Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tie me a Jew

I was going to write a quick commentary on my Purim experience hearing Megillat Esther read with a bunch of semi-interested New York Jews, and then sitting down to lunch as a military aviator in the company of a surgeon and a penguin.*

And then a bomb blew up a bus in the middle of Jerusalem, and a person died, and many were wounded, without regard for who they were or what they cared about or whether they'd heard the megillah read at all, and I wondered whether it might not make more sense to focus on the tie that binds us rather than the details the divide us.

That tie: We are Jews. As ties go, this one's a bow tie. It's old-fashioned, it's a bit awkward at times, it's sneered at by the trendy folk (you know, like hipsters) and everyone who wears one has his own style preference, except those who wear one because their circumstances demand it and almost invariably take it in black. And presumably in velvet.

We might focus on our differences and forget how much we have in common, but our enemies never will. Whatever different costumes we don (or don't) year-round and especially this one day a year when we're supposed to celebrate Jewish unity, the people who blew up that bus today would have been happier if we had all been on it. We would do well not to forget it.

Nor to forget the Fogel family who lived in the "illegal settlement" of Itamar -- where the UN declares Jews shall not live -- and who are now dead, thanks to Palestinians who agreed with the UN and, unafflicted by a sense of humanity, saw to it personally.

Nor to forget the Six Million who lived in Europe -- where many people over a long time declared Jews shall not live -- and who are now dead, their existence ended by the Nazis and their demise denied, yet celebrated, by the Palestinians and Iranians and others besides.

Nor to forget the people like Helen Thomas -- may she be entirely forgotten anyway -- who freely, if accidentally, let on that her longstanding hatred of Israel was just a front for her longstanding hatred of Jews.

Let's not forget that we're all on the same bus, and that we just finished celebrating a miraculous combination of events -- God stepping in to save the Jews, and the Jews accepting that they needed to defend themselves by force if they wanted to survive.
"Remember what Amalek did to you along the way, in your exodus from Egypt. That he set upon you on the way and cut down those who lagged behind, when you were worn out and exhausted, and he did not fear God. And it will be, when the Lord your God grants you relief from all of your enemies that surround you in the land that the Lord your God is giving to you as your territory to possess, that you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget." (Devarim 25:17-19)
So let's not.

(Update 3/25: I submit that we also take care not to forget Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away this week. She was a Jew by choice and a Zionist by conviction, and was hated and banned throughout the Arab world as a result. Zichrona l'vracha.)

*The former did not operate on the latter, which was fed well and not harmed in any way, and then drove itself home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Standard Operating Procedure

As per my SOP, I’ve been walking around for something like 2 weeks with a post topic in my head but have not committed any of it to paper until right now, 9:25 PM on post day. This familiar story eventually resolves itself when my muse, Panic, sings to me ever so jarringly and I come up with a post I’m happy with, related to my original idea or not. Extremely stressful as it is at times, it always works. My dad is a business consultant and he always tells me, “For a consultant, one data point is a trend!” but I’ve done even better. The concept of chazakah is basically the Jewish version of third time’s the charm, and lookie here, I’ve got a chazakah on last-minute posting, so that’s pretty much my OK to run the rest of my posts in this fashion.

Thing is, anyone with a modicum of common sense would ask why I keep subjecting myself to this if all it brings me is unnecessary stress. I’ve clearly acknowledged that the way I do this blog thing isn’t the ideal way to do it, so why not try and change my ways instead of taking the success of my faulty system as encouragement? In addition, I do this with my schoolwork all the time and quite often it doesn’t come through in the way I want it to. You’d think a guy could take a hint…

So allow me to rant about being stuck in one’s ways.

People act in a way similar to the law of inertia i.e. objects at rest will stay at rest unless made to move by an outside force, and objects in motion will continue to move unless stopped by an outside force. We as human beings tend to stick to what we know, because what we know is comfortable, and we won’t change unless it is absolutely required of us.

As tantalizing as the prospect is, I can’t really unleash a diatribe on human nature because a) if you couldn’t tell from the intro, I’m pretty much the same way, and the thing I probably detest most in the world is hypocrisy, and b) assaulting the way people behave is assaulting over six-and-a-half billion people; it’s just too grand a scale and nothing productive can be done about it. But I have to rant, ranting is what I do, so what do I do about this? Well, I guess step one is to narrow the scope, and step two is to pick an area of this phenomenon that I don’t fall into….hmmm…BINGO! Got it!

Allow me to rant about Jews being stuck in their ways.

Our wonderful tribe seems to especially struggle with this issue. No, I’m not going to go off on how our religion is perceived by many to be archaic and obsolete and it’s time we dumped the whacko rituals. In fact, I think that’s utter idiocy and if people would realize that Judaism isn’t a religion but rather a lifestyle designed to make you a good, God-fearing person, they wouldn't be saying stuff like that. It’s unfortunate that many if not most Jews don’t see it as such, and that’s precisely what I’m so bothered by.

