Friday, February 26, 2010

Purim Odds and Ends

It has now been snowing for over 24 hours here in New York, which is, in my out-of-towner-never-really-lived-in-snow-before opinion, CRAZY. I have never seen this much continuous snow fall in my life. It's actually pretty nice, since most of the time the snow quickly because gross, slushly and grey. While the snowfall did go through a phase or two of that sort yesterday, it has turned out rather nice.

(NOTE: As of 3:25 PM it seems to have stopped! Let the melting commence!)

I just wish the snow had started Sunday night and lasted through Monday so we could have post-Purim snow day reprieve from school work (not that I really get drunk on Purim at any rate. I'm a firm believer in the drink til tipsy and take a nap shittah of the Rama and others).

In other Purim news, my friends in the "Stollel" (I still don't know what that means) have created yet another hilarious video! This one as an Adar/Purim theme to it. These guys are amazing.

Lastly, my friends working on the Mighty Morphin' YU Rangers video told me that they have run into some technical difficulties (that are rooted in software limitations) which will prevent them from completing the project before Purim . They said they should soon have a solution to finish up the last few scenes and hope to have a grant premiere in one of the big dorm lounges (Muss or Morg) in the very near future, afterwhich it will be posted on Youtube.

Have a great Shabbos and a freilechen Purim! Stay safe, and keep in mind that the real Simcha of the Purim Seudah is derived from the discussion of all the miracles and happenings in the Purim story, and giving praise to HaShem for saving us - NOT from drinking. Wine (and only wine) is meant as a conduit for us to better access our inner selves, as Chazal say: "Nichnas Yayin - Yatza Sod" - "Wine enters and secrets/essence comes out."

A friend of mine added a corollary to the ma'amar Chazal - "Yazta Sod, and not the contents of your stomach."

May we all celebrate Purim with the proper mindset and with true simcha, avoiding the stumbling block of debasing ourselves through excessive alcoholic consumption.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shidduchim Of The (Near) Future: Don't Wear Genes On A Date

Natan turned the corner and brought his car to a stop in front of Shayna’s house. He managed to park his vehicle just so, such that the passenger side door was positioned directly opposite the end of the walkway. He flipped down his visor-mirror, adjusted the knot of his necktie, and quickly checked to make sure his teeth were clear of debris, though he knew he had brushed them quite thoroughly before he left his apartment. This was his fifth date with Shayna, and they had decided together to drop the shadchan after their last outing. That meant things might be shifting into a more serious direction, the prospects of which were very exciting to Natan.

He got out of the driver’s seat as soon as he saw Shayna’s beautiful face appear in the small window next to the front door. He quickly scurried around the hood of his car and opened the door for her as she made her way down the cobblestone path toward him. Natan turned to Shayna and smile gallantly. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that she clutched a small set of papers in her right hand. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, he gently closed the door behind her, then scuttled around the backside of his car to join her inside.

Natan buckled his seatbelt as soon as he sat down, and was about to put the key into the ignition when he realized that Shayna hadn’t secured her own safety belt. She simply sat there, glancing over the series of papers she held in her lap with both hands.

“Is… is there something wrong?” He raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“This isn’t going to work out,” Shayna’s tone was steady and firm. Natan was blown away.

“I don’t understand…” his mind grasped for words, but remained largely blank.

“I’m sorry,” her voice filled the awkward silence that stifled them both. After a moment, Natan found the ability to speak.

“Didn’t we just decide that we didn’t need a go-between anymore? Isn’t that usually an indicator that we’re thinking about the relationship in more of a long-term perspective?”

“Yeah, about that…” Shayna rifled through the papers again.

“What?” A slight tinge of frustration crept into his voice. Natan did not want to get angry. He knew that would undermine his attempt to defuse the developing situation.

“Well, the report finally came back, and it was largely negative,” she stated, matter-of-factly.

“Huh?” That did not make sense to Natan. “You waited until now to do research on me? Don’t we always do that kind of thing before anyone even agrees to go on a date in the first place?!”

“This,” she indicated the papers with a slight shake, “is not a background check.”

“Then, pray-tell, what is it?” He dismissively displayed his palm and waggled his fingers.

“A complete analysis of your genome,” Shayna replied.

“Is it now?” Natan thought this was beginning to get a little weird. “May I see that?”

“Sure!” Shayna’s response seemed a little too cheery. She handed him the papers.

Natan glanced over the documents. They consisted of a large series of numbers, a bunch of A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s, several graphs of various kinds (bar, pie chart, and line plots), with several sentences or passages highlighted and annotated throughout.

“I’m not quite sure what all this means… Biology wasn’t my best subject in high school,” his brow furrowed in strained concentration as he tried to make sense of all the symbols before him.

“Actually… this is far beyond anything you would have seen in high school, except for the concept of DNA, perhaps. It’s really simple, though,” Shayna chirped.

“Care to explain it to me?” Natan looked up and met Shayna’s gaze.

“Sure! No problem,” she quickly snatched the papers from him and turned them right-side up. She briefly rearranged the sheets, raised the back of her left hand to her lips and lightly cleared her throat.

“Basically, my father, who as you know is a molecular geneticist, utilized some hair and cell samples we collected from you-”

“You collected samples from me!?” Natan felt violated.

“How else were we going to run a full diagnostic prognostication and characterization of your genetic makeup?” Shayna crossed her arms. “My father needed some source of your DNA to perform the required analyses.”

“When did that happen!?” Natan was beginning to feel overwhelmed. “Did you stick me with a needle when I wasn’t looking and take blood or something?”

“No, no, no. That would be too obvious, not to mention an infringement of your personal wellbeing.”

“So how did you get my DNA, then?”

“First, we gathered some leftover cheek cells off the cup you drank from before I came downstairs for our first date. Then, I discreetly picked up a few loose hairs from your car on the ride home that night.” Shayna pushes a few loose locks of her dark blonde hair behind her ear. “After I turned the samples over to my father, he spent the last two weeks running tests in his lab at work...”


“…and the results just came back today. As it turns out, you and I would never really work out.” She pointed to a bar graph, “For example-”

“Wait-a-minute, we already did Dor Yeshorim and were given the go ahead! So what is all this?” Natan exclaimed, his patience wearing thin.

“It’s not that we aren’t genetically compatible per se, it’s just that you aren’t what I’m looking for in a lifelong marital partner.”

“How can you tell that from my genes? I thought we were getting along pretty well so far, and you must have liked my hashkafot and personality at least a little bit, right?” From Shayna’s uneasy facial contortion, it seemed to Natan that had he struck a nerve.

Well…” She squirmed in her seat. “I do like you... But-”

“‘But’ what?” He inquired.

“I just don’t want to be a widow for 20 years,” she blurted out. “Among other things, that is.”

“What does that mean!? You know when I’m going to die?!”

“Not precisely. Dad calculated your genetically programmed lifespan, give or take three years. He compared those figures with my own, and it turns out you’re expected to live until around 75, while I’m going to make it until upwards of 90,” she frowned slightly. “I just want to make sure I have companionship in those last two decades, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can be a handful, you know.”

“This is ridiculous. What were the “other things” you mentioned?”

“To be honest, I’m not such a fan of your predominate gene for darker hair color. Everyone in my family has shades of blonde or light brown – including my older siblings’ kids – so I don’t really want to disturb that motif.”

“Seriously?!” Natan shouted. A realization hit him and he retorted defiantly, “Does this have anything to do with the fact that I have a Sephardic background? Are all these scientific shtuyot a covert means to disguise your high-and-mighty Ashkenazi racism against your fellow Jew?”

“Chas V’Shalom!” Shayna cried out and stared downward into her lap. Natan’s irritation lessened ever-so-slightly upon hearing her religious aphorism. She gradually lifted her head and looked him in the eye again. “However…”

“Oh, this should be good,” he rolled his eyes to accentuate his sarcasm.

