“Textual Insights” Site Launched

Eight months ago, I launched a new site devoted to my textual explorations of Jewish texts. Silly me, though, I didn’t actually announce it back then.

So, if you haven’t noticed, I created it back at the top of 2019.

I had been thinking about doing something along those lines earlier in the winter, and finally decided to create this separate website for my textual explorations. But I hadn’t announced it then.

My main areas of focus are Rabbinic Literature, Biblical Texts, and Post-Talmudic Halakhic Texts. The primary focus has been Rabbinic Literature, but there are a handful of posts on Biblical Texts and Post-Talmudic Halakhic Texts. Yes, a heavy focus has been on alcohol-drinking, but there are some on other topics, as well.

This has been a cool space for me to share my observations, explorations, and explanations of various texts, especially my passion, rabbinic literature.

Check it out and I hope you enjoy!

Pirkei Avot Video Essay Series Completed

I am very excited to share that I have successfully completed my series of video essays on Pirkei Avot! Having finished up the fifth chapter last week, I have now shared insights on all five chapters of this collection of rabbinic wisdom sayings, which are available for public enjoyment.

While I created this series for sharing with residents at the senior living facility where I serve as the Director of Pastoral Care, it is also available for the broader public, as well. With my intended audience in mind, I spoke more slowly than I would normally have spoken, as well as making these texts more approachable.

I am very glad that I was able to carry this idea out to a successful completion, which took, as can be noticed, months, as I completed the first chapter by the end of January, the second chapter by the end of February, the third chapter by the end of March, the fourth chapter by early May, and the fifth chapter by mid-June. It took a while to complete, but it is finished.

I progressed steadily through Pirkei Avot, by sharing insights for several minutes each day at work on each of the texts. The 97 video essays on this significant piece of rabbinic literature will remain where they are and are not only available for the public, but I may also re-broadcast them to the residents at the senior living facility.

One thing I began doing at some point was titling the videos, broadly describing the texts that I was discussing, which should also be helpful in gaining a sense of the content.

Another thing that occurred throughout the series was gaining a better understanding of the texts within Pirkei Avot – sure, I had read through them many times, but having to sit with these texts and to explicate them to others forced me to gain a better understanding of them. I am very fortunate that I have a better handle on these dozens of texts through having undergone this process.

Once again, I am very glad and fortunate I was able to carry this idea to its successful completion and I hope you enjoy!

Video Essays on the Fifth Chapter of Pirkei Avot

Having published video essays on each of the texts in the first chapter of Pirkei Avotthe second chapter of Pirkei Avot, the third chapter of Pirkei Avot, and the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot, I am now proud to share that I have completed a series of video essays on each of the texts in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot.

This entire series on the fifth chapter is available in this YouTube playlist.

While the video essay on the 21st text in this chapter is the longest of the entire series, the subsequent episode is one of the shortest of the series. This chapter actually yielded a few other video essays that reached double-digit minutes, largely due to the texts that utilized lists. The average length of the video essays on this chapter is 8:41.

Here is the entire series of video essays on the fifth chapter:
Pirkei Avot 5:1 – The World Was Created with 10 Statements
Pirkei Avot 5:2 – 10 Generations from Adam to Noah and 10 Generations from Noah to Abraham
Pirkei Avot 5:3 – Abraham Tested with Ten Trials
Pirkei Avot 5:4 – 10 Miracles/Plagues in Egypt & 10 More at the Sea
Pirkei Avot 5:5 – Ten Wonders Occurred for Our Ancestors in the Temple
Pirkei Avot 5:6 – The Creation of 10 Supernatural Phenomena
Pirkei Avot 5:7 – 7 Characteristics of Wise People & Uncultured People in Conversation
Pirkei Avot 5:8 – 7 Punishments & 7 Transgressions
Pirkei Avot 5:9 – Pestilence Increases at Four Periods of Time
Pirkei Avot 5:10 – Four Characteristics of People with Regard to Possessions
Pirkei Avot 5:11 – Four Temperaments of People
Pirkei Avot 5:12 – Four Types of Students
Pirkei Avot 5:13 – Four Categories of Tzedakah-Givers
Pirkei Avot 5:14 – Four Types of People Who Go To The Study House
Pirkei Avot 5:15 – Four Categories of Those Who Sit Before the Sages
Pirkei Avot 5:16 – Love That Is/Isn’t Dependent Upon Something
Pirkei Avot 5:17 – Disagreements That Are/Aren’t For the Sake of Heaven
Pirkei Avot 5:18 – Causing the Masses to Sin or Merit
Pirkei Avot 5:19 – The Disciples of Abraham & Bilam
Pirkei Avot 5:20 – Wisdom from Yehudah ben Tema
Pirkei Avot 5:21 – Different Stages at Different Ages
Pirkei Avot 5:22 – Ben Bag Bag’s Advice of Sticking with Studying the Torah
Pirkei Avot 5:23 – One’s Reward Corresponds to One’s Labor

