Let's Go For Coffee

Take Off Your Goggles

January 25, 2009

Gmail has recently introduced a new feature called "Mail Goggles." Google hopes that this new test-phase feature will save its users "angst" in preventing email regret.

The name "goggles" is derived from the effect of alcohol in impairing ones' ability to think properly before making effective decisions.

In order not to "type tipsy and regret it in the morning," the new feature requires you to solve a few easy math problems before hitting "send." If your logical thinking skills are intact, "Google is betting you're sober enough to work out the repercussions of sending that screed you just drafted."

Gmail engineer Jon Perlow, who designed Goggles with his own weaknesses in mind, says there is no shame in admitting that sometimes you need a little extra help.

"Sometimes I send messages I shouldn't send. Like the time I sent that late night email…" he wrote when announcing Mail Goggles on a company blog.

Reading about Google's new feature made me think how it's not only alcohol that blurs our logical thinking.

When intoxicated by rage or anger…when our vision is impaired by arrogance or self-importance…when our perspective is blurred by jealousy or envy…when our emotions or passions are running amok…At all these times our logical faculties are ineffective.

Perhaps we too need to program in ourselves some kind of "control setting" to make sure we don't drop a comment, or do an act that we will likely later bemoan.

And like Google's goggles, maybe we simply need to strengthen our own built in "tools" of self-control to evaluate whether our response is tinged by too much heated emotion.

Who's in the driver's seat at this point—out-of-control emotions, or calm, rational faculties?

In the heat of the moment it is often hard to compose ourselves enough to come up with an appropriate rational response. But if we can use gmail's template—stop, think and wait to react—many of us would be spared from firing off a statement or becoming enmeshed in an action we'll come to regret.

You can always say it or do it tomorrow, if you still feel the need. But chances are, right now you're being blinded from seeing the situation fully and properly…by your human goggles.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

How to Win This War

January 18, 2009 12:07 AM

Last year my teenage son was studying in a yeshiva in Israel. At one point, he called me midweek, and asked me how I would feel about him spending a Shabbat in Sderot.

Like most overprotective Jewish mothers, I adamantly refused, cautioning him about the danger. For added emphasis, I sprinkled in some Jewish guilt by telling him how worried I would be throughout Shabbat should he decide to go.

"That's just what I figured," my son's words put me at ease. But then with typical teenage brash impetuousness, he continued, "That's why I went this past Shabbat. I didn't tell you so that you wouldn't worry!" He then continued to describe his experience and how harrowing it was to have rockets fired during the Shabbat meal.

I've since thought about my discussion with my son. It is a normal reaction for any mother to wish to protect her child and keep him out of harm's way.

It is also a commendable reaction of a daring, yet empathetic teenager to want to spend Shabbat with fellow Jews who are undergoing trying times to demonstrate that he cares, feels their hardship and is one with them.

Of course, my son explained all those reasons to me. But still, as a mother, I wanted to protect my son. True, they, the people of Sderot, consisting of lots of other sons and daughters, were suffering. And true, I felt sorry for what they were enduring. But I still wanted my child out of harm's way.

As the war rages in Gaza, the danger faced by the Sderot community is eclipsed by what our soldiers now face on the battle ground. But the war has made me reconsider my initial reaction to my son—and, in general, our knee-jerk reaction to our fellow Jews, in any time of danger or need.

The very land that Israel evacuated only 3 short years ago, that was meant to lead to an enduring peace with the Palestinians, has become the launching ground for missiles and rockets against cites even further within Israel's interior. In a tragic twist of irony, many of the former Gush Katif expellees, who were so cruelly forced from the comfort of their homes and the lives that they spent such effort building, are now returning to these very grounds—as part of the Israeli troops, with the aim of fighting the very network and infrastructure of terror that has replaced their once thriving greenhouses.

Yet at the time of the evacuation, was there not somewhat of a sense of it being them, "the settlers," who needed to leave for the sake of presumed peace? Was there not a feeling of justifying their sacrifice for the sake of the greater whole, i.e. the rest of us?

But were the houses in Neve Dekalim any less of a home for their families than those in Tel Aviv or Rechovot?

