Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Siyum Speech on Maseches Bava Metziah, Commemorating My Grandfather’s, Z’TL, 3rd Yahrzeit

The following introduction of my siyum on Maseches Bava Metziah was delivered in Tifereth Israel of Passaic during Shalosh Seudos, Parshas Beshalach on 2/11/17 (Items in parentheses are ad-libbed material):

Good Shabbos everyone! Thank you for always inviting me to partake in these wonderful Siyumim, and for asking me to speak and be mesayem today.

It’s always wonderful to reconnect with friends, and to check in with Howie on where we’re each holding with our reading ambitions (We took care of that business immediately, and now we can carry on with the core reason for my visit).

We have completed Maseches Bava Metziah, and I have dedicated the learning to my maternal grandfather on the occasion of his third yahrzeit (I have spoken of him highly here, and often. So for those of you who are unfamiliar, I’m pleased to give you a basic introduction).

It happens to be, at the moment, that I am penning his memoirs, which were borne out of several Thursday night interviews I had with him 14 years ago.

The time finally came to transcribe them and put them all together.

My grandfather led an astonishing Forrest-Gumpian kind of life, especially during the war. He was all over the place, running and hiding, and being captured, and enslaved, and escaping, and taking up arms against the Germans, and hiking back home for thousands of miles (from Deep Russia, back to his home in Marmarosh, Romania – an on-foot journey of at least 1,700 miles).

The story is amazing, and I hope you’ll benefit from it when I publish the book.

One of the things that has struck me while putting the book together and taking a broad view of his life, is that it seems that it was one of Tikkun Olam.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that Gd has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”

Now, besides, Josh, for being a great lesson for a shul President for whom exactly to listen to when they complain to you, it is also – it seems to me - the living, breathing lesson that my grandfather imparted to his family for generations.

He took the various injustices and broken things of his world that he experienced and witnessed, and he set about to repair them. Four distinct examples stand out from his life (I have a page in the book detailing the examples I have. It is 17 bullet-points long, but time is brief today, so I’ll keep it to these four):

  1. When he returned home from war, he found his house in ruins, and he found his father’s Shas had been used as toilet paper by the enemy. He cried, and he despaired. Oy, did he (On the video my mother recorded of the interviews, my grandfather comes to near tears when he describes how terrible it was to see his father’s favorite sefer ripped to shreds: “Oy, my father’s Noam Elimelech! The Noam Elimelech my father loved!” It’s an extremely emotional part of the tape), but he also began a life of learning that included finishing Shas 14 times. How else can you be mesaken something as devastating as seeing your father’s Shas in ruins?
  2. There were children who survived the war, very few, and instead of letting them languish, my father, and his brother – Rav Eliezer Malik – took it upon themselves to be the teachers of the children in the neighborhood while the survivors rebuilt their lives (These Malik brothers then handed these children over to formal institutions once they were formed).
  3. When my grandfather was enslaved by the Russian army, rations were meager, and at one point, the entire group had to resort to cannibalism to survive. My grandfather refused, and would rather die than succumb. The chef was initially angry with my grandfather for refusing, but eventually had rachmanos on my grandfather, who was dying of malnutrition, and gave him an extra portion of daily bread to sustain him. Guess what my grandfather did for a living when he came to the states? He was a chef for 40 years before retiring, specifically for children in yeshivas and camps. It really isn’t that hard to draw a straight line here.
  4. One of the jobs my grandfather had while serving the Hungarian army - Jews were not allowed to be soldiers - was to dig foxholes for the Germans on the front lines against the allies, under pain of death (My grandfather’s friends were shot either by the Germans when they refused to dig, or by American or Soviet bullets when they fired upon the enemy). My grandfather escaped in the night from this travail, when his war wanderings began. As if God himself acknowledged this way of suffering and that He approved of my grandfather’s way of life, it happened many years later that my uncles, living in Israel at the time, and in Yeshiva, were summoned by the army for a day of work. What job were they given? Foxhole diggers for the Israeli Army. Uh, if that’s not a Tikkun Olam, I don’t know what is.

So I feel a responsibility to continue the legacy of my grandfather, to continue repairing the holes in the universe. However, I’m not a rebbe, and I’m not a blue-collar worker, and I’m not a chef. But you know what I am? I’m a poshiter yid, and I learn daf yomi every day, and I have my grandfather in mind every time I open a gemorah, and I love and honor him always, and on the occasion of his yahrzeit, it is a distinct pleasure to be able to be mesayim with a minyan, with friends.

The world is a broken place right now, but the gadol hador, Leonard Cohen, said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets In.” I give everyone here a blessing that we, and everyone around us should be the kind of people who notice broken things, and set about fixing them. We can repair the universe this way, and we can spread a little light.

Let us now complete Maseches Bava Metziah in honor and in memory of R. Benzion Ben R. Aharon, Z’TL…

(The picture attached depicts the moment I finished Shas with Zaidy, on July 12, 2012. It was my first completion, which I considered his 15th, due to how he inspired me down this path.)

