Yittro 5773:Who Honors Whom? (In memory of my mom )

This week, at the foot of Sinai, Moses’ father in law Yitro catches up with the Israelites, bringing Moses’ sons and wife with him. Yitro explains to a rather clueless Moses the concepts of delegation and bureaucracy, and then the people get ready for the receiving of Torah at Sinai, hear the Ten Commandments, then promptly freak out. They delegate dealing with God to Moses, who then gets four more commandments: a repeat of the prohibition of no idols, how to build a earth altar, how to build a stone altar, and using ramps on altars so one’s privates don’t show when ascending the altar.

Given today’s date one verse in Torah stands out for me today.

Honor Your father and your Mother in order that you lengthen your days on the the earth that the lord has set you.

It is seductive to look at only the first half of that verse, Honor your father and mother. But what of the second, that a consequence of doing so is to lengthen your days?

If this commandment applies to in-laws as well, we see one possible thread in this Torah reading. At the beginning of this portion, Yitro, Moses’ father in law, instructs Moses to delegate, indeed to build a big judicial hierarchy. Yitro sees Moses is pretty much killing himself doing everything for everyone. We don’t hear that Moses actually carried out Yitro’s advice in Torah. There’s indeed evidence in B’midbar that Moses didn’t heed his father in law, and Yitro leaves in a huff, despite Moses’ pleas for him to stay. Not long after Yitro leaves, Moses begs God to kill him because he can’t handle all the complaining. God’s answer is pretty much the same as Yitro’s–delegate.

Parents are the guidance to make the right choices in life, the people who should take the lead while children follow them down the paths that will lead to a good and long life.

I am thinking of my mom today. Two years ago today, a gray morning, I stood with my sister and with Sunny holding my mom’s hands as she took her last breath and her heart beat for the last time. January had been a nightmare month. First there was the extreme pain she was admitted to the emergency room with, the surgery to correct a critical condition to her spinal chord, the recovery from that only to lapse in what would one of two comas, the last she would not wake up from.

My mom loved to travel. Together we went to Alaska and Hawai and Israel. She and I went on once-in-a-lifetime adventures on Safari in South Africa. We dined with a wild elephant along the Zambezi River just before it dumps into Victoria Falls. we saw penguins, iguanas and of course Lonesome George in the Galapagos Islands. When we went to Petra she took a fall. She insisted it was nothing but I did convince her to take a donkey halfway back to the bus. SHe limped the last mile back to the bus, insisting it was nothing. In reality she was in intense pain and wouldn’t tell anyone until she was home and her own doctor’s care back in the States three days later. She never wanted to be the center of attention, and never ever wanted to ruin another’s experience.

It started snowing not long after she died. By the time we met with My mom’s Rabbi for the funeral arrangements, it was snowing very heavily. It didn’t stop for a day and a half, the largest Snowstorm we have had in quite a while. To this day I believe that freak snowstorm which kept all the relatives from flying in for the funeral is her doing.

My inheritance from my mom was not financial but a part of my soul: My mom had a streak of compassion and caring the runs deep. A huge part of her life was is to make sure those around her are cared for and were happy, even to her own detriment no matter how painful. She just did, and never said anything about it. She never wanted a big deal made over anything she did. As a parent, she like Yitro only wanted the best for her children. I am Definitely my mother’s son in that respect. Though I fall short in my efforts compared to her, I take care of those around me, also to my own detriment at times.

There is another mom I’m thinking of tonight as well. She was just a schoolteacher in the Bronx, yet when her son was beaten merely for being gay, she took action. On June 25th 1972, Jeanne Manford marched in what would evolve into the New York Gay Pride parade with her son. The enthusiastic reaction from many was startling; many young people wanted her to talk to their parents. Within a year, She and her husband Jules held a meeting of parents of GLBT children, those meetings would eventually become PFLAG. Jeanne Manford’s death lash month is another death of a parent who did their best to help their children live a long full life.