When the communities in Sderot had rockets landing on them several times daily, for the last eight years, wreaking havoc on their businesses and bringing terror and emotional trauma that scarred countless lives, wasn't there this quiet acceptance of what was happening "over there"?

But is a peaceful Shabbat meal in Ashkelon or Beer Sheva more valuable than one in Sderot?

Or more recently, just a few weeks ago, when we heard of the "settlers" in Hebron being evicted from the Peace House that they legally purchased, wasn't there this resigned acceptance that Hebron—and its "radicals"—are just "problematic"?

Tongues are clucked and heads are sometimes nodded in sympathy, but is there perhaps a reticence, a feeling of it happening to another community, far removed from me and therefore somehow not nearly as relevant or tragic or pressing? And consequently, do these issues get reported on the back pages of our newspapers—if at all—because somehow in our minds it just doesn't relate to us?

To emerge fully victorious from this war—and to prevent it from recurring—I believe that we need to stop thinking in terms of us and them.

My teenaged son who spent that Shabbat in Sderot recently said to me, "Ma, I can understand the war being brought closer to the hearts of our Toronto community because we have two local boys serving in this ground assault. But the emphasis in our extra prayers and good deeds shouldn't be for the safety of our boys. All the soldiers are equally our own."

On a personal level, we each need to stop looking at the parts of the Jewish people as sects, or groups, or nationalities, or labels, with issues only really bothering us when it affects our circles. Wouldn't our responses be stronger and more concentrated if we all felt that we are all in this together? That we are truly one people, one body, thoroughly connected?

And nationally, we need to stop looking at our land as disjointed "pieces," with some parts closer to our heart and more precious to us than others. The land of Israel, like the people of Israel, is one organic whole. Every single inch, just like every single individual, is holy and precious.

Like the limbs of a body, we are all intricately connected in our fate.

Foremost in our minds and hearts must be the obvious recognition that body and soul, the people and the land, each inch and each member is one complete, organic whole that is precious to us all.

That is a winning message that will help us emerge victorious from this war—and prevent future ones from following.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

When Compassion is Cruel

January 11, 2009 8:10 AM

What's your reaction to this?

I am walking with my twelve year old and ten year old sons. Along comes a boy of similar age, but it becomes clear very quickly that, unlike my boys, he wants to pick a fight. There's something about my sons that bothers this stranger. Maybe it's their gaiety, or maybe it's their seriousness, or maybe it's just the fact that they dare to walk on the same sidewalk as him. Whatever it is, the disgust is apparent in this strange boy's eyes.

Before I know it, the bully begins his attack. At first it is only light slaps, but before long, it turns into merciless punches against my hapless boys.

And I?

Though I can easily subdue this boy, I am standing at the sidelines watching. I wait a full eight long minutes to stage any counterattack, during which time, his punches join with ferocious kicks, relentlessly attacking my boys. Ugly bruises are forming all over their bodies. And along with the physical scars and pain is the terrible emotional trauma.

So why do I stand at the sidelines waiting?

I have many reasons.

Firstly, if I became involved, this would not be a fair fight. After all, I am much stronger and bigger than this bully. And as it is, he is one person fighting against two of them. Secondly, I am hoping that this strange boy will come to his own realization that fighting is not a solution, and learn to live in peace with his neighbors. Thirdly, I know that this boy comes from a broken and abusive home, and therefore cannot be blamed for his frustrations. Fourthly, perhaps my sons are not wholly innocent, and in some way provoked his anger. And finally, I do not want any passersby to accuse me, an adult, of beating up a mere child.

So, instead, I wait patiently at the sidelines, while my children endure blows, pain, and humiliation.

Finally, when the fight has escalated and my children are lying on the ground, pounded by his merciless blows, I decide it is time to get involved. His opposition is formidable, but being physically bigger, I am defeating him. His eyes are still filled with rage and hate, but my physical prowess prevents him from doing too much to further harm my children.

After a couple of minutes, I decide to take a break. Has our fight ended? Not at all. The bully obviously intends to continue hurting my boys. But he has requested a break to enable him to do his daily duty. Every day he delivers a package of food to an elderly woman. "Give me twenty minutes and I'll be back," he growls at my still quivering children.

