Friday, December 31, 2010

On Chinese Food, Kahlua, and Camels

A lot happened in the year zero, most notable of which was that a Palestinian Jew named Brian Cohen Jesus was born, given a brit mila, had supper, and died*. Romans, Camels, and Leonardo da Vinci figure prominently in this story, which is odd only because da Vinci was Italian and neither Romans nor Italians rode camels.

2011 years later, the rest of the Jews somehow ended up in New York having picked up a Chinese food habit that manifests primarily on the evening of the 24th of December and on which, for reasons known only to one of my old professors (PDF warning), kashrut has no bearing at all.

Needless to say, not all Jews go Kung Po around this time of year. That tends to be the domain of our less affiliated tribesmen, to whom ancient Jewish traditions like Jackie Mason, "kosher-style" Passover seders, and Reuben sandwiches are as venerable today as ever. Nevermind that there's cream in the chicken soup. It's just like what Bubbe would be cooking up... if she weren't rolling over in her grave at the very idea.

In the interest of full disclosure, of course, it must be noted that while Chinese on Christmas tends to be a non-kosher affair, the more affiliated of us simply eat [kosher] Chinese food all year 'round. We do this to make up for lost time.

However, to the best of my knowledge, all of which I garner from the New York Times**, all Jews go to the movies on Christmas. We also celebrate the greatest secular holiday of all -- the after Christmas sale -- and celebrate New Year's as well, with two caveats:

First, we grumble about how it's a Christian holiday by virtue of being the day on which Jackie Mason Brian Jesus was circumcised, even though he was circumcised precisely because he was Jewish and, in any case, the day holds no religious significance for... well... anyone; and

Second, we no longer drink Kahlua because it is no longer kosher, or at least we're not sure that it is, or anyway some of the bottles are marked but the ones we used to get aren't and we're concerned that they may have figured out a way to incorporate octopus legs into the production process just to screw with our White Russians.

As if things couldn't get any worse, New Year's Eve falls on Friday night this year, which means no Carson Daly, no dropping balls, no drunken revelers unless you either live near Times Square or have Shabbat dinner at Chabad.

But somehow it works -- we're wishing for a peaceful new year, and we're gonna kick it off with a day of rest whether we like it or not.

And you know what? We like it.

Happy 5771.3!

*The obvious conclusion that it was a bad case of food poisoning and/or a complication of the brit is, unfortunately, contradicted by the Pope and as such is wrong.

**Perish the thought. I get the Journal.

Monday, December 13, 2010


If you’re in college, finals are just around the corner. The week and a half or so wherein all of us become labor-intensive zombies, freaking out about information we will have forgotten by next month and deleting our facebook profiles until it’s all over. Every semester goes like this with only slight variations, whether you’re in pre-med or fine arts.

That being said, I’ve got to add a note for all studiers out there, who are probably only reading this out of reasons of procrastination. I can accept that. And the note is this: I’m proud of my best friend.

My close friend, or CF as he will be known from here on in, is the kind of person who always has something to do. He’s got school, multiple jobs, friends, hobbies, and life for him sometimes seems to the outside viewer like a complex juggling act. Occasionally he’s so bogged down with work that he disappears from the face of the earth, and cannot be reached by phone, email, or smoke signals.

I’m sure this scenario sounds familiar to some of you. You know who you are. But honestly, I think we all get that way sometimes. I spent the last two weeks in a similar state.

At some point last month, as CF was studying for a Big College Test and was neck-deep in his time of vanishing from the planet, he found the time to tell me a story. There’s no point in repeating it, the story’s not important. The main thing is the conclusion he came to.

He was having a conversation with me, a friend, nay, a human being, instead of studying at this particular moment. Because, as he said as story-coda:

“People are still more important than a test.”


It’s insane how often we forget that. I spent all of high school forgetting that. Some people still forget that, I’m sure (evil eyes where appropriate). Most of school time, and especially when finals roll around, we bury ourselves so deep into our books and our work and our facts, facts, figures, that when we finally emerge into the blinding sun of vacation, we don’t know how to function. We have come back into society after a long prison sentence. Like Tarzan back in Victorian England after years in the Congo. Like the Count of Monte Cristo back from the Chateau D’If. Like…you get it.

