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered terrible decrees. During the days of the Holocaust, fathoming what this Egyptian slavery was like was not very difficult. Fortunately today, it is very hard to fathom what it was like. But we suffer from a different enslavement, a bondage of the spiritual sort. We are enslaved to our phones. And for me, this Passover 5776, I will be free at last.
As soon as I finish this piece, I will travel to Verizon, having the courage to do something I have longed to do for years: downgrade for the sake of an upgrade.
      In a few short days we will be reading the gorgeous book written by King Soloman, Song of Songs. In that beautiful book, we say about ourselves, " I am sleeping, but my heart is awake. A sound! My Beloved (G-d) is knocking! G-d said, "Open up for me...My love, My dove, My perfection." G-d is knocking on our door, pleading for us to let Him in our lives. Are we too busy checking our emails to notice? Or will we finally open up the door? The choice is ours. And thank       G-d, I finally have the guts to open that door.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

4:30 PM
Post Script: The Better Half requested I ask the nice man named Jorge at the downtown Verizon Store if there is a way to dumb down my Smart Phone. After all, she noted, it certainly contains nice qualities, like GPS, easy texting, calendar, and apps with Hebrew Books and most importantly, BitMoji. Sure enough, Jorge showed me how to enable the Better Half to make a password which she could use to block my Safari, and my ability to add apps. He showed me how to uninstall my email apps, and to have my wife change the passwords so I cannot put them back on. And he showed me how to delete all the apps, so for the past 3 hours I have had a "dumb smart phone." After only a few hours, I already feel enormously liberated-- for the first time I can remember, when we got home from downtown, I actually sat down on the floor, and actively played with my kids! It has been wonderful!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hello, it's Me. I've been Living under a Rock

