Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Diary of a Music Nerd: Mr. Money

Soooooooo it just dawned on me at 9:21 PM on post day that it's my turn. I'm not sure how that happened; most of the time I don't start writing until night of, but I usually at least know that it's my turn. Maybe it's because I just did our Happy Birthday post and my brain figured, "Hey, you just did a post, it's not your turn for a few weeks now." Maybe it's because I've been more busy while on vacation than I was during the semester and it just slipped my mind. Either way, I'm completely unprepared, so I'm going to fall back on something I can talk about for hours on end: music. Welcome to the second post in my Diary of a Music Nerd column! This time I'll give a glimpse into a couple of songs that have been dominating my daily soundtrack for the last few weeks.

There's a prog rock band from Sweden that I discovered when I found out they would be opening for Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I like to be familiar with a few songs from the opening bands before I go to the concert, so I sought out some of their more highly recommended tunes and began my research. Unfortunately, due to management and record label complications, they had to drop off the tour, so I never got to see them live, but that meant I did end up seeing Bigelf live (and met them afterwards), so that's okay with me. However, despite not getting the Pain of Salvation live experience, I liked what I heard from my song sampling so I, continued to investigate, and that's when I discovered their fifth studio album, "BE" (the quotes are part of the album title, so I'm not entirely sure how to punctuate that. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me).

The thing about Swedish prog bands is that they tend to get somewhat enigmatic when it comes to writing concept albums. Pain of Salvation generally follow this rule, and it's often difficult to decipher what exactly the overall message of the album is without the help of Wikipedia. However, "BE" is on an entirely different level; it's story-line is so convoluted it's pretty much unintelligible. Even Wikipedia is not entirely sure what Pain of Salvation are trying to get across, even with the linear notes and an entire website dedicated to the album set up by vocalist/guitarist/founder Daniel Gildenlow. So I don't really have a clue what the album overall is even about, and quite honestly it's not necessary to really "get it," so to speak, but there are two songs in particular that really stand out to me that between them create the only story-line I can decipher out of this 76 minute mass of impenetrable philosophy. It's a darn good story though.

The first song I want to mention, one that was the Song of the Day in the post from which this this column gets its title actually, is track 7, titled Dea Pecuniae. Roughly translated from Latin, it means Goddess of Money, and it is the longest song on the album, split into three parts. In the first, we're introduced to the wealthiest man in the world, known only as Mr. Money. He is a man who is obsessed with his namesake, and will bend and break all the rules in order to have financial power, or any kind of power for that matter. In the first verses and chorus, he flaunts that power by leading a woman on just to break her heart, and listing numerous material luxuries he has acquired, declaring things like "I could have bought a third-world country with the riches that I've spent," all while accompanied musically by what almost sounds like a showtune. He concludes with a toast to himself, but is then interrupted by Dea Pecuniae, who proceeds to lead him on in the same way that he lead on the woman in the first verse. The second part is about 45 seconds long, and in it Mr. Money has a silent, piano-driven moment to himself, admitting briefly that when he's by himself, he needs comforting because somewhere deep inside of him, he feels loss. Then, almost as abruptly as Part One ended, Part Three begins, in which Mr. Money symbolically affirms his life choices by shouting out that he's happy on top of the world, even if that means he's alone up there. The song concludes in a bombastic Broadway-esque salute to all those who do nothing while he steps all over them and exploits the system at their expense for his own personal gain.

The second song, track 13, is called Iter Impius, translated as Wicked Path. In this piano and orchestral ballad, Mr. Money wakes up one morning and realizes that he is old, alone, and has laid waste to the world in his path to its peak. He comes to a frightening conclusion that there is nothing now except the "relentless time" that is chasing him down and will eventually take him from this world. However, he refuses to leave the fortune he has amassed, and decides to preserve his body using cryogenics until he can be made immortal, declaring that he will "rule the ruins" of Earth by himself.

Obviously you can't understand how brilliant the characterization of Mr. Money is unless you've listened to the songs, so I've linked to them below and I highly suggest you listen to them before reading what I'm about to say, because this text will probably mean less than nothing if it is musically unaccompanied. That being said, the characterization of Mr. Money is freaking brilliant. In 16 minutes of music, Pain of Salvation have created a more compelling character arc for him than I've seen in most Hollywood movies. Here's a man who is a classic power addict; he amasses as much power as he can and thinks it makes him the king of the world, but in truth he is a slave to power itself. He has spent so much time convincing himself he is happy even though he has alienated everyone in his life that he can't even bear to face those feelings of loss for more than a few moments before resorting to his familiar facade of contentment. And you can't help but feel bad for him in the first few verses of Iter Impius, when he honestly confronts what he's done to himself and the world and realizes it's too late to fix it. Then he kicks into the first chorus and an even more profound pity is drawn from us because he can't even accept, at the end of all things, that the world is rust and ruins and it is all over. Instead, blinded by his greed or whatever it is, he insists that he will rule said ruins, presumably because he can't live in a world in which he is not the ruler of something. All of this comes from 16 minutes of music, about a third of which has no vocals!