Of course, he will return reenergized, with stronger fists and refreshed vigor to continue his onslaught. But how can I let the elderly woman down...?

More than the blows and fear that I have allowed this bully to instil in my children's psyches and on their bodies, my actions (or more correctly, inactions), my rationalizing and legitimizing the "rights" of this bully has taught them a powerful lesson—about my warped value system.

I read reports about Israel agreeing to a daily three-hour cease fire, so that humanitarian aid can reach the Palestinian people. (At the heels of this news, the UN officials were already condemning Israel for not doing enough, blaming them for not providing sufficient time or a safe enough environment for the Palestinians, who were holed up in their homes, afraid to step outside to the shooting.)

Yesterday, (actually for the last eight years) I read about how the people of Sderot were pounded with rockets which wreaked terror and havoc on their communities, while the government of Israel stood at the sidelines. Now these rocket attacks have escalated to include cities all along Israel's Southern border.

And as I read these reports and so many others, I think about how the Jewish people are a nation full of kindness and full of compassion, so wary of war and violence.

But as I read, I also understood that there comes a time when misplaced kindness is the greatest cruelty—both for the actual damage that you are causing, as well as for the unfair message that you are sending.

Israel is at war. The enemy wishes to destroy her. Yet never in history has a nation that was fighting a war against its enemy behaved like Israel.

When the Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII, 220,000, women and children were wiped out. Half of them were fortunate to be incinerated immediately; the rest died a horrible and painful death over days and weeks. Yet, neither U.S. President Harry S. Truman or any other American leader have ever expressed any feelings of guilt or remorse for the loss of innocent lives. The American leaders understood then, and understand up to this day, that it was a necessary action, to spare the lives of many of their soldiers—which was, and needs to be, their foremost concern.

When the Allies fought the Germans in World War Two, cities with thousands of civilians were bombed relentlessly. The most conservative estimates put the German civilian casualty toll at over 1,000,000. It was obvious to all that Germany was the enemy—not only Hitler, or the Nazis, or the German soldiers, but the entire nation, who democratically elected these beasts and placed them in power.

In the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, 57% of the Arabs in P.A. areas put Hamas in power as they took 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber, thus agreeing with the stated mandate of the Hamas Charter legitimizing every possible means of terror to wipe the State of Israel off the face of this Earth.

A recent Palestinian Authority poll carried out by Ramallah-based pollster Khalil Shikaki shows that 84 percent of PA Arabs approved of the massacre at Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6th 2008, where eight students were brutally murdered.

The inevitable loss of innocent lives is always tragic. But when you are fighting a war, with your soldiers and citizens facing deadly dangers, your first and foremost concern is for your people. Not the enemy who have sworn to do everything in their means to eradicate you.

Is there a country in the world that willingly chooses to protect the lives of its enemy's citizens, while risking the lives of its own soldiers or citizens?

Yes. A country that is a victim to misplaced kindness—and thus knowingly perpetuates the worst possible cruelty to those it is meant to protect.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Praying for the Guy Behind You

Profile of a Passionate Soldier

January 7, 2009 8:07 PM

Margalit Mogilevsky and I share a carpool to bring our daughters to school every morning. We speak occasionally about technical arrangements, usually light and insignificant talk about accommodating slight changes in our schedule. But this past week, when I called Margalit to ask her if she would talk to me about her son, Levi Yitzchak (ben Margalit) who is currently serving in the paratrooper's unit that began the ground assault on Gaza, there was no light banter in our conversation.

"My stomach is always in knots," the strain is apparent and Margalit's voice sounds far away. "This is something that you live with, but you never get used to. You sleep with it, you wake up with it. It is a feeling that is always there. It never leaves you." She sighs, but forces herself to continue a few seconds later, this time, her voice much stronger, "But I know that he'll be okay. G‑d is watching him."

Margalit continues, "I just keep hoping that Israel will do what it has to do—completely destroy its enemies, so they don't arm themselves again and again. I fervently hope that what Levi is doing will be made worthwhile. Then all this will be justified."