So it’s that much harder to remember the world outside the four walls of final exams when you’re smack in the middle of them. That’s when moments like these arise:

I imagine CF had a similar thought process during his moment of epiphany, though that’s probably not true at all. CF, excuse the cartoon. It’s illustrating my point if not your experience.

So you've taken your Big College Test. Now what? Your trial is over, but someone else is still in the thick of it. In my case, the thick of it is not so much a ten-page exam of Scantron questions, but more a several-poster-series of artwork. While economics majors have their nervous breakdowns and collapse snoring onto their textbooks, we art students reach the crash point in an entirely different way:At this point, any and all movement is futile.

The studio is cold and damp. Once your studio-mate leaves, you are the only person with the keys to this place. You are utterly isolated in a cage of your Senior Project. If you overdosed on turpentine stench, no one would think to look for you for weeks. It’s a terrifying horror zone of alone, alone, alone and covered in cardstock shavings and paper cement.

But then…

Someone is making contact! Someone remembers your existence! If you overdosed on terps now, someone would find you before the campus opossums did! You are rejuvenated...

...And you can work again. Because with one word, someone reminded you that yes, this too shall pass. And yes, someday you will be on vacation, and then you can get back to having a life with the rest of your friends.

And so to everyone who finds themselves neck-deep in responsibility, best of luck. You’ll get out of it soon enough. And if you do horribly on those tests, that’s okay too. I can almost guarantee you won’t be thinking about that when you tell your grandkids your boring life story.

It’s still the people that count. Please remember that, and don’t lose sight of the fact we so often forget: a test is a piece of paper that counts for some things. But not everything. A test is not life. It’s still the people that count. And to whoever over the course of the past two weeks was on the sending end of such a rejuvenating text message (yes, that was me lying on the studio floor), thank you. You never know when the tiniest word of greeting will make a miserable, overworked student’s day.

See you on the other side. Good luck on finals, everybody!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Something To Be Proud Of

So here I am, sitting awake at 1:00 AM on a random Monday night for no good reason whatsoever, and I got to thinking, “Hey, I’ve been a member of this blog for about a week now, maybe I should, ya know, actually blog!”

Thing is, I’ve never actually blogged before. Sure, I do enjoy writing as a pastime and certainly have used it before as a method of catharsis, but to that end I generally write lyrics as opposed to prose. Thing about lyrics is that for them to accomplish their goal, the only person they have to make sense to is me. Judging by the state of music today, that seems to be the sentiment of composers all across the board, but I digress; there will be plenty of time for me to rant about pop-culture and America’s Top 40 later. Point is, this is something I’m new at. I tend to think and speak in these terms but I’ve never actually put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard.

So the real question is, for my very first blog, how do I even start? Where do I begin? What do I write about? And in the end what comes to mind is not an actual subject per se, but more the emotions that are, in small doses, associated with those questions: anxiety, uncertainty, and fear.

On a certain level, I worry if what I write will make sense…If I’ll be happy with it...If my fellow bloggers, who so graciously invited me to write for the Red Sea Pedestrian, would think after this post that that decision was a mistake…If our readers would tune in to what I’m trying to get across…If I’ll make a fool out of myself…

And then I stop being an idiot.

Seriously people, is this what it’s come to? I’m worrying about what I post on a blog that is, in essence, 1/4th mine? REALLY? The sad part is that we, as Jews, are conditioned to think this way. We question everything we do and whether it will or will not be acceptable in the eyes of the masses. We fear stepping out of line, not in matters of law, but of social perception. Putting it simply, we’re always so worried about what other people think that we lose touch with how we feel about ourselves.

Although I am a Jew who for a long time has struggled with his religious practice, I can say one thing: I am proud to be Jewish. Fact.

Maybe it’s an inborn healthy sense of self respect.

Maybe it’s the way I was brought up.

Maybe it’s the Whacky Mac I had for lunch on Thursday.

Honestly speculating about the reason why is pointless but I know this: I have never shied away from who or what I am. I may not fit the mold at all times but I am proud of that, because that’s me. My high school yearbook quote was, “If I was like everyone else, I’d be everyone but myself.”

So I walk through the campus of my community college, where I am one of the 4 Jews I know of that are enrolled there, with my kippah on my head, my Gush Katif and Sderot bracelets around my wrist, and my Magen David necklace hanging on my neck, because those things are part of what makes me me, and I’d rather be me than anyone else. And you know what? I’m respected by my non-Jewish peers for holding fast to what I believe in.

So to my fellow bloggers I ask this: why do we even care if it’s “okay” to be Jewish here? Being Jewish, regardless of level of practice, is part of what makes us who we are. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

I think that’s something to be proud of.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dreidel Socks

December is a solid month-long reminder to any Jew of their overwhelming Yidness. As we walk down the tinsel-decorated streets and hear the Salvation Army guys ring their bells, we are aware. But perhaps nothing reminds us of our difference from the rest of the holiday consumer bunch than SHOPPING.

In my experience, there are three holiday shopping challenges faced by the New York Jew. You may be familiar with these.

Challenge #1: Soundtrack

We are made aware of the start of the holiday shopping season sometime in early November by a red-nosed thing named Rudolph, or more specifically, by whatever low-level manager is in charge of picking the music to be played at Macy’s throughout the month. You know what I’m talking about.

If you like Christmas jingles, fantastic for you. You will positively love the cheerful bells that will greet you every time you run out of milk or need a new pair of shoes. But if you don't like the music, or if (like me) you have no issue with most of 'em but possess a strange, quasi-demonic hatred for one...stupid...tune, you know this situation:

It doesn't bother you at first, but after your second or third trip to a place with a shopping cart, it starts to grate on you...

...which is fine, so long as you're not the type that shops very often...

Okay. Now you're doomed to hum the tune for the rest of the month, whether or not you actually ever hear it again. I'm pretty sure this rule applies to any catchy song you happen to dislike, or even one you have no problem with that popular radio stations have decided they like this week. But the thing with HOLIDAY songs, is that they come back every year. And if you're one of those who dislike the tunes, that first trip to the store in November symbolizes nothing short of decibel doom for you.

Challenge #2: Season's Greetings

You've shopped. You've paid, and the perky saleslady hands you your merchandise with a big toothy grin and a warm, pleasant:

Depending on your disposition, you have several options:

For the nice and/or indifferent people:

Option 1: "You too!"

Option 2: "Thank you!"

Option 3: Awkwardly toy with your Magen David/Tzitzit/Yarmulke and hope she notices. When she doesn't, see options 1 & 2.

For the annoyed/mean/irritable/really hate December people:

Option 1: "I don't celebrate Christmas, but you enjoy your holiday."

Option 2: "And a Happy Chanukah to you too!"

Option 3: "We don't have Christmas in my cult. But while we're on the subject, have you wondered lately, are you really happy?"

Obviously I don't recommend these latter ones. Be nice to your shopkeepers, customer service people, and waiters. Especially waiters. Those people control your food.

And my favorite of all the challenges:

Challenge #3: The Dreidel Socks

You are in a huge store, probably a department store, seeing row after row after aisle of red and green products, many of which sparkle, sing and dance, or both. Then suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a tiny hint of blue:

It's an insignificant, cheaply made and/or overpriced product, probably a tin of cookies, a hand towel, or a pair of socks. But still, it's the only blue thing in the store! And so you are compelled to look closer...Socks. Dreidel socks. And then the unavoidable question arises:

Should I buy these dreidel socks?

Now, on the one hand, it is December. If ever you were going to buy Dreidel Socks, now would be the time for it. And hey, there's no way the cash register lady would mistake you for a Christmas celebrator with these babies!

But on the other, should you really buy into this holiday consumerism and spend precious bucks on something that inane and cheaply made/overpriced?

And anyway, do you NEED dreidel socks? Does anyone need dreidel socks? Would the purchase make you into one of those people who wear Santa sweaters?

But come on, if you don't buy it, who will? The socks won't stand a chance next to all these sparkly red things. And if the companies see that no one's willing to buy these socks, what's the chance of them stocking Menorah mittens next year???? Slim to none!

And the agonizing begins. What's my obligation? Do I have a Chiyuv to purchase a Chanukah product while in Galut?

