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Phyllis Karp: My Jewish Home Story

Phyllis moved to the Jewish Home about two years ago. Living alone in a small apartment, with no means of transportation, her move to the Home was one of the best decisions she ever made. Between the friends she’s made, the artistic talents she’s pursued, and the security she has knowing the senior services she needs is right here, Phyllis is healthier and happier than she has been in years.

Jewish Mothers — What’s New?


Who better to give excellent advice than a Jewish mother? Answer: a Jewish grandmother!
For Mother’s Day, we asked residents at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for their wisdom about life, love, happiness, success, and — of course — food.

Happy Mother’s Day!…

Confessions of a Jewish Mother: How My Son Ruined My Life!

Read a book excerpt about Selma! —…

Awakening Joy Course and Book Preview:

Jokes from Jewish Home Residents – Chickens


Kosher butcher shops tend to close just before sundown on Friday nights, in preparation for the Sabbath. Los Angeles Jewish Home resident Joe Weinbaum, 91, tells the one about a customer’s visit just before closing time.…

VOICES: The Rebbe and the Scientist: Looking for Life on Mars
The Rebbe and the Scientist: Looking for Life on Mars
Shevat 27, 5774 · January 28, 2014
Dr. Velvl Greene

In 1960, I began working for NASA as part of the Planetary Quarantine Division, which was then charged with trying to find life on Mars. The Rebbe was very, very interested in the work I was doing. When we first met, he asked me if I knew what the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of the chassidic movement, meant when he spoke of divine providence.

I said that I did. The principle of divine providence which the Baal Shem Tov taught is that nothing a Jew sees and hears is random. Rather, it is all designed by Heaven to bring you closer to Torah and to G‑d. There is nothing wasted.

And the Rebbe said, “If this is true for everybody, how much more true is it for a person who is exploring the stratosphere, or searching for life on Mars, or working in a medical laboratory dealing with diseases, or traveling all over the world and meeting so many people.”

“Nothing a Jew sees and hears is random . . . certainly when searching for life on Mars”

He went on, “You must have a wealth of stories and anecdotes and events and impressions—each one of which demonstrates divine providence. You should keep a journal of these stories and events, and then try to analyze them to see what is the lesson you can learn from these things. And if you can’t figure it out by yourself, then bring them to me and I’ll help you.”

I followed his advice. And today I have a journal with hundreds and hundreds of stories and events, and I plan, some day, to disseminate these stories to as many people as possible.

Back then—this was the early 1970s—when word got around that I was working with NASA and looking for life on Mars, some religious Jews would rebuke me. They said, “You mustn’t do that. You mustn’t work in the space biology program or the exobiology program, because it goes contrary to Torah. You shouldn’t be doing this kind of work.” Since at this point I had already begun my journey to Jewish practice, their words caused me concern—was I doing something wrong? I didn’t know what to make of these statements. Rabbi Feller suggested that the next time I would meet with the Rebbe, I should ask the Rebbe if that was in fact true.

“You should look for life on Mars, and you should keep looking for life on Mars”

The Rebbe didn’t respond right away. He thought for a while, and then he said this:

“You should look for life on Mars, and you should keep looking for life on Mars. If you don’t find it, then keep looking elsewhere, and do not stop looking, because to sit here in this world and say there is no life elsewhere is to put a limit around what G‑d can do. And nobody can do that!”

And then he asked me if it would be possible for him to read some of my reports to NASA, and he was careful to add, “if they are not classified.”

I told him that there were many unclassified documents that I could send him, but I asked, “Why should the Rebbe want to read this? I mean, most of it is preliminary—we haven’t been to Mars yet. We’re just doing experiments to plan for the Martian trip, and what we’re doing is just normal bacteriology; it’s not very exciting . . .”

He said, “Let me decide that.”

So I promised him that I would do it, but several months went by, and I didn’t send him anything. The next time I was in New York and stopped at Chabad headquarters for afternoon prayers, the Rebbe noticed me and called me over. He said, “You promised me something!”

The Rebbe noticed me and called me over. He said, “You promised me something!”

“What did I forget?”

“You promised me the reports.”

“Well, I thought the Rebbe is so busy . . .”

“Don’t have pity on me. Send the reports.”

