WUFT- UF Chabad Jewish Center Hosts State’s Largest Passover Seders

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 4/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/04/10/uf-chabad-jewish-center-hosts-states-largest-passover-seders/

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida will host the largest Passover Seders in Florida this week.

Both of the Seders are open to the public and free of charge with an online RSVP and are occurring Monday and Tuesday nights.

The Passover Seder is a ceremony held on the first two nights of the eight day holiday. The traditional Jewish holiday celebrates through prayer, symbolic acts and traditions with the two halves of the night divided by a meal.

Aron Notik, one of the center’s two rabbis, said although it is hard to tell exactly how many people will attend beforehand, it is safe to say these Seders are the largest in Florida.

Berl Goldman, Notik’s co-rabbi, said no one has been able to prove that they aren’t the largest in the United States.

He said the majority of the first night turnout will be comprised of University of Florida students, while the second Seder will bring in a more varied population from the community.

Both Rabbis said they are set to receive roughly 700 guests the first night, followed by around 400 on the second.

“That’s past 1,000 just for the Seders alone,” Goldman said.

Notik said he attributes this turnout to the inconvenient timing of the holiday this year. Both Seders are on weeknights two weeks before UF’s final exams, making it difficult for students to return home to spend the holiday with their families.

“Everyone here is away from home,” Notik said. “If our students lived within an hour away from home, we’d have no one.”

photo 5
The Seder plate is a dish filled with symbolic items to help facilitate the Passover Seder. More than 1,000 guests will use plates identical to the one pictured over the course of Monday and Tuesday. 

That is why Alexis Burton said she will be spending her Seders with the Chabad.

“It’s too close to finals to go home,” the UF senior said.

Although she said she has been regularly attending services at the Jewish center since August 2016, this will be her first Seder with the synagogue.

As the Chabad provides kosher-for-Passover lunches and dinners for the remaining six days of the holiday, the synagogue is preparing roughly 2,500 meals.

“It takes an army to do what we’re doing,” Goldman said.

photo 4.jpg
Volunteers help set tables for the Chabad’s Seders. More than 50 volunteers have offered their services throughout the past week.

Volunteers from both the university and the Gainesville community have been a comfort and inspiration to Goldman and Notik.

Mazal Fernandez, a regular Chabad attendee, is one of these helpers.

“It’s very humbling to be part of something really big,” she said.

Fernandez said she saw the unprecedented amount of reservations, and decided to help by unpacking food and decorating.

“You need people to come here and bring it to life.”

In order to support the time and resources needed to host Seders of this scale, Goldman and Notik organized a phonathon and online donation pool, both of which will be active through the end of the holiday.

As of Monday, they are roughly two-thirds of the way toward their goal of raising $76,000.

“It relieves some of the financial pressure,” Goldman said.

photo 6.jpg
Rabbi Goldman facilitates the burning of chametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, outside of his synagogue. In order to hold a legitimate Passover Seder, none of this food can be on the premises.

Both rabbis said they have seen the challenges that Seders of this scale pose.

“It’s hard for a large crowd to follow a 15 step process,” Notik said.

In order to partially combat such difficulties, they are hiring captains for each table. These volunteers will help their respective tables keep up with the main Seder, which will be conducted by the rabbis.

“It will help us do the Seder more efficiently,” Goldman said.

Both Notik and Goldman said, regardless of affiliation level or reservation, no one will be turned down at their Seders.

“You’re Jewish, it’s Passover, come and experience the Seder,” Notik said.

WUFT- Gainesville Pokémon Go Community Stays Active With New Update

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/20/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/02/20/gainesville-pokemon-go-community-stays-active-with-new-update/

Tillissa Barcia sat at a Starbucks in Downtown Gainesville on Saturday morning. Although she was lounging with her husband Steven, and her two children Austin and Abery, none of them were sipping a coffee.

This Starbucks is what Pokémon Go players refer to as a PokeStop. Two more of the item-spewing stations surround the street corner.

For Barcia, these frequent “Pokémon Go adventures” allow the family to spend quality time together, regardless of her post-traumatic stress disorder and her daughter’s cerebral palsy.

“We spend more time together, and I enjoy the discovery,” said Barcia. “I continue playing it for that reason.”

Steven Barcia, wife Tillissa Barcia, and her daughter Abery play Pokémon GO together. The Starbucks pictured is a PokeStop, a location where players can collect in-game items. (Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

On Thursday, the mobile game Pokémon Go launched its largest update since its initial release in July 2016. Not only were 80 new Pokémon made available to catch, new gameplay features were implemented as well.

Despite a decline in popularity nationwide, Pokémon Go has remained alive in Gainesville.

Barcia and her husband serve as two of the three administrators of Pokémon Go: Gainesville,  a growing Facebook group centered around the game. Barcia said the group has grown steadily from 10 to 715 members as of Monday.

Despite the size of the group’s membership, Steven said there are only about 50 players who actively post. He said posting is not the only mark of participation, however. The majority of group members use the page to find tips and advice.

“They post what they find there so other people can use it,” Steven said.