It is indeed a challenge. They all are, and normally I am plagued by them.

But NOT THIS YEAR! This year, I am free from the agonizing, the catchy songs, and the split second, how do I respond to this pleasantry decision making! And all for one, glorious reason. This year:

I'M BROKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Biblical Advertising

You totally know this would have happened had there been ads in biblical times:

No disrespect meant to Tanach or King David. Some meant to Avshalom. Girls, if a guy spends THAT much time on his hair when he should be in battle (or at work), there's a serious problem.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

If Movies Were Real: Home Alone

Credit must go to my Law & Ethics professor, who first suggested this scenario. Were movies real, you know this would happen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We Made It!

Alright then. Here we be. Finally, a home on the interwebz for a number of wandering souls just trying to find their places.

I've wanted to start a "life blog," for lack of a better phrase, ever since I was still wasting away in the seemingly never ending pit of hell society calls high school. Instead of taking to a public forum, I started a locked LiveJournal that, mark my words, will never see the light of day. Years later, I now find myself typing up a welcome post to an as-yet unknown public blog.

The posts below me discuss with the idea that we as Jews do not need to explain ourselves for anything whatsoever, because we are who we are. This is all very well and good, but there are those of us out there who don't have it so easy in that department.

I come from a heavily multicultural family. The United Nations ain't got nothing on me. My extended family members, for the most part, are not Red Sea Pedestrians. Some hail from the Islands, Africa, Ireland and more. (My parents are not converts; my extended family has almost completely intermarried. It's very complicated and I will spare you the particulars of my family tree.) They celebrate Christmas with tinsel, eggnog and a succulent Yule ham. If I ever felt the need to rebel, all I would need to do is take a trip over to my cousins and try a bit of grilled lobster, lightly buttered.

This leads to an interesting situation. My immediate family are almost the only observant Jews in the entire extended clan, with the exception of two of my second cousins who are not the most favorably disposed people on earth. Because we don't eat McDonald's hamburgers or drive on Saturdays, we are sort of... hopeless freaks.

Some of the men in my family who have chosen to marry non-Jewish women joke in front of us about their bar mitzvah experiences as if to say, "Load of good that did me." Awkward. To them, our Jewishness is not alright. It is archaic, outdated and just plain ridiculous.

But for the most part, we all keep the peace. We know we're sometimes an inconvenience. Family get-togethers need to be rescheduled for Sundays instead of Saturdays and since we choose not to frequent certain eating establishments, kosher takeout can be a bit expensive.

Thus far, I am the only person I have ever heard of who has eaten a kosher chicken and side dishes from Brach's for Christmas dinner with their half-black cousins. I certainly hope the fabulous gifts we brought made up for the fact that they couldn't enjoy their traditional succulent pig on account of us.

I seem to have acquired a taste for the bizarre because of my family situation, or perhaps I always had a propensity for the unusual. I have never known anything different than a hodgepodge of people in my family.

Ultimately, I do indeed need to explain myself. And to my own family, at that. From the ignorant questions I receive from family members who think that because I don't shop on Saturdays, I will shave my head when I get hitched someday to the simple questions about which brand of ice cream I can eat, I need to explain myself. I need to explain my lifestyle to my own flesh and blood, some of whom choose not to abide by the laws of Judaism and some of whom were never commanded by G-d to abide by these laws in the first place.

I would not have my life any different. I've met people from every race and religion, and they are all my kin. I actually think I'm heading out into the world with a huge advantage over my fellow Modern Orthodox counterparts because of the variety of people with whom I've come into contact. Time will tell.

So to Daniel, I say, indeed, I need to explain myself. And to Aliza, I say, being Jewish is not only "not alright" in some parts of the world, but it is also "not alright" according to certain members of my own family.

And so we wander on.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Don't Think We Need to Explain Ourselves

Because, well, why should we?

We are who we are, and our feet are sore. Our backs ache, our noses and ears are sunburned, there's bread growing on our shoulders (don't worry, it's not rising, at least not if you're Ashkenazi) and we think we may have made a mistake leaving the old neighborhood behind. What's a little whipping when you have a roof over your head and job security?

