Monday, January 23, 2006

Gam Zu Letovah

A minus: 6 months, 3 weeks

Since the Rabbi is out of town, I've been teaching a class of second graders in religious school at Chabad for the past several weeks, in addition to the basic Hebrew class I teach for adults. Every week, I teach the children a new mitzvah beginning with the next Hebrew letter. We started with "Ahavat Yisrael," to love one's fellow Jew, followed by "Bal Taschit," not wasting. This week we learned the letter gimmel, so I taught, "Gam Zu Letovah," the concept that even seemingly inexplicably bad things sometimes happen for a good reason. I decided to give the class the following personal example:

"Two weeks ago, my car was stolen," I pronounced.

I was immediately interrupted by Justin, "How much was it worth?"

"A thousand dollars," I replied.

"That's nothing! You must have had a pretty trashy car."

"Justin, the next mitzvah we're going to learn is Derech Eretz," I replied, "proper behavior, so watch your mouth."
"Anyway, my car was stolen, and I thought I was having a really bad day. When I got to work, I called my insurance company, and they told me that I could only have $25 per day to rent something, so I was going to have to get a really little car. But when I went to the rental car company, they said they were out of little cars, so they offered me a medium sized car instead for the same price, and I said OK. Then, they said they were out of medium sized cars, so they offered me a pickup truck for the same price, which was fine with me. Then they realized they were out of pickup trucks too, so they offered me a van. I accepted, and again, they were out of Vans. The only car they had left was a 2006 Cadillac, so now I get to drive the Cadillac, and the insurance company is paying for it!"

I love it when I can bring in personal examples from my life. The rest of the story is that the CRX turned up stripped, with my stereo and tefillin stolen and a flat tire, so it's now in the Insurance Company's lot being assessed. Meanwhile, Rabbi Resnik in Pleasanton received a donation of an old Ford Probe, so if all else fails, I'll still have something to drive. Gam zu letovah.

I've become very involved with the local Chabad shul (synagogue,) not just teaching classes but also been helping set up the synagogue, buying sodas, and doing general schlepping. I have a sort of quid-pro-quo with the Rabbi. It feels a bit improper taking money from a shul, so I generally refuse payment for teaching classes or buying food. The Rabbi has a constant supply of meat coming in from Los Angeles because his brother is a Kosher butcher, so when I finish teaching a class, I just walk into the back and grab a steak or some frozen pizza. Also, when I need a car, I can always borrow one of his beaters, and I can always go over to his home if I need a place for Shabbes, so, it works out quite well for both of us.

Career wise, I'm progressing quite well. Because of my three years of service with my company, and the Professional Engineering license I will hopefully receive if I pass the PE exam, I've been given a window office. It seems to be quite a big deal, as people are constantly coming in and shaking my hand, offering congratulations. There is also an unquantifiable feeling I have been getting from my coworkers, the way they ask me for snap decisions based on my engineering judgment, send emails to my boss specifically asking that Ephraim be assigned to work on their project, and assign me difficult problems with little oversight. I think it's called "respect," but it's quite a new feeling for me. Too bad I only have six more months to enjoy it.

In the mean time I'm finishing my application for Nefesh B'Nefesh. I've completed my financial affidavit, written my essay, filled out all my forms, dotted my i's and crossed my t's. Now I'm just waiting for Rabbi Resnik to finish my final letter of recommendation and for my passport photos to be developed and I'll be ready to send it out.

Picture of my old office.

Picture of my new office.

Picture of the view from my office of the Shadelands Museum (one of the few origingal buildings from the previous century that remains standing in Walnut Creek.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Car Saga Continues

My stolen car finally turned up. What was left of it, at least, minus tefillin ($450,) stereo ($400,) spare pair of glasses ($275,) and mp3 player ($50.) The passenger side window was bashed and it has two flat tires but the rest of it looks in OK condition. Right now it's being towed to Fremont (30 minutes south of here) to be inspected by the insurance assesors.

In the mean time, my insurance company provided me with $25/day to get a rental. I reserved the only car I could afford with that, a compact, but when I showed up to pick it up, they had run out.
"Would you take an upgrade to a mid-size?" they asked.
After clicking on the keyboard with furrowed brow, the rental car representative replied, "well, I'm sorry but we don't have any mid-size. Can I upgrade you to a full-size?"
More clicking, more consternation, "I'm sorry, no full sizes, can we upgrade you further?"
"Uh... OK."
This went on for some time. I was upgraded to a pickup truck, then a van. After I had accepted the van, one of the drivers pulled up in a Cadillac.
"I'm sorry sir, but all we have available is this Cadillac. Will that be a problem?"
"Uh... no, I think I can live with that."

So now I'm waiting to hear back from the insurance company. Someone recently donated an old Ford Probe Rabbi Resnik in Pleasanton which he offered me, but last night he informed me that his wife backed into it pulling out of the driveway, and it's questionable whether the driver's side door will open. It's still driveable though, so that might be my emergency backup if nothing else works.

Meanwhile, I'm crusing the streets of Walnut Creek like the Mac Daddy in my Caddy.