Despite group growth, Barcia said the actual community isn’t as burgeoning. “There’s also been a lot of players, they’ve played for seven months, caught everything they wanted to,” she said. “They’ve said we’re kind of done for now, but we’ll come back when the next generation comes out.”

Ken Humphlett, group moderator and owner of Dependable Ken Tech Support, said the Gainesville community hasn’t declined, but redirected itself.

“The gym community is still very active,” he said. “This hardcore group of people, they’re always playing.”

When starting the game, players may choose to align themselves with one of three teams: Mystic, Valor, or Instinct. Teams then battle each other to gain control of “gyms”, which represent real-world territory.

Humphlett said this shift in community focus from catching Pokémon to taking gyms has created some hostility.

“As more people get into gyms, it creates a competitive dynamic,” he said.

Both Humphlett and Barcia agree that the fun has come back to the game with the implementation of Pokémon from the second generation of the series.

“A lot of players are kind of crawling out from the shadows now that there’s something new,” Barcia said. “People are returning.”

Although every member of the family expressed their excitement, the Barcias said they didn’t require a new generation to renew their interest in the game.

“It’s just time with family and discovering things we never would have,” Barcia said. “I would have never been on a nature trail with alligators that close.”

Other than medical appointments for her children, Barcia said she used to rarely leave the house. After getting involved with Pokémon Go, she begged for excursions.

“This is helping my PTSD, I’m going out as a family to do this,” she said.

Kelli Granade, the office manager of the University of Florida’s Linguistics Department, also said she uses the game to spend time with her family. She said one of her fondest memories is running around her neighborhood with her husband and son, trying to catch the rare Pokémon Snorlax.

Humphlett said he had no interest in the Pokémon franchise prior to the game’s release. It was the two youngest of his five sons that convinced him to download the game.

“Seeing the excitement on their faces when they catch something new,” is what he said keeps him coming back to Pokémon Go.

As her son wandered around the coffee shop trying to catch a new Pokémon, Barcia guided her daughter’s fingers across the screen of her phone. Steven paralleled the motion on his phone; they were all laughing.

WUFT- Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Prepares For Potential Terrorist Threats

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/02/10/alachua-county-sheriffs-office-prepares-for-potential-terrorist-threats/

President Trump spoke Tuesday at the National Sheriff’s Association’s winter meeting. Opening and closing his speech with warnings regarding potential terrorism, Trump said he plans to give sheriffs the weapons they need to do their jobs effectively.

Trump’s speech was bookended by statements on the importance of local law enforcement in the fight against terror.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) already understands this importance. The ACSO has increased its efforts to combat terrorism in its jurisdiction.

Lt. Brandon Kutner, Alachua County Sheriff’s spokesman, said the ACSO has always been conscious of potential terrorist threats, but the recent attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. and Orlando, Fla., have spurred more intense preparation efforts. Kutner said these measures include participation in more frequent and varied training programs, and the acquisition of more advanced equipment.

“Whether it be an improvised explosive device, or if someone’s just really hell bent on causing harm to as many people as possible, we have plans in place to deal with that,” he said.

Kutner said the ACSO is part of a Regional Domestic Security Task Force, which allows them to collaborate with other sheriff’s offices in Northeast Florida, including those in Jacksonville and Marion County.

“We share a support network of equipment, personnel and training in order to combat what we describe as domestic terrorism,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law enforcement website said these task forces are the foundation of domestic security in Florida. The task forces also serve as a force multiplier in the case of an attack.

The Jacksonville and Marion County Sheriff’s Offices participate in annual training exercises with the ACSO, which Kutner said is made possible by participation in the task force.

Despite a recent boost in their efforts, such as participation in training courses across both the state and country, the ACSO only received $1,766 from the task force in 2016. Although the ACSO was unable to confirm how much they were awarded in 2015, Kutner said it was much higher.

Kutner said the reason the ACSO received a lesser amount than what they’re used to is because of the task force’s funding division system. Money is allotted proportionally based on which county needs funding the most. Therefore, Kutner said the amount of new equipment, such as a rook and armored personnel carrier, and staff they already have caused the task force to allot the ACSO less.

The spokesman said another major source of financial support comes from the United States Department of Homeland Security. This funding is not allotted annually, but for a two to three year period. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, these grants may be used for equipment purchases, training programs and other terrorism combatant and preparation efforts.

Kutner said because of the length of this range, recent terrorist activity has not yet been reflected in the amount of funding received. He said the ACSO is unable to disclose the amount the federal government funding provided for the current period.

This funding is directed toward equipment acquisition and upkeep, as well as monthly training programs for all related teams, Kutner said.

Despite having less money to work with, Kutner said the ACSO is using the equipment and training its various terrorism combatant teams to continue to be prepared.

In a press release from ACSO, Sheriff Sadie Darnell cited an award-winning SWAT Team, an FBI-certified bomb team and a marine operations team as a few of the divisions actively training for potential terror threats.

This is similar to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who faced the Pulse Nightclub attack. It actively trains its SWAT team and a hazardous device team for potential terrorist threats.

Kutner said because the training offered in Alachua County sometimes isn’t enough, the ACSO sends teams across the state and nation to participate in specialized training courses.

Alexis Burton, a Gainesville resident, said she feels safe in Alachua County, and she trusts the police to protect her from terror.