Monday, February 06, 2017

How Running on My Treadmill Because it Was Cold 
Likely Saved My Family and House From Devastation
Martin Bodek

Before I tell you our story, let me first assure you that all of us, and everything in my and my wife’s possession, were entirely unharmed, and that the result was, upon reflection, the best case scenario considering the unsettling alternatives.

With deep gratitude for the safety and security of everyone, and everything dear to us, in our home, this is what happened:

A few factors to consider which each contributed, in their own way, to how this story unfolded.
1. We’re having some work done in our basement.
  a.       Out of an overabundance of caution, I wear a facemask for long runs.
2. Sunday mornings are my long runs.
3. It was cold outside.
  a.       I wasn’t in the mood to layer up.
  b.      So I elected to run on the treadmill.
4.  The kids were not home.
5. I switch out all my smoke detector and CO detector batteries every six months.

Now then:

It’s 7:40 AM. I’m two hours into my run, with about an hour to go (I’ve got the Virtual Jerusalem in six weeks), and after audiobooking Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, on our iPad, out of curiosity, I then find a History Channel documentary on how the principles have applied through America’s wars, and how they apply to sports and politics.

I’m up to a part where the narrator is describing why the U.S. was not successful in Vietnam (They knew not their enemy, and played “Chess” instead of “Go”). They dramatize a scene where G.I.s are firing upon the Viet Cong in the jungle. Firepower lights up the screen.

Then my reality shifts.

The next five paragraphs take place within two seconds of time:

I process that there is more fire in my field of vision than there is supposed to be. I have fire inside my little screen, but my brain is registering more outside the margins of what I’m staring at. I become confused, so I look up to see what was going on.

In that instant, a column of fire erupts seven feet in front of me. Our boiler is spitting a giant flame that instantly reached the ceiling.

In the same instant, the smoke detector goes crazy.

Just as fast, the fire is sucked down and appears to vanish out of my line of sight over my treadmill dashboard.

Incredibly, despite the suddenness and shock from what is happening, I manage to not seize up and fly off my treadmill. I quickly hit the stop button, jump off, and find the front of our boiler in flames, but contained within the front panel.

I then run up the basement steps, yelling for my wife to wake up while trying to describe what was going on as I’m making my flight. She immediately yells to flick the emergency boiler shut-off switch if it's safe to do so. I do that. The flames stop. The smoke detector turns off. My wife immediately gets on the phone with PSE&G and 911. I ventilate the basement.

Two minutes after our calls: PD shows up. I show officer Lobos what happened. Everything seems under control. He advises to sit tight for FD.

Four minutes after our calls: two FD trucks show up. I show firefighters Alberti, Ayala, Masnaj, Gonzalez, and the rest of the crew what happened. Everything seems to be under control. They advise to sit tight for PSE&G.

My wife and I spend the intervening waiting time trying to help each other settle our jangled nerves, and mulling what the cause could have been, and how the scenario might have unfolded differently. 

We succeed in settling ourselves, and also conclude that it is better to acknowledge our best case scenario outcome rather than pondering how things could have been different, but we haven’t a clue what happened yet.

Forty-five minutes after our calls: PSE&G shows up. I show Sam what happened. Everything seems to be in order. Our boiler is new. The burners look fine. The chimney is drafting properly. The switches are in order. Our home contractors have not been using gas-powered devices of any sort. Everything seems ship-shape, but he’ll order new burners and arrange install.

A mystery.

My wife and I have a nice breakfast together, and over the course of our day, try to figure out what happened and why.

As if a messenger sent him to remind us about our good fortune, the gabbai of my shul shows up at our house to return some borrowed items. I put in my gomel-bentching request with him.

Later in the day, we buy a gas leak detection kit. We test independently – and also test for false positives – and it comes up clean. Good, but the mystery bothers us.

After pondering, googling, discussing our head off on the issue, the best we can determine is likely one of a few general possibilities involving the science of combustion.

No stone unturned, we make plans to address each possibility to ensure our safety.

Over dinner, we explain to our kids what happened, and we’ll be conducting home fire drills so that we’re maximally prepared for a catastrophic event.

