Choose Your Circle…With Care

Choose Friends CarefullyI have been thinking recently, after a time away from The Upside, of how vital and terribly important it is to choose carefully those with whom you are surrounded.

They are affecting you.  Fact.

It is true that there are certain environments where our companions are, in effect, chosen for us.  In other words, out of our control.  Family. Workplace.  Subway and carpool regulars.  Church and synagogue gatherings.

But this does not define the totality of our lives.  In so much of what we call our discretionary time–and, by extension, discretionary surroundings–we are free to choose those we hang with.  Indeed, we are responsible for these environments.

When I spend too much time with pessimists, who mistakenly view themselves as realists, I become infected.  Sorry, but I am not a Titan and tend to get pulled under by the undertow of fear, defeatism, and basic laziness that tends to undergird most “it-can’t-be-done,-so-why-try?” thinking.

There is a better way.

Simply this:  In those situations which you do control, choose wisely.  Friends who regularly tell you “it can’t be done so why bother?” are not friends.  They have capitulated.  They’ve taken the easy way, the path of least resistance.  And they have plenty of like-minded people to validate their view of life.

Don’t you dare.

Life is worth living.  As our Jewish friends remind us, “Any day above ground is a good day.”  So be thankful.

In practice:

  • Read things that tell you that you, indeed, can.  Don’t spend your precious time giving thought, angst, and emotion to those who decry your efforts at something better.
  • Choose your orbit with care.  Life is far too short to wreck it with toxic affiliations that keep you from, rather than push towards, the fulfillment of your goals and purpose.
  • Live in expectation of good, success, productivity, and the betterment of the world in which you now live.  Much, if not most, pessimism is simply an excuse not to try–an acceptance of the status quo.

You can do this.  Surround your self with people and stimuli that reinforce it.

You won’t regret it.  And you can take that to the bank.

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Never Forget

Never ForgetI lived in Southern Lower Michigan until the summer of 1987.  During the 1980’s, I developed an interest in–nay, a love for–all things Jewish.  A portion of this curiosity emerged as I learned Hebrew and studied the Hebrew Bible as a young Christian man.  Part of this affection for Judaica was no doubt because my late stepfather, of blessed memory, was Jewish.  And some of this came organically, as I learned the history of the Second World War and was introduced to people like Elie Wiesel.

I was fascinated and moved.  We lived not far from a very large Jewish community, centered in Southfield, MI, a suburb of Detroit.

A segment of my weekly routine was this: I drove twenty-four miles to the Borders bookstore in Beverly Hills MI every Friday and bought a copy of The Jewish News, a weekly publication highlighting the events and concerns of the Greater Detroit Jewish community, at that time about 80,000 strong.

As my love for all things Jewish grew, I attended Jewish events in the Southfield area.  I well remember a gathering at a local high school with Congressman Sander Levin highlighting the plight of then-Soviet Jewry and their hopes for making aliyah to Israel.  It was Congressman Levin who urged us to read The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman, detailing our country’s callous refusal to give safe harbor to European Jews during the War.

It was only a matter of time until I made my way to the Jewish Community Center on Maple Road.  The place enthralled me.  As a Christian man, I felt I was connecting with something much larger than I when visiting the campus.  I attended a play there, The Diary of Anne Frank.  I perused the bookstore.  I loved it.

One of the prime features of the JCC at that time was the Holocaust Memorial Center, an adjunct to the larger community building itself. Admission was free and the architecture of the building sloped downward.  It was a fitting metaphor in architecture.  As one descended the darkened walkway of the Memorial, filled with re-creations and actual relics from the Shoah, one descended, as it were, into some history of the horror of the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler.

It was a numbing experience, to say the least.  I visited there three or four times before it moved to its new and expanded location in nearby Farmington Hills.  I’ve visited the new Memorial twice.  It is much larger than the original HMC and beautiful in a dark sort of way.

What one comes away with after such visits, among other things, is this:  Never underestimate the power of hatred couched in shrewd rhetoric.  Six million Jews perished in World War II because one man was able to convince Europe that the Jewish race was a contagion.

We must never, ever forget.

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Leadership: “After Me!”

After MeThe world was stunned on July 4, 1976 at the news of the incredible rescue of over one hundred Israeli hostages by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe, Uganda.

The hostages, mostly Israelis, and therefore Jewish, had been traveling from Tel Aviv to Athens aboard an Air France jetliner when their plane was hijacked by terrorists.  The flight was then diverted to Uganda where the terrorists were given haven by dictator Idi Amin.

