Posted by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan
If a house is big enough and old enough, there’s almost always something that needs fixing, restoring or upgrading. Happily, I look around and see projects that I’ve started and completed. That makes me feel good….complete…shalem; and then there are those other projects. They sit by unfinished… or even unstarted! I gingerly tip-toe past the latter projects on almost a daily basis. Just looking at them makes me feel so… guilty. My least favorite word in the world – that demon word “should” – pops up inside my head. I get anxious. I should finish that cabinet in the basement. I should finish my play. I should replace that rotting kitchen countertop. I should stop saying should. “Should” means that if I don’t finish it, therefore I am wrong or incompetent, lazy, a failure, lacking purpose…. and any other number of negative terms to identify a procrastinator who just can’t get things done. (More about “should” another time. Don’t get me started!)
If that isn’t self-abuse, I don’t know what is. It’s a mentality reminiscent of slavery… enslaving oneself (or another) with the shackles of being wrong for not being finished; or being wrong for not doing it “my way.” Of course finishing projects successfully gives us all a good feeling of accomplishment. However there is something to be said for the process, even if these “projects” all look up at me like little puppies that need feeding, walking or house breaking.
The better part of me knows that each of these projects, finished and not, has represented an opportunity for self-discovery, learning and growth. Greg Anderson, creator of the Wellness Project back in 1964, once said:
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”
There is a certain activity where both the journey AND the destination can both be quite joyful. (Maybe I should change my name to Cantor Ruth and then it would be okay to drosh about how God told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky…. or the grains of sand on the beach!) Anyway, I don’t know if Mr. Anderson had studied any Jewish texts prior to uttering that pithy statement, but in the second or third century CE, the Mishna was created to write down the oral explanation and interpretation of the Torah as told by God to Moses. The teachings of Pirkei Avot appear in the Mishnaic tractate of Avot, the second-to-last tractate in the order of Nezikin in the Talmud. I know this sounds very erudite, and I am not an erudite kinda guy. In fact, the teachings of Pirkei Avot – “Ethics of the Fathers” - are very practical. There is almost no halacha in Pirkei Avot, just megatips on how to live our lives. We read in 2:21: “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” This Jewish teaching infuses the sense of responsibility into Mr. Anderson’s aphorism. The rewards of “the journey” are implicit, and it doesn’t in any way suggest that we must be slaves to the task; only committed. We are free people. We have choice. Absence of choice equals slavery.
Several years ago Rabbi Barry Gelman, then Assistant Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, wrote a very compelling article in relation to slavery and freedom, the central theme of the Passover story which we will be retelling on the evenings of April 17th and 18th this year. Regarding the above quote from Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Gelman explains: “The Hebrew word used is Ben Chorin - the term most closely associated with freedom from servitude. The Mishna is telling us that there is a new paradigm in the relationship between master and servant now that we are no longer slaves in Egypt. “One is never completely Ben Chorin to forgo an attempt at a particular task, but at the same time, non-completion is not failure. Of course this does not leave us off scott free.” We are expected, in fact required to attempt to heed the words of our master, in this case God. We are free in the sense that God alone is the judge of success and failure, but we are not free in the sense that no effort has to be made.
Rabbi Gelman also quotes “the Slonimer Rebee” – I don’t know which Slonimer Rebee - : “A Jew has to know that service of God is not a matter of accepting upon oneself to complete a particular task, rather it is about accepting to strive with all of ones abilities and strengths, the measure of success or failure is left to God’s discretion.” I think this best states what I am talking about. Living Torah implies constant service to God. Yes, that includes all of those projects…. creating a better life for ourselves, our families, and for all those whom we are able to serve in the community. Projects will go unfinished. That’s the co-morbid symptom of being curious, industrious, or simply having adult ADD.
I don’t like to think of my death, may it be decades away from this moment…. kinah hurra (Yiddish expression that means “Keep the evil eye away.”), and the fact is ….. you and I will leave this planet with projects unfinished and unstarted – and I have to feel fine about that compared to another alternative which is …. not having any projects at all, which means not having as fulfilled or fulfilling a life.