It's impossible for me to convey exactly how amazing this is by just writing about it, so I think I'm going to stop here and let you guys listen to the songs and form your own impressions about them. I am fully aware that many of you won't appreciate the music or concept it in the way that I do and that's totally cool, but I still think you should listen to the songs anyways because, well you never know, do you? Besides, I think objectively you have to appreciate the way the music tells the story as much as the lyrics do, as well as the emotions that are drawn from us in response to the story being told, from admiration to disdain to heartfelt sadness. It's almost as if you can connect to Mr. Money as a character as if he were a real person. Anyways, that's what's been occupying my musical brainspace recently, so have fun with that :)

Hope you enjoy!

Songs of the Day: Dea Pecuniae & Iter Impius - Pain of Salvation

Ps. My good friend Dobes just tipped me off about this song, and it's really awesome and apropos to the time we're in now, so I figured I'd share. Thanks Dobes!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Arbitribe!!!

For those of you keeping score at home, today is the one year anniversary of the official launch of Arbitribe, which means: HAPPY BIRTHDAY US!!! It's a big deal for us to have started something like this on a whim and then be able watch it grow into what it is today, and we of course could not do it without you guys, our dedicated readers. So we'd like to thank you all for the 11,529 views we've amassed over the past 365 days. You rock!!

The annual awards are as follows:
The "Most Viewed Post" award goes to Aliza, for her amazing "A Greatly Exaggerated Explanation for Starbucks' Kosher Issues" with a solid 339 views.
The "Only Post in the Top 10 That Isn't Aliza's" award goes to Tzvi for "Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match."
The "Inventing The Term Arbitribe" award goes to Daniel. Coincidentally, he also won the award for Coolest Commute Method with " An Airplane."
The "Bringing the Word Burnoose Into The Vocabulary" award goes to Joanna, for maybe actually wearing a burnoose one day. She also gets the "Post Length to Number of Comments Ratio" Award, averaging a comment for every 22 words of "Doom?"
The "Guest Writer Who Could Look Like He's Literally On Fire If You Look At Him From the Right Angle" award goes to The Ginger Man. This is self-explanatory.
The "Best Reference" award goes to The Curious Jew, which was responsible for over 1,500 page views coming our way. Thanks!!!
The "Most Surprising Regular Readership" award goes to Malaysia. Whooda thunk?

Thanks for an awesome year guys, we couldn't have done it without you. Here's to many more!!!

Much Love,
The Arbitribe Gang

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How The Kvetch Got Over December

Everyone in New York liked December a lot
But the Kvetch of Washington Heights, she did not

She wasn’t a fan of the early winter season
And why, you may ask? Like you don’t know the reason…
It could be the Brooklyn commute was a wreck
It could be all those songs were annoying as heck

But most likely it was that New York’s most happy day
Was making her see her own Chag in that way

Think about it,
She’d been told her whole life that Chanukah was unique
With much more behind it than shopping price peak,
That the songs all the stores were incessantly playing
Were coincidental. It’s December, just sayin’!

In elementary school, the principal went so far as to say
The Holiday season should be shunned all the way:
“You’re acknowledging a day that’s long been remembered,
As the cause so many of us were dismembered
Through thousands of years, bearing the false guilt
Because well-meaning blood was (by Romans) spilt!”
And whatever the reason for what he did,
That speech was enough to scar any kid.

And on through the years, the Kvetch had it out
Arguing with anyone who came about
To claim that the Jews of New York needed no reason
To feel cheerful, just like everyone else at that season!

"So what if the songs are ignoring OUR day,
Do you really want Chanukah compared that way?
Do you really want people pairing them together,
Two occasions to get our minds off the bad winter weather?
You find so much meaning in the Hasmonaen victory
And what it means to your people’s history
And the oil to remind you, its okay to believe
In Miracles, such a great gift to receive!
Just enjoy your Chanukah, and don’t compare
To that other holiday enjoyed somewhere..."

But the Kvetch of the Heights found she had to confess
That the December season for her was a mess.
To enjoy the spirit wasn’t right, for it meant
Giving significance to dollars spent
And to songs, and to string lights, and red hat-edge furs
Signs of a day that simply weren’t hers.

So she shouted,
“Must you aid retailers raising their stocks,
‘Cause you just HAD to buy that pair of Dreidel Socks?
Can’t you block out the songs so you don’t have to hear it?
Why join the masses in December spirit?”

But then…
The Kvetch found herself enjoying the glow
Of those eight little candles lit up in a row
And so what if the lights along 181st
Were making her forget about cold winter’s worst?
It’s not like to her they meant Dec. 25th,
Just a warm little joy to fill in the rift.

And so what if the soundtrack Starbucks was employing
Could sometimes swell up and get really annoying?
And she had to admit, Chanukah songs also leeched
Into her subconscious while giving a speech:

(That really did happen to me one time
I did not make it up ‘cause I needed a rhyme).
And even her blogpost, this week so abstruse
Is based, with apologies, on one Dr. Seuss.

To heck with it,
Thought the exhaustible Kvetch,
Sit down at your laptop and make a cartoon sketch.
And try not to think about, or even remember
How Jewish TV characters are Christians in December,
And how Annie from Community took any cause
To dress up this year like sexy Santa Claus...
Instead, think of a good cause, and of dreidels spinnin’
Enjoy your eight days and feel like you’re winnin’
Sing Maoz Tzur, who cares what people say
They’ve got no right to take those good feelings away.
If you feel you must sing, then for G-d sake, let’s hear it
Me, I’d love to see some Chanukah spirit!

