Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wonders Of Our World (or There's A Blood Moon In The Sky And Hobbits Are Real!)

Sharing the stage last night with (what would turn out to be) the final game of the World Series (congrats to the Red Sox) was a total eclipse of the moon that was magnificently visible from my home in Miami Beach. The night seemed tailor-made for the event; though there were some clouds, they did not spoil the spectacle, and the high pressure we have over Florida made the sky crisp and clear for stargazing.

I have seen a few lunar eclipses (partial and full) over the years, but they never stop amazing me; there is a sense of sheer wonder and mystery at seeing the moon slowly dissapear behind a curtain of blackness, only to reappear as a blood-colored orb hanging majestically and ominously in the firmament. Today we have scientists that can explain to us in painstaking detail how the process occurs, what causes the red coloration, when it will pass down to the minute, but my thoughts always go to the peoples of the past, wondering how they saw and understood this same celestial event, what did they associate with an eclipse, how did it affect their life. Sadly, in our day and age, a full lunar eclipse is something that passes as a footnote in the evening news, that gets a few cutaway shots during the baseball game and becomes forgotten in the midst of the electoral process. But there was a time when such an event would have changed destinies, carried meaning, be the talk of the town for months or years to come.

The moon still holds a very special place to Jews. We measure our calendar by the moon, not the sun, and every new month we recite a special blessing on the moon. Our sages say that the Jewish people are compared to the moon: our fortunes wax and wane, but they are constant, always in a state of renewal. A full lunar eclipse could be understood as a representation of the times when we have been almost obscured from the world (such as the Inquisition or Holocaust, though I think the current period of exile would be a more appropiate symbol); the blood-red of the moon would need no further explanation, I would think. But just as the moon eventually went through a period of darkness giving way to the brilliance of a full moon, so will our destiny follow, when the exile ends in the Messianic times.

And in other "Wonders of our World" news, today the New York Times ran a story on an apparently new species of human found in an island east of Bali, off the coast of Australia. It seems Tolkien was not that far off and that Hobbits were real! Check out the first two paragraphs from the article:

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, on a tropical island midway between Asia and Australia, there lived a race of little people, whose adults stood just three and a half feet high. Despite their stature, they were mighty hunters. They made stone tools with which they speared giant rats, clubbed sleeping dragons and hunted the packs of pygmy elephants that roamed their lost world.

Strangest of all, this is no fable. Skeletons of these miniature people have been excavated from a limestone cave on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, by a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists. Reporting their find in today's issue of Nature, they assign the people to a new human species, Homo floresiensis.

You can check out the full article at (registration required and free) entitled "New Species Revealed: Tiny Cousins of Humans" and a related article on the same topic from entitled "Scientists Hope to Find More Tiny Indonesia Hominids."

For the respectable scientific source, you can check out the article ""Hobbit" Discovered: Tiny Human Ancestor Found in Asia" at (this one's also sure to remain archived, unlike the other two, which could be removed after a while).

There is so much about our world we still do not know. Things like lunar eclipses and discoveries of hitherto unknown human variants happen and it's like God is playing with us saying, "Keep digging, there's a lot more for you to find out."

And some people still insist on denying the existence of God...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Travel And Our Place In The World

I'll gladly take any excuse to talk about traveling; I love being on the road, seeing the world, expanding my horizons (not mention being out of Miami for a little while). Once a month I received Rick Steves' Travel News via email, in which Rick writes a little essay to introduce the month's news, normally a mix of updated entries from his travel guides, short articles on various aspects of travel in Europe, plus a photo essay on a different theme each month. (As a side note, anyone who loves travel and Europe should subscribe to the email newsletter and to the print newsletter, as it gives you a handy travel fix between trips.)

Today I got a special edition Elections 2004 Travel Newsletter email, with a mixture of new and old articles from the past year all focusing on how the U.S. and Americans are seen abroad (mainly in Europe) and what kind of thoughts that should elicit in us as we head to the polls next Tuesday. While I don't necessarily agree 100% with every single word Rick writes on his site, I do wholeheartedly agree with the overall message. To sum it up in a sentence from Rick's article on, "If more Americans traveled before they voted, they would elect a government with policies that didn't put it at odds with the rest of the world." Abso-freakin-lutely.