Gainesville resident Jacob Zieper doesn’t see terrorism as a threat to Alachua County.

“Anti-semitic attacks I can absolutely see,” he said. “But in terms of organized terror, I can’t imagine they’d bother with Alachua.”

He said a lack of potential targets in Alachua County justified his opinion.

In the case of an unexpected attack, however, Zieper said he completely trusts the ACSO to protect him.

Kutner disagrees with sentiments of terrorism not being a threat to Alachua County. He cited the University of Florida’s football stadium and nuclear engineering school as prime targets for an attack.

“You have 90,000 people that are packed into a stadium for a Saturday home game,” Kutner said. “That’s a potential issue for us with regard to homeland security.”

In order to prevent an attack of this nature, the ACSO has been working with the University of Florida Police Department, as well as the Gainesville Police Department, by carrying out a screening process at all games.

He said obvious targets aren’t the only Alachua County locations that are threatened — it could happen anywhere.

“No one would say that a nightclub in Orlando would be a specific target for a terrorist attack, but we saw what happened down there,” Kutner said. “No one would say an office building in San Bernardino, California, would be the target of a terrorist attack, but again, it happened, and the local authorities had to be prepared for that.”

Kutner said the police aren’t the only personnel who need to be active in the fight against potential terror. He said he urges all citizens to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

In August 2016, the ACSO joined the Nixle alert program. This mobile service not only allows Alachua County residents to receive alerts on nearby criminal activity, but citizens can text ACSO with anything suspicious they would like to report using the phone number 888-777. They may attach photos and/or videos to these messages.

The sheriff’s office participates in the statewide “If you See Something, Say Something” campaign. In a press release, Sheriff Darnell said to call 1-855-352-7233 if residents notice any suspicious activity.

“The citizens know best,” Kutner said. “If you’re at home and you realize that car that’s been parked across the street is not normally there, as a deputy patrols through that neighborhood, that deputy is not going to know if that’s a normal thing.”

WUFT- North Central Florida Collectors Share Stories at Museum’s Collectors Day

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 1/24/17. 

Link: http://www.wuft.org/news/2017/01/24/north-central-florida-collectors-share-stories-at-museums-collectors-day/

 

Two hundred collectors gathered for the 38th annual Collectors Day at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Saturday. Although collections vastly differed, all were bound together by a common thread: a story.

Myena Kerns—Teddy Bear Collector

Myena Kerns said her teddy bear collection stemmed from a childhood love.

“I had a teddy bear when I was a child,” she said. “It was my companion growing up and all through my life.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Unlike most collectors, Kerns doesn’t acquire new items through purchases or donations— she creates her own.

“They’re fun to make,” she said. “Each one has a distinct personality and each one of them looks different.”

The Newberry resident — who said she takes bear individuality to heart — pointed to a brown bear sporting a bright red bow tie sitting high on a large pile of stuffed animals.

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

“This is considered our baby,” she said. “His name is Wellington. He wears baby clothes.”

Although Kerns has been collecting since her childhood, the first bear she made was a gift.

“I made stuffed toys for my children and grandchildren, and it just evolved from that,” she said.

Jennifer Lewis — Spatula Collector

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Spatula collector Jennifer Lewis said her 28-year spatula collecting journey began as a joke.

She said middle school friend gave her a spatula for Christmas, a riff on their shared love for the ‘Spatula City’ commercial in the “Weird Al” Yankovic film “UHF.”

“That started it as a silly thing, but then I really started to notice them everywhere,” she said.

The Gainesville native said some of her favorite spatulas — out of a collection just shy of 2,000 items — were Florida Gator themed but she has grown particularly fond of a spatula she calls “the gnarly and big one, with the bull.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

When asked about the total value of her collection, she said value is decided individually.

Mark Shelton — Superhero Mask Collector

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Mark Shelton said his mask collection stemmed from the bond he shares with his son.

“I’ve liked superheroes since I was a little kid, but now I’ve got an 8-year-old son,” he said. “When I started getting costumes for him for Halloween, he liked them so much [that] he wanted them for Christmas.”

Holiday gifts for his son sparked their regular mask-collecting excursions, Shelton said.

Shelton’s collection not only allows him and his son to become their favorite superheroes but other characters, too.

“So far the number one that the kids love is the Ash Ketchum over there,” he said, pointing to a plastic mask of a cartoon character from “Pokémon.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Shelton said his son continues to inspire him to collect everyday.

“We both enjoy superheroes and going out and finding new masks,” he said. “This is what we like to do.”

Shelton’s son isn’t the only force driving his hobby, he said.

“I do it just to bring joy to people and watch the kids smile after they put them on.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Miriam Elliott — The Beatles Memorabilia Collector

Self-proclaimed “Beatlemaniac” Miriam Elliott said she has been collecting merchandise from The Beatles  since she was a teenager.

“I would use my meager babysitting money,” Elliott said, laughing.

Her love for the band was ignited when she saw them play in Jacksonville in 1964 at the Gator Bowl.

“That’s been a thread throughout my entire life, it’s a big influence to who I am as a person,” she said. “The fact that I’m involved in peace and justice activism — a lot of that was the direction they led me in.”

