Monday Morning Caption Contest

Leave your funniest caption in the comments section below:

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

D’var Torah: Prince Fielder, Inheritance & Fatherhood

I was emotionally moved as I watched Detroit Tigers’ slugger Prince Fielder accept the 2012 Home Run Derby award on Monday night in Kansas City with his two adorable sons proudly standing next to him. But it also struck me as sad that Prince’s father Cecil Fielder wasn’t in that photo op as well.

I still remember back in 1990 when Cecil Fielder (a Detroit Tigers All-Star 1st baseman like his son is today) was the favorite to win the All-Star Game Home Run Derby. Competing against the likes of Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey, Jr., Cecil failed to hit even one homer in the contest that night. This week, Prince Fielder became the first player ever to win the Home Run Derby in both leagues (he won in 2009 as a Milwaukee Brewer too).

There’s no question that Prince Fielder inherited the gift of hitting the long ball from his father. This week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Pinchas, is all about inheritance and succession. Moses was an impressive leader of the Jewish people in the desert as they made their journey to Israel. This week, however, we learn that Moses will not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Although he has worked tirelessly to be a great leader and inspirational figure, his career will end before the reward of entering the land with his people.

Cecil Fielder led the Detroit Tigers in the early 1990s, but didn’t succeed in taking his team all the way to the “Promised Land” of Major League Baseball — the World Series. Cecil Fielder’s numbers with the Tigers are impressive. On the last day of the Tigers’ season in 1990, Cecil hit his 50th and 51st home runs to become the 11th player in ML history to hit 50 homers in a season. But baseball is a team sport and while individual achievement is recorded into the annals of baseball history and celebrated, the ultimate reward is winning the World Series.

And that’s where inheritance and succession factor in. Moses wasn’t permitted the merit of taking his team, the Israelites, into the Promised Land. However, his inheritance was bequeathed to Joshua who would succeed Moses as the leader of the people. Joshua understood his role and he gave honor and respect to his predecessor. Without Moses there is no Joshua. That is how inheritance and succession work. Moses laid the groundwork and Joshua was able to complete the task.

I thought of the Moses-Joshua relationship and the Torah’s concept of inheritance and succession as I watched Prince Fielder hoist his Home Run Derby trophy high above his head. His sons flanked him on either side. His father was no where in sight. It is from his father that Prince has acquired the awesome ability to use a wooden bat and hit a small ball to distances surpassing 450 feet. Cecil wasn’t able to take his team into the Promised Land, but his progeny might be the leader to do it. Prince has that inheritance. He succeeds his father as the home run slugging first baseman who can lead his people to victory.

With Prince Fielder at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Phoenix in 2007.

Seeing Cecil Fielder proudly standing next to his son and two grandsons Tuesday night would have made that photo even better. But there’s a fractured relationship between the father and the son. No one knows for certain why Prince and Cecil don’t talk, but the dynamics of a father-son relationship can be complicated. Perhaps the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship are better documented, but they are no more challenging.

For Prince, it might have been difficult growing up as the son of the local baseball hero. For Cecil, it might be difficult watching his son succeed where he came up short in his own career. The strained relationship between Prince Fielder and his dad is rumored to be about money. After Cecil declared bankruptcy following a failed marriage, gambling debts, and poor real estate investment deals, there’s word that he took part of his son’s signing bonus with the Milwaukee Brewers. Whatever the case, life is too short to harp on such things. Reports indicate that Cecil might have taken $200,000 of his son’s $2.4 million signing bonus back in 2002. Prince Fielder’s current contract with the Detroit Tigers is for nine-years and a total of $214 million. That $200,000 a decade ago is meaningless today.

Earlier this year Cecil had some critical words to say about his son. “As a father, of course you’re proud of what your son’s been able to accomplish on the field, but as a father also you worry about how he is growing as a man, how — I want to say this correctly –how he is communicating with everybody that had something to do with how he got to where he is. And that part of my son, I think we’re all a little disappointed.”

After Prince signed with the Tigers this year, both Cecil and Prince have been quoted as saying the relationship has gotten a little better. And that’s good. As Mitch Albom wrote after Opening Day this past April:

Cecil Fielder always will be a part of Detroit sports history, just as his son now will make his own name in it. It does seem sad that the father watched the game alone in Atlanta, while the son played in Detroit. But that is between them. “I’ll get up there to see a game,” Cecil said before hanging up. “It’ll all work out. Just needs time.”