Americans in general are some of the most obtuse people I have ever met when it comes to having a world-picture: the U.S. sits at the center of the universe, and there is little reason to consider anything else. It's easy when you live in a country that spans a continent from coast to coast, but it shouldn't be the norm. I'm not saying we should not be proud of being American; quite the contrary, actually. We should be proud, and that pride should allow us to go into the rest of the world as citizen ambassadors, a veritable army of people putting a face on the U.S. that is not the president's (any of them), showing the rest of the world who we truly are: a people with a strong work ethic, no-holds-barred attitude and the ambition (and desire) to reach beyond the stars. Yeah, some people take those virtues and turn them into vices (workaholism is just as bad as alcoholism, and there is a fine-albeit-present line between pride and arrogance), but not all of us are like that. The government is not going to be the one to show this side of Americans to the world—it has way too many economic and political interests to be objective—so it is up to each and every one of us travelers to do so.

So please, when you travel abroad (and everyone should travel abroad, the world's too big to live your whole life in one place), remember you are an ambassador of the true United States, and that your actions speak for all of us. You don't have to learn a new language (though it wouldn't hurt you, you know! Europeans on average speak 2 languages, and many speak 3 and 4), just get a phrasebook and practice how to say "Hello," "Thank you," and "Do you speak English?" For all that's holy, please don't just assume and start speaking English; if a foreigner did that to you in the U.S. you'd flip out, so don't do it to them. Stop being a tourist and become a short-term resident; do the touristy stuff, but venture beyond the glitz to the backstreets and be rewarded with a whole new world, the day-to-day world. Remember that we are all, every single one of us in every single country in the world, residents of the same planet, so think of people in Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Ethiopia, Israel, Turkey, France, Germany, England, Finland, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, or anywhere else in the world as your cousins a few degrees removed. And above all, keep the rest of the world in mind when you make your decision on Nov. 2; the elections decide the president on the U.S., but the U.S. has an incredible impact upon the rest of the world, and we should be responsible with that power.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Native to Where? Judaism, Politics And The Search For A Home

It is said that where you have two Jews, there are three opinions, and this is not an exaggeration. Even in the one thing we can (pretty much) all agree on, God, there are a gazillion opinions on the matter—put two Jews, even two of the same denomination (Orthodox, Conservative, etc.) to talk about the subject of God and Torah, and you'll be amazed at the amount of points in which they differ, even they agree on the underlying principle. There is one major exception: politics. Here, if you have two Jews, you're bound to have either two similar opinions, or two contradictory opinions; there's no middle ground on the matter. You are either for Bush or for Kerry, and all those on the other side are just WRONG!

At prayers this morning—much like it has happened every day in the last few weeks—the topic of politics came up, and as you can probably expect in an Orthodox synagogue, a lot of the people are voting for Bush, mainly because they somehow have gotten the idea that Bush is the best friend Israel has in this elections, which I think is total crap. (In my opinion, Bush has been a chickenshit idiot who has not dared to stand up to the international community to keep the fuck out of Israel's internal business, and has bent backwards for Arafat more times than I care to remember. How dare you condemn Israel for defending itself against terrorist acts, when you send a whole friggin nation to war halfway across the world on similar charges? If this is the best friend Israel has in these elections then we are truly screwed beyond belief. But I digress…)

This little tête-à-tête this morning, coupled with Rabbi Harlig's (of
Chabad of Kendall) speech this past Shabbat (Saturday) at the synagogue, and with a lecture I heard from Rabbi Shaul Maleh of Mexico City a couple of months back, has gotten me thinking about our position in the nation. Rabbi Maleh mentioned in his lecture (and I have heard this from other Orthodox rabbis) that optimally (and this is important) a Jew’s position should always be to simply be thankful to the government for allowing us to practice in peace, and to leave all issues of politics to the goyim, to the gentiles who are truly part of the nation. The principle is that, while we are residents in the nations of the world, we are citizens of Israel (not necessarily the political nation, but more the spiritual nation, though certainly the political nation does apply). Throughout history, it has been evident time and time again that, whenever the Jews started taking too much interest in the affairs of the nation, the goyim became angry and sought to put us back in our place, usually in a violent manner. If we are to learn anything from the past, it must be that the goyim take care of the affairs of the nation while we take care of the affairs of Israel while thanking our host nation for their hospitality. In fact, that's actually the best way to describe our situation: we are guests in our various hosts nations; just like you wouldn't want a houseguest to start meddling in family affairs, so should us Jews know what to mind and what to leave alone.