As Daniel and I have riffed on before, perfectly normal, wonderful, good-hearted people are turned away from a community because they wait three hours instead of six, follow a different hechsher, or wear colored shirts on Shabbat. It stems primarily from a difficulty accepting what’s different, I think. People as a whole naturally feel threatened by what is different, and that’s okay, but Jews, especially in New York, if my experiences count for anything, take it to a whole new level. They (and I use that word purposely, as I consider myself to not be among the number who reject based on appearance and custom) are so focused on what is different about the different people that they fail to recognize the similarities between them. On an even simpler level, they fail to see that the subject of their rejection is overall just a good person that they would otherwise get along wonderfully with. It begins to manifest itself in ugly, ugly ways that probably don’t do any good for our global reputation. Though the fact that I don’t put much stock in the world view of Jews is well documented, someone somewhere out there probably thinks that’s important.

A story comes to mind along with that thought though. The summer of 2008, I was in Israel on a summer program giving essentially what was my last ditch effort at making Judaism a part of my life. Obviously, it worked, but what happened in this story could have turned me away completely had I chosen to take it way to seriously. On a free afternoon, I went to visit my post-high school (2006-2007 academic school year) yeshiva that, for reasons soon to be made obvious, will not be mentioned by name. I hadn’t seen or spoken to any of my Rabbeim since I left in mid-June 2007, so I figured it would be nice to pop by for an hour or two and catch up with everyone. I walked into the main building in a polo shirt, shorts, and sandals, as I had just come from a walking tour of the Old City, and this is a mid-heat wave Israeli summer we’re talking about here aka 100+ degrees. I figured given the circumstances it wouldn’t be a problem showing up in shorts and sandals to a place with a strict button-down shirt and pants dress code, but therein lies the rub.

Long story short, I was looked upon and spoken to with contempt by many of my Rabbeim because I a) had the bitterAUDACITYsarcasm to walk into the building dressed like I was, and b) because I was in Israel on a program that was perceived as “kiruv.” Nevermind that this program changed my life forever, for the better, and kept me Jewish, it’s drippingBENEATHsarcasm a former student of this yeshiva to associate with such a program.


Recalling that story brings me back to that moment when I wanted to tear that hypocritical place down brick by brick and now I’m officially pissed off. So, I’m going to stop. Getting legitimately mad is not what I had in mind when I sat down to write tonight and was most definitely an unintended and unwanted consequence of this post. In the end though, not much else needs to be said here. I figure you all get the point. This is ridiculous; if we’re supposed to be the chosen people then let’s start acting like it, okay? We have enough people all over the world that hate us, we don’t need to hate on each other.

…phew. Sorry about that, things got a little crazy there for a sec. Wouldn’t wanna conclude this thing on a bad note, so I took a break, got a drink, and listened to some Anterior to get the rage out. I feel better now :). But seriously, can we find the strength and wherewithal to break out of our own personal SOPs and maybe embrace someone or something that might not be so comfortable? Maybe then I’ll have a post written before post day…

Song of the Day – Transmigration Macabre -Arch Enemy

Ps. As per my SOP, this was nowhere close to what I was originally going to write about. I wrote the first paragraph and then it kind of wrote itself. Go figure

Sunday, March 6, 2011


In childhood, we all had our monsters. Some were hairy and lived in closets; others were multi-fanged and slept under a bed. We were told as kids that if we ignored them, the monsters would go away, back to whatever tortured chamber of our subconscious they had come from. What grown-ups didn’t tell us was that as we got older, those scary (but at least nighttime-bound) creatures would be replaced by worse ones, specters that would haunt our late teenage-early twenties years day and night, whether we were asleep or awake.

They never warned us about the BSF.

Now, as we enter adulthood, so many of my peers and I are plagued by questions of the future. We were led to believe that if we were polite to grown-ups, followed the rules, worked hard instead of watching TV, and brought home good grades, these questions would practically answer themselves. But I’ve found that the questions of what am I going to do and who will be there with me while I do it can strike at any time…

…And without so much as a blink transform themselves into uncontrollable, drooling monsters the likes of which I have never had to face before. The future has become the BIG SCARY FUTURE.

The BSF. The haunter of any college grad’s nightmares.

You can recognize the BSF by its two heads, the Drooling Head of Love and Marriage and the Sharp-Beaked Head of Career (also known as the What-The-#$%&-Are-You-Doing-With-Your-Life Head).

The scariest part about the BSF is that is cannot be fought off. If you ignore it, you risk turning into a character to be played by Seth Rogen (also starring a 40-year-old Michael Cera). Eventually, you must face this monster with every weapon you’ve acquired over the years. The problem with this is that you have little-to-no way of knowing which weapons will be effective, or if the only way past the BSF is sheer, dumb luck.