I am reminded of that beautiful poem, Acharey Moti – After My Death, written by Chayim Nachman Bialik which I used to recite during Yizkor services at Stephen S. Wise Temple before I began attending cantorial school at the Academy For Jewish Religion here in Los Angeles. As a sacred singer of our Jewish texts, the literal as well as figurative meaning always struck a deep chord within me. Here are the last four lines: (It is certainly for both genders.)
There was a man and behold he is no more
The song of his life was interrupted in the middle.
One more song he had within himself
And now that song is lost, lost forever.
We will always be in process. And I repeat: Nothing feels as good as completing a task and saying, “I did that. I have something to show for my work.” What a joyful moment!
You bet I have a particular project in mind! It’s that unfinished basement I hinted at earlier. (See the companion video on U-Tube demonstrating how to install hinges on a cabinet door. The URL is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpQMwwfKAIc) Ten years ago we discovered earth pressing up against the outside of the western wall sheetrock in the front room. I brought in a contractor who had been well recommended and he proceeded to remove a main, structural supporting post. Even though we could never play marbles here at the Shore Shack, suddenly we were getting our exercise walking up and down hill without leaving the privacy of our own home! I met a guy named Michael Goldberg, who owns a terrific company called “White Castle Construction.” Visit them at HouseBolting.com. They specialize in house bolting and foundation inspection repair in the Los Angeles area. After seismically bolting the house, Michael’s team jacked up our house (without jacking up the price)!
This led to a remodel of the basement. I combed Ebay looking for early 1900s fixtures and hardware…. and found lots of stuff. Among them was a pair of shower faucets yanked out of an old house in Indiana. We installed them in the bathroom, which we then tiled in black and white. I uncovered two original, matching Craftsman windows at a salvage yard on Satsuma Avenue in North Hollywood. They were perfect for the back room. I started hand stripping the several layers of paint and then thought, “What, am I meshuggah?” Especially as a singer, I didn’t want to breathe that stuff and I hate wearing a respirator. Besides, I didn’t want anyone to find out that the local cantor was also a stripper. So I had somebody else finish it. When the windows were down to the bare wood, I sealed and stained them, found period hardware (not mock-ups - again on Ebay) to create transom windows, put the windows together and installed them. For the front room, I had a pair of small windows custom built to match the architecture of the existing, original 1913 windows in the rest of the house. I pulled a kitchen/laundry privacy door out of a house on Wilcox Avenue to separate the two rooms. Someone was about to destroy a 1937 apartment building in Hollywood, where I rushed over to discover another great interior door, plus a beadboard door as well. I removed the ‘30s doorknob from the first, and installed something more early teens in its place. We stained everything to match. I found some beadboard paneling at Pasadena Salvage that I used to create a closet in the front room, along with that other beadboard door, and scavenged around for the right hinges and latches.
With all this work – I just couldn’t finish the project. I was suffering from push-pull syndrome. I really wanted to rent the basement out to “the right” person, and yet I didn’t want my family’s privacy compromised. I pushed myself to complete the project, designing a modest kitchen area with cabinets made of finished plywood, granite countertop, stainless steel sink…. shopped and shlepped all the material. Not being a custom carpenter, I found a talented guy who needed the work. We ordered the drawers from Drawer Box Specialties – another great company. I found old, black surface hinges for the cabinet doors - you guessed where – and the project sat for another few months.
I AM COMMITTED TO FINISH THIS PROJECT THIS WEEK. (REMINDER: SEE COMPANION VIDEO ON UTUBE TO SEE MY PROGRESS. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpQMwwfKAIc) Yesterday I shopped slotted, brass screws to match the black ones I’m running out of. I love installing hardware. (Don’t let anybody sell you Phillips head screws for an Arts and Crafts - Craftsman style - house. The Craftsman architectural movement in our country ran from approximately 1897 – 1924. Henry F. Phillips patented the Phillips Screw in the mid 1930s. He sold it to the American Screw Company, and after a successful trial on the 1936 Cadillac, it quickly swept through the American auto industry and grew to be the most popular choice in construction.) I’ll either turn my screws black chemically or paint the heads with black nail polish after installation. I think the basement will look pretty cool when I am finally finished, and it sure does stay cool in summer. My goal is to get all those cabinet doors on this week. Look for the photo.
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WHOLE-HOUSE WATER FILTER: I’ve completed all the preliminary set-up for the whole-house water filter I discussed last week, and plan to install it in the next few days. We’ll talk about it next week. I encourage everyone to post your comments/questions/answers on the blog. No need to put your full name. It’s the comment that counts.
Here’s one response I received personally on my email regarding last week’s entry:
“…. that was hilarious! And soulful, and deep, and informative, and beautifully written. You have an amazing neshama and a great sense of humor. – Susan S., Los Angeles.” Thanks for your kindness, Susan S.
Remember: Tikkun Olam starts at home. You can fix it!. - HH
11.3.13 at 3:40 pm | The Handy Hazzan and Roxy, America's favorite. . .
12.16.11 at 6:54 pm | In this episode, The Handy Hazzan and Roxy show. . .
10.27.11 at 6:44 pm | The Handy Hazzan is baaaack, as a dusty, antique. . .
7.29.11 at 12:17 am | The Handy Hazzan returns – with vacation. . .
6.23.11 at 12:32 pm | The Handy Hazzan teaches an important lesson in. . .
6.12.11 at 12:25 am | In honor of Yizkor Shavuot, the Handy Hazzan. . .
11.3.13 at 3:40 pm | The Handy Hazzan and Roxy, America's favorite. . . (5)
7.29.11 at 12:17 am | The Handy Hazzan returns – with vacation. . . (3)
4.15.11 at 11:45 am | In this the second of two episodes for Passover,. . . (1)
March 23, 2011 | 12:15 am
Posted by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan
In Judaism, the prayer for rain (Geshem) is chanted by the Hazzan in the Musaf Amidah on Sh’mini Atzeret, which is also the last day of Sukkot. In fact, Geshem is inserted right where, on every day thereafter in winter, we insert the phrase Mashiv ha-ruach oo-morid ha-geshem (You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall). What crystal ball last Fall could predict that our prayers would be answered to such generous proportions? This week it poured while plants and trees swayed and danced with the wind. I contemplated building an ark, as if I didn’t have enough to do! Geshem pounded our roofs, soaked our burgeoning landscapes and boosted L.A’s dwindling water reserves. This week I had planned to install that whole house water filter, which arrived just a few days ago. But instead….
I got an urgent call from my pal, Vivian Florian - 87-year-old piano virtuoso who studied with the great Paderewski and committed all of Chopin and many of the other great, classical composers to memory while she was still wet behind the ears. Vivian played for three presidents at the White House (at different times), and tinkled with Eugene Ormandy at the Hollywood Bowl. I could flood you with more name-dropping. Now Vivian walks to the bench with a cane, and when she sits down to play the grand piano that lurks in her modest living room, it still explodes with a display of melodious fireworks as she plies her exquisite renditions of classical and musical theatre repertoire. Alas, even a great queen like Vivian, and I certainly don’t mean to be disrespectful – even a great artiste and all the presidents for whom she has played…. all need use of a certain, shiny (white) throne that resides in an adjoining room known as the bathroom.