 Dear Henry,
      As an outreach, blogging, tweet'n, Facebookin, Insta-grammin, Insta-grannyin' Snoopifyin' rabbi with thousands upon thousands of readers across the vast expanse of the universe, I consider myself to be of the worldly type. Growing up more secular, I can quote you Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 2pac by heart. I was therefore shocked when I discovered four days ago a new singer who apparently is very popular. Even more popular, claims a friend and colleague who we shall call Barbara, than Britney Spears herself. You see, oh Henry, every Jewish holiday presents an opportunity for spiritual growth and reflection. But now in the era of YouTube, it also provides an abundance of holiday music videos. Usually these videos include very catchy songs that I immediately take a liking to. And until about 6 months ago, I thought these songs were originals composed by the Jewish musicians singing them. But then, when I was at Top Golf a few months ago and one of the songs came on as I was preparing for a monster drive, I got extremely excited with the idea that a large venue like Top Golf plays the Maccabeats to the hundreds of people there, the vast majority of whom are not even Jewish. But then, as I returned to my table after my shot and began sipping my ice cold Blue Moon, I noticed that while the music was similar to the Maccabeats, the words were very, very, very different. It was then that someone explained to me that in fact, it was the Maccabeats who made a parody of this, the original song. The same thing happened to me this past Chanukah-I was enamored with the sheer brilliance of Six13's Watch me Spin my Drei Dei- only to realize that they too made a parody of a very, very different type song by a guy named Silento called "Watch me nay nay."
      With that rather lengthy introduction, I can tell you, my thousands upon thousands of readers world wide what happened last week. Last week I saw literally dozens of my friends posting an Aish.com video called " Adelle/Bieber Passover Mashup." People were literally going crazy over this video, so I thought I would give it a watch. The only thing I knew going into this was that I have a sweet, kind, enormously special relative named Adele who has been a grandmother figure for me throughout my whole life, and that Justin Bieber is a singer who looks like he's straight out of a boy band from the 1990s, who once humbly reflected that Anne Frank was a "great girl" who would have been a huge fan of his. So as I opened up the video I was greeted by the characters from Ten Commandments singing a slow ballad, in a tune that I had never heard in my life. Realizing how excited so many of my friends were getting, I decided to do a little research project, to see if in fact this Aish.com song was based on another song. What I discovered truly astonished me: While I did not identify if in fact Justin Bieber's song is parodied here, I did come to the conclusive conclusion that there is a singer named Adelle who has a song called "Hello" that is the basis for this new Passover video. Upon doing a little more research I landed on the original YouTube video which totally, completely blew my mind. The reason, oh Henry I was so stunned, was that I saw that on the You Tube page, around 1.5 BILLION people had viewed this very video. That is 1.5 BILLION people! And until last week, when aish.com brought it to my attention, I had never even heard of this singer, let alone her apparently, very, very, very popular song! I was stunned.
      After this crazy realization, I did a bit of self reflection: How is it that I had never heard of Adelle, or her song boasting 1.5 billion views? Do I live under a giant rock? Do I live on a remote island devoid of any form of modern technology or other human beings with whom to interact? Am I hermit living in an abandoned house on a prairie? Then I remembered the decision I made over nine years ago, as I prepared to get married to the Better Half. From the day I got married, I made a conscious decision to stop listening to secular non Jewish music, and I also made a decision to cold turkey, stop watching movies. The reason behind this seemingly archaic move on my part is really two fold: For one, the type of music I happened to like listening to was very often about not nice things. Violence, domestic abuse, and the objectification of women. As I began to embark upon my life building a home filled with kedusha, holiness, I realized it would be inappropriate to have these concepts and jingles anywhere in the vicinity of my head. I had to rid myself of it completely. That is why I traded in my Eminem CD for Yeshiva Boys Choir CDs. That's why I exchanged my Ludicrus CD for my Yaakov Shwekey and Simcha Leiner CDs.
        The second reason I abandoned secular music and movies is because as I prepared to start my life as a young husband, I understood that one of my primary job's in life is to take care of, honor, respect and revere my wife. She is my world-- and represents the paradigm of what it means to be a woman, a wife and a mother. As a matter of fact, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, in a phenomenally beautiful manner, how there is a mitzvah we call Shana Rishona. The basic premise behind this mitzah is that a newly married couple spends their entire first year together. The husband is not meant to go to the army, and they are not meant to take vacations apart from one another. The Sefer HaChinuch writes that the reason behind this is so that their natures become unified, and that the newly married husband becomes so used to his wife, that the ways of any other woman on the planet are foreign, and downright bizarre to him. His wife becomes the epitome of a woman. It is for this reason, Henry, that I stopped watching movies and listening to music. I don't need images in my head of other women. Many times Holywood actresses are pretty. I don't need them in my mind. I don't need to compare my wife- in my mind the essence of femininity- to them. Many times secular non Jewish singers like Adelle or Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez have nice voices. I don't need to hear them, and to think of the nice looking person behind the voice. Don't need, or want that imagery in my head. That is why I proudly traded in my Spice Girls CD for my Chevra CD- My Britney CD for my Mordechai Shapiro CD- my Mariah CD for my Mesivta of Waterbury CD.
       I am not here to deny there is an abundance of phenomenal, inspiring music and movies out there-- there clearly is. To those millions of people who enjoy that, G-d bless you all, I bear no ill judgments against you. But for me, there is something so remarkably beautiful about my life underneath a giant rock.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