Although Elliott said she has always loved buying The Beatles items, she didn’t realize she was a collector until she came to Collectors Day for the first time.

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

“One of the collectors said to me, ‘Do you collect anything?’ I said no, but then I thought for a minute. I said, ‘I do have a box full of Beatles stuff.’”

That conversation prompted her to organize and actively add to her collection, she said.

Elliott has now been presenting her passion project at Collectors Day for 33 years, making hers one of the longest running collections featured at the show.

While her collection is impressive, she said she doesn’t just come to Collectors Day to show off her assemblage.

“Among the collectors who know each other, year to year, we find things for each other and pass them on,” she said. “It’s a nice camaraderie.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

When asked about her favorite item in her collection, she pointed down to the necklace she was wearing that featured a discolored Beatles logo written atop a miniature brown book.

“The gold lettering has worn off because I used to wear this to school and handled it a lot,” she said.

Opening the book revealed it was an accordion filled with photos of the The Beatles’ faces.

“I was able to look at the lads between classes, because I got them right here close to my heart,” she said.

As she stood over a frame encasing her first Beatles concert ticket, Elliott said “People would describe collectors as being obsessive, or bordering on hoarding. But it’s really a passion. Each person here has a passion for whatever it is that they’re exhibiting.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Film Review- Denial

Note: This review was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 10/11/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/film-review-denial/

denial

Denial is an astonishingly accurate adaptation of the famous 2001 court case Irving vs. Penguin Books Ltd. In this case, renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt stood trial against David Irving, an infamous Holocaust denier. After Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot in her book Denying the Holocaust, Irving accused Lipstadt of libel. This case came to fruition due to the British legal system, which requires those accused of libel to prove their innocence—the opposite of the legal system in the United States. The movie portrays the struggles, and eventual triumphs, of Lipstadt and her legal team in their battle against pure hate.

As a Jew with multiple grandparents who are Holocaust survivors, I have an inherent emotional connection to this case—and in turn, this film, which I saw at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s premiere screening. Following the film there was a discussion with Deborah Lipstadt and the producers Russ Krassnoff and Gary Foster. The sheer amount of historical detail incorporated by the filmmakers was astounding. The producers pointed out a perfect example of this meticulousness during the question-and-answer session; the head of Lipstadt’s legal team, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), never made eye contact while addressing Irving (Timothy Spall). A factual detail so easy to abandon would never make it into the screenplay of a generic blockbuster hit.

“Deborah said, ‘I’m about to sign this paper giving you these rights. You need to promise me one thing: the truth,’” Russ Krasnoff, one of the producers, explains. “It was our mantra.” In other words, a painstaking dedication to portraying the truth was one of the Denial team’s core values. The producers explained that this pursuit even extended to having Lipstadt on the set, in order to make sure everything was accurate from her point of view.

Lipstadt’s story is about the dedication to truth—and the filmmakers took her lesson to heart. “Every single word that David Irving says in the film… it was all taken from transcripts or interviews,” says Krasnoff. “Every word was documented.” This was astonishing to me. Some of Spall’s lines were so shockingly ignorant and hate-filled that I assumed they had to be exaggerations—like Irving’s “No holes, no Holocaust” diatribe. However, I came to realize that the over-the-top nature of these deliveries only proves Spall’s skill in accurately portraying such a sinister person.

The film’s realism was only bolstered by outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, who flawlessly portrayed opposing forces in what might be their best roles to date. The support and fondness I felt for Lipstadt also extended to Weisz, who was able to transform expertly into the historian over the course of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. Timothy Spall has always been excellent at playing fictional villains; his transition from fictional evil to real-world evil was seamless.

Where the illusion of realism that drives this film was somewhat shattered was with actors Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott, whose performances sometimes felt unnatural. There were also occasional shots that either lingered too long, or placed emphasis on subjects that should not have been emphasized, which was a bit jarring for me.

But what I enjoyed most about Denial, aside from its potent accuracy, was its timelessness. “It’s not just about Holocaust denial,” says Lipstadt. “It’s vaccines. It’s the environment. It’s Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where kids were murdered.”

A large portion of the Q&A centered around the idea that whenever there is a tragic event in history, there will always be people who find a way to deny it. Whether they are anti-Semitic, racist, or simply in need of a selfish way to cope with said tragedy, they exist. With so many horrific events occurring on a near-daily basis throughout the world, there will always be those who seek to undermine the truth. They cling to tiny details, minuscule inconsistencies, and blow these details up to horrendously large proportions in an attempt to prove their opinions. However, Lipstadt, her legal team and the filmmakers prove that, whether it be the Holocaust or any tragedy, the truth will always prevail.

Denial’s purpose surpasses entertainment. This movie should be used as a tool, a weapon in the fight against hate. Producer Gary Foster explains this best: “If we can spark and inspire conversation—and get people to say, ‘Hey, there’s a difference between opinion and fact’—then we have done good.”

The Books That Shaped You

Note: This article was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 9/13/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/the-books-that-shaped-you/

 

In our Books that Shaped Great Authors symposium, we asked 20 Jewish writers to tell us about the books that influenced them the most. Their answers ran the gamut from Winnie-the-Pooh to War and Peace. Hoping for some equally inspiring responses, we asked our readers to tell us their own stories about books that changed them. Here are some of our favorites.