Fancy Nancy would say that “Vivian’s commode is in disrepair.” Bubba, the plumber would say, “The toilet’s broke.” Whatever you want to call it, this hopper was installed forty years before and its flushing days were over. The two main things that can cause this are 1. Calcium deposits build up in the passageway inside the bowl or 2. Over the years, objects like little toys or a comb get stuck in the john’s passageway as well. Do not confuse this with a clogged sewage line. We remedy the latter most easily by grabbing a good quality plunger if the clog is more localized. In Los Angeles, most of the older construction included clay and ceramic sewage pipes that cracked over the years due to earth movement and then filled up with wandering roots from adjoining foliage. That’s one of the things that can happen further down the sewage line. There might well be a lot of that come Spring after the amount of rain we’ve had. Plumbing pros replace those cracked pipes with a plastic type known as ABS.
Not only wandering roots cause this clogging. Sometimes people drop items other than bathroom tissue in the bowl and they pass through, only to collect way down the line, perhaps catching on a root or two as described above. Then we use what is called an electrical “snake” to “snake” the line. It’s usually best to call a plumber for that, although you can rent an electrical snake and learn how to do it yourself. There are lots of videos online to show you how. My last venture with an electrical snake revealed baby wipes in the sewage line. That’s a no-no in the potty.
Back to Vivian: Clearly we had to replace the toilet, and I was the one to do it. I bought a qualifying water saver at Home Depot. (In the County of Los Angeles, you can make application for a rebate through one or more programs listed in the internet. Try this link: http://www.socalwatersmart.com/.) Remember that this particular commode had been serving Viv’s family for forty years. Believe it or not, removing it was a breeze: Tools and materials needed: large sponge, bucket, small disposal plastic cup, work gloves to protect from anything broken or rusted, rubber gloves to protect from bacteria, eye protection, scraper, utility knife, adjustable wrench, mini-hack saw (for later when trimming new closet bolts), large rag (to place in sewage pipe opening to keep sewage gases from wafting up into house), flat screwdriver, wax ring, sealant
HOW TO REMOVE AND REPLACE A TOILET – HERE’S WHAT I DID:
1. Put on rubber gloves and then turn off the water supply. 2. Flush once to remove most of the water from the tank. 3. Use sponge/cup/bucket to remove rest of water from tank and bowl 4. Remove decorative covers from closet (floor) bolts and PUT ON WORK GLOVES 5. Break old caulk seal between base of bowl and floor with utility knife. 6. Rock commode side to side until you loosen old wax ring 7. Keeping back straight, lift old bowl/tank up over the protruding bolts and remove it from the room. 8. Scrape away remaining wax from old wax ring and dispose in trash. Remove ….
OH NO!! I came to replace Vivian’s old toilet and suddenly I was in over my head.! The old closet bolts were rusted and broken, which by itself is no problem. However, the metal flange – a round, metal ring which surrounds the lip of the sewage pipe and/or is bolted into the floor …. the steel flange (probably made in Phoenixville sixty years ago) was rusted and broken - totally unusable. It is (9) through the sides of the flange that you attach the heads of the two closet bolts that hold the commode to the floor. I couldn’t remove the disintegrating flange. Otherwise I would have simply bolted a new one to the floor. It was time to call in my friend and plumber extraordinaire, Ramon Chavez. But Ramon was indisposed at the time, and couldn’t make it until Monday, which then become today, Tuesday. I (10) put together the new toilet, (11) added the new wax ring, and (12) set the whole thing over the sewage hole, rocking the toilet gently to see if I could seal it a little bit, even though the commode was in no way secure to the floor. Before (13) sealing the area around the bottom of the bowl we flushed once. A teeny bit of water seeped out. I dried the area and emptied a full tube of caulk around the perimeter. Vivian said she was afraid to use the commode. She’d rather sit at the piano. Sometimes stuff happens just when you think everything is going well. My good deed went down the tubes, and I was disappointed. Ramon would bring his Fancy Nancy equipment tomorrow morning and I would meet him to complete the job. It’s now the next day and this morning “we” had to chip out the old metal flange, as I expected, to make room for the new. Out with the old and in with the new ….. and it wasn’t even Rosh Hashanah. Vivian now has her new toilet. Voila!
