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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Auto Show


That seems to be the magic number. Any car at the show that would be of any use to me seems to run about $25,000. At least on the main floor of the Greater Milwaukee Auto Show. On the lower floor, where the German and Luxury vehicles are displayed, the price is more like $45,000. What happened to all the sub-20K cars? As far as I can tell, there are only a few, and they are mostly sub-compacts and stripped-down, smaller SUVs. But add in all the features "as shown" and they all creep above $20,000. How did cars get to be so expensive?

Let's take a brief step back into reality. In all likelihood, I will not be purchasing a new car this year. More likely, I will continue to drive my 1994 Geo Prizm, which is great car, although it is getting crankier by the year and definitely starting to show its age.

But with 2 kids getting driver's licenses this summer, I've been contemplating the purchase of a new vehicle. I've been reading the car magazines and looking through the papers and I still am not sure what I'm looking for. So the Auto Show is a great opportunity for me to see and feel and smell the different options.

I found that as far as I am concerned, the Auto Show has 3 types of vehicles:

1. The cars I really want.

2. The cars I probably want.

3. The cars I should probably get.

Looking at this rationally and logically, I need to define what exactly it is that I need from a new vehicle.

1. It needs to be reliable. I can't have a car that spends more time in the shop than on the road. I need to get to work and to several hospitals everyday. I don't want a car that has a transmission that suddenly falls out on the road (cough...PTMobile) or that has doors that sometimes don't close (bigger cough..PTMobile) where you pull in to the dealership and they say, "Oh yeah, GMC has always had a problem with the door hinges rusting." Information I could have used before I purchased your gas-guzzling piece of cwap--ahem.

Anyway, reliable, which for me means that I need to steer clear of American automobiles. Now, I have never owned a foreign vehicle before. The closest I have come has been the Geo, which by the way, is an order of magnitude more reliable than ANY OTHER CAR I have ever owned, and which I attribute to the fact that it is secretly a Toyota Corolla. Other than that, I have owned a string of American crapmobiles from GM and Chrysler whose built-in obsolescence features have been all-too obvious.

So probably a Japanese vehicle.

2. It must be able to handle SNOW. I'm fed up with a-swishin' and-a slidin' all over the road 6 months out of the year. I want big tires and All-Wheel-Drive. I don't want to have to cancel any more gigs due to wimpy transportation.

Which brings me to

3. It must be able to transport my stuff.

I know, I have tended to gravitate towards sedans in the past.

My first was this charming little 1974 Buick Apollo that I inherited from my drummer back in '86. The roof was rusted through, so we covered it with bookbinding tape. I don't want to say the car was past its prime when we got it, but bits of it were always falling off as we drove down the road. Why, one time my keyboard player was riding in the back seat and asked me, "hey, was that your mirror that just flew past me?" Another time, we were stuck in a snow-filled parking lot, and Mrs. B, at that time my fiancee with finesse for driving in snow (aka Ms. Wisconsin) tried to force her way out of the lot by gunning the engine. The car didn't move, but the muffler shot its way out of the lot and into the street (where it came to land, curiously enough, next to three other mufflers). That car ended its life abandoned on a side street in lower Manhattan.

In between cars we also went through a few Plymouth Voyager minivans and a 1983 Chevy Citation which was the epitome of cwap. But when I moved to Wisconsin, I got my own second personal car, which was this boat-like 1972 Ford Torino. Yes, the same car as Starsky and Hutch, just a few seasons earlier. I again inherited this from someone, this time my wife's aunt. I really wish I had held on to this baby. It is now considered to be a classic muscle car. At the time, though, it was a tank that didn't quite fit into my garage (which has the scars to prove this), didn't have any sort of traction in snow, and refused to start or just plain stalled whenever it rained. A delightful vehicle. I traded it in for a radio on my new Geo.

So, the Geo has been a fine little car, but...it's little. I can't fit a PA system, two huge speakers, a bass cabinet, a bunch of guitars and mic stands and speaker poles into it. Instead, I've been driving the PTMobile, but again, that thing is trouble, and it leaves Mrs. B stranded with 6 kids and no transportation.

Which leaves me looking at SUVs. They meet my criteria. They are generally reliable (at least the Asian ones are), they can handle snow, and they have enough room for my stuff. Let's just leave the German ones out. They are cool, and there is a collection of them that I have to walk past in the hospital parking lot, like a kind of Bavarian Gauntlet, but they are way too expensive for me. Plus there's that whole "Nazi slave-labor" thing and my mom would hate me so let's talk Toyota. Probably a Toyota RAV-4.

Sticker price: $25,000

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Case for Gun Control

Attention all you gun-toting California types:


I realize that since you elected the Terminator as your governor, you have decided that you all need to be shooting guns off all the time, liberals and conservatives alike.

Well, hear me now and believe me later, it is in NOBODY'S best interest for my wife to have possession of a firearm!

To quote our daughter Iguana at tonight's dinner table: "Not only would we have an angry Mommy, but we'd have an angry Mommy with a gun!"

So cease and desist!

Impending Siyum

I can’t believe I’m actually typing this, but there is a good chance that by next Tuesday night I will have finally finished learning Tractate Baba Kama. That means I’ll have to make a siyum. It will be my first.