Indeed, it is between them. The father and the son. The succession of leadership and the inheritance of that big swing. I remain hopeful that both men will let bygones be bygones and move forward. Cecil’s pride should come from watching his son do what he was not able to in a Tigers’ uniform. And Prince’s respect and admiration for his father should come from an appreciation for the legacy that Cecil left as a Detroit Tiger and for the talent his father has bequeathed to him as his inheritance.

At the end of a McDonald’s commercial (below) featuring Cecil and Prince Fielder that aired in Detroit back in the 1990s, Prince looks up at his dad and apologizes for striking him out. Cecil looks down at his son with pride and says, “Oh, that’s okay son.” Maybe the two men will exchange similar words in the near future. So, while I wish Cecil was part of that awesome photo op on Tuesday night at the Home Run Derby, I’m willing to hold out to see the father celebrate with his son at a future trophy presentation. They deserve each other.

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

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s Detroit Roots

I’ve been following Rabbi Yonah Bookstein for several years now. He’s a little more than 6 years my senior and I suppose I’ve looked up to him as a social media guru in the virtual Jewish community of the Web. I learned about his Detroit roots from a blog post he published back in September 2008 following a “Young Detroit in Hollywood” event that took place in California for Jewish expats of Michigan. He wrote:

Jewish Ex-Detroiters like myself have a religious attachement [sic] to our hometown. We have a tight-knit Jewish community, allegiance to local sports teams, and favorite bakeries, cafes, or delis. (Notice the absence of any allegiance to a synagogue or temple). When we leave Detroit, we leave close family back home – grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, siblings and cousins. We get back for family events when we can. We try to keep up with the Tigers or Pistons. We root for U of M at the Rose Bowl. We often are connected to other Detroiters who made the move out here before us.

The Jews who left West Bloomfield, Birmingham, Southfield, or Bloomfield Hills, left for the greener pastures of Hollywoodland. Most are going to stay and put down roots. My Detroiter street cred: Zeemans [sic], Hillel Day School, Cranbrook, grandma at The Heritage, Tigers, Camp Tavor – I won’t mention the Synagogue.

I appreciated Rabbi Yonah’s honesty in that post and I let him know it. But I also made certain to inform him that Jewish Detroit was making a comeback and it was legit. Since that time almost 4 years ago, we’ve maintained a nice relationship through our blogs, projects, and Twitter. We regularly shmooze (virtually of course) about Detroit sports, and he will often ask me to weigh in on certain Detroit-specific issues.

The local Jewish newspaper, the Detroit Jewish News, often features young Jewish leaders who have returned to Detroit. I thought it would be interesting to look at someone like Rabbi Yonah with Detroit roots and no intention to return to Detroit, but an unwavering attachment to his hometown. So, two months ago I sent an email to the publisher and editor of the Detroit Jewish News: “Did you know Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is from Detroit and went to Cranbrook? He’s the guy behind Jewlicious. Might make for an interesting article. Maybe Robin Schwartz?”

Robin Schwartz’s story about Rabbi Yonah and his Detroit roots is featured on the cover of this week’s issue. Here it is:

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein recalls picking up a guitar for the first time at age 10, in the late 1970s, as a Hillel Day School student growing up in Detroit’s Palmer Woods neighborhood.

His late father, Marvin Bookstein — a bluegrass musician who played six different instruments — taught young Yonah the fundamentals, opening his eyes and ears to the beauty and power of music. He spent his early years attending concerts, going to Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, and attending chamber music festivals; so it’s fitting that Bookstein, now 42, of Los Angeles is the force behind Jewlicious. The nonprofit organization hosts hip seasonal music festivals in California that attract hundreds of young Jews from across the country.

“Music unifies and inspires people,” Bookstein says. “One of the reasons I got so into creating musical events is that music was an integral part of my life as a child.”
Bookstein’s family has deep roots in Metro Detroit. His father, grandfather and greatgrandfather all owned Ace Furniture Co.; the decades-old family business was sold in 1979. Bookstein attended high school and graduated from Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills. He was active in the Jewish Socialist-Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror and spent summers at its Camp Tavor near Kalamazoo.

