The other day I was talking to a lady, let’s call her Rhoda, and said ” Hi Rhoda, I am meeting Zack tomorrow.”  She looked at me a little confused and asked “What is tomorrow?” to which I responded “It’s Wednesday.”   She looked even more perplexed.  That is when I hit my head with my palm (mentally) because I realized that once again I made an assumption that clearly was not valid.

Briefly, several weeks ago, Rhoda connected me to Zack as a potential client.  Zack and I have exchanged messages sporadically.  In the meantime, Zack had to go away, I was away, and so we finally re-connected and agreed to meet on the following Wednesday.  Then, when I saw Rhoda, I remembered that she was the one who introduced me to Zack and that is why I mentioned Zack to her.  However, during the last couple of weeks, Rhoda met and talked to many people,  so the last thing in her mind must have been the fact that she  had introduced me to Zack.  When I started talking to her, she had no idea what I was referring to.  My implicit assumption that she would remember the episode without any prompts from me was just wrong.

My point is that we make assumptions all the time, at all levels.  The US government is spending trillions of dollars on the assumption that we will pay our  taxes. (Of course, this is a little bit more than an assumption—given that it has the power to enforce this).  When we book a flight and schedule a cab to take us to the airport, we assume that the cab will actually show up in time.  Of course, once in a while the cab does not show up (even if it is Uber) and we must scramble to make alternate arrangements.

Importantly, we make our assumptions automatically, and frequently without sufficient or erroneous information.  One my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein wrote a book that became one of the iconic works of the hippy movement entitled “Stranger In A Strange Land.”  How he came to write this book is an interesting story that I may relate in another blog.  However, in this book, Heinlein introduced the concept of a professional witness.  (While many of the concepts and ideas that Heinlein dreamed about became a reality, this is not one of them.) In a scene in the book, one of the characters points to a house up on a hill and asks a professional witness, “What color is that house?” and she responds “This side of the house is white.”  In other words, when we see a house with a white side, most of us assume that the whole house is white.  However, the professional witness does not make assumptions but recites only facts:  she sees that one side of the house is white so that is what she states.

It is important that we are aware of the assumptions that we make and try to analyze them to see if they are in fact correct or not because they affect our lives and the lives of others.  For example, Hillcrest has many activities that may be religious, educational or entertaining.  One of these is the daily minyan.  We (and like Rabbi Kogan, when I say “we,” I am also talking to myself) have heard many times that the daily minyan is very important function of this shul.  Studies have shown that whether a shul has a daily minyan or not is directly correlated to whether the shul will survive or not.   We know that our minyan is in trouble, and yet many of don’t support it as much as we should.

I am an amateur social scientist (and I emphasize AMATEUR) and over the years I have observed the pattern of daily attendance at the daily minyan.  I have come to the conclusion that frequently we do not have sufficient people at the minyan is not BECAUSE we do not care, or we do not have time, but because we make an incorrect assumption.    I came to this conclusion because what I see typically is the following sequence: (1) the attendance falls to dismal levels; (2) the Rabbi, president, Chairpersons of the religion committee, etc.  make strong statements urging the congregation to attend the daily minyan; (3) 20+ people show up at the daily minyan for the next couple of days; (4) the people who are not regulars look around and see 20+ people and come to the conclusion that the attendance is now back to normal and they are no longer needed; (5) the attendance starts dropping until (6)   the attendance falls to dismal levels.  Thus the problem lies in the fact that, except for the regulars, we, individually, make the assumption that if one of us does not attend, it will not matter.  But of course, if many of us make the same assumption and drop out, the assumption becomes a fallacy.

Moreover, the daily minyan is only one of the examples.  Almost all the other activities in the shul need our support.  Like with the minyan, we assume that there will be plenty of others who will step up and do all the preparatory work necessary to make the activity a success.  However, while we do have a dedicated core of people who do all the work, they do need our help and we should provide it when we can.  Don’t assume that there will be enough people to make an activity a success, but instead ask if your help and your expertise is needed.









When I started this blog, I have indicated that I am expressing only my own views and not that of Hillcrest Jewish Center.  In fact, some of the views I have expressed in my previous postings are very personal indeed, much more so than I may have originally intended.  Here is another very personal experience.