So to all of our readers, yes, this was cheap
And a sordid excuse to use holiday-speak
And yes, you can say that this post had no point
"From your usual writing, a total disjoint!"

But for your information, I’ve been low on caffeine
And it’s hard to write when you’re coughing up green
(And inventing rhymes in any inflection
Is harder when you’ve got a bacterial infection)

So excuse my horrible Chanukah post
And let me enjoy the eight nights I love most
Scarf down your latkes, on spiced-wine imbibe
And have a Happy Chanukah, from Arbitribe!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Latkes and Lucid Dreaming, a Symphony in Three Parts

Thing the first: Chanukah is a week away, as I'm sure you all know. While everyone is busy preparing to gorge themselves on greasy latkes and dive into a pile of gifts, I urge you to donate to a worthy cause. I promise it isn't painful, not in the least. A bit of cotton in one's gob never hurt anybody.


Thing the second: Once I'm permanently back from my self-imposed hiatus, I have a piece about Stern College's Anonymous Girl and my thoughts on the existence of a publication such as the YU Beacon brewing. But alas, they need to sit on the back burner for another eight days until my 43 pages worth of final papers are given to my evil overlords professors. In the meantime, check out The Groggers' fabulous take on the situation. Yes, I feel the need to advertise for them. They are that good.


Thing the third: Aliza recently wrote about feeling like she's constantly being tested. If she's being tested, then I'm not only being watched but someone has implanted a chip in my brain causing me to have nightmares depicting my deepest insecurities and fears in bright colors and pulsating sound effects.

Anyone know a good magic potion to make them stop? :\ I just want my brain to quiet down a bit without having to tranquilize myself before bedtime.

Short post. More coming soon. Good luck on final exams and in life!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life 101: How to Deal

Today is actually a pretty exciting day for me in relation to Arbitribe and my blogging career. December 7, 2010, was the first time I ever blogged, on this blog in fact, though the name and concept of Arbitribe was still a few weeks off. It’s interesting to think about how much has changed since then, blog-wise and in my own life, and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, especially about this time last year. The months of September, October, November, and December are months of great import to me; it seems that some life-changing event happens to me during those months almost annually, an event that will then set the tone for the following year and beyond. However, in 2010 I had five such moments, all within those four months, not the least of which is the founding and official launch of Arbitribe. In the end, those paradigm-shifting incidents all turned out to be positive things, but like everything in this world, there’s the other end of the spectrum to consider: February and March have historically been awful months for me. Some of the most awful things to ever happen to me occurred then, the worst of which would have to be contracting my kidney disease.

This train of thought is starting to remind me of Sign Language and The Learning Curve, which is good because that’s kind of where I was going with this. In those posts and the discussions held in the comments under them, a lot was made over the complete lack of control we have in our lives on a metaphysical level, and so the best thing to do is to control your reaction to an incident and how you let it affect you and your life instead of seeking to control the situation itself. There’s some real wisdom in that and it’s a practice that everyone would do well to adopt, but there’s another side to all of this that I only briefly touched upon in response to a comment under Sign Language and I think that it’s time I devote an entire post to this subject. Today’s lesson: hishtadlut, or as I like to think of it, rigging the odds.

I know most of our readers are familiar with the concept of hishtadlut, but just in case, a little background. A core concept in Judaism is that we believe that God personally oversees all of our lives and has our best interest in mind. However, when confronted with a situation of whatever nature, we have to put in effort on our end to make it work and God will meet us halfway; we’re not allowed to simply sit back and hope God works it out for us. That effort is called hishtadlut.

Now, I know a few months ago I was going on about letting go and realizing that we don’t really control much in our lives and how that can make it easier to roll with life’s punches. That really only applies in a last resort situation or in certain other circumstances though. Hishtadlut is the step that comes before that. Jewish custom and common sense dictate that stuff isn’t just going to work out for you if you aren’t proactive about it, and we are actually discouraged from relying on a miracle. Getting out there and making things work out for you is an integral part of making things work out for you. Surprise! However, it is also true that you can rig the odds as much as you want and things still won't go your way, and that’s where Sign Language comes in.

I seem to be the resident storyteller, so I’ll tell a story to illustrate. I had a meeting with my career counselor at 11:00 AM on campus this morning, and given the ever present traffic that plagues the Van Wyck, I figured that if I wake up by 9:30 and get out of my house by 10:00, I’d be able to get there, park, and get to the building in time for my meeting even if the traffic were to be awful. Since it was an important meeting, I set two alarms and asked someone to wake me up at 9:45 if I had somehow managed to sleep through both. My trying to ensure that I would be awake and out of bed in time to leave by 10:00 was my hishtadlut. On a Jewish level, going to sleep at 2:00 AM and just assuming that God loves me and will have me woken up in one way or another in time to leave is not something we’re supposed to do. It also would have been terribly irresponsible of me from a rational standpoint to behave in that way.

