Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why is this cheeseburger different from all other cheeseburgers?

Disclaimer: I do not eat cheeseburgers, even on matzah.

There are a lot of semi-inexplicable phenomena in the Jewish world, particularly on Passover. Notably, rice and beans are completely kosher-for-Passover and staples of Sephardi holiday cuisine but nonetheless, for reasons of dubious and long-expired relevance, may not be eaten on Passover by Ashkenazim. This custom is, in the words of Leviticus, an abomination.

And then there are the nuts who, for reasons of perceived piety and poor education, won't let their matzah get wet lest it miraculously re-bake itself into chametz. This concept is known only by its Yiddish name, gebrochts, because it is so silly and useless a custom that no other language was willing to waste a word on it. Besides, the notion that what is already risen might yet rise again seems more pertinent to, you know, Easter.

At this point I will NOT make a comment about this explaining why Chabad types are so careful not to eat gebrochts. Err... darn it, that just kinda leaked out.

Anyway, the preceding ridiculousnesses are primarily orthodox Ashkenazi ridiculousnesses and are less interesting than they are peculiar and dumb. What is truly fascinating -- what is to my mind the most inexplicable of semi-inexplicable Passover phenomena -- is the way in which less-religious Jews relate to the holiday and its food rules.

A case in point, which kinda sums up the entire spectrum of secular approaches to the holiday: My secular Israeli boss is particularly partial to cheeseburgers but, on Passover, won't eat the bun.

On a halachic level this actually makes sense, since the rules about chametz on Passover are arguably stricter than the rules about not eating [cow] meat [topped, not cooked,] with cheese [made of the milk of a different cow that was, in any event, most likely not its mother].

And yet it's absolutely remarkable, not least for its regularity, that so many Jews who otherwise do not keep kosher at all suddenly, and semi-inexplicably, and often very strictly, begin to do so when Passover rolls around.

Speaking of Passover rolls, they're gebrochts, and they're awesome.

Lest anyone get the wrong impression, I am not belittling those who follow some rules and not others (like, for example -- since honesty is the best policy -- me and you and every other good Jew I believe I've ever met).

I just think it's infinitely interesting, and completely cool, that so many different kinds of Jews continue to have such strong traditions in common. Even if I don't really understand why.

As for me, some day I will eat rice at my seder(s). But right now, I have two more days to crumble matzah into my chicken soup and I'm gonna make the best of them.

Chag sameach!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Diary of a Music Nerd

Remember last month when my post started with an innocent thought on last-minute panic and by the end had turned into a rage-filled rant on the closed-mindedness of the majority of Jews worldwide? Ahhhhh, good times.

If you recall that then you might recall how in the postscript I mentioned that the tirade I had unleashed was nowhere remotely close to what I had originally planned on writing about; I made it halfway through the first paragraph and, like a 21st century Dr. Frankenstein, watched with a strange mix of horror and joy as my creation developed a life and consciousness of its own. The end result was an arbitrary diatribe on the tribe that I had had no intention of writing but actually turned out pretty well. Hey…arbitrary diatribe on the tribe… there should be a word for that or something…

Anyhow, the point of this is that I’d like you all to mentally copypaste the first two sentences from my March post, Standard Operating Procedure, into the beginning of this post, and God willing I will actually talk about the topic I had planned on talking about last month.

So let’s talk about music.

I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone. Those that know me know my obsession with music, and I’m sure me linking to an average of two songs per post has not been lost on our regular readers (ps. I link to those songs for a reason. They're all awesome and you should at least check them out). It was really only a matter of time before this was going to happen, and I assure you all that this will definitely not be the last, second-to-last, or even fifth-to-last time you will get a post from me about music. That being the case, I figure it makes sense that the first in a string of posts on music should be about my relationship with music and what it means to me.

