Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Just at the right time

My son has type 1 diabetes.  That's not the point of this post.  He needs two cannulas in his little bottom all of the time.  One to administer the insulin and the other to monitor his levels.  It works really well and most of the time, putting the new cannula in doesn't hurt him.  But sometimes it does.  My wife puts the new cannulas in and she is really good at it.  One day, before I left for Shacharis at Shul he needed one of them replacing.  this time it must have literally hit a nerve.  He is only 8 years old but he cried his little heart out and after a great big hug I had to leave for Shul.

I prayed with particular focus that morning mostly praying for a cure to the dreaded disease and if he does have to have it, at least make it not hurt the poor kid.  Near the end of the service there are a few people who come in schnororing which is collecting money for charity.  One of them is a particular friend of mine and bless him he has a few medical issues of his own.  He was telling me the previous week about how he was planning to have an injection in his foot to help with his pain.  He really wasn't looking forward to it.

Now he told me about it.  Completely oblivious to my davening to Hashem.  Completely oblivious to me asking why.  He simply said the following about his ordeal.

"You know what" he said, "a little bit of pain is worth it to cure a bigger problem."

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.  The weight lifted from my shoulders and I was able to get on with my day with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Helping Hand and a Sausage

From a story that happened only a few weeks ago, let me take you back 9 years to when I first moved to Manchester.

Before moving to Manchester I spent 10 year in Southend on Sea.  It was good to get back amongst Jewish people again as previously to that I had been in Bournemouth and Leicester.  There were about a dozen of us in Southend at the beginning.  All single and all looking to take our lives to the next stage (ie find the perfect partner and get married).  Over the years, one by one and sometimes two by two, the group began to splinter as people found partners, and therefore found another life. Sometimes the numbers went up, but Southend wasn't a real pull for Jewish singles in their 20's and 30's so most of the time the group shrank. 

I went to plenty of Jewish Jewish singles events in London but there are only so many of these that one can attend whilst keeping his sanity.  I went to far too many of them and a change was definitely required.  

So, I packed my belongings into a handkerchief, tied them to the end of a long stick, slung the stick over my shoulder and headed off to Manchester, where I heard that the streets were paved with gold. After spending a week running around buying furniture and generally having the beginnings of a fantastic adventure I contacted the local synagogue.  They introduced me to a young Rabbi who I am still very friendly with today (there is a story there as well).  He took it upon himself to make sure that I never spent a Friday evening alone and slowly he started to introduce me to the Jewish way of life.  I had experienced Friday evening meals before, but not quite like these.  At my Fathers house in Southend they consisted of the prayer for wine, then bread with no washing in between and straight into a delicious meal.  After devouring the meal we would sink back into the settee and watch The Simpsons or a football match on TV.  So the proper way of doing things were a bit of a mystery to me.  But one which I slowly started to enjoy.

My level of observance at the time was such that I would only eat meat that "could" be kosher.  So I would eat chicken and beef from the normal supermarket and from non-kosher restaurants.  But, I would never eat any meat that could never be kosher. So I would never eat pig or shellfish.   Then I had a revelation, a turning point in my life.  I experienced my first proper kosher beef sausage.  There are few times in my life when I have been affected so profoundly by a piece of food.  The smell sent me back to my childhood and my saliva glands started flowing in anticipation.  The sound of cutting into the crisp skin made my eyes open wide with pleasure.  Then the taste...  The taste was an explosion of senses.  Sight, sound, hearing, and touch all squeezed together in experiencing the pleasure of a simple sausage.  That made me consider the possibility of buying kosher meat more often.  But I didn't.  The familiarity and the “buy one get one free” offers in the supermarkets kept me loyal to their treif meat.

It was a few weeks later when I entered my garage one morning to get out some crumpets for breakfast.  I went to open the door to the freezer, but the normal suction and pull on the door was missing.  The door had been left open a crack all night.  This had never happened before and funnily enough, at the time of writing, has never happened since.  I went through the contents of the freezer throwing away all of the items that had defrosted beyond the ability to use or re-freeze. 

The vegetables I kept.
The potatoes I kept.
The lollipops I kept (I am a kid at heart).
The meat I had to throw away.

So that is all of my non-kosher meat that had to be thrown away.  The thing is that I did have a few pieces of kosher meat that I had purchased.  They were all sat safe and sound in the fridge and were still perfectly edible. Was this a message that I should destroy all of my non-kosher meat?  I took it as such and never bought non-kosher meat from that day on.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Tzedaka does work

I like to look for ways to improve the Yidishkeit in my life.  Always looking to improve myself as a person.  I have a theory that if you try your very best, then you can never be disappointed in the outcome.  It is only when something fails and you have not put in your best that you should be disappointed.

