Thursday, October 27, 2011

Diary of a Music Nerd: Mabool

Okay, so first things first I guess, I’m going to explain exactly what we’re doing here.

Regular readers know well enough my obsession with music, and it makes make an appearance in some form at least once in my regular posts in the form of Song of the Day. Worry not though; this column won’t replace that feature, and you will still get clued in on my daily soundtrack at the end of each post. This is merely an expansion, a creative outlet if you will, so that I can post about music whenever I want, though probably at least once every two weeks. I’m still undecided about the exact schedule, but there’s time to figure that out later so I’m not going to worry about it now. Also, since we're still working on the design of the blog, this column will be posted on the main page until Aliza and I figure out how to create a section on the blog I can continually update, as opposed to the About page or the Q&A. When we find a way to do it, these will all go there, but until then please bear with us.

As far as topics go, music. That’s it. Whatever is on my mind at the time that’s related to music is fair game, whether it be a review or discussion on an album I’m really enjoying, or why I believe that heavy metal can absolutely be for everyone (that’s what I have lined up for next time by the way). Really, that’s the singular guideline. Keeping that in mind, I guess one can consider Diary of a Music Nerd and Jewsic prequels to this column, especially given that the former post provided the column’s name. These posts will generally be shorter (YES THEY WILL) than my regulars, except obviously for this one, due to the two paragraphs I’ve written introducing the column.

Okay, now that we’ve got the mandatory official business out of the way, let’s talk music! This week, I bring you the biblical flood. No, really. Welcome to Mabool week everyone!

There’s an Israeli metal band I mentioned in Jewsic named Orphaned Land (first encountered by yours truly circa 2007) that in 2004 released an album called Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven. At its core, it tells the story of the biblical flood, but vocalist Kobi Farhi and the gang have taken some serious artistic liberties with the tale. Actually, they’ve done more than that; they’ve fused several tales together.

The basic story the album tells is one of the Seventh (seven is a mystical reference to God), who was split into three angels that represent the three religions of the descendants of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The angels were forbidden to unite, yet they did so anyways and were immediately cast down to earth to fight each other until they could prove themselves worthy of re-entry into heaven. All this is said in the lyrics of the first song. I’m not sure if this is from the Kaballah or anything, but it seems like a pretty accurate allegory for what’s going on these days. The interesting thing is that Orphaned Land's message is about the three getting along and coexisting, so I think the concept of this track serves to further convey that message.

Where the story starts to get biblical is when the angels try to convince humanity that a flood will destroy them all unless they repent from their sinful ways. They fail in this quest and the flood comes and destroys the earth.

The album itself is made of 12 songs totaling just over an hour in length. The first I already described, and the next seven songs deal with the sins of man, the punishment God will send, the angels’ unheeded warnings, and the construction and boarding of the ark. A personal favorite from those songs is The Kiss of Babylon, arguably the heaviest track on the album, which has some awesome crunchy guitars, some great back and forth between Kobi and Shlomit Levi, who provides all the female vocals on the album, and a keyboard bit that will forever remind me of the old Wario games on Gameboy. Another favorite is Norra El Norra, the track I mentioned in Jewsic that got banned from my friend’s Shabbat table, which a reimagining of an old Sefardi pizmon that creates the perfect mix of traditional Jewish “niggun” and metal anthem. The album opener is also quite good, a seven minute piece that sets the stage musically and lyrically for the rest of the album, but where the album really shines is on the last 4 songs, which combine to form a 23 minute epic about the flood itself.

