Chana & Yehuda Get Hitched!

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So it is. It's been a few weeks since I've officially quit social media (I say officially because I do have an occasional relapse), maybe a month and a bit, I'm not sure, haven't been keeping track. I'd like to say my life is utterly different, but that would be a lie. It is however, getting better, and, honestly, is there anything more one could hope for? Happiness, saddnes, joy, boredom, it isn't a state one is in, but a direction one takes. Better though doesn't necessarily mean better from bad, thank G-d my life is good, but good can always be better.

For those not yet in the know, I've replaced my Facebook family photo postings (which I miss) with a tumblr blog. If for some odd reason, you miss seeing photos of my little ones, feel free (feel free? I'm not even sure what that is supposed to mean) to visit, follow it, bookmark it, type it in each morning, whatever.


A few months back I had the privilege of attending the wonderful wedding of Chana and Yuda in the capacity of a shoot-whatever/however-you-want photographer. I wasn't the main, and I wasn't even a second. It was wonderful. As professionals we must deliver a proven product, yet being in the visual arts field we also must constantly improve our vision, technique, process, etc. But experimenting on the client's dime is risky, and well, not very nice. Unless that's what they want. Which in this case they did. Yipee (spell check would rather two "p"s, which makes sense but looks weird)! I got to try out new lenses, new ways of exposing, developing, and shooting. Some worked better than others. All were fun. Always.

And here is the result. Enjoy!

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Chana is a talented photographer herself, check out her work here.

Organic, (relatively) Healthy Cookies

Quite often our neighbors can't come over to play because they are doing homework. And my daughter thinks that just isn't fair. "Why can't I have homework?" She asks. If something holds someone back from coming over to our estate, it must supersede it in the fun category. What is this magical thing called "homework" that rules others' lives, she wonders.

"I know math" declares my oldest. We were doing some "learnin", and every time I brought up a possible subject, he was suspicious. "Is that called learnin?" he asks.

Formal learning is not something we do too much with our kids. If they get interested in a subject we'll go to the library and get a few books about it, talk about it, maybe watch a youtube video or two about it. We learn by doing, by living. But sometimes they want to "do learnin". So we'll go over some writing, some math, some Jewish history or theology.

Over Chanukah, my kids got a good amount of Channukah gelt (which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a chocolate coin). Zusha, when getting his second dollar, looked it over, turned it around a couple time, "I, I, I, I, I, don't want any more monies" (this was during his stuttering phase). Mendel got a bit more and just gave them to me, didn't care too much. Chanaleh was a bit excited, counted her money, and promptly misplaced it (we found it later, after many tears). Zevi was over the top. He loved getting money, kept on comparing how much he got with how much the others ones did. Over the next couple of weeks we learned a lot about money. How change works, where money comes from (well, we tried talking about that, it's complicated), how to save, how to spend, what costs how, and how costs who, and most of all, how he could get more monies.

29 hours, 98,217 questions later, mostly asked during telephone conversations and late Friday afternoon, Estee and the two older kids decided to make an Orange Juice and Cookie stand. The kids made the OJ (fresh squeezed, it turns out there's a reason people sell lemonade, it's waaaaaay easier and cheaper), and made a large part of the cookies. We made some signs, put them up, set up our little stand, and waited.

We started late, on a chilly (for Southern California standards), afternoon. $.50 for a cookie, 5 for $2.00, $1.00 for a cup of orange juice. They learned how to make cookies, what goes into making money, how to talk maturely to adults, semi-complicated math ("How much could I get for $5.00", "If I want 6 cookies and 2 cups of orange juice, how much will that be", "$4.50? I have a $10, how much change do I get?"), tithing, and customer service.

During the hour and a half they were out there (we had to close shop when it got dark), they pulled in about $30 dollars (minus the 50 cents they gave to someone who needed some extra change for the bus). Which sounds pretty darn good for a chilly afternoon, though after coating the hour and a half of prep, 45 minutes of clean-up, and the cost of the ingredients, the hourly rate drops into the low twos. But I can see some serious income in the Summer…

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Instant Aerial Jury Duty

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I'm sitting here in the jury antechamber (or whatever title this pre-jury room inspired), exhausted, in that thoroughly putrid state of nervous nauseousness caused by that unique chemical reaction of a sleepless night combined with a Rockstar.

The wifi is broken, the stomach is empty, but the heart hums joyously. Deep in the recesses of my manly man-purse is a recently purchased, just repaired, polished metal, leather encased beauty of German engineering. Along with this mechanical, battery eschewing, photon-recording device, is its dubious cousin, another German wonder, with a a dark and lugubrious background.

