“When young people ask me about death, I tell them: ‘We die a little everyday. When you get to be my age, you get used to it.’” – Nonagenerian Richard Meyers

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Overheard in Sonoma


(For Leah Garchik’s back-page-of-the-San Francisco Chronicle feature.)

Ms. Garchik,

I was walking on the west side of Sonoma Plaza this morning when I passed a middle-aged touristy couple, just as the man was saying to his female companion, “Someday, she’ll know what beer is.” His words are a mystery to me, and I hope amusing to your readers.

Be well,


History Lesson: Chain


adtn“Everything you do, here and at home, is part of Sonoma Valley Jewish history.”

That’s what I like to tell the students in our synagogue’s Hebrew school, and it’s also one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.

The relevant piece of Torah comes at the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are commanded to bring the season’s first fruits to “the place where G?d will establish His name” — meaning, in later years, the Temple in Jerusalem. Part of the agricultural primacy ceremony involves reciting the formulaic history of the Jewish people we review every year at Pesach, beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” and recalling the slavery in Egypt before ending with “And now I’m here, in this land, with these fruits.” (Those aren’t the actual words, but they’re close.)

To know where you stand, it’s important to know where you’ve been. Read more »

Pithyism #65+


Once you turn 30 (or thereabouts), no one calls you an “old soul.”



Never thought I’d hear Safeway’s in-house music channel play “London Calling” this morning. But I sang along with it anyway.

Vive La Difference


From Josee Wolff, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary:

“…The pessimist observes a situation, generalizes about the bad aspects, and interprets them as a permanent and constant feature. In contrast, the optimist observes the same situation and sees the bad aspects, but particularizes them and interprets them as a temporary obstacle that can be overcome.”

Lamed-Vavniks, Unite!


adtnAre you a Lamed-Vavnik?

According to Jewish tradition, there are 36 exceptionally righteous (read: supermensch-like) people in the world in each generation, and without whom the world would cease to exist. (In Hebrew counting, 36 is “lamed vav” (lamed = 30, vav = six)). The thing about Lamed-Vavniks is that they are secretly righteous; they do their deeds under the cover of anonymity.

That type of exemplary behavior is modeled for us in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, according to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859). The portion begins with G?d telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron to light the menorah inside the Tabernacle — where no one outside could see it. “This was a matter of the inmost heart,” writes the Kotzker. “All the great things have as their central idea something that is hidden and concealed in the heart — with no outward manifestation whatsoever!”

This idea is also substantiated by Pirke Avot, a collection of wise sayings of the sages and early rabbis: “Do not be as servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward, rather be as servants who are serving the master not in order to receive a reward.” That reward could include recognition via Facebook posts or “bragging rights” — both of which are incompatible with the concept of the Lamed-Vavnik.

May we all merit to serve each other in quiet humility, and with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity.

My Letter to the Mayor of London


Here is what I said to Mayor Sadiq Khan via his website. You may want to write your own.

Dear Sir,

Please accept my humble condolences and healing prayers for those injured and killed in the recent terror attack; I hope this finds you otherwise well. I realize you are very busy, but I just wanted to take a moment to apologize for the actions of “our” president. Not all of us voted for him; not all of us share his boorish opinions or worldview. Many of my countrymen/women are otherwise fine people, and many of them are trying their hardest to mitigate the damage he is doing to our country and the world. I can only hope you don’t judge us all by the actions of one man, even if he claims to be our elected representative.

Be well, and thank you for your time,

Neal Ross Attinson

Confronting Evil


(From a friend, for Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day.)

April 15, 1965
יוסף דוב סולוביצ’יק

Dear Dr. Vogel:

I received your letter. Of course, you may quote me.

The gist of my discourse was that Judaism did not approach the problem of evil under the speculative – metaphysical aspect. For such an inquiry would be a futile undertaking. As long as the human mind is unable to embrace creation in its entirety and to gain an insight into the very essence and purposiveness of being as such it would not succeed in its attempt to resolve the dilemma of evil. Read more »

Midrash Mishpatim: Do, Be. Do, Be, Do



Which comes first: the doing or the understanding?

That’s the issue posed by Exodus 24:7, the Israelites’ reply to Moses’ reading of the record of the Covenant, or Ten Commandments (which we learned about in last week’s portion): “All that YHVH has spoken, we will do and we will hear/understand (kol asher dibber YHVH na’aseh v’nishma).”

Taken at face value, this seems counterintuitive. How can we do something we don’t understand? But Rabbi Harold Kushner, writing in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, says “There are many things in life that we cannot appreciate before we have lived them and come to appreciate their value. We must do them first (na’aseh) and only afterward realize why (nishma).”

Meditation. Trying new experiences or cuisines. Even raising children. All of these things and more can only be understood in the doing, over time. The actual and full understanding comes afterward.

May we each merit to understand what we do, even if we’re not (at first) sure why.

5 Thoughts: Resist!


resistancesymbolI DON’T USUALLY GET POLITICAL. But this is no time for silence.

I did not vote for the current President. I find him arrogant, cruel and stupid. His policies, appointments, and disdainful comments about our institutions and values are fascistic and frightening to me.

Fortunately, some people are fighting back:

1. WTF Just Happened Today? Stay informed with this daily update of things bad (and good) related to the reigning regime.

2. Indivisible: A Practical Guide: A strategy (and tactics) for organizing the Resistance. (Takeaway: Be like the Tea Party, only progressive.)

3. Bend the Arc | A Jewish Partnership for Justice: A small but doughty band of Jews and allies who have Seen This Before.

4 Find your Senator / Find your Representative: This is where some of the real power lies. Make your voice heard in the Senate and House. Daily. (According to Indivisible, phone calls and office visits are the best way to do that.)

5. https://twitter.com/RoguePOTUSStaff (you’ll need a Twitter account): Dispatches purporting to be from a rogue official on the President’s staff. Enlightening if true.

And remember: take care of yourself and don’t pass along rumors!

KCBS: Stop the Banter!


(Sent today via email.)

To whom it may concern,

As a KCBS listener for more than 20 years (and a former radio reporter/announcer at KSRO in Santa Rosa), I’m writing to comment on your (apparently) new policy of having hosts and commentators banter between segments.

In short: Please stop.

I understand the desire to “humanize” newscasts, but frankly, it’s grating on the ear and borderline unprofessional. It also has me talking back to the radio (“WHO CARES??? GIVE ME NEWS!”) on an hourly basis. I tune in for news and weather (and occasionally traffic), not banter.

So please rethink your policy. You would make at least one listener VERY happy.

Thank you, and be well,

Neal Ross Attinson

PS: Other than the above complaint, I think you are doing a fine job presenting the news in a straightforward, no-spin manner. I particularly like the in-depth stories at the bottom of the hour. And StarDate (sp?) is awesome, too. I try to never miss one. Keep up the good work!

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