The Israeli Bandage and Gabby Giffords

The highlight of the AIPAC Policy Conference so far has been the exhibit on Israeli technological innovation in the AIPAC Village. The bottom floor of the Washington Convention Center, called AIPAC Village, is where D.C.’s annual auto show is held so it is the perfect location to display the America-Israel Racing’s NASCAR race car, an electric car from Shai Agassi’s Better Place, and an Israeli tank. However, the best thing that I saw in that exhibit was the first meeting between two men.

I happened to witness the first encounter between Bernard Bar-Natan and Daniel Hernandez. Both of these men contributed to the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh — saving a life. Bar-Natan is responsible for developing the “Israeli Bandage” that was used to save Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life after the assassination attempt that almost killed her. Daniel Hernandez had only been Rep. Giffords’ intern for five days on the day of the tragic incident. Hernandez had the good sense to wrap Giffords’ wounds with makeshift bandages until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

With Daniel Hernandez and Bernard Bar-Natan, CEO of FirstCare

When Bernard Bar-Natan was training to become a military medic in the mid-80’s he noticed that some of the bandages they were using in the Israeli Army to stop bleeding were manufactured during World War II or even before. He began working on new bandages that would have a pressure bar built into the bandage itself. In the early 90’s Bar-Natan was part of a technology incubator program in Jerusalem with a government grant allowing him to develop the bandage. Today, Bar-Natan’s startup company, First Care Products in Lod, Israel, produces over 2 million bandages a year.

The Israeli Bandage helps stem blood loss, prevents infection and allows non-medically trained soldiers to stabilize a wound. American emergency management and law enforcement teams also use the Israeli Bandage. After the Israeli Bandage was used to stop Gabby Giffords’ bleeding, Dr. Katherine Hiller, an emergency physician at the University of Arizona Medical Center remarked, “Without this care, it would have definitely been a different situation.”

This bandage is just one example of how Israeli innovation is saving lives. While I haven’t had the honor to ever meet Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in person, I felt truly privileged yesterday to meet two of the men responsible for her still being alive today. Watching them meet each other was a remarkable moment and one that I won’t soon forget.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Beren Academy Will Play After All

Beren Academy is not the first Jewish day school to find itself in a Shabbat-related predicament at the end of the season. Many Jewish day schools are part of sports leagues with other private schools that are willing to accommodate the Jewish school’s commitment to observing the Jewish Sabbath during the regular season and not scheduling competition during those 25 hours of rest. The problem often occurs during post-season tournament play when a lot of games need to be scheduled in a short period of time.

On Thursday, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) backed down and agreed to allow Beren Academy’s semifinal basketball game to be rescheduled rather than face a legal battle. Several of the Orthodox players and their parents filed suit Thursday morning against the Mansfield Independent School District, the host of the state championship, and TAPPS in U.S. District Court alleging a violation of religious freedoms. Instead of contesting the matter in court, TAPPS gave in and amended the schedule to accommodate the yeshiva.

Coach Chris Cole and his Beren Academy players. (Photo: Samantha Steinberg/JTA)

Earlier this week at the Rabbis Without Borders alumni retreat, several of us discussed the Beren Academy case. There are certainly two sides to the case. While I believe in religious tolerance and am always grateful when institutions seek to accommodate individuals observing their religion, I also believe that there are consequences that must be accepted when upholding ones religious beliefs.

In the case of Beren Academy, the school was made aware that the yeshiva’s games would not be rescheduled in tournament play if they fell during Shabbat. This was articulated by the tournament organizers to the school before Beren Academy agreed to register. Furthermore, the Shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant) boys should understand that when you keep the laws of Shabbat there will be opportunities that will be missed. One would imagine this would be something that their parents and teachers would explain to them. Those of us who observe Shabbat can list the many sporting events, concerts, parties, graduations and other events we have missed as a result of adhering to the sanctity of Shabbat.

I think that it is wonderful that TAPPS and the tournament host agreed to reschedule Beren Academy’s game, but had they held their ground this should have been something the players accepted. There is a common phrase in Yiddish — S’iz shver tzu zein a yid — that means it’s tough to be a Jew. We can’t expect the secular world to always accommodate us when our religious values come into conflict with regularly scheduled events. It is true that this wasn’t such a clear cut case in that there had been other accommodations for Seventh Day Adventists that amounted to precedent, but ultimately what makes being Shomer Shabbat so special is the knowledge that certain things are sacrificed to uphold the sacredness and sanctity of the Sabbath.

One of the truly amazing aspects of being part of the Rabbis Without Borders fellowship (which is run by Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) is the dialogue with colleagues from different denominations. I offered to include the viewpoints of my colleagues in this blog post and below are three opinions from members of my Rabbis Without Borders cohort.