We must, dear reader (I've been on a free ebook rampage, Main Street, done; Ann Veronica, done; Siddartha, done; Rights of Man, working on it; Walden, working on it; Winnie the Pooh, done; Treasure Island, done. I now find myself one third of the way through Les Miserables. Holy tangents! I thought I was bad! Just because this Mr. Valjean dude walked by a house on a the corner of "fancy french street name" and "equally fancy french street name" that don't mean I need to know the life story of the previous sixteen tenants. Ain't no one got time for that!) close our eyes (okay now open them again, you can't read with your eyes closed),

(Wait right here, I'm being called up (I'm the row opposite the row under the televisions) to validate my parking ticket. Yeehaw! Things are HAPPENING! Make way for juror number 120817647!)

and take yourself back seventy years or so, before hippies roamed the earth, back when the cars were pretty, and the world was on fire. Bombers lumbered and the Lord seemed to slumber. In secret rooms in secret buildings, secret people sent secret pilots on secret missions. In the front sat the hotshot aviators, in their dashing leather jackets and wonky goggles. In the back, nerds with pocket protectors were manning large camera with huge lenses. Flying high to avoid enemy fire, they captured hundreds of images per flight; army bases, weak points, bridges, convoys.

These aerial lenses were commissioned by the armies, specially manufactured to take in as much light as possible. Now they are prized for their speed, not for photographing the night, but for the speed, the larger the diameter of a lens is the smaller the plane of focus is so you get that crazy front-of-eyeball-is-in-focus-but-the-eyelashes-aren't look. But I bore myself. This particular chunk of glass, in a neighboring pocket of my manly man-purse, keeps for itself the stately title of "Schneider-Göttingen No57610 Xenon 1:2 f=12,5cm".

(Roll call. Schnorrer Berkowitz. Here. Downstairs I go. Past the out-of-order drinking fountain, past the garbage can with the Warning: Garbage and Lid Sold Separately, past two more non-working water fountains, past the cold drink vending machine and into room number 520 in department "M". Juror number 3987, 2870, 8430, 2101… I've heard many stupid things as a Judge. Lunch break. Reconvene at 1:30. Of course I am late. I run upstairs, freshly egged, smoothied, and watered. Judge is later. Gary J. Ferrari is his name. With that name I knew we'd be finished quickly. Right)

So the lens is made by Schneider, from the Göttingen division, which in 1936, either broke off from the Kreuznach division on its own to build aerial lenses for the Luftwaffe, or was forced to by the Nazi Government. Serial numbers are odd, but it seems that most of them are between 55,000 and 65,000. It's a Xenon designation which is a modified double gauss design (and we all know what that is). Its diameter is half of the focal length of 12.5 centimeters. And it's heavy. Very heavy, a lovely chunk of glass.

Leica (the big German camera companies were Rolleiflex and Hasselblad, the big lens makers were Zeiss, Schneider, and Zeiss), was also supposed to be designing optics for the Reich. They had this huge blueprint and prototype that they showed any official who came to check up on them, it took them until the end of the war. It turned out they just blew up the design for a tiny 35mm lens they were working on for their small rangefinder cameras. Sticking it to the man since 1936. In the early stages of Nazi Germany they gave hundreds of Leica's to Jews so they could be designated as journalists and be able to leave. They're cool like that. I really should buy one.

(Are you going to be prejudiced against this man because of how he looks? No, ma'am. Whisper whisper, whisper whisper. I wish judges still wore wigs. More whispering.)

I don't know which camera these lenses were supposed to be mounted on (they were probably specially made for this lens), I bought it from some friends in LA who stuck a SL66 mount on the back (that's the aforementioned camera in my aforementioned manly man-purse). The lens doesn't have a focusing hellicoid (that part of the lens you turn to focus) so it can only be used on a camera with a bellow focusing system (which is one of the reasons the SL66 rocks so hard). But this wasn't enough, no, not for the intrepid Wright Brothers, they had to modify a Speed Graphic to shove the lens onto, calibrated the rangefinder (NOT easy, and NOT fun), and modified the back so a Polaroid back would be centered (for some ridiculous reason (stuff like this is why Polaroid went belly up) the Polaroid back is off to the side, which in this case (where the lens doesn't properly cover 4x5), that just wouldn't do).