 

My life changed course during my high school marine biology class. Two afternoons a week, our teacher would don a field hat and read snippets from the introduction to John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, written to memorialize Steinbeck’s close friend Ed Ricketts.

One passage sold us on the immense value of good literature, good science and good friendship. Steinbeck describes a moment four days into his own birthday party. Ricketts, having already imbibed about five gallons of beer, awakens from a nap and reaches for his nearby quart-size bottle: “He found it, sat up, and took a deep drink of it. He smiled sweetly and waved two fingers in the air in a kind of benediction.
‘There’s nothing like that first taste of beer,’ he said.”

We were gobsmacked. We cheered, our adolescent belief in the healing power of an all-nighter wrapped in the package of Steinbeck’s own fine prose, philosophical observations, and finished neatly with a newly minted form of religious ritual.

My transformation led me to pursue the paths that Ricketts and Steinbeck modeled. I relentlessly pursued a first career in marine and wildlife biology, all the while writing, with Steinbeck as my muse. My recent career as a spiritual care counselor and chaplain is yet another branch of the Ricketts/Steinbeck legacy. Although I grew up middle-class and Jewish and my pastoral training has been through Jewish seminaries, my life has been lived on the rough edges, as a biologist as well as in the areas where I live and serve, whether fishing in the harbors or ministering to heroin addicts in skid rows.

It is no accident that Steinbeck used the word “benediction” in the passage my classmates and I so loved. To him, the sacred happens in small moments as well as it would in a church or synagogue. Steinbeck’s works always portray his own struggle to show us the spiritual easiness of the land, how humans seem to mangle it all up, and how we can find redemption.

—Susan Katz

Suddenly, All-of-a-Kind Family popped into my head. The tender love and care shared between parents and daughters, the sisters’ relationships and identity as individuals and as Jewish immigrants, helped me relate to my father’s childhood and upward struggle. The tension of tradition, observation, and contemporary life was one he felt constantly. He passed this year, but left a legacy for my siblings and myself that engendered a deep love for Jewish observance with the freedom to participate as is most meaningful. I still think of Ella and Henrietta and the other sisters whose father was that same loving guide, who deepened their appreciation for their roots and quietly modeled how to be a good Jew, a true mensch.

—Jenny Merdinger

Tao Te Ching, written by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu—I’d recommend the Penguin translation by D.C. Lau—is the book that came into my life like a bolt of lightning. It is not a Jewish text, but it has probably been discussed and interpreted as diversely as the books of the Talmud.

Though astonishingly brief, even in translation, and despite being over 2,500 years old (like the Hebrew bible text, it is still mostly intelligible to modern readers of the language), its contents are absolutely relevant to life in the 21st century. Full of incredible juxtapositions and paradoxes, Lao Tzu’s book is like the ancient embodiment of Yoda’s teachings to Luke Skywalker, and for me as a high school student, the ideas in this text were totally opposite to the deadline-driven, achievement-focused, survival-of-the-fittest society that I was racing through as a young adult. Quotes from the book were and continue to be life-changing revelations that contradicted everything I thought I knew and helped me to find a more relaxed attitude, which also probably contributes to greater success and happiness in career and relationships. For example, “Excessive speech leads inevitably to silence. Better to hold fast to the void.”

I would even argue that this book is the original and best self-help book of the past 2,500 years. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, might be my personal choice of runner-up).

—Brian Landberg

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, when I was a sophomore in college. This was the book that really taught me to read carefully, with my whole heart and mind, and with an eye for the detail and nuance in Ellison’s language, in his characters, images, motifs, and themes. It was also the book that began my more mature thinking about race in America—never a more urgent topic than right now.

—Rebecca Schwartz

I was interested in health, medicine and anatomy from a very early age. I used birthday money to buy my first microscope at age 10. I wasn’t sure how I would use that interest because I was a female, and had no related role models. Then I read Woman Surgeon by Else K. Laroe, and that transformed my thinking about the possible. I retired five years ago after 46 years in health care. I received much more than I gave.

—Karolyn Rim Stein

Many books and authors influenced me as a young person growing up in post-war Germany, long after World War II was over. Max Frisch and Wolfgang Borchert were instrumental in defining my attitude towards peaceful coexistence. However, the one book that opened my mind to an even greater extent was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It started the adoption of a different perspective of how I viewed the world and, more importantly, human behavior. Manipulation and emotional control are presented very clearly in this book—all the more reason for me to resent them.

—Ingrid Webster

 

These responses have been edited and condensed.

