Articles From February 2016

JAFCO: Family for Life


People often ask me how I come up with ideas for my articles. I tell them that all my articles are the result of Divine Providence – typically inspired by a random comment by someone standing in line with me or suggested by a reader or editor. But for some of them, I take sole credit. Take this article: I first learned about JAFCO (Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options), quite serendipitously, from Cece, a sweet, vivacious woman I had the pleasure of sitting next to on a Superior Tours bus last summer, as I traveled to my mini-high school reunion in Manhattan. Cece just couldn’t stop talking about JAFCO, and when the Florida snowbird found out I’m a writer, she encouraged me to visit the JAFCO Children’s Village in Sunrise, Florida, and write about it. So I did. Now, I can’t stop talking about it!

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Medicare Made Easy: Part 1: Enrolling in Medicare, and an Explanation of Part A


Are you or a relative close to retirement age and beginning to think about Medicare? You have a lot of company. An estimated 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day and become eligible for Medicare. However, many people are in the dark about how it all works. Do you know, for example, that if you do not enroll in Medicare within a specific window of time, you will be subject to significant penalties? Do you understand what medical expenses Medicare pays for and when you might receive a large bill? Do you know what can be done to protect against these expenses?

In this series of articles, I hope to help simplify your understanding of the Medicare program, your costs, and the insurance options that are available to protect you. Medicare is a huge program with countless details and many exceptions to rules. I can’t cover everything in a short series of articles, and I certainly don’t claim to know everything. My goal is for people to come away with a clearer picture of how the program works, so they can plan appropriately and know when to ask questions.

Most seniors are enrolled in Traditional Medicare (also known as Original Medicare). Since my background is with the Traditional Medicare program and associated insurance products, this will be the focus of the articles, but they will also touch on Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug coverage.

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Dreams Come True : Journey to Har Nof: The Aliyah of Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Perkal

har nof

Almost everyone knows someone in Har Nof. This suburb of Yerushalayim, populated by many American families, was built on a terraced hillside in the early 1980s. I leave my own home in the neighborhood on this bright, quiet morning and walk only a few buildings down to meet the Perkals, former residents of Baltimore. On the way, I gaze at the brilliant blue sky and absorb the magnificent panorama of the Jerusalem forest sloping down to a few lone fields in the valley far below. It must be this beautiful view that gave Har Nof its name, which translates to “scenic mountain.”

When Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Barbara Perkal made aliyah in 1993, their move was unusual – not only because few people made aliyah then but also because all their children, including the married ones, moved along with them. And every one of them has continued to live here! For years, Rabbi Perkal dreamed of making aliyah but was unable to do so until he felt financially ready. When he finally was, the Perkals held a family meeting to explain their move. One son-in-law announced that he was interested in moving along with them, and the other son-in-law consulted his Rebbe and subsequently decided to make the move as well. And so the entire Perkal family – parents, two married, and six unmarried children – traveled together to make a new life in Eretz Yisrael, joining another two married children who were already living here.

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The Beauty of Chazanus


“What is chazanus?” asked my ainikle.

“Have you ever heard of Yossele Rosenblatt?” I responded.

He shrugged his shoulders – a gesture meaning ich vais nisht (I don’t know). I then wondered whether others had the same response, and found out that many people know little or nothing about chazanus. I therefore decided to educate them, beginning in my own backyard, so to speak. I asked my ainikle to listen to a vintage recording made by Chazan Rosenblatt singing, “Achainu Kol Bais Yisroel – Our Brothers the House of Israel,” a prayer pleading to Hashem for rachmanus (compassion) on the Jewish people.

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Different Times, Different Challenges : Learning from My Dad, a”h


This story starts in Czarist Russia (later Poland) in the late 1800s. A wealthy man, Meir Polchovitz (Pelcovitz) came to the yeshiva in Grodno and wanted the biggest masmid for his daughter Chaya Soroh. He promised to support him for life as long as he sat and learned. The young man who was chosen became my grandfather, for whom I am named. Elchonon and Chaya Soroh had four children: Tzivia, Elka, Akiva, and Meyer (born in 1905). Meyer became my father.

Each year, we remember our dear ones on the anniversary (yahrtzeit) of their passing. Some people fast; some people drink a lechayim. There are different customs, and to each his own. I think recounting who the person was is also a good custom to establish. Baruch Hashem, a number of our grandchildren are named Meir after my father Meyer Oberstein, of blessed memory. Since these children – indeed, their entire generation – are living in diametrically different times, I think it is worthwhile to recapitulate some of the events of my father’s life for their benefit. I am writing for the young crowd, but people of all ages can gain from the lives of our forebears.

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Wake Up and Roast the Coffee! How to Revolutionize your Cup (and Save Money Doing It)

coffee beans

Many of us wake up to chaos – the morning decibel level in my home resembles that of an airplane on the tarmac – and stagger to the kitchen for our first cup of coffee. There’s nothing like that rich steamy brown brew to restore our sense of calm. And there’s nothing – nothing – like a cup of coffee brewed from home-roasted coffee beans.

Before you say, “Did I hear him right?” let me explain: The primary characteristic of quality coffee is freshness. Fresh is “king.” From shortly after roasting, coffee freshness begins a descending arc, and as with many foods, each step of processing shortens its lifespan. The “rule of 15” states that raw, green coffee beans remain fresh for 15 months, roasted coffee is fresh for 15 days, and ground coffee is fresh for 15 minutes. This certainly isn’t Torah mi’Sinai, but gives you an approximation of the importance of freshness and how quickly coffee loses its key variable.