I’ve been working on this masechet for a few…years now. But I’m proud to say that I read every word and every Rashi myself. Well, there may have been a few nights where I was so pooped out that I couldn’t figure out if I should read left to right or right to left, and let the rabbi read a few lines. But that was infrequent. I don’t say this out of pride or masochistic tendencies. I’ve come to the realization over the years that I’m not a good passive learner. I zone quickly. If someone is sitting across the table reading to me, my mind will begin to wander almost instantly. The only way for me to keep on task is to do all the reading and teeth cutting on my own. And that’s especially true with something as complicated as Talmud.

A typical section of Baba Kama will have a 4 way argument about 3 different cases with 6 people, and halfway through this, everyone will take the opposite position. Then they’ll refer to a case from 4 pages ago and take a 3rd set of positions. Without benefit of charts or pictures. Why, even typing this up right now is giving me a headache.

So it’s probably not a secret that I really don’t enjoy learning in the Kollel. The Kollel is a community institution where a group of young rabbis commit to spend their days and evenings learning Torah. And they make themselves available to the community at large as a resource for others who want to do some learning with a knowledgeable partner. There’s always somebody learning something over there. I like to look at it as a fireplace in a big cold house. You want to keep that fire going all the time, and eventually it will warm the rest of the place up.

For whatever reason, I just haven’t really gotten into it. I started there 12 or 13 years ago, after the Rosh Kollel (head guy) asked, “Nu, Mark, how come I don’t see you in the Kollel?” and I couldn’t come up with a good answer for him. He paired me up with a sweet guy, a young rabbi, which in retrospect was a mistake, because I didn’t push him and he didn’t push me. We had to find something that was easy enough for me to be able to read on my own and translate, but juicy enough to make me care about what the words were actually saying. And to be honest, that was very hard.

We started with the laws of Shabbos, and I found myself dreading each upcoming paragraph. Because, unfiltered by local custom, the laws of Shabbos are pretty severe, and the more I read, the less I wanted to know. What? I can’t use a sponge to wash dishes? What, no hot water? Huh, I can’t brush my teeth?? After a while I just had to switch to something else.

At one point we were learning a book called Yaaros Devash, which was written by an ancestor of mine, and which the local rabbi had given to me as a present for…well, it’s a long story. This is basically a book of sermons and mussar, or ethics. It is written in beautifully elegant Hebrew, but if you’ve spent time reading these types of books, you know that despite being in a language that is readily translatable, the structure is such that it seems to be a series of really long run-on sentences, with large subordinate clauses, and you really can’t get from the subject to the predicate for a good half a page or so, and by the time you do finally reach the end of the sentence (all the while translating in your mind (and verbally) from Hebrew to English, maybe with breaks to look up the occasional esoteric word) you have forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was about, and, to be honest once again, you no longer care, because you’re so glad to have finally found a period.

So I found learning this and other sforim, like Michtav Me’eliyahu, to be interesting in the sense of the translation challenge, but I didn’t care much about the content. And it gave me neck pain, because often I had to share a book with my chevrusa (partner). And often, by the time we did finally finish some section that my chevrusa found particularly profound, I would just look at him and say, “Eh.”

Eventually we settled on Talmud. We picked Baba Kama because at the time, my son was in 6th grade and he was learning it. He’s in 10th grade now. So week by week I’ve been plugging away at it. I can’t say that I am necessarily interested in it, or that I enjoy it. I occasionally get some satisfaction when I figure out a particularly tricky bit on my own. But do I enjoy it...? By the time I get to the Kollel, I have been up for 14 hours and spent almost all of that time seeing patients back to back. What I really want to do is sit back and play some video games. But I don’t, I go to the Kollel. Because I want to set a good example for my kids. And because I’m afraid that if I stop I will never restart. And because somewhere deep down I’m hoping that eventually I will get turned on to this stuff and like it and look forward to my weekly chevrusa.

So, about the siyum, waddayah think, donuts?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Definition of Jewish Terms

(Note: This article was originally posted on Wikipedia, but was deleted because it violated their criteria for posting, ie it was a list of definitions, not a true article. However, several bloggers linked to it as is still fairly useful, so I'm putting it up on my own blog. Ignore the Wikipedia references. Contact me if you wish to add any definitions).

J-Blogosphere is the name the Jewish blogging community uses to refer to itself. Blogs with a Jewish focus are called J-Blogs.

Often these blogs are written in English, but include a mix of Hebrew/Aramaic/Yiddish terms which may be disorienting to non-Orthodox or non-Jewish readers. Bloggers will frequently include explanations of these terms in the text of the individual posts, but this can become clunky and break up the flow of the article. Another way to deal with this is to include a separate post or web page that lists all the jargon which is commonly used in alphabetical order, so that unfamiliar readers can use this as a reference. While this is convenient for the Blog owner, it requires constant updating and many times these lists are incomplete.

The purpose of this article is to make a comprehensive list of the jargon, often referred to as Yeshivish or Yinglish, that is commonly used in the J-Blogosphere. It is hoped that bloggers will update this page often to make it as complete as possible.