My wife and I came to the US separately, with our own families and we started dating only here, in New York.  When we left the old country, we were leaving for Israel and it was only by chance that we ended up here instead. We first set foot in Israel when we first went on vacation together (in fact it was the first official vacation from a job for both of us).   Our trip was very memorable for both of us for many reasons.  Since then we have taken many other vacations and I have a hard time remembering some of them but I always remember details of this first trip.  For example, I remember getting off the plane and looking at bullet holes in the windows all over the airport (this was just three weeks after a crazed Japanese man got off a plane and sprayed the airport and everybody in sight with a submachine gun).  At that point in my life I was much less involved in Jewish affairs in general, religious or otherwise.  Yet, what I remember very clearly is that moment when I got off the plane, I looked around, took in the sights and smells, and all of the sudden this feeling of well-being took hold of me, a feeling of being HOME.  I was not alone in my reaction.  My wife felt the same way to the point that when we came back to the US, she announced (to the consternation of my parents) that she was ready to move to Israel.

Since then we visited Israel several more times (including the HJC trip with Rabbi Radler) and we still get the same feeling.  It is really hard to explain why this is.  The country was beautiful the first time we went, and it gets more beautiful and interesting every time we go.  But we have gone to other places that are more spectacular.  It is not that the Israelis are so friendly.  We met some Israelis who are and some who have no use for us (including one of our first tour guides?!)  It is just one of those ephemeral things that cannot be explained.  I know that many of you have been to Israel as well.  I would like to hear from you—have you or do you feel the same way?  (The block letters are my subtle hint that I would like get some feedback and make sure that I am just not talking to myself).

Sadly, but not surprisingly, not everybody feels the same way.  A close friend brought to my attention an article (that can be found here) which reports on a survey that asked American Jews whether the destruction of Israel would be a personal tragedy for them.  According to the article “ among American Jews age 65 and older, 80 percent responded that it would. Among those under 35, however, that number dropped to a mere 50 percent. A more recent Pew Research Center Portrait of American Jews confirmed a greater ambivalence about Israel among America’s young Jews.”

Obviously these results are very disconcerting.  While we try to support Israel any way we can, our youth are not so involved.  What can we do?

While I have not seen any studies or even anecdotal data on the subject, it seems to me that people who have actually gone to Israel, either with family, or a youth trip – for example as part of a Birthright trip, and who have seen what Israel looks like, experience its vibrancy, optimism and felt its magic and spiritual allure do feel differently about Israel.  People who see what is going on there, realize that the whole DBS movement is completely erroneous and misguided.

I believe that we must continue to support Israel not only by buying bonds, buying Israeli products, attending the Israeli day parade bit also by supporting programs that send our young people in Israel.  We must make an effort to change these statistics. Passover is around the corner and the Seders present a good opportunity to have a discussion with younger people. If they have been to Israel, it would be a good opportunity to remind them of their (hopefully positive) experiences there. We could start a dialog about what could or should be done to promote Israel to the younger generation. And we could discuss with them what would it mean to them if there was no more Israel.


First of all, thanks to all of you who have commented on my original blog, “on line” and “off.”   Based on your comments, I have changed my mind about the whole issue.

Before I go into it, I will start with a joke that. like many others, is funny but is too close to the truth.  In  fifties there was a shortage of many supplies, not only in Eastern but probably all over Europe, to the point if a person saw a line at a store, he joined without even knowing what the line was for.  One day, somewhere in Russia, a rumor was spread that the next day the butcher store will have some beef.  so sure enough, people starting standing in line outside the butcher at 3 in the morning.  By 8 o’clock, when the butcher store opened, there some 100 people in line,  The manager came out. and said announced that the beef was on the way but there was not enough for everybody so only non-Jews will get any.  35 people left grumbling.  At 11, the manager came out again and announced that the allotment was going to be smaller than expected so there will be enough only for veterans.  40 people left.  At 1 o’clock, the manager came out once more and said that the allotment was even smaller and only veterans of World War II will receive any,  some fifteen people left  The manager then told the remaining ten people somewhat sheepishly that the WW II  veterans went through a lot and will understand that there are still shortages and that in fact no beef was expected at all.  As the WW II veterans started to go home, one turned to the other and said ”  Those damned Jews came out ahead again!”