In the end, unfortunately, I slept through both my alarms and the person who was supposed to wake me forgot to do so, so I gained full consciousness around 10:00. I threw myself out of bed, got dressed, wolfed down breakfast, and still managed to get out of the house by 10:15. I thought I was a total boss, but then I hit the Van Wyck in the rain and ended up taking an hour to make a 25 minute drive and I showed up to my 11:00 meeting at 11:20. It was at that point that I realized that I did everything I could to get myself there on time and I was still 20 minutes late, so it must be that on some cosmic level I was not meant to get to this meeting on time, no matter how good my odds were. That acceptance is what I was stressing in those two earlier posts.

The duality of active vs. passive in life is a very tricky thing because there is a subtle line between the two and it is often difficult to determine where exactly it is. The important thing is that there is a place in life for both, and leaning towards either one when it is not the time to tap into it is a dangerous thing. I spoke extensively a few months ago about how psychologically unhealthy activity is when it is time to be passive, and passivity during a time of action can have potentially disastrous life consequences as well.

There’s a famous Jewish joke in which there’s a terrible flood and everyone evacuates except this guy who decides that he has such faith in God that he knows He’s going to save him. When the flood gets so bad that it covers the first floor of his house, the guy moves upstairs to the second floor. A rowboat passes, and seeing him, the passengers shout out, “Hey! Come on in, we’re evacuating.” The man replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. The flood forces him to move up the top floor of his house, at which point another boat passes his window and the passengers call out to him to get in and flee. The man again replies that he has faith and he’s going to wait for God to save him. When the flood forces him onto the roof of his house, a Rescue Squad helicopter catches a glimpse of him and flies over. A crewmember announces over the megaphone that the squad is leaving and this is his last chance to get out before the flood drowns everything, and the man repeats his familiar refrain. The chopper flies away, and a short while later the man drowns. When he gets up to heaven and meets God, he cries out in sadness,” What happened down there? I had so much faith in you and you didn’t save me” to which God responds, “What are you talking about? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

The joke has a certain humor to it, but it’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. That man was too passive in a situation that demanded action and he lost his life for it. Most situations we find are not super drastic like that, but are still important enough to warrant a little advanced preparation and maybe a plan B. People always try so hard to take a bad hand life deals them and turn it into a royal flush, but I don’t think they realize that in many situations you can just stack the deck so you get dealt a royal flush to begin with. And what happens if you get a bad hand anyways? Fold and try again next time. I’m a big proponent of balance of all things in the world, and this subject kind of plays into that concept very nicely. Being passive or active all the time will only get you halfway there.

So somehow this turned from a post about hishtadlut into a discussion of one of the many dualities of life, but that’s cool with me. Both points are important, relevant, and something I could go on for hours about. I kinda went all over the place there though, so I hope everyone followed my runaway train of thought. If you didn’t, that’s what the comments section is for. Really what all of this, Sign Language, and The Learning Curve come down to is knowing the approaches available for use in dealing with the situations life throws at you and when to use them, and on that note, I’m off to write my philosophy final paper. Let the good times roll.

Song of the Day: Reflections – Mutiny Within

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lonely 6-Foot Rabbit of Faith

Sometime last winter, when the weather was about as awful as New York weather gets during February, I met a friend of mine for coffee and conversation in a Barnes and Noble Starbucks. As we sat and chatted and caught up on what we’d been doing since we’d last met, we were suddenly addressed by the caffeine-drinker at the next table, a guy about our age.

It was fascinating to me how religion, something which means so much to me and which is ingrained in everything I do, could be nothing much more than an obstacle to someone else, even if it wasn’t my religion he was talking about. Of course religion, like race and gender and sports teams, is a sensitive issue. In fact, it’s probably the most sensitive issue to me personally, and yet I find myself having debates on the subject nearly every other week, with Jews and non-Jews alike.

Perhaps the most interesting part about it (and most of these sensitive subjects) is that none of these arguments ever go anywhere. It’s not like during the course of a conversation you can just convince someone who is more or less religious than you are to accept your view on life as their own. Because this isn’t a debate of fact, it’s one of faith (even if you don't "believe" anything).  Honestly, how is anyone ever supposed to win such an argument? You can’t do it. And more often than not I find these discussions draining, especially during times when I find it more difficult to have the faith I’m so adamantly defending.

And my feeling, especially when talking to those who find what I believe laughable, is that they’re looking at me like I’m crazy, like I’m talking about some imaginary friend. For some reason I picture Elwood Dowd from Harvey, or Frank from Donnie Darko (and just as happy or scary, depending on my mood). You know, a giant bunny, or something equally ridiculous. I refer to these moments, when you're talking earnestly about something you deeply believe in only to have the other person look at you like you're nuts, as 6-Foot Rabbit moments.

Now, I am not comparing G-d to a 6-Foot Rabbit. I am merely trying to express what it feels like to be stared at like you just said something stupid. And I am by no means saying that all the people I argue with or who don't believe in G-d are like this, heck no. I have some very respectful friends who are Agnostics or Atheists, who when they ask me why I believe are genuinely curious. They're not the ones who look at me like this. But unfortunately, there are some people who do. Take, for instance, the Hipster From College.

The Hipster From College was a guy in one of my philosophy classes who took other people's beliefs as a personal insult. This was a guy who actually once called me "stupid" during class because of my belief in a Creator. He was a jerk who would snicker as he passed a praying Muslim or Jew on campus. And I always figured that G-d would forgive that Muslim or Jew if they stopped praying at that moment to do this:

But this guy was an exceptionally jerky person who is in no way indicative of... well, anyone, I should hope. Back to the topic at hand.