Newest Village Art Insights Presentation: Sidra Torah Ark at The Skirball Museum

In conversation with Rabbi Shmuel Polin about the ark

I’m pleased to share the release of the newest presentation of Village Art Insights on the newest exhibit at The Skirball Museum. In addition to speaking with Jessica, my collaborator on the Village Art Insights series on the exhibit, a fully rebuilt Torah ark from 18th century Poland, we spoke with both museum director Abby Schwartz, as well as the exhibit’s creator, Rabbi Shmuel Polin for this presentation.

With Jessica

According to an article in the American Israelite, Rabbi Polin’s study of the lost ark and related material resulted in his rabbinic capstone project for graduating Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s rabbinical school. Rabbi Polin’s research coincided with a conservation project on the Polish ark in the Scheuer Chapel on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR. Used daily by students for prayer, what began as a modest project to make the ark safe for everyday handling turned into analysis of paint and wood, and the discovery of a long-forgotten shipping label affixed to the back of the ark that revealed its specific original location of Schönlanke, Poland.

Skirball Museum director Abby Schwartz discussing the exhibition

New research conducted by Polin indicated that this precious Polish ark, which came to HUC in 1925 as part of the Berlin Judaica Collection of Salli Kirschstein, was made in about 1759. It had previously been dated about 1740. It is one of the few extant Polish arks of the eighteenth century. Soaring 20 feet high, the richly colored and symbolically reconstructed Sidra ark is a feat of imagination, engineering, and artistry.

 

Appearance on The Bridging Connections Podcast

While there are no new episodes of The Jewish Drinking Show this week (due to the Shavuos holiday), I am pleased to share that I appeared on a recent podcast episode, sharing about the Jewish Drinking project.

The newest episode of The Bridging Connections Podcast features me discussing the Jewish Drinking project, including The Jewish Drinking Show. The episode is available here, as well as on your favorite podcasting platform.

This is the fourth podcast appearance of mine discussing Jewish Drinking, having appeared on the 152nd episode of the Designated Drinker Show, the 28th episode of Let There Be Light, and the 17th episode of Drinking & Drashing.

Beginning to Pull Back From Providing Curated TV Content for Constituents

For the past 10 or 11 months – certainly, the majority of the time that I’ve been in my chaplaincy position, which has been during this global pandemic, I have been utilizing the in-house broadcasting channel to get content to residents. I have found and curated video content from YouTube to broadcast to the residents, especially since most of the pandemic thus far – and certainly the summer, fall, and winter – the residents were largely confined to their rooms and really weren’t able to get out, in accordance with Ohio Department of Health guidelines.

As such, it has been an important service that I provided to my constituents, providing edifying entertainment especially on and around Shabbat, although it also included holidays (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot were pretty intense). (Yes, as I announced a couple of weeks ago, the archive of this curated content is available here.)

However, now that residents are largely no longer confined to their rooms (at least for the assisted living side of the building; the skilled nursing side is another matter, as the residents have mostly been confined there), I have decided to pull back a little on some of the programming, since the need has lessened (I also have to acknowledge a helpful conversation with a fellow Jewish communal professional that I feel helped provide me with license/encouragement to do so). However, there still remains somewhat of a need, as while the residents have a significantly greater deal of freedom, many still may be in their rooms for some of Shabbat, plus many have become accustomed to the entertainment that I curate and broadcast to them.