In the final analysis, I return to the beginning: everything and everyone is okay, but it is worth stressing the lessons so others can benefit and be safe as well.
  • 1.       Don’t panic – I don’t really know what kept me from breaking my neck by sailing off the treadmill. When we returned to the basement after everything was presumed safe, I noticed the treadmill key dangling, and my facemask on the tread. I don’t recall disengaging, or taking the mask off. It happened instinctively because I didn’t freak out. I knew what I had to do – see what was going on, and warn my wife – and my muscles did the rest. My wife, in turn, grasped what was happening despite my alarming tone, and calmly instructed me to do the right thing, and do it safely. Had she not given me the instruction that she did, we may have had a house-fire ranging for four minutes, at the very least. We were both under control.
  • 2.       Make sure your smoke/CO detectors are working – need I stress this any harder? Had I not been home, the situation would have unfolded very differently, but my wife would have, presumably, received ample warning to get out of the house. I stick to the battery switch-outs like clockwork.
  • 3.       Don’t trouble yourself with What If? scenarios – we self-learned quickly that this is a form of self-torture. What happened is what happened, not what could have happened.
  • 4.       Have an escape plan – we have ladders in most of the upstairs rooms - shortly they’ll be in all - and general information for the kids on what to do in case of fire, but we’re not going to waste any more time. We’ll give specific instructions to the children, have a thought-out plan, and we’re going to practice it.

Life’s little ironies and messages unfolded in another interesting way: my wife and I went shopping mid-day, and found ourselves in a Judaica store, where an interesting book caught my attention: A Yiddishe Kop: Visual Brainteasers for the Keen Eye and Sharp Mind. We purchased it on the spot. It’s exactly what you think it is. A scene is depicted with cute drawings and questions are asked. The answers are derived from clues in the picture. My kids love it. One of the pictures had a scene in a shul on a weekday morning, and one of the questions was: “Which of the people in the picture have to bentch Gomel?” It was from there, perfectly, that the discussion of fire safety ensued.

Have a wonderful day and keep your family safe with good forethought and appropriate preparedness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

D’var Torah for the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel Storfer, N’Y

D’var Torah for the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel Storfer, N’Y
Mordechi Bodek

Good Shabbos everyone, and mazel tov! Thank you, Doron, for asking me to share a few divrei Torah.
Daniel! You are a man today. Now of course, since you’re half-Slovak, you’ve been a man since you were eight and a half years old, but today you are a man in the spiritual sense of the word.
When your father asked me to speak, I was very excited. It’s been a while since I got such an opportunity. The first time I spoke formally in public was in the UK, and I see they’ve shown up today to chart my progress. Anyway, this would be the first time I was asked to speak at a Bar Mitzvah (except for my own, which didn’t go so smoothly), and I was very excited. I asked Doron which parsha it would be. He said Parshas Vayishlach. Excellent.
I quickly opened a chumash, turned to Parshas Vayishlach, and immediately found no reference whatsoever to the name Daniel. I don’t believe in Bible Codes, so I was looking for it in pashut p’shat. It wasn’t there. Okay, no big deal. Moshe, maybe? No Moshe.
Wait, there was still hope. Maybe the haftorah is from Daniel? Ooh, maybe maybe? Fingers cros, um, magen davided? Nope, it was from the sefer Ovadiah.
Okay, wait, all is not lost. Maybe I could find an immediate family member’s name and fined a remez there? Let’s see. I looked. There is no Doron, no Shmuel. There was also no Arnon, no Nachum, No Shlomit, no Nechama, no Naomi, No Mordechi, and certainly no Ichel. Nothing.
Okay fine, I thought I wouldn’t despair just yet. Maybe I’ll go one generation further. Hoping I’d find something, anything, I finally found Yehudah, but he’s just mentioned as part of a genealogy, and I finally found Yitzhock and Rachel, but, let’s just say, they don’t make it to the next episode. Complete buzzkill.
I called back Doron and I said I can’t do this.
Just kidding!
I then figured, okay, so I can’t make any reference to names. Let me look at the text of the parsha and see if I can derive any life lessons befitting a Bar Mitzvah boy.
The parsha starts with Yaakov preparing to meet Eisav. Maybe I can find lessons there about preparation. Appropriate for this context, though it’s a bit shallow. I was looking for something more insightful. Anyway, the parsha continues with Yaakov wrestling with the Angel. Ooh, a confrontation with God. Good, but not juicy. It continues with the story of Dina, which is basically a Law & Order: SVU episode. This is followed by wholesale slaughter of a city, and finishes up with Eisav’s genealogy.
There’s not a lot of inspiration here.
I then remembered something that Elie Wiesel, A’H, said to the gadol hador, Oprah.
He said, “Think higher, feel deeper.”
I remember when he said that, that I thought to myself that it could also be inspiring to say, “Feel higher, think deeper.”
I decided I should look at the parsha again, and think deeper.
I noticed a difference between the confrontation Yaakov had with Eisav, and the one he had with the angel.
To paraphrase Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobsen: “You want to know the difference? I’ll tell you the difference.”
The difference is: when Yaakov comes away from the confrontation with Eisav, he comes away the same person. When he comes away from the confrontation with the Angel, he is changed. He receives a different name. He becomes a different person, essentially.
I thought this was a nice find, but it could be a one-off. Let me check if this holds elsewhere in the Torah.
Yes it does, just two generations prior! Both Avraham and Sarah endure several physical challenges together, from travel to famine, and many other of the 10 tests, but their previous identities as Avram and Sarai don’t change until they accept God into their lives. They then receive name changes, as a result of encountering God.
Good! This is starting to formulate. I wanted one more example to prove this rule, and I found it one generation after Yaakov! Joseph! Joseph endures several physical challenges – his brothers dump him in a pit, he travels to Egypt, he’s sold into slavery, he survives the charms of Mrs. Potiphar, he’s tossed in prison, and through it all, he remains Joseph (Go go go, Joseph! Apropos for this weekend). When does his name change? When he describes to Pharaoh that it’s through God that dreams are interpreted. Finally, Joseph acknowledges God in the control of his life. Pharaoh himself recognizes the significance of this, and renames Joseph as Tzufnas Paneach.
So there’s a lesson here: life can throw all different sorts of physical challenges at you, but these don’t change who you are. They manifest who you are, bring out what you are. There are plenty of examples of this, which are highlighted when people in the public eye are faced with serious issues and challenges. Challenging situations don’t make people. They define people. They give expression to what’s inside.
True change, and in our context, the acceptance of the spiritual yoke of heaven, causes a fundamental shift in what you are as a person. It is so significant, that often a person takes on a new name. It is an acknowledgement that you are now fundamentally, at your core, a different human being.
To further cement this idea, I realized that the converse is true as well. One of the examples that Rashi gives to explain why the Jews did not assimilate with the Egyptians was their refusal to take on new names. The Jews retained their values by keeping their holy names. They held fast.
When I was thinking about this, I finally found the perfect connection to our Bar Mitzvah boy’s name in TaNaCH: The prophet Daniel is given a new name by Nebuchadnezzar in a targeted attempt to assimilate him. He does this for Daniel’s three friends as well. But they refuse to adopt these names, and they stay on path of faith.
So Daniel, you’ve had your physical challenges. You’ve had some lumps and bumps and booboos and what have you, but they haven’t changed you. They brought you out. You’re a good kid, and that always shows, no matter what.
But today, you become different. You’re a new person. Until now, you’ve been Daniel, or Dani-el, or Danielko, or Danny, or, as your father calls you: DANIEL!
Just kidding, I call him that when he’s a bit rough with my kids.
But from this day forward, so far as the congregation of Israel is concerned, whenever you are called up in public to accept a kibbud, you are, Daniel Moshe ben Doron Shmuel. Your entire name is an expression of your holiness. Acknowledging that is what matters. You are now changed, you are now different. You accept upon yourself 613 mitzvos. It’s the longest homework you’ve ever been assigned.
Now of course, I’m slightly stretching this, Daniel. Your name hasn’t changed drastically. However, your full name is now public and on display, and pronounces your essence, and the fundamental obligations on taking on all these new mitzvos. There are probably people in this room who don’t even remember that you have a second name, Moshe, and they probably also have no idea from where it comes. Even I forgot! If you remember, my mom made a yarmulke for you, with your name on it, and I told her the wrong name! I was there by your bris, up close, I was your anesthesiologist. Shame on me!
Anyway, I’ll enlighten everyone: it’s a dual namesake. He’s named for Sabi’s great grandfather, and also for the Chasam Sofer, whose full name was R. Moshe Sofer, who established his yeshiva in…Bratislava! Now we all understand the connection, and the full holiness and depth of our bar mitzvah boy’s name.
This is why, it’s my personal minhag, in my house, that when it comes to being mechabed a guest with mizumin, I like to call him by his full Hebrew name, because I feel it’s a kibbud, and that I should be addressing the full spiritual name of the person as he is called in public.
Therefore, Daniel Moshe, it will be my special pleasure to give you that respect and kavod the next time you’re at my Shabbos table. May you perform that mitzvah beautifully, and may you perform all your new mitzvahs beautifully and give your family and klal yisroel lots and lots of nachas.
So that was the think deeper part of my speech. I’d like to introduce the feel higher part.
Today, literally today, December 17th, is what would have been my grandfather’s 98th birthday. He passed three years ago. I miss him.
It is one thing to be asked to share divrei torah at a simcha, but it is a joy and a delight to be able to do so on a day such as this. It has given the experience a deeper meaning for me and my immediate family. There’s no question my grandfather had hana’ah.
Therefore, firstly, thank you Doron for asking me to speak, and secondly, happy birthday Zaidy. May the neshama of R. Benzion ben R. Aharon have an Aliyah.
Thank you, mazel tov everybody, and have a wonderful Shabbos.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Weekend Funhouse

Highlights of my Shabbos in Park East to celebrate my nephew's Bar Mitzvah with my extended family:
1) Shepped huge nachas from the well-prepared and confident Bar Mitzvah boy.
2) Had my sweated-over carefully-drafted speech quite well received (will publish, natch).
3) Got loads of compliments for my slimness (running myself into the ground this year is paying off).
4) Attending a brilliant "Fiddler" production with the entire retinue.
5) My first non-race run through Central Park ever (what took me so long?).
6) This conversation that I had at shalashudous with the man who owns the right arm that operates Triumph the Insult Comic Dog:
Me: Good Shabbos. You either are, or look like, a certain genius named Robert Smigel.
RS: Heh, uhhhh, okay, everything in that sentence is correct except for the genius part.
Me: Well, I beg to differ.
RS: Heh, thank you. Ya know, nobody ever recognizes me, especially not here.
Me: Well, I guess I'm that one in 100 who admire blah blah blah SNL yada yada yada Triumph fawn fawn fawn appreciate comic writing flatter flatter flatter, so I just wanted to say good Shabbos.
RS: Well thank you. What brings you here?
Me: I'm an uncle of the Bar Mitzvah boy.
RS: Very good. I'm here to say Kadish.
Me: Ah, well, the neshama should have an Aliyah!
RS: I know exactly what that means. Thank you very much.
Me: You're welcome. Have a good Shabbos.
RS: For me to poop on!
Just kidding about the last one.
Mazel tov, Daniel!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Notes from my 2-Day Toronto Business Trip

Notes from my 2-Day Toronto Business Trip
Martin Bodek

Day 1:

Rise and shine at 3:00 AM, Roher Standard Time (vehamayvin yavin) and have an early meal like it’s a fast day.

Uber arrives on time, and off to the airport. I arrive so early that nobody’s behind the check-in counter yet. While staring at the four walls, I get the Uber receipt, which is double the value it should be because the driver ended the trip 20 minutes after dropping me off. Good start to my day.

Once check-in shows up, it’s lickety-split from there onto my plane, which is awesome! A Bombardier Dash 8 Q400! With the wonky propellers! I’m mesmerized by them, and ooh, I’m sitting right behind them!

OMG, the landing gear comes directly out of the engines??? Is that smart?

Anyway, while I enjoy their hum, I read “The Road Taken” by Henry Petroski, and 1:25 later, I touch down in Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport - which flies right by the CN Tower first – nice and gently. I note that the tires actually bounced! Interesting. This plane is wild.

Snow is everywhere. A storm just ended, and I gather they know what to do about that in this place.

The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman (or in this case, Yakswoman) at passport control, asks me questions like she’s actually curious about what I do for a living. I know it’s her job, but 17 questions in, it’s time to talk to the next person in line. What I do is interesting to me, not other people.

I love small airports. You just zip right through.

At the Hertz counter, the clerk asks me if I have any questions. Yes, can I pump my own gas? The answer is yes. Living in New Jersey, this is a breath of fresh air. As I assemble my papers and turn away, I ask one more question: how do I get out of here? This conversation happens:

Clerk: “You make a right and a left and maple syrup go Raptors stand on guard for thee Bieber Morissette Reynolds and you roll onto the ferry.” (or something like that)
Me: “Did you say ‘ferry’?”
Clerk: “Yes, you go on to the ferry.”
Me: “Really? I get to go on to a ferry? That’s the way out of here?”
Clerk: “Yes, you’re on an island.”
Me: “And there’s no bridge?”
Clerk: “No, they haven’t built it yet.”
Me: “Really? Okay, I’m going on a ferry!”

I have a million follow-up questions. What happens when the water freezes over, is one, but there’s no time, I gotta go.

Onto a ferry! Why am I so excited by this? Well, I haven’t been on one in…30 years, and I dunno, I feel like a kid again.

Design flaw: the ferry has three lanes, but only the middle lane can roll directly off the platform. The cars on the right and the left have to roll into the middle lane to get off. Accidents can happen, and the ferry crew has to be overly mindful. Better idea: widen lanes, use electric signaling or bars to indicate when you can or can’t roll off.

This “The Road Taken” book is having this effect on me. I’m a pedant anyway.

I roll off the ferry and into Toronto proper, which has signs a bit different from the US, but the symbols are still readable and intuitive. Cool.

I witness an accident. A small car challenged a big bus for space. Doesn’t he know that 100% of the time, the bigger vehicle wins?

The Yaksmen arrive in seconds. Everybody’s okay.

I make it to the office, daven in the car in the parking lot, and:


After work, I tour a bit, and I realize as I’m driving that I have no idea if I can make a right on red. I don’t google and drive, so I do what any New Yorker would do: I go into the front of the right lane, and hang out, waiting to be honked.

Nobody honks me. I’m not in New York. I need feedback, people!

Clearly, Toronto has more Starbucks’ per square inch than NYC. America wasn’t enough for them, they have to take over all of North America? Sing taps for Second Cup and Tim Horton’s.

I find a good radio station: 88.1, but the DJs are frightened to death of negative Celsius temperatures. Wusses.

Toronto has an avalanche of kosher options. I navigate around a world of snowbanks to find some parking, and make it to Tov Li for dinner. Quite good food!

Then off to my hotel. I inspect the gym before retiring, because that’s how I roll. They have four treadmills and a sauna, open 24/7. I’m good.

I hit my room, turn on the TV, and mostly watch Canadian news, which is basically American news, with some Canadian tidbits thrown in.

A chat with my missus, and nighty night.

Day 2:

I head down to the gym at 5:15 AM to encounter a crowd of people. Whoa, way to go, fitness crowd!

I enjoy a 4.2 mile run on the treadmill. As I step off, the attendant puts an Out of Order sign on the sauna. Grrr. Guess I’ll have to come back some time.

These 88.1 DJs are really scared of the -2º temp! Going down to -9º. OMG!

I head to Isaac’s for breakfast, and also load up on lunch and dinner. Free cookies! Good food, too!

As I get ready to pay, another customer enters and stands behind me, no smartphone in hand, just looking around. Why is that noteworthy? Because:

My corporate card doesn’t work, so we try doing American-to-Canadian cash conversion, but the math doesn’t work, and we finally use my personal card, and through all this, the guy just stands there with a smile on his face.

The people are way too chill here. Pun intended.

I do witness some road rage upon my exit, so there’s some balance in the Force.

No, really. These 88.1 DJs think minus temperatures are the apocalypse, but you know what? They don’t talk much, there are few commercials, and the music is really great.


Okay, I can’t keep talking about this radio station without giving you a sample of their great music. Here’s some that really got my attention:

Filled up on gas before heading to the airport. Corporate card didn’t work again. While I’m figuring things out, the guy behind me doesn’t honk. Honk! It’s okay! I’m in your way! I pay with my own card, but the receipt doesn’t issue. I have to head in to the shop to get it. Minor grumble. We’re rolling.

I don’t encounter any traffic until I want it: when I’m going through downtown. The traffic allows me a real good view of the place, and note places for my next visit.


I don't have to take off shoes at security, because obviously, terrorists don't use shoe bombs when traveling from Canada.

I arrive three hours early for my flight. I walk up to the counter, and ask if I can be put on an earlier one. My passport disappears from my hands, the nice lady goes typety-type-type, and she says, “There you go. Your flight leaves in 15 minutes.” Alright!

Lessons: 1) Ask. 2) Use small airports.

I’m behind the propeller again!

Before we depart, an announcement:

“The Samsung 7 is not allowed on board. If you have a Samsung 7, please present it to the crew.”

Oh really? Exactly who is going to step forward so their phone can be chucked from the plane? Useless announcement.

It rains, producing an effect on the propellers that is mesmerizing: A cone of rain seems like it’s emanating from the centerpoint of the turning blades. Awesome, striking visual. I’m not the only one who snaps pictures. I swear the guy in front of me is using a Samsung 7.

We land hard, but hey, I’m home.

It takes 40 minutes to get through passport control. While staring into empty space because smartphones aren’t allowed to be used, I overhear this conversation between two Latin Americans:

Guy: “In Mehico, is differen from New Yersey.”
Gal: “Si, differen.”
Guy: “How is differen?”
Gal: “In Mehico, is ‘Andale!’, in New Yersey, is ‘Wait!’
Guy: “Si!”

It takes me three minutes to get an Uber.

Home sweet home, in time to put my kids to sleep.

P.S. I found the radio station online: http://indie88.com/. They have a live stream. Nathaniel Rateliff is on the front page, who is A1 in my book and gives a feel for the content. First song I heard is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl7cF9bwNHE

I’ll be hanging out for a while.

I write about stuff, as you can see. I even write books about stuff: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom, http://tinyurl.com/BodekKindleBooks. Buy them.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My 4th Annual Book Report

My latest book is my most non-niche and has the potential to become my best-selling. NaNoWriMo is imminent, and I figure now is a perfectly auspicious time for me to take stock of how I’m doing thus far with my publishing endeavors and to ask my friends which of my in-progress or in-my-head projects I should tackle exclusively for the month of November, which I do annually. The non-self-publishing industry has not yet taken notice of me, but it cannot do this forever, because I’m putting out at least a book a year until 2095. I don’t know what my numbers will be then, but these are my numbers to date, in order of copies sold, completion percentage, and development stage in my brain, respectively:

Published (5):

54 Runners, 54 Stories: The Tale of the 2012 200k JRunners Relay Race: 77 copies sold. I’m very proud of this one, my current bestseller. I targeted an entire very-niche market, and sold it to nearly all of them. A sequel will be written, but it likely requires a full relay to be deserving of that. It seems promising. http://tinyurl.com/JRunnersBook

The Year of Bad Behavior: Bearing Witness to the Uncouthiest of Humanity: 70 copies sold. The things that people moan and groan about concerning their fellow man, especially on Facebook, are all covered here. Every time I revisit the manuscript, it feels so current. Proud of this one too. http://tinyurl.com/BehaviorBook

Bush II, Book I: 64 copies sold. The world has found this book. It exists somewhere that’s getting attention. Kindle versions are constantly finding themselves into strangers’ hands. Every time 9/11 approaches, I get a spike in sales. http://tinyurl.com/BushIIBookI

A Conversation on The Way: 63 copies sold. Reviewed on 3 blogger sites, featured at the YU Seforim Sale, and nicely received. I especially enjoy the artwork by Dena Szpilzinger, the first hired professional of my writing career. I’m hoping to able to afford other services, like editing, though I am grateful to my volunteers. http://tinyurl.com/ConvoBook

Extracts From Noah’s Diary: 50 copies sold. Mark Twain wrote Extracts from Adam’s Diary, then followed up later with Eve’s Diary, then did not follow up any further, save for some parodies of Methuselah’s entries. This is where I came in; a sequel 100 years overdue. So big, it’s biblical. I’m just getting warmed up with this one, and was successful in having it reviewed by a small handful of book sites. I worked hard on the jokes, and strenuously on the research. It’s actually a giant d’var torah, and I feel my newest baby deserves a lot of attention. http://tinyurl.com/NoahsDiary

In progress (10):

Bush II, Book II: Manuscript 47% complete. I haven’t tackled this in a while, but it’s time to return. The attention the first book is getting warrants this. Also, I really didn’t think I wouldn’t get the sequel out before Obama’s tenure was complete.  Trump, Book I or Clinton II, Book I would be insane and hilarious projects to tackle.

The Year of Bad Behavior II: More Scalawags, Dirtbags, Bullyrags, and Lollygags: Manuscript 30% complete. I also must return to this as well. The format differs from its prequel – grievances are ordered by category, rather than written as diary entries – and I think I’ll have an interesting product when complete. NJTransit’s stupidities, on their own, warrant a complete spin-off.

A Conversation on the Conversation: Manuscript 20% complete. The first book is begging for a sequel, but it’s going to take lots of work. The quasi-fictional idea is that the original becomes a best-seller, and I’m invited to a talk show to discuss. This is the hard part. I and my interviewer pore over the original manuscript point for point, and I also will include rebuttals to my arguments that I received (in real life) from readers. It’s daunting, big big, but I’ll get it done somehow.

Forty Runners Less one: Stories and Glories From the 2013 200k JRunners 200k Relay Race: Manuscript: 10% complete. I collected the runner stories and also conducting interviews when needed. I also collected stories for the 2014 version of the race, and actually got 25% of the pack’s write-ups. Same for 2015, but with a drastically dwindled amount, and for 2016, with even smaller numbers. It looks like the runners are more eager to contribute, as mentioned above, when the relay is a full one. I think I have to pull that off before I pull a book sequel off, in which all past year’s entries that I have on file will be included. I’ll target the same niche group as the original, and hopefully attract more runners to the great race.

The Man Who Read 1,001 Books Before He Died. 4% complete. You know those popular 1,001 xxx to xxx Before You Die books? Specifically, the Books to Reads one? I thought it would be a neat trick to actually read those 1,001 books and write about the experience. This was what I NaNoWriMoed two years ago, and I’ve been fully immersed since. Whether you measure my status by the number of books I’m up to (44) or the pace at which I’ll read them (I’m scheduled to finish in November 2058. I should live so long!), the number is 4%. I’ve got a long way to go, but the progress will be steady. There is no question it’ll be the largest work I’ll ever put out. Not even two years in, it stands at 67,000 words/238 pages.

Mordechai’s Pamphlet: 3% complete. My paternal grandfather’s memoirs. The man for whom I am named recorded his thoughts about losing his wife and three children in WWII, surfacing from the ashes with his faith intact, marrying my grandmother, rebuilding a home with six children, then suffering for years from lung cancer until his death at age 47. He called the collection Kuntres Mordechai, and it is entirely written in Hebrew. I started the translation last NaNoWriMo, but admittedly fell of the wagon when my I found a new job, plus I jumped into other writing projects. I have to re-shift priorities and jump back on the wagon again. I’ll revisit after the coming NaNoWriMo, and hope to produce this before the end of next year.

My First 30 Marathons: The Running Story of a Midpack Runner: Putting all my marathon running reports together. Hoping I can find them all. I wonder if I’ll be successful. If I can actually find them, collating should be a snap. Everything’s already been written! This would include the next three marathons I’m running over the next half year, and would exclude the Makeshift Marathon I ran when Sandy canceled NYC in 2012, and also the seven ultras I’ve run. Or maybe they shouldn’t be excluded at all. I’ll think about it.

Zaidy's War: My maternal grandfather's memoirs, which I recorded in notebooks and on VHSes. Must find time for this project. Zaidy passed away almost three years ago, and it’s important for his story to see the light of day.

Children's Book #1 with Classified Title: I'm trying to write a parody of a famous children's book. First draft did not pass muster with my Editor-in-Chief. Will submit new drafts shortly.

The Knish’s Best 192 Articles of the First 192 it’s Published: I launched the first issue 13 years ago, and just released issue #32, which was very satisfying. The time may have arrived – as with my Marathon project above – to house them all in a single compendium, as a way of celebrating the site’s Bar Mitzvah. Everything’s written, I just need to write an intro and a timeline and do a pile of formatting. Shouldn’t be a big deal. Problem, though, would be how to share revenue with all the writers. What would be a fair system?

In my head (13):

How the Countries Got Their Shapes: I read a wonderful book entitled How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein. It’s exactly what you think it is. I did the best research I could, and could find not a single book that covers the concept on a global scale. I could be the man who could fill that gap. I would enjoy the research very much. I wonder if I’d have to ask the author of the inspiration for permission before proceeding.

The Israel/Gaza War: The 102nd Bloodiest Conflict in the World in 2014: Amid the swaths of the myriad piles of articles I read on the topic, one little factoid stood out to me out of all others: that little statistic that I think would be an alarming book title. Because Israel has so many challenges coming from all directions, it also – as a silver lining of sorts – creates opportunities for people concerned for her to battle on her behalf. Perhaps I could contribute in this way, by helping to focus attention away from Israel and towards at least 101 other places on earth that deserve more international concern and intervention. I would have to come face to face with a lot of evil, though, plus the research would be difficult, and the data murky. This might be a calling I might have to answer, though.

Territorial Disputes: A Primer on the 600 Other International Land Quarrels No One Knows or Cares About, But Should: Along the same lines as above: a very long story, very short: somehow a miracle happened that the president of a publishing company invited me to present to his committee - that publishes books in a “Things You Need To Know” motif - my thoughts around how only Israel – and perhaps Cyprus/Turkey and India/Pakistan – gets vilified over its land issues with its neighbors. My project was declined, but it’s being kept on the burner. If they won’t go with it, perhaps I’ll strike out on my own (something I’m familiar with). As above, this might be an opportunity to shine the spotlight on an area more deserving, and away from where it is currently. Which project would be worthier? Hmmm…

Children's Book #2 with Classified Title: I was inspired by a series of photographs that I took of my children. My Editor-in-Chief has some great ideas about spinning it into a bedtime story. I’m pondering the text, and will need an illustrator to convert the pictures we have into artwork for the book.

Parenting Book with Classified Title: There are many parenting books out there. Most of them are garbage. I have an idea for one with a healthy dose of humor and a large general twist. My everyday parenting keeps inspiring ideas for the project. I think I’m to begin putting pen-to-paper on this shortly.

The Inevitables: A Gladwellian idea I have about people who spend their entire lives in pursuit of a specific career, switch to something else on a dime, and become wildly successful despite a complete lack of practice or the 10,000 hours Gladwell himself talks about.

Universals: The Differences and Similarities Between Global Cultures: I’m fascinated by this. There are things that are the same 99% of everywhere (basic utensils, green is go, cash for service, elemental human needs), and things that are different 99% of everywhere (voting systems, traffic handling, cordiality, attire, interpretation of freedom, hand gestures, justice). I’d like to explore.

Speakers of the Torah: My first actual sefer-esque idea. While researching my Noah book, it struck me how little dialogue God has with his direct primordial creations. Noah never speaks to God. Adam speaks two utterances to his Creator. Eve speaks to Him more than her husband does. There is also limited dialogue between man and man. I read a discourse by the famous Nechama Leibowitz on the dialogues of the biblical Joseph. She made fascinating conclusions, and it left me intrigued. I think this idea is worth exploring in full, and I wonder where the research will take me. I’ll start writing notes on this, and see where it leads.

Things that Drive Me Crazy About the Talmud: My second actual even more sefer-esque idea. My shadchan self-published a sefer recently, borne out of notes he kept while learning through TaNaCH over a 15-year period. They were truly original thoughts that he compressed into a single, impressive volume. I realized while reading that our thought-lines were quite similar, especially in regards to the myriad unanswered questions – and potentially original ones – that I had about the gemorah, in which I’m currently immersed in my second cycle of learning. I have begun to keep notes, and here too, I will look back after a time and see if I have anything worthy of being recorded in a single large volume. Apologies, I don’t have a more polite title at this time.

Obama, Book I: Must Finish Bush II, Book II first.

Obama, Book II: I never thought there’d be a sequel. Honestly, but here we are, and the sequel’s almost done!

Clinton II, Book I: OMG no.

Trump, Book I: OMG hell no.

When you let me know which project I should tackle for November, also please let me know what my grade is on my report.

Oh, and feel free to avail yourself to a book of mine or two (Just a few more sales and I will have sold 350 books; nice little milestone) at 50%-75% off. I'll have several more items on my bookshelf for you very soon, but for now, truly, the lineup is quite colorful, and pleasing to the eye – at least to mine: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom, http://tinyurl.com/BodekKindleBooks

Man, I also gotta put out another issue of TheKnish.com and release some more of my surname articles…