When discussing the sensitive topics (especially faith), several things frustrate me, sometimes to the point where frustration turns into a weird sort of sadness. For instance, I realize that since nobody can be convinced, many people also cannot respect each others' opinions, and thus begin to look at anyone who is more religious than them as a fanatic, and anyone who is less religious as a sinner. I've heard it compared to being on the road. Anyone driving slower than you is a moron, and anyone driving faster is a maniac.

In these cases, which are less debates and more like boxing matches, the result is not so much an agreement to disagree as it is a horrific crash that makes neither side look good.

The other thing that makes me look at this whole "arguing about sensitive issues" thing and sigh with exhaustion is that sometimes, as I've mentioned before, it gets hard for even the most faithful to defend their thoughts. Because sometimes, no matter how much you love your religion, race, or sports team, you're not always on the mother of all good terms with them. Sometimes things go wrong that make you ask, "Really, G-d? Why'd you do that?" or "Come on, people, why do you have to perpetuate such a negative stereotype?", or "Damn it, Dolphins, can't you just win this one for me?".  Just as in the above-linked post, it's like being in a fight with a good friend and then having to defend them. It's a test of loyalty, and even if we manage to pass that test, it doesn't make the situation feel any less sucky. 

Sometimes, we just aren't up to it. Sometimes, we feel so unsure that we'd be willing to take advice from TV, magazine horoscopes, or (G-d help me) Mick Jagger:

But it wouldn't be life if it was all cake, cookies, coffee, and roses, would it? Nope, then it would be boring and look like a Hallmark Card or a hotel room painting. And in the end, I think that would stink more than having the occasional doubt or 6-Foot Rabbit moment in your life.

And hey, isn't that why we feel the need to argue those sensitive topics anyway? Because they aren't so universally-obviously correct? If they were obvious, they wouldn't be matters of faith, and we wouldn't have anyone disagreeing with us in the first place. Honestly, I feel like those doubts and those arguments are fundamental to having a good relationship with your own belief system. Because if you didn't defend it, you would have any moments of uncertainty. And if you didn't have those moments, you couldn't really examine your innermost thoughts and make that conscious decision that "Yes. I do believe this, and not just because it's what I was told. I genuinely, truly believe this, and here's why." 

And that realization, that despite your 6-Foot Rabbit moments of feeling attacked, stupid, or unsure you are SECURE with what you believe in, is worth every single one of those unpleasant instances. Like having a fight with your spouse and realizing that if you still want to be with them when you're fighting, you truly have what it takes to make it as a couple. 

And the best part of knowing that is you can finally tell the 6-Foot Rabbit moment to shove itself when it rears its ugly head (and if it's anything like Frank in Donnie Darko then it really is quite ugly).

Because then you don't care if someone else thinks you're stupid. You know you're not. 

Then you can have those deep philosophical discussions, because done right, they can be enlightening. Even refreshing. Just as long as you remain respectful of each other. Once again I'm reminded of Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey (which you really should see, because it's a truly wonderful film), and one of my favorite lines in all of cinema:

Doesn't that just say it all? :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scrawled Walls in Brooklyn

Once again, this is not the post I had prepared for this week (Darn it, will that thing never see daylight?), but I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the heap of anti-Semitic scary going on in Brooklyn, especially since it’s something that affects both New York and Jewry… yaknow, those things relevant to the blog.

So, as I’m sure most of you have heard, there have been a few scary incidents happening in Flatbush recently: the car-torching and swastika-graffiti of two weeks ago, the stabbing of a clearly Jewish woman on Avenue U, and most recently, the defacing of the Avenue J subway sign to read, well:

Wow. Real clever, anti-Semites. Bite me.

While I know these aren’t government-sanctioned hate crimes or anything, I find them pretty darn scary, especially since I know the neighborhood well and recently started working there every day. I’m only there in daylight hours, so I’m not really afraid of getting attacked or anything, but there is a certain painful uneasiness that comes with the knowledge that any one of the people you’re passing on the street now could secretly harbor an irrational and racist hatred of you just for existing, which is so strong that they felt compelled to torch cars and stab people just to show it.

But let’s put things in perspective. As I’ve said before, we New York Jews are incredibly, unbelievably spoiled in terms of tolerance. When I hear my parents’ stories of growing up in communist Hungary, or even when I visit Europe in this much-less-frightening era, I can say for certain that we are lucky as heck and that any persecution we face is freaking MINOR in the historical sense. And really, that’s one of the things I like best about New York: the fact that I can get on a subway car wearing my biggest Magen David, and be surrounded by people of all backgrounds who don’t even bat an eyelid at me or each other.

Which is very welcome considering the reaction the same accessory would get in Europe:

And that zone of relative safety includes Brooklyn, a boro which (some of you may recall) I have a rather tumultuous relationship with… okay, fine. I pretty much dislike Brooklyn. Not in theory, but going there always seems unnecessarily tortuous. I take the train there every day, and there is never a ride without some extended stop between stations:

Or that especially creative form of cosmic torture, the need to switch to a train that only comes once every fifteen minutes and seeing it pull in just as the train you’re on has decided to just not let you out:

And let’s not even discuss DRIVING, with enough double-parkers to send any native Queens-er to Anger Management.

