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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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