Jewish Journal

First “Do-it-Yourself” story: Parsha Vayakhel - plus… The Handy Hazzan Changes That Light bulb

by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan

March 16, 2011 | 10:03 am

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
• Potato
• Knife
• 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


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  


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CANTOR HARRIS SHORE most recently served as Hazzan for Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, and for two years at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda...

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