“Well, due to the close-knit socio-cultural background of your particular Sephardic heritage, it seems that your extended family had a practice of intramarriage among first cousins.”

“And what’s wrong with that? True, that still happens every now and then, but it’s such a rare occurrence in my generation. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of marriage al pi halacha. Are you worried about some sort of social stigma? Do you think we’re a bunch of inbred rednecks or whatever?”

“Not at all!” She answered assuredly.

“Well, that’s a relief,” he sighed.

“On the other hand,” she began, but stopped herself to wait and see if Natan would react. He refrained from issuing another indignant outburst and gave her a “go-on” expression. “Because of your ancestral history of intra-family marriage, you inherited a familial genetic mutation for polydactylism.”

“Which is?”

“Being born with an extra finger or toe, sometimes on one hand or foot, occasionally both. It tends to run in families.”

Natan’s mind flashed back to memories of his Savta in Israel, and the little bumps on the other side of each pinky finger. His cousin had told him that Savta was born with six fingers both hands, but had them removed shortly thereafter, leaving the little protrusions as a physical reminder.

“In your case, the extra digits appear every third generation,” Shayna continued. “Which means that at least one of your kids will have superfluous fingers or toes. I just don’t want my children to have to go through that kind of thing. It would be very traumatizing, even if the additional fingers are amputated at a young age.”

“You know, this is really making me angry. I can’t believe that you are putting so much substance into these reports of yours!” Natan gripped the steering wheel, his muscles tense.

“That was the other major issue that showed up,” she flipped to another graph that had a lot of red color in it. “Your dispensation for having a short temper and your tendency to suffer from frequent bouts of anger,” Shayna pointed at the graph, indicating how much larger the red portion was than the other colors.

“Look, no one is perfect, and everyone gets angry now and then. Do you doubt my ability to learn mussar and improve my middot?”

“That’s the problem. Based on your genetics, I’m afraid that whenever you do get angry you’ll end up blaming your genome. Basically, you’ll excuse your bad behavior on a lack of free will, and I really won’t be able to say anything back in my defense.”

“Ok, that’s it!” Natan’s voice had risen in pitch and was almost trembling. “I can totally understand that you want to dump me, but I am really sick of hearing about how bad of a husband and human being I’m going to be in the future. I really don’t care what your precious data tells you, because I know I’m going to be a good husband and father!” He stopped his tirade, closed his eyes, and took in a few deep breaths. “Now, please,” his tone of voice was much calmer, “leave my car, and have a good night. I’ll stay here for a minute to make sure you get inside okay.”

“Alright,” she reached for the door handle. “At least we understand each other now,” Shayna offered a well-practiced smile. Natan gritted his teeth.

“Go on, get moving!”

“How rude!” Shayna replied, her hand pressed to her collarbone, fingers splayed to emphasize her offense. She hurriedly opened the door, slammed it hard behind her, and stormed up the walkway. Natan didn’t even bother checking Shayna out as she made her way back to her house, and instead stared at the lifeless speedometer.

“Just like my dating life,” he remarked, contemplating the unmoving indicator. He flinched slightly when he heard the front door slam shut. Natan started up the car and drove off.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mazal Tov!!!

I would like to wish a hearty Mazal Tov to my good friend and Jewish Music superstar, Aryeh Kunstler on his engagement today! May you be zoche to build a bayis ne'eman b'yisrael, and experience only bracha v'hatzlacha in all areas of your life together, until 120!

That's another name off of my "to-daven-for" list! May everyone I daven for soon have good reason to be removed from that list (wherein they will instead have tefillos offered on behalf of the success of their marriage).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Maccabeats CD Video Preview

It's way past my bedtime, but I couldn't let another day go by without sharing the preview video of the upcoming album, "From the Heights" by Yeshiva University's incredibly talented A Cappella group, The Maccabeats. A number of my friends are members, and all of guys are quite talented. Enjoy!

Shlomo Katz Is, Simply Put, AMAZING!

Gut voch/Shavua tov!

I went to a Shlomo Katz concert tonight in Fairlawn, New Jersey. Shlomo is an old friend from my time spent in Israel pre-YU, where I first discovered his music by fluke - I went to a small benefit concert held at a hotel ballroom to see the headlining performers, Reva L'Sheva. Shlomo was on of the first performers (I forget who the other one was), and he simply blew me away with the sheer ruach of his music. I immediately bought the only album he had on sale then, Biglal Avos, which he made with his younger brother Eitan, who is also now a big star in the Jewish Music world (he didn't have any copies of their earlier album called Eilecha).

From that night on, I became a huge Shlomo Katz fan. That year (my Shana Aleph) was also the year that the revitalized Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach song, "Niggun Neshama" became insanely popular - mostly through Shlomo Katz' performances. I attended every one of his concerts that my schedule allowed, and even managed to have my yeshiva bring him in for our own concert - a definite hi-light of the year.

After schmoozing with him before/during/after numerous concerts during my two years in Israel, we became friendly, and he always recognizes me whenever I see him around in America. The last time we spoke in person was the morning before the YU Chanukah concert 2 years ago. I was walking to Belfer to get a package and randomly bumped into him - he had be hired as a surprise to perform at the MTA chagiga in Weissberg Commons (where the SOY Sale is held). He greeted me with a broad grin and a big hug. Shlomo always has a kind word to share and is one of the nicest people I've ever known.

Shlomo's concerts are an incredible experience. Aside from the soul-stirring niggunim, which can move you to tears or make you jump from your seat and dance, Shlomo really relates to his audiences. He talks with them, shares stories and Torah insights - all in an Emes-dik, heartfelt fashion that shows how much of his neshama he puts into his work. This is a very different from the standard yeshivish performers (I'll leave names out), who always have the mandatory sad story that introduces his hit slow song - all of which sounds so fake. Only the oblivious can really fail to see the difference in Shlomo's presentation versus those other singers.

The quality of his music is also markedly better. You might ask me: why? The reason stems from the fact that Shlomo composes the vast majority of his material (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's and a few other covers notwithstanding). He plays the guitar and has close friends serve as his band. All of them are front and center on stage, and he personally thanks each of them numerous times during the course of the concert. This is a far cry from the standard Jewish Music concert where the performer(s), who only sing without playing any instrument, stand in the spotlight at the front of the stage while all the musicians, without whom the concert would never happen, are hidden at the back of the stage in shadow. At the very end of the concert, the performer(s) usually tip their hat ever-so-graciously to the band who carried the night with their consummate performance - which still sounds forced at best.

I would like to share one of Shlomo's Torah thoughts regarding Adar/Purim which he told us tonight during the concert.

There are many times in life where we feel spiritual inspiration, be it from a shiur, a particular davening at shul, or a concert. We tell ourselves that we will strive to be more spiritual, to improve ourselves and ascend higher in ruchniyus. But often enough, we fail to live up to those ideas that pop into our mind, because a voice makes itself heard, telling us that we really know that this sort of spiritual stuff was just a minor incident, but not really part of who we are. That, he said (quoting Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan), is the voice of Amalek in us. This negative influence does not want us to reach new levels of spirituality, but be content with the status quo, which is always a bad thing. Jews are always meant to be strive ever further, to raise ourselves in our Avodas HaShem. This influence, which can be internal, or even come from those close to us who claim to know us better and tell us that this spiritual involvement isn't really representative of who we are, drags us back down and tries to make us think we can't succeed.

Purim is the time that we can utterly destroy this little voice. The Gemara tells us that Purim is even higher than Yom Kippur, which is called Yom HaKiPurim - the day "like Purim." Why is this so? On Yom Kippur, we try to get closer to HaShem by fasting and beating on our chests, listing aveirah after aveirah that we did. We feel like we're coming from such a low level and trying to overcome the bad things we've done that seem like an impediment between us and G-d. However, on Purim, we turn to HaShem and say, "I've taken on so many things in my life since Yom Kippuer, and I've stumbled in every one of them. Despite all that, I'm still here talking to You and hoping to have a relationship, no matter what."

Shlomo spoke about friends of his from highschool, who eventually became irreligious because of the attitude that they were taught wherein any sin they commit put them at an uncrossable distance away from HaShem. Teshuva was something only the real "frummies" did, and therefore felt effectively beyond their reach. The lesson inherent in Purim tells us that no matter what happens, no matter what we do (and this isn't to condone the performances of aveiros), we can still have that relationship with HaShem. Never stop trying, and never give in to those voices that say you can't do it, that this quest for spirituality isn't your "thing."

May we all take to heart this lesson, that no matter what, we can always rise again from our missteps and stumbles. HaShem never rejects us nor wants us to remain complacent with not being close to Him. Let us all strive to better ourselves and continue to seek greater ruchniyus in our lives and in the lives of our friends and family, and let us all have a spiritually uplifting Adar and Purim!

And if you ever have a chance to go to a concert of Shlomo's or buy one of his CD's - don't pass up the opportunity, he's absolutely fantastic.

Update - 2/21/10: It turns out this very post was featured on the Jewish Press International website. I guess this is pretty nifty, even if I've never heard of them before today.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shades Of Grey On A First Date

Just a warning: I’m a very thorough writer (in case you hadn’t noticed), so this is a long post. I hope the readers find it informative and enjoyable. So grab a drink or snack and read on, dear visitor.

After reading Bored Jewish Guy's original post (and challenge) regarding the male perspective of a first date, followed by (not) The Girl Next Door’s female viewpoint, along with Bad For Shidduchim’s call for other bloggers to participate (and their diversified posts), I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring.

To start off, one of the reasons I think that it’s worthwhile to participate in this creative exercise, aside from the fun I derive from blogging, is because I presume my entry will be a bit different from most others out there. Particularly, since I am an out-of-towner, far from home, living in the YU dorms without a car (by choice), I don’t fit the typical sort of male dater model that most posts have written about.


My pre-date prep usually begins about an hour before I depart my dorm room, which is often two hours before the actual date start time – taking into account the subway ride into the Times Square area (more on that later). More recently, I’ve actually dated a few girls who live on the other side of The Heights, which then shifts my preparation to the hour beforehand. I shave, shower, and brush my teeth. I also utilize the time spent taking care of my oral hygiene to pick through my clothing and finalize my outfit.

I admit to having no real sense of style, so my generic dating attire includes black or (on occasion) dark navy slacks with a solid colored, long-sleeved, button-down shirt. In the fall and winter I will also pick a matching sweater, and I have a specific, medium-length black overcoat I wear in colder weather. In general, I also happen to have particular items of clothing that are set aside exclusively for dating, since everyday clothing, including Shabbos clothing, tends to get worn down with repeated use, so I sidestep that by having a belt and pair of shoes I only wear on dates. This keeps my belt buckle and shoes nice, shiny, and unscratched/un-scuffed.

I also don my nicer pair of glasses (which are otherwise worn on Shabbos/Yom Tov and at weddings and are also less beaten up), which have been variably been frameless or half-frame. I very infrequently wear contacts, despite the comments I get from family members (thanks, Mom) that I look much handsomer without glasses. So while I don’t have a first date outfit, I usually pick between two or three colors for my shirt/sweater combo.

After I’ve gotten dressed, I make sure I have my room keys, cell phone, wallet containing subway card, credit card, and around $100 in cash (just in case) and a little sticky-note that has a list of Starbucks in the general Times Square area. I have one or two that I specifically favor, but it has sometimes occurred that my first choice had no free tables or, on occasion, that the bathroom was non-operational. Hence, I make sure to know the addresses of several nearby stores to function as a fallback plan. I empathize with Bored Jewish Guy’s concern for wallet-bulge syndrome, and empty out all unnecessary receipts and change. If I am not meeting the girl in The Heights and thus going with her to and from the date, I will also bring my iPod.

Additionally, in case of inclement weather, I will bring two mini umbrellas (the good, more expensive kind with the double hinged arms which will bend and revert back instead of breaking when exposed to the winds of NY rainy days), one for me, and one to offer my date, should she need/want one.

Side Point Regarding First Date Venues and General Etiquette

Begin Rant.

Before going any further, I have to get some things off my chest. After reading the other first date posts published thus far, I am appalled to learn that guys are so haphazard with planning their activity prior to a date. It is extremely troublesome to read that other guys out there don’t inform their date where they intend to take them, thus leaving the girls stuck wondering if they should eat beforehand, or what they should eat, and what they should wear, etc. That seems utterly irresponsible and very ungentlemanly. The very idea of asking a girl when she firsts enters the car if she is hungry or not is, in my eyes, offensively insensitive! She’s nervous enough as it is (as is the guy), why forcibly induce more awkwardness?!

One of my rabbeim in Israel very strongly related in his dating shiurim that a guy should not starve the girl under any circumstance. This means one of two things:

1) If they are going out at a standard meal-time on a non-food date, then he should tell her to eat something beforehand.
2) He should be conscious enough to realize that if he has dragged her around walking for some extended period of time that she might be thirsty, or if the date has lasted a number of hours since her pre-date snack/meal, he should offer to get her something to sate her growing hunger.

In every first phone call I have ever had, aside from generic small talk, I always give my date specific information about what my plan is for the date. Sometimes due to scheduling or whatever we end up going to a restaurant instead of Starbucks since dinnertime was the most convenient timeframe for going out. I’ll tell her the exact restaurant and make sure she knows if it is milchig or fleischig, and I will offer an alternative or two just in case she isn’t such a fan of that particular establishment.

I don’t feel so qualified to comment about the driving tendencies of my fellow males, since I’ve driven on all of two dates (my first two dates in fact, back in my hometown, two years ago). I also drive like an “out-of-towner” which seems to mean I keep to the speed limit and obeying all traffic signs/lights. I will say this, however: parallel parking is one of the banes of my existence (along with window blinds) and I totally messed up my attempt to parallel park on my first date.

Nevertheless, why do guys drive like madmen!? Fine if you want to take your own life in your hands when you are out driving, but doing anything risky when you have any passengers, ESPECIALLY the woman you might end up marrying, is really irresponsible. I’ve heard quotes in the name of Rav Nebenzahl, shlita that following the proper traffic laws is an absolute chiyuv for public safety and as part of the kiyum of dina d’malchusa dina.

Regarding cab protocol: hailing a cab isn’t so difficult, even for an outlander like me. Second, it just makes perfect sense that a guy should get in the cab (and I got this from a Commentator article on dating). Aside from the uncomfortable visual trespassing opportunity many have mentioned, this writer for the Commie said it prevents the girl from having to slide across the seat, thereby rumpling or misaligning her skirt. I think that makes a lot of sense and will always make note of this point to my date, and proceed to enter first and slide across to the far side of the cab.

In summary: Why are guys SO thickheaded about these rather basic factors that cater to their date’s needs and personal comfort?! I admit to being a stickler for etiquette and protocol, but so much of the other blogger’s experiences reflect a genuine lack of concern for the well being of their date and a paucity of gentlemanly behavior.

End Rant.

Travelling to the Date.

As I mentioned, I don’t have a car in this part of the country. Maintaining an automobile in the adverse weather conditions, fearing for its safety in The Heights, dealing with the hazards of New York traffic, and the convenience of public transportation simply make it clear in my mind that having a car here is more trouble than its worth.

Most often, getting to the date involves me sitting on the subway or inter-campus shuttle by myself heading toward the Stern dormitories or somewhere recognizable, often enough Toys R Us, where we meet and proceed to Starbucks. I am almost always listening to music that is very upbeat and pop-y, which can vary from groups such as Yaakov Chesed or Judablue to a niggun sung by Shlomo Katz or even something secular (gasp) like “GO” by Inoue Joe, a current J-Pop (Japanese pop) star. Sometimes I might not be in the best mood that day due to school or whatever is going on, so my goal is to:

1) Upgrade my mood to as happy as it can be.
2) Create an overly positive mindset – I want to legitimately greet my date cheerfully without resorting to a false display of emotions, masking what I’m really thinking/feeling. I can’t stand people who live behind a façade and pretend they’re actually interested in interacting with me, so I do my very best to never present that false face to a date.

I also sometimes randomly listen to a shiur on dating to brush up on some ideas I’ve heard before but want to ensure they are on the forefront of my mind. But, more often than not, I’m listening to my music, and getting jazzed up for what I presume will be a good experience (and I’ve seldom been disappointed).

In recent months, the occurrence of the girl living on the other side of The Heights has come up slightly more frequently. This is because since my shidduch suggestions have aged with me - I prefer girls around my own age, and that means that many of them are have graduated Stern/Touro, and are attending graduate school. In these cases, I walk over/take the local shuttle to where their apartment is and we head to the subway from there. The few that live at home while attending grad school have very graciously met me in Midtown, or sometimes in The Heights, so I have never had a meet-the-parents scenario. From what I’ve heard about the uncomfortable oddities of that experience, I’m glad I’ve never had to pick a girl up from her home.

I am always ever so grateful to the girl who schleps in to meet me, but it also makes me feel guilty for making her do that (though she often says it’s no big deal and prefers to date in the city). I have yet to get far enough in a relationship with any of these living-at-home types that would require me to go visit her in the nearby city she lives in (which is often somewhere in New Jersey or Long Island).

The Meet

In the vast majority of cases, I know what the girl looks like beforehand via a picture the friend who set us up sent me, or the pictures on her YUConnects/Saw You At Sinai profile. I try to get a picture before I say yes, because I’ve had several dates that were great on paper but just not attractive (from my perspective). After reading Bad4’s post on pictures (I forget which one), whenever I am offered a picture by the shadchan, I will immediately reply with the option of me sending my own picture for the girl to view, just to be fair. So far, no one’s taken me up on that offer (most just say yes).

I don’t have an overt tactic for “checking her out,” but will casually observe her general physical form over the course of the evening. In that same vein, I don’t feel the need to not-so-discreetly check out her posterior while riding an escalator or getting in a cab.

Whether I meet the girl on the other side of The Heights or at some location in Times Square, I always start the conversation by asking how her trip in was and how her day went. The first question gets a very quick, courteous answer, and the second is perfectly neutral and a good conversation opener. I usually know a bit about her educational background/career plans, so this gives me a chance to delve a bit deeper into that. She’ll often reciprocate, knowing my own career aspirations from my profile/the shadchan and inquire about me and my educational goals as well.

I also always do my best to hold open the door for her and I’ve never had anyone refuse this civil gesture. However, some have grabbed the door handle and opened it for me when I was too mentally involved in the budding conversation and totally missed my cue. In that case, I’ll thank her and offer a quip about her taking away my gentlemanly duties, which she usually finds funny (this then often leads into a discussion about those sorts of things).

I will also ALWAYS offer to use my Metro card to pay for her ride, which the vast majority of dates have accepted without question. I swipe for her first, she goes through, and then I swipe and enter after her. A small minority have insisted she use her own card since she has an unlimited/monthly whatever card, and one or two of those girls even offered to swipe for me!

Once inside the Starbucks, I will quickly scout out any free tables and of those available (if there are more than one) point it out to her so we can quickly claim it before anyone else gets the jump on us, which has happened once or twice. After acquiring our seats, and setting down our coats (if need be) I suggest that if she doesn’t have a specific drink in mind and wants to check out the menu, that she go first and decide while I hold down the fort, after which I will go order and pay for both of us when she returns with her choice.

I am not a coffee drinker at all, so I only buy one of two things, depending on the weather and my tastes at that moment : Naked Juice or a tall (small) vanilla latte. Why a vanilla latte, you ask? It was recommended to me by my married friend from my hometown who set me up on my first date when I told her that I didn’t like coffee. It’s very mild, semi-sweet, and pretty drinkable, so I’ve ordered it numerous times since then.

I always find it a little awkward to wait in line by myself after I’ve made our order, while my date sits at our table by herself. This is especially true if our table is nowhere near the service counter and I can’t even make small talk adequately. It feels like I’ve abandoned her, only moments after we’ve officially met, and it goes against my sense of gentlemanliness. Once I’ve paid and received the drinks, I quickly hop over (not literally) to the condiment/napkin stand and grab a few napkins before heading back to the table.

The Conversation

Now the fun begins!

The first “real” conversation often picks up wherever we left off when we were chatting upon entering the Starbucks. Since the “how was your day” bit can only last so long, and because we’ve pretty much exhausted that by this point, we will shift into several “safe” topics. These subjects include: Year(s) in Israel experiences, Jewish geography/mutual friends/how we know the person(s) who set us up, Jewish music (I am a HUGE Jewish music fan, so this is always an enjoyable topic, unless she doesn’t like Jewish music), current events, YU/Stern Hock, and secular popular culture.

This can then tangent into fluffier hashkafic topics, rabbeim we both know (from YU/Stern or Israel), general bits of info about our families – such as family trips, Shabbos meals, extended family relationships. Invariably, a dating story or two is brought up, both bad and simply funny. I don’t really have that many such stories to tell, but I add to my paltry list a sampling of stories that my roommates/chevrusas have shared (leaving out all essential identifying details).

I also sometimes veer off into deeper ideas of hashkafa, or some other “serious” topic which is officially a no-no. I never just stop the conversation, but do try to not go full-force with all my hashkafic/religious nuances. I think it’s important to give the girl a general sense about who I am and what my interests/beliefs are, sort of a sampling, which she will then use as part of her evaluation regarding if I deserve a second date or not.

Small pauses in conversation are normal, but I have sometimes found that some girls aren’t really into talking so much. This has shocked me, since I always though girls were the more talkative gender (no offense meant, and the Gemara in Brachos backs me up on this anyway).

In general, I don’t try to lead the conversation or guide it one way or another. I don’t have a specific set of topics I want to cover. If there is anything on her profile that warrants further discussion, I’ll save it for a later date when I’ve learned more about her and can evaluate if any minor concerns were really warranted or not, after which I would then bring them up. I also believe that proper conversation is a supposed to be give and take. If I feel that I am asking too many questions and she’s not reciprocating, I’ll try and lead her into asking me something.

Oddly enough, I sometimes find that I am the more talkative of the two of us. When I first started dating, I felt I was a real introvert, but I have since developed my conversational skills to a much greater functional degree. As one sibling put it, I used to hardly talk at all (since I have always been more of a quiet, deep thinker than social butterfly), and now I won’t shut up. So I have to be mindful of this, and will let the shadchan know if I think I succumbed to this new talkative tendency of mine just to make sure the girl wasn’t overwhelmed by the flow of information I shared.

I also happen to talk very quickly, and have worked very hard to diminish the speed of my speech. My mind just works too quickly for my lips, and this sometimes leads to mispronunciation in my haste to tell a story or whatever. When I am more consciously aware of how fast I’m speaking, I will immediately pause for breath and switch gears into a more languid expression. The slower pace of talking sometimes makes me feel like my tongue is dancing over the words that exit my mouth, which is an interesting sensation (in a good way).

The girl will often marvel at my lack of any discernable accent or noticeable out-of-towner quirks, and I’ll assure her that I’m the anomaly in the family (for better or worse) in this area, despite having living in my hometown for the first 18 years of my life. That also leads into fun discussion about background differences, usually centering on them bemoaning the typical nature of theirs and curiously inquiring about my rather different upbringing.