For those of you who think it undignified for a Hazzan to talk toilets, let’s associate this episode with our Jewish prayers and values. My dear mother, Martha (z”l) once told me that “even the Queen of England goes to the bathroom.” I guess this was her way of saying that we are all equal in the eyes of G-d…. and that’s because we are all created in His image. Just something to think about…
Among the many prayers for giving thanks in our daily morning davening, we chant the Asher Yatzar in Birchot Hashachar right before the prayer expressing our gratefulness for the gift of our sacred Torah! The Asher Yatzar translates: “Praised are You, Lord our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe who with wisdom fashioned the human body, creating openings, arteries, glands and organs, marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them by being blocked or opened, fail to function, it would be impossible to exist. Praised are You, Lord, healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways.” Our bodies are sacred, a gift loaned to us by G-d before we return to the earth, we pray, in very old age. However, because the bathroom or rest room is associated with cleansing our bodies, it is therefore considered an unclean place. It follows that we leave all holy objects - tallit, siddur, tefillin - outside the rest room at home or at synagogue. It’s the only room on whose doorway most people do not place a mezuzah.
The following is not to in any way credit myself, but rather to illustrate living Torah. Of our Jewish Middot (values or pillars of virtue), replacing an elderly friend’s toilet is clearly living Torah through the Amudim (pillars) of Chesed (caring) and Kehillah (citizenship/community). Our chesed is specific when we perform Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and even more particular when we visit the sick (bikur holim). Our act of Kehillah is in respecting our elders (kibud zekenim) by helping them. Replacing a toilet facilitates our natural bodily functions for which we express our gratitude in the Asher Yatzar, and doing it for someone else and particularly an elderly person could be considered an act of Kedusha (holiness), which is the umbrella amud for all the other virtues.
This was a frustrating and humbling experience. Humility is an essential human quality. I can’t help but think of Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” as played by the incredibly gifted Jackie Gleason on live TV when I was a little boy. My brother, Stevie, and I used to roll on the floor, LOL. One episode Ralph’s wife, Alice tells him he needs to be humble. Ralph immediately swells out his chest and strides around the kitchen declaring, “I am humble! I am humble!” And I am serious. One midrash teaches us to walk around with two pieces of paper, one in each pocket. On the first one is written, “I am nothing;” on the second, “The world was created for me alone.” The right blend of humility and healthy self - esteem can take us far in life. After a failed attempt at replacing the toilet, I felt like number one. Then I remembered that my intention was to assist my elderly friend and fellow artist, that I really had accomplished something, and that I would responsibly return in a couple days with Ramon Chavez, plumber extraordinaire; and I felt a little bit like number two.
If you are planning to replace your old toilet, you can do it yourself especially if it’s a routine situation and you have enough koiyich (Yiddish for “strength”) to lift the whole unit. Enlist spouse, partner or pal to assist you. The water conservation with the 2.8 or less gallons per flush really does make a difference…on our pockets and the environment. Be sure to get a model with a flush rating of 10. Some of the lesser models (8 rating) require flushing twice, which of course defeats the whole purpose. Contact me on the blog or offline if you have any questions. Next week I just might convince Vivian to play for us, and maybe I’ll sing along. Tikkun Olam starts at home. You can fix it! - HH
March 16, 2011 | 10:03 am
Posted by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan
I am very excited by the overwhelming response to The Handy Hazzan. My thanks to everyone who posted on the blog and who wrote in privately to HandyHazzan@cantorHarrisShore.com. (See additional offline comments at the end of the column.) Reflecting on last week’s first entry, it was very timely if not auspicious as we read Vayakhel, the Torah portion for the week. In Vayakhel we learn in great detail about G-d’s instructions to Moses for the erection and adornment of a dwelling place for the Testimony of the Law, the pledge of God’s special presence in the midst of the Children of Israel:
“ All the wise-hearted women spun with their own hands and brought in the form of spun yarn the sky-blue and purple wool, the scarlet wool and the byssus. - Exodus 35:25 (Handy women working to create the beautiful interior of the sanctuary.)And a moment later Moses declares: “See, God has called Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and He has filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight and with knowledge; and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship…” Clearly G-d has instilled these skills in the Jewish people from the very beginning of the Mosaic tradition – “… to combine ideas, to work them out in gold, in silver and in copper; to execute them in the cutting of stones for setting and in the carving of wood, in every manner of craftsmanship.” - Exodus 35: 30-33. The parsha goes on to say that G-d also put into the heart of Bezalel the ability to teach these crafts. We all know the expression “God-given talent.” We all have at least one “God-given talent,” and in this blog “Do-it-yourself” covers a wide range of application. Let’s learn and teach, sharing our God-given talents.