The truth is that, after keeping their borders closed tight shut (remember the Iron curtain?) in the mid-sixties some of the Eastern European countries, including Romania, but not Russia, opened its borders by a small crack and allowed to Jews and only Jews to go to Israel.  I do not know exactly the details of this happened and if anybody knows, I would love to hear them.  I heard rumors that Israel paid the governments money for each person.  Our parents were tired of living in fear and misery, and so, we packed up our meager belongings (we were not allowed to take any money, jewelry or anything else of value), sold the rest and left.  Watching and then being part of this process was somewhat strange.   When I was in first grade, about 25% of the class was Jewish (this does not reflect the number of Jews in the whole city).  Over the next eight years this percent kept shrinking.  By the time i left,  it was left then 5%.

However, the large majority of the people did not get the choice of leaving and had to stay.  in terms of the joke, we really came out ahead and therefore the non-Jews had no reason to think of us kindly.   From one day to another, we disappeared, and they wen on with their lives.  I can imagine that for the first couple of years some individuals were remembered, fondly or not.  ” I used to go Dr. Steier before he left for israel.  He was a good doctor and I missed him.  But this young doctor just opened an office and he is alright.”  ” Remember that beautiful house that Mr. Roth lived in, right in the center?  My wife’s first cousin’s nephew knew the chauffer driving  the police captain.  I gave the police captain some money. two chickens and a pig and I got the house!”

As people got older they started forgetting us slowly so by now few people remember at us at all in most instances.

A couple of months ago I came across an old class mate of mine on Facebook.  Fifty years ago we would be in the same classes together, here a college in New York and we were together for four years every day.  But when I contacted him, he did not remember me.  I felt a little dejected but it was no big deal. He did not make a conscious decision to erase me out of his life, I just faded from his memory.   Reading the comments to my original blog, I realized, that just like my class mate, the people from Eastern Europe probably did not make a conscious effort to forget us. They just went on normally and faded out.  Yes, they did demolish some synagogues and other building or found new uses for them, but then what should they have done if there was nobody to make use of them?











I recently visited the Jewish Museum of Florida in South Beach. If you are in the area and have time, I highly recommend it. One section of the museum is devoted to the early Jewish Floridians. In my ignorance, I thought that Jews started going down there in the 1950’s but, in fact they have been down there during the Civil War. In 1900 there were six established congregations in Florida, with the first two being located in Pensacola and Jacksonville.

Even more interesting, these Jews were washed unto the shores of Florida from all over Eastern Europe, like so many bewildered Jonah’s. There were people from Romania and Hungary, Poland and Greece, Spain and Turkey. Some arrived there directly while others went first to Cuba, Argentina or Brazil.

As I was reading their stories, I remembered several seemingly unconnected events. Several years ago, I was visiting Transylvania with my family. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a place—it is located today in Northwestern Romania, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. For several hundred years up to 1918 and for short but disastrous period between 1939 and 1945 it was part of Hungary). I was only a couple of miles from the village of Crasna. Since one of our torahs came from this village, I thought it may be a good idea to take some pictures of its synagogue and hang it somewhere in the Ferkoff chapel. When we got to the middle of the village, we stopped and I went to the nearest store and in my broken Hungarian asked the people in the store where could I find the Temple. They looked me in confusion and asked in turn: “what Temple?” “ The Jewish Temple” I said. They looked at each other (they were in their thirties and forties) and one of them said: “ There is no Jewish Temple here.” “ How about the rabbi’s house?” ( I was grasping at straws by now). “No, they said, there is no rabbi’s house.” (In fact it was clear to me that they were not sure what a rabbi was.) Needless to say, I was very dejected. I returned to our car and we drove off. In other cities there is a valiant effort being made by Jews, with American help, to keep some synagogues open, at least as museums (including one in Simleu being maintained with the help of my mother-in-law, Elly Gross) but it is clear that synagogues have disappeared throughout most of Eastern Europe.

Another incident occurred in my office, here in New York. A man and a woman(again, they looked like they were in their thirties or forties) came in and they started asking me some questions about intellectual property. After each of my answers, they bent their heads together and had a heated discussion. After a couple of minutes, I realized that they spoke Hungarian. I pointed to my business card and told them that I also spoke some Hungarian, although I could not explain the intricacies of Intellectual Property law in that language. We talked a little in Hungarian and I found out that the man was from Hungary and she was from Transylvania. During this conversation, they looked with some confusion at my business card, and finally, the woman asked, “How is it that you speak Hungarian?” I brushed her question off and went on with the business at hand. (By the way, after that first meeting, I never saw them again.)