A word about spelling and pronunciation: Many of the terms listed below are transliterated from the original Hebrew (or Yiddish) and so spelling is approximate. In addition, pronunciation of Hebrew terms varies according to the Ashkenazit or Sefaradit traditions. In all cases, the preference used is that of the blogger who submitted the term. If a word cannot be found by looking for the "s" transliteration, try searching for the "t" variant (e.g. Sukkos vs. Sukkot).


Abba- Aramaic for Father

Aderaba - Aramaic; on the contrary

Ad Mosai - Until when, this is an exclamation used generally when exasperated. Lubavitchers use this phrase when talking about Moshiach - Ad Mosai? How much longer do we have to wait for the coming of Moshiach?

Aidel – Yiddish, literally means refined

Aidel maidel – Yiddish, literally means refined girl

Aliyah – Literally means “to go up”. Used when referring to when someone emigrates to Israel, or when someone is called up to read or say a blessing on the torah. Also when someone passes away, we say their neshama/soul goes “up” to shamayim/gan eden/heaven.

Ani Maamin – Literally means “I believe.” A shortened version of “Ani Maamin, be’emunah shalaima”

Apikores- heretic

Ashkenaz- referring to Jews from northern Europe

Aveilus – the time period of mourning in which a mourner has obligations and restrictions on what they are permitted to do. The mourning period for someone who has lost a parent is one year. Restrictions include no listening to music, attending weddings or other happy occasions, and no new clothes.

Avoda – literally means “work” but it often means spiritual work, or what G-d wants us to accomplish down here.

Babka – An eastern European yeast cake, can come in any number of flavors including chocolate and cinnamon.

Bais Hamikdosh- The Holy Temple

Bais Medresh- House of Learning. Study Hall.

Bar Mitzvah- a boy of age 13, responsible to do Mitzvot.

Baruch Dayan Emes – literally means “Blessed is the True Judge”. This is the phrase recited upon hearing of someone’s death. It is both a phrase used to comfort the mourner and an acknowledgement that G-d runs the world

Bashert – that it was meant to be from time immemorial. Also used to talk about our life partner - predetermined from the beginning of time.

Bentch- Yiddish, literally means “to bless”, can be used a variety of ways – most commonly to denote the long blessings to be recited after eating bread. Can also refer to what G-d decides to bless us with, or how some Jews traditionally bless their children every Friday night. Also one person can always bentch another.

Bimah- the stage where the Torah is read

Bli neder – Without a vow.

Bochur, bochurim – literally means “boy” or “son” often refers to single men of high school, college, and marriageable age.

Bracha- blessing; pl. brachot

Broiges- a long-running grudge, something less than a feud but more than a dispute

BT – Baal Teshuva – literally means Master of Return, generally means people who did not grow up orthodox and became frum later in life, or can mean someone FFB who stopped being orthodox and then started again.

CHABAD- A center for Lubavitch Jews

Challah - The braided bread traditionally eaten on Shabbos/Sabbath.

Chanukah – The Jewish festival of lights.

Charedim- Orthodox Jews on the far right of the spectrum- tend to reject secular pursuits

Chas v'shalom – G-d Forbid

Chassidim- a sect of Jews, who follow the teachings of 18th century Rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov

Chassidishe – literally means pious, this is an adjective to describe one stream of orthodoxy

Chazal – A general term to mean "our sages". When used, it generally means, that somewhere in the huge cannon of rabbinic writings, it refers to this matter.

Chazzan- the cantor

Cheshbon Hanefesh- a spiritual accounting of the soul

Chevrusah- a partner in learning Torah; refers also to both partners

Chillul Hashem- Desecration of the Name of G-d

Chizzuk – something which strengthens someone

Cholov Yisroel- Milk produced at a farm in part owned by Jews

Chumash- The Pentateuch, or, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

Chupa- the canopy over the marriage ceremony, also refers to the ceremony itself

Chutzpah, Chutzpahdik- disrespect, gall, overly confident.

Daf Yomi- learning a page of the Talmud every day

Dan L'Chaf Zechus- Hebrew, to Judge on the side of merit, to judge every person favorably until you know all the details

Daven- to pray

Davening- either the act of praying, or the prayer service

Derech – literally means “the way”, can also refer to the stream of orthodoxy one follows

Eema - also Ima - Aramaic for Mother

Emunah peshuta – simple or blind faith

Eretz HaKodesh – Literally, “the holy land”, refers to Israel, preferably in it’s biblical boundaries

Eretz Yisroel – literally, “the land of Israel”, refers to Israel

Erev Shabbos – The time before shabbos/Sabbath, pre-sabbath preparation time

FFB – Frum(orthodox) from birth

Frum - Orthodox

Frummies- somewhat derogatory term for very religious Jews; also those who like to act religious

G-d – When the name of God is written in Hebrew, it can never be destroyed – and there are several names for Him in Hebrew. As a way around this, we often will write the name with alternate letters in Hebrew so as to not create a problem. Similarly, most orthodox jews will write G-d in English with the hyphen.

Gabbai- the guy in the shul responsible for arranging who leads the prayers and gets called up to the Torah, etc.

Galus- exile, diaspora

Gam Tzu La Tova- "This also is for the good." A classic phrase used to show faith that everything that happens is from G-d and therefore inherently Good.