Memorializing Jeanne Manford sadly brings up her tragic opposite: Those who do not accept their children’s identity as easily and fervently as she did. We are to honor our father and mother, but is the converse true? What if our father and mother do not honor us?

The question in the GLBT community is far from academic, it is far more tragic.
LGBT youth comprise approximately 40% of the clientele served by homeless agencies agencies represented in the sample of the LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey,
46% Ran away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity
43% were forced out by parents because of sexual orientation or gender identity

“To lengthen your days” is a two way contract between parent and child. The child honors the parent, yet the parents need to show the leadership, compassion and wisdom to lead the child to the child’s full life, the one set by God and DNA, not by the parent’s actions. The verse is clear: God set us on this Earth the way we are. The mitzvah is the parents have to deal with what God gave us. Those parents who in their own self-asorbtion, reject their children or throw their children from their home for a gender identity or sexual identity set by God is a failure of the parent to do this. In suicides and homelessness, the parent shortens the full life of their child to nothing. Their GLBT children were denied parents Like Jeanne and Jules Mamford and other PFLAG parents. They were denied parents like my dad and my mom.

Although I am straight, I have had a parallel experience, which informs my views on how hard it is to say who you really are. About ten years ago, I came to the conclusion I wasn’t put on this earth to have children. My girlfriend at the time, who had forced the issue, simply got up and left without saying anything more — I never saw her again. I found when I told friends and my congregation I got a lot of negative reactions, shunning and people trying convincing me I was wrong, and I was a traitor to the Jews, I was sinning against the pseudo-mitzvah of be fruitful and multiply. At it’s worst, I even received hate mail from a board member. I was eventually run out of that community, one that was supposedly strongly liberal and accepting of everyone. In contrast, my parents accepted who I was without a problem, ineed my mom said something I will always remember.

My mom loved to write comments about my D’var Torah Blog Shlomo’s Drash. She once commented to me after I wrote about my decision publicly “Others enjoy making the kids and grandkids. some are called to teach, that’s their choice. You are one who needs to teach. I’m proud of you for that.” She had something there. We read in Talmud:

If [a man’s] own lost article and his father’s lost article [need attention], his own takes precedence. [if] His own and his teacher’s [then] his own takes precedence; [if] his father’ s and his teacher’s [then] his teacher’s takes precedence, because his father brought him into this world, whereas his teacher. ‘who instructed him in wisdom, brings him to the future world. [Baba Metzia 33a,]

So it is also with the study of the law; if the son has been worthy [to sit] before the teacher, the teacher comes before the father in all places, because both a man and his father are bound to honor the teacher. [K’rithot 28a,]

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan’s name: He who teaches his neighbor’s child the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him. [Sanh. 19b]

Who are the teachers that can become the surrogate parents for those who own mother and father have rejected them? I have not far to look, but to those who understand both Torah and the GLBTQ experience sitting in front of me today. In teaching Torah here on Shabbat we may be the only teachers for some whose families have rejected them. We of the is congregation may be the only ones that some have in times of sadness and support –and love.

The Kotsker Rebbe quipped once, when asked if he would resurrect the dead, he replied he would rather resurrect the living. Let us continue the tradition of the this congregation to help raise up the living.

It’s what my mom would have wanted.

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The Tzaddik of Klaas

Since my total royalties in the month of December has been $0.70, (and I appreciate those who have bought the book) I thought as a Christmas  and Hanukkah present I’d give a few parts of my  book”The Tzaddik of Klaas”  in serialized form. The story may be set in a Jewish world of Hassidic Fable, but it is also a Christmas story. The Kindle edition and the Paperback edition are available at amazon.com if you want to read the rest of the story. 