I went home and assembled a pile of unclassified documents—three or four thick folders—and I sent them all to the Rebbe. Most of this material described what we thought the Martian environment might be like, based on information from flybys. This was work from before the first landing on Mars, which would not take place until July 1976. In those early days, we were trying to develop a sampling device that could test the dust on Mars for the presence of living microbes. We were speculating what types of microbes might be there, so we could provide the proper nutrients to grow them when we got there.

It was straight laboratory work—I had a big group of microbiologists working for me, generating mounds and mounds of reports which we would send to NASA. But, until we actually landed on Mars and took samples, everything we were doing was speculation.

“In the first place you say that these bacteria would grow there, and in the second you say that they wouldn’t”

At the next audience I had with the Rebbe, he said to me, “There is something I’d like to bring up. Obviously it’s because I don’t understand your work, but it seems to me that there is a disagreement between something you wrote in one place about bacteria on Mars and what you wrote in another report several years later that describes the same experiment.” And he named the volume. “In the first place you say that these bacteria would grow there, and in the second you say that they wouldn’t.”

I told him that I couldn’t remember what he was referring to, but that I would look it up. And when I went home I dug out these dusty reports and read them, and of course he was right. There was a discrepancy.

When I came to the Rebbe the next time, which was a year later, I told him, “With regard to the discrepancy, the Rebbe was right—what I said here I didn’t say there, simply because I made a typographical mistake. And I’m going to correct it.”

“I don’t like contradictions in science”

He said, “Thank you. You make me feel better. I don’t like contradictions in science. But if the difference between what you said here and there is because you made a simple mistake—well, that makes me feel better.”

After that, every time I saw him he asked me for more reports. And, one time, I answered him in a flippant way. I said, “They say that the Rebbe has ruach ha-kodesh, divine vision. If that is true, why is the Rebbe asking me for a report? Doesn’t he know what is going on?”

If any chassidim had been in the room, they would have slapped me. But the Rebbe just smiled and said, “Vos men zogt, zol men zuggen—what they say, let them say. From you, I want a report.”

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By Velvl Greene    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

The late Dr. Velvl Greene, a bacteriologist and professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University as well as director of the Lord Jacobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics in Be’er Sheva, Israel, also worked for NASA’s Planetary Quarantine Division, which was charged with trying to find life on Mars. He was interviewed in his home in Be’er Sheva in April 2008.

Finding meaning

Finding meaningPosted: 28 Jan 2014 05:46 AM PST

BIG-DIPPERAt OHALAH, I learn about The December Project, a collaboration between author Sara Davidson and Reb Zalman in which they speak honestly and candidly about aging, death and dying, and the afterlife. I promptly pre-order a copy.

Upon my return home, a woman seeks me out with burning questions about Jewish beliefs around death and dying, burial practices, the afterlife. We have a long conversation in my office and agree to meet again.

Within days of that meeting, a man seeks me out to talk about illness, end-of-life issues, creating programs to help adult children speak (and listen) clearly to the wishes of their aging parents. We, too, agree to meet again.

The human mind seeks to make meaning. Give us a handful of stars in the night sky, and our brains sketch them into the shape of a constellation. Give me three disconnected encounters with questions of aging, dying, and what comes after, and my mind wants to turn them into a pattern.

Does it “mean something” that this theme keeps cropping up in my January?

Maybe this is just a reminder that this is a need which people have, these are conversations which people both fear and crave. Maybe it’s just a happy coincidence that I learned about a new resource to share, just before I met someone with whom I wanted to share it. These are disconnected events; they have nothing to do with each other.

And maybe the people who brought these questions into my life this month are messengers whose presence is meant to awaken and attune me to these questions. That’s what angels are, in the early parts of Torah: messengers sent by God. They look like ordinary people, but they bring awareness of something that someone needs to know or learn.

Both of those can be true at the same time. Anyone I meet can be a messenger if I’m open to finding a deeper message in our encounter. What looks like happenstance to you might look like a holy encounter to me (or: what I experience as happenstance on one day might feel to me like a holy encounter on another day.) Neither of those interpretations has to trump the other.

The stars of the Big Dipper take on a shape because we see the shape in them. So do moments in a life. Connections and coincidences flare brightly because we notice them and draw lines to connect them.

What meaning will I make from the shape which is coalescing here?

PARENTING: My Week Without a Cell Phone
My Week Without a Cell Phone
Shevat 27, 5774 · January 28, 2014

Today is Day Six without a phone.

Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.

I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.