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Last week I promised to explain how I replace a light bulb. (I’ve read that the first Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) in the Temple lasted 116 years. Today, we’re lucky to get a year out of a light bulb). We are eternally replacing them. Most people would say, “What’s the big deal? You unscrew the bad one and screw in the new one. Nu?” Well, most of the time… you’re absolutely right. However, a few details… and then exceptions:
First, be sure that your wall switch (toggle, slider, dimmer, etc.) is turned off before replacing the bulb. If you replace a bulb with the power on, the sudden surge could blow the bulb. Second, the wattage of the bulb could be very important. Some fixtures have warnings alerting that it is unsafe to use a bulb with greater wattage than, for example, 60 watts (most ceiling fans). A bulb of higher wattage could overheat the light fixture and cause an electrical fire. In older houses, you may wish to replace the fixture itself. Better yet, and in keeping with the restorer’s mantra of “restore don’t replace,” keep the fixture (especially and of course if it is an antique) and have it rewired and brought up to code). I rewire myself and could teach you how to do that – easier than you might think. Third - and it often happens in older fixtures - a bulb will get stuck in the socket and feel almost impossible to remove. Carbon or corrosion (especially outdoors) has built up between the metal base of the bulb and the socket, and the heat from the burning of the bulb in the fixture has literally had a welding effect on the metal. It’s almost impossible to loosen and remove. At that point, you may want to take it to a professional shop, which means taking the fixture out of the ceiling. YOU MUST TURN OFF THE POWER AT THE BREAKER BOX before removing a ceiling or wall fixture. Once removed, put a wire nut (colorful cap usually yellow or orange) on each of the two exposed wires. At this point, many prefer to call an electrician.
Sometimes, we inadvertently shatter the bulb attempting to remove it. – or someone got so shikker (drunk) at Purim that (s)he broke a chandelier bulb while swinging from the chandelier. This is another good reason to have the power turned off at least at the wall before removing that old bulb. Avoid cutting your hands with the shards of glass from the broken bulb by wearing work gloves. Online fix-it folks at “E-how.com” recommend the following for this scenario:
“Whether the bulb was broken accidentally and needs to be replaced or it broke when you were trying to replace it, getting the metal socket out of the light fixture poses a challenge. Outdoor bulbs are prone to breakage from the elements, or they become stuck due to grime and corrosion around the base. Indoor bulbs may be screwed in too tightly, or dirt may be in the fixture that caused them to become stuck. Regardless, you must remove the old metal base before you insert a new bulb.
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Things You’ll Need:
• Work gloves
• Eye protection
• Broom handle
• Hot glue
1. Put on a pair of work gloves to avoid injury from any remaining glass. Wear eye goggles if the fixture is above your head.
2. Cut a potato in half. Choose a potato larger in diameter than the bulb’s metal base. Push the potato firmly onto the base until the base is pushed into the cut end of the potato. Hold onto the potato, and use it to unscrew the light bulb.
3. Find a ½-inch diameter piece of wood if the potato doesn’t work. Use the end of a broomstick handle or a wooden dowel.
4. Coat the end of the wood in hot glue. Push into the light bulb base. Fill any gaps in the base with hot glue, and let it dry for five minutes.
5. Unscrew the light bulb base using the wood as a handle. This supplies the needed leverage to get the base out of the socket.
