19 years ago I moved to Chicago, 3329 years ago I received the Torah at Mount Sinai

I arrived with my family in Chicago nineteen years ago this week. Although the Jewish calendar and Gregorian calendar do not usually coincide (the 12 Jewish months are 29 or 30 days long and leap years have an added month), once every 19 years they coincide exactly. That means when you turn 19, your Hebrew… Continue reading 19 years ago I moved to Chicago, 3329 years ago I received the Torah at Mount Sinai

The Chief Rabbi of South Africa visits Chicago for the first time

You’ve heard of the Shabbat Project, or the Shabbos project, right? In 2013, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, came up with a simple idea. He asked every Jew in South Africa to keep one Shabbat.  South African Jews are very traditional, but not many are Shabbat observant. The results were astounding. The idea… Continue reading The Chief Rabbi of South Africa visits Chicago for the first time

Seder night Reflections – Blessing of the Pesach Lamb or the curse of Cub’s Billy Goat

Learning even a page of Talmud is tough. Learning a whole volume is cause for celebration. At the siyum (completion) of a tractate of the Talmud, it is customary to recite a prayer of thanksgiving and for all in attendance to eat a festive meal. There is a widespread custom on the eve of Pesach for… Continue reading Seder night Reflections – Blessing of the Pesach Lamb or the curse of Cub’s Billy Goat

That was quite a trip!

That was quite a trip!

This blog is my way of sharing some of my thoughts and sharing the life my family has chosen to live. Here is a travelogue of my recent week long break from the Chicago winter.

The schools we send our children to do not have their winter break when most people go on vacation, namely the end of December.

Instead, their schools’ winter break is one week in mid-January.

Since I have been in Israel on trips with students most of the last 10 years over the new year break, it has been hard for me to take off more time from work a week or two after I get back.

So my children have spent their winter breaks in Chicago. They’ve still had fun (last year we went skiing at Wilmot Mountain). But they’ve always been in cold weather.

This year I did not go to Israel and so for the first time, we decided to take our children to visit their cousins in Los Angeles. Actually, it was only two of our four children, Elisheva and Nachman. Yisrael Tzvi is in yeshiva in Israel and Meir Simcha is in yeshiva in Telz in Chicago and they don’t have a winter break. (They have a month off for Pesach and Sukkos and a month in the summer)

While everyone else was going to spend a full week in LA, I was going to leave early to spend Shabbos in St. Louis (more later) so I decided to get up very early on Sunday morning and take the first flight out. My first destination, of course, the beach! Santa Monica beach.

There I met my close friend for over 30 years, Gary Puterman. We first met playing rugby in the Maccabi Games in 1985. He has been in LA for a long time and almost every Sunday morning since he arrived, he has been playing in a competitive touch rugby game on Santa Monica beach. In past years, when I’ve had the time, I’ve joined in and had a great time. Last time, I tweaked my hamstring and didn’t want to take the chance again. So while he played, I went for a run along the water’s edge. I grew up by the sea in Port Elizabeth and used to run along the beach, knee high in the water for rugby training. It was a little cold to go swimming but it felt great to run along the water’s edge.


After lunch in Pico with Gary, I went to pick up Hilary and the kids and headed to North Hollywood. That is where Hilary’s sister, Dena and their family lives.

The next day, Nachman, nephew Yoni, and I went for a hike in the Los Angeles mountains in beautiful sunny weather.
Elisheva came a day later because she had been in New York for interviews to get into seminary in Israel next year. So the day after she arrived, we went to Zuma beach near Malibu, then had lunch at a kosher restaurant, called Fish Grill.
Another highlight was visiting nephew Elisha’s new embroidery business, where Elisheva and Nachman each got their own custom made cap. (check out https://yesembroidery.com/ and https://www.yelp.com/biz/yes-embroidery-studio-city for reviews)
We also got to see my brother, Jerome and neice, Jayde on my way to the airport.
My next stop was St. Louis for the inaugural Torah and Turf Jewish Flag football tournament and Shabbaton.
What started out as an innovative way to engage unaffiliated young men in Judaism in St. Louis has now turned into a national program.
Ten years ago, Rabbi Kula of the St. Louis Kollel, began Torah and Turf, a flag football league which included a Torah class before the game. Recently, Rabbi Shaya Mintz and Rabbi Yaakov Silverman took over and took it to a new level, inviting other cities in the US to join.
For example, in Dallas Rabbi Yoni Sonnenblick and Rabbi Shmuli Wolf were able to have a 10 week league with 5 teams of 10+ players each. They said a quick Torah thought  before each game and really connected with a lot of new people.
Dallas and Denver ran programs and brought teams to the tournament. Here in Chicago, there was a lot of interest and we had a great game on Thanksgiving. However, we did not have a full league and unfortunately were not able to field a team this year. So I went as an observer and guest speaker.

There was a game on erev Shabbos, motzaei Shabbos and the playoffs and championship game on Sunday morning. In between was an inspiring Shabbos which began with a lively kabbalos Shabbos led by Rabbi Tendler of the University City Shul. The highlight of the Shabbos was the oneg Shabbos where students stood up and talked about how much they enjoyed the opportunity to disconnect on Shabbos and grow spiritually. On Shabbos afternoon, I shared the Rugby Rabbi story, which was well received by the like minded football players. 

Denver takes on Dallas
The food throughout the weekend was delicious, especially the barbecue smoked ribs.
Although the games were competitive, including the final where St. Louis edged out Dallas for the gold medal, there was a real sense of achdus (unity) and many new friendships were made.
Gold medal winners, St. Louis
 Plans are already in the works to expand the league to more cities and have an even bigger Shabbaton next year.

If you have any interest in starting a league in your city and/or participating in a future tournament/shabbaton feel free to reach out to Rabbi Yaakov Silverman at ysilverman@stlkollel.com

An added bonus was that I got to see my father, who is in St. Louis for a few months, staying with my stepsister. He came out to watch some of the games.
 Me and my Dad
Then on Sunday after the championship game, I flew to Baltimore for the AJOP (Association of Jewish Outreach Programs) annual convention, which fortunately is where my sister, Lara lives. I had a number of meetings, attended sessions where new programming ideas were shared, and got to catch up with many friends in the outreach field, including a group of Rabbis who are ex-South Africans.
Me with the South African contingent: Rabbi Yitzchak Greenblatt (Boston), Rabbi Chanan Gordon (Los Angeles) and Rabbi Raffi Shochet (Providence) at AJOP
Adam, Erin, Lara came over for dinner
So I literally crossed the country and at each stop got to see family. It was a good break and now I’m back at work, energized for the rest of the semester.