(Juror number 2 knows one of the lawyers. More whispering. My lip reading skills could use a brush up. Dismissed. Next. No speak English. Next. Juror number 5 dismissed. No speak English. Dismissed. Dang I got to try this.)

What's a Speed Graphic? Please! I'm trying to get to the point of this pointless diatribe. Okay sheesh, fine. The Speed Graphic was made by Graflex (in the good ole USA),

(Juror number 8 dismissed. I still haven't been called up and while I do pay myself for Jury duty, no one pays me to pay myself, and I REALLY can't do it, even though I kind of want to.)

it can be used either as a rangefinder, or through the ground glass in the back. It also has a remarkably complex shutter system(as opposed to the Crown Graphic which can only be used with lenses that have built in shutters) with 4 shutters and 12 tensions giving 48 (!!) speeds between 1/10 and 1/1000 of a second. And it's remarkably annoying to use. Let's say you see a scene you really want to photograph, you must:

(Juror number 8 dismissed.)

1. Get a meter and figure out how you want he Polaroid exposed (you have to be very exact with Polaroids).

2. Figure out which combination of shutters and tension will give you the shutter speed you want (noooo, no easy obvious numbers. Shutter A is 1/10-1/80 with 6 possible tensions (I.e. a large slit with 6 speeds), "B" is from 1/90-1/200, etc.).

3. Uncover the lens.

4. Compose your shot in the viewfinder (which is way off to the side and completely inaccurate).

5. Focus in the tiny rangefinder window.

6. Fine focus in the viewfinder.

7. Release the shutter.

8. Pull out the Polaroid.

9. Cover the lens to cock the shutter.

You have to do that each time. EACH TIME!

(Juror 11 dismissed.)

Is it worth it. I'm still not sure. The image it produces is delightful and unique. But it's so. Darn. Annoying.

To find out the exact awesome/annoying ratio and how much I'm willing to bend in either direction, I shot an all Polaroid session with a friend of mine in Redondo Beach. I actually screwed up a lot less than I expected but I did realize in middle that I was pulling the Polaroids form the camera too quickly and that was doing weird stuff (white, or magenta dots, and unexposed corners). I took the Polaroids home with me to scan, but normally I'd give them to the clients and just scan the negatives.

So here it is, some positives, some negatives. Just like life.

(Juror 4 dismissed. After five days you can go on twitter and all that other stuff young people use. Kids these days. Juror 4 dismissed. Wiser whisper. Juror number 6471 please come up. That would be me. Did you read the questionnaire? Yes. Did you answer "yes" to any? Yes. 4. Do you, or any relative, or close friend, have any formal legal training? Yes, of course I do, I'm Jewish. 5. Have you or any relative, or close friend, ever been a victim of a crime? Yup! I was kidnapped when I was 2 (nope, you don't get that story now, one day…). Did you testify in court? No, I was two…12. Do you have a personal reason to have a bias either way in this case? Yes (it was a child molestation case), I have 5 kids age 6 and under, so this would be hard for… 5 kids under 6! That would be hard for anyone! Everyone laughs. Sir, I would like to be excused due to financial hardship. Yes? I have 5 kids, one who is a newborn, and I freelance so... Whisper whisper. Juror 4 dismissed. Juror number 3071…)

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Let not today be yesterday's tomorrow

It's 1:47 AM here in balmy Hancock Park. I'm sitting on a sheetless mattress in the back of my minivan, cushioned with a down blanket and pillow, propped against the sidewall, waiting for sobriety to make its beleaguered appearance.

There's a sort of battle being waged between my stomach and a slightly copious amount of aged fermented barley (single malt of course) from some far flung corner of Scotland. My anti-alcohol muscles have recently been suffering from atrophy. Shrinking, drying up, and generally falling into various states of disuse.

Yesterday was the third day of the Jewish month of Tammuz. On this day nineteen years ago, our Rebbe and leader left this physical world. Unlike the previous leaders, there was no successor. No child, no in-law, no prodigal student willing and able to fill the void. I was just a child, much more oblivious than most, but even I remember the feeling of confusion, the fear of uncharted waters.

As the weeks, months, and years went by, it became clear that the Rebbe, while physically gone, was very much here, still guiding and leading. He somehow left his essence in a prodigious amount of talks, letters, correspondences, lectures, and stories. And through reading, studying, and learning we can not only connect with him, but gain answers and insights to our current challenges.