Monday, April 18, 2016

What Honeywell Thermostat Company Taught me about Life

Dear Henry,
      I am not one to usually toot my own horn, or even blow my own shofar,  but at the risk of sounding arrogant, I wanted to share with you something I did that I am proud of. You see, last Friday was a rather warm day in the Denver Metro area. We were well into the 70s, approaching the low 80s. When I went into my house I noticed it was uncomfortably hot. It was even hotter than a hot air balloon floating peacefully over an Alaskan Rain-forest. Naturally, I walked over to my Honeywell Thermostat to turn on the air conditioner for the first time all season. And as I tried lowering the temperature to a heavenly 67 degrees, to my chagrin, I remembered that for some mysterious reason my thermostat does not go lower than 72 degrees. As that unfortunate realization set in, I began to accept the fact that I would be spending the upcoming Shabbos shvitzing like a overheated porcupine in the Zimbabwean swamp lands. 
      In a state of sheer desperation, a thought flashed in my head like a bolt of colorful lightening: maybe it would be worth a shot to go ahead and call the kind folks at Honeywell to see if they could help me. Sure enough, oh Henry, that is exactly what I did. After dialing the number I spoke to a man, for anonymity sake we will call Carlos. Carlos patiently listened as I explained the issue. After putting me on hold for two minutes he gave me instructions. I followed his instructions and to my utter delight, I was able to lower my air conditioning as low as I wanted it. Apparently someone in the past had  set it up such that it could not go under 72 degrees, and for many years that was the lowest temperature the thermostat could go-- that was at least until Carlos came to the rescue.
     I genuinely was overwhelmed with joy. I pictured walking in from synagogue the next morning, eager to enter my house to escape the treacherous heat. And I envisioned that blissful feeling one experiences when walking into his colder than ice cold house on a hot summer day. Without thinking, I expressed my joy and satisfaction to Carlos, who was still on the line. I explained to him how happy he made me-- how I didn't think this thermostat issue was fixable without replacing my whole furnace. I told him that I had not experiences such joy since the day the Broncos won the Superbowl. I instinctively asked him if his manager was there so I could tell them how wonderful Carlos was to me. A bit taken aback, Carlos readily obliged and put his manager on the phone. I proceeded to describe in gory detail how helpful he was, and to express how I didn't understand how any human being in their right mind wouldn't turn Honeywell when looking for a new thermostat. 
        Upon hanging up with Carlos's manager, a lady, for the sake of anonymity we will refer to as Chelsea, I heard the furnace kick into full gear. I ran to nearest vent and places my bear hand against it, feeling the ice cold air filling up my house. Basking in joy, I started dancing. I then decided it would be appropriate to take to Twitter. I recall many times reading angry tweets people direct to companies (usually airlines) complaining about the service. I decided to take to Twitter to tweet to my hundreds of followers (you, too, my dear reader can  be included among them by following @dannywolfe1) a happy tweet, praising the Honeywell customer service.
As you can see above, I tweeted, and I know quote, "@honeywell_home I thought my thermostat was busted until your customer service guy saved the day! Great work!" Honeywell then responded, and that's when's I tweeted them the following: 
Honeywell appreciated that, and even gave me a compliment telling me I am "too funny."

    The Talmud tells us a story in Shabbos 31A about a non Jew who wanted to convert. He came before the great Sage Hillel, who told him what he needs to know about Judaism: What is displeasing to you, don't do to your companion-- this is the entire Torah, everything else is merely commentary, Now go learn!
     We see from this a very basic principle that the Torah itself alludes to when it says, "Love your neighbor like you love yourself." What we would want for ourselves we should do to others, and what we wouldn't want for ourselves, we should not to do others. That means that if I wouldn't want an angry customer criticizing me to my boss, I shouldn't be so quick to critique an employee to his boss. If I wouldn't want to be be pushed out of the line for kiddush, I shouldn't push my way to the front of the kiddush line. If I would not want to be spoken about behind my back, I should not speak about others behind their backs. If I would not want the entire audience I am speaking to during a sermon fall asleep, I also, should try my hardest not to fall asleep when other people speak. Conversely, if I would want other people to compliment my efforts to my boss, I should be quick to compliment workers to their boss. If I would want to receive an encouraging comment, I should be quick to give a nice comment. If I would want help shlepping groceries from my car, I should be quick to help others shlep groceries from their car. If I would want company and companionship when frolicking in a Kansas meadow, I should be quick to volunteer my time to friends in need of companionship. If I would want the Better Half to buy me some M&Ms from an Idaho rest stop on a long road trip, I should also be naturally inclined to buy her M&Ms at an Idaho rest stop, even if she didn't ask, and I am not a prophet who knows for sure what she wants without her communicating that to me.
      Many times in life we are quick to see, and point out, the negative in other people. But our Rabbis also teach us that if we want G-d to give us the benefit of the doubt, we sure as heck better give everyone around us the benefit of the doubt as well. There is no doubt that if we take the time to acknowledge the good in G-d's children, G-d, will take the time so to speak,  to acknowledge the good in us as well.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kobe Bryant vs. Derek Jeter: It's No Comparison