Top Ten Jewish Podcasts: Reader Edition

Note: This article was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 9/13/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/top-ten-jewish-podcasts-reader-edition/

This past July, we gave you a list of some of our favorite Jewish podcasts. We were soon inundated with recommendations for other podcasts readers felt we overlooked. We’ve done some listening ourselves, and came up with ten more Jewish podcasts for you to enjoy. If our last list didn’t turn you into a podcast lover, this one just may do the trick.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-19-49-pmUnorthodox

Debuted by Tablet last summer,“Unorthodox” is a self-proclaimed “smart, fresh, fun take on Jewish news and culture.” This weekly podcast is hosted by Tablet editor-at-large Mark Oppenheimer and features writers Liel Leibovitz and Stephanie Butnick. Guests have included include best-selling author A.J. Jacobs, essayist Sloane Crosley and Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. If you want to hear about “everything from the presidential elections to Amy Schumer, Israel to Drake,” “Unorthodox” is for you.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-23-52-pmBarr’s Banter

Rabbi Robert B. Barr has been putting a rabbi’s perspective on current events since 2007. As the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, Barr is a champion of the Humanistic Judaism movement. Discussing everything from the Syrian refugee crisis to the high holidays, Barr has tackled hundreds of topics in his nine-year-old show. With each episode in the two-minute range, “Barr’s Banter” is an easy addition to your weekly routine.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-25-13-pmThe Book of Life

“The Book of Life” is a podcast all about Jewish media. Whether it’s books, music or films, if it’s Jewish, it’s covered. The show is hosted by biblical fiction author and librarian of Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, Heidi Rabinowitz. She has interviewed many renowned Jewish creatives, including author Angela Cerrito and filmmaker Roberta Grossman.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-18-35-pmJudaism Unbound

“Judaism Unbound” is a “project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by ‘disaffected but hopeful’ American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century.” In other words, the main goal of the podcast is to construct a Jewish lifestyle that fits into modern-day American society. The show is hosted by Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofes, the heads of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, an organization with the same goal as its podcast. Join Libenson and Rofes as they interview guests such as author Richard Elliott Friedman and American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna, all in the name of evolving Judaism.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-16-53-pmTreyf

Are you a Jew living in North America? Do you have an interest in (left-wing) politics? If one or both of these apply, “Treyf” might be the podcast for you. As a self-described “debatably Jewish podcast,” “Treyf” addresses some of the thornier political discussions taking place in North American Jewish communities, from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to social and racial justice. The episodes’ relatively short length (anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes) does not limit their guest repertoire. Writer Mark Tseng Putterman and journalist Josh Nathan are some of the many voices “Treyf” has recruited to facilitate discussion of the Jewish political sphere.

13227095_1755939367958664_5595034377956959036_nReally Interesting Jews

Hosted by Rabbi Evan Schultz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut, RIJ seeks to introduce American Jewry to the people who are working to change their communities. Whether it be thinkers, project facilitators, or conversors, RIJ wants you to know all about them. Some of the revolutionists that have been featured on the podcast include spiritual community founder Lizzi Heydemann and Ruth Messinger, former president of the American Jewish World Service. Schultz states his goal for the podcast clearly: “…my hope is that their stories will spark conversations in your homes, communities and synagogues.”

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-13-43-pmNew Books Network—Jewish Studies

The Jewish Studies subsection of the New Books Network of podcasts tackles a new Judaism-related book each week. Rather than simply discussing each book, NBN takes the time to interview their authors. Some of these writers include Jonathan Garb, author of Yearnings of the Soul, and Robert O’Kell, author of Disraeli.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-11-51-pmKaddish

Death is a difficult subject matter for anyone, regardless of religion. Student Rabbi Ariana Katz hopes to ease the struggle with her podcast, “Kaddish,” which focuses on mourning rituals and customs. With a variety of guests and first-person stories, Katz strives to provide listeners with a deep and contextualized look at death. “There is a dearth of death education, and there is a romanticising, exoticizing, and sexualizing of death,” the show’s description reads. “Kaddish aims to stay in the muck, the complicated, unsexy, terrifying places, because those too are a part of grief.”

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-30-00-pm

Stuff Jews Should Know

The title says it all. Join Mottle and Batya Wolfe as they discuss different Jewish essentials and topics—holidays, landmarks, traditions, laws—in under a half an hour, from Purim to the Temple Mount. You’ll be an expert in no time.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-10-21-pmOMGWTFBIBLE

Last but definitely not least, OMGWTFBIBLE describes itself as a “brand-new English translation of the Hebrew bible.” What OMGWTFBIBLE really is is a rebranding and retelling of the Torah as “the world’s oldest comedy serial” as opposed to a traditional (and serious) religious text. As host David Tuchman writes, “Doesn’t it just plain suck that the Old Testament isn’t cool anymore? The book’s got everything: genocide, incest, and even talking donkeys!”

Snapchat: An Unexpected Restaurant Marketing Tool

Note: This article was initially published on the WebTV network site Foodable on 7/26/16.

Link: http://www.foodabletv.com/blog/2016/7/26/snapchat-an-unexpected-restaurant-marketing-tool

What do Snapchat and the fast casual restaurant industry have in common? They are both the fastest growing entities in their respective fields. Although it may seem like the restaurant and social media industries are completely different, they often work together to provide success for one another.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Snapchat surpassed Twitter in daily usage earlier this month. A 4-year-old app was able to defeat a 10-year-old internet giant.

Fast casual similarly bested a restaurant giant. Quick-service restaurants, otherwise known as fast food chains, have dominated the restaurant industry for decades. However, since the turn of the century, the demand for a healthier option from has grown. QSR Magazine reported that fast casual is the fastest growing restaurant type in the world for this very reason.

