The Eternal Lights of Dr. Henry Heimlich

Dr. Heimlich, who passed away on December 18, 2016 at the age of 96 stoked many lights in this world. He is best known for his Heimlich Maneuver, however it was his other inventions that saved the most lives.

A Humble Beginning

Dr. Heimlich was born in Delaware and grew up during the depression in a working-class Jewish family in the Bronx. His father’s family immigrated from Hungary and his mother’s from Russia. At the age of 20, when working as a summer camp counselor, Dr. Heimlich had his first opportunity to begin what would become a lifetime of saving lives. A train derailment caused a fireman to become trapped under the wheel of one of the train cars, which was standing in a swamp. He kept the man’s head out of water for an hour until medics arrived to pull the man out.

In medical school, Dr. Heimlich signed up for Navy ROTC and in 1944 found himself in the Gobi Desert where he was tasked with setting up a medical camp. Rumors had it that the Japanese were going to attack. When not busy with his camp duties, Dr. Heimlich starting treating the local Chinese farmers who at first did not trust him very much, but after a successful save, hundreds of Chinese peasants would line up every day seeking medical treatment. (more…)


Leonard Cohen-Poet, Musician, Seeker of “the One”

On November 11, 2016 the world lost one of the most loved and prolific musical artists of our times—Leonard Cohen. Cohen spent more than 50 years in the music industry, penning classics, such as: “So Long Marianne”, “Bird on the Wire”, “Everybody Knows”, “Suzanne”, and of course the international anthem—“Hallelujah.” He attended McGill University in 1956 and began writing poetry. In fact, it was poetry that captured Cohen. The music came a little later—Songs of Leonard Cohen was released in 1968. In 2008, Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots

Born in 1934 in Montreal, Canada, Leonard Cohen grew up in the neighborhood of Westmount, home to Montreal’s wealthier Jews. His father was a tailor who died when he was nine years old. Cohen was raised in a conservative, observant Jewish family. His maternal grandfather was from Lithuania and a student of the Talmud. His paternal grandfather was the founder of the Canadian Jewish Congress, helping countless Jewish refugees make it to Canada from the pogroms and Russian oppression. His family were scions of the Montreal Jewish community. They built the synagogue where Cohen spent his early years. (more…)

Bob Dylan Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan Shocked and Humbled by Nobel Prize for Literature

How Does a Musician Earn the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Probably no one was more surprised than Bob Dylan when it was announced that the prestigious Nobel Committee had awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Previous winners have included such prolific authors as Toni Morrison, William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But never a songwriter.


Becoming Observant As a Family: How to Survive the Challenges

Taking the Family on the Teshuva Train

One day we find ourselves standing at the crossroads of life. We may find ourselves with a yearning to reconnect to our roots, to the traditions of our family. In some cases, such as mine, we have a chance encounter, are awesomely inspired and want that inspiration to last forever. A passion catches fire and we are off! This is great for us adults. But what if you are a family? How you move through the process of becoming observant will seriously impact the future of your children’s attachment to their yiddishkeit.

Rosh HaShana Shofar

Rosh HaShana Tips for Millennials and Spiritual Seekers

Rosh HaShana for the Millennial Generation

For those looking to be more spiritually connected, especially millennials who eschew rigidity for passion and self-expression, sitting in a synagogue for hours on end, reading meaningless prayers is not very appealing. But they are not alone. The Rosh HaShana themes of judgment and confession do not resonate with many and, in fact, can alienate us even further from our religious roots. Here is how to have a rich spiritual Rosh HaShana experience that will take you to the spiritual heights you seek.

Rosh Hashana

Rosh HaShana, Our Annual Audit of the Year’s Accomplishments

Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Passover are the three holidays that almost all Jews celebrate. On these three holidays, whether religious or not, we take a break from the routine and sit down together to connect to our ancient mesorah. They are the three holidays that keep us united and distinguish us as a People. We call Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, kind of like January 1, the day that marks the beginning of a new year on the universal calendar. We even send greeting cards. But what is Rosh HaShana really all about?

Head of the Year

Rosh Hashana is a celebration of the day that humanity came into existence. When we dip the apple into the sweet honey, we ask for sweetness for ourselves and all human life.

