Yesterday evening we flew into Baltimore where we will spend Shabbat with my in-laws.
When we arrived on Thursday evening we were greeted by my in-laws and by an old friend of theirs, Sara, that was visiting form Milwaukee. Sarah knew my father-in-law since they were 18. They met in a geology class their freshman year in college. Neither of them were affiliated Jews at the time. They went their separate ways and subsequently both of their lives paths lead to Torah and Mitzvot. Years later my father-in-law was learning Torah in Israel and came back to the states for a wedding. While he was back he had Shabbat lunch at his friend Sarah where he met a nice young lady named Shoshana - my wife's mother. It was really nice spending time with her and hearing stories about my wife when she was younger.
We left the kids to play with their aunt and grandparents and we went out to enjoy one of Baltimore's many kosher restaurants. We went to a place called Kosher Bite - one of these eclectic Kosher places that serves everything from Sushi, to Chinese, to Middle Eastern, to Deli, to "American Cuisine" (which I thought somehow sounded like an oxymoron) and more. We ordered some burgers which were excellent, but made us a bit homesick for the Star Deli in Omaha.
At the restaurant I ran into my good friend Rabbi Ian Baily who was picking up a Shwarma laffa for him and his wife. Ian wrote a book called The 7 Ways where he developed a system similar to the Myers Briggs personality test, but Ian incorporates Kabbalah and Jewish philosophy. He gives seminars on the topic all over the country.
I learned another amazing thing about Baltimore. In the restaurant there was a lady who's car had stalled. She was waiting for "Chaveirim" to come and help her out. "Chaveirim" is a Jewish volunteer core that stands ready to help a Jew in need. They will help you start your car, shovel you out of the snow, make a minyan for a shiva, and a host of other things. Check out their website. It is absolutely amazing. After 9/11 Chaveirim groups formed in many Jewish communities across the country. Maybe we should start one in Omaha.
After dinner I stopped by the Agudah Shul where i love to daven in Baltimore. They have minyan's running around the clock starting early in the morning and going until late into the night. I love davening there. One day I hope Beth Israel in Omaha will also become a minyan factory.
The next morning I woke up early to learn with my father-in-law and his chevrusa. Every morning at 6:30am he learns with his friend Dovid Krafchow. Dovid is an incredibly interesting man. You can visit his blog at JewishBohemian.com He served in the Navy during the Vietnam war and since then has traveled all over the world. He published a number of books including a book about his theory that Tarot Cards were invented by Jews as a way of learning Torah in secret during times of Greek persecutions, similar to the way that Jews would play dreidel. The pictures on the cards would incorporate Jewish themes and ideas and the players would discuss these deep concepts as they "played." David also points out that the word 'Tarot' backwards is 'Torat' which means "the Torah of." Together he and my father-in-law study the book "Pri Tzaddik" written by the famous chasidic master Tzadok hakohen.
After learning we davened at a shul around the corner from Agudah. I like Agudah because most minyanim (but not all) at the minyan factory have a nice upbeat pace to them. The davening at the shul that David likes to daven at goes at a slower pace and is more meditative. Morning minyan that most places finish in 30 minutes took almost an hour.
After minyan I went to the Jewish book store, Shabsi's, to wait on line for the opening. The Friday before Chanuka is black Friday - people doing last minute chanukah shopping and all sorts of great sales. We got their a half hour before the store opened and were close to the front of the line. I bought a whole bunch of books for myself as well as two CDs for my girls. I got them Uncle Moishe vol 5 (featuring one of my personal favorites "Shabbos is coming!") and Yeshiva Boys Choir (they are kind of like N'Sync but made up of 10 year old Yeshiva Boys).
After shopping we came home and Miriam's brother and his family just arrived. The kids are so happy to see their cousins. The kids are playing, Miriam and her sister are cooking, and we are getting ready for a great Shabbat.