Track nine, The Calm Before the Flood, is a haunting yet beautiful acoustic guitar driven instrumental piece that gives off an aura of exactly what the title suggests: the tension, disquiet, and despair before an impending storm. It then leads into Mabool, the title track, which starts off as a string piece and then transitions into a heavy, growl laden crusher of a song that still holds its own melodically. Lyrically, the song describes the power and destruction of the flood, with sounds of thunder and rain running in the background. Interspersed throughout the verses are quotes from the actual text of the Torah read by Kobi. This song then bleeds into my favorite track on the album, The Storm Still Rages Inside. This nine minute song has relatively few vocal parts, and when Kobi steps back from the microphone, you can really hear the band shine. Soaring acoustic guitar and string melodies combine with a crushing main riff, creating a song that’s equal parts heavy and melodic. The guitar leads in the middle are not too overpowering to overshadow the rest of the instruments, but they still showcase lead guitarist Yossi Sassi’s talent. The song ends with a prayer to God, chanted by an all female choir, asking Him to help his people to dry land since “the storm still rages inside.” This fades into the album closer, Rainbow (The Resurrection), which is another acoustic instrumental featuring the Oud, a traditional Middle Eastern guitar-like instrument, that, in direct contrast to The Calm Before the Flood, sounds hopeful, as if the music is signaling that the time to rebuild has come. If you have 20 minutes to kill and you like music, which I imagine you do since you’re here reading my music column, I highly suggest listening to those four songs one after the other, as they truly form a masterpiece.

Overall, this album is spectacular, and now is the time to be listening to it, as Parshat Noach is this week. Hell, a few friends and I have a tradition to do so. If you like metal, melody, and Middle Eastern influences, I highly suggest picking it up at your earliest convenience.

So this concludes my first post as a music reviewer/blogger, and since this is the first time I’ve done this, I am totally open to any constructive criticism, since I’d like to make this as good as possible. So here’s to a good week and more music happenings soon!

“Lord pray tell save thy child
The storm still rages inside
Lord guide them
Unto a dry land, Amen.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Social Side-Effects of Elbows and Knees


Note: Halachic holdings presented here are the ones I was taught in school, and are by no means the ones you were taught in school. 

Here’s a topic that’s going to get me yelled at, I’m sure, so let me preface by stating for the record that I think Halachic Modesty, aka Tzniut, is a good idea. And in fact, the practice is great too, especially in our modern, instant-gratification era when girls are encouraged at younger ages to dress like they forgot half their shirt at home. There are few things so meaningless and yet so enraging to me as seeing the Halloween costumes meant for women and girls, which aren’t so much costumes as Day-Glo polyester lingerie.

So honestly, I love that we Jew-girls are encouraged to leave some things to the imagination, and to dazzle our audience with our words and wits instead. But I wouldn’t be an Orthodox New Yorker if I didn’t get annoyed from time to time with covering myself from this labeled point to that labeled point, especially during the warmer months or when the fashion gods in Bryant Park have declared knee-length skirts persona non grata.

Let me just say: this is not a discussion of Halacha. You can leave Halacha out of it completely, if you'd like. My difficulties with Tzniut have little to do with the law and practice and more to do with... let's just call them social side-effects. You’ve got the divisive war between skirts and pants (which, due to the sheer length of this post, will be discussed at a later date), and today’s topic: the overemphasis on the Almighty Inch.

Most schools I’ve attended and circles I’ve personally socialized in encourage girls to generally cover their upper arms and legs up to their knees. Some mention has been given to covering collarbones, but most agree that necklines should generally steer clear of being…distracting. Others have different holdings and dress differently, but most of the girls I know dress along similar lines. Not because they’re not individuals, but because they’ve near-perfected the balance between dressing modestly and looking stylish with what I’ve heard people refer to as the Stern Style: Long sleeves layered over a crewneck, jean skirt just covering the knees, leggings underneath to further obscure the legs (and to prevent freezing come February).


It’s an admirable, nice style. Although for the life of me, I can’t figure out where they get those jean skirts. I haven’t been able to find one that covers my knees sitting since the nineties. When I was ten.   

But let’s face it. That’s a standard not everyone can keep. Some people won’t, but others, like me and many others I know, have varying body shapes that mean we just can’t rely on the same stores and rules. A woman with very long legs might have a hard time finding a skirt that covers her knees. A heavier girl’s clothes might cling a little tighter. A narrow-hipped woman’s skirt might ride up when she sits. And that’s okay. But those are the times that bring out the most dreaded social side-effect: judges of that Almighty Inch above the knee and the elbow, and below the collarbone.