Rabbi Harlig spoke this week about the fact that we should be natives to Judaism, that is, Judaism should be our homeland, not necessarily the country in which we live. While this may sound like a strong statement, it makes an incredible amount of sense. So many times, starting with the
Assyrian dispersion of the (now Lost) Ten Tribes in roughly 555 BCE, or perhaps even with the Exodus from Egypt, we have been forced to move from our homes, leaving all we have known behind with only God's mercy and promise to carry us forth, that you think by now we'd be used to the idea of being a nationless people. And perhaps for a while, for a couple of centuries, this was the case, but it is certainly not anymore. Between the relative peace we enjoy in the US, and the establishment of the state of Israel, more and more Jews see themselves as citizens of the nation first, Jews second, when in truth it should be the other way around.

Judaism has always been our home; in Egypt, in the desert, in Israel, in Babylon, in Spain, in Turkey, in Russia, in Germany, in the US and in modern Israel, the one thread that unites us all is that unbroken chain of tradition we call Judaism. It is Judaism that defines our times of joy and sadness, which defines our holidays and our traditions. Yeah, we spice it up with regional touches (kugel for the Ashkenazim, burekas for the Sephardim), but we all pray the same Shacharit (the morning prayer), we all rejoice on Purim, we all submit to All-mighty God on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and we all read, treasure and love the same Torah, the Torah that was given to Moses and has been handed down with
incredible accuracy for the last 3000+ years. Thank God, we in the US live in the most tolerant nation in the world, a nation where our right to practice Judaism is protected by the very document that defines the nation, something for which we must be thankful every day. But just keep this in mind: some 60-70 years ago, Germany had the same level of tolerance for Jews; some 200 years ago, France was the center of the Jewish diaspora, and some 500 years ago Spain was the worldwide center of Jewish thought, where we experienced a Golden Age of cooperation between us and our Muslim and Christian kin. All those eras ended in expulsion, in disaster, in genocide, and we are still feeling the aftereffects of these events (in the plight of the anusim, in the current atmosphere in France, in the intermarried grandchildren of Holocaust survivors). It is because history tends to repeat itself, and because those who do not learn from it are bound to repeat it, that we must always be vigilant, and like the generation of the Exodus, be ready to leave at the drop of a pin. This does not necessarily mean that we must always be paranoid, but it does mean that we must make Judaism our home, because it is the one thing we can always take with us, the one thing that, regardless where we set up a tent, will be constant.

So how does this all relate to the upcoming election? Well, are we American Jews duty-bound to participate in these elections, especially because they promise to be incredibly close? Are we duty-bound to mingle in the affairs of the nation to the point where we may be a deciding factor (especially here in Florida)? Are we overstepping the boundaries of a houseguest, though the host is asking us to cast our opinion? These are questions that every American Jew must answer for him/herself. As a convert I have my own particular can of worms I need to deal with: am I, immediately upon completing my conversion, no longer a native of my old country (in terms of what I discuss above)? Do I have a different status because I entered Judaism, and thus the nation of Israel, instead of having been born into it? Do I get dual citizenship?

I have grappled with these issues and reached a decision that is right for me. I WILL vote, because I accept that I am not at such a spiritual level where I can fully feel detached from the nation where I dwell and fully attached to the nation of my spirit. Life is a constant struggle to achieve a balance between the physical and spiritual, trying to infuse the material with a measure of spirituality, a measure of holiness. I don't know that my vote will be imbued with holiness, but the decision I am making when I cast my vote is one I have reached after filtering my thoughts through the lenses of all the lessons of Torah I have learned. Superficially, my vote and that of any other person is exactly the same, carrying the same weight, but internally, it makes a huge difference. I choose to involve myself in the affairs of my host nation because while my spirit strives to reside in Heaven, my body must live in the United State of America, and I cannot, in good conscience, allow my voice not to be heard. I fully respect those people who are spiritual enough to have shed their dual citizenship with the nations; I am not one of them (yet?), thus I must do my part.

I deeply and sincerely thank President Bush for having maintained this nation's commitment to freedom of religion, thus allowing me to, under his presidency, convert from the Catholicism in which I was raised in, to the Judaism in which my soul feels at home, and to practice it openly and proudly. Now I feel that it is his time to step down and to give way to someone who, I think, will do a better job of leading the nation.