Whereas I have at least for the last few months been curating and scheduling programming content on Fridays from around 2pm/3pm through around 9pm, and on Saturdays from 9:30am through the afternoon, often up until around 5pm/6pm. However, I am now pulling back, beginning at 4pm on Friday afternoons and then continuing on until around 9pm, and  on Saturdays, I’ll still continue at 9:30am for the time being and then continue until only about 2pm/3pm. Once we begin holding regular Shabbat morning services, I may begin only starting the content at 11am, then continuing until around 2pm.

So, yes, this is a significant pulling back in this incredibly successful endeavor, but I’m still going to continue to provide the service for the residents in the living facility where I work. When I reflect upon this, I realize that I have probably been leading the way amongst Jewish chaplains in the country. How many others can boast such a lineup of programming for the residents via the in-house broadcasting channel throughout this pandemic? Probably very few and that puts me up – if not at the absolute top, certainly towards the top – of the field in providing this service to the residents. With this deep pride at the success of the work that I have provided to my constituents, I do admit to feeling a certain sense of sadness at stepping away from this success that I have amassed during my first year in this position. Moreover, it has been such a mainstay of my position and the work that I have been providing to the residents, that it seems strange to begin to let go of something with which I have achieved so much success.

Yet, while I am pulling back, beginning with this week’s lineup, providing around 10.5 hours worth of content, as opposed to the 15.5 hours I I have recently been providing, I still remain providing this helpful service to my constituents. I am not cold turkey-quitting this aspect of my job just yet. It will likely be a gradual process of pulling back as we begin to emerge from this pandemic.

Video Essays on the Fourth Chapter of Pirkei Avot

Having published video essays on each of the texts in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, and the third chapter of Pirkei Avot, I am now proud to share that I have completed a series of video essays on each of the texts in the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot.

This entire series on the fourth chapter is available in this YouTube playlist.

Starting off, the first video in this chapter is lengthier than the rest, as it is a topic upon which I researched and wrote a decade ago.  It clocks in at a little over sixteen minutes. On the other end, the shortest video was the sixth video, which was under three minutes. The average runtime of these 22 videos is 7:06.

Here is the entire series of video essays on the fourth chapter:

Pirkei Avot 4:1 – Ben Zoma’s Paradoxical Characteristic Definitions
Pirkei Avot 4:2 – Ben Azzai’s Advice on Running Towards Mitzvot and Fleeing From Transgressions
Pirkei Avot 4:3 – Ben Azzai’s Advice on Denigrating Neither People Nor Objects
Pirkei Avot 4:4 – Humility & Not Profaning God’s Reputation
Pirkei Avot 4:5 – Relationships with the Words of Torah
Pirkei Avot 4:6 – Rabbi Yose on Honoring the Torah
Pirkei Avot 4:7: Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yose’s Advice on Staying Away from Judging
Pirkei Avot 4:8 – Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yose’s Advice on Judging
Pirkei Avot 4:9 – Rabbi Yonatan’s Observations on Socioeconomics and Torah
Pirkei Avot 4:10 – Rabbi Meir’s Advice on Efforts in the World & Torah
Pirkei Avot 4:11 – Mitzvot, Transgressions, and Assemblies
Pirkei Avot 4:12 – Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua’s Advice on Elevating Respect & Reverence
Pirkei Avot 4:13 – Carefulness in Study & The Crown of a Good Reputation
Pirkei Avot 4:14 – Rabbi Nehorai’s Advice on Remaining in Dialogue with Colleagues on Torah Study
Pirkei Avot 4:15 – Theodicy, Greetings, and Social Positioning
Pirkei Avot 4:16 – Rabbi Ya’akov’s Metaphor of The World to Come as a Banquet Hall
Pirkei Avot 4:17 – Rabbi Ya’akov’s Views on Activities and Enjoyment in This World and The Next World
Pirkei Avot 4:18 – Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar on Appropriate Timing for Interpersonal Behaviors
Pirkei Avot 4:19 – Samuel the Small’s Advice Vis-à-vis One’s Enemies
Pirkei Avot 4:20 – Rabbinic Metaphors on Education & Age
Pirkei Avot 4:21 – Rabbi Elazar HaKappar on Envy, Lust, & Glory
Pirkei Avot 4:22 – Rabbi Elazar HaKappar’s Theology on Life, Death, & God’s Judging