GO TO LINK TO U-TUBE COMPANION VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1N5c2G1aAU (I promise better video quality next time.) It is not uncommon to accidentally break a bulb at the base when removing it– Once you break that bulb, immediately TURN OFF THE POWER AT THE BREAKER BOX, then proceed. Some feel plenty safe simply turning the power off at the wall. Since it was a clean break between the glass part of the bulb and the base – no broken glass - I used needlenose pliers to remove the base, and I felt no need to wear gloves or eye protection. Watch the video to learn how to do this.
That’s it for now. I’m expecting a whole-house water filter any day now. My organs are getting tired of slugging it out with chlorine, toxins, sediment, etc. I’ve never installed one before, and next week we’ll tackle it together; looking forward to hearing from you…. Shalom… and remember… Tikkun Olam starts at home. You can fix it! - The Handy Hazzan
RECENT COMMENTS OFFLINE TO THE HANDY HAZZAN:
I really enjoyed reading your column-very amusing-and look forward to future installments. Of course, I’m one of those who you were talking about. If something has to be done, either my wife does it (she’ll try anything) or I’ll find someone to do it. I have no interest in spending my spare time in learning things that are not already ingrained. That’s why I am still teaching at WCU-to pay for things that may unexpectedly arise. - Harold H., Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Yasher Koach. Great story and writing - R. Larry S., Orange County, CA
Mazel Tov…..............I will look forward to reading all the columns, great idea!
- Alexandra B. , Los Angeles
Hello Handy Hazzan,
I remember you with a wide smile on my face. … and your ability with hammer and wood. How did it go with that basement room? - Atmo L., Los Angeles
Kol ha kavod! R. Laura O. , Los Angeles
Hi Handy Hazzan,
I enjoyed your first blog! Yasher koach! FYI not all Jewish men are inept when it comes to being handy. My husband usually is and we have to hire people to do almost everything. I wonder if it has to do with being a professional or just not being taught by one’s handy father. My own father z’l was a paperhanger and he could do most things. His brother is in air conditioning and heating in Cleveland. And his other brother is handy as well. My grandfather, (their father) was a painter/paperhanger in Russia and continued the trade here and taught my Dad. When Grandpa was well over 80 he converted his garage into another room and bathroom. He couldn’t be bothered with permits or anything. Grandpa was quite the stubborn one but he could knew what he was doing. When the building inspector heard about the room, he came and was quite impressed with the great job!
Hope you’re enjoying writing the blog and fixing, creating, and cantoring also.
B’shalom - Barbara S, Los Angeles
March 8, 2011 | 6:05 pm
Posted by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan
We’ve all heard the jokes stereotyping American Jewish men when it comes to Do-It-Yourself projects. What Do-It-Yourself projects? Unless a contemporary Jewish guy in America was born in some other country, and particularly Israel where the men and women are by necessity ﬁxers and builders, rumor has it you won’t ﬁnd a JAP(rince) rewiring a lamp, painting his bathroom, installing new hardware on his windows, changing the locks or ﬁxinga leaky faucet. I come from a small town in Southeastern Pennsylvania called Phoenixville…the only synagogue in a town of 10,000 was our Conservative shul, B’nai Jacob. Although Dad was a doctor, ours was a typical, blue collar iron and steel town. (The joke: the women would iron and the men, steal.) Phoenixville’s claim to fame was that the nuts and bolts to the Eiffel tower were made at Phoenix Steel, right down on East Bridge Street, not far from Benny Gross’ haberdashery. So, I was surrounded by (predominantly non-Jewish) kids whose Dads taught them to do it themselves ... and my pals taught me. Once I remember building a soap box racer with David Anglemoyer. This little dangermobile was a mechanical concoction of wheels from a little red wagon, a soap box, steering wheel from a junked car connected to the front wheels with laundry line rope. Earlier versions featured shoe leather brakes. How did I live through that? (No, I won’t be teaching you how to do that in this column.) I remember taking apart my Schwinn Roadmaster bicycle on several occasions, with very few parts left over when I was ﬁnished. My father ﬁxed stuff around the house and was an avid gardener when he wasn’t at the ofﬁce, hospital, or making house calls. Grandpa Abe, one of twelve farm kids, taught me all about farm life and how to grow vegetables. These skills - and believe me, I am no expert - these skills came in handy when I moved to New York City and found an apartment that needed, to put it mildly, a major facelift. Then there was the charming, 1930s house up the Henry Hudson Parkway. I didn’t do the ﬂoors, but thanks to my acting pals, we repainted the whole place; a handsome, woody abode on Mapleshade Avenue in Pearl River. Come Spring, I planted thirty hills of tomato plants that yielded a bumper crop by mid-summer.