I digress. Brooklyn, even with its blatant inaccessibility, is a hub of American Jewish history and culture. Heck, it’s got Jewish museums, some amazing Kosher restaurants, and the best bagels I know of. It’s Eden if you’re looking to embrace your ethnic stereotype (which I have also done so shamelessly, just to be a real New Yawker).

Which just makes this recent surge of incidents all the more scary. I mean… this happened in Flatbush, where Fridays see Shabbat bouquets sold on every corner.

So it really makes for quite the unpleasant bump when you’re on your way to work one morning and you happen across a blatant sign that YOU (and your family and friends and everyone like you) ARE (still, even though it’s 2011) HATED. If you’ve ever had an anti-Semitic slur hurled at you here or abroad, or if you’ve ever stumbled across a swastika spray-painted on a park bench, you know that awful, sinking feeling of confusion. And if you haven’t, well… this is kind of what the first glance feels like: 

And this may seem overdramatic and out of proportion, but let’s be honest here. Racial/religious hatred of any kind is SCARY, and while we may be used to hearing of it from lands and decades far away, we’re not so used to getting it here. And I might not be so worried, I might actually brush it off if I thought we Jews would stand up for ourselves and each other, but let’s face it. Very often, we are our own worst enemies, each thinking that we’re doing Jewry right and that everyone else is completely WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. 

But enough about that. We discuss that quite a bit already on this blog. What does it take for us to band together? Is that even possible, or are our differences too great? Are we deluding ourselves into thinking we can ever make this “Am Echad, Lev Echad” thing work?

Ah, Brooklyn, how you make me think. Mostly when I’m stuck on the subway for half an hour. But anyway…

Another thing that prevents me from chalking this up to the actions of one nutjob is what’s been going on in the news lately, or more specifically, on Wall Street. You know, the Occupy Wall Street people. Now, I’m not saying they don’t have what to complain about. I truly sympathize with people who can’t get a job. Heck, I’m not exactly rolling in dough myself. But there’s something about the protesting economy thing that always seems to bring out the worst in people.

I think we’ve all seen pictures of signs yelling about Zionist conspiracies or that video of the nice lady barking about how the Jews are hoarding all the money. Thankfully, these seem to be coming from a minority of the OCCUPYers. But it's all happening at once, and I can’t help thinking that whoever is spray painting and stabbing has been watching that video too… and that they might have been caught by now if the cops weren’t being held up making sure the OCCUPYers don’t riot. 

And honestly, what gets me most mad about it is the fact that, as a Jew, I know how untrue their accusations are. I mean, come ON! Here we are being accused for someone else’s troubles, when we didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody likes to blamed for something they didn’t do, especially when we could complain about not having enough money as much as any of them. I don’t have a high-paying or even well-paying job, but I take the job I get. I’m not doing what I got my degree in, either, but I do what I can. So I find it really rich to be hearing about how we Jews apparently have it all. 

It’s like that old joke where one Jew finds his friend reading the Neo-Nazi newsletter and demands to know how he could stand to look at that trash. To which his friend replies: “I would read the Yiddish paper, but in that one we’re always being persecuted, anti-Semites are accusing us, our brothers and sisters are starving…whereas in this Neo-Nazi rag, we Jews own the government, we have all the money, we run the media… we’re doing so well!”

Yeah, well, like they say, we laugh to keep from crying. All I know is, my mind is boggled yet again at stupid human behavior, and the same question keeps coming back to me: hey, Angry Vandal… what did I ever do to you? Well, we’re not going to change their minds. All I can hope for is that we might look with slightly wider eyes, and maybe notice that it’s time to put our minor differences aside and band together… if only just a bit.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match

Preface: It is likely that I will offend many people over the course of this post, as it centers on a very delicate and sensitive issue. Know that this is not my intention, and I have made an effort to tone down the sarcasm (if not the cynicism) in an attempt to be respectful. I therefore ask that if you show me the same courtesy. If you disagree with my opinions, keep in mind that they are only opinions; I invite you to share yours respectfully in the comments section below, and we can engage in a calm and rational discussion of ideas. The purpose of this blog is not to inflame or offend, so please don’t take it as such. In addition, I am speaking purely from the guy’s perspective, seeing as I am in fact a guy. I imagine there are plenty of horror stories that women could tell, so one of you should start a blog and write them :) Lastly, this is a spiritual sequel to (stereo)typical, so I suggest you read that first to understand some of the references.

Okay, so last time I put up a real post (i.e. not part of my Diary of a Music Nerd column), I spoke at length about how we perpetuate our own potentially inaccurate stereotypes through what essentially comes down to really bad PR. This time, in direct contrast to that, I’d like to get down to brass tacks, as they say. What I’m about to discuss is a real world problem that absolutely exists, as much as people would like to deny or minimize it, and is completely and totally 100% irrational, as much as people want to justify it. Therefore, without further ado, “Tzvi’s Thoughts and Musings on the 21st century Jewish Matchmaking Process,” or, in short, “Why I Can’t Stand the Modern Shidduch System.”

