Independent Jewish Synagogue in Asheville, NC

Friday Noon Study Group

The Noon Study Group will take a Thanksgiving break on Fridays 11/24 & 12/1 

This past Friday our group concluded its exploration of Avi Jorisch’s Thou Shalt Innovate starting with a discussion of  chapters 16 & 17, which dealt the work of: 
  • Yossi Leshem, an ornithologist whose research into bird migration patterns helped reduce bird strikes on military aircraft by 76%, saving bird and pilot lives and 1.3 billion dollars in costs for repair and replacement.  More than a billion birds migrate through Israeli airspace every year.  Working with teams of birdwatchers and military and academic professionals, Leshem was able to produce accurate bird migration maps that helped pilots avoid collisions.  Leshem’s process has become the “gold standard” for dealing with aircraft/bird encounters in many other countries.
  • Sarah Sallon and Elaine Soloway worked together to pioneer efforts to bring ancient seeds back to life.  They combined their expertise in botany and sustainable agriculture to work with 2000 year old Judean date palm seeds that were excavated at Masada.  While there were once forests of date palms, they went extinct by the 2nd century CE.  Despite being told, “you’re completely mad,” Sallon and Soloway managed to bring seeds out of dormancy allowing them to germinate.  Their work is still in progress, but their methods have been applied to seeds from other ancient species in the hopes that these plants will be of medicinal value.
Some participants thought that these chapters were less compelling than some of the earlier ones, perhaps because they dealt with environmental rather than life- saving issues.  We were grateful,  however, that Jorisch finally included female innovators in his book.
Our discussion of Jorisch’s final chapter, “Be a Mensch,” engendered more lively discussion from the group.  Using an anecdote about a teachable moment he had with his five-year-old son, Jorisch addresses the quality of menschlichkeit, variously defined as decency, humanitarianism, a desire to make the world a better place.   It is this quality that Jorisch believes animates the 15 Israeli innovators that he introduces to his readers.  His discussion is built upon a verse from the first chapter of Pirkei Avot:  Shimon the Righteous says that “The world stands on three things:  Torah, work, and deeds of kindness.”  We pointed out that this statement is firmly implanted into our minds during our Torah services, when Al Shlosha Devarim (Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Hasidim) is chanted by the congregation.  Our group noted that while deeds of kindness (chesed) is pretty much self-explanatory, the other two devarim are sometimes interpreted differently:  Torah could refer to actual Jewish foundational writings (Tanach and Talmud), to laws, or to learning and instruction–education in general; Avodah can be seen as worship/prayer/the synagogue service, or vocation/work, or, more broadly, to dedication and persistence when engaging in any task.  Our final consideration was on Jorisch’s claim that while Israel does not have a monopoly on good ideas, its innovative achievements should be celebrated and emulated by the global community.

When our group resumes on Friday, December 8, we’ll begin a discussion of:

Alan Morinis’s With Heart in Mind:  Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life (2014)

Mussar is a practice that draws from the vast storehouse of Jewish wisdom, law, revelation, and text, bringing it right home in a way that is completely practical. The Hebrew word “mussar” means moral conduct, instruction, or discipline. The Mussar Movement arose in the 1800’s in Lithuania and encompasses a range of spiritual practices, focusing on the individual’s personal characteristics, traits, or virtues, which are called middot.  Some examples of middot include: Humility, Patience, Gratitude, Compassion, and Order.  In short accessible chapters, this book describes forty-eight methods through which we can acquire Torah—and turns them into a straightforward practice. 
Now in its 25th year, our informal discussion group meets via Zoom every Friday from 12-1 (check CBI’s web site or weekly announcements for updates and a link).  All are welcome to attend.  Copies of  Alan Morinis’s With Heart in Mind are available from Amazon.  If you have questions, contact Jay Jacoby at