 

Article in This Week’s Issue of The American Israelite on Cedar Village History

An article in this weekend’s issue of The American Israelite covers a published video conversation between Sally Korkin and yours truly. Korkin had worked at Cedar Village since prior to its doors opening and for most of its operation, so it was a great opportunity to speak with her and discover some really neat facts about the building. That conversation is available here:

It is very neat to see this conversation we had receive local media coverage, appearing on pages 3 and 5 of this weekend’s issue of The American Israelite (and available here). What is interesting is that, instead of running a press release that was submitted to the paper, the paper covered it as a story.

For what it’s worth, here is the draft I had crafted to be submitted (on March 19th), although I don’t know what was ultimately submitted to the paper:

For institutions that have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, there can be a lot of history generated. With this in mind, a recent conversation about Cedar Village’s early history provides viewers with a lot of historical context of the institution and its building.

The conversation features Sally Korkin, who had worked at Cedar Village for 19 years, including even prior to its doors opening in March 1997, in dialogue with Rabbi Drew Kaplan, Cedar Village’s Director of Pastoral Care. Throughout the nearly hour presentation, Korkin provides an organized sense of historical context and intriguing insights into Cedar Village’s history.

Amongst the tidbits that she shares are that the Fountain View apartments had originally been Cedar Village’s memory care unit. Korkin also shares the story behind the series of holiday art that was purchased on the first of three Israel trips that Cedar Village made with residents. She also shares about the opening of the building.

Throughout this conversation, not only does Korkin provide interesting insights, but also provides a pride of place to both residents and staff, as well as residents’ families who may choose to view the presentation. The presentation made its debut to residents on the in-house broadcasting channel at Cedar Village on Friday, March 19th, along with encore presentations on Saturday, March 20th and Sunday, March 21st in the building. It will receive encore presentations in the future. It is also available for public viewing on YouTube.

(And, yes, it did, indeed, debut that weekend for the residents.)

What’s amusing to me is that, it seems that the policy of The American Israelite is not to promote or otherwise write anything about online material, so they likely assigned someone to write about the video (without mentioning that it’s a video). In any event, I am grateful that they provided coverage and shared some of Cedar Village’s history to the community.

Unfortunately, as Korkin pointed out to me, there are some errors in the article covering the video, including (but not limited to):

  • Ben Ritter, not Ridder
  • Frank Harkavy asked (not hired) Paul Heiman
  • Added Fountain View (not Oak View)
  • The part about the Jewish Federation is incorrect. It was the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and they funded the pool/aquatic therapy center only. The rest of the renovations were funded by a capital campaign.

Errors aside, I am glad that this history of Cedar Village shared by Korkin is getting attention and can be preserved 🙂

Sharing Resources from My Chaplaincy Position

With the publication of the 50th Shabbat Newsletter at my chaplaincy position, I realized I hadn’t previously made publicly available my archive of Shabbat Newsletters, so I am excited to announce that the newsletters are available here (N.B. the Shabbat Newsletter initiative began with my predecessor, so I am only including those issues that I edited and published).

Additionally, I am also making available all of the video lineups of edifying entertainment I have curated for the residents of the senior living facility where I work. While I began curating lineups in the summer, the archive of video lineups begins in September. The archive is available here. Feel free to use/share.

Huge Changes [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

There are huge changes taking place, which is very on-brand for 2021 (the year of change), although these are affecting my job. These changes have come from both governmental agencies that regulate what can be done at the senior living facility where I serve as a chaplain, as well as the organization that funds my position.

Changes from the Ohio Department of Health
Amidst the global pandemic, one of the aspects that has drastically changed the trajectory of the virus has been the vaccination efforts, not only nationally, but throughout Ohio, including the facility where I work. With almost all of the residents vaccinated against COVID-19 (there are a small number of residents who refused the vaccination) and most of the staff being vaccinated (we did better than the state average), positive cases of COVID-19 in the building have drastically dropped since our vaccination clinics in January.