Using the Bathroom

When I first started dating, I was very nervous to excuse myself to use the restroom, but I have since wizened up and realize that this isn’t a big deal at all. However, the actual departure from the table and return is still a bit awkward. There is also the problem that is more applicable for guys than girls, which is making sure my fly is properly zipped up. Thankfully, I’ve never had any embarrassing incidents, but the possibility makes me a little paranoid.

After several hours since my last bathroom use before I left my dorm, combined with the consumption of an entire Naked Juice or coffee, using the facilities inevitably becomes a necessity. My problem, which still happens every now and then, is that I become so enthralled with the conversation that I ignore the pleas of my bladder and end up realizing I should use the bathroom just as we are about to leave (and before the long subway ride back), which is awkward in its own way. If I am taking the shuttle back, I’ll usually wait until I get to the Brookdale lobby so as not to interrupt the date.

Ending the Date

When the typical pauses in conversation suddenly become grindingly painful, I know we’ve run out of things to talk about. Sometimes the girl will need to catch a certain bus or meet someone to get a ride home for Shabbos, so I’m more consciously aware of needing to end the date by a specific time. If we happen to be at a restaurant, the course of the meal generally leads toward a conclusion pretty readily (and I can only ignore the waiter’s request for me to pay the bill so many times).

I usually (but not always) pick up the subtle hints that she is getting a little tired or bored, and will ask, “So, do you think it’s time to head back?” She’ll then nod her head and express an affirmation of my suspicions. We gather our things, clear the table and throw away our trash. I’m always conflicted about what I should do with plastic bottles in these stores that don’t have recycling bins (what can I say, I’ve been brainwashed, in a good way, by YU’s Recycle-mania). In such a scenario, I’ll mention recycling to the girl, and she very often expresses a similar sentiment. If she seems aghast at the idea of me putting the bottle in my coat pocket (this only works in the winter, I’m not going to carry a bottle in my hand back in the subway, but sometimes I will carry it to Brookedale where they DO have recycling bins), I’ll just swallow my greener inclination and throw the bottle away with the rest of the refuse.

And yes, I’ve had situations where we are both likeminded in this area and we each take our empty bottles back with us. Call me crazy if you will – but this only happens every once and a while when I don’t get a vanilla latte.

After we leave, I will: A) Walk her back to her dorm and hang out in the Brookdale Lounge, listening to my iPod until the shuttle arrives B) Walk her to the bus station or C) Head back to the subway with my date and accompany her back to the entrance of her apartment building.

If I am taking her back to her apartment, we continue talking, with varying results. Sometimes conversation really picks up after the lull between the official "end" of the date and getting settled in the subway, while other times all interaction is basically dead in the water. In that case, we chat lightly, but mostly about nothing in particular, while taking advantage of the noisiness of the subway ride to create breaks instead of forcing continued dialogue.

Saying Goodnight

Saying goodnight is always awkward. I have never even thought of asking the girl for a second date then and there, because that puts her on the spot unfairly, even if I can readily tell that she liked me and will say yes. I usually thank her for accompanying me and make a reference to having enjoyed myself, after she responds in kind. I then awkwardly mention something to the effect of we’ll each get back to the shadchan and see where we go from here, which she’ll agree to in very neutral, sometimes restrained fashion (if she likes me). I wish her a final goodnight, thank her again, and she makes her exit.

The Journey Back

I’m either on the subway or shuttle listening to music of some kind (depending on my mood). I prefer the shuttle if possible, especially if it’s late, since it will drop me off right in front of my dorm building (so I don’t have to trek through the local neighborhood, and in the cold if it’s winter), is free, and far less obnoxious than taking the subway in general. I lose myself in the music, ignoring everything happening around me, and reflect on the date. I usually have a good time on a first date, but I’ll also think over the one or two rough spots that might have cropped up. If I really like her, I may end up listening to bouncy wedding songs on the way back (a bit premature, I know).

The Decision

In the vast majority of cases, I will always go on a second date. I’ve never had issues with looks that were so disturbing that I’d turn down another chance. I did want to end one shidduch after a first date (the first YUConnects shidduch) since we were simply incompatible on a number of issues, but my connector guilt-tripped me into a second date (wherein I noticed the issues didn’t change at all, and I ended it then). The one other time I wanted to end the shidduch after the first date since I couldn't identify with the girl at all, despite her great qualities, and she thought the same thing.

I’ll call the shadchan and give my post-date debriefing which consists of a short summary, a highlight of the positive points of what transpired, and what I liked about her. He/she will respond, “great, I’ll call her and see what she thought.” With the exception of one girl, they always say yes to a second date.

If I hear back from the shadchan that night that she agreed to another outing, I go to bed very pleased with the results of the evening. If it’s too late to call him/her, or they say they’ll call the girl in the morning, I’m still happy, but also a little nervous that she’s going to say no (even if that hasn’t been a widespread concern).


So there you have it, after thinking about this all week and mentioning my in-progress status on numerous other blogs’ comments, I’ve finished my version of the nitty-gritty details of Shades of Grey on a first date. I hope this has been an enlightening educational read. Comments and questions are most welcome!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shidduch Anatomization

After reading Bored Jewish Guy's post regarding the male perspective on the first date, my mind started percolating on a topic that has bothered me since high school. Why do we have such an ingrained tendency to anatomize our date? By we, I mean those of us of the male persuasion, though I'm sure this exists to a different degree amongst women as well. (As a caveat, I do not mean to critique Bored Jewish Guy or anyone else for that matter).

Medieval love poetry was well known for producing "romantic" lists that categorize the various parts of a woman's body. Basically, the actuality of a woman as a human being is broken down into a grocery list of comparisons (eyes bright like suns, lips red like rose, etc) rendering her an anatomical dissection that the lover/poet fawns over.

I'm not in any way insinuating that physical attraction isn't an absolutely necessary part of the equation that will produce a marriage. You must find your spouse attractive, and he/she should certainly cause your pulse to increase and take your breath away. I personally think it's extremely important to develop this intense attraction for one's spouse, in an effort to monopolize all of your attention toward him/her and thereby prevent potential distraction by other men/women who are out there in the world. There is so much rampant immorality, so many blatant eye-catching, immodest advertisements, etc. etc. that lay claim to our attention and can undermine a truly meaningful relationship simply because of a conveniently prettier exterior.

Anyway, that's within marriage.

In the realm of dating, when a person is seriously searching for his/her beloved, why should analysis of his/her posterior, or any other part of their body really matter? I am a firm proponent that facial appearance makes a big difference - you will literally wake next to this person each day, and will look him/her in the eye for many years to come, so finding their facial features attractive is significant. But any other portion of their anatomy? Especially in our society, where strict premarital physical and sexual conduct is prohibited, no one really gets any individualized knowledge of what their date looks physically looks like.

The world around us emphasizes the need to "try it before you buy it." They have seemingly embraced a variant of the notion presented in the fictional Utopia imagined by Sir Thomas More (in the chapter Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages) wherein the prospective bride and groom are displayed to their potential mate entirely unclothed to prevent "alienation" stemming from the unexpected physical appearance of their spouse after the wedding. More writes that this pre-ceremony inspection is akin to what a man does when he wants to buy a new horse, and likewise checks out every aspect of its physical form before he makes the purchase. Of course, the idea is entirely ludicrous, and More himself (as the narrator) finds the concept immodest. Yet here we are, covertly, or blatantly admiring the physical shapes of our dates.

Am I being a bit zealous in the way I'm presenting this issue? Perhaps a little bit. However, other than a cursory "checking out" of a date's general body type/shape - which can be accomplished over the course of a date or two without the need to do the "elevator eyes" examination (thanks to Bad4 for introducing me to that term) - what else do we need to "figure out" so intensely that encourages/discourages us to like the person?