There's this wonderful concept we have called a Farbrengen. In short it's a gathering of friends, where we talk about real issues, personal challenges, sing Chassidic melodies, and strengthen each others' commitment to keep on rocking the good fight. And there is always the the presence of some good 'ole alcohol to help open up (but drinking too much is strongly frowned upon). One of the concepts that we farbrenged about was the idea (something the Rebbe spoke about very often) that every single day was its own unit of time. Suspended between yesterday and tomorrow, it takes on its own meaning. Not limited to the mistakes and accomplishments of yesterday, nor a pawn to the plans of tomorrow. Yes, yesterday may have been an epic disaster, and tomorrow may be shaping up to be the bees knees, but today is an island. And wallowing or waiting is not an option.

So to all those who find themselves floundering in the narrow chasm between yesterday and tomorrow, I raise this glass of todayness, rich with opportunity, truth, and nowness. Bottoms up!


In my travels I've met some people deserving of all sorts of wonderful adjectives. One of these colorful folks is the inimitable Rabbi Shmuel Marcus and his merry band of the Mrs. and co. Living between yesterday and tomorrow, constantly pursuing new ideas, many of which succeed, some not (one of the successful ones is his band Eighth Day. I had the pleasure of photographing them some time back). Shmuel has been an awesome friend for us since we moved to Long Beach. I've worked for him in various capacities (running Jewish clubs, teaching high school students, adult classes, and currently I design his soulwise magazine) and he is always looking out for us, throwing ideas our way, and acting as a sounding board for my crazy plans. He's also insanely supportive of my photography. This here below is his family.

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My 2012 (and a bit). Paid and personal.

My 2012 was 15 months long. I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but it started sometime last October. I sold my Mamiya 645, bought a Contax 645 (read: ridiculously overpriced medium format film camera), and shot my first all film session. I fell harder in love with it and stuck my digital gear in some farflung corner of my beautifully junglistic garage. I still reach for it now and then, for dark receptions, for photos of gear, to test lenses. I kind of feel bad for it's mass produced, machine made feelings. (Of course I know digital cameras don't have feelings, it's residual mental scarring from Disney movies.) November came and I took my oversized backpack to the Genesis workshop in Memphis. I thought I was going in order to learn how to build a wedding photography business (which was the main thrust of the workshop, both the creative and the business side). Instead I came out with 50 awesome friends, and a thoroughly confounded outlook on what and how I wanted to shoot. The instructors were very encouraging, even inspiring, but when I put forth my purported goal of becoming a hot-shot wedding photographer I received some raised eyebrows. Not because anyone thought I wouldn't be good at it, rather they saw something very unique in my family work that I didn't.

I didn't see it. Not for a while at least. But then I started


I was planning on finishing the thought and possibly thinking up more thoughts. But being as it is now Sunday, 11:09 PM Pacific Standard Time, there are other, more time-specific thoughts to think.

Tonight begins the tenth day of the Jewish month of Shvat. On this day 63 years ago the Previous Chabad Rebbe (leader of the Chabad sect) passed away, and exactly one year later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (known as "the Rebbe") accepted the mantle of leadership.

The Rebbe was always a large presence in our lives.

Way back when, my father grew up in Boro Park, Brooklyn (on top of Rubashkin's butcher shop). One day the Yeshiva he went to called his parents house wondering why he hasn't shown up for the past few weeks. Turns out he casually left and went to the Chabad Yeshiva in Crown Heights. (That was the good old days, nowadays we can't seem to go anywhere without the whole world knowing where we are and what we are doing.)

My mother, on the other hand, did very much of her growing up with Chabad. Her father (along with his twin, Shlomo Carlebach) was a Chossid (follower) of the Previous Rebbe, and when he passed away had a very hard time transitioning. Whereas the Previous Rebbe was very personal, the current Rebbe was more brusque (possibly due to the sheer amount of Chassidim and work that had to be done). He connected very much with the Bobov Rebbe and tried to get his family involved. Didn't happen. Being that my grandmother (whose birthday it is today) is a Schneerson and second cousins with the Rebbe, Chabad was too much of a presence to be sidetracked by any Bobovers :) (If you've got a few minutes, you could read all about my hotshot lineage.)

After my parents married the Rebbe sent them to a few places to teach and spread Judaism. After some time in Nashville (where my two oldest siblings were born), Palo Alto (where my brother was born), Long Beach (my sister and I were born there), and Westminster, we finally settled in Huntington Beach, where they established a wonderful community.

Growing up, in school, and later in Yeshiva, we had it hammered into our skulls, how very important we were. Not as Rabbi's kids, as Lubavitchers (another name for Chabad Chassidim), or even as "Orthodox" (can't stand that word), but as Jews and as people. How G-d has a mission and if we weren't an integral part of that mission then we wouldn't be here (G-d does nothing in vain).

We were taught not only not to judge others, but to respect everyone, for who they are, and who they can be. To learn from them. The Rebbe taught us to be real, and to make G-dliness a real part of our lives. Not just doing what G-d wants, but to work on ourselves until we feel it. Until the fact that G-d is everywhere and everything, is not just an intellectual concept but something we see with our own eyes.

The Rebbe taught us to be real. He showed us (along with the previous Rebbes) that G-d and his Torah don't have to be foreign concepts forced upon our consciousness. That we don't have to fight our inner nature, rather we have to reveal it.

And that is why a Rebbe is so important. We all may know, and even believe. But we don't see G-d. We see tables, clouds, beer, mountains, buildings, tar pits, and flashlights. And we may know that behind all the physicality is a G-dly animating force. But we don't see it.

The Rebbe does.

The Rebbe sees the world as G-d does. He doesn't see a hand, he sees an instrument to give charity. Not beer, but something to allow us to open up more freely and talk about things that actually matter. Not a table, rather something by which we can learn and eat. For in fact, a hand is nothing but the expression of G-ds will that charity should be given, and tables were created out of G-ds will that books be learned, and food be eaten (uplifted). And when we connect to the Rebbe, through his teachings and directives, we connect to that level. And now and then, even get a glimpse of that perspective, that truth.

Be real. Live truth. That is the goal. And that's the mission.


My thoughts, beer, and chia seed pudding, are all running low. The AM has laid down it's chilly fingers, and my brain is all athunked.

Below is my year. And a bit (and most of December is at the lab). Both paid and personal work (my family work I'll save for a later date). I've learned how to take pretty photos, and sometimes even good ones. I'm posting this more for myself, to see next year how much I've grown, how much I've learned. If I did at all.

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Important notes: Tonight's beer is Firestone Brewery, Union Jack, India Pale Ale. Full bodied and bitter, though slightly boring. Decent and overpriced. Chia Seed Pudding is made from Chia seeds, water, raw honey, unrefined coconut oil, walnuts and raisins.

Vir. G. Inia.


Here's how I write a blog post. I sit down (possibly with some sort of vague outline of what I want to write about) and just start writing. Usually with a beer (this time it's with an "Old Rasputen" a 9% stout. And for a stout it's pretty darn good, but I'm not a huge fan of stouts.) Sometimes I stay on track, usually not. Coherence is not really a goal but it's nice when it happens.

As it is my office is in my garage, and my fingers are semi-numb; making typing not so much difficult, as just weird. For all you funny people who will make fun of a Californian complaining about the cold: It is colder here than in most parts of the country. We don't have well insulated houses, nor do we have good heaters. Every morning its well under 60 degrees in the house. And we don't want to put on a sweater when we go outside (even though it's the high 30's or low 40's, because in a few hours it will be in the 60's…).

I'm selling some gear (to make room for even newer (to me) and cooler gear. Which will of course make me happy. 'Cuz that's what new stuff does). In order to sell said gear I need photos of said gear. I had three choices. A. Shoot it with film, and way a few weeks to get the scans. B. Shooting with polaroids, scan them in and use those, or C. Snap some digital photos. My brain and my heart took it outside (leaving me looking for OZ), and my brain won. After taking some lame shots of my non-lame camera (was selling my Pentax 6x7. It's a huge and awesome camera and it sold within 10 minutes) I snapped a few of my daughter (you know, those pretty shots from above focusing on her eyelashes (I had a macro lens on)). After dragging it into photoshop and working on it for 20 minutes, I gave up in disgust. I just couldn't make it look even nearly as awesome as film.

In case you were wondering, I don't have a point. Onto one of the coolest families in the whole state of Virginia (which, from the small population I saw when I was there, has the highest beard per capita outside of Oregon and Mother's Market).

Disclaimer: I was assured that Kelly and her family are not confederates.

Now that we have that out of the way… If all my clients were as awesome as Kelly, I'd be a very happy man. She contacted me a while back, asking if I ever plan on traveling to the east coast, and if I did to let her know. Fast forward a few months and I had my wonderful east coast trip planned. Kelly contacted me and we made it happen. And she didn't complain at all when my lab took double as long as usual, "quality takes time" she said. I agree.

I actually took a train there. I'd love to say it was interesting. It wasn't (I did sleep though), but the shoot was.

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Little boys with their blankets and sticks...

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