Those who have driven in a car with me when I’m on music duty know I am notorious for insisting that the iPod stay on shuffle. If you want to hear a specific song, seven or eight times out of ten I will simply not allow it. The explanation is simple: I listen to such a broad range of musical styles and genres (and more than a few bands that some might not even consider music) and I like to revisit and re-expose myself to those tunes buried among the four-and-a-half thousand on my iPod. That’s the thing about shuffle: you never know what’s going to come up, which is why it’s so exciting when a song I haven’t heard in a while is suddenly blasting through my car speakers.

This shuffle method ensures some runs of three or four songs in a row that just “shouldn’t” be on the same iPod. It seems people have trouble getting their heads around how I can have Behind These Hazel Eyes by Kelly Clarkson sandwiched between Anti-Venom by USS and Shadows and Dust by Arch Enemy, but to me it’s pretty simple. My relationship with music is pretty straightforward: I like what moves me. There you go, it’s not that complicated. No matter what it is, a guitar riff, a vocal melody, the way the drummer mixes it up with the toms and cymbals instead of relying on the standard kick-snare-hi hat combo, as long as it hits me in a certain way, I’ll listen to the song. You see, music to me is all about how it moves you and how it moves through you. If you can find something in a piece of music that you can connect with, listen to the song. Who knows, maybe you’ll develop a taste for the genre. That’s how it was for me and heavy metal (although I do agree that metal is an acquired taste, but more on that in a later post).

Case in point: in late February I was on my way to a concert with my good friend and one-time Arbitribe guest blogger The Ginger Man. We intended to show up late because we really didn’t care for the opening bands on the bill, but despite our best efforts (including a 15 minute jam out in the Herald Square N stop on our way down after we found a subway band playing there. They’re called You Bred Raptors? And they’re AWESOME! Check ‘em out) we still showed up in time for Winds of Plague. Ugh. I didn’t enjoy most of the set and in fact was making my best effort to hate it but even I found myself involuntarily rocking out during some parts. It was just natural; the music was moving me.

So there you have it, an introduction to my thoughts on music; just a short something to open things up. Clearly this will be a running theme so I see no need to go crazy with this one as I will have plenty of time to elaborate and respond to comments in later posts. Which reminds me: in case you didn’t pick up on this already, I’m pretty fanatical about music, what one might call a music nerd, and so I’m totally down for discussion if anyone wants to. I love this stuff.

Stay tuned for further thoughts and ramblings on the subject, such as music as a musician, music as a Jew, and music as a metalhead! And have an awesome, happy, healthy, meaningful Pessach! NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!!!

Song of the Day: Dea Pecuniae - Pain of Salvation

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Question, Many Answers

Note: Apologies for the weakness of today's cartoon post. The past week has been filled with family affairs and family members, and most recently, a hacking, snotty cold. Barring any further diseases, next post should be much more entertaining. But on we go.

We humans are a curious bunch. As such, we ask questions (we even have an upcoming holiday celebrating the practice!). Sometimes, we think to ourselves that these questions are simple enough. Surely they can be answered in a sentence or two (Anyone who has ever had a Gemarah class or sat at a Pesach seder has made this mistake). There are never any quick answers. There are sarcastic ones. There are lengthy ones. There are one that mean another hour between you and the Seder meal. And of course, the answer more often than not depends on who you ask.

During my year in Israel, that fragile, reckless time between high school and college, my friends and I tried out a lot of things we hadn't done before. No, not drugs, and not dangerous amounts of alcohol. Our experiments were on the safer side. One friend got her ears double-pierced. I dyed my hair purple (more on that in a later post, bli neder).

We also decided to try some new holiday traditions. For instance, when Purim came along, one of my suite-mates decided to forgo giving Mishloach Manot to our friends and instead created packages to hand out at the Kotel. I decided to tag along for the old-city distribution. This being Purim, of course, my dear pal decided to paint herself a delightful (if nauseating and slightly blinding) shade of orange, glue orange balloons to her belt, and parade around wearing an equally blinding sweatshirt featuring the blazing proclamation:

As we walked down the streets of Jerusalem, the whole old city was filled with people celebrating Purim in their own, semi-destructive ways. Little kids in costumes were hopped up on sugar and giving their parents hell. American exchange students were playing drinking games and getting passed-out, stinking drunk on benches. And tourists were, as always, taking pictures of the students who were getting passed-out, stinking drunk on benches and marveling at how colorful and cleaned-up the hobos were in this country.

On we walked, stepping around hyper little kids and tourists, when suddenly, a man stopped us. He stared intently at my friend’s sweatshirt for what seemed like a full minute, before looking her in the face and responding “Why not?”

Of course people will answer a rhetorical sweatshirt. This was Israel, and this was Purim. And for the rest of our walk, we were stopped every few minutes without fail by someone’s brilliant answer to the sweatshirt’s neverending question.

The drunk Yeshiva student:

The confused German tourist:

The young Israeli mother:

And the remarkably dignified:

Clearly, this was a guy who would be calling in sick for the rest of week in order to nurse a hangover and delete embarrassing Facebook photos. Ahhh, Purim.

It was a funny and interesting afternoon. And this year, I had another occasion to discover how one statement can get an amusing variety of answers. Sometime in late fall, when the days got cold and dark, and Seasonal Affective Disorder kicked in, I found myself frequenting the same uncomfortable symptoms.

I told several of my loved ones of my complaints, hoping for one easy answer. HA, naivete. My Psych-major best friend immediately responded with:

And so I asked various members of my family, who included the practical, center of the household:

And the natural-health-conscious:

I suppose these answers weren’t particularly funny (I should have asked a drunk friend for a more amusing one), but I still found it interesting.

But what drove home the concept of how one question leads to many, varied answers, depending on who's listening, was when I finally asked the expert in my family: the real doctor, who answered with a deadpan:

Okay. Maybe there are some simple answers.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ye Olde School Days

I spent twelve scarring years in Modern Orthodox yeshivot in the New York area. I could gripe about numerous aspects of our educational system, but today, I am going to pinpoint a particular area with which I am rather disgusted: the teachers themselves.

What brings on this rant nearly three years out of high school? My younger sister is on the cusp of graduating from high school and her daily anecdotes are bringing back harsh memories. Boy, will I be glad when she’s finished with that place and we never have to deal with the sheer stupidity and ignorance thrust in our faces on a daily basis ever again. But for now, I feel the need to detoxify.

During my elementary and high school years, I was forced to endure teachers who were, well, not the sharpest knives in the drawer. They were (mostly) well-meaning, but poorly chosen to teach impressionable children.

The problems were mostly in the fact that they were incredibly sheltered Bais Yaakov imports with no college education hired to teach in what was supposed to be a Modern Orthodox yeshiva, and that they all seemed to have very limited vocabularies. The word nerd in me was horrified.

Antagonistic and mighty peeved, I took full advantage of having more both more word knowledge and more worldly knowledge than my teachers.

I was asked to give definitions of words I used during class discussion, including “nonsectarian.” Apparently, nothing but Jewishness exists in their little world. Ridiculous.

One particular high school Tanach teacher of mine attempted to begin a hate-fest on different religions. She informed us of their worthlessness and called them “secular religions.”

Free speech is wonderful, ethnocentrism is not. Furthermore, “secular religions” can’t really exist unless one is worshipping Lenin as the founder of Communism or similar. XD

When I raised my hand to ask my teacher to stop bad-mouthing different religions because I come from an ethnically diverse family where many religions are celebrated, she covered my mouth with her hand. Gross.

Why 21-year-old baby-incubators from the Black Hat community would be hired in a Modern Orthodox school in the first place is beyond me. Was the administration attempting to tell us our modern ways were false and we should revert back into the days of the shtetl?

Where is the logic, people, where?

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