In my own mind, a date should fit my generic understanding of what body shape I find attractive - including her facial features - and that's it for me with regard to inspection of her physical form. She just needs to pass that threshhold of what I personally feel is appealing - and this is a subjective feeling for each person in his/her own terms - afterwhich I move on to getting to know her better, hopefulling gaining understanding of just who she is and why we might be compatible. Looks/physical fitness is merely something I quickly check off in my mental list of priorities; if the physical attraction isn't there, then the shidduch won't get off the ground. But once I establish that she meets my fairly unrestricted criteria, I completely switch off my focus on her physicality, thereby aiming to comprehend her truer essence - her spiritual and intellectual nature, her demeanor and character traits, etc.

I've always had issues with the general male populace for looking at girls like pieces of meat, which is perhaps why I sometimes find it hard to become friendly with guys who seem to exhibit these blatantly neanderthal-ish sentiments. In any event, I hope we can all strive to put looks where they belong in our catalogue of priorities, devoting give more mental and emotional energy to the things that are truly important.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Dating Case Study: Dave and Buster's

I’ve always thought that a date at Dave and Buster’s can be a very informative (not to mention fun) experience. For those who are have never been there before, Dave and Buster’s is a national chain of arcades the feature many different kinds of video games and other similar gaming activities (such as air hockey, basketball cabinets, and skeeball). In a sense, Dave and Buster’s is a Chuck-E-Cheese for adults, as odd of a concept as that is.

Many people have made the case (almost always from the female perspective) that dates at Dave and Buster’s and similar venues are entirely male-centered, since guys love video games. These bloggers remark that the girl basically suffers through the date while the guy makes an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate the great fun to be had in this type of leisure “guy” activity. His failure to really engage his date’s interest becomes the focal point for girls’ objection to these types of dates.

Empirically, I have found this is not the case, for the most part. When I started dating, Dave and Buster’s was just an activity that was a worthwhile 2nd or 3rd date, since it changes the pace of the more conversation oriented 1st or 2nd date and gives you something to physically do. The various games available aren’t as physically involving as say, playing a game of 1-on-1 basketball together (which, aside from being a presumably rare occurrence in general, presents a number of potential shomer negiah issues, among other difficulties). However, the selection of games is definitely more engaging than playing checkers or Bananagrams.

Granted, there are certain video games that can arguably be said to be more male-centric, such as first person shooters (the games with the guns). However, I have found many dates (though not all) have had no real problem cooperatively playing as government agents responding to a terrorist threat (as in the Time Crisis series). I definitely steer clear of the more gory zombie-related titles (since I myself don’t enjoy them), but I am often pleasantly surprised how interested, and talented dates can be when playing these games.

That genre aside, the majority of the games are equally attractive to both genders. Who doesn’t enjoy a good game of that timeless classic Pac-Man? Another good example are racing games, whether standard versions or the more wacky (and in my opinion more fun) Mario Kart. I’m not particularly good at racing games in general, so participating in a fun bit of competition in a safe fashion (quite unlike street racing, or even go-carts) can draw out certain aspects of a person’s personality that he/she may otherwise be actively trying to keep in check, thereby providing a better glimpse of who they really are.

While dating, and certainly at the start of a shidduch, most everyone (hopefully) does their utmost to maintain their most professional, courteous, best-foot-forward presentation of him/herself. At some point in the relationship, the daters need to start “letting their hair down,” and get past the expertly organized façade that generates the awkward interactions we all experience during those first few outings. Some people try to artificially construct “tests,” such as the infamous red light car-key grab and bait (I have yet to determine the authenticity of this story).

I’m not such a fan of deliberately forcing such situations to get someone to reveal the artificially hidden, though true, aspects of their date’s temperament. Things go wrong on dates, regardless of how much planning is involved. Examples of my own personal experience include picking a Starbucks that ends up having no seats (either from over-patronage, or inconvenient store layout), Starbucks that lacked a functional bathroom (either from store layout, or plumbing malfunction) – both circumstances requiring somewhat lengthy treks, sometimes in unpleasant weather conditions, to find a suitable store. Another example is those awkward encounters accompanied by prolonged conversations with random interlopers who butt into your date-in-progress and won’t take the polite hint to leave.

In short, there are many different, randomly generated (or probably more accurately, Hashgacha Pratis arranged) little bumps along the road that give you an opportunity to see how your date reacts under non-ideal conditions.

Nevertheless, I think a little healthy competition can be helpful in breaking down the barriers purposely raised between the guy and girl. One specific area where this manifests itself is the general idea of the guy displaying a particular prowess he may have at one particular game (or in general). Should the guy, who may arguably be the better player or have more practice, freely compete in the game, or should he let his date win?

At first, I wrestled with this idea in my own mind, or discussed it with my male friends on the theoretical level. More recently, I’ve even begun bringing up the notion on actual dates. My friends typically didn’t have a clear answer, or thought it was nicer to not dominate every game and let the date win every now and then. Most dates, when presented with the question, have basically said that there is no real reason to “go easy” on them.

As a result, there are times where I’ve been beaten into the ground in certain games. I have very rarely won at Skeeball; I simply have no knack for it. On the one occasion that I went bowling on a date (which has its own truckload of awkward moments), I was soundly beaten twice! This was, and is, for me one my most embarrassing moments in dating thus far. Perhaps this stemmed from the fact that skeeball is a distant cousin to bowling, or maybe she was just that much better than I was, offense to my male ego notwithstanding.

Air hockey is also a good source of competition, and a game that my dates are usually very into. As such, air hockey matches can get pretty intense. Aside from the comparison of skill level, there are also surprising moments that can generate unexpected reactions – such as scoring a goal on yourself, thereby giving away a free point – or worse, unintentionally handing over the victory. True, the overall significance of who wins the match is rather minimal, but emotional outbursts in the positive (expressions of sportsmanship) or negative (being a sore loser) can come to the forefront. If someone can brush off a loss, or two, that shows (in my view) a microcosmic healthy perspective on life. The converse example, if someone becomes overtly angry and determined to “pay you back” over such a trivial defeat, can be very indicative of possessing an easily excitable temper or other negative trait.

Dance-Dance Revolution (DDR) is an interesting game in general, and particularly so on a date. The series originated in Japan (as most mainstream games do) and became a part of the social culture of Japanese youth. After introduction on our shores, the innovative new way of game-play was also a hit, and I very often see a dating couple playing DDR in arcades.

I freely admit that I’m not very good at DDR, but I always suggest it as a sort of inquiry into how adventurous my date is. The ridiculousness of stepping and hopping to the beat of some techno-y J-Pop (Japanese pop) song can certainly serve as a big ice-breaker for the developing relationship. Most girls, from my experience, won’t even consider playing the game. Certainly, the method of play can get a bit embarrassing, particularly if you can’t keep up with the directional arrows that tell you where to step when and how much (I find the split left-right / front-back combinations the most difficult).

Someone may also be wondering if this is a violation of mixed dancing of some sort. I’m not so sure, but am inclined to say no – there are two separate dance pads and no actual physical interaction, or even dancing with one another. You’re basically bouncing up and down side-by-side for several rounds of pop-induced silliness - though I have seen some players who take the game extremely seriously, which would seem to suck a the fun out of it for me (as impressive as it is to see the really good DDR fans go at it). In any event, DDR also provides a bit of a work-out, which always makes me wonder if I should warn girls ahead of time that they shouldn't wear heels (though I've never encountered the issue before). It might sound strange if I request that they wear their 'dancing shoes,' though.

Claw/crane machines provide a good outlet for the guy to show off his skills (should he have any), and if he’s successful, he can win a cute little stuffed animal for his date. I happen to be better at these games than most guys (based on an unscientific poll from a number of friends), so I often successfully snag one (or more) plushy critters for my date. Every date finds it pretty impressive when I win, though I do wonder what the girls who I’ve gone out with in the past have done with those mementos after the relationship ended…

Which brings me to my final point (and the inspiration for this entire post) – I have found that one crucial part of a Dave and Buster’s date to be a very accurate indicator regarding the future of a shidduch. A number of games, such as basketball, skeeball, and a few others will dispense prize tickets depending on how many points you score. If you and/or your date are talented, you end up acquiring a good number of tickets by the end of the night – which of course leads to the obligatory ticket count and visit to the prize room. I have always taken dates to the prize room (with its ridiculously priced toys and knickknacks) to try and get her something as a reminder/conclusion of the evening.