Goniff was a thief. Now, I know what you are thinking. Naming a boy Goniff is going to be bad for his profession, for everyone will think that a man named thief is a thief, and nobody will ever trust him. Goniff wasn’t his real name, however, but a nickname. Goniff was a thief who had a very bad habit of returning what he stole. It made it hard to prosecute him, since he never actually had the goods on him that he stole; they were invariably back where they were originally taken, even if someone put him in jail immediately after stealing them. Sometimes things were just found somewhere they weren’t normally found in the house. Yet most in the town knew that if something disappeared for a bit, it was probably Goniff who took it, so he was nicknamed Goniff.

Because he never kept or sold any stolen goods, Goniff was a rather poor man. He made his real living selling wood that he had chopped in the forest. As a woodcutter, he made enough for a few morsels and a small hut in the forest. No one wanted him in town anyway. Yet while Goniff never made a lot of money being a thief, he was really the most skillful thief there ever was. There was no castle or house that was safe from him. No one would ever see him come in, and no one would ever find any trace that he was ever there. Even when locked in jail, he could break out and replace the stolen item before the court ever brought him to trial, then break back into prison so that no one even noticed he was missing. But he just never felt right about taking other people’s stuff. He had learned his Torah well: not to steal and what to do to thieves if they did steal. But it was irresistible to break into someone’s home and take something, just to say that he could do it.

Goniff was also very much alone. Since no one trusted him, much of his time was spent alone, carving. The smaller branches of the trees he felled he would keep for himself and carve into intricate curiosities. From a single piece of wood, he could carve a doll or a set of wooden gears. Much like his ability to steal, he was always trying to better himself and to push his art to even further levels of skill. But since no one trusted him, there was no one to show these wonders to. One Erev Hanukkah, after lighting his first Hanukkah candle, he was carving an intricate set of gears with a chain on one end and a crank on the other. It did nothing but hang on the chain, and the gears would spin around, but getting the gears right out of this piece of oak was a particular challenge. He felt despair as he carved for not having anyone to share his holiday with. Finishing it, he threw the wooden contraption aside, onto a pile of dolls, soldiers, chains, and thingamabobs all carved out of single pieces of wood. He had heard that a great rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov, was coming for Shabbat. Maybe the great master could tell him something that would help him to get over his loneliness. So he decided that he would go down into the village after Shabbat.


The Kindle edition and the Paperback edition are available at amazon.com



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Shlomo’s Drash: Through The Darkness

As part of Hanukkah the first  two parts of the story of Joseph come before and during the holiday.  In the first, we are introduced to Joseph and the two times he is flung into darkness.IMG_2798

24 And they took him, and threw him into a pit; and the pit was empty, there was no water in it[Genesis 37]

20  (K) And Joseph’s master took him, and put him in the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the prison.[Genesis 39]

In the next week, during Hanukkah, light dawns for Joseph:

40  You shall be over my house, and according to your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you.[Genesis 39]

Hanukkah is the darkest of the dark, it uses the symbol of light to dispel the dark. all the winter solstice holidays do in some way do the same. While Christmas is always close to the solstice, Hanukkah moves to the lunar calendar. The middle of the holiday is Rosh Hodesh, a new month signified by a new moon. Hanukkah always includes the longest night with no visible moon of the year, hence it is the darkest of the dark, but in the days after, also the beginning of seeing light, just as Joseph had.

I’ve written before about the darkness of the time, most notably in my fable The Tzaddik of Klaas. This year was especially dark, and I felt the despair that Joseph must have felt while lighting the first candle last night.

Oddly,  it was the following that made me realize something.

UIView *myView = [[UIVew alloc] initWithFrame: CGRect(0,0,self.view.frame.size.width,self.view.frame.size.height] ;
 myView.background = [UIColor redColor];
 [self addView: myView];

Now unless you too are a iPhone developer, you probably have absolutely no idea what I just wrote. I didn’t two months ago. It is code to turn your iPhone screen red. Back in September, I started a project, a microscope camera app for work. The idea was for the app to be a companion to a product my company is making for the microscope. I developed the app, but with limited knowledge of how to program an iPhone, I used the easiest way to get at the camera. The problem is, it meant I had to write code for every button myself. That snippet of code is similar, though not the same as a lot of the code Iv’e written since then. Unlike many developers who are able to use the storyboard, a drag and drop way of building the user interface in a mere day, I was stuck coding it out for a month.