Gan Eden – Literally the Garden of Eden, this can refer to the “heaven”/afterlife

Gehinnom – PUrgatory or Hell depending on who you ask

Ger – a convert

Godol HaDor, Nosi HaDor – the leader of the generation

Grusha - Hebrew, means divorcee

Gutte gebentched yohr – Yiddish, means a Good, Blessed Year – this is a new year’s greeting

Gutte voche – Yiddish, means a good week, something said after the shabbos/Sabbath ends

Hachlata – a resolution, usually made in regards to some form of observance

Haftorah - the Chanting of passages from the books of prophets, after the Shabbos Torah reading. (nothing to do with half a Torah)

Halacha- Jewish Law

Hashem – Literally means, “the Name”, an alternate name for G-d in Hebrew

Hashkofa – the stream of orthodoxy one follows, alt. philosophy

Heter - Allowance. EG a heter to use birth control pills granted by a rabbi

Hot Chanie- a young (mid 20s to early 30s) Orthodox Jewish woman who "skirts" the laws of tzniut (modesty) by wearing tight clothing that barely covers elbows, collarbones, and knees. Hot Chanies often will not be seen in public unless wearing full make-up; a long, sleek sheitel (wig); and high heels. Also considered "The Plastics" of the frum (Orthodox) world. (Origin)

IMYH - Im Yirtz Hashem – If G-d Wills It, aka G-d willing

Kabbalah- literally, "that which is passed down." Refers to the field of Jewish Mysticism. Also a really cool Jewish Rock Band.

Kaddish- special prayer, often said by those in mourning. Requires a quorum (minyan) of 10 men to recite.

Kashrut- the concept that food must be kosher (ok for Jews to eat)

Kedusha- the holiest part of the prayer service, where everyone must be silent and not move. Also means holiness

Kiddush- sanctification of the meal over wine. Also refers to a nice spread after shul is over.

Kiddush Hashem- sanctification of the name of G-d. Opposite of chillul Hashem. Something that brings honor to the Jewish People.

Kinneret – the body of water in Israel

Kippah Sruga- crocheted skullcap

Kiruv- outreach

Klezmer – a type of jewish music emanating from eastern Europe. e.g. Andy Statman

Kol Isha- the voice of a woman (usually singing)

Kollel- place where married men sit and learn Torah all day

K'tiva v'katima tova – You should be written and inscribed for good, a new year’s greeting

Kumzitz- singalong with story telling

Layn- read the Torah (in front of everyone)

L'Chaim- "To Life" a traditional toast, also an engagement party (see vort)

L'illui Nishmas – It should be "a light" for the soul, this is a phrase meaning that when something is done in the merit of a deceased person's memory, their soul lights up or attains extra merit in shamayim.

Litvish – A stream of orthodoxy, originating in Lithuanian, frequently followers of the Vilna Goan, aka the GRA

Loshon Hora- badmouthing; gossip. No dancing involved

Lulav- a palm branch, used in the service for Sukkos

Maariv – the evening prayer service

Machmir – strict or stringent

Maikel – lax or permissive

Makpid – exacting when it comes to details, rules, regulations

Mamash – Yeshivish, means “REALLY” i.e. I mamash liked him

Mashpiim – a Mentor, or Rabbi, or someone to turn to for advice

Masmid – someone who learns full time

Mazel Tov- literally "good luck", or congratulations

Mechilah- forgiveness

Mekabel – literally means to receive, but means also to accept something as fact

Mentch- a Man. Someone to be proud of.

Meshulach- an emissary, one sent to collect funds

Mevatel – self-nullification, lit. "wasting"

Mezuman- the 3 people needed to say a special blessing before saying grace after meals

Middos – personality traits

Mikvah- ritual bath

Mincha- afternoon prayer service

Minhag- custom, pl. minhagim

Minyan- literally, a quorum. The number of men (10) required for a formal prayer group. Also the name of the group itself.

Mir – a famous litvish yeshiva, now based in Israel

Mitzvah- Commandment (from G-d). pl. Mitzvot, Mitzvos

Mizbayach – the table in the holy ark in the temple

MO – Modern Orthodox, a stream of orthodoxy in which followers are equally involved in the secular and religious worlds

Morah - teacher

Moshiach Tzidkenu – The righteous messiah

Motsi Shabbos/Shabbat – Literally means "After Sabbath", refers to Saturday night after the Sabbath ends.

Mussaf- the extra prayer service after Shacharis, on Sabbath and Festivals

Naches- Naches. Also pride.

Nebuchs – losers, pity cases

Neshama - soul

Nefesh, Nefesh Elokis, Nefesh HaBahamis - soul, and the parts of the soul.

Nefesh elokis is the G-dly part of the soul, nefesh HaBahamis is the "animal" part of the soul. See Kabbalah or chassidus for more information.