Here’s my key observation: Every date willingly accompanies me to check out all the goodies on display, after all, it’s fun to see all the fun (big stuffed animals) and strange (crock-pots?!) things they have. However, only girls that expect to go on at least two more dates (meaning the relationship has some substance) lets me use our collected tickets to get her a prize. No one can turn down the stuffed animals obtained from claw machines, but it seems like they feel guilty if they’re planning to dump me and don’t want to “waste” the ticket total on my little Dave and Buster’s card (it works like a debit card, basically). Almost every time, any girl that declines a redeeming the tickets for a prize will end the relationship after that date, or give it one shot and then reject me.

With my recent streak of short-lived shidduchim, I’ve amassed quite the number of tickets on my card which just sit unused in my wallet. Maybe the date that actually decides to redeem them for a prize (and by the time that happens, I could have enough to get something more than ordinary) will also be the one?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mighty Morphin' YU Rangers Theme Song

A group of my friends here at YU have been working on a particularly interesting video project for just about 2 years now, and they tell me it will hopefully be completed in time for Purim. The Power Rangers costume idea originated post-Purim 5767/2007 (literally, as in Shushan Purim) and the costumes were created during the following year in preparation for Purim 5768/2008 at YU. They've been working on this parody video on-and-off since then.

One of them asked me to post this preview/theme song to drum up interest (in addition to serving as motivation for him to finish the thing). It's definitely creative and pretty funny, I'll give them that. The finished product should also be quite interesting, assuming they actually complete it.

On a personal note: if that wasn't a blast from the past, I don't know what is. The original Power Rangers show was on TV back when I was in 2nd grade, and my friend tells me it's back on TV again this year(!?!). This makes me feel old...

Anyway, enjoy the video, and be on the look out for the final product in the near future.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Minimizing Differences In Dating

A date once remarked to me that she felt a bit left out of the general shidduchim scene because she had gone to Touro, and thus had no real connection to get set up with YU guys. Her father attended YU a number of years ago, and she had an older sister who went to Stern, but neither could provide any real contacts to get her “in” the system of the YU dating world.

She mentioned that a bunch of her fellow Touro classmates felt similarly, and that it was a bit frustrating since they saw themselves as looking for guys more akin to those found at YU than at Touro/Landers. The Touro-branded gender-separated schools also lack the frequency of contact that YU and Stern have, so the opportunities for inter-campus dating didn’t really exist for her either.

Thinking back on my own dating experience, I realize that the majority of girls I’ve gone out with did, in fact, attend Stern. Those that didn’t (and there were a few) ended up as somewhat short-lived matches, lasting no longer than 2 dates. While those shidduchim were ended for various other reasons (by me or the girl, depending on the case), I wonder to what degree the difference in educational background played a part in the termination of the shidduch.

The saying goes that opposites attract. However, for most people, I don’t think this is true at all. People are most comfortable around others similar to themselves, and often develop relationships (friendship or otherwise) with different individuals based on a shared experience that then unifies them into a similar experiential subset – such as classmates or HASC/NCSY advisors.

I know from my own experience that I’ve had some difficulty becoming friends with guys who went to Gush. I don’t mean this as an insult in any way to their yeshiva or hashkafa, since I find many things to respect and admire in their approach, just as I do with most every halachically observant group out there. However, there has always been some undermining factor that created friction between me and the Gush alumni. With one particular friend, who I have known for a number of years, dating back to before either of us went to Israel (he went to Gush), I find almost impossible to have a normal, casual conversation with. I don’t think he’s an argumentative instigator of any sort, but we almost always end up verbally tussling over issues such as the existence of platonic relationships (which is another topic for another post and not up for discussion now). Despite all this, I still value him as a friend, and he often has very sharp, extremely intelligent things to say which I find very thought-provoking.

More recently though, I’ve begun to become friends with guys from Gush and other yeshivos as more primary friends than those from my own yeshiva, as has been the trend in the past. This development could be out of necessity from the fact that almost all the guys from my year in Israel at my yeshiva have graduated or gotten married and moved away. A more likely possibility, in my opinion, is that we have gone through the YU educational system and thus our cliquey behavior from post Shana Aleph/Bet has been broken down in favor of a more unified relationship stemming from our new identities as YU students. Sure, we still have strong loyalties toward our alma maters, but YU has become a new home of sorts, a new united yeshiva where we all have our unique niche among the overall Torah Umadda commonality that binds us together.

In the realm of dating, I tend to find that I very often have more in common with girls who go/went to Stern, since there is a very shared history between us, somewhat akin (though different in nuanced ways) to the idea in the previous paragraph. Even though we usually have never met before, we have a mutual educational history. Being able to engage in the ‘hock’ about goings on in the YU world is always a fun topic for the first date or two, and that basic connection is entirely lost when I’m going out with someone who has no connection to YU.

I have noticed a similar thing with regard to girls who went to Israel vs. those that did not (for whatever reason). I admittedly have gone out with very few girls who chose not to attend a seminary for the year, and it always feels like there is this huge chunk of connecting fabric that is utterly missing. We can’t trade stories about the craziness we experienced living in Israeli society or other adventures we took part in – all of which is usually perfect fodder for the first few dates when all you really do is play Jewish geography and compare/contrast the year(s) spent in Israel before college. The less than handful of times that I’ve been on dates with someone who went straight to Stern I end up feeling bad because I find myself going on and on about my Israel yeshiva days, and realize that I’m basically having a one-sided conversation because she can’t participate in a proper give-and-take in this area. Many girls are also a bit (or more than a bit) sensitive about this aspect of their educational record, and that can make things difficult as well.

Another similarly relevant point is the in/out-of-towner status. As an out-of-towner, I was initially encouraged by my rabbeim to only go out with girls that were also out-of-towners, simply because it meant we would have a common background that would potentially help produce mutually feelings about lifestyle and hashkafa. Being from out-of-town has a real profound influence on how a person views the world – I still can’t see myself ever living in New York on any permanent basis. I love YU, but I can’t stand New York. At first, I only went out with girls from hometowns similar to my own – which was probably more coincidence than absolute intention, since the candidates that married friends and their wives thought of always happened to be of that particular background.

Then, after a dry spell of not receiving any suggestions from my helpful and caring friends, I started using YU Connects and ended up dating several "local" girls. All were fairly unproductive, lasting no more than 3 dates (with refusals coming from both sides at different times). That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m entirely incompatible with in-towners, and in fact many probably wouldn’t mind living somewhere a little bit warmer and with a slower pace of life. So while I don’t outrightly turn down any girls from the Tri-State area anymore, I do make sure to inquire to see what their mindset is about at least the possibility of leaving somewhere very out-of-town. As a result, I’ve met some very great girls, and have also rejected profiles sent to me (via YU Connects) of people whose mantra is “New York or Israel.”

As an aside, take notice that New York is dead last in the CDC’s survey of the nation’s happiest states, while New Jersey is 47th.

The last major point of comparison/contrast I find is the ba’al teshuva (BT) vs. frum from birth (FFB) interaction/disconnection. I will proudly admit I am a ba’al teshuva, dating back to my early high school days. I, along with my family, have gone through a lot of growth in the last decade since I’ve become religious. The experience of becoming frum can be very tumultuous, resulting in tense/argumentative relationships with parents and siblings, a ton of self-doubt about the entire process, and at worst can ostracize parents and their children. Thank G-d, the rougher times of conflicted interactions between my parents and I have long past and we are on extremely good terms wherein they recognize and appreciate the value of being religious (and have made great strides in that direction as well, to follow their children). If anything, our relationship is far stronger than it was before this religious journey began. But not every BT’s story is the same. Some never regain a positive relationship with their parents, and some maintain a very tentative “walking on pins and needles” connection to their mother and father (certainly a sad situation).