The woman’s question troubled me then and it still does. My official name, Tiberiu, is a Romanian name. My last name, Weisz, is a very common Jewish last name in that part of the world and was used by families in Hungary, including Transylvania. (I am not sure that the actress Rachel Weisz speaks Hungarian but her father does). Therefore, up to about 1970, everybody looking at my name could tell that I must be a Jew from Transylvania and in all likelihood spoke Romanian and Hungarian. However, the two people who came to my office and were originally from the same area didn’t!

Many books have been movies and several movies have been made depicting life Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the mass migration that spread Eastern European Jews all over the world. However I have not seen any discussions about how are they remembered in the lands that they have left. The answer seems to be that they have been forgotten. OH, yes, Jews are still being used by politicians and ultra-nationalistic groups as scapegoats every time there is a problem. However, it seems that nobody remembers them for what they were, what they contributed to the lands, and the voids they left in the lives of the people.

The reason this whole thing is bothering me is because I can’t make up my mind whether the fact that the Jews have been forgotten in Eastern Europe is a good thing or a bad thing. I would like to hear from you—what do you think?


T-shirts with messages or graphics have been a popular means of expression for many years.  People frequently buy T-shirts because  the messages printed on them resonate with their own beliefs. I bet many of you have T-shirts that you have kept for years, either because you liked their message or they reminded you of a person or event.

One of my favorite T-shirts had on it the Hebrew words “G-d said …LET THERE BE LIGHT.” The Hebrew words bracketed four equations expressing Einstein’s theory of relativity (which relates mass to the speed of light). I bought this shirt in Old Jerusalem. Another one of my favorite T-shirts has a picture of me with flowing white hair and beard looking over the sea–like Charlton Heston in Exodus. It was given to me by my younger son on my birthday.

Many T-shirts are out covering various topics and I have started playing attention to the T-shirts somehow related to Judaism. For example, one popular T-shirt that I have seen frequently in various “flavors” attempts to explain our holidays. The message is somewhat simple and but distasteful: ” They tried to kill us; we fought back; now let’s eat.”

In my most recent vacation there was one T-shirt that caught my eye. It was trying to provide a lesson in comparative religions by describing the response of various religions to a disaster by providing quips for each religion. It dutifully provided a couple of words from Christians, Moslems, Hindus and so on.

For Judaism, the quip was ” Why does everything bad happen to us?” The phrase started me thinking. Yes, we did and are going through many calamities for the last five thousand years and so we do have reason to complain. But is that who we really are? Do we just stand around a complain every time something bad happens to us? And what about this reference to “us?’ Is it true that always view things only from our perspective and pay no attention to anybody else?

I have been mulling over these questions. Clearly, at least to me, the answer all of these questions is NO. We just don’t stand around and do nothing but complain. Instead, we face disasters and other problems head on. We try to solve problems as best as we can and we so whether it affects or others.

But what else do we do? I still felt that I was missing something. Then one night I went to services and I heard the rabbi discuss how each of the Jacob’s sons were names when they were born. And when it came to Yehuda (the word Yid comes from this name), Leah praised G-d and thanked him for granting her another son. This was my answer– When faced with a disaster, we act and when it’s over, we give thanks. I think these are the concepts that describe us, rather than just waling and complaining.

I would like to hear what do you think? What would you put on a T-shirt?  Maybe we should have a contest and come up with an official Hillcrest Jewish Center T-shirt !


During the last couple of months there has been a lot of coverage of a lion whimsically called Cecil, and his demise.  While the printed media had its share of this coverage, it is believed that the digital press went into a frenzy over the matter, at least partially because pictures of lions look so good on a monitor.

As far as I understand it, an arm of National Geographic has been monitoring a pride of lions for some twenty years with one of the pride cubs growing up into a very photogenic adult male who was the darling of many people touring the particular reservation.  Apparently a nefarious guide for hunters lured Cecil  away from the reservation to be shot by a hunter.  To make matters worst, this hunter happened to be an American dentist. The dentists’ house and office was surrounded by angry mobs to the point that he had to go into hiding and he only recently reopened his practice.