Monday, January 09, 2006

An Exceptionally Bad Monday

It all started when I woke up late. Instead of going to shul (synagogue) in the morning, I decided to daven (pray) at home to save some time. Since I usually go to shul, I kept my tefillin (little prayer boxes) in my car. Imagine my surprise to discover, while going out to my parking space to get my tefillin, that not only was my tefillin missing (cost: $450), so was the entire car! Quickly going through the checklist… no, I didn’t park it somewhere else last night… no, it couldn’t have been towed… I realized that it had been stolen. I called the police and filled out a report, but there wasn’t much they could do. Now my poor ’88 CRX, the Rust Rocket, is out there being violated by some wicked thief, and my tefillin is probably in a dumpster somewhere, God forbid.

My next step would be to ask the Rabbi for another beater car. California tax law states that anyone can donate their old car to a non-profit organization, like our shul, and receive a full deduction for the value. The front yard of our shul displays a whole fleet of beaters; rusty Datsuns, a Ford Aerostar that makes a bang-bang sound, an MGM with a transmission that can’t reverse, and the like. Today was a warm, sunny day, so I decided to hop on my bike and ride to shul and see if any keys were lying around. Upon arriving I discovered that the office was locked. I suddenly remembered that the Rabbi left last night for a month-long vacation to Israel. Now, I can do without the car, but the real problem is that I’m supposed to substitute teach in the Hebrew school for the next four weekends, and all of the teaching material is locked in the office. I started looking at the door for hinges, thinking that perhaps I could chisel out the hinge-pins and open the door that way. No dice. Finally, I was just getting frustrated enough to consider kicking the door down when I decided that I should collect myself and daven shacharit (morning prayers) before it got too late. Of course, I didn’t have any tefillin, but after searching far and wide I found an extra set we have hidden for people who don’t have to use. Of course, my luck today being what it is, it’s for right handed people and I’m a leftie. After about fifteen minutes of effort, I managed to reverse the knot on the tefillin so that it’s now appropriate for a leftie. Being late for work, still boiling mad, I race through the Shema and Amidah prayers, skipping everything else, and start to take off the tefillin. While I’m taking off the tefillin, I stop and think that, perhaps this is not the best day to be rushing through my davening, considering everything else that’s happened, so I put it back on, rewind to the very beginning, collect myself, and daven the entire Shacharit from beginning to end nice and slowly.

Feeling much calmer now, figuring things can only go up from here, I hopped on my bike and began the ride to work. About halfway there, I noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to pedal. Finally, I was passing by the exact same spot on the trail where I severely sprained my ankle three months ago when I lost control of the bike! I realized that the tire had sprung a leak. I managed to recover and not do any permanent damage to myself, but from then on I had to walk my bike along, hobbling on my lame ankle. I pushed my bike along the trail and finally made it back to work, sweating profusely and smelling like a men’s locker room. I came into the lobby and clicked on the elevator button. *DING!* The doors slid open and there stands Craig, the building maintenance man. “What do you think you’re DOING! There are no bikes allowed here! You know better than that! Take that thing outside immediately!”

I dragged my bike outside and find somewhere to lock it up, hauled myself upstairs, went to my office, and shut the door. It’s now almost noon and I needed to find something to eat. But before I could, the phone rang. When construction managers call you in the middle of construction, it’s seldom to complement you on the quality of your work. Turns out they found some serious oversights in a job I designed that’s now already in construction. Time for a conference call… and on and on it goes.

From then on, though, it’s been good news. Somebody at work offered to give me a ride tomorrow, but I hassled my insurance company, and, while they didn’t volunteer the information, it turns out I can get a rental car on their nickel until the claim is processed. I then managed to track down somebody else with the shul’s office key, so I retrieved my teaching material. I won’t have to go in front of the kiddies on Sunday looking like a fool. Lastly, I talked with another local rabbi, and it sounds like one of his neighbors might be making donating a beater some time soon. When you step back and look at it, these are all, thank God, replaceable objects. The only thing that’s really upsetting to me is the tefillin.

Anyway, tomorrow is a partial fast day, so I’ve got to get to sleep to wake up before sunrise and eat. Tzum Kal (easy fast) to all those who are fasting!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


As I’m writing this, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is suffering from a serious stroke. Doctors are trying to save his life while he’s under general anesthetic, but when they say words like, “cerebral hemorrhage,” “paralysis,” and, “pray for a miracle,” I don’t think you can expect much. Regardless of one’s opinion of his actions over the last year as Prime Minister, we can always remember that he was the man of the hour in 1956, defeating the Egyptians at Mitla pass, again in 1973, when he saved Israel by encircling the invading Egyptian third army, again in 1982, when he expelled the PLO from Lebanon, again in the 90’s when he build up a permanent Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. While his political actions may have seemed to be foolhardy or despicable at times, it’s important to remember that, unlike other politicians of his generation, he always put Jewish interests first, never cared about his image, and never expressed pity or understanding for the Israel’s sworn enemies. Unlike his contemporaries, he still considered himself a Jew first, Israeli second. Sharon came from a generation that worked miracles, a generation that gathered in millions of disbursed Jews from around the world, greened deserts, drained swamps, and built a country. He leaves behind the dregs of Post-Zionism, names like Netanyahu, Peres, Olmert, and Beilin. Whether or not the recovery we’re all praying for comes to pass, his political life is probably over. All I can say is farewell to the last of the secular Zionists.