Oddly enough, I’ve only gone out with 2 ba’alei teshuva. One became frum along with her family at a very young age, so for all intents and purposes, she was no different from any FFB I’ve gone out with. The other had a situation similar to mine, but only her mother became more religious and not her father, so her parent-child relationship, though generally positive, is far from perfect in many ways (as are all of our parent-children relationships, though this adds an extra kink into the mix). Though we had similar basic stories in how we became frum (NCSY, rabbinic mentor, religious friends) our overall experiences, and the perspectives we developed were markedly different. That was the only “one-and-done” shidduch that was entirely mutual. She is a great person, and I very much admire her inner strength and tenacity for becoming religious in an admittedly difficult situation that I could really relate to, but we were on very different wavelengths.

I had thought that the mutual ba’al teshuva background would be a ripe source for finding connections between us. There are a great number of shared experiences that BT have had in their past which FFB’s will hopefully never encounter (this is also not up for discussion now, and could easily fill a post or two) which we draw strength from and have helped mold our often very unique perspectives on life and Judaism. I have always thought that the Gemara in Brachos (daf 34B) is an example of this principle. The Gemara there talks about the place where ba’alei teshuva stand in shomayim is a location that even tzadikim gemurim can never reach. Ba’alei teshuva who utilize their past, incorporating all the things they learned and were exposed to fashion a very distinctive pathway in Avodas HaShem. This includes the positive elements as well as beneficial points which can always be extracted from even the most negative situations.

So while BTs can have somewhat similar backgrounds (sometimes VERY similar) there can also be very disparate experiences that just don’t mesh. The conversation we had over the course of the entire date felt as though we were just talking past one another. We simply couldn’t properly grasp, or agree with the other’s views on lifestyle, interactions/relationships with gentiles, frumkite, and other things BTs struggle to define for themselves.

As ironic as it sounds, and especially because I certainly don’t have a right to be particular about the issue of dating fellow BTs, (since that is entirely hypocritical) I would honestly prefer someone with a FFB background. I love my parents and extended family to no end, and I don’t have any halachic issues with them anymore, but I like the idea of being part of another family that is far more grounded a knowledgeable about the finer details of halachic observance. Like I said, I can’t demand to only date girls with a FFB background, but this is something I think about a lot.

Lastly, there was an idea that I remember reading from Rav Aharon Feldman’s The River, The Kettle, and The Bird (which is FANTASTIC, by the way, and a must read for everyone engaged, married, or especially single – so you can work on the points of mussar he mentions NOW rather than waiting to improve yourself during marriage) or from my personal Rav (or it could be another source). In any case, the particular rabbinical figure said that whenever he meets with newly engaged couples for pre-marital counseling and guidance, he always has them sit down together in his office and starts off by relaying the same message. He turns to the guy and tells him “Your soon-to-be wife is a female,” then turns to the girl and says “Your soon-to-be husband is a male.” He does this to drive the point home that people often have unrealistic expectations about their spouse. Simply because this very special individual is someone you have committed to spending the rest of your life with, and hopefully your absolute best friend, doesn’t mean that he/she is also going to be the best equivalent of your male/female friends.

I recall hearing from another source that commented on the above mentioned catechism (“opposites attract”) that those who are looking for opposites have enough to deal with already since males and females are inherently different enough – why worry about other things like drastically different backgrounds, nationalities, family lifestyles, etc?

In any event, I know of at least one YU-Touro couple who are very happily married. My YU friend’s Touro-educated wife has acclimated quite well to the YU environment, and now she fits right in. I do think any specific differences of the sort I’ve written about in this post are by any means major red flags or deal breakers, but they are definitely something to consider.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shidduchim Of The Future: A Short Story

“Thank you for tonight,” she smiled.

“Thank you for accompanying me. I had a great time.”

“Well… I guess it’s time to say goodnight,” she replied, nervously glancing downward.

“I guess so.”

“Bye, then.”

“Goodnight,” he meekly called after her as she closed the door.

Yossi, all of twenty-two years old, remained standing there on his date’s doorstep for a few moments, deep in thought. His concentration shattered as the door suddenly swung open. Startled, Yossi recoiled to a safer distance. Two gleaming orbs peered out from the blackness within.

“Master, that was awfully weak – notwithstanding your significant Shidduch Code violation,” a smooth, silvery face jutted out from the darkened doorway.

“H2, I think you’re being a bit harsh-”

“Article 4, section 18 very clearly states, ‘Shidduch daters may not comment regarding how well the evening’s proceedings went to his or her date in person. Rather, all reactions and feelings are reserved for communication via the predetermined intermediary-'”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember,” Yossi lazily waved his hand in the air to ward off the citation.

“If there was no malfunction in your memory core, why did you breach the established rule of conduct?” The humanoid automaton stepped out from the doorway, the gears comprising its joints whirring softly.

Simulated Humanoid Interactive Dating Droid/Computerized Holographic-generator Mach 2 (SHIDD/CH-2, or H2 for short) simultaneously rotated and tilted ‘his’ head into an inquisitive stare. Yossi didn’t reply and looked off in the distance to avoid making eye contact.

“I am quite concerned for your performance in an actual dating situation. You’re lucky my rejection-levels were dialed down. Care to see what would have happened had you acted in such a manner during a more realistic scenario?” H2’s optical ports brightened, his equivalent to a human’s raised eyebrow.

“Not really, but I don’t think that’s going to stop you,” Yossi sighed.

H2 straightened, and the multitude of holographic projectors located around his lanky frame began to hum to life. The air around the robot shimmered momentarily, and his metallic form was immediately replaced with the exact duplicate of Rachel, Yossi’s “date.” Standing at five feet, five inches, with shoulder-length, light brown hair and dazzling green eyes, “Rachel” was a perfect digital copy of a girl Yossi’s mother wanted him to go out with.

“Shall we try this again?” H2’s tinny intonation gave way to Rachel’s softer, somewhat bubbly voice. Yossi sighed again and nodded. ‘Rachel’ shifted her stance to appear more natural and clasped her hands behind her back.

“Thank you for tonight,” ‘Rachel’ smiled.

“Oh, it was entirely my pleasure,” Yossi unleashed a cheesy grin. ‘Rachel’ frowned slightly.

“Well… I guess it’s time to say goodnight,” the simulation repeated and glanced downward, as before.

“Allow me,” Yossi deftly side-stepped his ‘date’ and opened the front door. ‘Rachel’s’ eyebrows furrowed, as though confused. Yossi waved his arms in an exaggerated, doorman-like fashion, beckoning ‘Rachel’ to enter her house.

“Why… thank you.” With a small shrug, she awkwardly maneuvered past him.

“Oh, and one more thing,” he called after her. ‘Rachel’ paused in the doorway.

“Yes?” She turned to face Yossi. Unexpectedly, his hand shot out and grabbed hers. He lifted her arm and planted a small kiss across her knuckles. ‘Rachel’ gasped in horror, and a blue spark emitted from her wrist, jolting Yossi into releasing her clasped fingers.

“Master, that was entirely uncalled for!” H2 broke character, his flustered voice sounding from ‘Rachel’s’ lips. “How dare you violate the ban on pre-marital physical contact…!”

Yossi grinned mischievously.

“I’m going to fulfill article 34, section 13. See ya.” Yossi bounded into the darkened foyer.

“The post-date refrigeration unit foray followed by binge comestible consumption?”

“That’d be the one,” Yossi’s voice echoed from the kitchen. Disengaging his digital projection with a two-toned boop-bip, H2 became himself again.

“I honestly wonder how female organics put up with this…” H2 closed the door behind him.