Rabbi Jason Herman, an Orthodox rabbi in New York explains:

There is a Hasidic legend of a man who was offered a large sum of money by a king in exchange for a favor that would involve violating the Sabbath. The man declines but then presents the king with a gift thanking him for helping him realize that there was something in his life more valuable than the king’s treasure. The students of the Beren Academy in Houston faced the unfortunate circumstance where their request to have a high school basketball tournament postponed to avoid playing on the sabbath was denied. While these boys may be extremely disappointed and might even think the decision was unfair, they have the privilege of joining many generations of earlier American Jews who made tremendous sacrifices to observe the Sabbath. In doing so, we can hope that like the man in the story, they recognize that they have something in their lives that they value more than winning basketball tournaments. Yet, at the same time, while the league was in the right having told the school before they joined that they would face this issue, the league should reconsider its schedule for future years. The religious observance of student players is one that should be honored and for the sake of competition — the league and all schools involved should want to see the best team win.

Rabbi Hillel Norry, a Conservative rabbi in Atlanta, argues:

Would you change the date if it conflicted with Christmas? I think the obvious answer is, yes. The proof is that the tournament is not scheduled during church hours. The only arguments for not accommodating many different schedules and priorities is that the majority should dictate the results, and that if we accommodate shomer Shabbat Jews, then we will have to accommodate all scheduling needs. Unless you want a monolithic tournament that only includes the majority group and does not reflect the actual diversity of the community then the first argument fails on its face. And, yes I think we should accommodate many different needs – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many more. The basketball game is not more important than the creation of a large enough court to include all the players.

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, a Reform rabbi in San Francisco, believes:

I am less concerned with what decision was made but with how the children will understand and interpret what they are seeing happen around them. It seems to me that the children who are going to play are learning that exclusion is more important than accommodation and full competition. To me this goes counter to the religious and athletic values being promoted by playing in this league in the first place. The children who are staying home are learning that the religious values that they are learning in school are worth sacrificing for.

The controversy seems to have been averted and Beren Academy will now be able to compete in the tournament. I wish them luck in their game and hope they emerge champions of the tournament. They won their case and managed to keep the Sabbath and keep their spot in the tournament. But I hope the lesson isn’t lost on them. In life, we often have to give something up to really appreciate the value that we hold dear. Shabbat it is a special gift that we Jewish people have, but sometimes it comes with a cost.

UPDATE: Beren Academy won their game today 58-46.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Children and Technology: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Versions of this appeared in the Detroit Jewish News and on the Savvy Auntie website

As our society becomes even more dependent on technology, we will have to continue adapting to the technology innovations that continue to amaze us. The constant advances in everything from mobile gadgets to our household appliances will force us to change the way we currently do everyday tasks. If you need help figuring out how to use any of the new technology, just ask your kids.

Joking aside, children adapt quickest to new technology because they don’t really have to adapt much. Swiping on an iPad screen, controlling the Xbox 360 Kinect videogame console through virtual reality, or starting the family’s washing machine from a mobile app seem to come naturally for children. In the same way that parents joked in the 1980s that they needed their children to program the VCR, today’s parents marvel at how comfortable their children are with new technology.

Children as young as four years old are using the Internet, mobile devices, and gaming consoles. In some cases this is a good thing, but there are certain risk factors that parents should be aware of. While technology can be used for positive educational purposes, there are also serious physical and psychological concerns.

A recent Nielson study finds that in households owning a tablet computer and with children under 12, 70% of children use the tablet. 77% of these children are playing games, while 57% use the tablet for educational purposes. The rest of the most common responses include 55% of these children using the tablet for entertainment purposes; 43% to watch television and/or movies; and 41% to keep the child occupied while at a restaurant or event.

Many parents report that letting their children use tablet computers like the iPad can be very helpful when waiting at the doctor’s office, on long car rides, and before the meal arrives at restaurants. There are also advantages to having children do their homework on the iPad. Julie Feldman of Farmington Hills, Michigan explains that her daughter Emily (a 4th grader at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit) is excited to come home and finish her advanced math homework on the iPad using the application Wowzers. Feldman, a registered dietician, also sees advantages in technology for children concerned about their nutrition. “My young clients are able to track their daily food intake with an app making it much easier to monitor what they eat.”

There are, however, concerns that some children are spending too much time in front of a digital screen. When children spend too many hours watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web, and using a tablet, they are likely not getting enough exercise or face-to-face social interaction. Dr. Daniel Klein, a children’s psychologist in Metro Detroit, says he sees many young patients who are spending too much time using technology by themselves and not enough time playing outside and interacting with their peers. He works with parents and provides guidance to help monitor their children’s computer and gaming activities. There are also fears that children will see things in video games or online that will have negative effects on their behavior and can lead to anxiety disorders, violent behavior, or hyperactivity.

Feldman believes that parents should determine what technology they allow their children to use based on the child’s maturity level. She gave her daughter a cell phone when she was 8-years-old, but understands that this might be too young for other children. “It’s very dependent on the child,” she says. “My daughter spends many hours at dance classes and needs to be able to communicate with us. Having a cell phone and being able to text us is anxiety reducing for her.” She also has become more cautious about her 3 ½-year-old son’s video gaming activity as she has noticed that he is acting out violent scenes and shooting with pretend guns after playing some realistic video games.

All parents should be aware of their children’s activity online and put monitoring software in place to ensure safe experiences. If a child is using a computer, parents should ensure that adult content does not come up in search results. Google and other popular search engines on the Web have SafeSearch features to filter adult content from search results. Violent scenes can also be avoided with such applications as NetNanny, which provides Internet controls.