In almost a conspiratorial undertone, Margalit confides in me Levi's plans for the future, "You know, Chana, I've spoken to him often about his future. After all this is in his past, Levi wants to settle down and go back to yeshivah. One day, he hopes to become a shaliach, a Chabad emissary."

Levi Yitzchak Mogilevsky is only twenty years old. Together with the rest of his family, he grew up in our quiet, almost sleepy, suburban Thornhill community. But there was a passion burning in him. Levi decided to join the Israeli army close to two years ago and trained in the special forces.

"Levi was always so passionate as a kid," describes his older brother, Rafi, who is twenty-two. "He always wanted to do everything fully, one hundred percent of the way. He translated his passion into the army. He wasn't satisfied to just volunteer to join a unit; it needed to be the special forces. He trained for more than a year, as opposed to regular training of six to eight months. The training was mentally and physically gruelling, but he was set on his goal.

"Levi loves people," Rafi continues. "He is great at boosting the morale of everyone around him, helping them to get to the finish line.

"And he loves the Jewish people. He is passionate about defending his brothers and sisters...his land...our land. Levi's got such a big heart," the brotherly pride is evident in Rafi's voice.

"The last time I spoke to him, Levi was on the Gaza border," Rafi turns very serious. "He was in good spirits. Of course, he was rightfully nervous."

Margalit interjects here, "But I sensed he was more worried about us being worried for him than he was about himself. That is Levi."

Rafi continues, "Levi described how everyone in his unit was praying. 'But they aren't praying for themselves,' Levi clarified. 'All the guys are praying for one another. Each one prays that the guy behind him, and the guy in front of him will come out of this okay.'

"He described the amazing connection that they have for each other...the amazing quality only found in the Jewish people."

And how is a brother who obviously has such love and pride for his younger brother coping right now?

"How do I cope?" Rafi asks. "I keep praying. We have a lot of faith. They'll be okay. Levi is an avid believer in what he is doing. He wants to have a hand in protecting the Jewish people and G‑d will protect him."

"Levi's younger brother, Avi, who is 19, is now in a yeshivah in Israel," Margalit tells me. "Avi and Levi are very close. In every spare moment, Avi's been going around encouraging as many Jews as he can to put on tefillin, as a spiritual protection for all the soldiers—beside for Avi's own extra prayers and Torah studies.

"I just spoke with Avi," Margalit continues. "He gave me so much encouragement. 'Ma you must be joyful,' he tells me. 'We must have optimistic confidence that all will be good. Happiness breaks through barriers.'"

The struggle is almost evident in Margalit's voice, the tension of a mother worried about her son; she totters at the precipice, vacillating between fear and faith, torn between terrifying worry and confident joy.

But the latter emerges victorious, as Margalit concludes confidently, "All will be good!"

It's got to be good. Levi has many bright plans in store for his future.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

A Mother's Soldier

A candid discussion with a Toronto mother about her son who is serving in the Israeli army

January 4, 2009 8:46 AM

War. Guns. Bullets. Combat Officers. Tanks. Paratroopers. Unfortunately, we've all become far too familiar with these terms.

And yet, as familiar as I am, for me, as for many of us in the Western world, the whole scenario remains a vague blur.

And as small a nation the Jewish people is – and though I may know people who currently are, were or will be serving in the Israeli army – it's still all about them.

Fighting far away, over there. Across a vast ocean.

As connected as I may feel to our Homeland, as much as I feel so much a part of one large extended Jewish family, it remains in safe cognitive dissonance territory.

As an editor at this site, over the last few days, me and my colleagues have been working round the clock to gather personal reflections, thoughts, life scenes and interviews with the people on the scene, personally affected by the current war—precisely to make it more personal. I was especially excited when we found a soldier on the frontlines who began texting us his regular blog and provided me, and all of us, with a real live human soldier, among the sea of soldiers, who could communicate the personal thoughts and emotions that were coursing through his veins.

And yet, still, for me at least, there was still an element of far away, over there-ness. The war hadn't yet been brought home.

Until today.

