Wednesday, February 23, 2011

As you would have them do

Thus said the sage Hillel:

אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי?
If I'm not for myself, who is; if I'm only for myself, who am I; and if not now, when?

דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד...
If you don't like something, don't do it to someone else...

In short, Hillel understood the human condition, and had mad lyrical skillz to boot.

It is said of him that during his years in New York he was very kind to homeless people and helped innumerable old ladies across uncountable streets, but that he was shooed out of every shul he wandered into because his style of Judaism seemed a little quaint and, frankly, he dressed funny (Babylonian sandals are SO BCE).

So, as the story goes, Hillel grabbed a quill and jotted down some thoughts. They were as follows:

"Man, is it cold here. I mean the people -- no one smiles at anyone they don't know, no one takes time to talk to anyone they don't know, people pay a cashier for lunch and have a bus driver drive them home and never once really stop to look at either of them. And I wish I could say the Jews are better, and to some degree they are, but they seem more interested in explaining why they're not like the other Jews than they do in realizing why they are. And I need, need, need to swap these sandals for some Babylonian winter boots before it snows again."

He then walked into a Starbucks and tried to order a latte. Chaos ensued, and he was promptly exiled ("Again," he sighed.) from the orthodox community to the Conservative community, which eyed him suspiciously because he seemed a little too... well... orthodox, and having him there made some of the more progressive members uncomfortable.


If we don't take care of ourselves, who will? But if we take care of ourselves more than we take care of others around us, what kind of people are we?

And if we don't start now to be the kind of people we should be... when exactly will we?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Different, Yet the Same

The great thing about today is that it happened three weeks ago.

Allow me to explain.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to hit massive writer’s block day-of-post and stress about it endlessly until the pressure itself ends up serving as the source material. At that point, it all comes together on its own. Be it a conversation or a song (Devin Townsend is serving as my muse at the current moment. Song: Life), something sparks inspiration in me sometime during classic “Tzvi’s last-minute panic” and the whole thing pretty much writes itself.

Contrary to those other times, the inspiration for this one came to me about three weeks early, and, save for a few edits and last minute thoughts, this post was finished back in January. Don’t you love when that happens? Now if only I could finagle that for my schoolwork…

Anyways, the point of all this is that I’m pretty excited that I got this worked out early, so without further ado, this week’s spark:

(Yes, you should watch it before you continue reading; it’s the source material for this post, duh)

This video was sent to me by a close friend of mine, not because of its important message but because she and I know the guy with the black beard and newsboy cap at the 23 second mark. However, as soon as I saw it, I knew one of the four of us had to write something about it. A day later, Daniel touched on it in his post, but I still felt the need to say something because this is an idea I’m very much connected to. In addition, if you have ever read our “About Page” you would recognize the video as relevant to the main gripe we at Arbitribe have with the Jewish community in our beloved New York and many Jewish communities around the globe: the “us and them” mentality that has pervaded the Jewish world.

Honestly, I’m not sure what about the video speaks more clearly on this issue. Is it the fact that the faces of 23 Jews spanning across the entire gamut of our religion are displayed within 42 seconds of each other? Maybe it’s it the fact that they all seem happy to be there?

Is it the song, which preaches love in good times and bad, through thick and thin, reminiscent of wedding vows?

Or is it that final, possibly horrifying statistic, and its accompanying visual? 14 million Jews out of a world population of 6.6 billion, surrounded by anti-Semitism on all sides, and yet we can’t find peace and acceptance within our own tribe. Too often is a perfectly wonderful person turned away at the door for having too colorful a kippah, or some similar nonsense; a person judged by their garb, disliked because he/she is different.

In the end, what it comes down to is this simple fact that I mentioned in my first post: a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Chasid, “hippie,” irreligious, Modern Orthodox, or whatever, it makes no difference. We must love other Jews for who they are, not for what they do or how they do it. We are less than 0.3% of the world’s population, a small family. Despite our differences, let's learn to love and respect each other.

Song of the Day: Blackened - Metallica

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Greatly Exaggerated Explanation for Starbucks’ Kosher Issues

Note: For reasons of writer's boredom, the following blog post blows the political importance of Starbucks Frappuccinos completely out of all proportion. It probably does the same thing with pretty much everything else while we're at it.

A little while ago, when Starbucks had just released a new holiday flavor, I decided I wanted to try this new drink and made my way to one of the many coffee shops in Manhattan. I had no idea whether this drink was Kosher or not, and the handy-dandy informative website hadn’t yet formed an opinion either way on this particular flavor. So, left to my devices, I chose my remaining option and asked to see the syrup bottle.

I didn't actually say that, but I did want to. I don't think he would have gotten the joke, anyway. But it seems simple, almost comically so, for the barista to bring over the bottle of artificial flavoring for inspection. Sometimes this will happen. This time, it didn’t.

Instead, the barista thought this was something a higher power had to decide and left the counter to get the manager, who (thank you, merciful Hashem) not only knew what I was talking about but also knew the answer to my query. In this particular case, the flavor WAS Kosher, as I was able to determine when the barista at long last let me see the label.

Now was that so difficult?

I’m sure others have endured similar experiences. This type of soul-sucking exchange with underpaid baristas has the added bonus of almost always happening during Starbucks’ busiest hours, so that all the impatient caffeine junkies on line now know for certain that they are being held up by some Jew who insists on seeing a little mark on a label. And why, dear caffeine junkies, are we holding you up with such a trivial request? Not because we want to, believe it. This time, it’s not our fault. It is a long and sad tale.

Once upon a time, not so long ago (I think I was starting college), Frappuccinos were in every New Yorker’s hand, no matter their background, no matter their level of conspiracy theorism. Remember that?

The blended 5,000 calorie slurp/dessert/beverage was the great uniter of the nations. The creamy, cold, over-caffeinated, occasionally chunky treat we were all ashamed to pay four dollars to drink (not that this ever stopped anyone).

And then last winter the news came from the Rabbis of Kosher Land, “We can no longer recommend Frappuccinos as Kosher”. The base, apparently, had been changed to include lard, animal rennet, and chicken blood. Or it must have been, because I don’t know why else it should randomly have joined the Religious Jew’s “Dead to me” list.

Naturally, not a month later Starbucks launched its “make your own Frappuccino” campaign, and caffeine-starved Jews everywhere could only look on with their noses pressed to the window of their nearest Starbucks until they were chased away by broom-wielding baristas.

Going back further, Pumpkin Spice Lattes were all the rage come autumn. As a certified fall-flavor nut, I also clambered to the green- and –white marked watering hole the moment I heard this flavor was back in production. And then that too was treif-listed. The same story goes with White Chocolate Mocha, my sister’s personal favorite, and Java Chip, and many other Starbucks Staples.

Every time this occurs, you can hear a thousand Jewish college students scream. And after the collective cry of anguish, there comes a lull, followed by one delayed-reaction screech when Mr. Last-To-Hear walks in with a steaming cup of flavored Joe, only to be told by everyone in the room, “Dude, that stuff’s treif”. Heartbreak and the embarrassment which comes with having just committed a Kashrut snafu in front of everyone ensue.

This has happened at least once to I’m pretty sure everyone, myself included. And it is just awful.

So why does Starbucks seem to possess the insatiable need to take away our favorite treats?For the sake of humor and making myself feel better, I have devised a thoroughly nonsensical but nonetheless borderline amusing reason for Starbucks’ sudden change in Kashrut stance. If this somehow turned out to be something other than total fiction, I would laugh and laugh and tell everyone I called it, then call animal control. Oh big coffee giants, do not be offended by my little joke. It’s called a consolation quip.

I am told I can look at this one of two ways: either the company is sadistic and just hates us (but enough people are like that and this is not the view I choose to follow), or the universe is trying to teach us something.

And on that note, Starbucks’ cruel removal of my Kosher latte flavor made me, for the first time, appreciate something I had until then taken for granted and resented often: college.

You see, the Starbucks on my campus seems to have not gotten the memo. Its ingredients are generic brand, and I’m not entirely sure why they’re considered a Starbucks at all, but they are, and their pumpkin spice flavor syrup by generic company A is KOSHER! So for the first time, I have grown to appreciate the existence of my particular college (not college in general, which I acknowledge is a good thing).

So there we have it. By depriving and frustrating us, this large and caffeine-pumped franchise is really trying to teach us a lesson.

Fellow Kosher-keepers, enjoy life. Never take anything for granted, and take pleasure in the little things while you can, because someday, Starbucks is going to get bored and take it away from you.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Two people meet in the throes of adolescence, each one out of place with their alien surroundings.

They hide in the same spot. As luck would have it, instead of secluding themselves, they have each found a kindred spirit.

Words spill out, each mouth desperate for someone to understand.

Turns out, the two speak the same language.

An outlet has finally been found.

Time and circumstances separate the two, but not all hope is lost.

What to do? Simple. Merely keep in touch.

And if you wish to leave the friendship in the past, be blunt. Speak your mind. Uncertainty is cruel.

The tug of war this results in causes too much frustration and anguish. If you want to leave certain people, places and experiences in the past, be my guest. Just don't be ambiguous.

I have experienced this in so many different forms lately. I know the nature of time is to change things. Sooner or later, the natural order of the universe takes hold. People grow up and grow apart and lose touch, while others are brought into your life.

Empty spaces are filled by new entities. Just let the order of the universe take its course.

Sometimes, you just need to let things be. Like picking up the pieces of a broken mirror, you are in danger of cutting yourself on the sharp edges of a shattered friendship. Come to think of it, friends are like mirrors of ourselves, in fact. We befriend those we view as mirror images. New mirrors are possible to find. Walk away from the broken ones, they hold too much danger.

And so for anybody else out there who feels like they are being left out in the cold by those who they once thought were kindred spirits, I say to you, just give it time. The universe works itself out.

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