Flash forward to Los Angeles, 1992, and my ﬁrst house here - this one a 1924 ﬁxer in the Hollywood Hills. Oy! That was big work - contractor type stuff - and yet I was always there looking over their shoulders and saying “Show me again how you do that, will ya?” Always in the back of my mind I was plagued with negative thoughts… “I’m an American Jewish guy. This is too hard for me. It’s not in my genes…OR jeans.” Then I’d overcome it and do a little here and a little there.
I know plenty of American Jewish men who are not only “handy,” but several are licensed contractors. In this column, I aim to show you how you can “Do-It-Yourself,” as I encourage you to dive into the chicken soup and swim… one stroke at a time. Assume you are going to call in an expert once in a while…. like the bee removal specialist a few months ago who climbed up on our roof and pulled out a ﬁfteen pound honeycomb full of killer African bees and honey from deep inside the eaves. I’ve worked on roofs, but this was ....um…none of my beeswax. NO thanks! Here’s the money. Nice job!
People are so quick to throw things out instead of repairing, restoring, reﬁnishing. (We live in a 1913 Arts and Crafts home, and it has been a haven of every kind of project imaginable.) Start with the easy things to build your conﬁdence. And this blog is certainly for women, too. I regularly encourage my ten-year-old daughter to learn how to do as much as she can, and not to sit by helplessly waiting for a man to “ﬁx it” for her. Thoreau’s “Self Reliance” made a great impression on me as a teenager. Women: Check out Apollo Precision Tools DT0773N1 135-Piece Household Pink Tool Kit on Amazon - very pretty, and no doubt quite functional! Check reviews ﬁrst. Everyone: If you can handle the hub-bub at Home Depot, you may wish to attend their many “Do-It Yourself” workshops that cover just about anything you’ll need to learn in keeping your home in good repair.
Before I go, and because we are commanded to be “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), let’s take a look at a simple task known as “replacing a light bulb.” Last week I asked a rabbi how many rabbis it took to change a light bulb. The answer was. “It depends.” He’d have to refer to the Talmud to see if there were any discussions between Hillel and Shammai regarding the number of rabbis that would be required to change a light bulb ... and get back to me in a few days. Believe it or not, my rabbi friend couldn’t ﬁnd anything in the Talmud about changing a lightbulb, so he decided to consult with go-to Jewish commentator Rashi, whose extensive writings shed no light on changing a bulb. Finally, the rabbi assembled a Beit Din, which included a Cantor, a Rabbi and a kosher, licensed electrician. They needed some additional information. How many watts was the bulb, was it indoor or outdoor, would there be use of a ladder, what kind of ladder - how many rungs and would it be aluminum or wood; if on Shabbat they had to change a light bulb to save a life, how could they determine if it would really save a life, and besides, no one had mentioned if this was an incandescent bulb or a ﬂorescent. Was it an energy saving bulb? The Jewry is still out on this one… and next week…. whether the rabbi and his Beit Din have an answer for us or not, I promise to explain just how I change a lightbulb - seriously - and how to solve some of the problems that may unexpectedly arise. Feel free to write me with your questions and comments.
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