This past week, an email was sent out to our entire community by my father, Rabbi Dovid Schochet, our community rabbi, making us aware of two of "our own" boys who were stationed on the front, asking us to increase in prayers and good deeds in their and all the soldiers' merit.

"Our" two boys, Avraham Meyer (ben Leah Naomi) Ostfeld and Levy Yitzchack (ben Margalit) Mogilevsky, are in their early twenties. They grew up in our Toronto community, where their families currently live, just a stone's throw from my own home. Yet the boys decided, on their own, to volunteer for the Israeli army; and in their respective special divisions – they were chosen from amongst many others in training – both are preparing to be at the very fore of the ground assault—if and when it may come.

I reached one mother, Lily Ostfeld, last night. Lily and her husband, Eron, are well-known members of the Toronto Chabad community, as well as the international Chabad community, for their philanthropy. Here, Lily is known for her modest grace, elegance and open warmth, generously offering her beautiful, spacious home to host any one of our many large communal events.

An AP photo of Avraham Meir Ostfeld on actual duty
An AP photo of Avraham Meir Ostfeld on actual duty

"What is it like for you to have a son poised to begin the ground assault? To come face to face with his enemies?" I ask Lily.

"Avrohom Meyer was actually serving in an intense Mazlan battalion in the North. He switched very recently to the elite Golani brigade where he felt that the atmosphere was less intense, less rivalry and there was more of a sense of camaraderie amongst the unit. At this point," here Lily sighs, "I guess I've got mixed feelings about his switch, since he might very well be involved in ground combat."

"How did it all begin?" I wonder.

Lily speaks openly and frankly. "Three years ago, Avrohom Meyer was studying in CRC, now Meorot Chabad, a Lubavitch yeshivah in Israel, when he decided to volunteer for the army. He is well aware of the faults of the Israeli government in the whole peace plan and fully understands why many people are disillusioned with the effectiveness of the government in providing adequate security for its citizens," Lily pauses. "But he has always said to me, 'Our brothers and sisters are in danger. Someone has to go to the front line to protect them. Just because the government puts the land in peril, someone still has to defend them.'"

One of those "someones" is now Avrohom Meyer.

How does a mother, living a comfortable life in Toronto, feel about her son's decision?

"I'll be honest with you, Chana." Lily confides. "I can't tell you how many times I tried to talk him out of this. I can't say that I've supported his decision. I still have reservations and I admit that I was not a fan. And yet, I admire his determination and I'm so impressed by his motives.

"And the way that I hear him talking now—he's changed. He's grown. Life in the army makes them grow up really quickly. They gain a certain…" Lily grasps for the word, "a certain wisdom and knowledge.

"Look, here is a Toronto boy, growing up in a sheltered, cushy environment. And suddenly, he's faced with real questions, with life staring him in the face, and situations that he needs to ask for guidance, from mentors.

"We speak to him very often—probably three or four times a day! I call him every night at 1:30AM, which is 8:30 in the morning Israel time, to hear what is happening, or if he has been informed of the day's schedule.

"It's important for him to speak to us. He can talk to us differently than to his katzin (army officer)—even though he's got a great officer who's a former expellee from Gush Katif and from whom he's learned so much—but there are still things that you want to say to your mother or your father.

"He's talking differently. He speaks about preparing his mindset, being especially focused in his goals and his mission and how he needs to be ready—not only physically but emotionally too—to face the enemy. He's done his briefing and his training and a lot of work on himself emotionally to be in the right frame of mind."

"And, you, as a mother, Lily?" I ask. "How are you faring? What do you do when you feel nervous or scared?"

Without a pause, Lily continues, "I remind myself of this:

"I know he is there with his chitas [book containing a Chumash, Psalms, and Tanya, recommended by the Rebbe for extra safety—C.W.] safely nestled in his bullet-proof vest, and with his Rebbe dollars.

"I know the Abishter firt de veltG‑d runs the world.

"And…I say my Tehillim (Psalms)."

Almost as an afterthought, Lily says, "Please, Chana, write that the more Tehillim that is said for our boys, the more mitzvot that are done—it's so important for them…and the more encouragement we all feel."

Because really truly, there is no them.

It is all about us. Every one of us.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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