As we got closer to Pesach I decided to review how much tzedaka I was giving to charity.  The big festivals are always a focus for giving tredaka and I knew that I wasn't giving enough each month.  The problem is that it's not that clear to the uninitiated exactly how much one should be giving.  Now I am ball teshuva so don't claim to be an expert on Yidishkeit, so I popped along to one of the excellent book stores in Manchester and bought 'Priorities in Tzedaka' by Rabbi Moshe Goldberger.  A few days later I was knees deep in a spreadsheet calculating my earnings and expenditure.  The basic rules that I followed from the book are:

(disclaimer... as always, dyor and ask your Rabbi for a more accurate ruling.  I am far from an halachic authority on the matter)

1- You should pay at least 10% of your net pay.  For someone earning an average wage, you can give up to 20%.  But as 10% is rabbinically accepted and was quite a jump for me anyway, I thought that it would be a good place to start.  Always take things on in manageable bite sized chunks as there is far more chance that you might stick to it.  Jumping straight to 20% I know would have been too difficult to start with.

2- You can deduct business expenses such as travel. For me that is about it, as I work for someone else and don't have my own business there is little else that I can deduct for travel.

3- Add the net rental income.  I own a second house.  How that came about is a small story in itself but the basics are that when I got married we decided to re-locate and I couldn't sell the house in time.  But, the estate agents manages to find us some tenants and their rental just covered the mortgage.  We were lucky as many years later they are still happily living there.

4- There were some smaller calculations for charity work and some small lotteries that I do, but I don't want to go into minute detail here.

I calculated what I should have paid for the last twelve months and compared this to what I have actually been paying.  The difference varies slightly each month but the average that I need to pay is £135 more per month.  That may not seem such a huge figure (or maybe it will!) but I have spent years of my life scrimping and scraping for money.  Not quite on the poverty, but only just covering costs and certainly never giving to charity.  When I started to get some disposable income I would give a couple of quid to Children in Need or Red Nose Day every year.  So going from a couple of quid to where I was now was quite a big step and now having to pay £135 more each month.  It is more of a psychological block than anything else.

Ok, so where is the coincident...  Time to change scene for the sub-plot.  We recently switched broadband provider and they installed a new phone socket in a different room in the house.  That night we realised that our alarm system was no longer connected to the police as the old phone line had been disconnected.  This didn't occur to us at the time so we had to call the alarm company to get this resolved as if the worst happened and the house was broken into, we were not insured.  They quoted £94 for the first hour call out to reconnect to the new phone socket which we thought was reasonable considering the broadband company were going to charge £99 for the same work.  So they come, do the work and it's all working perfectly. 

Then the invoice arrived and it quoted 1 hour and 3 minutes of work.  Fancy adding 3 minutes over the hour.  But then we look at the total and it is for over £200!  Something must have gone wrong, there must have been a mistake, so I call the alarm company to see what was going on.  I patiently explain what I was quoted and how disappointed I am being charged for 3 minutes over the hour and why is the invoice for so much?  They told me that the charge is £95 plus VAT for the first half an hour and not for the first hour and there were £20 parts on top of that.  But, I protested, I was quoted £94 for the first hour.

Their response came as a complete surprise.  "Ok sir, in that case I will reduce the value of the invoice to £94.  After all, if that's what you were quoted for the job then that is what you will pay."

Ok, that was too easy.  Where was the "I will have to speak to my manager and call you back", where was the "As a gesture of good will we will deduct 10% off the bill", were was the fight, where was the resistance?

I told her that I was happy to pay VAT if that was meant to be paid and I was happy to pay for parts if they were over and above the quote.  But no, there was no persuading her.  If I had been quoted £94 then £94 I would pay.  I was best waiting until I received the credit note for £135 before paying just to make sure that everything is ok.

Um, hold on a minute.  A credit note for £135...  That is exactly the same in extra tzedaka that I had to pay this month.

But that's not all.  The phone call took place on the 1st day of the month that I pledged to pay the extra money. 

Of course I now have to make sure that I pay the extra before the end of the month, but under the circumstances, I don't think this will be a problem!

I tested Hashem by increasing my donations by £135 per month and on the first day of that month he responded by saving me exactly that amount.  If you ever wanted proof... there it is.

And that's not all... but I will save the other story for later.


There are many books out there quoting stories from people's lives where so called coincidences happen.  They provide you examples of how Hashem (G-d) is in our lives all of the time and all you have to do is look and you will see.  The problem is that most people don't look and if you don't look, how can you expect to see?

I love to look.

I love to see.

If you look.

You will see.

Now, the problem with most of these books is that whilst the stories are very nice, you can't quite bring yourself to believe that all of them actually happened exactly as the story makes out.  This blog is different.  I can personally vouch for each and every one of there stories.  How?  Because they happened to me.

My Rabbi keeps on telling me to write these stories down and I kept on saying that one day I would, but then I never did.  But the other week, just before Pesach, something happened that made me change my mind about noting them down.  I even told the story in Shul one week when the Rabbi wasn't in.  I like to get up every now and then to speak.  I am not pretending that I am an halachic authority on anything.  But we are only a small Shul so I can get away with it.  In fact as these stories unfold, you will see that I was once very secular and am now bal-tshuva.  After telling this story in Shul a number of people came up to me afterwards to tell me how amazing the story was.  So I thought that it was about time that I did start to write these stories down and here they are, starting with the aforementioned story.