The code was grueling work. It was eleven hour days almost five times a week. I got to work in darkness and went home in darkness too many times to count. The work was exhausting and unsettling.  Towards the end, I was in despair.

The app is done and in the submission process. I started to work on my next one and decided to use a few things I’ve never used before. Researching these new things, I was amazed how easily I understood them. Many of them used the same code I used for the red iPhone above. It was a clear as a sunlit day — I understood them perfectly.

That shocked me, but it also was a feeling of enlightenment. I thought of Joseph and this time of year as I looked out to the street with all the people rushing about getting ready for the holidays. Joseph we are told started out as a real brat. Rabbinic tales in the Midrash make him out to be even worse than the braggart the biblical text does. Yet he changes so that Pharaoh would trust him with his kingdom. Maybe it was the darkness of the pit and the prison than changed him. Like I learned programming code, Joseph had to get through the despair to become cheerful enough to be of help to Potiphar and Joseph’s jailer. That got him to be viceroy of Egypt.

The solstice holidays have always been at their root about getting though that dark despair of the season. The early church fathers and the Rabbis of the Talmud had a similar problem: people would celebrate the pagan holidays of  Kalenda/Saturnalia and of the resurrection of Mithras, because getting through the dark is a deep human need.  There is a story in the Talmud [Avodah Zarah 8a]  that Adam just after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden was the first to be afraid  in this darkness, what to him was the end of the world. When things got lighter and he celebrated. Both the rabbis and church fathers had to find a way to frame the solstice in their own terms. The church took the resurrection of a sun god Mithras and changed into the birth of the Son of God, who would be resurrected. The rabbis took the anniversary of the rededication of the Temple by the first religious zealots in history who invited Romans  into Israel and illegally sat on the throne of Israel,(the Rabbis hated the Maccabees for those reasons)  into a holiday of a miracle of light at the time of greatest darkness in  the temple. After the solstice or the re-emergence of the new moon,  we know we will live through the cycle one again, and into a successful year, like Joseph and my programming knowledge, into the light of success.

May your season, whatever you celebrate, be filled with light.

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The Scourge of the Solstice

A friend of mine this week mentioned to me one of the really recurrent problems of the holiday season, no matter what your religion – or even lack of religion. It is an insidious and potentially dangerous problem. That this friend is one I know on a social media platform for healthy eating gives you some idea of this dangerous problem: Christmas cookies. Not just Christmas cookies of course, but potato latkes, sofganiot (a.k.a jelly doughnuts) yule logs and the terror of cardiologists everywhere: egg nog. There is also all those holiday editions of standard junk food that comes out this time of year like mint chocolate kisses and holiday Oreos. If one is trying for a healthy lifestyle, the month of December is not a good one.

There is a repeated story in the book of Exodus and the book of Numbers. the most extreme case is in Numbers chapter 11:

And the mixed multitude that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us meat to eat? We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. And the manna was as coriander seed, and its color as the color of bdellium. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of fresh oil. (Lev 11:4-8)