Day of Judgment

Rosh HaShana is the day that the King leaves the field, where we have been speaking to him throughout all of Elul, and returns to His Palace. As we hear the powerful blast of the shofar, we are reminded that all of earth is being judged—people, animals, and the earth itself. But it is not a day to tremble in fear. This is a negative distortion of our Divine relationship. The judgment of Rosh HaShana is one of compassion and this is why it is also a day of celebration. It is sort of like a spiritual audit, with G-d being the ultimate auditor. He has invested in us, and now He comes to see how it has gone with His investment.

Two Days of Prayers

On Rosh HaShana you are lucky to find a seat in the synagogue and in most places outside of Israel, you have to purchase a seat in advance. If you are new to religious observance, the Rosh Hashana prayers can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you do not understand Hebrew. While it is best to keep up with the Cantor if you can, it is more important that you connect with G-d in your own words. Take advantage of breaks and use it to meditate and get close to the Divine Presence, just the two of you, one on one.

And then of course, there is the food…

feeding dog kosher food

Are You Serious? Fido Has to Eat Kosher l’Pesach?

Becoming Religious Includes Your Pets

One of the ways you can tell if a family was once secular is if they have a dog. It is extremely rare to find a dog in a frum-from-birth home. When Mom and Dad decide that they want more Torah in their lives and embark on a mitzvah-observant lifestyle, giving away the family dog or cat is not an option. The kids are pretty attached to the family pet, and giving away their precious friend is something that could make the adjustment to a new lifestyle painfully difficult.
There are actually quite a few halachic considerations for your pet too, and in some ways, having animals give you the opportunity to do more mitzvot.

Kosher Food

When it comes time to clean out all the chometz before Pesach, this includes the chometz in your pets’ food. Fortunately, pet stores carry special Pesach food for all your animals. (more…)

The Enduring Kippah

The Enduring Kippah: Why and When Do We Wear One?

The Kippah: Why Do We Wear It?

A few posts back we were talking about frum clothing and I mentioned the kippah or yarmulke as it is known in Yiddish. For the ba’al teshuva, making the kippah a constant part of our life may be one of the most profound aspects of our transformation. We wear the kippah to remind us to be in awe of a higher power, and also to show respect, but more importantly, the kippah reminds us to be humble.


Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis—Rebbetzin to the World

This week the Jewish world lost one of the greatest lights of our generation. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis survived Bergen-Belsen death camp to become the architect of Jewish kiruv. Long before the words kiruv and ba’al teshuva were mainstream, Rebbetzin Jungreis was already utilizing every waking hour to save Jewish souls. She gained the respect of everyone, it made no difference whether they were orthodox, reform, conservative or unaffiliated. She became the Rebbetzin to soldiers, prime ministers, presidents, and probably the greatest shadchan ever known in the world.
The Rebbetzin passed away this week. We mourn and pay tribute with this short overview of her life. (more…)

elul month

Elul: The Hebrew Month for Soul Reflection

I was speaking in my last post about the holidays, fasts and special days that make up our Jewish calendar. Of course, we are all engaged in the global world so we organize our days by the standard calendar. But, we also have a Jewish calendar and this is one of the many things that a newly observant Jew comes to discover. We know the main events of course: Pesach, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Chanukah. And then there is Succot and Shavuot, although these two holidays are not fully observed. But, we also have an entire month—the month of Elul, which begins this year on September 3rd. (more…)

Orthodox Wardrobe

Frumming up Your Wardrobe

Frum Is Not Frumpy

One of the most common questions that my friends who are thinking about becoming baalei teshuva ask me is what the impact will be on their wardrobe. “Does being Orthodox, or an observant Jew, mean I must wear a black suit all the time?” Women have similar concerns, noticing that so many Orthodox women wear black or dark colored suits and dresses. “Frum is not frumpy” I tell them, and thanks to the baalei teshuva movement, frum designers are creating clothing that is anything but boring.


israel vacation

Kosher Vacations Today Are Nothing Like They Used to Be

Going on Vacation—Kosher Style

We have passed through the three weeks, the time period when we reflect more intensely on the loss of our Temples. Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting, set aside to mourn the destruction of both Temples is now behind us. If you are new to being observant, these special days on the Jewish calendar may be unfamiliar to you. They were certainly not on my radar screen. But, now we move on to the next period of time on our calendar—vacation! And just because we are observant Jews, it does not mean we have to make any sacrifices when it comes to having a great vacation. (more…)