Niggun – A wordless Chassidic song

Nusach- liturgy

Nusach Sfard- the liturgy chosen by the Chassidim, in opposition to the traditional liturgy usually used by European Jews, Nusach Ashkenaz

Parnossa- livelihood, the ability to earn a living, decent wage

Parsha - Portion of the Torah reading

Peyes- curly side burns (it is the chassidic custom never to cut them)

Putz – not a polite word. Literally is the Yiddish word for a part of the male anatomy. Generally refers to a not nice person, a jerk, or as the word says in English, a d-ck

Rabbi- one who is ordained to teach or lead Jews

Rashi- Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, one of the greatest commentators on the Torah and Talmud. His commentary is included almost every chumash and talmud bavli printed today.

Reb Shlomo- Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Rebbe- A chassidic Rabbi, who is the leader of his community; or a personal Rabbi or teacher

Rebbetzin – the wife of a rabbi

Ribono Shel Olam - Master of the Universe.

Schar- reward

Schnorer- a beggar; a moocher; derogatory term for Meshulach

Segulah - Can have various meanings depending on context. Can mean, sign, symbol, treasure, portent. Can lead to something which is desired, e.g. drinking "segulah wine" can lead to becoming married.

Sfard- referring to Jews of Spain and Northern Africa, also from Arab countries

Shabbos, Shabbat- the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday

Shacharis- the morning prayer service

Shadchan – matchmaker, in modern Hebrew it means “stapler”

Shlaimus – whole, complete

Shamayim – heavens, literally and figuratively

Shayach - appropriate

Sheitel – wig, as worn by orthodox women

Shema – One of the fundamental prayers of Judaism, recited at least twice a day, and is contained inside a mezuzah.

Shemonah Esrei – One of the fundamental prayers of Judaism, recited once at each of the three daily prayer times, this is the silent devotion prayer.

Sheva Brochas – The special seven blessings recited in the first week of a new marriage. Also the seven days of festive meals prepared in honor of bride and groom.

Shidduch, shidduchim – blind, pre-arranged dates for the orthodox world

Shlep- v. to drag. n. someone who looks like he was dragged

Shliach, Shlichus – a messenger, generally used as a chabad term for lubavitchers doing outreach

Shliach Tzibur- one who leads the prayer service

Shlump- messy, sloppy, a slob

Shmoneh Esrei- part of the Jewish Prayer Service; the "18" blessings

Shmooze, Shmoozing- talk, chat casually

Shpritz - spray

Shul- synagogue

Shvits- sweat, steambath

Shteeble- an informal prayer group in someone's house, may become more formal

Shtreimel- A big, round, furry hat, favored by Chassidim

Shtyging – learning full time

Siddur - prayer book

Siman - sign

Simchas- celebrations

Slichos - Selichot (Heb. סליחות) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holy Days, and on Fast Days

Sukka- a temporary shack, with branches or bamboo roof, used on Sukkos

Sukkos- The holiday of Tabernacles

Talmid Chochom - literally a wise student, generally refers to a man who is very learned in Torah and Jewish studies, this is a compliment

Talmud Bavli-The Babylonian Talmud. This is a synopsis of more than 300 years of analysis in the Mishnah in the Babylonian Academies. Generally regarded to have been completed by 700 CE.

Talmud Yerushalmi- The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud. A synopsis of almost 200 years of analysis in the Mishnah in the Academies of Israel (mainly Tiberius and Caeseria) and completed about 350 CE. Due to the locations of the Israeli Academies, they demonstrate a greater focus on agricultural law. To most Orthodox Jews, in disputes between the Talmuds, the Babylonian one is considered supreme.

Takanah - a proclamation. Literally a "fix" of an existing Jewish law to address a new circumstance or correct a problem.

Tanach or Tanakh- The Jewish Bible, the Old Testament

Tatty - Father

Tfila, Tefillos - Hebrew; prayer

Tfila Betzibur - Public prayer; Prayer with the congregation

Tfilin, Tefillin- phylacteries. Small black boxes with hebrew text inside, to be worn during prayers.

Torah- The 5 books of Moses; the Jewish Bible; the big scroll where it is written

Traif- non-kosher

Tracht Gut V’Tzein Gut- Yiddish phrase, means "Think Good and it Will Be Good"

Trop - symbols used as musical notes for the cantillation of the Torah

Tsuris – woe, problems, worries

Tuchas- bum, rear-end. Also tush

Tzedaka – Charity

Tzion – Zion, aka Israel

Tzitzis – the four cornered fringed garment worn by orthodox males

Tznius – modesty, in dress, speech, and action

Underheisen - underwear in Yiddish

Yarmulke- Skullcap

Yartzheit- anniversary of someone's death. There are a number of Jewish customs regarding the obligations of descendants on the yartzheit.

Yeshiva- A Jewish School. Also refers to a Jewish place of higher learning

Yetzer Harah - Evil inclination

Yetzer Hatov - Good inclination

Yiddishkeit- Judaism/Jewishness

Yinglish- A mix of English, Hebrew and Aramaic; often spoken by children who return from Yeshiva, to the horror of the parents

Yontif- actually Yom Tov, good day, or holiday

Friday, February 17, 2006

Aaron Razel

The blogosphere is a strange and wonderous place. I have benefited greatly by my participation in this new virtual community. Aside from the opportunity to vent my frustrations, share my celebrations, and find amazing new friends who have been there to share the burden during some tough times, there have also been some opportunities presented to me in the real world, which I am sure I would not have received were it not for this humble little blog.