I’ve been to numerous occasions (weddings, parties, Shabbat meals) where someone had pointed out to a girl that her skirt was just the tiniest-teensiest bit too short, so that when she sat down, her knees were visible. And for the rest of the day, that girl would invariably sit off somewhere to the side, smoothing her skirt and hoping to High Heaven that nobody else would notice her (usually accidental) breach of the Almighty Inch.


I think it’s safe to say she didn't enjoy the party.  And that’s a shame, because I don’t think half a kneecap is any reason to condemn a girl, and I think it’s whoever was rude enough to embarrass her by calling attention to it that should be forced to stand in a corner, preferably with a copy of Miss Manners.

This situation would be bad enough, except that it also calls to light the slight double-standard created by the modern view of Tzniut. Don’t get me wrong, I know Jewish guys are required to dress a certain way (and I’m not even talking about Hareidim here) and I laud those who keep it, it’s just that I can’t imagine the same situation ever happening to a Modern-Orthodox guy:



But I’ll admit, the people most at fault for judging each other based on the Almighty Inch are the women and girls themselves. They stare judgmentally at each other and gossip… sometimes it’s like being in a sitcom High School. And why not? Hey, if I could find the ever-elusive stylish top that covers both collarbone and elbow, then why couldn’t Skimpy Suzy over there?

Except that there’s a lot more to Tzniut than just covering your mid-limb joints. There’s an attitude to modesty, and that’s…well, being modest. Not calling attention to others’ mistakes or slight violations of your standards… and I say “your” because there’s no set, written law about how many inches a girl’s skirt should cover. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Jewish source that emphasizes knee-covering over treating each other with respect.

Sigh… what can you do? People will be people, and they will always judge and ridicule each other, no matter their background, race, or religion. But in a weird sort of pouring-lemon-juice-on-a-paper cut twist to Tzniut snobbery, we have the phenomenon of the “Hot Chani.”

Now, when I first heard this term, I thought it was sexist and disrespectful, and even now, I don't quite find it as "ha-ha funny" as many people do. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a Hot Chani is an Orthodox woman or girl who prides herself on Always. Covering. Every. Necessary. Inch… with clothes so skin-tight that you can see her ribs, among other things. Hot Chanis, I am told, are often the ones who mock and embarrass girls that haven’t been able to find that long-enough skirt and who congratulate themselves on their perfect emphasis on Halacha. I’m not sure what Halacha they’re keeping, because it certainly isn’t Tzniut, but I’m sure it’s important.  

It's these girls, who mock each other behind the guise of Tzniut, that really drive me crazy, not only because of their hypocrisy, but because that's exactly the type of behavior that perpetuates the JAP stereotype, which in turn encourages other stereotypes of the Female Orthodox Psyche:


Don't even get me started.

But Hot Chanis and rude judgers aside, I have to admit (begrudgingly at times) that we live among humans (and are often humans ourselves), who possess the instinct to judge based on appearance. And as a girl who warred, fought, kicked, and screamed her way into keeping Tzniut as a teenager, I hesitate to admit that this was what finally got me (and many other women I’ve met) to wear those skirts:


Faced with these two women, which would you immediately assume was Jewish? And that’s it. That’s the only argument I can’t snarkily answer. I honestly don’t care how any girl chooses to dress, it's her body and her business. Even though I’m not discussing it here, I see nothing wrong with long, non-tight pants. I’m not even saying I do or don’t dress like that girl on the left (because frankly, that shouldn’t matter). But I’m the overly-proud Jew who had to be convinced to leave her Magen David at home before going to Europe, so all in all, I have to admit appearance does sometimes matter to me.  
 
So in the end, if I’ve got to wear long sleeves to show others I’m an Orthodox Jew, I’m at peace with that. It’s a much more legitimate reason for me than because otherwise I’ll attract advances from leering guys, because believe me, if I truly wore whatever I wanted in public, attracting too many guys wouldn’t be a problem.


In fact, let’s admit it. We’d all dress differently if we could. At Arbitribe, I’m fairly certain one among our number would dress like a death-metal headbanging overlord, while the others would live out their days in a burnoose (which, let’s admit, is just a hooded Snuggie) or looking like a reject from Disney’s politically-incorrect vision of the exotic East.


Anyway, we’re all happier in pajamas. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

(stereo)Typical

Okay, I’m going to try to keep this post uncharacteristically short. I’ve got approximately a billion things to do over the course of the next 18 or so hours until Chag, including studying for/taking my anthropology midterm, writing three pages of a philosophy essay, lots of cooking, and oh yeah, sleeping, so I don’t know how much time I can really devote to this right now.* True, Arbitribe is one of my favorite things to participate in, but it doesn’t even come close to topping the “finish college education” entry on my list of priorities. I figured I could either write a normal-sized post with more effort put into stretching it out and fluffing it up than on the actual content, or I could write a well put together, well thought out piece that’s a little bit shorter than my standard. Given a choice like that, the latter option is the obvious answer. Therefore, with apologies to my legions of fans, let’s briefly get into Jewish dating stereotypes and why they’re never going to go away.

There’s a long stretch of billboards on Rockaway Boulevard that seem to never change. It therefore surprised me when, looming over one of the busier intersections, the billboard I saw was not the familiar one about how keeping to the speed limit is good for the structural integrity of your face. What shocked me more than the actual replacement of the billboard that had been there for as long as I can remember was the content of the one that replaced it, an ad for a Jewish singles website called Young Jewish Matchmakers. It basically touts itself as a more modern Jewish dating site because it’s staffed by “young hip matchmakers” as opposed to the “old, out of touch” variety. As soon as I saw that, I got really annoyed, but at the time I couldn’t tell you why. I originally thought I would write about just that feeling, but yesterday, in the interest of good journalism, I decided that I would actually visit the site and do a little research instead of just spouting off my uninformed opinions. Crazy, I know. However, what I found during a cursory perusal of the site helped me understand exactly why things like this make me crazy. Let me preface this though by saying that I have nothing personally against this organization; it is one example of a more widespread problem, and it is only due to pure coincidence that this is the particular case that will serve as the sacrificial lamb I need to make my point. But I will make my point.

So I signed on to youngjewishmatchmakers.com and the first thing I noticed was that the banner on the homepage had the same basic two images as the ones on the billboard: a picture of an old, angry looking lady with a big red X over her face and the caption “OLD” at the top, and a picture of young, happy looking couple in bright color with the caption “YOUNG” at the top. Now, I’m taking a class this semester on media literacy, and my media spidey sense went berserk right about then. I hadn’t even gotten past the banner at the top of the page and I was picking up propaganda vibes. Yes, if you pick someone closely resembling the Old Maid lady to represent your “out of touch” matchmaker, then everything else will look great by comparison. What’s worse though, is the picture of the younger couple that they chose. During a break from writing this, I happened upon an ad for a Christian singles website WITH THE VERY SAME PICTURE. Um, what? Can you say “stock photo?” Is this couple even Jewish? So without reading a word I’m already annoyed by this site.

This is turning out to be quite longer than I expected it to be so I’ll be brief in describing the textual aspect of this website. They say such things as “our service is completely free. If we help you get married then it will be up to you how much you reward us” (total guilt trip and probably misleading) and “Dating Tip #7: The male always pays for the date” (sexist). One of the recommended dating places is a cafĂ©, like Starbucks, but heaven forbid you should go to Dunkin Donuts…okay maybe that’s valid. The point is that there’s a lot of this nonsense about materialism that’s touted as what the main focus of dating should be. The young, pretty people, the specific dating locations, the overt attitude of the site; all that superficiality should be secondary to the core of dating, which is finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. The first impression I got from this site was that that’s not important. The sad part is, the ostentatious garbage is only a small part of what this site has to offer, but it outshines the other stuff. Upon closer inspection, there’s some advice in there that’s very good, even if it’s completely obvious.