Like waltzing to music in my living room with my delighted nine-month-old as my dancing partner, her tiny hand encased in mine as she giggles at this new game.

Like realizing that it is only one o’clock and I have already accomplished what usually takes me until three!

Like thinking about writing this article and actually sitting down to write it . . .

According to CNN, on average, people check their phones 34 times a day, sometimes with only a 10-minute break between checks. The Huffington

Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad

Post relates that 73% of Americans would feel panicked if they lost their phone, while 14% admitted that they would feel “desperate.”

Honestly, when my phone died while I was out last Tuesday, I definitely felt the faint flutter of panic. And when I came home, placed it into the charger, and returned an hour later to a blank screen, I would say there was an element of desperation as I stabbed violently at the home button and power button (to no avail).

On Tuesday night I went to an event with my husband. There was no picture-taking of the food, ourselves, or anything else. In fact, no one besides for the people who saw us there even knew we went.

Wonder of wonders.

That night I tried every imaginable way to resurrect my phone, including switching the charging cable, the charging port, even the charging room. I even left it in rice overnight (although it had been nowhere near water).

The next morning, I admired my reflection in the black screen and searched deep within its depths for a trace of my beloved apps. The only thing I saw were my eyes, round and fearful.

We decided to involve the expert: the fix-it man. He figured the issue was either the battery or the charging port, and replaced my battery to see what would happen. I had a working phone! I rushed to catch up on WhatsApps, texts and Instagram news. I was secretly pleased to see the amount of social-media notifications I had missed, but the pleased feeling disintegrated fast, almost as quickly as the new battery ran out. I was left pensive and thoughtful, even as we discussed giving the phone back to the magic maker the following day.

And when Thursday lifted its sleepy head and my baby woke me up with her coos and babbling in her crib, soon after the sun had made its hazy appearance in a pink-tinged sky, I marveled at my unhurried morning cuddles with her, at my slow and pointed morning routine, at my casual saunter to the bathroom to wash up.

I was not rushing to check anything, to update myself, to see what I had “missed.” I was not reaching out blindly for a cold, hard object that “connects” me but leaves me with no real connection. I was focused and living for the “now,” and the only thing I rushed to do was to get back to my bed, where my baby was lying on her back and holding her feet to her mouth while singing in her baby voice. I flopped down on the bed next to her, and watched her eyes light up and a joyful laugh rise from her belly.

I didn’t give my phone in that day.

I didn’t give it in the next day either.

On Sunday night, my husband went around to the fix-it man’s apartment and handed him my phone.

Tonight, I will get my phone back. It’s going to be funny having it again, hearing the “ding” of a new e‑mail or the “whoosh” of a new message. I have this crazy, insane, almost shouldn’t-be-said-aloud thought that maybe, maybe, I don’t want my phone back after all . . .

It is dawning on me that perhaps my methods of “connection” are not really that great. After all, think about the way we connect to G‑d. There

Maybe, maybe, I don’t want my phone back after all . . .

is no phone line, no Facebook page, no following Him on Twitter. No texting or messaging, and certainly no photos of Him to “like” on Instagram.

G‑d is reachable through a deeper form of connection: prayer. Prayer is not an instant process; it takes time to meditate and consider our relationship with G‑d, without other distractions. First, we praise and acknowledge G‑d as our Creator. Then we ask for what we need and want, realizing that only He is able to provide it. And finally, we thank Him for what He does in our lives. Through this three-step process of prayer we create a bond that is felt, not seen.

No wonder relationships today are at an all-time low. We don’t talk anymore. We don’t converse and have meaningful discussions with people face-to-face, gauging their reactions and physically interacting with them. Our relationships are based on screens and cyberspace and apps! How is a deeper connection supposed to develop?

Maybe it’s time we applied our connection with G‑d to our relationships with those around us who are near and dear. Maybe it’s time that we really started to think about our friends and family and how much we appreciate their being a part of our lives, rather than just “friending” them.

My phone will be back in about six hours, shiny screen beckoning. Perhaps I will shut it off for two or three hours a day, so that I will be forced to connect in other, more meaningful ways with those around me.

I hear my baby moving around in her crib, and I have a husband to make dinner for.

Please excuse me while I go connect with the people I love.

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By Blumie Abend    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Blumie Abend is a wife and mother currently living in Crown Heights. She has a passion for writing and currently works as a freelance writer.


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