A plan was put into action immediately in Israel to bring the hostages home safely.  At the head of the team to lead this effort was a 30-year-old soldier, Lt. Col. Yonatan (Jonathan) Netanyahu–“Yoni” to family and friends.

A mockup of the Entebbe airport was assembled in the desert based on Mossad intelligence.  The raid—dubbed Operation Thunderbolt—was practiced over and over and over.  The clock was ticking.  And time was not on the side of the hostages.

In the IDF, the motto for military leaders is “After me!”  Leaders are the first to lead the way into danger and put themselves in harm’s way.  It was no different for the raid at Entebbe.

The operation was a resounding military success.  The terrorists holding the Israelis were killed and all but four of the 102 hostages survived.

But there was one other casualty.  Col. Netanyahu died leading the raid.  He took fire during the rescue.  This was not wholly unexpected.  He had at other times put himself in the jaws of death to care for his men and his people.  Netanyahu’s story is eloquently recounted in the book Self-Portrait of A Hero.

It is the nature of a leader that at times he (or she) will face danger.  Will stand alone.  Will lose approval or popularity.  But a leader does this because human beings matter and the stakes are very high, even eternal.  A leader doesn’t wait to have someone point the way.  He is the beacon.  True north.  The bedrock that people can stand on.

Stand up and lead.  More people are counting on you than you can possibly imagine.

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Yom Kippur

…In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD. -Leviticus 16:29-30

This is post is courtesy of www.jewfaq.org     

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26 et seq.

The name “Yom Kippur” means “Day of Atonement,” and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, I mentioned the “books” in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

As I noted in Days of Awe, Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur.

As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. See Rosh Hashanah for more about the shofar and its characteristic blasts.

It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

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The Hard Work Variable In Success

If you stop by The Upside often, you’ll know that I mentor young leaders about once a week.  A handful of guys in their twenties meet with me and we discuss leadership, family, career and steps to success.  We had a great meeting today.

A couple of these men work between 90-100 hours a week.

No, that wasn’t a typo.

90-100 hours every week, holding down multiple jobs.

You simply cannot expect to advance in your career, increase your income and become exceptional in your vocations and avocations without putting time into them.  A lot of time.

There are no shortcuts.  Those who are “getting rich quick” with cheap moneymaking schemes will eventually lose.  Being clever is not necessarily the mark of being a professional.  Nor is it a benchmark of character.

These guys earn my respect.  They are putting out to get ahead for their families—multiple jobs, college and vocational schooling.  And they carve out a couple of hours each week to meet and be challenged.

I’ve long admired the cultural, economic and vocational achievements of the Jewish people.  Jews make up less that 1% of the world’s population and yet have won almost 25% of all Nobel Prizes awarded since 1901.

This is due in part to a sober understanding that to get ahead and make an impact in the world takes an enormous amount of focus and hard work over many years.  The Jewish people have understood this as well as any people group in history.

God initially set the bar for humanity when He said, “Six days you shall labor and do your work.  The seventh is a Sabbath (rest) to the Lord your God.”  The Hebrew day was a twelve hour day.  That alone—as my pastor Kirk Gilchrist has pointed out a number of times—comprises 72 hours.

There are no shortcuts.

I left our meeting challenged by the lifestyle of my colleagues.  How much would my skills as a writer and a musician improve—exponentially—if I worked 90-100 hours each week (including my 40 hour job)?

How much indeed?

Time to get at it.

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How Long To Write A Book? Ask Jacob Neusner

Professor Jacob Neusner with Pope Benedict XVI

Professor Jacob Neusner is undoubtedly the most prolific Jewish scholar of the last one hundred years, perhaps of all time.

He has written or edited some 950 books.

When asked how he goes about writing a book, he said this:

“A dear and long-time friend,… asked me, ‘Jack, how long does it usually take you to write a book?’ I replied, ‘Of course it depends on the project and its requirements, each book has its own rules. But for a statement to the world at large, once I’ve thought a book through and written it in my mind, it takes me around a week or so, depending on this and that, ordinarily at the rate of a chapter a day, but I’ve had some two-chapter days and some chapters have taken two days. And then of course there is revision, but around a week is about right.’ He seemed surprised, and I was surprised by his surprise, so I thought, maybe I’m wrong. I went home and wrote this book, at the perfectly normal pace of a chapter a day, as usual…”

This is an inspiration and a tribute to the Jewish ethic of hard work and the role of being people of the Book.  How can this inspire you in your own writing?

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