This isn’t a new topic for me. I wouldn’t say that I’m an outspoken critic of the system, but people who know me know that I don’t like the idea of marrying for practicality instead of love. I think that “well, it could work” is not a good enough reason to spend your life with someone. Granted, the practical aspect must be there because no matter how much you love someone, you’ll be hard pressed to create a life with them if you’re totally incompatible personality-wise. However, that in and of itself is an entirely separate discussion. Maybe I’ll do another follow up if I feel the need, but it’s not really my focus right now. It was important enough to include here though, because it provides the context for what I’m about to say.

Since the beginning of Arbitribe, I’ve brought up many incidents involving my post-high school yeshiva to try and illustrate a point, all of which served as examples about things in the Jewish world that make me angry, and the one I’m about to tell one is no exception. Towards the close of the yeshiva year, right around when everyone gets back from Pessach break, just about every yeshiva makes a big push for their guys coming back for a second year. The ones who want to come back will have already made that decision earlier in the year, and the ones the yeshiva doesn’t want back (like me) would be left to their own devices, leaving the undecided to be persuaded to return. Generally the rosh yeshiva will call on the rabbis to corner the guys they’re closest with and have a “friendly chat” about coming back, because hey, food needs to get on the table somehow. However, my yeshiva went one step further, bringing in a well respected rabbi and public speaker to give us that “friendly chat” en masse. The speech took an hour and change, but it can be summarized in a single line: If you don’t go Shana Bet, no one will want to marry you. The first time he dropped that line I actually snorted and fought back a laugh, because wow, this guy is so out of touch with reality it’s scary. Only in later years after many an experience did I learn that what was actually scary about that speech was that he was right on the money, which brings me to my point. Let’s talk a little bit about prioritizing.

I’ve actually taken a look at certain shidduch applications before, out of sheer curiosity, and the amount of utterly useless information required is astounding. In fact, the application from our favorite Jewish matchmaking site is pretty tame by comparison. It makes sense to want to know some things about a prospective date, but to try and know a person from a piece of paper is ridiculous. Some things you can only know from meeting a person, and to refuse to even meet them because they didn’t go Shana Bet is incredibly shortsighted. Imagine that that happened and then turns out the guy didn’t go back for another year because he stayed home to take care of his dying father or something like that. They don’t put those kind of stories on the resume, people. Sometimes you just have to suffer a potentially fruitless date, or several, to really get the picture.

Another pet peeve, one that I touched upon last time, is the overemphasis on physicality. Yes, I truly believe you must be physically attracted to someone in order to have a romantic relationship with them, but to reject a guy because he's 5’8” instead of 6’2” is ridiculous. Are your priorities really that out of order? A guy could be everything you ever wanted sans the blonde hair and you shut him down? Stupid.

All of this is troubling, but the biggest problem in my opinion is the fact that there are so many things that people are concerned about that are just objectively not important. This is something I encounter a lot in the metal community, for example. There are people who won’t talk to you if you listen to metalcore or think Megadeth is better than Metallica. These things simply should just not interfere with your overall relationship with a person. In that same vein, not going out with someone because he’s an Islander fan, doesn’t like waffles, or wears a black velvet kippa instead of a knitted one just doesn’t make sense to me. Those examples sound ridiculous, right? The sad thing is that they’re all COMPLETELY TRUE STORIES! There is a person I know that goes with each of those bad date stories, and the waffles one was actually a girl getting rejected, believe it or not. Things that people base dating decisions on are abnormal. You’re never going to marry a perfect person, so it's better that his flaws include sports team allegiance and headwear choice instead of alcoholism and domestic abuse.

People are always saying stuff about the shidduch crisis, but let’s be honest, we’re doing it to ourselves. There’s a man I know who is too old for the dating game but is still single because he had his standards set so high and his priorities so out of order for so long that he missed all the opportunities. He’s turned that around now, but the selection is obviously not as vast as it could have been 20 years ago when he should have been meeting people. Any issue can be worked around if you are committed enough to the other person and to the relationship, and you can learn to love someone even though they’re not the sculpted Adonis you really wanted. People who go into the experience expecting perfect are deluded and will be sorely disappointed. Then again, I guess that’s exactly what the problem is; people expect their potential partners to be hand-tailored to their specifications, and they don’t budge on anything. That’s a surefire way to stay single. The shidduch crisis is because we can’t get our priorities in order. If you can’t find the man for you, maybe it’s time to lower the unattainable bar you set and take a chance on someone. The things people put so much stock in are just not important; it’s the quality of a person that counts, not her choice of breakfast munchables.

On a happier note, as I write this sentence, Arbitribe has a total of 9,998 total pageviews, so if you’re reading this, YOU might be number 10,000! Congratulations to us! We’re throwing a party, and you’re invited. Until next time, I'm outta here. Midterms await!

Song of the Day: This is the Life – Dream Theater

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Weekday Morning 4 AM: Loyalty

This wasn’t the post I’d intended on writing this week. I had another one all prepared, with cartoons and humorous asides all ready to go, and it was a topic I’m passionate about, and writing it took a lot out of me (as anyone I discussed it with can confirm). But as they say, the universe has other plans, and now I find myself compelled to put aside that much-better written and more controversial post in favor of what is essentially just an ode to loyalty. I can’t help it. What pops into my head stays in until I put it down on keyboard.