Ever had a craving? Here is a whole passage about cravings. It isn’t out of need, the people had perfect good and tasty manna, which for most people sounds delicious. Cravings are something besides a nutritional need. I’ve learned about cravings in a rather personal way. Back in 2004, I started on low carbohydrate diet. Due to a malicious prank done to me in seventh grade and an auto accident in college, my lower back could no longer stand the majority of my weight bearing down on it. It had decided that if I was going to put all that weight on it, it was going to shut down my sciatic nerve in response. For a month before I started, I could not walk, or stand without holding on to something as my legs were like rubber every time I got out of a chair. Thus 30 pounds had to go. Though taking my cue from Atkins diet, I did not get as strict as that diet. I figured that if I could cut my carbs down to 100 net carbs a day, I would lose weight, though slower than the Atkins. As I began my diet and did some research, I realized how many carbohydrates I was eating – almost a whole kilogram a day, with half being sugar. Dropping down to ten percent of that seemed reasonable. I was rather surprised when in that three months I dropped 35 pounds. Oddly enough, I felt more energized as well.
I thought about my diet the memorial day weekend after I had lost the weight and was maintaining it. People were amazed at my willpower to avoid some real no-nos on my diet, like cake with ice cream and hot fudge smothered all over it. During an Alaskan cruise with my I took with my mom (may her memory be for a blessing) that same year, I was also rather good. In a ship where it is very easy to gain weight from all the food, I actually lost a pound or two. While having the occasional dessert, I declined a lot and avoided even more. People were amazed when I went to the chocolate decadence midnight buffet and didn’t eat anything. This from the same guy who would used to say “life is uncertain, eat dessert first” and hit the dessert buffet before even looking at the appetizers.

I’ve talked to many people about the success I had, the verse from Numbers 11 keeps coming up. It too easy to start to want things we no longer can have. One can’t help but think of them. Things like chocolate for example. Then there’s the stuff we never eaten before but want to. In Numbers 11, during a desert trek people are going to have a hard time finding free seafood or green crops like cumbers. That they never actually had them back in Egypt is beside the point. Similarly on a diet, there is the potential for getting cravings when you can’t eat something, even something you’ve never had before. There are ways of dealing with those cravings however, and that’s what my diet taught me.

For those unfamiliar with biblical Hebrew, it is a rather nuanced language. There is a school of thought that God created the language, and every word, even in its spelling, carries nuanced thought. The Hebrew phrase for intense craving in the Torah passage is התאוו תאוה hitavu taaveh, which is a curious word. First of all it’s in the reflexive tense. It’s a craving the people gave to themselves. Secondly, the verbal root אוה Aleph-Vav-Hey is a little odd. From a grammatical standpoint you can’t get a weaker root than this: Two silent consonants in a hollow verb, which means it’s consonant is so weak, it’s often only a vowel. In short, if one looks at the verb, there’s almost nothing there and whatever seems to be is really self-imposed. So too with cravings — it’s entirely want we make of it.

There is the Hasidic story of a man on a little more extreme diet: He was involved in a week long fast for devotional purposes. One hour before his fast was to end he passed a well, and his craving for water overcame him. He walked to the well, but through force of will he stopped himself in time and walked away. He became overcome with pride in his act. But then he realized that it was better to ruin the fast with a drink of water than fall prey to the greater sin of pride. When he walked back to the well, his thirst was gone. The thirst was the want, not the need. The craving was all in his head.

So heres the secret to my dieting success: it’s analogous to eating kosher. In modern kashrut there are two possibilities when making food choices: either find a substitute which is Kosher, or do without it. Things we do with out, treif, we actually revile. In one of the many stories about pagan women trying to seduce Rabbi Akiba, Akiba has no interest in this incredibly seductive young woman who pulls out all the stops in trying to seduce him. When she fails, His host asks him about this as it was a test of Akiba’s fidelity. Akiba, explains that she was beautiful, but the pork on her breath made her repulsive. It wasn’t the sexy lady but the thought of pork that Akiba couldn’t stand. So my secret was simply thinking of high carb foods as treif. They simply lost all appeal for me. Whether it’s a pulled pork or pulled kosher chicken sandwich, any sandwich was bad in my eyes because I couldn’t stand eating bread. Cookies and doughnuts were just icky stuff. When there is an alternative, I went for that instead, such as a square of a 70% chocolate bar.