I think the problem then is that stereotypes like the “Jewish girls only want rich doctors/lawyers” are not necessarily true or even strictly Jewish, but they are kept alive by attitudes like that of this website. The fact that the homepage image seems to have been procured through a Google image search of “happy young couple” doesn’t exactly lend credibility to the site, and the dating tips come across as a bland sequence of “freaking duh” moments, but I believe there’s potential there to do good things for people. I’m sure that there are hundreds if not thousands out there who want someone more relatable than the usual cheek-pinching old crone or the Torah-is-Everything rabbi to help them decide on a life partner. Those two approaches may be valid, but not everyone is the same and not everyone needs those approaches. This is something fresh that could really be helpful to people, but the catch is that you have to survive the first impression, which is not good. I’m not sure how many people will stick around to peel away the waste if that’s all they see on a first look. In the end, I feel like we’re perpetuating our own stereotypes.

There’s so much more to say about this and the Jewish dating/shidduch scene in general but if I don’t cut this right now then I’ll never get it posted before Chag. I’m thinking I’ll do a part two for next time, and I’d imagine there will be what to respond to in the comments, so this discussion will definitely not end here. Whetting the palate is what I do, folks. And, apparently, I can’t write short posts to save my soul. Typical.

To conclude with a totally unrelated and shameless self plug just in case you missed it in last week’s update, my own column, tentatively titled Diary of a Music Nerd, is set to launch on this blog in two weeks, so stay tuned and get pumped for musical awesomness!

Chag Sameach to everyone!!!

Song of the Day: By Horror Haunted - Anterior

*I wrote this intro at midnight last night, so the timing still makes sense. I guess all that stuff I had to do would explain why I’m now posting this something like 15 hours later. Anthro went well, just in case anyone was wondering :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!


Dear Readers,

Welcome! You may have noticed our new letterhead. We hope you like it, 'cause that's not all that's new around here. Over the past month and a half or so, our precious little blog has been going through early-onset puberty, that is a few changes.

Our fearless and frequently airborne founder Daniel has given up his full-time posting in favor of graduate school and other, you know, real-world pursuits. But he has given us his word that he'll be back from time to time to drop a guest post or two. To see some of his best and brightest 'til he gets back, check out Flying and Fritters, and Ink.

But it's not only good-byes! Here's what's coming up over the next few weeks (and it will take some time, so please be patient while we work out the specifics).

We've added a new Q&A page to address some of those blog-related questions we've been asked in comments, by email, and in person.

We've edited our About page to reflect Daniel's new life-steps, but also to officially welcome The Ginger Man to our guest-writer roster. That being said, we are looking for another writer to join Arbitribe. If you are interested, please contact either Tzvi or Aliza, comment on this post and leave some sort of contact information, or email us at arbitribe@yahoo.com.

Last, but not least, we're thrilled to announce the launch of two, count 'em, two new features, to be helmed by Tzvi and Aliza, respectively. The first is a series of music-centric posts written by the Metal Jew himself. Music seems to come up often in Tzvi's posts, and it's a very important factor in his life, so it seems only fair to create a space dedicated specifically to all things musical. In said space, anything goes as long as it is in any way related to music, and this way he will be able to talk about it at will and not mess with the regular posting schedule.

The second is less blog-posty and more Aliza's response to peer pressure and badgering. That's right, folks, we're adding a webcomic to our lineup. The brand-new, tentatively titled Some Other Nights will follow the adventures of a group of young, Jewish, very confused twenty-somethings (yes, hipsters, we did just use that term) living in that warm haven of Jewry, Washington Heights (we can hear you booing, but you can't come in). Stay tuned for its official launch at the end of the month (and by that we mean Tishrei, not October... although they do line up rather nicely this year, don't they?)!

Is that it? I think that covers it. We're going into this new year with a bang, and we'll see where this little expansion takes us. Let us know what you think of these changes (seriously, or else we'll assume you love it so much you want it sent to your phones and inboxes), and what else you'd like to see around here. Really, it works. You got that webcomic, didn't you?

Thanks for reading us! G'mar Chatimah Tovah, and here's to a great new year!

Peace and Snark,

The Arbitribe Team
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