Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Agony and the Apathy

First off, today is March 14th. Happy Pi(e) day to all!

We live in what I’ve heard referred to as the age of instant-gratification. I like to call it the Age of the Unimpressed, or even simpler: the Age of ‘Meh.’

I don’t know why we’ve become so jaded, but it seems to me that nothing impresses us anymore. We see stunts on YouTube and high speed chases in movies. We see people singing in their underwear on the subway, and it hardly shocks us. We can't see the coming spring for the traffic. Truly, this saddens me, because I believe that getting excited over nothing can help us lead fulfilling lives. But lately, I’ve been noticing that those around me simply can’t be bothered by some of the more, well, life-involved occurrences, like their fellow people. 
Last week, we celebrated Purim. Or at least, some of us did. I spent weeks before the day planning out my costume (Charlie Chaplin) and Seudah with my friends, and the days leading up to Chag putting together themed Mishloach Manot. But I’m dorky that way. I don’t expect everyone to put so much effort into their holiday preparations.

Who was that? That wasn’t me. I don’t make up cheesy holiday songs or poems…(casual whistling)
I even got invited to a Megilla reading/Purim party by someone I didn’t know well, to be attended by lots of nice young Jews I'd never met. Score! An opportunity to make new friends and meet new people! And a costume party to boot! I immediately invited along one of my friends (who dressed for the occasion as Audrey Hepburn) and off we rode on the crowded New York subway, looking to all the world like a pair of very confused Annie Hall impersonators.
We were pleasantly hopeful, but not too over-excited, at the prospect of the party ahead. We arrived to a room filled with people our age or a little older, who all basically knew each other, but not us. I did manage to pick out one or two people I knew, and so we settled in for a few hours of socializing.
But then an hour passed.

In the time we spent there, I had had conversations with a grand total of two people, both of whom I already knew and one of which was only there because he’d been dragged. Not one of the strangers, despite us having been forcibly introduced, batted an eye our way. They stayed in their cliques, costumed as the likes of Catwoman and Epic Mealtime, but wearing expressions as bored as a bunch of fourth graders watching My Dinner with Andre. We left early, bitterly disappointed and wondering, if people couldn’t properly celebrate and socialize on Purim, one of the most joyful and uninhibited days of the Jewish calendar, did this mean people were no longer excited about, well… people?
You can imagine how we felt on the subway ride back. Here we were dressed like some very convincing drag queens, and all to be ignored on what was supposed to be one of the most fun days of the year. Luckily, the next day, we had a far more exciting Seudah with our own friends, and THAT one, at least, was filled with laughter and some good-natured fun-poking.
But the experience at the party got me thinking. It brought to mind another conversation I’d had with a friend of mine, who I’d always assumed was much “frummer” than me. He expressed to me a lack of connection with his Judaism. It’s not that he didn’t believe. He had a lot of faith and was deeply religious. It’s just that, well, what was there to get excited about? It’s all this obligation. All this stress that comes with performing rituals day in and day out.
“But what about Shabbat?” I asked him (Shabbat is probably my favorite thing about being an Orthodox Jew. Personally, I think it keeps me sane). “Doesn’t Shabbat get you excited?”
“Oh yeah,” he answered, “I love Shabbat. I look forward to it every week. But every week it’s there. Why should I get all riled up about it?”
My answer now is the same answer I had then. Um… Why NOT?
If we can get all excited about the new iPad or the return (THANK YOU!) of a certain TV Show after months of long, cold hiatus (evil eyes at those responsible), why not about new people at a party? About dressing up like idiots? About having a glorious day during which no one can bother us via cell phone, when our lack of work means we just MUST spend the afternoon walking in the park in some of the most gorgeous weather I’ve ever seen mid-March?
Isn’t that what we’re always saying life is about? Especially in Judaism? “Hinei Ma Tov uMa Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad”: What is more good or more pleasant than when friends get together??? Isn’t that why we sing in the Shabbat every Friday night, as much to get ourselves into it as to pray? Isn’t that why we spend money we don’t have on opera tickets and road trips? Aren’t we meant to be impressed?

I’m aware that I’ve totally just devolved this post from thought to full-fledged rant, and I'm not saying we should go through every minute of the day like the Double-Rainbow guy, but this apathy I see constantly is starting to bug me. I even see it more than anywhere else in my nine-year-old students, who must be some of the most impossible to impress people I know. These are kids who bring iPhones to school. Kids who have all of the latest toys and video games. Try getting them excited about a trip to the museum, or a classic book, or a beautiful day to play outside.

You might just get a little bugged too. It seems to me that so many people want to appear as if they've seen it all, that people are fooled into mistaking pretentious standoffishness for some sort of maturity (Just like Jeff Winger... HA!)
And as I type this, something else comes to mind. A memory of my high school dean standing in the center of a Rosh-Chodesh Kumzits, trying (and marvelously succeeding) to get even the most bored and jaded teenager to sing along and dance in the middle of the circle. He told us that just like we ought to have Kavanah (concentration) when we pray, we should have it when we live, too. We should always be AWARE of where we are, and live in the moment. Carpe Diem and all that cliché movie montage. And cliché it is, but more and more, I’m discovering the truth in it.
So here’s my Spring-is-Coming (that’s an occasion, right?) resolution for the remaining half of the Jewish calendar year: I’m going to live with Kavanah, and celebrate every coming holiday and special occurrence with all the joy and excitement I feel, no matter how dorky I may look.


  1. Oh my god! CAN we build a pillow fort?!?

  2. And sing Disney songs???

    1. I figured Disney was more childish than Cole Porter. Also, those with Disney voices should sing like Giselle!

  3. you should totally hyperlink the comment on the double rainbow guy to the youtube video. awesome.

  4. The problem is that as people get older they believe that maturity means not appreciating the amazing and entertaining world we live in. Maturity, for many means jaded and the thrill of living is gone. How sad. They need to read (or re-read) some Douglas Adams. That's my prescription.

  5. I second building a pillow fort. (I can't tell based on the drawing but I have a feeling I may have been the one to suggest it in the first place...) I have like, 5 or so pillows. Everyone bring pillows. Let's go.
    I share your goal in getting excited about everything. For instance, each time the buzzer rings when I'm waiting on chinese delivery I squeal and skip around my apartment.
    It's a start.

  6. "I believe that getting excited over nothing can help us lead fulfilling lives"


    You make me realize, unpleasantly, how happy I am on the rare occasion when I meet a Genuinely Excited Jew. Not the ones who get so hung up on minutiae that they have neither time nor attention left to actually enjoy anything about the religion, nor the ones who are so insecure in their own religiosity that they'll find any way they can to keep others from enjoying theirs either, nor those who force a smile and glue on some yiddishkeit lest their community think less of them (which, sad to say, in those cases, it probably would).

    I mean those who really mean it, whose Jewish enthusiasm is catching. They're out there and they make me happy, but they're few and far between and their absence is never more apparent or pathetic than on Purim.

  7. First of all, spending the evening building pillow forts, singing disney songs, and drinking smoothies sounds absolutely amazing. Let's make it happen!!
    Secondly, I totally agree with everything you've said and I try so hard to appreciate the little things in life and it pisses me off when other people don't. So yay for spreading the happiness.
    Also in case you haven't seen this.. somebody who agrees with you...

    And one more thing- your writing makes me happy, and your drawings make me happy, and you make me happy, and seeing you've posted a new article makes me very excited!! So thanks for sharing your talents with everyone!

    1. Thanks Becca! You make me happy too :)


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.