One of the downfalls of a diet based on low carbohydrates is that other things which aren’t healthy get eaten – like animal fats. While I don’t eat red meats, only poultry and fin fish, the amount of animal and processed fats were too high. When I had my first bad report on a cholesterol test, my eating fell apart, oddly enough on doctors orders. I tried to eat healthy and get the cholesterol back in line not only to fail that, but put all the weight back plus more, over several years of losing those habits. There was nothing I could think of as yuckky or treif, because everything got too confusing figuring out where the cholesterol was.
After a series of minor health related problems this year, my wife and I, who also wanted to lose some pounds, decided we would begin both a healthy eating and exercise program. We are training for a 5K run and counting our net calories, while watching all the other nutrients we are putting into our bodies. Our health has improved and we are losing weight, slower than last time but it is still coming off. I have noticed already some changes in my diet which brings back what happened back in 2004-2006. I’m back to getting sick to my stomach looking at doughnuts, for example. In a business meeting recently, not only did I feel sick looking at a doughnut, I actually got sick eating one so as to not refuse his hospitality. Many foods are no longer appetizing. High calorie foods are now once again like my view of a big slab of bacon, which has looked repugnant since I gave it up over fifteen years ago when I began some kosher observances.

As we enter the holiday season and many are tempted by bad food while we gain cravings which seem impossible to control, it might be good to remember these lessons. It is our minds that determine what is good or bad food, what we want to put into our mouths and stomachs. Just as we once learned that we should stuff our faces with Ho Ho’s and Big Macs, we can learn they are bad for us, and unappetizing as well for us spiritually and physically.

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Toledot 5773: Siblings within Me

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. 28 Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob.

What can be said of siblings is obvious. Siblings, even twins, are different. Each has their own personality, and parents do favor one child over another. Sibling rivalry and its after effects are universal, and the Story of Jacob and Esau is just one of the early ones of the common trope. But there are deeper symbols. The rabbis saw Esau as Rome,  and Jacob would become Israel. But these can be the siblings internal to us as well. They are child thoughts of our own souls, two different personalities within us driving us in different directions.  Esau brings home the food at night, Jacob stays close to home. Esau my have done things to hurt his parent, but he never lied to them or cheated them., like Jacob did.  Neither kid is perfect. The one who brings home the game, Esau is very much in favor now. Eleven hours a day I’m at my office. Jacob’s  study at home (or in my case Starbuck’s) , has fallen by the wayside, and this column with it.Deep inside I know neither my Inner Esau nor my inner  Jacob should be dominant, but there should be a mix. Somewhere in the middle is the healthy option. But I look at the bills, and want to do something about it. So I keep writing apps, and really doing nothing else. I thought of this while checking some stats today, on this account, and realized that I want to go back to some writing, but it is difficult given all the hours I’m spending programming, trying to make a deadline for a 2012 release of my next app.  SO I decide to put Jacob into the mix, although only a little. So for a while Shlomo’s Drash will be 500 words or less.  It’s a good exercise in getting me involved with little time commitment, and in writing a lot more concise pieces than I have before.

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Assignment Nov 7 2012

I Kings 8: 38-53

Koheleth 8:8

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Noah 5773: The Tower of Babel and the App Store

There is more to the world than the United States. That should be obvious, but events this week floored me into realizing it. What floors me more is that the very liberal, open-minded person that I thought I was could ever make that mistake.

This week’s Torah portion has two known stories, and that second one dovetails into my current thoughts so well: God becomes dissatisfied with all flesh on the earth, and thus plans to destroy them, saving one family, that of Noah, and a handful of animals. In the wake of the destruction that follows, God promises not to try that stunt again, using a rainbow for a contract. Noah, with a bad case of Post-Traumatic Stress, gets drunk and stupid. After the unpleasantness of this incident, a few more generations are born. With only a rainbow as a contract, these later generations don’t completely trust God. They decide to make a tower to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6 And the LORD said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them, which they purpose to do. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.[Gen 11]

Something about these verses interests me.  God plans to confound their language, and instead scatters them. The text never say, that the people working on the tower first had their language changed and then were scattered. Genesis 11:9 seems to fill in that missing piece:

9 Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

I’m not sure they weren’t simultaneous acts. I’d go as far to say God confounded language by scattering people. We are limited by our perceptions, and even more by our physical senses. These limitations create a situation where we tend to think locally. What is outside our local sphere of perception is ignored, the lesson I learned this week.