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Moshe Cohen: Public Defender


We had the privilege of having Moshe and Shelly Cohen and their cute children for a Shabbos meal a few weeks ago. Somehow, the conversation turned to Moshe’s job as a public defender. It was fascinating to hear about his experiences in a world I know almost nothing about, and it was clear from listening to him how enthusiastic he is about his job and its challenges. Of course, as a writer who is always looking for interesting topics, I sent him an email right after Shabbos to ask if I could interview him and hear more about his job and what it entails. Moshe kindly agreed, and here is a summary of our conversation. 


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A Holey Brain: How a 19th Century Mishap Sheds Light on ADHD


September 13, 1848, began as a regular day for Phineas Gage, a railroad worker in Vermont. That day, his group was blasting rock as they were preparing the roadbed for railroad tracks. The procedure was to first bore a hole in the rock. Then gunpowder, sand, and a fuse were inserted into the hole. Finally, the mixture was compressed by inserting an iron rod, called a “tamping iron,” into the hole. When the fuse was ignited, the subsequent explosion would blast the rock away.

Phineas’s Accident

That day, Phineas disastrously forgot to put sand into the hole, significantly raising the risk of a premature explosion of the gunpowder. Sure enough, when Phineas banged down the gunpowder with the tamping iron, a spark ignited the gunpowder, and the iron rod flew out of the hole as fast as a rocket. The iron went through Phineas’ jaw, passed behind his left eye and then exited through the top of his skull.

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Looking Back at Shemita


Last year’s shemita was a huge deal here in Eretz Yisrael – with farmers, for sure – but for us housewives as well. For us city-dwellers, who don’t own one square meter of dirt in the Holy Land, shemita changed the way we shopped, cooked, baked, ate, and took care of our houseplants and gardens. 

Today, months after Rosh Hashanah and the end of the shemita year, one might think that shemita is a thing of the past, to be remembered again in another six years. But for those of us living in Eretz Yisrael, it’s far from over. We are still dealing with shemita on a daily basis. Vegetables have kedushas shevi’is based on when they are picked, so all our vegetables are now post-shemita. Fruits, on the other hand, have kedushas shevi’is based on when they reach a specific stage of growth. The fruit being picked now reached that stage of growth many months ago, so we’re still eating shemita fruits, after the seventh year has ended. And it doesn’t stop there! We must be careful when purchasing canned goods, pre-made salads and spreads, juices, and even oil! We have to check every single package and container to make sure it doesn’t contain anything with kedushas shevi’is.

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Ask the Shadchan


I am fairly new to dating, and I’d like to ask you about some of the etiquette dilemmas I’ve encountered so far.

I went out with a boy I really liked, and I wanted my mother to call the shadchan right away to say that I wanted to go out again. My mother said that the boy’s side is supposed to call first, and that we should wait for the shachan to call us with his reaction. I was nervous and not my best self on the date, and I wanted the shadchan to be aware of that, in case the boy said he didn’t have a good time or that I was too quiet. That way, she would be better prepared to urge him to give it another chance. I also wanted to hurry things along, because the shadchan sometimes takes a long time to call back. Is there such a “rule” about who is supposed to call whom and when? What’s the point of it? (By the way, my mother did not call, but we did go out again, and it didn’t work out anyway.)

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When There’s More to Do After Saying Tehilim….


Mr. Ziman, a maintenance tech at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, is fondly known as Mr. Benyamin. “Everybody loves him,” says Rabbi Yair Friedman, my son-in-law who grew up on Yeshiva Lane. “Mr. Benyamin has a wonderful attitude. His professional skills and cheerful demeanor make him a much loved member of the Ner Israel family He comes to all of the Yeshiva Lane families’ simchas. I still remember the magic tricks that he performed at my wedding!” 

Benyamin and his wife Bonnie have been married for 32 years and have three lovely children. Unfortunately, Bonnie has not been well for many years. Her longtime friend Suri Lager remembers Bonnie from her healthy days. “Bonnie always greeted everyone with a smile, and had a great sense of fashion. She cut hair from home for women and girls in the community. I remember her as being an active participant in all the shul’s activities. She helped decorate the shul for the Purim festivities. Often, she brought my daughters along to the pool with her girls. “Rebbetzin Mindi Hauer recalls, “The Ziman family, including Bonnie, has a special zest for life and the ability to live in the moment.”

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Hometown Hero and Healer Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson


As a newly-minted resident physician in New York during the late 1980s, I first learned from afar about a certain distinguished neurosurgeon from Baltimore named Benjamin Solomon Carson. Although medical journal articles are the traditional way for most medical doctors to get the latest news about breakthroughs and advances in the field, I became acquainted with Dr. Carson’s early contributions to medicine and humanity during a morning ritual known to all doctors as “morning rounds.”

There I was, on morning bedside rounds during a pediatric rehabilitation residency-training rotation at Albert Einstein-Kennedy Institute Hospital, when my supervising attending physician boldly announced that medical history had been dramatically made. A pair of twins joined at the head (“conjoined twins”) had been masterfully separated by a pioneering Johns Hopkins physician after a 22-hour grueling and history-making surgical procedure.

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