Bookstein left town to attend the University of Oregon and Oxford University, was ordained by Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in New York and is a former Fulbright Fellow to Poland. In the 1990s, he and his wife, Rachel, worked for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Poland. They founded Jewish youth centers in Krakow and Lodz, revived the Jewish Community Center in Warsaw, established the annual Warsaw Jewish Book Festival and created a center for adult Jewish education. Since returning to the United States, Bookstein’s focus has been uniting and inspiring young Jews across the country, first as a campus rabbi and now as director of Jewlicious. He has four children: Moshe, 13, Sophia, 11, Shlomo, 9, and Naftali, 5.

“I believe passionately in the Jewish future, and young people are the inspiration,” he says. “Our overall goal is to increase participation in Jewish life.”

The concept of Jewlicious was created in a garage in Long Beach, Calif., in 2005. The first festival attracted about 100 people, and the crowds have grown bigger and bigger each year. One event is held each summer; a second festival takes place each winter on an old cruise ship.

“It’s a mash up of a music festival and a conference, and it has about 90 programs over the course of three days,” Bookstein explains. “Everything from Jewish yoga to conversations with famous Jewish actors — it’s a pluralistic weekend with all kinds of offerings.

Tickets are currently on sale for the third annual SummerFest Music and Summer Camp Festival Aug. 16-19 in Brandeis, Calif., which has been described as “Jewish summer camp for grownups.” The event includes concerts, speakers, horseback riding, rock climbing, midnight hikes, bonfires, swimming, yoga, wine and pickle making, and more.

“We get people from 20 states and 50 colleges and universities,” Bookstein says. “It’s a really amazing pilgrimage.” Tickets range from $60-$175 for the weekend.

Participants can camp out or pay more for a room in a bunk or cottage. Right now, these events only take place in California, but Bookstein’s goal is to take the show on the road and host Jewlicious Festivals across the country. He already creates Shabbat hospitality tents at national music festivals. He’s also a member of the band Shankbone, which performs Jewish and Indie music a few times a year.

“Young people love festivals, and they love music,” he says. “We’ve created this platform, and it really could be replicated all over the country.

“I know Detroit because I grew up there. The Jewish community in Detroit has always been more cohesive, but in other places there’s a huge amount of assimilation. There’s an unengaged population of young Jews.

We’re only tipping the scales somewhat; there are so many people to reach and so many people to engage. It’s a huge undertaking.”

Bookstein relies heavily on social media to get his message out. His Jewlicious.com blog is said to be the Internet’s most-read Jewish blog. He also has podcast classes on Judaism on iTunes, more than 5,000 “friends” on Facebook and more than 8,000 followers on Twitter. In 2009, he was the top vote-getter in the Jewish Federation of North America’s inaugural Jewish Community Heroes Award, receiving more than 90,000 online votes.

“I’ve made it my focus to connect with young people,” Bookstein says. “If I want to be relevant and reach the constituency I believe is so critical to our future, I need to be engaged in social media on a daily and hourly basis.”

Rabbi Jason Miller, a local Jewish leader, entrepreneur and president of Access Computer Technology in West Bloomfield, follows Bookstein on the Web. Miller has his own blog, RabbiJason.com, and thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers. He believes the “traditional borders of the global Jewish community have disappeared through globalization and new technology.” The two rabbis are in regular communication online, but have not yet met in person.

“Yonah is one of these Jewish thought leaders of the social media age,” Miller says. “I read his blog regularly, and we mutually re-post and ‘retweet’ each other’s content because we run in the same social media circles. Yonah has an immense Twitter following and strong social clout, but it’s the way he uses those to push the boundaries of the ‘Jewish establishment’ that has really earned my respect. Not only is he a change agent helping the Israeli and Diaspora communities to think outside the box, but he also exudes a contagious form of excitement and optimism. I hope to meet him IRL (in real life) soon.”

Rabbi Bookstein tries to get back to Michigan at least once a year to visit friends and family members. Last summer, he brought his friend, Chasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, to the Motor City Moishe House in Detroit. The communal home for young adults offers subsidized housing and is meant to breathe new Jewish life into the city. At least 50 people showed up to meet Matisyahu and share a kosher meal before his concert at St. Andrews Hall.

After the visit, Bookstein wrote an article for the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles. In part, it reads: “When I was growing up in Detroit in the 1970s and ’80s, the notion that Jews would return to the city — literally the areas of old Detroit that housed the core of the community for a hundred years — was a remote fantasy. The community had been moving to the suburbs since the 1950s… However, Detroit’s Jewish community, who live almost entirely in the suburbs, is not ready to give up on a city that has such a rich and vibrant Jewish past.”

