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“The Human Touch” by Jackie Yaris is a story about change motivated experience. It follows a surgeon, Dr. Rosen, who, at the start of the story, separates himself emotionally from the patients he operates on. For instance, the narrator and Rosen encounter an older Mexican woman who is dying of pancreatic cancer; the narrator sees in her a person, while Rosen sees an opportunity to try out a complex and risky surgical procedure. Later, the narrator encounters Rosen’s sister, also dying of cancer, except this time Rosen is a relative of the patient. Due to the change in perspective, he relents, claiming “It’s so different on this side.” Later still, the narrator notices that Dr. Rosen has created a course designed to counter the same lack of empathy that the surgeons had exhibited at the start of the story. The experience of being a potential victim to the same lack of empathy causes Dr. Rosen to reform and reconsider his stance on life. I think that I can understand the position of Dr. Rosen in this story. I spent most of my life getting bombarded by stories on the television and the internet about random vehicle disasters; car crashes, ships sinking, airline disasters, and usually examined each for their technical elements or waved them off with a choice line or two of gallows humor. My perspective changed when, about five years ago, my mother and younger sister found themselves trapped in a boating collision that killed two of the other passengers and made international headlines. It was painful to witness the trauma and rehabilitation of close family members, and it forced me to reconsider the way that I emotionally approached other major accidents as reported in the news. I’m more empathetic, and take the damages described much more seriously.

After reading the article, “Making Synagogue Meaningful”, I found three tips which might prove useful: 1) “Five Minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling, and a personal connection.” I found this tip interesting because I grew up with most of these prayers, and I can usually find some kind of memory (happy or sad) to connect with most of them. It wouldn’t be difficult to connect the service to a memory ‘playlist’ during the high holidays. 3) “Read through the prayers slowly and think about what you’re saying”. I found this nice because, although I don’t have a perfect understanding of Hebrew, I know enough of the language to ponder over the differences between the English and the translation, and to think about how the meaning changes depending on the language through which a passage is viewed. This happens to me during Torah services a lot, and it usually results in something thought-provoking for me to discuss with friends and family later on. 6) “You are joined by millions of Jews in synagogues all over the world”. I find this a very comforting statement, particularly as Judaism and Israel have recently come under a great deal of external pressure. Knowing that I am not alone, but part of a greater community, helps make my trips to the synagogue meaningful. Beyond these, a tip that I’ve always found to be particularly useful is to use a service as a means to organize my thoughts and think about my own life, and what I can do to improve it. Jewish services, particularly during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are laced with moralistic passages discussing what we’re thankful for. During each of these passages, I take time to think about why/if I truly am thankful for each of these things and what I can do to improve the situation for myself/others if I am not satisfied with my answer.

The Israel Inside/Out course covered Israel’s history, security situation, and political situation both inside and outside the Middle East. While some of the contend in this course repeated facts that I had absorbed through Hebrew School or my recent Birthright experience, I learned a few new, interesting things during the course: 1) The majority of the major tech giants have centers in Israel, or have foundational concepts developed in Israel. While I was aware that Intel had a center in Haifa from a prior Bring Israel Home task, I was surprised to see coverage for Google, Microsoft, and others, to the extent that they operate whole departments or skyscrapers in the country. Similarly surprising was the concept of how to set up an effective electric car network; I had heard many of these concepts promoted by Elon Musk and his Tesla corporation in the last two years, but I did not know that the concept was designed and, to a degree, implemented by the Israeli company Better Place 2) The integration of military and civilian life on a social and psychological level. As far as I’m aware, the moment an American soldier is temporarily or permanently released from duty, their connection to the military ends and any further connection with fellow soldiers is the product of their own social outreach. According to the film Beneath the Helmet, Israel puts emphasis on the psychology of its soldiers both inside and outside active duty, to the extent that officers and lower ranking soldiers are checking in on each other during their civilian life. 3) The scope of anti-Israel movements in the US. I was already, to an extent, aware that demonstrations such as the ones shown were taking place in the United States, but these were usually mentioned in passing by a Rabbi, or given very minor attention on the regional news. The course included a video which did a much better job at illustrating the magnitude of these demonstrations, showing original-source material of some of the resulting backlash against American Jews, and, at times to my significant horror, presenting footage of such events occurring in places where I, personally, had visited or studied just a few years ago. I feel that having access to video of the actual events gave me a better understanding of the gravity surrounding the situation in the United States, and gives me impetus to support Israel on my own time.

The 2015 film Jurassic World revolves around two main plot arcs. The first deals with the accidental release of the genetically-modified Indominus Rex, and the second with the use and treatment of a pack of Velociraptors. While neither of these subjects would immediately radiate a tie-in to Judaism, both plot arcs do an impressive job of stressing the Jewish principle of Tza’ar ba’alei chayim. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim (literally: “suffering of living creatures) is a collection of principles that deals with the way that animals are to be treated. For instance, work animals are supposed to be able to rest during the Sabbath, livestock are to be slaughtered in the least painful way possible, and animals in general are not to be killed needlessly (such as in hunting for sport or bullfighting). Jurassic World espouses in the way that it treats the subjects of both the I. Rex and the Velociraptors. The protagonist Owen (Chris Pratt) is quick to identify that the I. Rex has been isolated in such a way as to cause it damage and immediately alerts the park staff to this fact. This lack of respect for the animal results in it being extremely destructive once it gets loose. Ultimately, it takes a willingness to free other animals—Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) releasing the similarly isolated Tyrannosaurus—to be able to effectively counter the threat of the Indominus. A similar situation occurs between Owen and the ex-military Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio) regarding the Velociraptors. Vic feels strongly that the raptors can be immediately forced into duty as military assets or against the Indominus, while Owen consistently argues that the animals must be treated with respect before they will follow commands. In the end, Owen’s treatment of the raptors helps to save him and others from injury, while Vic’s general lack of respect nearly results in the raptors’ temporary allegiance with the I. rex, and the death of his character towards the end of the film.

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