In facing the Love/Marriage Head (recognizable by its distinctive gold ring and constant drooling), I’ve gotten every form of advice from “attend more parties” to “grow your hair” to “wear more/less makeup” to “don’t think about it and it will drop into your lap.” So far, the monster keeps roaring in my face, and its breath stinks. So far, I’ve watched many of my friends tame it with varying levels of effort, from “bat my eyelashes and I’m taken” to “this is my sixteenth Shidduch date and at least he’s tolerable.”

As for the Career Head (with its sharp features and under-eye bags), I’m armed with a little more: a few part-time jobs, an internship or two, references from kind people, and a shiny new college degree. However, it seems that the monster has built up a resistance to this type of weaponry, considering that every knight it faces nowadays is armed with exactly the same things, especially in a city like New York.


Our battle with the BSF can wage for months, even years, and between our weekend attempts at meeting new people and our scores of cover letter/resume combos, we still have to live our daily lives, whether we attend school, wait tables, or take advantage of the pause in life progress to try the programs we know we’ll never have time for again once the BSF has been defeated.

There come moments in this day-to-day living where we may decide: forget it, I’ll defy convention. Let’s start our own path, our own way to dodge the BSF. Travel! Start a business! Inherit billions! Become a reality superstar! This discovery is elating. You may feel like you want to shove your new method in the faces of all the other yuppies with their suits and ties, and sing defiant anthems from the rooftops. This is ill-advised.

Whether or not the action is metaphorical, shoving your plans at other people while screeching My Chemical Romance will get you egged.

Whatever you do (especially if your battle with the BSF has, like mine, forced you to take repeated trains to Flatbush), never wait for public transportation in the rain, in Brooklyn, while listening to Radiohead.

I don’t care if you’re the most cheerful, luckiest person alive. Trips to Brooklyn in bad weather accompanied by depressing alternarock will turn you suicidal. And it will take many comforting phone calls, multiple favorite movies, and several types of pie to get you out of that funk.

If you do decide to face the BSF in your every waking hour, whether by job searching full-time or studying for big tests and kissing professor butt, beware. Tackling one head can often weaken your fight against the other. And even if it doesn’t, occasions like this may arise:

If this happens, no one will care how stressed you are or how good your intentions. You have become a jerk, the opposite of the admirable time-organizer/prioritizer I discussed back in December.

I think it’s safe to say that at some point, we’ve all tried almost every one of these approaches to dealing with our impending future. And as Jews, we may feel the added pressure of knowing that we’re expected to answer these questions sooner than we thought. 22 is very, blissfully young. I’ve heard that statement more often than I’ve heard advertisements guarantee satisfaction or my money back. And yet at times I feel like I can see 30 rounding a corner. I can name at least a dozen girls I know who were married before 21, and many more friends of mine who seem to have found their perfect job/mate/apartment/sword to slay the BSF. We seem to have forgotten that we’re still at the beginning of our journey.

On bad days, this thought depresses me, and I have to resort to one of the above methods of distraction (wipes tomato off face and accepts pudding sheepishly). But on better ones, I can remember, with a deep breath and a smile, that worrying about it now will not allow me to tame the BSF any sooner, and I decide to enjoy the time I have (I think that link illustrates my point better than I do, and the song partly inspired this post).

Because no matter what, I’ll have to meet the BSF eventually. Hopefully, I won’t have to fail in too many attempts before I finally stroll, victorious into the sunset. And having typed this, I realize that this sentence alone gives me reason to hope, because despite my fears and nightmares, I still see myself coming away from it happy, having found what I’m looking for, even if it’s only a long while from now.

And that can only mean I haven’t let the BSF beat me yet.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thoughts from a College Student Freaking Out About Internships

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This was the question that was posed to me most often as a child. As a college student applying for internships, this is something I ponder every day.

Things were rather humdrum at home in a suburb of New York City during my childhood. I was bored to tears. I always wished for grander horizons and went through various phases at different points. I wanted to be a television newscaster, a pirate, own an art gallery in Italy, write movies and own a zoo at various intervals of my kiddie-hood.

I’ve always found myself on the outside looking in at societal groups everywhere I go. They say to never underestimate the perspective of an outsider. Thus, I find myself these days looking at a future in marketing. If one is on the outside peering in, one can look at the situation without the usual biases. Outsiders have the uncanny ability of being to figure out what makes others tick, what attracts them, what will entice them like a moth is enticed by a flame.

I thank you, Jews of New York, for being so filled with attitude even against your fellow Jew that I have gaped on in disbelief on the fringes of the community my entire life. I thank you, modern era, for being so coarse that I wish I lived in any other time period. And I thank you, internet, for being there when I needed you and shaping my nonmainstream tastes.

And most of all, Creator, thank you for making the Jews of New York so full ‘o ‘tude and placing me in time period when the common man is so uncouth and the internet so gloriously quirky that these circumstances shaped my nontraditional personality. Being on the outskirts has its benefits. It is going to give me my livelihood.

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