The furor that followed in the international  press was deafening,  The affair had only the delicious details loved by the press: a majestic animal, a rich ugly American, poor African natives, etc.  The government of Kenya demanded the extradition of the hunter. An alien from outer space would be truly puzzled or amazed by these events would probably believe that we all the whole world leaves in peace and harmony with an occasional lion being shot, causing international indignation.

Now, I have nothing against lions or animals in general.  In fact I am the accidental owner of a cat myself (but that’s another story).  However, while the press was so busy with Cecil and his demise, (once again) thousands of men, women and children were running for their lives.  Was there a coverage of the beginning of this horrible exodus?  Virtually (pun intended) nonexistent.  We heard about some people approaching Italy and Greece in overcrowded boats and there was some pale speculations that some of them have drowned, but not much more. There was very little of any discussion of where were these people coming from and why were they running again.  Only after the press was sated with the Cecil story, did start paying attentions to this problem– a problem, everybody agrees, will have major effects on the countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Moreover, this was not the only calamity.  Many other people including small children in the Asian continent and elsewhere were being tortured, maimed and killed?

And then there are the events going on Israel that the rest of the world ignores completely, as if Israel was on another planet.  As I am writing this blog, I just heard that a rabbi and his wife were murdered in cold blood in front of their four children. No mention of this event is found in the general press so far.

These acts  should horrified a sane mind.  In view of these, acts, I cannot help but wonder:  “Was it really so important to spend so much time, effort and resources on the Cecil matter, instead of covering other tragedies?”  Is the life of a lion more important then the life of a child, or the parents of four infants?

On the other hand,  I am also aware of the many natural wonders of the world that are disappearing daily.  I worry whether my grandchild will have the opportunity to see a lion, a pristine meadow, an unpolluted ocean.

So how do we strike an equilibrium between these competing factors and how do we let the press now of what we think it is important?

Let me know your thoughts.  As always, my brain is open.


Yes, I did say that I will stay away from items that relate to politics but this issue has penetrated our lives so deeply that, I feel, this blog would seem callous if I don’t write about it.  However, I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of the issue; that has been done already by many others–by people who know what they are talking about.  Instead, I would like to address another, obviously related, issue that has been bothering me for a while.  This issue came to my attention very recently when I checked out the Hillcrest Facebook page with an entry proclaiming ” STOP IRAN NOW.”  Another recent entry provides a link to a newspaper with the headline

Sen. Schumer, now’s the time to be a true guardian of Israel…and America

Whether I agree or disagree with these sentiments is not the issue.  The issue is whether it is proper for Hillcrest JC to take a position on this issue and if so, what should Hillcrest or its members do about.  (I am not the only one who raised this issue at least privately.  There are other members who have wondered about this question as well.)  After all, the Constitution (including Article VI and the First Amendment) requires a clear separation between church and state.  This principle is a marvelous invention (in my opinion) and it is surprising that it was adapted at all. Probably all of the authors (or their ancestors) of the Constitution originated from England, but that country does not seem to follow this principle (especially since there is a Church of England).  Many other countries do not abide by this principle either.  Some of you may remember a relatively recent presentation about a city in which the Chinese government has spent millions of dollars to restore some synagogues. However, when the same government turned down permission to hold services at these synagogues on the grounds that Judaism is not a state recognized religion!

So what does this have to with the Iran treaty?  Simply this.  The principle of separation of church and state implies that the government does not interfere with the affairs of a religious organization, and in return, the religious organization does not interfere with the government.

I have wrestled with this matter for several weeks and looked to see what others are saying about them.  It has  not gone unnoticed that the Iran Treaty issue has ignited very heated arguments within our people, and as always in such situation, has created deep divisions between our various groups.  Many articles describing these arguments and various participants appeared in the Jewish Week.  However, one statement resonates with my feelings.  As quoted in the Jewish Week, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said” My politics remain with me but there are exceptions and this is an exception.  This is life and death for Israel.”

I agree with Rabbi Lookstein. Under these conditions, we must be able to do everything in our power to to educate our leaders on what we believe the issues are in this particular case and the potential consequences of the actions of our leaders.

In addition, being a second generation Holocaust survivor,  I cannot help asking myself whether it would have made a difference if our people in U.S., Canada, U.K and elsewhere would have been more active in educating the leaders of these countries about  the events in Europe during World War II.

I am looking forward to your comments.  As a famous mathematician used to said:  “My brain is open!”