Fast-forward a few years and a walk across the sea and we've trudged through every stage of national existence at least a few times. Namely, wandering, nation-building (Take I), wandering, nation-building (Take II), wandering, wandering, wandering... and, as of last century, finally, nation building (Take III). (Persecution, being a constant, cancels out.)

So where are we now? Everywhere, carefully checking rocks for kosher marks before drinking anything from them (AFTER filtering for copepods) and impatiently waiting for the first minute of the third, fifth, or sixth hour so we can finally eat that Hershey's bar. And we're doing all this in abnormally dense urban accumulations where we build shuls two blocks from our houses so that we can walk the walk without actually having to do anything of the sort, and also because we don't like the rabbi at either of the shuls two blocks away in the other direction and God forbid we should be seen mingling with the Conservatives.

Somehow, maybe because of our wandering and maybe despite it, we've become so inwardly focused that we've stopped looking at what's around us. And who, for that matter. We just keep trudging ahead simply because it's what we've always done, with a little shuffle to the right or the left as the times dictate. Somehow the people who stop for a moment to check out the wilderness from whence we came, to breathe the air out there, to wander a little themselves, are the daring few, and far between.

Being Jewish is alright here, yes. Thank goodness. But it's worth reminding ourselves -- not others, but ourselves -- that being Jewish is alright out there, too. We of all people believe that this wide world was created for us to enjoy. So maybe we should make it a point to do that a little more often.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Suppose We Should Explain Ourselves

Congratulations. We're on the internet. A life blog for sarcastic Jews, for lack of a better description. So let's take this opportunity, when no one has yet heard of us and the only one reading is the internet void, to explain the meaning of our title.

So, what is a Red Sea Pedestrian anyway? If you've read Tanach or seen The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments or Life of Brian, you know. The short answer is, a Jew.

We're Jews, but we're also walkers, wanderers in an endless sea of faces. That's right, not only are we Jewish, but we're also New Yorkers. Beat us over the head with Woody Allen and call us Katz.

New York is the city of millions of anonymous faces, or to be less depressing, hundreds of people waiting to be met and discovered. But somehow, the sea seems even more vast when you're one of a few, when your particular species of fish is on the endangered list. Or, to look on the bright side, a rarer breed.

One sweltering day this past summer, I was walking in Columbus Circle, heading for the travelling sauna that is the subway, when I thought I should probably preempt the dehydration and pick up a drink from one of those hot dog carts NYC seems to have on back order. This was when Gatorade had just become Kosher, a milestone for us on the Orthodox end of things. Finally, a product that had technically been Kosher for years now had the reassuring label! So naturally, I went for the most plastic-looking flavor, some kind of techno-sounding blue liquid.

Now, I'm normally a bit of a food nut, the type who won't pick up a snack with artificial flavors or anything that advertises "Real Fruit Flavor." But this was New York in July. It looked like the fountain of life to me.

The man behind the cart, a shortish skinny guy fresh off the plane from somewhere looked up at me and asked: "What's that?"

"What's what?"

He pointed at my chest to be clear. I realized he was referring to my Magen David necklace, which I constantly wear because yes, I want everyone who comes within eight feet of me to know where I come from, at least religiously speaking.

"Oh, this?" I asked casually, trying not to sound like I had a complete stranger poking me in the chest, "It's a Star of David."

"What's it mean?" he asked, "Is it from where you come from? Where'd you come from?"

"Um... here? New York? It means I'm Jewish. It's a Jewish symbol."

He took his pointing hand back and looked at me like I'd just declared Play-Doh a new gourmet seasoning.

"Oh." he said, handing me my change, "Well don't worry about that. That's alright here."

I was in too much of a rush and a little surprised to have the presence of mind to ask where he'd come from, where it wasn't alright. Somehow the comment stuck with me.

That's alright here.

I can feel lucky, I guess, that I live in a place and time where it is alright to be Jewish, not like the world where my parents and grandparents grew up.

Or I can wonder what he was implying, or better yet laugh the thing off as another typical New York daily event.

I'm one fish in a sea where, at least for now, it's alright to be a pedestrian. It's okay to have crossed the Red Sea on land a few thousand years ago. I kind of like it.

And the Gatorade tasted like cough-syrup flavored plastic.
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