I guess in the end I am still a native to the nation of the United States of America, though I also strive to become a native to Judaism (where perhaps I now have the status of recent immigrant). For now, that dual citizenship does the job.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Danny and D&D: 30 Years of Fun

No, today is not my birthday, it was October 12, and neither is it today D&D's birthday (not sure anyone remembers exactly what day it is), but it's close enough that both are in October. The fact does remain that this month both D&D and I turned 30 years old. I'm not sure what that says about me, when I love playing a game that is as old as I am, and which I've been playing constantly for more than half our lifetimes. That I'm a geek? Old news. Perhaps it really doesn't say anything at all (at least I'm not one of those who has been playing non-stop for the past 30 years; I know a lot of those and most make me shudder).

Anyhoo, I find it funny that all of a sudden D&D is all across the major news organizations. It truly is a Golden Age of Geekdom (especially if we can forget completely about that D&D Movie travesty) when you go to to get the latest on the war in Iraq or the race for the White House, and right there you see a fellow geek rolling some dice, quite likely telling the DM, "I waste it with my crossbow!!!" Ahh, brings a smile to my face.

Take a look at the Associated Press article on entitled "Gamers Mark 30 Years of Dungeons & Dragons" and another one from the National Review Online entitled "I Was A Teenage Half-Orc." And heck, click to see the
Google search on "Dungeons & Dragons 30 years" and be surprised (I know I was) by all the articles spreading geekdom across the US.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Stem-cell Research and Judaism

I read a wonderful article on the position of Jewish Law on the topic of stem-cell research. I'm thinking it would be great to send it to the Republican party, but I think the arguments would be just too much for their little brains to handle.

Anyway, read it, it's incredibly interesting how Judaism takes millenia-old principles and applies them to modern-day life without skipping a beat. Just click on the image.

This article is brought to you by - Jewish wisdom for today's world.

Starting Anew

Every so often it's a good thing to start anew; it gives you a new perspective, a whole new fresh outlook on things, unweighted by all that has come before. And that's precisely what I am doing here.

From Feb. 2002 until now I have had a blog at Today I decided to switch over to It's nothing personal against; I just like the look of better. That and, like I said above, there's that sense of starting fresh, unburdened by the two-and-a-half years of past entries.

So, here's to new beginnings and all that crap.

(Just so you know, everything before this entry has been moved from my old blog to this one, though the original dates have been kept for record-keeping purposes.)

Monday, October 11, 2004



October 11, 2004 - Miami Beach, FL: We are pleased to announce the arrival of Highmoon Media Productions to the game publishing world.

Highmoon Media Productions is a small studio dedicated to producing quality and innovative roleplaying accessories, adventures, and sourcebooks using the d20 System under the Open Game License. Our products are designed to be used with any d20 compatible products, both in the fantasy, modern and future genres.

Highmoon Media Productions will offer small and affordable electronic, printer-ready products in the PDF format through, with plans to eventually offer our products in printed format using Print-On-Demand technology.

Visit us online at to learn more about the company and about our current and upcoming products. You can also visit the Highmoon Media Productions' Vendor Page to purchase our products.

And check out our first release,
Liber Sodalitas: The Blind Path, by Daniel M. Perez. The Blind Path is a 6-page PDF detailing a drop-in organization for any d20 Fantasy game, complete with history, tenets, ways of joining, iconic and generic NPCs, a new prestige class, and a new feat. Available now for sale at

For more information please contact Daniel M. Perez at

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Closing The High Holy Days

Hag Sameach! (Joyous Festival).
Sukkot is now over, and tomorrow we start both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, bringing to a close all the High Holy Days (and you thought it was only Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur!).
Highmoon Media Productions is going well. God willing, I should have our first release ready for next week! I'll post a link.

On an unraletd note, I saw the movie Kissing Jessica Stein the other night and I liked it a lot. It was cute and funny and not what I was expecting. It was sold as a gay romantic comedy, when it fact it isn't. This may very well be the first Bi-curious romantic comedy ever. The girl who plays Jessica Stein reminded me physically of someone I once knew. Like I said, cute, check it out.

Signing off for another 3-day holiday hiatus. Man, being an orthodox Jew is hard; all we do is pray and eat in our holidays.

-- Highmoon
Sitting in the
PS. All links point to Judaism 101-