Dear Henry,
      As the madness of Kobe Bryant's last game wears off, I wanted to share a few reflections. For those of my thousands upon thousands of readers across the vast expanse of the universe who perhaps do not follow the NBA, let me provide some background: At the beginning of this year, Kobe Bryant, undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA basketball players of all time, announced that he would be retiring after the season. Since his announcement, every game he played was part of a grand farewell tour, where people flocked to the games to watch his lousy team play. Fans from all over the country gave him thunderous ovations, acknowledging their appreciation for his contribution to the game of basketball. This week, as his final game approached, Kobe was the talk of the World. His nickname is the Black Mamba, and Twitter declared yesterday, April 13, his last game, to be #MambaDay. Kobe was the talk of all the Sports Talk Shows in the country.
     What I wanted to write to you about today though, is not about Kobe's career. Nor is it about how I personally find the whole Farewell Tour concept that he embraced to be distasteful, as it removes the focus from his team, and places it squarely on himself (in contrast, by the way, with how Peyton Manning walked away from the game.) What I wanted to write, oh Henry, is about a tweet I saw earlier in the week from the one and only Skip Bayless. Skip excitedly announced to his 1.8 million followers that on his show, The First Take, he would be debating with Stephen A Smith on the topic of who had a better career: Kobe Bryant, or Derek Jeter. Upon reading this seemingly innocent inconspicuous tweet, I felt a little bit of my Wheaties start to come up in my mouth. I thought to myself how Skip apparently did not read my brilliant masterpiece blogg about Snoop Dogg. I thought to myself, how truthfully, we can never compare any two people because everyone is so different and has such a unique set of life circumstances. BUT, if we do compare athletes, perhaps it would make sense to compare athletes in the same sport. And if we do compare athletes in the same sport, perhaps it makes sense to compare athletes who play the same position. And if we do compare athletes who play the same position, it makes sense to compare athletes who played in the same era. Thus, perhaps it would make sense to compare Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard, to other great shooting guards in the league at the time, like Dwayne Wade, or maybe even Michael Jordan, who briefly overlapped with Kobe. That, oh Henry, kind of makes sense,
      But to compare Kobe to Derek Jeter? Why do we need to do that? Can't we be content with the notion that they were both legendary athletes in their respective sports? Why can't that be good enough? Why do we need to compare apples with oranges, pickles with ground beef, and pianos with the beautiful tulips in my garden ? Each athlete had a unique role on his respective team, each won five championships, each was enormously successful. Do we say that Kobe was the better athlete since he could nail the three pointer better than Jeter could, or do we say Jeter was better because could snag a ground ball coming to him at short stop? What on earth am I missing? Why do we always have to be comparing people to each other? Why can't we just stop and appreciate each person's inherent worth in and of itself? Why can't we suffice to stop and acknowledge the impact each player had on his own team and sport?
      We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, and we need to stop comparing others to others. Every human being is unique and has a totally unique purpose in this world. We need to hope that each person realizes his/her mission, and becomes the best him/her that he can be. As I alluded to above, and as I quoted on these pages in February, we need to follow the example of Snoop Dogg: We "got to be doin' me. I don't know how to do nobody but me. It's hard doin' you but I could do me very well." 
      As a life long fan of sports, I am tremendously grateful that Kobe Bryant did Kobe Bryant and that Derek Jeter did Derek Jeter. We sports fans could not have asked for anything more.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe