Friday, June 30, 2006

Feeling Helpless To Tragedy in the Summer Months

Every year around this time we see a spike in tragedies. Less superstitious people would claim that that we have these tragedies all year round. We only notice them because we’re trained to think that during the months of Tammuz and Av we suffer more. I’ve never believed that, I truly do believe that we go through so many more tragedies during the summer. Of course we have tragedies all year round, but during these months, they are sadly that much more frequent.

Just in the last week, off hand, just in NY I can think of three young kids who passed away. Even typing those words makes me pause. Three, in just the last week. A young boy, only 17 years old, a 5 year old girl and an 11 year old girl.

Then we have the horrible murder of another very young man in Israel, the capture and holding hostage of another 18 year old boy, a soldier yes, but still a boy. The summer months bring pain and suffering, there is no doubt in my mind about that.

I recall being taught at some point growing up that the world is Kabalisticly different during these summer months. If you would draw a line and at one end you could put Adar, a time of good Mazel and joy. M’shenichnas Adar, Marbim Bsimcha. At the other end of the line would be Av. Tisha B’Av precisely. The low point of the year, spiritually speaking. M’shenichnas Av, Mimatim Bsimcha (we lessen in the Simcha.)

nowing all of this, I've come to feel helpless. Is there anything we can do to prevent any of these tragedies? Don’t we have free will? How is that it’s just predetermined that every year at this time, horrible tragedies will happen. Is there nothing we can do to change this?

We learn in Tanya that it is ok to feel depression or to be sad. It’s just not ok to linger there. Sadness can lead to two paths. If you linger in sadness it can weaken your resolve to move past it and it will become easier to not want to do good. On the other hand, if you learn from the sadness and use it as a strength to change the world, that is obviously good.

I think that is ultimately what we are supposed to be learning from these tragic events, which occur every year during these times. It’s a fissure in space and time. Hashem had pre-installed this low point in our year, in which at these times we must wake ourselves up and learn from the tragic events that occur. We have to remind ourselves that we are in exile and that we were all put on this earth to make this world a better place.

It’s our job to change the world.

Somehow, through these events, we are supposed to gather ourselves, and resolve to be strong. Resolve to do good things, and be good to our fellow man.

Through these actions, we change the world, and bring ourselves that much close to Moshiach. A time in which we will no longer know these types of pains. A time when we will no longer feel tears on our faces.

These summer months, in which we all see so much pain and suffering will go by in vain, if we don’t pick ourselves up and resolve to change the world.

Please, especially during these summer months, when we see so much sorrow. We need to do extra good. Especially in the area of V'ohavta Leraieche Komacho. Love your fellow man like yourself. We need to be more respectful of everyone. We should all resolve that to combat these tragic events, we will be kinder, gentler, more understanding and more loving.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


This post is culled from an email I sent to the prestigious and well-dressed PT:

One of my biggest pet peeves is talking in shul. I'm not saying I never do it, but it annoys me nonetheless, on general principle. So when people do it at especially obnoxious times, like when they are finished with shmonei esrei but not everyone else is (and the repetition has not started), it really, really bugs me. These people are trying to daven! You are distracting them! And the people I sit near talk a whole lot. But I don't do anything about it. I have been known to shush at times, but I don't want to be a "shusher." And I've never moved to another seat because I don't want to insult anyone (in general these are really nice guys) and besides, I really like my seat. It's a good seat. So I just kind of stew. After all, these guys should know better!

Anyway, one shabbat a couple of weeks ago, the talking was especially galling. I don't recall why exactly. But after davening is done, after adom olam and the whole bit, the rabbi goes onto the middle bima to make kiddush as usual. But it is just too noisy. He's waiting. And waiting. Everybody is talking, doing their own thing, barely even looking at the rabbi. That was it. I got up on the bima and slammed the shulchan a few times. That's usually all it takes, but I was really angry and found myself screaming, "Kiddush!" The noise settled down to a dull roar, and the rabbi thanked me and made kiddush.

At kiddush everyone asked my wife what was wrong with me, am I going crazy, etc. Someone came up to me and nicely asked if I had yelled, "Shut up!" Apparently someone thought I'd said that and this woman, who knows me (sort of), said I would never do that. She's right, but just barely.

If I had said something nicely to the talkers earlier, would I have cooled down and ultimately saved myself some embarassment? Possibly. But I'm getting worked up now just writing aobut it. Will I say something the next time? Probably not. Because I'm a ninny. A self-righteous ninny. A self-righteous, fishing-for-compliments ninny.

Cross-posted at Kerckhoff Coffeehouse.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Keeping Shabbos In Hollywood: My Name is David Sacks and I am a sitcom writer

I read this article recently in the Algemeiner Journal english section. I insitinantly thought of this blog. This is a wonderful story of faith and love for what you beleive in. I really hate that I've ignored this blog, but there are only 24 hours in a day and a guys gotta sleep at some point.

So if I can't write a long meanigful post, the least I could do is show you someone who can. If you don't have the time to read this story, I strongly suggest you keep it in your favotires of print it out here. Read it later if you must, but it's a really wonderful story.

"Shortly after I first started keeping Shabbos, I got my first job as a staff writer on a sit-com. It was the ninety-ninth rated show out of ninety-nine in prime time. Not that this has anything to do with the story, I’ve just always thought that was cool.

There wasn’t much to do the first week, and it was August when the sun sets relatively late, so we finished work before there was any conflict. The second week was different. Friday rolled around and we were finishing just in time for me to be able to make it home for candle lighting. I lived close to the studio, so as long as we wrapped it up quickly, I’d make it home by the skin of my teeth.
It was one of those meetings that wanted desperately to end. However, each time it was about to, someone invariably raised another point. And then another. I was sitting in front of a large picture window watching the sun get lower and lower in the sky. It finally came to the point that if I didn’t leave right away I wasn’t going to make it.

I didn’t know what to say or do. Having had no previous experience keeping Shabbos in the work place, I hadn’t thought of raising it with my Executive Producers earlier. This much I knew, several minutes before sundown was not the time to launch into a discourse about my religious beliefs. In other words, I was stuck. So, I did the only thing I could think of. I got up, and without any ceremony, I left. They must have thought I was going to the bathroom. But I never came back. Running to the car, I remember thinking that for a day of rest, this was causing a lot of anxiety. I had to talk to my Executive Producers, explain my situation, and hope they’d be supportive.

After the weekend, I went in with my partner, and asked if I could leave a few hours early Friday night so that I could keep the Sabbath. They said, “No”. Then they asked if I still wanted to do this, because if I did, they were going to replace me. In other words, work on Shabbos, or you’re fired.

When I got home, I called my agent. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him that I wasn’t going to work on Shabbos. He told me that if that was the case then I wasn’t going to work in television again.

This was an amazing moment. Hollywood moguls are famous for saying, “You’ll never work in this town again!” – but I thought that only happened in old movies. Now, here I was, and not only was someone actually saying it -- they were saying it to me!

The next day I told my partner I wasn’t going to work. He understood, but he told me that he was going to try and stay on the show without me. I didn’t blame him. After all, he wasn’t even Jewish. Not only that, but people try for years to break into sitcom. This was a big break for him too, and he had every right to see what it might lead to.

In many respects this was the most critical moment of my life. I had been extraordinarily blessed. I had achieved my goal of going to Harvard College, writing for the Lampoon, and breaking into Hollywood. But despite all this, something was missing.

Relating to this, I heard a teaching that for years I thought came from a great nineteenth century Hassidic Master. Later I learned it was from a tattooed biker in recovery. Not only doesn’t that take anything away from the insight, I think it makes it even more relatable.

He said, “all of us are created with a G-d shaped hole inside of us”. We try to fill it with career achievements, drugs, relationships, money, but none of these things fill it except G-d, precisely because it’s a G-d shaped hole.

Modern society cynically views religion as a crutch, but nothing could be further from the truth. The quest for spirituality is an expression of a longing built into us by G-d Himself. For some us that inner voice becomes loudest during tragic times. For others, me included, it becomes clearest during times of plenty. It says, all these opportunities are great – but there has to be something more to life!

I no longer had confidence that blindly climbing the ladder of success was going to lead me to better and better places. I needed to know where “success” was taking me, and perhaps even more importantly, where it was stopping me from going. I realized then that if I couldn’t take my soul along on the journey, then no matter how far I got, it was ultimately a dead end.

The pressure was definitely building. I was about to lose my job, my partner, and I was told that I wouldn’t work in television again. But somehow, despite this I remained calm. Maybe I wouldn’t work in my chosen field, but in my heart, I knew that nothing bad was going to come from keeping Shabbos.

My agents marched in, and met with the studio head, and the Executive Producers. To my amazement, behind closed doors, all of the parties actually turned out to be respectful and supportive.

Now before I accept a job I always discuss Shabbos. Despite the stereotypes people have of the entertainment industry, I’ve been consistently touched by how positively both Jews and non-Jews alike respond.

Judaism teaches that when you’re in the middle of a hardship you’d give anything to have it go away. But if you get through it successfully, you wouldn’t exchange the experience for anything. G-d gave me a great gift. He could have made the entire process easy for me. But instead, He gave me the opportunity to take a stand for what I believe in. Perhaps for this reason, this remains for me the proudest moment of my life.

Since then, life has never been the same. Come sundown Friday, no matter what’s going on, no matter how busy I am, everything disappears and the only thing that remains is Shabbos. Holy Shabbos."


David Sacks Bio:

Born and raised in New York City, David Sacks attended Harvard College, graduating with a degree in Government in 1984. While there he began his comedy writing career as an editor of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon. Upon graduating, David moved to Los Angeles and began writing for television.

Among the shows he's worked for are "The Simpsons", where he won an Emmy Award, and "Third Rock from the Sun" for which he won a Golden Globe Award. He is currently a producer on "Malcolm in the Middle". David is the co-founder and Senior Lecturer of The Happy Minyan of Los Angeles. David is married and raises his family in Beverly Hills, CA.