So in as much as it has given many of you the opportunity to meet me, an unassuming father of six, marooned in the snowy Midwest, it has also given me the opportunity to meet many of you. One person I met early into my foray into blogland was MoChassid, whom I soon found shared many of my frustrations with the state of Jewish Music. In fact, it was his colorful interactions with Velvel and BloginDM that inspired me to start PsychoToddler, and for that alone, I owe him more than I can ever repay (so..um...don't expect any cash, MO).

MOChassid is inspirational in many other ways as well. If you don't believe me, go read his account of the OHEL dinner. I couldn't imagine taking in a foster infant at my age, settling as I am into familiar lazy habits. And speaking of bad habits, I credit MO in part for guilting me into overcoming my fear of exercise. And trying to show up to shul more...on time...still working on that one, MO.

So at this point I should get around to explaining why this post is titled "Aaron Razel" and not "MOChassid." I'm getting to it. Regular readers here know that I have a band. Recently, The MSB has been playing our mix of Kabbalah, Piamenta, Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Shlock Rock, and of course, original MSB tunes. But before I formed this band (more than ten years ago, now), I was a freelance bass player and played with many different performers.

I don't know if MO knew this when he emailed me, a few months ago, and told me that one of his favorite Israeli performers, Aaron Razel, was doing a show in Chicago on February 19 and needed a backup band. More likely it was along the lines of "do I know anyone in the Midwest who can play an instrument...hey, doesn't that Psychotoddler weirdo have a band?" Well, whatever the motivation, I am again in debt to MOChassid, because he turned me on to a great musician with some amazing compositions and I am really looking forward to this show.

Aaron writes and plays his own music, which already puts him one level above most of the drek which eminates from the Jewish Music world. His music is complex but deceptively catchy. It works its way into your brain and refuses to leave. As part of my preparation for any backup project, I listen to the artist's music over and over in my car. Within one or two listens I had already assimilated the melodies, and it was driving me crazy, because I was hearing his live album in my head NON-STOP. In fact, several times I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that I was dreaming about one of his songs! This has not gotten much better over the past two months.

Mendel, my guitar player, who is, by the way, usually not too impressed with any kind of Jewish Music (at least not compared to the likes of Steve Vai or Jimi Hendrix), reports similar effects. In fact we have become so intimately familiar with Aaron's excellent Live album that we have memorized all of his ad-libs, grunts, and even his band introductions (I think half of the band is named Doni). I feel a little bad for Aaron; as we reahearse a song and I'm singing the melody, I'll purposely go a little off key or insert a little "Tagidu Li! (Tell me!)" and Mendel will crack up. I don't think Aaron will know what hit him.

This is probably the first time in many years of playing Jewish Music that I've had some trouble figuring out the bass parts to a song. I've had to listen to the bridges of some of his songs over and over and over again just to figure out the right chords. Either I'm getting old, or this is just complex stuff. I mean, I know the entire Rush Chronicles by heart; this shouldn't that hard to figure out! But it is in many places, and yet, to the audience I'm sure it sounds very natural. This has been, in many ways, a great musical exercise for me, and for that alone I'm grateful for the opportunity I've been given.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the show is open to the public, or I'd invite some of you Chicagoans down. I'll do a post-show review next week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


IM'd behind my back:

doctor_bean: how's my favorite Milwaukee internist holding up?

Mrs Balabusta: he's still pining for his HDTV

doctor_bean: bozo. I told him to give up on that.

doctor_bean: i'm on your side, just so you know.

Mrs Balabusta: you can feel free to tell him again

Mrs Balabusta: Here are the talking points:

Mrs Balabusta: 1 - you already have a really nice TV

Mrs Balabusta: 2 - You are only in the basement 30 minutes a day, an hour tops

Mrs Balabusta: 3 - the kids play down there, and they could break it or cause an accident

doctor_bean: I'm taking notes. go on...

Mrs Balabusta: 4 - You know the price of those things is going to be coming down like a rock this christmas (or summer) (or next month)

Mrs Balabusta: 5 - I don't think they are all they are cracked up to be, there aren't that many programs in HD yet

Mrs Balabusta: 6 - (feel free to improvise)

Mrs Balabusta: 7 - repeat as necessary ( see item #1)

Mrs Balabusta: 8 - I thought you were going to get a new car this summer

doctor_bean: This stuff is great.

doctor_bean: I suppose if I just email him this exchange that would make it less effective right?

Mrs Balabusta: right

doctor_bean: I'll have to find some more subtle way to get him the info

doctor_bean: perhaps a post on one of the 19 blogs he's writing for right now....

Mrs Balabusta: I have already given him the same conversations less subtlely

doctor_bean: Drug rep lunch. Gotta go. Happy monday.

doctor_bean: Big kiss to Mark from me!

Mrs Balabusta: drug lunch??

Mrs Balabusta: most people have food you know

doctor_bean: mmmm!

doctor_bean: we're not eating drug reps....

Mrs Balabusta: Where does that get fun?

doctor_bean: (a) it's free (b) attractive people are around while I eat (c) it's free

Mrs Balabusta: so the attractive people are watching you eat and nod alot

doctor_bean: exactly!