The main consumer audience of both Snapchat and fast casual restaurants is composed the generational group Millennials, whose ages range from 16 to 36. Living in the information age, Millennials have easy access to data that generations before didn’t. They understand that despite fast food being both a quick and convenient option, it is very unhealthy. (Need advice on winning Millennials over? Read this.)

In response, Millennials have become the dominant buyers in the fast casual industry. They were responsible for both the demand that led to the creation of the industry, as well as composing its main customer base. This trend is made evident inFoodable Network’s 2016 Super Millennial Report.

According to the report, Millennials make up the largest generational group in the United States. In turn, they hold roughly $200 billion in annual buying power. More than half of these Millennials use social media regularly. Social Times stated that 59 percent of Millennials use Twitter. The American Press Institute said 88 percent of Millennials get their news from Facebook. The combination of their avid social media consumption and their massive buying power is an important relationship for restaurants to take note of — and it’s clear that many already have.

You can’t use Facebook or Twitter without seeing a restaurant advertisement. It’s nearly impossible. However, a severely underused platform is Snapchat. As discussed, Snapchat has become the most popular mobile social media platform, mainly thanks to Millennials.

Millennials clearly love both Snapchat and fast casual dining. Naturally, the two were meant for each other.

How QSRs Have Used Snapchat

Taco Bell is famous for kicking off its Snapchat launch with an exclusive product announcement. Followers were treated to a first look at the Beefy Crunch Burrito. While this is now a staple on the Taco Bell menu, this was the first consumers ever saw of it. Taco Bell’s Snapchat has only evolved from there, introducing exclusive filters and even short films to the platform.

While Taco Bell’s Snapchat is well known for its exclusive product announcements, IHOP’s account is famous for its filters.

An article by M-Mersed explained, “by creating a very closely geo-fenced space (IHOP restaurants) rather than a broader regional geo-filter or typical sponsored filter (nationwide), IHOP created a sense of exclusiveness around the experience.”

In other words, IHOP created filters that can only be applied to snaps and sent while users are inside the restaurant. This aura of exclusivity attracted customers, as they felt they were special by being in on this “filter club” of sorts.

Smashburger and Snapchat

This success wasn’t simply achieved by random chance. According to a Restaurant Business Online, Smashburger reveals exclusive content and gives out coupons through Snapchat. It’s clear that these benefits are working, as the same report states that 65 percent of Smashburger’s Snapchat followers watch their videos all the way through.

Through the 6,800 reported in-store Snapchat coupon redemptions, we can see evidence of successful marketing achieved via said social media platform.

Now armed with knowledge, you may be interested in using Snapchat for your fast casual. You can strictly follow the Smashburger model, mainly releasing exclusive coupons and premiering new products; it has clearly been successful. You can also follow the Taco Bell and IHOP models, which involve exclusive filters and Smashburger-esque product announcements. However, there are plenty more steps you can take to reap the benefits of the little mobile ghost.

Snapchat Strategies

Before even launching your Snapchat account, you must make this action known. An article by Maximize Social Business encourages fast casual chains to advertise the creation of their Snapchat account on their pre-existing social media pages, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This will create an instant follower base (one that will grow over time) to work with. Smashburger, Taco Bell, and IHOP all took this approach, and have been reaping the benefits ever since.

An article by Next Restaurants encourages fast casual employees to offer discounts for customers who Snapchat photos and videos of their food to their friends. This will serve two purposes. Customers will be pleased with said discounts and return to the restaurant in the future. In addition, the friends of said customers will receive enticing photos of food, encouraging them to come in for themselves, and, eventually, become regular customers. You are killing two birds with one snap.

You can also avoid the middleman in this process entirely by simply sending pictures of food to the chain’s pre-existing Snapchat followers yourself. However, this will limit both the audience of your snaps, and the amount of new customers obtained through said snaps. This is mainly because your Snapchat followers are usually already loyal customers; you are trying to attract new consumers.

Your Social Chef encourages chains to provide Snapchat followers with behind-the-scenes content. A popular method of achieving this is to film snaps in the kitchen, showcasing how the chain’s food is prepared and served. You may also give followers a dive into the corporate sector of the chain, giving them a deeper look into the intellect behind the restaurant they love. This method of Snapchat communication will allow fans to feel even more connected to your chain, perhaps even feel like they are “part of the family.” With connection comes loyalty; returning customers will continue to return, and perhaps even try to get their friends and family into the chain, providing you with new customers.

Oracle suggests partnering up with ticket sales companies and giving away tickets to popular events. These may include films, sport games, plays, and concerts. What is popular to your customer base may differ on a location-to-location basis. Therefore, you must narrow down the events you choose to those that will be popular with the customer bases of the most locations possible. You can give out exclusive codes via Snapchat; the first redeemer is the winner of the tickets. However, you can also advertise a hashtag, use of which on Twitter or Instagram will enter the user into a lottery to win said tickets. The article cited Chat Sports’ Snapchat as a model of this technique.

“The company last year offered existing followers a chance to win tickets to a local sports game if they convinced five friends to add Chat Sports on Snapchat. Those five friends then sent a unique image to Chat Sports that included the name of the referring Snapchat friend and the hashtag #gimmetickets. Some 150 people responded within 48 hours,” the articlesaid.