Just as Detroit is trying to revitalize and reinvigorate Jewish life locally, Bookstein is working to generate excitement and increase participation among young Jews nationwide. Jewlicious is attempting to win a Chase and LivingSocial grant of $250,000 through an online contest to further Bookstein’s efforts.

“Like everybody in the nonprofit sector, it’s challenging to fund these programs and meet the financial demands of creating these kinds of opportunities for young adults,” he says. “[Young Jews] care about their Jewish future and want to be a part of it. Business is booming. There’s a huge demand for what we do.”

While Rabbi Yonah might not be planning on a return to his hometown of Detroit, it is important for Detroiters to know that such an important figure who is making the future of American Jewry fun and exciting and vibrant got his start here. Deep down he wants to see the Jewish community of Detroit succeed and he has much insight to offer. I’m glad that Robin’s article will bring Rabbi Yonah and his energy a little closer to home.

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

Monday Morning Caption Contest

Beginning today I’m including a Monday Morning Caption Contest on this blog.

To participate leave your suggested caption in the comments section below:

Photo Credit: Lichterman Family

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

Delmon Young and Mel Gibson

I couldn’t resist making this movie spoof poster with Mel Gibson and Delmon Young:

Delmon Young and Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson’s name was brought up repeatedly after the news broke about the Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Delmon Young getting arrested in Manhattan for second-degree aggravated harassment and uttering an anti-Semitic slur while he was intoxicated. Young has been given a 7-game suspension by Major League Baseball and also placed indefinitely on baseball’s restricted list.

More details have been released concerning the altercation. According to the NY Daily News, Delmon Young was arrested for “assaulting Jason Shank following his drunken anti-Semitic rant. According to police sources, Young began screaming the offensive remarks after a panhandler wearing a Star of David and a yarmulke approached him. Shank and three friends gave the man $20 outside the hotel, which ignited Young’s racist rhetoric.”

According to reports Shank, 32, and three of his friends were visiting Manhattan from Schaumberg, a Chicago suburb, for a weekend bachelor party. Delmon Young screamed “You bunch of f—— Jews!” and then got into a fight with Jason Shank on the sidewalk outside the hotel. Young was released from jail after posting $5,000 bail after his arraignment for an aggravated harassment charge that was classified as a hate crime. According to his LinkedIn page, Shank is an international consultant for Trident Worldwide in Missouri and a regional manager for Taggart International, a company with offices in Wood Dale and Missouri. Both companies specialize in importing and exporting. Neither Shank or his bachelor party friends are Jewish.

In 2006, Delmon Young was suspended for 50 games without pay while playing for a minor league team after he threw his baseball bat at an umpire who called him out after three strikes.

Ironically, Delmon Young’s agent is Arn Tellem of the Wasserman Media Group. Tellem, a 1979 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School is Jewish. I’m not sure if Daniel J. Ollen, Young’s criminal attorney in New York, is Jewish but that would be ironic as well.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be talking about the Delmon Young situation live on the Mojo in the Morning radio show on Channel 95.5 here in Detroit. The show will be broadcast live from a kosher pizza parlor and bagel shop in Oak Park, a suburb just outside of Detroit.

UPDATE:
Here’s the radio podcast from the Mojo in the Morning show:

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

Delmon Young’s Anti-Semitic Slur and the Problem With Athletes As Role Models

I already had a blog post planned for today. I was going to write an open letter to David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball League (NBA) in which I was going to publicly criticize him for allowing the NBA to only give Ron Artest (er, sorry Metta World Peace) a slap on the wrist with a seven game suspension. Artest blatantly elbowed James Harden on the back of his head after Artest’s slam dunk the other night. It was a vicious blow to Harden’s head that left him with a concussion. With Artest’s history as a trouble maker Stern should have banned him from the league.

My open letter to the Commissioner was going to ask him how I’m supposed to let my children watch NBA games if this is the type of behavior they will see. I don’t need Ron Artest to be a role model for my children; they have enough positive role models in their lives already. However, I cannot in good conscience allow my children to watch a professional basketball game (or even the highlights on ESPN) if such cheap shots are going to become commonplace in the NBA without serious repercussions.

And then I saw the news today. Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was arrested outside of the hotel where the team was staying in New York City. Young was “highly intoxicated” according to a police source and he was arrested after allegedly shoving a man to the ground and making anti-Semitic remarks. The Detroit Free Press reports that Young faces an “aggravated harassment hate crime charge” for the anti-Semitic remarks he made during the incident.

