Monday, February 26, 2007

Yair Elmaleh 1972 - 2007

This posting is in memory of Yair Elmaleh (z"l), a friend who passed away suddenly 30 days ago. I had the opportunity tonight to attend a memorial service for him which only reinforced how special a person Yair was. To find out more about his life, an article was published about Yair in the Intermountain Jewish News.

Yair touched me personally in many ways – from his amazing cooking, to his talent at making a room glow with his laughter and jokes, to his ability to make me feel like a special person in his home, even though we knew each other for a relatively short time. I feel honored to say that we both shared a great mutual respect for each other. During the last thirty days, I’ve also spent a lot of time learning how much Yair touched other lives, especially that of his long time girlfriend and dear friend of mine, Shira, but also those of people that he came into contact with for only a few minutes. Tonight was a testament to the connection he made with people, as almost 200 people attended tonight’s service in New York, while other memorial services were held for him in Toronto and Israel.

Upon Yair’s death, a group of friends and family decided to honor his memory by studying all six orders of the mishnah, which is Judaism’s Oral Law that was first passed down from generation to generation before being recorded and edited in and around 200 C.E. To accomplish this, people volunteered to study 1-2 of the 63 tractates that compose the six parts of the mishnah and agreed to finish it during the thirty days preceding tonight. Though I was originally hesitant to take on this responsibility because I’ve never really studied any mishnah in depth, my brother and I agreed to sign up for the tractate that examined the laws of the Nazarites (these are the laws regarding Jews who take vows of asceticism, a practice that no longer exists today). My roommate also joined our study group, and on occasion, several other friends also did. What turned out to be a somewhat daunting learning experience turned out to be much more than that – it became a way of building friendships, and of sharing an intellectual and spiritual experience while munching on Stella D'oro cookies.

There’s no eloquent way for me to say it, but it really sucks to see a friend pass away, and more than that, to see close friends suffer the pain of losing a loved one at such a young age and so suddenly. The last tractate of the mishnah closes with a description of the blessings that ohavei hashem, God’s loved ones, receive in life and after death. At the memorial service we recited this last mishnah, and together imagined that Yair’s life is now filled with hundreds of blessings, wherever he may now be, and that on earth he has left with us the blessing of peace.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Poetic License

“Other blogs are somewhat finer” thinks me in my head,
When I sit down to write instead of sleeping in bed.

Perhaps I should question this statement of fact,
but indeed –
further thought does not make me take back
that fleeting emotion which keeps me awake-
at late hours, with my thoughts all half-baked.

One blog I know is a pleasant diversion,
And another is really a poetic immersion.
A list of my favs includes a sports commentator,
whose friend has not found the lost Doron Sheffer.
And then to a dreamy but grounded creation,
for the all-American Chipotle-nation.

Such interesting subjects and prosaic expressions,
leaves me with my blog and some lasting questions
do I write anything interesting or only nonsensical ditty?
Are my jokes not amusing or are they as witty –
(as I think they are)?

My wandering musings are of course needless conjecture,
for when I sit down, I write with great pleasure,
I can write when I’m happy and perchance when I’m blue;
On topics that extend to me and to you.

I come to a close now having written my fair share,
of a posting that is nothing but a (not winning any pulitzers, but still bearable) poetic affair;
It’s all an attempt at trying to write
a couple of rhymes before saying goodnight.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Hangman's Tipping Point

Two significant dates in recent memory represent the tipping point in the fight to eliminate the death penalty from our nation’s jurisprudence. On December 13, 2006 Florida corrections officials took 34 minutes to execute Angel Nieves Diaz by lethal injection for the murder of a manager of a topless bar that he committed in 1979. (The process usually only takes a matter of minutes). The botched execution, which included evidence that Diaz suffered excruciating pain, led Governor Jeb Bush to impose a moratorium on executions in Florida, long known as one of the busiest death-penalty states in the country.

Only days after the public furor over the Diaz execution, Saddam Hussein’s almost farcical death by hanging on December 30, 2006 (and the later hanging of his half-brother) in Iraq decisively tipped the scale against imposing capital punishment in the U.S.

I can’t swear to always being able to read this country’s political pulse. However, this time I feel comfortable in saying that taken together, these two events have signified a sea change in this country’s perception of the death penalty. Their dramatic impact is due primarily to the fact that they have turned the two concrete pillars supporting capital punishment in this country into pillars of salt. (And nothing stands on a pillar of salt.) Diaz’s execution provided graphic evidence, in addition to the mounting paper trail , that lethal injection does not afford the painless and civilized death that would be expected of a government-sponsored execution. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), states are now confronted with the dilemma that they have to change the execution protocol but they don’t really have many options available to them. Lethal injection already represents the fifth type of execution that has been tried in this country (on top of hanging, lethal gas, firing squad and the electric chair). Perhaps more importantly, licensed medical practitioners are prohibited from assisting in the execution process, thereby restricting the state from adopting a protocol that requires monitoring of the inmate during the execution process.

In addition to the technical problem of finding a suitable method for carrying out capital punishment, this country learned from Saddam Hussein’s death that witnessing the execution of a horrible criminal does not provide the “just desserts” that everyone anticipates. For a victim’s family, the death of the person convicted of killing their loved one may provide a sense of closure, and possibly even a measure of justice. However, for society writ large, which is the true beneficiary of our criminal justice system, Saddam Hussein’s execution woke people up to the reality that capital punishment does not achieve the retribution that everybody desires, and instead is at most intended as a mechanism for crime prevention. For the majority of individuals not involved in law enforcement who have voiced their support of the death penalty on the grounds that it achieves justice, the realization that it fails to do so will no doubt quiet them.

Only history will be able to judge whether the waning days of 2006 proved to be the turning point in the fight to eradicate the death penalty from our country’s sentencing options. I think though that the scales of justice have already tipped in that direction.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I'm the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby

Just wanted to throw my hat in the ring while I still can.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Touchdown for God

I didn’t get to hear a whole lot of the play-by-play at the Super Bowl on Sunday night between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, given the usual noise level and general rowdiness at my family’s 19th Annual Super Bowl party. I did, however, have the opportunity to hear winning Colts coach Tony Dungy’s acceptance speech when he received the Super Bowl trophy, since by then only a few somber Chicago Bears fans were left sitting on my parent’s couch. What caught me most by surprise was Dungy’s response when he was asked how it felt to be the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl, and to be one of the first two African American coaches to even coach the Super Bowl (the other African American, Lovie Smith, was standing across the sidelines on Sunday coaching the Bears).

Basically Dungy said that he’s happy to be breaking such an important barrier in professional sports, but that he’s even more proud of the fact that this year’s Super Bowl was coached by two Christian coaches who are doing the Lord’s work (he also referred to the Lord a few other times in his speech).

First of all, given the Bear’s fairly awful performance on Sunday night, Lovie Smith might be questioning whether he was doing the Lord's work on Sunday night, or whether God simply wanted to have a few laughs at the expense of Lovie’s quarterback, Rex Grossman. More importantly though, I was caught off guard by the culture that Dungy was reflecting in his comments: that American football from the high school level through the NFL, strongly encourages team prayers before game time, celebration prayers in the end zone, and overall promotes a strong Christian faith as a way to keep players who spend most of their waking time trying to beat the living daylights out of the opposing team, “well-grounded.” Though that culture may indeed succeed with some players, I’m bothered by the fact that it also reinforces a system of conservative social values, the most obvious manifestation of which is the fact that no male professional athlete – in football or otherwise – is openly gay. In fact, I can only imagine that if a Colts player ever decided to come out in the locker room it would be tantamount to deciding that he wanted his career to go the way of Steve Emtman. Ever heard of him? Precisely.

Who knows? Maybe (hopefully) one day I’ll be proven wrong. Until then though, I’d rather hear Super Bowl acceptance speeches that recognize such historic moments as the one celebrated on Sunday night, not as events ordained by a Christian God, but as the true accomplishment of individuals like Tony Dungy, who may be guided by their faith, but who have worked tremendously hard on their own to break down barriers that should have been torn down long ago.

The Blog is Back

I'm happy to be back online after my first foray into blogging this past summer, with the highly acclaimed (at least according to me:), Southern Exposure. This time around, I’m planning on expanding the scope of my musings beyond my experience in the Deep South to the regular (and sometimes irregular) events and happenings in my life, and to the issues and current events that I find interesting. For the sake of my own time and for a better reading experience, I'm also hoping to keep the average length of each of my posts shorter than the lenghty treatises I was writing this past summer.

Ultimately I decided to restart my blog because I realized that I enjoyed taking the time to write and to reflect about the experiences and issues that affect my daily life. I especially love those occasions when friends or family or any other readers out there in the wide open blogo-sphere post a comment or send an email with their own thoughts in reaction to what I've written. As always, I look forward to those times.

And with that…let the blogging begin.