Although this is not the most efficient method of giving out event tickets to your loyal Snapchat followers, it was a pioneering technique that evolved over time.

An article by Carolina Social Media recommends sending followers exclusive passwords. These passwords can be used in a number of ways. Line skipping, free or discounted food, free chain paraphernalia; the list goes on. Customers will be required to give these passwords to an employee, most likely a register operator. This technique will encourage loyal customers to remain loyal. In addition, these customers will spread the word of these passwords, encouraging more followers. You risk the possibility of followers posting these passwords online or spreading them orally, but that is a risk that many Snapchat marketing techniques face.

Oracle’s piece also makes a point of reminding you to remind your audience. An essential way for your chain to benefit from Snapchat marketing is through reminders. Remind your audience of what you have to offer. Whether it be an event, sale, product premiere, or giveaway, keep reminding your users of what you have to offer through regular snaps, as opposed to just one disappearing announcement. Customers will likely forget about these offers unless you repeat yourself. However, it is important not to go too far with reminders. Make sure you don’t spam their Snapchat feed, or you will risk losing followers, and, in turn, customers.

There are a massive amount of Snapchat marketing techniques that your fast casual chain can implement. It is important to understand which of these methods will work best for your particular chain. Choosing the wrong technique could be worse than not using Snapchat at all. However, if you assess your audience, and follow some of the steps above, your fast casual chain will reap the benefits.

Google Chrome is Trying to Eliminate the Need for Flash

Note: This article was initially published on the digital marketing site DigitalCoCo on 8/10/16.

Link: http://digitalcoco.com/blog/2016/8/10/google-chrome-is-trying-to-eliminate-the-need-for-flash

download (5).jpegFlash: what once was one of the most popular plug-ins for video, gaming and animation on the internet, is on its last legs. According to a report by the Guardian, ever since YouTube, formerly the most prominent Flash-heavy website,ceased using the format in January 2015, Flash has been slowly fading into the depths of obscurity.

However, the true nail in the coffin may be closer than we think. A CNET report explained that Google has announced plans to expedite Flash’s inevitable demise by removing it from their own browser, Google Chrome. They cited battery drainage and security issues as the two most apparent reasons behind Google’s upcoming abandonment of the format.

The void that the removal of Flash will leave behind will not remain empty. Google plans to replace the format with HTML5.

WhatIs.com defines HTML5 as the newest version of HTML, the most common programing language used to construct websites. But unlike its predecessors HTML5 will be able to support audio and video content, a feature once dominated by Flash.

“Google said the change will lead to improved security, reduced power consumption and faster page load times,” said CNET’s report.

They explained that this process will not be immediate. Chrome 53’s September release will begin to remove emphasis from Flash by blocking all flash-based content. However, the full replacement will occur in December, with the release of Chrome 55.

A statement by Adobe, the company behind Flash, explained, “Google’s decision is part of this industry-wide evolution that Adobe is heavily invested in.”

WhatsApp Introduces Desktop Version of the Popular Messaging Platform

Note: This article was initially published on the digital marketing site DigitalCoCo on 7/27/16.

Link: http://digitalcoco.com/blog/2016/7/20/whatsapp-introduces-desktop-version-of-the-popular-messaging-platform

download (4).jpegWhatsApp is, without a doubt, the most popular messaging app (see report). Over one billion people of the Earth’s seven billion population actively use the platform. With something this successful, it makes no sense to change the formula, right? After all, the saying is don’t fix what isn’t broken. WhatsApp isn’t taking that adage for an answer.

According to a report by Forbes, WhatsApp launched its desktop app for both Mac and Windows computers. From now on, WhatsApp users will be able to browse the internet without having to stop their conversation.

Forbes cited a blog post from the official WhatsApp site, quoting, “Because the app runs natively on your desktop, you’ll have support for native desktop notifications, better keyboard shortcuts, and more.”

Although undoubtedly excited about these features, WhatsApp users may worry that they will have to manage two separate accounts (one for mobile and another for desktop). This is not the case.

“The apps sync with a WhatsApp user’s account on their mobile device, once they’ve downloaded them and scanned a QR code from inside Settings > WhatsApp Web on the mobile app,” the report explained.

Although this may seem like a fresh new direction for the platform, this isn’t WhatsApp’s first endeavour into the computer world. WhatsApp launched a web browser app in 2015. However, the new desktop app will alleviate the issue of having to sift through tabs to find your chats.

The report notes the risk that the desktop app’s launch posed. Competition has become more tense amongst desktop messaging services. Messengers such as Slack and AIM will need to step up their game in order to compete with the chatting giant.

This new app may even appeal to businesses. As WhatsApp provides free international communication, it could serve as an invaluable tool for international corporations. They now have a quick and easy alternative method to speak with their overseas partners.

Evidently, WhatsApp’s move to desktop is a big step forward for the messaging industry. Not only will it possibly lead millions of users to another form of WhatsApp, but it will strengthen its position in competition. WhatsApp’s desktop app is a great new tool for both the average computer user, and large businesses. Read more