When I read the news about Young, my heart sank to the floor. My oldest son is 8. In the past year he has become a die hard Detroit Tigers fan. He knows all the players by name. He knows their uniform number and their statistics (just like I did when I was a Tigers fan at that age). How am I supposed to explain to my son that Delmon Young was drunk, got into a street fight, yelled an anti-Semitic slur and got arrested? To my son, Delmon Young is a hero. He cheers for him. He prays that Young will hit a home run when he comes up to bat. I don’t think that it ever occurred to my son (or to me for that matter) that Delmon Young hates Jews in an inebriated, full-of-rage Mel Gibson sort of way.

Thanks to the Detroit Tigers organization and specifically owner Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski, the teams President/CEO/General Manager, baseball has become exciting again here in Detroit. The team has really made a concerted effort to reach out to children. That is great, but it also means that the organization has a responsibility to handle this matter quickly and appropriately. Delmon Young needs to be treated for his alcohol problem and a response to Tigers fans must be made soon concerning his anti-Semitic slur.

For me, I still don’t know how I will explain this to my son or if I will at all. The bottom line is that no one is asking professional athletes to raise our children. They are great athletes and not always shining examples of virtuous human beings. However, they need to know that children are watching. Impressionable children are watching how athletes behave on the field or on the court, as well as outside of their hotels. The NBA and Major League Baseball are both doing great things to help their athletes give back to the community and be good citizens. But they have to take care of the bad apples as well. I don’t know what the appropriate punishment for Delmon Young should be, either within the Tigers organization or in Major League Baseball, but I know that a strong message has to be sent to the young fans so they know this behavior is not tolerated.

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

Passover and Pet Food

As a kosher supervisor (mashgiach) and the owner of a kosher certification agency, I am constantly impressed by the level of attention, respect and genuine care that non-Jewish business owners demonstrate for their kosher observant customers. I once again witnessed this first hand when I met the owner of Premier Pet Supply last week.

Mike Palmer, who is half Chaldean and half Italian, owns the pet food and supply store with his uncle, the store’s founder. Located in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the store has received a lot of positive attention of late because of Mike’s knack for publicity and his people skills (he obviously has great pet skills too!). The store is consistently named best pet supply store in the area and Mike was just named one of the Elite 40 Under 40 for Oakland County, Michigan.
Mike called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would come by his store before Passover to answer some questions about kosher for Passover pet food. Since my family doesn’t own any pets and I haven’t certified kosher dog food in over a year (the dog treat company Kosher Michigan certified went out of business in 2010), I decided to brush up on the laws concerning pet food on Passover. And it’s a good thing I did because when I got to the store I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Mike possessed concerning the kosher laws and Passover. He knew more about the intricacies of the holiday than many Jewish people I know.
As we walked the aisles of his store I checked the pet food that he had labeled as being appropriate for Passover and there were no errors. He explained that he had read an article by the Star-K kosher certification agency and felt he had a good understanding of what makes pet food kosher for Passover, but he wanted to run some questions by me. We had a long conversation about kitniyot (legumes, which most Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat on Passover) as well as the custom of feeding the family dog in the garage on Passover, which many families follow. Over and again, I heard Mike express how important he believes it is to provide quality service to his Jewish customers and ensure that they can purchase the best food for their pets on Passover while adhering to the holiday’s regulations.
In terms of what Jewish law says about pet food on Passover, the most important thing to remember is that chametz (leavened products) from the five grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from. Feeding chametz to one’s pet would be deriving benefit from it. Additionally, a Jewish person is not allowed to even possess any chametz on Passover. 
As I explained to Mike, while kitniyot (legumes) are not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews, they may be fed to pets on Passover. Also, one does not need to change over the dishes for pets, meaning that the usual food bowls for pets can be used on Passover but they should be cleaned out first.
A 2009 article in the NY Times featured a Passover Seder for dogs that took place at a Chicago pet food store to promote Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company which sells Kosher for Passover products. (Joshua Lott/Chicago Tribune)

There is a custom of “selling” one’s pet to a non-Jew on Passover. The reason for this has to do with deriving benefit from chametz. Thus, if one leaves a pet with a non-Jew during Passover the pet owner will still derive benefit from chametz when the non-Jewish friend feeds the pet. Therefore, some observant Jews will “sell” the pet to the non-Jewish friend on the condition it is sold back at the conclusion of the holiday in the same fashion as the “legal fiction” sale of chametz.