As such, fortunately, the Ohio Department of Health (henceforth, ODOH) has recognized the power and effectiveness of the vaccinations to permit greater movement of both residents, as well as their visitors in accessing each other. Last week, in a press release, the ODOH has made a number of changes, the highlights of which are

  • Ohio is requiring that visitation be permitted whenever safety protocols can be met. Previously, visitation was permitted, not required.
  • Vaccinated residents may have physical touch with their visitor while wearing a mask. Previously, touch was discouraged.
  • Visits may occur in a resident’s private room, as opposed to the previous requirement of a separate visitation area.
  • 30 minutes should serve as the minimum amount of time for a visit. Previously, 30 minutes was the maximum time to visit.
  • The order also expands the circumstances in which compassionate care visits should be granted.

Excitingly, another highlight is that “the order updates nursing home and assisted living testing requirements to require the facilities to test vaccinated staff once per week and unvaccinated staff twice per week. The previous order made no distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated staff.” Although I will miss the twice-weekly testing (I actually just got tested for my 58th COVID-19 test today) as I got both of my doses of the vaccine in January, it is a nice move away from the height of the pandemic.

Changes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Another significant change came just weeks ago from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that now, according to updated guidance, whenever there are positive COVID-19 results from staff doesn’t necessarily require a suspension of activities. This is really great news! For many months, our facility has been subject to even just one staff member turning up positive for the virus to prevent activities from taking place, which has been greatly unfortunate, as had recently occurred. However, now, with the new guidance, we are not, as had occurred with a positive case amongst the staff that just happened within the past week (instead, only skilled nursing experienced a suspension of activities, allowing assisted living programming, dining, etc. to continue).

Changes from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati
Another huge change is the updated press release from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati (henceforth, JHC) regarding their shift in mission and vision, as well as the announcement of their new executive director. This press release, which was published by The American Israelite today, is an update from the press release they had initially published five weeks ago, which I had highlighted and discussed previously.

In the updated press release, they announced “plans to expand its footprint in the Greater Cincinnati community as a resource for supporting Greater Cincinnati’s Jewish seniors”. Furthermore, according to the press release, the JHC is “pivoting their strategic direction. Not only will JHC continue to support programs related to Jewish life at Cedar Village, but it will also become a grant-making organization to care for local Jewish seniors in the broader community”. This change is “reflective of seniors’ preferences and trends locally and nationally to age in place in their home versus in communal living.”

For further contextualization of the relationship between the JHC and the senior living facility where I work is articulated as:

Following the sale of Cedar Village, JHC has worked in partnership with the new owners and property manager, CarDon, to assure a smooth transition and ensure that Cedar Village remains a Jewish home. JHC continues to provide support to residents through the Cedar Village Foundation (CVF), the sole supporting arm of JHC. Steve Schwartz, CVF Chair of its Board of Directors noted, “CVF exists to support the well-being of Jewish older adults in Greater Cincinnati in alignment with JHC’s pivot and transformation.” CVF assists JHC as fiduciary stewards for the benefit of the Cedar Village residents with mission related commitments. These include pastoral care, Jewish religious observances, kosher meals freshly prepared on premises, and Jewish cultural and secular programming. The Harkavy/Berg Committee of JHC continues to support creative programming to enrich the lives of Cedar Village residents. Judaica owned by JHC remains on loan at Cedar Village and is displayed throughout the building.


In addition to this pivoting, they also announced the hiring of a new executive director, Nina Perlove. Since having discussed the previous iteration of their press release, I have had the opportunity to connect with her on a couple of Zoom meetings, and I look forward to continuing to connect and work together to serve Jewishly-identifying seniors at the senior living facility where I work.

One further piece of interest from the press is that the JHC will “begin accepting Letters of Inquiry and grant-making requests later this year”, so we should see how that develops.

Synthesizing These Changes
As you can imagine, this avalanche of changes is so incredibly sweeping and profoundly affecting my work. It is also so much to synthesize in such a short time. Moreover, having gotten the hang of this job over the course of my first ten months, it will be quite the transition into this next phase of my work as a Director of Pastoral Care at a senior living facility.