Loyalty is an admirable quality, I think we can all agree. And loyalty at the best of times, frankly, shouldn’t even be called that. Because you’re not sticking with someone or something for real unless you can also do it when you’re not on the best terms with them.

I’m not talking about a betrayal, like posting your deepest secrets on facebook or saying nasty things to your friends behind your back. I’m just referring to mild, but still taxing, annoyances: When your friend is bugging the snot out of you with the same issue over and over. When your family is making constant demands. When you find yourself tested by God or by people. That’s when your sense of loyalty (if you’ve got it, of course) shows itself for real. And I got a major test of it this week.

The truth is, I’ve been complaining to some of my closer friends recently about how, if there’s such a thing and if I think I actually merit it, I’m definitely being tested. I know, I know. How much of an inflated ego do I need to think I actually merit a test from God? But as one friend so wisely articulated in a way I couldn’t quite express, even if it’s not meant as a test, it can still be one for she who feels it. It can be testing my patience, my persistence, and my character. But I digress.

Lately I’ve been feeling like every step I take is being graded, kind of like an extended, constant driver’s exam.

And so naturally, I’ve been on an extra sort of guard to make sure I’m doing the right thing, if only so I can sleep at night. It’s a difficult situation at times, and I’m sure I don’t always make the right choices. But I try my best, and most of the time I think I’m doing okay.

I often compare this feeling of being tested to being in a fight with a friend and then having to defend them to someone meaner and much, much smarter than you. Like having a lifelong buddy who you suddenly find yourself at odds with, who you really just want to avoid until things cool off, and out of nowhere there’s someone (usually a friend, not someone you could especially peg as hostile), who in trying to comfort you will declare “I never liked him anyway”, or “Yeah, he always was a bit of a jerk.”

And now you’re stuck. Because here you are, talking to someone who’s sympathetic, and let’s face it, agrees with you. Because even if you’re super close with the person you’re discussing, right now they’re a jerk to you. And probably all you want to do is shoot your mouth off about how betrayed you feel and how awful they are.

But if you do it, you know you’re only going to feel terrible about it later. Besides the whole issue of Lashon Hara, you haven’t given up on your friendship; you’re just going through a rough patch. You haven’t declared them an enemy. And even if you did, does that mean getting so petty as to bash them behind their back?

And then, even if you manage to stick by them and prove your loyalty, there’s the feeling afterward that they should be THANKING you.

But hey, in most such instances they don’t even know what you’ve done. And that makes it even more difficult to stay by their side if they keep annoying you after the initial test has passed.

And that’s a test of loyalty. It’s the test I feel I’ve been on the business end of a lot lately, not so much with people, but with concepts. It’s a little harder to explain loyalty to concepts and philosophies and instincts and beliefs when they’re challenged, because no one can really call you a bad person for bashing an idea, especially one that’s not clearly right or wrong. It’s a test that’s been bugging me for weeks, distracting me during social events and occupying my mind on the train.

But like I said, despite a few lapses and moments of anger, I think I’ve been doing okay. So much so I didn’t think I would need to face this same test on a person-to-person basis so soon, in a way that mattered so much to me.

But this week, sure enough, the Universe decided to up the ante a bit. I suddenly found myself extremely annoyed at someone I’m close to. The reason behind it was fairly stupid. It wasn’t a fight, disagreement, or even a misunderstanding, just an unpleasant surprise in their behavior. Like when you call out to someone that you’re going to jump down to them, and suddenly they get distracted.

Just an instance of a missed catch, and nothing malicious, but enough to be annoying, especially when your relationship isn’t without its tensions in the first place. And then, just a day or two ago came the loyalty test. I’d just been reminded by someone of my annoyance at this person, and was trying to get it out of my head, when I received a call from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while. And they brought up a topic, which let’s just say made it worse. Here, let’s use a cartoonist’s best friend, hypothetical allegory.

To my readers who know me personally, don’t try to figure out who the person is, what they did, and what this offer was. It is absolutely nothing remotely similar to the cartoon. You won’t figure it out, because I haven’t discussed it with anyone, nor will I attempt to now.

Wow, was this test difficult. Much harder than I’d initially thought. In the end, I didn’t fall for the bait, and stuck by my friend despite the fact that the thing I’m annoyed about hasn’t been resolved. And that doesn’t matter, because like time and a swallowed nickel, I know it will pass by itself.

But then why did I come up with this post at 4:30 in the morning, unable to sleep? Why did I wake up out of a nightmare involving this very scenario? Why was I convinced at that moment that I could sense someone there, judging me, like seeing someone out of the corner of your eye or smelling their perfume/cologne?

I have no idea, other than perhaps that I don’t like the idea that I had to be tested in the first place. Maybe I’d thought my relationship with this person was stronger. Maybe because I know that even though I did the right thing now, that’s no guarantee that I always will. Maybe because by sticking by this person now, I’ve effectively shot myself in the foot with someone else, even though that person in this case was wrong, wrong, wrong, and has been wrong before. Loyalty is never as simple or as easy as it seems.

Do the right thing, they say. Well, I think I have. And yet, here I was at 4:30, needing to be up in 3 hours to go to work, and I was agonizing over some sin I hadn't even committed. What am I supposed to say to that? And what to do with it? I guess I've just got to keep on doing what I've been doing, and hope that I continue to make decisions I can be proud of.
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