While many Jews are not familiar with the laws governing pet food on Passover, it is reassuring that there are pet supply store owners like Mike Palmer who are concerned about this. It is admirable that he has taken the time to research this subject and has gone out of his way to help his Jewish customers find the right pet food for Passover.

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

A Detroit Jewish Nonprofit Competes in Facebook Contest to Win $250,000

Thousands in Metro Detroit’s Jewish community have been flocking to Home Depot’s Facebook page in recent weeks. No, they are not all interested in becoming fans of the national retail giant. They are simply trying to help a local social service agency win $250,000 from the Home Depot Foundation.

Jewish Family Service in Michigan was one of 12 nonprofits around the country to win a monthly prize of $25,000 cash and another $5,000 in Home Depot gift cards from the Home Depot Foundation this past January. That win put them in the competition for the Aprons in Action contest that will give away a total of a half-million dollars in March. JFS plans to use the cash prize for its Project Build! program, which provides JFS clients with safe and barrier-free homes through pro bono repairs and renovations provided by local builders, remodelers and suppliers.

While many nonprofits in the Jewish community are still trying to find their way in the new world of social media, online contests like the Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action have pushed nonprofit organizations to create a social media strategy to get out the vote on Facebook, the social networking site that boasts more than 850 million users.

Retail giants like Target and Home Depot, as well as large corporations like Toyota and Ford Motor Company, have drawn millions of Facebook users to their corporate and foundation “Fan Pages” through their online contests.

These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to familiarize themselves with such 21st-century terms as “social clout,” “social analytics,” “network amplification,” “true reach” and “social media influence.” Additionally, these nonprofits that compete in the contests have to quickly bolster their own online social identity to broadcast their participation in the contest. Many of these nonprofits are trying to raise their online presence on a shoestring budget, if they have allocated any marketing funds to social media at all.

In most cases, competing in such online contests is a gamble for the nonprofits because they don’t know what their return on investment will be, and they are allocating a lot of resources, including staff time, to the cause. JFS has recruited Jewish professionals and lay leaders in the community to reach out to their own networks to encourage daily voting on the Home Depot Foundation Facebook page during March. Local members of the Jewish community were asked to include reminders on their social networking sites and in email signatures. Some also participate in “post-a-thons,” where volunteers gather at a site and recruit voters via laptop postings. Additionally, JFS offered a daily email reminder service to increase its odds of securing the most votes.

“The Home Depot contest, as well as our success last summer at winning Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition, has made us aware that everything we do needs to have a social media layer,” explained Perry Ohren, CEO of JFS. “This has profound meaning in terms of our timing and our message. Timing has to be instantaneous and our message has to be short and engaging.”

One organization that has found much success in using its social reach to garner the votes needed to win online contests is Chabad Lubavitch. The international organization headquartered in Brooklyn exploits social networking not only to broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, have used Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in national contests for six- figure grants by Chase Community Giving and Target Stores.

In a Facebook contest sponsored by Kohl’s Cares, 12 Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with 11 of those schools being Chabad-affiliated. Friendship Circle of Michigan, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote.

Through these online contests, major corporations are able to donate funds to social service organizations, but it’s not completely altruistic. After all, the corporations are attracting a lot of attention to their brand. In the case of Home Depot, they are able to get thousands of people to visit their Facebook page each day for a month and look at their corporate logo, even if it is subliminal advertising. That is valuable advertising for the company and the half-million dollar investment is a small fraction of the retail giant’s more than $1 billion advertising budget.

Foundations for these large companies, like the Home Depot Foundation, have to make large charitable gifts each year so they figure they should at least help promote their corporate brand in the process.

Regardless of the motivation behind these online contests, it is certain that they have been the driving force in getting nonprofits to focus more on social media strategies. Hopefully, when there’s no large cash prize at the end of the rainbow, nonprofits will continue to utilize social media to promote theircause, raise awareness about their mission and solicit donations.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News and posted on the eJewishPhilanthropy.com blog

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

Natan Sharansky and Soviet Jewry: A Look Back

Tuesday was the fourth time I heard Natan Sharansky speak. The second time I heard the former Prisoner of Zion speak was at Adat Shalom Synagogue not long after my bar mitzvah. I was still wearing the silver bracelet with the name of my bar mitzvah twin from the Soviet Union. The last two times I heard Sharansky speak were at an AIPAC lunch for rabbis in D.C. in 2008 and at this week’s Foundation for Jewish Camp conference in New Jersey. None of those three speeches even remotely compared to the first time I heard him speak.

Natan Sharansky speaks at the 2012 Foundation for Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly

It was Sunday, December 6, 1987. I was a 6th grade Jewish day school student and traveled with my mother aboard a chartered flight from Detroit to Washington. The late David Hermelin led the plane in singing for the entirety of the flight. Our Detroit delegation filled two planes and we were among the throngs of people who congregated on the National Mall to call for immediate mass emigration for Jewish refuseniks out of the Soviet Union.

Wearing a cheap white painter’s hat that read “Let My People Go” and eating my bagel and lox breakfast donated by Detroit philanthropist and supermarket owner Paul Borman, I marched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building singing “Hinei Mah Tov.” I remember hearing Vice President George Bush and Elie Wiesel speak. But the moment I will never forget is when Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky came to the dais to address his 250,000 supporters. It was impossible to decipher exactly what he was saying in his broken English, but I knew that he had spent years in prison and was now a free man on a mission. I remembered singing the words to the Safam song at my 5th grade Zimriyah, “They call me Anatoly. In prison I did lie. My little window looked out on the Russian sky.”

With Natan Sharansky in 2008

On Tuesday, as I listened to him speak about the immense growth of Jewish camping in the Former Soviet Union, I was taken aback by how far Sharansky has come since that cold December Sunday in 1987. Within 25 years, he has not only transitioned from the life of a prisoner to a free man, but he has seen and done so much. He made aliyah to Israel on the day he left his Soviet prison cell and then became the de facto leader of the Russian immigrant community in Israel, winning election to the Knesset after forming the Yisrael BaAliyah party. He published his memoirs, defeated Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov, and is now the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It is truly remarkable how Sharansky has ascended to leadership in a quarter century, but it is part of the larger story about Russian Jewry. It is a success story. There are large, successful Russian Jewish communities in Israel and throughout the United States (and in the FSU and Germany). There are campus Hillels throughout the FSU, Jewish summer camps are at full capacity in Russia and Ukraine with Jewish campers who learn they are Jewish only days before camp begins. Jewish synagogues of all denominations and community centers have sprung up everywhere in the FSU. There are Russian Jews who are leading the world in the sciences, in business and in medicine. Without a Russian Jew, we would have no Google (Sergei Brin) or PayPal.com (Max Levchin). Five Russian Jews have won a Nobel Prize since 1990. Yuri Foreman is a boxing world champion. There have been Russian Jews in the National Hockey League (Max Birbraer) and in the National Football League (Igor Olshansky). Their story is nothing short of miraculous.

With Natan Sharansky in 2012

Jewish students who graduated college last spring were born after the fall of Communism. They have no memory of the fight for Soviet Jewry. They don’t know about bar mitzvah twinning with Russian teens or the stories of smuggling Jewish books and matzah into the Soviet Union. They don’t know about adding a fifth question on Passover asking when will all Jews be free or leaving an empty seat at the Seder for the Soviet Jews who couldn’t celebrate the holiday.

As I sat listening to Natan Sharansky on Tuesday, a friend and I reminisced about writing letters to President Reagan on behalf of our Soviet Refusenik brothers and to our Russian pen pals who weren’t allowed to learn Hebrew or sing Jewish songs. Twenty five years after that memorable march for Soviet Jewry in Washington, it is imperative we keep telling that story and I am grateful to Natan Sharansky for keeping his story alive after these many years.

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

A Letter to Jeffrey Zaslow’s Daughter Eden

Dear Eden,

When I heard the horrible news yesterday evening about your father’s tragic death I immediately thought of you. I then spent the entire 25 hours of Shabbat asking God how this could happen and hugging my children a few extra times than I ordinarily do.

I can’t stop thinking of the first time I met you because, whether you realized it or not, you taught me so much about your father. And about life. It was in September 2010. You were a student in my class at Temple Israel Hebrew High School. It was the first time I had ever taught a high school class about blogging and I was eager to see each teen’s creativity. The first session was an introduction to blogging and I recall you weren’t there.

In the second session of the course all twenty teens set up their new blogs and began to write their first post with some excitement (or as much excitement as teens show in a Hebrew High School class). You sat in front of your computer with nothing on the screen for several minutes. When I came over you explained that you had no idea what to write about or even what the focus of your blog should be. It was then that I said one of the stupidest things I have ever said to anyone. “You’re Jeff Zaslow’s daughter and you have writer’s block?” I wished I could take those words back. Fortunately, you laughed.

Jeff Zaslow (Photo by Eden Zaslow)

I told you the story of how I first met your parents. Ironically, it had been at my own Hebrew High School twenty years earlier. Your mom and dad came to Adat Shalom Synagogue to speak to the high school students about their careers in the media. Of course I knew your mom from the television news, but I was so intrigued with your dad’s job as an advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He read some of the more humorous questions he had received over the years. And of course his humorous responses.

You and I talked for a while and I asked what you enjoy doing. You told me that you enjoyed photography. I told you it would be a great idea if your blog was a collection of your photos. Since you didn’t have any of your photographs on that computer’s hard drive you decided to make your blog about something else. I told you that I had recently been asked to start a blog for Detroit’s Community Next about Jewish celebrities. You thought that sounded like a great idea and decided to focus your blog on Jewish celebrities and Detroit’s budding film industry. In your opening blog post you wrote:

Hello, I am Eden Zaslow, a student at Temple Israel Monday night school in West Bloomfield, Michigan. In my blog I will be talking about Jewish celebrities and the new or soon to be new LA: Detroit. I will be posting facts and gossip about Jews and about the movies being filmed in Detroit. Enjoy!

The next time we had class you posted about how Michigan’s current race for governor would affect Detroit’s film industry. You correctly predicted that if Rick Snyder became Michigan’s next governor it would jeopardize the film industry. While you didn’t continue that blog, I know you have continued your photography. In fact, you might be the youngest photographer to have a photo credit in People Magazine. I know how proud your dad was that your photo of him was used alongside the review of his last book The Magic Room.

Eden and Jeffrey Zaslow

I know I’m not the first to tell you this, but The Magic Room was your dad’s last lecture. He helped make the words “last lecture” into a household term when he helped Prof. Randy Pausch leave his legacy to the world. The Magic Room was your dad’s legacy. He wrote the book for you and your two sisters. He wanted to share how special the father-daughter relationship is, and in so doing he helped so many parents do their most important job a little better. Having my own daughter, I’m grateful for this beautiful book.

This morning in synagogues all over the world, the Jewish people heard about Yitro’s contributions to the Jewish people. Yitro was a Medianite priest and Moses’ father-in-law. But he was also an advice columnist of sorts like your dad was at the Sun-Times. Yitro gave very important and useful advice to Moses that helped him be a better leader. While the Torah doesn’t mention this fact, Yitro’s advice also helped Moses be a better father and husband. Your dad, Jeffrey Zaslow, was a modern-day Yitro. Whether it was following in the footsteps of Ann Landers as an actual advice columnist or writing brilliant books like The Girls from Ames and The Magic Room, or helping our heroes like Prof. Randy Pausch, Pilot Sully Sullenberger, and Rep. Gaby Giffords write their memoirs, your dad shared his wisdom with millions. The number of languages his books were translated into is a true testament to the far reach his books had.

I wish I could give you some explanation for the tragic accident that took your father’s life before he could see his own daughters trying on their wedding gowns in front of the mirrors of the Magic Room. I wish I could share a prayer or a psalm or an inspirational quote that could take away some of the pain you and your family are feeling right now. There is no explanation. It is shocking. It is horrific.

Jeff Zaslow (Photo by Eden Zaslow)

Eden, you taught me an important lesson and one I won’t soon forget. You taught me that we are not our parents. Just because your father was a prolific writer who was publishing a best seller each year, doesn’t mean that his 15-year-old daughter shouldn’t struggle in coming up with a theme for her new blog. Maybe writing won’t be your thing. Maybe it will be photography. Or a million other things. No matter where you place your talents, I know one thing is for certain. Your father will be so proud of you. He will be looking down at his daughters and beaming with pride.

Please know that your father left an indelible mark on our world. Through the gifts of his wit and wisdom, his keen ability to listen to others, his ability to tell stories, and his genuine desire to help others, Jeffrey Zaslow will long be remembered and cherished. But more important than that, he was a mensch and a wonderful and caring father.

May your father’s memory be for blessings.

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