Among the other things I do, I’m a budding app developer.  A friend of mine who is a public health educator had an idea for a counter for smartphone which would count the number of time one would wash their hands. I decide to explore the idea, and for the various festivities around the globe associated with Global Hand washing Day on October 15th, I’d give away the app as an educational item. I wrote the Handwashing Counter in about a month, and got it into the Apple App Store on October 11th.  Unfortunately, as of this writing I haven’t heard from my friend, so I assume she never promoted the app.

The marketing guru Seth Godin calls writing apps a sucker’s bet. The world is full of apps already. For you to be found in the top ten is not likely. If you aren’t in the top ten, you won’t make all that money you thought you would. I’m not making any money at this to be sure —  I’ve sold about 130 of my paid apps in the 8 months they have been in the App Store.   I did not expect a lot from the hand washing app given my main promotional never happened.  A week after introduction, there have been over 130 downloads of Handwash Counter, the most I have ever had for that period of time. There are now more downloads  in a week than all the paid apps I have ever sold. But what got me was this:  it was downloaded in 34 countries, yet only a quarter were in the U.S.

It was a shock to me, one that has got me thinking. The market is not the United States, it’s everyone else too. I had been thinking about one place, I was thinking local, when what I should have been doing is thinking global. God’s trick of making me distant from others got me.  I did an analytics check on this blog and the numbers are extremely different. Two thirds of my shlomosnewdrash hits are US based. This blog is a lot of English. The average entry is about 1200 words.  The Handwashing Counter app has very little in comparison.   With a few localization changes, the app works anywhere.  I’m planning to improve that.  I’m going to add more graphics to the app in its next version, because I can see the less words, the better.

God split us up at Babel the story goes.  Being too far away to talk or communicate meant variation came into the picture. In time that variation became different languages.  But what happens when that barrier of distance starts to break down?  A tweet I send right now is visible anywhere on the planet in a few seconds. We still have language barriers of course. The 18% of downloads by China and Russia require those users to know a Latin alphabet just to use the app.  Yet 75% of my downloads was from outside the US.  The Internet connects lot of people. With cell phones being the most common way in even developing countries to communicate, smartphones with web browsers are slowly becoming common in the most unlikely places.  We are getting closer to all having a link to everyone else, if only we had a common language again.

Thirty years ago, Steve Jobs took some  ideas from Xerox, whose executives thought it was not a profitable avenue for their company, and built an icon-based computer.  The Macintosh led to the icons found in every program and app we use today. The idea that ancient languages had, of using pictograms as visual language, returned. In doing so it became so much closer to a universal language again. Those icons, buttons and sliders that make up my apps are still easy ways for people to understand things.  It is a simple language. That I can transmit that anywhere is quite miraculous.

There is a bit of programming I do, actually mandated by Apple, known as delegates. Two parts of a program don’t talk to each other. In order to get them to talk, I have one program part, known as a class, have a requirement of what it thinks is communication, and the other class to do that part. If I want the communication both ways both classes need to have requirements and both need to make part of their code that requirement.

Babel was the time when we stopped communicating and started talking. We forget we need to be part of each other and know what that part was. We stopped having delegates to each other.  The program, the building of a great tower, collapsed.  God could have spread us half an inch apart from one another, but if we lose our ability to connect, we lose our ability to communicate. Even with the same vocabulary and grammar we can be talking different languages.  This week I have hope we can connect. A little app showed me there is hope we can all communicate.

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