Mrs Balabusta: oh yeah, and if mark hangs out long enough, maybe a drug company will buy him an HDTV if he prescribes enough Risperdal

Mrs Balabusta: or Fosamax

doctor_bean: excellent point. really going now. g'bye.

Mrs Balabusta: you know you have to sit up for half an hour after the fosamax, that's where the TV comes in

Mrs Balabusta: bye

So how did I get my hands on this exchange, you may be wondering? It seems Dr. Bean is a double-agent...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Field Museum

Was there a time when taking your kids to the museum was fun? A time before $15 parking fees? A time when you didn't have to stand in a line which snaked back and forth 7 times like you were waiting to get into a ride at Disney? A time when you didn't have to mortgage your house just to get into the place (and use the bathroom)? When you didn't have to pay extra to see the "good" exhibits? When you didn't have to push and shove through throngs of people just to allow your kids to get a glimpse of picture on a wall that you paid an extra four dollars per person to see?

I don't remember. I also don't remember the last time I went to the Field Museum in Chicago. I think it was some time in the 90's, when my older kids were still into dinosaurs, and when we thought it would be cool to drive 2 hours so they could get a gander at some prehistoric skeletons.

Nowadays they'd rather spend their time playing computer games, so we have to (literally in a few cases) drag them out of the house to get them to go on this kind of trip. Nevertheless, we packed our cooler full of tuna sandwiches, filled up the PTMobile, and headed south.

After trying to decide which was the lesser of two evils, i.e. wait on line and pay for admission, or sneak over to the membership line and become partial owners of the museum, we chose the latter. A cool $100 later we were ready to head to...

...the bathroom. Seriously, after 2 hours of driving and waiting in line, this was our first stop. The kids mostly waited for us while I suspect the Mrs. had to wait in yet another line for an available stall.

Then, feeling the pressure of "we just paid $100 for admission, and an extra $4 per person for the special exhibit", we decided to get in line to see...

...Pompeii. This was actually a pretty cool exhibit about the volcanic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 (or CE 79 for those of you who care). I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I weren't competing with hundreds of other people for glimpses of the various artifacts and dioramas. It seems often I would push and shove my way through just in time to give The PT a view of a cast of a woman who had died in some ghastly manner. The exhibit was truly terrifying in many respects and I actually did learn a lot about volcanoes and Pompeii. I'd recommend it, but try to go at more of an off-peak time.

From there we went to see the new exhibit on Chinese Dinosaurs (seriously), where we were treated to the assembled skeletons of such beasts as Szechuanosaurus and Sweetandsourasaurus (not so seriously).

OK, now take a look at this:

They were trying to tell me that in life, this collection of bones looked like this:

I'll tell you what this looked like to me. It looked like there were extra bones that they didn't know what to do with. This is very likely what it would be like if I tried to assemble a motorcycle without directions. Guys, I really think you didn't put all the pieces together the right way.

From there, we went to an exhibit where we were magically shrunk down to the size of a small insect and stuck underground.

And I think the main point of this exhibit was that you never want to be magically shrunk down to the size of a small insect and stuck underground, because it's disgusting and dangerous down there. Seriously, I think the best thing we can try to teach our children is how many filthy, slimy, and and repulsive things there are slithering around in any given cubic inch of dirt. They will never want to play outdoors again.

From there, we turned to some of the older, more politically incorrect exhibits, like this Pawnee Earth Lodge.

Where I just had to snap a few shots for Wickwire.

We had a very Brady afternoon.

As we passed through the halls, I noticed a sign for The Auschwitz Album, and at first I didn't want to go in. The point of the afternoon was to have fun with the kids, and this didn't strike me as a fun thing to do. But somehow I found myself going there anyway. I have to say I wasn't that impressed with it. I didn't see anything I hadn't already seen before, or had described in more graphic and gut-wrenching ways by books like Maus or my mother's own Holocaust story. Still, there was something about the exhibit that made it difficult for me to keep my eyes dry. The point seemed to be to follow several individuals from their arrival at Auschwitz to their death in the gas chamber. The fact that names were assigned to people in the pictures made it more chilling, as you could follow them along their route to death. But somehow...it wasn't as horrible as it should have been.

I've read that Hungarian Jews were exterminated so quickly that they didn't have time to turn into the familiar, emaciated images we typically associate with concentration camp victims. That may be the case here. They look relatively normal up until we see the notation regarding who was killed. But maybe there was something about seeing these big pictures of the place where my grandparents died that made me emotional. I had to leave.

Fortunately, the exhibit was right next to a standing exhibit depicting a Maori meeting house, so I was able to get this beautiful shot of The PT:

So, after this, we left and decided to go out for dinner. Fear not, those of you with small children! You may not believe it now, but there will come a day when you will be able to go out to eat with your kids and actually sit down and enjoy a meal with them like mentchin, without having to pre-feed them or chase them around the restaurant! Have hope!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Kiwi's Questions #1

You guys know how great I am at interfaith dialogue, right? No? Well maybe it's better if you don't. Anyway, Kiwi, loyal Christian reader, sent me several intriguing questions, and in the interest of not spreading misinformation that could lead to world calamity, I decided to post them at The Jewish Connection and ask for smart people to answer them.

Part one is here.

Update: Parts two, three, and four.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mr. Mom

Well, Mrs. Balabusta has finally left me. She's off in Dallas or Plano or somewhere where it's not 17 degrees outside. Off on a business trip. So she says. Left me alone with my remaining children. Three at last count. I'm managing just fine, like the last time she left me. Of course, it's times like this that I remember why it was that we decided to move to Wisconsin in the first place. Because of my wonderful Mother-in-Law, who came over at 6:50 am to make sure the kids got off to school while I went to make rounds, and was here at 3:30 to make sure they got into the house and made dinner for them. And that was besides working her own job at the hospital.

So I'm otherwise alone, trying to keep it all together. Mostly succeeding. I tried to hook Mrs. B up with my blogging friend Stacey, but it didn't work out. Besides, Mrs. B is a big girl and she can take care of herself. And she has her own friends; she doesn't need to borrow my blogging friends.

Actually it's probably better that she didn't get together with Stacey or Mirty or whomever else is down there. I could only imagine that conversation:

Stacey: Wow, it's so cool to finally meet you!

Mrs. B: ...It is? What do you mean by that?

Stacey: I feel like I know your husband so well from his blog. It's like we're old friends! He's such an interesting guy!

Mrs. B: ...Are you talking about my husband? You mean Mark?

Stacey: Mark? Oh right, yeah, I keep thinking of him as PT. He's very funny.

Mrs. B: Yeah, but looks aren't everything.

Stacey: Uh..yeah...well I mean, he's a doctor, and a great musician...

Mrs. B: snort

Stacey: ...and what a wonderful father he is!

Mrs. B: Man, has he got you snowed.

Stacey: I read that post he wrote about the day you met. He must be so romantic.

Mrs. B: Yes, I find a guy who spends half the night in the bathroom and the other half the night staring at his XBOX to be very romantic.

Stacey: ...

Mrs. B: Well this is getting quite awkward.

So...um...I guess it's all for the best. Hurry back, dearest.

It's like he can read my mind....

Scott Adams-Lord of the Geeks.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Heart My Referers (sic)

Links. Blogrolls. Whatever you call them. That list of blogs over on the right side there. I've always liked to link to the people who frequent this site, as kind of a way of being a good neighbor, a member of a community, and just to say thanks for stopping by and spending some time here. Just to have a laugh and sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it---whoa, sorry about the Carol Burnett attack.

Some people are very serious about their blogrolls and have rigid criteria for who gets on and who is removed. I've been more relaxed about it. Sure, back in the day when I was hand-coding each link, there were much fewer of them. But now-a-days it's not so time intensive. Basically if you hang around here, and comment, and I don't hate your site, you'll get a link back from me. Or if I really like your site anyway (wink wink, Strong Bad), you'll get a gratuitous link. Also if you send me money or presents.

Trouble is, I'm not always sure who is really hanging out here. And sometimes people come by for a few days, leave a bunch of comments, and then leave. And I never see them again. They...they don't write...what, they can't pick up a phone once in a while...?

I-I'm getting off topic. Basically, I rarely remove links, so I like to make sure people are going to be around for a while before I sign them up. And also, I don't get around to doing blogroll maintenance all that often.

So as a substitute, a booby-prize if you will, I've had a referer (sic) list. (BTW I don't really know what (sic) means, but I see it all the time, so I figured I'd put it in (ibid)). Referrer is usually spelled with 4 r's not 3, but it was misspelled in the HTML language, and so we are stuck with it. A referer is a site that just sent a visitor to your site. Anyway, there are several tools for tracking referers and displaying a list of them on your site. So if you link to Psycho Toddler, and you click over here relatively frequently, you get an automatic link back on this site.

The first program I used was Truefresco, which was actually on an art site that had a little feature that helped people track their referers for free. But it soon got overloaded, and started requiring registration and charging money, so I dropped it like a hot potato. Then I signed up for referer.org, which I'm still using, and for a while, many of you may have noticed links back to your blogs or specific posts. In fact, that was how I first found out I was nominated for the JIB awards, by seeing a link to the nominating post there.

So, if I haven't gotten around to adding you to my blogroll, don't take it personally. You can still get an automatic link under my referer list. And if you hang around long enough, I'm sure I'll be guilted into adding you.

Battle of the Blogger Mugshots

Not in any way inspired by this ingenious post of mine, Robert Avrech of Seraphic Secret has put up a contest to match bloggers with their pictures at age 10. And a certain Psycho Ten-Year-Old is one of the players! See if you can spot which one is me. I'll give you a hint: I'm one of the boys.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Technology Explained

Do you have trouble with technology? Then this is for you.

Tune in to Fudge

Fudge has her radio show at WYUR (on the internet) Thursdays at 7pm Eastern whatever time, and 6pm Central, and 4pm California and Seattle time. She's like some pandimensional-time-traveling musical hipster!

Tune in this week, as in addition to the usual hilarity, she promises to profile my old Jewish Rock Band, Kabbalah.

WYUR: "Dead air...Um...Dead air"

This message is not endorsed by WYUR or any of its employees or affiliates. Legal action may be taken against me for mentioning this at all. In fact, please stop reading this right now.