In addition to psychological and emotional concerns, there are also physical dangers when children use technology. Dr. Daniel Rontal, an ENT at the Rontal-Akervall Clinic, notes that with the increased popularity of portable music devices among children comes an increased health risk to children’s ears. “Some children don’t realize that something is broken on their ear buds and they scratch their inner ears,” he cautions. “There is also the danger of noise induced hearing loss and that is something that isn’t even realized until years later. It won’t show up for 15-20 years, but we’re seeing more people with early hearing loss in their mid 30’s because of listening to music which is generally being played louder than it was in the 80s and 90s.”

“Kids in general feel that they’re bullet proof,” Rontal adds. “The white iPod ear buds just sit in the ear and those are okay, but the ones that go into the ear canal, called sound isolating headphones, can definitely cause infection and scratch the ear.”

Kidz Gear offers wired headphones for children designed specifically for the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad. The Kidz Gear headphones feature unique KidzControl Volume Limiting Technology that provides a safe listening experience while helping to protect children’s hearing. This technology delivers a safe volume limited listening experience for children that is always on and limits the volume levels to 80dB and 90dB.

New technology helps us be more productive and improves our lives, but we have to learn to use it safely and in healthy ways. So too, as adults, we must be responsible and monitor the way our children utilize technology. In some cases, technology seems to be make things worse. For example, overuse of computers and mobile devices can curtail important interpersonal communication and can hinder children from developing the skills necessary to deal with others in real life.

There are real benefits to children using technology as well. Reports abound that demonstrate how technology is bolstering children’s learning experiences and complementing the education they receive in school. Some technology is even making it easier for children with developmental disabilities. The bottom line is that, like anything, there are positive and negative implications to the latest, greatest technology innovations. There are risks to children using technology without the proper supervision and moderation. The best thing that parents can do is become well trained in the technology their children are using so that they can monitor it best. That will ensure a positive, safe, and healthy technology experience for children.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Schottenstein Talmud Goes Digital and Mobile

I had to laugh today as I was reading Deborah Feldman’s new book Unorthodox on an airplane. The author was reflecting on the forbidden books she bought as a young Satmar girl (she has since left that community). The ultra-Orthodox world of Deborah Feldman’s youth banned secular books, including any book with English, from all members of the sect. The 13-year-old Feldman, however, was able to sneak into a Judaica bookstore and with sixty single dollar bills earned babysitting she purchased one of the most sacrilegious books of all… A volume of the Schottenstein Talmud.

While the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud is considered a revolutionary contribution to the world of Talmud study for Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, it is looked down upon in the Haredi community because of its English translation of the traditional Aramaic text. The Schottenstein family of Columbus, Ohio led by family patriarch Jerome Schottenstein made this English translation and commentary edition of the Talmud a reality. The entire project was completed in 2004 and it has just been announced that it will be made available in a digital format, as well as a mobile version will be available this summer just in time for July’s Siyyum HaShas, when tens of thousands of Talmud students will gather in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ to celebrate the conclusion of the seven year cycle of Talmud learning.

With Jay Schottenstein in the Judaica museum at his home in 2006.

At Jay Schottenstein’s home in 2006, he told me the story of how his family became so heavily involved in the project of creating a complete English translation and commentary of the entire Shas (set of Talmud). Jay’s father, the late Jerome Schottenstein, was introduced to the ArtScroll publication committee after the first volume of the project, Tractate Makkos, was published in 1990. Jerome Schottenstein started donating funds for the project in memory of his parents Ephraim and Anna Schottenstein a volume at a time. It was only later that he decided to fund the entire project which cost a total of $40 million. Following Jerome’s death in 1992, Jay and his mother Geraldine rededicated the Talmud project to Jerome’s memory while still honoring the memory of Jerome’s parents.

This past Monday evening, Artscroll announced the launch of the “ArtScroll Digital Library” (see the video below). In addition to the entire library becoming available digitally, the mobile app company RustyBrick will design and develop the application software for mobile devices including the Apple iPad & iPhone. The first app that Rusty Brick will launch will of course be the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud. According to a press release sent to me by Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick, “The ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud will revolutionize how the Jewish world learns and studies the Talmud. By combining Artscroll’s mastery of design, layout and content with our technical prowess, this application will change the world of Jewish study forever.”

The Schottenstein Talmud mobile app will offer the following features: Page Syncing, Place Tracking, Extra Hand, Page Fusion, Hybrid Page, Floating Translation, Quick Scroll, Integrated Notes, Page Mapping Color Coding, and much more. Neither Artscroll nor RustyBrick has announced the price of the app. The first release of the app will be limited to Apple devices including the iPhone and iPad. Later versions will be Android compatible.

Just as Deborah Feldman had to sneak her copy of one of the volumes of the Schottenstein ArtScroll Talmud into her Satmar family’s home several years ago, I’m sure there will be other renegade young people today in the ultra-Orthodox community trying desperately to get their hands on the mobile version.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller