Thursday, April 29, 2010

Konochi-wa! I Vant To... *Check* Your Blood?

The BBC has posted an interesting story about how people in Japan are resorting to dating by blood type (you know, A, B, AB, O and all that). According to Japanese beliefs/culture/whatever, different blood types have different personalities, so knowing the blood type of a potential spouse can be a good indicator of how well the two people will get along.

I always wondered why author-provided profiles of anime/manga characters listed blood type, which seemed like such a random stat to mention. Now I can say that I am a bit wiser on the subject.

The article mentions "The received wisdom is that As are dependable and self sacrificing, but reserved and prone to worry." I happen to be an A-, at least according to my New York Blood Center card, and the description is pretty accurate, I think.

However, the whole notion is quite preposterous as the article goes on to discuss. From a slightly more scientific standpoint there may be basis for a genetic predisposition to some traits, which I extensively lampooned in my story, "Shidduchim of the Near Future: Don't Wear Genes on a Date."

Despite the inherent chukas-goyim aspect of all this, I really hope that shidduch crazy sectors of our society never catch onto this nonsense. Otherwise, we'd have yet another silly thing to add to our shidduch research checklists.

P.S. I linked the printable version of the article because the regular website had a not-tziyus (as in unclothed) drawing in one of the suggested article icons at the bottom of the page. The picture could easily have been cropped to be more modest, but I guess it's true when they say that "sex sells." What a world we live in...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mazal Tovs All Around!

First of all, a very big mazal tov to Chana at The Curious Jew on her engagement!!!

Also, mazal tov to the Maccabeats for their appearance on JM in the AM this morning! Check out the April 27th, 2010 recording (around 1:45 in - but be warned that there are some musical songs played at other points in the broadcast). Great job on the broadcast guys!

And lastly, a slightly belated mazal tov to a very good friend and former roommate of mine on his engagement! I missed his party due to a pre-scheduled date, and only found out about it a few hours beforehand via text. It's funny how vort announcements always happens that way. I wish people could give a little more notice... (It was worth it, for the record).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why You Stuck-Up, Half-Witted, Scruffy-Looking (Insert Here)

We find ourselves in the days between Pesach and Shavuos, known to all at Sefiras HaOmer. Along with reflecting on how to improve ourselves in preparation for the celebration of matan Torah, we also observe the mourning practices that recall the loss of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. The most infamous of these indications of mourning with regard to the dating world is of course, the sefirah beard (at least for men).

Why are girls obsessed with sefirah beards!?

I’ve empirically experienced the almost obligatory adoration that goes along with the sudden, non-ephemeral appearance of facial hair, including one girl who requested I not shave for dates after Lag B’Omer. I’ve been told my sefirah beard, which has dramatically increased in coverage over the years, makes me look scholarly, rabbinical, and mature. If anything, the beard growth gives me something to actually grasp when I absentmindedly stroke my jaw in thought, which is a “bad habit” of mine (or so I’ve been told). At least the facial hair legitimizes the action.

One friend from yeshiva in Israel actually kept a photographic record, or "Sefirah-beard-o-meter" that he included in his weekly emails to his family.

What seems particularly funny to me is that the “sex-appeal” of sefirah beards drops from an all time high during dating/engagement to the negative range after the wedding. I’ve read on several blogs and heard from numerous married women during Shabbos table conversations (when this inevitably comes up for discussion) that they really don’t like sefirah beards at all on their normally clean shaven husbands.

A rebbe of mine told me a cute story about Sefirah beards. Apparently, he has a chassidish friend whose wife forbids him from growing a beard, and thus he goes without one for the majority of the year. Recently, as he began to take a liking to his sefirah beard as he does every year, he stroked the ill-fated beard in admiration and remarked to his wife, “You know, this sefirah beard actually looks becoming,” in a vain attempt to get her allow him to keep it.

She replied “It may be becoming, but it better be going.”

I think the key difference is that while beards may be visually appealing to dating girls because of their macho/manly factor that makes their gentlemen callers appear rugged and handsome, married women know the tactile difference that beards are no fun to come into prolonged contact with. The closest that any single girl can probably come to understand this is any encounter they may have had with their father kissing them on the cheek when he wasn’t clean shaven. It’s not quite sandpaper, but you get my drift.

Yes, for those female readers who are wondering, beards are itchy, as well as hot and bothersome to maintain. I somewhat experimentally kept a beard after the 3 weeks this past summer, and it was really difficult to keep it trim and even. Typical pre-Shabbos beard neatening took far longer than a typical shave. After another week or two, I gave up and went back to clean shaven.

The biggest perk about my sefirah beard is that my Shabbos and date prep time is reduced semi-substantially, since I typically only shave for those occasions (shaving roughly once a week makes the shaving process take longer). I also don't have to worry about missing a patch here or there and appearing half-unkempt in my attempt to look my best on dates.

Though I'll be somewhat sad to see it go, I still look forward to shaving once again. I much prefer the more minimal stubble look (and feel) to a fuller beard. That, and I will finally look more presentable, and less all-around scruffy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Intervention

Yankel was nervous. He had no clue why he received a summons to appear in the Rosh Yeshiva’s office that afternoon. It was the start of his second zman since returning from two years in Israel, and he’d been the model bochur ever since he arrived at the yeshiva’s doorstep. He never came late to davening or seder, was respectful toward his shiur rebbe, got along great with his chevrusas and roommates, and even liked the food served in the cafeteria. He couldn’t think of any particular offense he had committed that would warrant a confrontation with the intimidating man who ran the place.

Ignoring the growing sense of uneasiness in his belly, Yankel kissed the mezuzah on the doorframe, walked into the waiting area, and sat down. The secretary, Mrs. Borgerkrantz, a woman in her sixties wearing a youthful looking sheitel that did not match her age, gave him a disinterested look and went back to awkwardly typing at her computer with her index fingers.

Yankel reached into his pocket and fumbled with the now-crumpled paper that his morning seder chevrusa gave him earlier that day. Straightening it as best as he could, he reread the scrawled writing for the umpteenth time, “Yankel Feigelstone, please report to HaRav Gezunterman Shlita’s office at 4 PM.” Yankel loosened his collar a bit, wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand, all the while keeping his eyes fixated on the crinkled sheet of loose-leaf.

After a few minutes, the secretary glanced in Yankel’s direction, sighed tersely, and picked up the phone on her desk. She punched in the Rosh Yeshiva’s code and waited for the connection to go through.

“Yes, HaRav Gezunterman, Shlita?” She warbled in a sweet old-lady voice. “The Feigelstone boy is here for his meeting. All right, I’ll send him right in,” she hung up the phone and snapped her fingers to wake Yankel from his stupor. He lifted his head, a concerned look on his face. “The Rosh Yeshiva will see you now,” she snapped, all niceness drained from her expression. Yankel hopped up from his seat, dropping the note, and quickly stooped to pick it up. He jammed it back into his pocket and hurriedly walked past the secretary’s desk into the nearby office.

“Please, have a seat. And close the door behind you, if you don’t mind.” The Rosh Yeshiva sat in his large, heavily padded, black leather chair. He was angled away from the door, and the seat’s high back blocked Yankel from seeing anything other than Rav Gezunterman’s left hand on the armrest. Yankel quickly complied and anxiously took his place in the only other chair in the room, which was understandably not nearly as nice as the Rosh Yeshiva’s, but still of a higher quality than those found in the beis medrish.

“Do you have any idea why I asked you to see me?” Rav Gezunterman’s deep voice asked, still facing the window.

“I-I-I’m really not s-sure… I thought I had b-been doing pretty good in my learning and-”

“You were seen in town last night…” The leather chair squeaked as it turned around on its swivel base. “With a… girl,” Rav Gezunterman’s intense eyes peered over his thick glasses, which were perched on the end of his large nose.

“I c-can explain that. I’ve already been here for one z-zman, so my f-freezer period is over… isn’t it?” Yankel swallowed timidly. His mouth had gone dry the moment he entered the office, and the action strained his throat.

“Well, yes, that is true,” Rav Gezunterman stared off into space and stroked his long, grey-white beard.

“A-and we were in a public place, n-no yichud issues, a-and we were sitting more than an arm-lengths apart.”

“That’s right, that’s what I was told, but-”

“But what?” Yankel immediately regretted the outburst. “I-I-I’m so s-sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt the Rosh Yeshiva, Shlita…” he trailed off, looked down and twiddled his thumbs.

“From the report I received, it seems like you weren’t having such a great time. Is that true?” Rav Gezunterman leaned forward slightly, pursed his lips and raised a shaggy eyebrow.

“Yes, I mean no… it was only a f-first date a-after all.”

“Look, Yankel, I just wanted to say-”

“I’m sorry I didn’t go through the official yeshiva channels!” Yankel cried out, his voice cracking. He internally scolded himself for interrupting the Rosh Yeshiva for a second time. “But my older sister’s mother-in-law said she knew this g-girl who was s-so aidel and-”

“That’s quite all right,” Rav Gezunterman shook his head slightly and waved his hand backward and forward a few times. “Our boys are redt shidduchim from all kinds of shadchanim. That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Th-then what’s wrong?” Yankel cringed, as though waiting to be struck.

“You,” the Rosh Yeshiva stated, as a matter-of-factly.

“M-me?!” Yankel’s voice jumped another pitch.


“What’s wr-wrong with me!?” Yankel felt his heart leap to his throat, blocking the airway.

“You’ve simply got no skills!” Rav Gezunterman threw both hands in the air. “How do you expect to get married acting like a nebbach case?” He thundered.

“W-with all due respect, I’m not sure what the Rosh Yeshiva means,” Yankel squirmed uneasily.

“What I mean is that you need to work on how you present yourself. No one’s going to be impressed with you if you don’t go out there trying to ‘wow’ them!”

“Um… can the Rosh Yeshiva please elaborate a little more? I-I’m still unclear.”

“I’ll give you an example. My sources say you were sitting slumped over when you were talking to the girl. That’s totally wrong – totally wrong! You need to have proper posture,” Rav Gezunterman straightened his back into the padded leather of his chair. “Remember, this isn’t your chevrusa, she could be your wife!”

Yankel’s face flushed pink, and he made a feeble attempt to make his spine erect. After a few painful seconds of straining, he slumped back down with a sigh.

“Also, your clothes were terrible, who let you out of the dorms looking like that? We’re going to have to put you in touch with one of your better dressed friends who can lend you a nice suit.”

“…What’s wrong with my suit?”

“Do you seriously expect me to believe that was your Shabbes suit? With all the creases and that seam on the ankle that is coming undone?”

“It was… my Shabbes suit…” Yankel answered weakly.

“And that hat of yours, pshhh!” Rav Gezunterman seemed to ignore Yankel’s response. “With the crunched up top and warped brim! Did you sit on it or something?”

Yankel’s stomach dropped, remembering the feeling of horror that coursed through his scrawny body upon realizing he had forgotten his hat on his seat when he went to knock on his date’s door. That horror intensified a thousand times over when he absentmindedly forgot that he forgot the hat, reentered the car and sat down.

“And don’t forget your tzitzis, they’re all yellowed and knotted up! Do you think girls will be impressed if you keep those things un-tucked? Not to mention the one tzitzis that you keep hanging out of the back of your waistband that looks like a lost piece of toilet paper!”

Yankel mournfully looked down at the well-worn, pitiful looking tzitzis cradled his hand.

“Back when I was dating,” Rav Gezunterman puffed out his chest, sliding a thumb under each suspender. “There were times where the only article of clothing of mine that I wore on a date was my underpants.” He tilted his head and whispered behind an upraised hand, “And sometimes I even borrowed those, too!”

Yankel’s face twisted in a look of revulsion.

“And you’ve got to hold the door for her, yes, yes,” Rav Gezunterman nodded his wizened head knowingly.

“But rebbe said in shiur that it isn’t tzniyus to hold the do-”

“Look, I know those halachos too, you don’t need to quote me your shiur rebbe. Seriously though, girls these days are looking for gentlemen. You’ve gotta be, what d’ya call it? Gallant.” He drew out the last syllable and spread both hands in a half arc on either side of his face.

Yankel failed to muster a reply and wished he had a pen and paper to start taking notes.

Rav Gezunterman broke the uncomfortable silence. “So, tell me, Yankel, was she attractive?”

“I… I guess so.”

“Well, was she pretty?” The Rosh Yeshiva pressed.

“Um, I, uh…”

“Was she gorgeous?”

“I-I really wouldn’t know, to tell the truth.”

“And why not?” Rav Gezunterman let the question hang.

Yankel shrugged and stared into his lap.

“That’s precisely why!” Rav Gezunterman slammed his fist on the desk in front of him, causing Yankel to jump in his seat. “You weren’t even looking at her! How can you determine if this aidel maidel is pretty enough for you if you don’t even know what she looks like? Granted,” the Rosh Yeshiva leaned back in his chair and methodically rocked up and down on its base, “you shouldn’t be ogling her like a piece of fleisch. That doesn’t befit a ben Toirah.”

Yankel nodded in silent agreement.

“But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give her a look over from the neck down at all…” the Rosh Yeshiva made a tsk sound with his teeth. “That’s important, too… to a degree.” He put both hands flat on the desk. “I’ll give you a mashul. A man needs to eat food, right? But, he can’t spend his entire life eating bland food. Sure, he’ll get nutrition or some such, but he needs some flavor, some spices that are pleasing to his taste buds, you know.”

Yankel failed to see where Rav Gezunterman was going with this mashul.

“So too,” he began the nimshal, “Some guys like zaftig girls, and others... not so much. But you shouldn’t place all the emphasis on that, no, no, no,” the Rosh Yeshiva shook his head back and forth and narrowed his gaze on Yankel. “A Shayna punim is definitely more important,” he jabbed an index finger into the air.

Yankel guessed that was a good point.

“And let’s not forget your car! What is that thing you’ve been driving anyway?”

Yankel absentmindedly scratched the back of his head and looked toward the ceiling. “It’s my mother’s twelve passenger van… I’ve got eight brothers and sisters, and Totti takes the bus to work.”

“Well that won’t do! Not anymore, it won’t. We’re going to get you a nice car to take on dates… You can even borrow my car.”

“The 1984 Buick?” Yankel inquired, puzzled.

“Eh… on second thought, how about Rabbi Krumfry’s car? He’s a cool dude,” Rabbi Gezunterman said the last two words with cartoonish emphasis, trying to bridge the generational gap in a way that Yankel didn’t quite appreciate.

“Um… Rabbi Krumfry rides a motorcycle.”

“Oh,” Rabbi Gezunterman’s eyebrows scrunched together, clearly caught off guard. “I forgot about that.”

“A-and anyway, I don’t think my mom would let me r-ride a motorcycle, especially since that time-”

“Scratch that then,” Rav Gezunterman stroked his beard thoughtfully for a moment. “I’ve got it!” He reached over to his phone and pressed the intercom button. “Mrs. Borgerkrantz?”

“Yes, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita?”

“Call in that Five Towns boy, you know, what’s-his-face. Tell him his driving privileges are revoked for the foreseeable future…”

“But what about the-” Mrs. Borgerkrantz began.

Rav Gezunterman let go of the intercom button and raised the receiver to his ear so Yankel wouldn’t hear what the secretary was saying. Despite these efforts, the boy could still detect the muffled, cranky voice through the wall.

“Look, it doesn’t mean a thing to me if he has special permission from his mommy,” he wrapped the spiraled phone cord around a finger. “He could have a note from the President of the United States for all I care… and besides, he’s been slacking off on Shacharis attendance anyway, so you can blame it on that.” He hung up the phone with a clatter and turned back to Yankel. “See, now wasn’t that easy?”

“I-I g-guess so,” Yankel stammered.

“Of course it was!” He exclaimed and clapped his hands once. “I am the Rosh Yeshiva, after all!”

“W-whatever you say, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita.”

“Back to business,” the Rosh Yeshiva became serious again. “You need to learn talk about some shtusim, y’know everyday stuff that interests people.”

“But rebbe said that was b-bittul Toirah.”

“Look, are you going to listen to your rebbe, who’s been married for all of 3 years and has just one kid with another on the way,” Rav Gezunterman held his hands out like a scale. “Or me,” he gestured with a much higher raised hand, “When I’ve been married for forty years, have ten children and twenty four and a half grandchildren,” he dropped the other hand below the desk. “Hmmm?”

Yankel wondered what the half meant.

“Thankfully, this is easy to fix,” the Rosh Yeshiva spun on his chair and opened a filing cabinet. Reaching in, he lifted out a small pile of magazines. “The girls don’t want to hear about the Rav Chaim you learned in shiur, they want to hear about stuff like this.” He plopped the magazines one-by-one onto the desktop. Yankel saw a Reader’s Digest, a Newsweek, and a shopping catalog from Bass Pro Shop. All were several months old.

“I had Mrs. Borgerkrantz go through these and cut out anything that was pritzusdik, so it’s okay to read them.”

Yankel picked up the Newsweek and opened it to find large chunks missing from most of the pages.

“I think there’s an interesting article about the price of tea in China on page 56.”

Eagerly flipping through the dissected pages, Yankel was dismayed to find that there wasn’t a page 56.

“Also, if you’re going to give her some divrei Toirah, which I highly recommend, you’ve got to keep it light, no heavy mussar stuff. It turns girls off,” Rav Gezunterman chewed his lower lip. “Try something like Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, I think we’ve got a copy of one of his seforim in the beis medrish somewhere.”

“But Rebbe said we shouldn’t learn Rav Hirsch…”

“Why? ‘Cuz he’s too ‘modern’ or something?” Rav Gezunterman waggled a hand aimlessly. “Feh, I say. Girls eat that stuff up like there’s no tomorrow.”

The Rosh Yeshiva got up from his seat and started walking toward the door. Yankel sprang to his feet and joined him. Unexpectedly, Rav Gezunterman put a friendly arm around Yankel’s shoulder.

“We’ll get you back on the track to the chupa soon enough, Yankel. You just got to trust me,” he stopped walking and glanced down at Yankel’s face. “You do trust me, right?”

“O-of course, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita!” Something green caught Yankel’s eye. He looked over to Rav Gezunterman’s hand hanging off his shoulder. In between his middle and ring fingers he held a fifty dollar bill. Rav Gezunterman deftly slipped it into Yankel’s shirt pocket and gave it a light pat.

“Uh… what’s the money for?”

“Shaliach mitzvah money.”

“But I’m not going to Israel anytime soon,” Yankel protested, reaching into his pocket to remove the money. Rav Gezuntermnn lightly batted Yankel’s hand away.

“True, but your case warrants some tzedoka. Take her to a pizza joint, not a lounge. Make sure you get her something a little more than a glass of tap water. You can put whatever’s left in tzedoka. Or, if you’re lucky, save it for a second date,” Rav Gezunterman turned his head and offered a cheesy wink.

“Ooookay,” Yankel left the money where it was. He hoped he didn’t forget it was there and ruin it in the wash. Rav Gezunterman opened the door and let his arm fall back to his side.

“Be sure to tell me how things go, I want regular updates! And don’t forget, I’m always here if you ever need to schmooze again.”

“I a-appreciate the Rosh Yeshiva Shlita’s advice and time… I’ll try my best.”

“No, no. You’ll do your best, none of this I’m gonna try business. It’ll all work out, you’ll be fine,” Rav Gezunterman smiled and gave a double thumbs-up. Yankel mustered the courage to offer his own thumbs up in return and quickly fled the office as fast as his feet would carry him.

“Nice boy, that one,” Rav Gezunterman gave a satisfactory nod toward Mrs. Borgerkrantz. The sudden foreign-language cries of the yeshiva’s janitor enticed the Rosh Yeshiva to peer down the hallway. He watched as Yankel tripped over the janitor’s “wet floor” sign and slammed into a wall face first.

“Not too bright, though.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chag Sameach (!) (?)

Today is Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or rather, the official government sanctioned celebration of Israel's birthday, despite the fact that yesterday (the 5th of Iyar) was really Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

The big question on everyone's mind is (pretty presumptuous of me to suggest this) - what's your take on Yom Ha'atzma'ut with your fancy-shmancy "Grey" hashkafa nonsense?

My answer: it's complicated, as most things in Judaism are, for one reason or another. I honestly see both sides of the discussion, and fully agree with neither. No surprise there, right?

I can identify with the perspective of the "white movement," or the Tzionim, that Yom Ha'atzma'ut is certainly a day that is momentous in history, without a doubt something that is worth showing hakaras hatov to our Father in Heaven for this tremendous gift in returning possession of our ancestral promised land to our hands. The signaling of the start of our final, prophesied redemption is also just a little hard to ignore (take that, naysayers).

I can also identify with the perspective of the "black movement," or the Chareidim/Yeshivish, who say "what's the big deal about a bunch of old Russian Jewish men with Yiddish accents signing a piece of paper?" (an authentic quote from a rabbi of that persuasion which I once heard). The bigger miracle is certainly the fact that we survived the war that broke out within hours of the signing of famous declaration of independence. Why is the political aspect of the day so celebrated, and not akin to Yom Yerushalayim, the nisim geluyim that saved our very existence in that homeland? Also, granted it's a big thing we got Israel back, but saying hallel, and with a bracha? Does anyone really know halacha nowadays?

So, as usually, I take a little bit of this hashkafa, a little bit of that hashkafa, mix 'em all together, and get (you guessed it) some Shades of Grey.

To be frank, I didn't even really know what Yom Ha'atzma'ut was until I went to yeshiva in Israel for Shana Aleph. Really. No clue. The very under publicized event the local JCC put on each year was so low key I don't remember ever thinking about it enough to attend (though I may have, on one or two occasions, but they clearly weren't memorable). The religious/yeshivish element that I had grown frum with made zero mention of the day or its significance, so I literally knew next to nothing.

Then came Israel. Suddenly, I was informed that Yom Ha'atzma'ut exists, and not only that, it may have been a part of my religious observance that I was unaware of and thus not fulfilling properly! If that isn't a kick-in-the-pants for a ba'al teshuva, I don't know what is! It was almost (but not quite) like saying there was this little holiday called Purim that I had somehow missed when I was learning and growing in my halachic practice.

For the record: I knew what Purim was and had celebrated it many times even before I was religious, by the way. I wasn't born in Huppitsville.

So what did I do? I followed my Rosh Yeshiva, of course (I've mentioned I'm a pretty straight-laced, go-by-the-rules kind of guy). I said hallel with everyone else (without a bracha), didn't say tachanun, listened to the live band we hired, went to the barbeque in the park during the day. It was all so amazing and eye-opening. My Shana Bet chevrusa, who was a lot like me, but more to the right, was slightly begrudging in his participation in the festivities (he danced once and then went back inside to learn during our nighttime concert), but he didn't go to Mea Shearim and sit with ashes on his forehead.

But, I can hear the viewpoint telling us, "What are you celebrating anyway? The medina is irreligious, they basically destroyed the frumkite of the Yemenites, and it still is anti-Torah and mitzvah observance in many ways." All of those accusations have truth in them, but there is also a LOT of good that has been accomplished by this "krum" medina of ours.

There is more Torah being learned there than ever before - perhaps ever in our history in our homeland. The chesed done by groups like Zaka/Magen Dovid Adom in Israel itself and around the world is such a Kiddush HaShem (see the headlines and video about Haiti if you want some recent examples). Also, in general, the world at large hasn't attempted any full-scale deportations, pogroms, or anything of that sort as of late - and the main reason is because the IDF would be all over them before they could blink. For all the complaints and loshon hara/motzi shem rah spoken about the IDF, if they weren't there, all those ideologically motivated Satmar Chassidim (not to mention the rambunctious jerks of Naturei Karta) would be up to their noses in their own blood from terrorist attacks carried out by their "allies" against the state (sorry to get graphic).

So is the State of Israel a good, even a great thing? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Definitely not. But as Rabbi J.J. Schachter mentioned tonight at YU's Yom HaZikaron/Yom Ha'atzma'ut tekkes, that's not how life works. Nothing starts off perfect, and things can always (and do) improve.

So let's all be thankful, and celebrate in our own way, whatever that may be. What you simply cannot do is let Yom Ha'atzma'ut go by totally ignored, thereby failing to acknowledge all the wonderful things that we now have because Medinat Yisrael exists. This goes double, even triple for anyone who went to yeshiva/seminary for a year or two, since that would never have happened (and where would be we be without those life changing experiences?). Even if you celebrate by not saying tachanun or just going to a local kosher restaurant with your family and say shir ha'ma'alos on bentsching - since you only say shir ha'ama'alos on days you don't say tachanun - for crying out loud, do SOMETHING to recognize this momentous occasion in our people's history.

P.S. I am not such a fan of this moving the day of observance for Yom Ha'atzma'ut. I totally agree with the reason - to prevent chilul Shabbos, which is certainly admirable. But if the holiday is religious, then you can't just move the day of celebration. That is comparable to what the reform temple did in my hometown when they once moved Shavuos (which they keep as one day, to be "frum" like those living in Israel - a great irony for anyone who knows the reform movements very anti-Israel origins) from Thursday night to Friday night since it was was more "convenient" for their congregants.

I'm also a bit annoyed that I didn't know it was a "moved over" year and accidentally said tachanun yesterday morning at shacharis. The gabbai announced just before krias haTorah that we were taking a 5-minute break wherein you could say tachanun or hallel quietly, whatever your preference. I thought it was actually Yom HaZikaron and had never heard of anyone saying hallel on Yom HaZikaron, and thus presumed he was confused. I corrected myself by not saying tachanun at mincha. What to today will be a whole different story...

So if you're in YU/Stern, maybe I'll see you at the festivities in Tenzer Garden, though I won't really be running around proclaiming "it's me, Shades of Grey!"

Chag Sameach...? Chag Sameach!!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'm Done...

...with wanting/having a male roommate, that is. Gotcha, didn't I?

Anyway, this is basically a rant, so please read it at your own peril.

Bad4's recent post struck a bit of a chord with me, though I imagine she doesn't have this problem because she is lucky enough to live at home (which can be annoying for other reasons), unlike my out-of-towner reality.

I've written about the trials and tribulations of roommates, as well as the lessons to be learned from the experience of sharing such close quarters with someone not related to you in a previous post. However, I think I've reached my limit of knowledge (and tolerance) when it comes to permanently living alongside another member of my own gender (which doesn't exclude temporary living conditions, such as the upcoming Shavuos Torah Tours).

Why, might you ask, my dear readers? I think it's primarily due to all the issues I've mentioned in the past, be it snoring or otherwise, as well as a more recent increase in lack of concern for my well being. Granted, I'm not looking for attention or a nurse to take care of me, but when your roommate stays confined to the room for two days in PJs due to a severe stomache ache/virus, barely subsisting on gingerale and saltines, OR when he arrives back from a weekend away with his hand/arm all wrapped up in gauze due to an unexpected wild animal encounter (true story) and he fails to notice and/or wish a refuah shelayma (unlike everyone else around the dorms/on campus), I think something's amiss.

I do think that guys, on the whole, are less attentive and caring than girls are - to a degree. This may also be related to having been spoiled by amazing roommates I've had earlier in my YU career. At this point, however, I think all the really great guys are taken, by equally great roommates, by their beloved wives, or have graduated and moved on to other pastures (meeting/getting to know younger guys and choosing one of them as a roommate is difficult and practically impossible at any rate).

Maybe I've grown tired of immature guy roommates whose only interaction with me (when they're not ignoring me completely and not acknowledging my presence in the room) is to vent their complaints about life/school, never ceasing to be critical of every little thing and even tempering positive comments with a negative conclusion "but it's really, eh" or "it could be better" rather than having legitimate conversation. Even mundane conversation! I miss talking to roommates who enjoy life and have things to say that are worthwhile.

I think I really need that certain someone who actually cares how my day went, and who I in turn will listen to and discuss their own day's activities, because I intrinsically care about them.

I've had roommates like that before - really great roommates, and guess what, they're all married!

Oddly enough, it sounds like my plight is quite similar to that of all the currently-dating girls out there - good guys seem to be in short supply.

At any rate, may we all find our proper, opposite gender roommate soon enough!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Forlorn Birkon

Packing at the end of a school vacation, be it Yom Kippur-Sukkos, winter, or Pesach is always a scramble at my house. I end up multitasking (or attempting to multitask) a number of different organizational activities as I simultaneous do my best to fit everything into my suitcase(s).

As I was cleaning up my room (a bit) on Sunday, I came across a few bentschers that I recently collected at friends' weddings and brought back home in an effort to create more desk space in my dorm room. I have a growing pile of these bentschers sitting on a bookshelf that are currently unused (we have more than enough bentschers in the family collection as it is). My intention is to get a head start on my own future home’s collection of bentschers – I figure, why should I wait until I’m already married to begin collecting bentschers (starting with a batch from my own wedding, as many people do)? The fact that a LOT of my friends are already getting married while I’m still dating only serves to further motivate my little hobby.

Every now and then I browse through my collection as I keep track of, and continually add to, this amalgamation of differently styled bentschers. This time, as I flipped through a handful of bentschers, fondly recalling memories of happy celebrations, I found one bentscher that stood out from the others. It was a bentscher from a wedding I went to over a year ago… and the couple recently divorced.

Then the thought hit me: what do I do with this bentscher?

Sure, I could say that odds are neither my friend nor his ex-wife will ever see the bentscher (more likely the ex-wife than my friend) when I get married and have guests over. This is especially true if I don’t ever live a part of my married life in Washington Heights or in the tri-state area, where both of them are from and will probably settle down (may each find their proper spouse soon).

There is also the issue of possible secondary offense generated by guests who know either person, and may even have been in attendance at the wedding as I was. This affects a significantly larger group of people, given that Jewish Geography is what it is. Admittedly, the moment of discovery would be awkward, once my guest takes a look at the names and realizes what occasion the bentscher is from, but the impact of the situation would be far less significant. The guest may also choose not to say anything, mistakenly think the bentscher is from one of their second weddings (having not kept in touch to really know it’s from the first), or fail to observe the names on the bentscher at all.

Even if odds favor that neither my friend, his ex-wife, nor anyone who (at that time) currently knows them well will recognize the bentscher and say anything, the very idea of owning it and keeping it in “circulation” at my Shabbos table makes me uneasy. Not that that the poor little booklet is cursed or something. Rather, this predicament is similar to what I did with the pictures on my computer from that wedding after I found out that they got divorced. I deleted all the photographs that depicted either my friend or his ex-wife (and certainly any that showed them together). The reason why I did this was because they no longer generated pleasant memories, or made me think about the simcha of the wedding that has since been tarnished/replaced by the sadness I feel on behalf of my friend’s misfortune (his ex-wife too, since neither should have had to suffer such a terrible pain).

Nor are those old pictures historically relevant. What purpose do I have in preserving a record of an ill-fated union? It’s almost like (in a more secular sense, though again, indirectly) someone decided to save pictures he had taken with his ex-girlfriend. Granted, they’re not pictures of me and an ex, but I still feel pained on behalf of my friend and his ex-wife.

So what DO I do with this bentscher?

I could keep the bentscher and not do anything at all, which I think I’ve demonstrated doesn’t really solve the problem.

I could conceal/deface the writing on the front – though I’d probably go with using a mailing label and either leave it blank or create a different occasion to advertise instead of taking a Sharpie to it. At some point, I know a guest would probably ask what the deal was with this particular bentscher, foiling my attempt at concealment.

I almost feel as though I should get rid of it entirely… maybe have it buried with sheimos or something so I don’t have to deal with it anymore. I wonder what my friend and his ex-wife (and their respective families) did with their large share of the mementos. I suspect there is some formal process that a printer/distributer could do to re-cover misprinted/no longer needed (such as from a broken engagement) bentschers, since most mass-produced-simcha-related bentschers often have a generic white cover that is then printed over.

Although I am aware of other recent weddings among acquaintances that have ended in divorce, this is the first, and Im Yirtzeh HaShem, last, bentscher of this sort that I will own. I don’t want to confront this dilemma ever again…

Any ideas?

P.S. Yes, I realize that I only used the Hebrew term "birkon" in the title. I really use "bentscher" while speaking, but "birkon" sounded better for the title...

P.P.S. I am still hard at work on the second (and last) part of the “Exodus” story. I hit a snag running into the last few days of Yom Tov, finishing up school work, temporary loss of inspiration, structural conflict, and general end-of-vacation zaniness. I should finish it in the somewhat near future... so look forward to that post soon. And if you haven't read it yet, please do (and comment!), despite it's no longer inyanei d'yoma nature.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When 900 Years Old You Reach, Look As Good You Will Not, MMM?

I recently noticed that whenever I smile (as in really smile, not fake smile), I've begun to display what I presume are the beginnings of crow's feet - but only on the corner of my right eye. The phenomenon is completely unnoticeable when my face is relaxed, but I imagine that in a decade or two the lines will be.

Tacking that onto the early appearance of grey hair (of which I have more than a few), and the fact that the majority of my friends from my Shana Aleph are graduated, married, and no longer in YU makes me feel a bit old - though not quite nine centuries. It has been a very strange experience this past year at YU when I walk into the caf and fail to notice any familiar faces due to all the youngin's running around.

All this has gotten me thinking about the reality that everyone confronts: the fact that we all age. Society at large has been stricken with a sick obsession with staying young (or at least looking the part) at all costs - quite literally - since skin treatments and plastic surgery can be quite expensive.

I still remember a meeting I had with a rebbe in Israel who noticed my grey hairs and commented on their presence. I said that I felt they make me look distinguished (ever since I discovered the grey hair back in high school I always thought it might be neat to be entirely a silvery grey at a young age). He replied that I was right, and at any rate, it's better than being bald (which he is).

I recall hearing a psak from Rav Moshe Feinstein (possibly in Igros Moshe, I tried finding the source but couldn't so if anyone knows, write it in a comment) that a young man is allowed to dye his hair for dating purposes so that no one mistakenly presumes he's older than he actually is. I've never employed this heter (despite my mother's occasional pleas), though I'm sure some have. This goes against the general halacha that men shouldn't be finicky about these things (as women often are) and are prohibited under the issur of lo yilbosh gever simlas isha.

Anyway, after I started pondering about the process of aging I began to observe the older people in shul over the course of Yom Tov. It appears that there are two distinct categories of how a person's appearance can end up as they naturally accumulate lines and wrinkles, and surprisingly it all depends on personality and perspective.

The first of the two unique patterns of wrinkle/line displays features creases that extend downward from the sides of the nose to the sides of the mouth, and have downward puckering at the corners of the lips. The other has a greater spread of curved crow's feet and outlines of the cheeks (particularly where they lift upward). I know I'm not doing a proper job with these descriptions, but bear with me for a moment.

The difference between the two patterns depends on the default/regular emotional expression of the person. Those who tend to be grumpy, pessimistic and smile infrequently (and this is entirely based on my observation from knowing these individuals for a number of years), and generally lack developed crow's feet, are the first type. Their frown lines become permanent reminders of their mood - and a simple look will clearly tell you they have a bit of a negative disposition. This is the standard cranky old man/woman that is not so much fun to be around.

The second category typifies someone who is always smiling, laughing, and relaxed. Their outlook on life is generally positive, and they collect signs of aging that reflect their upbeat personality (such as crow's feet). The very best example of this second variant, in my opinion, is Rav Goldvicht at YU (not that he is old, really, but he does display the facial features I'm referring to). The man simply never stops smiling, and even when he's not, you can clearly tell he has a very happy, smiley disposition.

Though I have acknowledged in the past that I am naturally predisposed toward a more pessimistic outlook, I also affirmed that I've made the conscious decision to fight that inclination and work on becoming far more balanced and upbeat.

Now, I've also chosen to add to that idea the goal of becoming one of those happy elderly folks. I can try all the serums and creams I want to keep my skin unchanging (though the men on my father's side of the family tend to age quite gracefully at any rate), I do have more control over just how I will portray myself and how I will build up my aged appearance. I want to be like Rav Goldvicht, not like the cantankerous old men I bump into at shul.

Related to this, Chana at The Curious Jew recently posted this wonderful piece called "Make Way for the Light-Bearers." It would do everyone a service to read this particular post. As much as I tend to believe and portray myself as "walking the grey line," being neither here nor there, in a greater sense I've always strived to be, and admire those who do, walk in the light. The light side has always been stronger than the alluring pull of negative, brooding emotions that characterize the darker aspects of life. But we have to make that choice and not let the darker elements consume us and dominate our perspectives in life.

As the Maccabeats sing in their cover of Matisyahu's "One Day:"
Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around...


In this maze you can lose your way
It might drive you crazy
But don't let it phase you, no way
No way.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Exodus: A Pesach Story - Part 1

It happened right in the middle of Poq-tin’s “Pharoah's Choice” beverage segment. Viewers still remembered the look of shock on the royal cup-bearer’s face when the alcoholic mixture sitting on the counter in front of him, which had called for white wine as one of its main ingredients, frothed into a deep crimson.

“I didn’t know we were making sangria today!” Exclaimed Tut-hak-bur, turning to his co-anchor, Qeela.

“I do love surprises,” she replied. “Let’s hope Poq-tin will save some for the break room after the broadcast!” She winked and flashed a cheesy grin.

Both newscasters recoiled in horror in their split-screen projection when Poq-tin sampled a bit of his concoction, grimaced, and spat the mouthful all over the studio kitchen. The spray even reached the cameraman, leaving little red droplets clinging to the lens.

“Somone shoulda told me we was doin’ a water-take,” Uk-yip the cameraman’s voice complained. “I’da brought the special protective tarp!” A meaty hand grasping a hanky appeared and quickly wiped away the residue.

“What happened over there, Poq-tin?” Tut-hak-bur inquired with a practiced look of curiosity. The cup-bearer hacked into his elbow and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Somebody’s playing tricks on me! That tasted like blood!” Tut-hak-bur and Qeela froze and exchanged a look of concern. Qeela made a quick cutting motion across her neck with her hand.

“Well, that’s all for tonight folks! Tune in next time for a special report on the recent manual labor union strike!” Tut-hak-bur improvised, ignoring the rest of his cue cards. The director gave them a thumbs-up gesture to let them know the feed had been cut, and both anchors heaved a sigh of relief.


The shenanigans began a month ago when the former crown prince returned after a mysterious several-decades-long absence from the palace. Rumors had been floating around since his departure that there had been some sort of scuffle which ended up with Pharoah’s favorite adopted grandson charged with committing manslaughter and fleeing from court-imposed justice. The tabloids had a field day, but as the years went by, the story became stale and everyone seemed to forget about Moses, “the child born from the Nile.” Everyone except the Hebrews, that is.

Some sort of underground cult formed among the slaves with Moses’ older brother Aaron as its high priest. The beliefs of the new sect centered around the veneration of Moses as a kind of messianic figure who would triumphantly lead the Hebrews from their centuries-long bondage to a far-off “promised land” flowing with “milk and honey.” The absurdity of some land that had rivers of liquids produced by animals, let alone the notion of anyone ever leading an entire slave caste out of the mightiest empire in the world kept the members of Pharaoh’s government laughing non-stop. The variety shows parodied the fanatical group every other week, and the public turned a blind eye to the upstarts while tuning in to the wildly popular mockery.

However, Moses unexpectedly returned carrying an impressively large stick, and marched with his brother Aaron in tow straight to the throne room of now-Pharaoh Ramses the Second, his former step-brother. Ramses almost fell off his royal dais when his estranged adopted relative claimed to be the leader of the Hebrews and demanded their release in the name of some deity he had never heard of. Of course, Ramses “The Great” refused to bow to the wishes of some self-appointed lunatic, no matter who he claimed to be.

Then things got interesting.

The newspapers reported that Moses made his hand go white with leprosy and his brother Aaron turned that imposing staff into a serpent. Ramses applauded the parlor tricks and called forth his magicians, who also “magically” turned their staffs into snakes, using the patented trick-release mechanism that emptied the concealed reptiles from their false wooden containers. Apparently bested, Moses changed his hand back to normal. However, Aaron grabbed his serpent by the tail, transformed it back into a staff, then rapped it against Pharaoh’s throne three times to prove the authenticity of his magic. As the court magicians scrambled to retrieve their pet snakes and return them to their special cases, Aaron pitched his inanimate staff to the ground, where it proceeded to swallow the fleeing creatures whole.

Insider sources claimed that Ramses tugged the edge of his collar and pressed a purple silken scarf across his forehead to remove the nervous perspiration that had collected there. Before he could retort, Moses issued an indignant ultimatum and stormed off with his brother and special staff. The bewildered court advisors didn’t have a clue what to make of these developments, and simply doubled the palace guard in case any political radical decided to make an assassination attempt.

The week of blood changed everything. Suddenly the entire Empire was on-edge about a possible slave rebellion, though Ramses and his PR people managed to calm the hoi polloi with an ad campaign that denounced Moses’ credibility by publicizing his criminal background. Ramses himself made a televised speech that asked his nation to remain at ease, stating that he and his administration were doing their best to settle the matter peaceably. However, relief efforts proved futile when all the water brought in by the Egyptian emergency-response task forces also turned to blood. Pharaoh’s viceroy successfully negotiated a business arrangement with the Hebrews in Goshen to buy their excess water supply (which for some reason had not transformed into blood) in a deal that provided great monetary benefit to the Hebrews.


“A breaking news story is taking place this very moment at the north-eastern section of the Nile Delta. We now go live to roving reporter Geg-kon-fil, who is on the ground at the scene of the ongoing incident. Fil, can you hear me?” Qeela tapped her earpiece impatiently.

“Oh, yeah! Qeela, you guys back in the studio are never going to believe this one!” The man’s voice answered while the fuzzy footage began to take shape. When the camera finally focused, Geg-kon-fil’s clean-shaven, mascaraed face filled the frame. He adjusted the reporter’s headband attached to his horse-hair wig. A loud whumpwhump could be heard behind him, along with the shouts and commands of several men.

“Just what is going on down there?” Tut-hak-bur made a serious face for the viewers at home. Geg-kon-fil motioned for the cameraman to pan outward. Three armed soldiers ran by, brandishing spears. Another whump sounded, and the camera shook slightly. Screams were heard and the same soldiers ran the other way, hurling the broken remnants of their weapons behind them. A long, pink, rope-like appendage shot out and stuck to the back of the slowest warrior with a wet thwap. He yelped as he was lifted bodily off the ground and reeled backward across the screen, his arms and legs flapping in the air. His cries concluded with a loud off-camera gulp.

Easing into a position where the camera could film him, Geg-kon-fil announced, “Eyewitness reports are still unclear regarding the exact origin of the disturbance.” His voice warbled with fear, “It seems a large amphibious creature rose from the recently recovered Nile and began terrorizing the citizens.” The view shifted to the right, zooming in on some immense thing. Its moist green skin reflected the afternoon sunlight.

“BRAAAAAAAAA-BUP!A deep grumble seemed to announce itself. A chorus of chirping briiiibips answered in unison. The green thing vanished from view, followed by another off-camera whump that made the image wobble. The picture abruptly jerked upward and focused on a large yellow eye. The optical orb blinked slowly then swiveled to peer down at the camera.

“Uh, boss, I think it sees us,” the cameraman remarked anxiously. Geg-kon-fil reappeared briefly, jogging backward while shaking his head and pointing wildly at the creature. The camera operator took the cue and the image shook violently as he whirled around and raced after the reporter.

“Early analysis by government herpetologists theorize that the gargantuan frog is a freak genetic mutation from somewhere deep in the African continent that somehow managed to swim up the Nile,” Geg-kon-fil shouted into his wireless microphone. After a few moments, both men stopped to catch their breath, having hopefully placed a safe distance between them and the rampaging amphibian. “The recent spike in acidity of the river’s waters must have then provoked the creature to emerge from its habitat and invade the Nile Delta.”

A series of rapid twittering intonations interrupted Geg-kon-fil’s next statement, and the camera swung back around toward the monster. It stood at least 15 feet tall, and was probably twice that length from snout to the toes of its fully extended jumping legs each time it leaped through the air. A swarm of miniature frogs, the source of the irritating high-pitched croaking, clustered around its feet, bouncing to and fro.

Geg-kon-fil cleared his throat and stepped back into frame. “It would appear that this particular frog has a unique ability,” he began. As if on cue, another pair of soldiers wielding spears raced toward the creature, stabbing at it while grasping the ends of their weapons. One blade managed to connect with the creature’s rubbery hide, but harmlessy skittered off the slimy surface. The giant amphibian blinked, which submerged both its eyes into their sockets. A moment later, it heaved its body forward and retched a cloud of mini-frogs. The diminutive offspring, clones of their gigantic parent, scrambled free of the vocal-sack mucus and began to cheep vociferously. The decibel level of the absorbing, hair-raising sound rose several degrees.

Geg-kon-fil pressed his free hand to the side of his head in an attempt to block out the noise. “As I was saying, the creature has an exceptional ability to reproduce, almost on command,” he ground his teeth together as the fierce croaking shifted into a higher pitch and more newborn frogs joined their bevy of siblings. “It’s a catch twenty-two, Qeela and Tut. Any time the defense forces strike the creature, it not only sustains little to no visible damage, but also produces another batch of its young, adding to the chaos.”

“Wow, that’s mighty impressive, isn’t it Qeela?” Tut-hak-bur exhibited his pearly whites and nudged his co-anchor with an elbow.

“All I can say, Tut, is that I’m glad we’re safely in the broadcast booth and not hopping around with all those slimy critters!” Both newscasters broke out into a hearty chuckle.

“Don’t count yourselves out of danger just yet,” Geg-kon-fil gesticulated past the camera. “The little ones are beginning to spread throughout the countryside…” Trailing off, he squinted and gazed into the distance. “…and they’re moving pretty darn fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started seeing some in the next half hour-” the giant frog vomited yet another load of its minute children onto the sand, “-or less.” The remote video ended, and the two newscasters once again filled the entirety of the screen.

“Well… I, uh…” Tut-hak-bur grasped for words while his brain failed to produce a response. Qeela shakily raised her coffee mug to her mouth, pursed her lips and froze mid-sip. A little green frog surfaced from within the mug and gingerly reached upward to plant a wet kiss on her extended lips. She shrieked in horror and flung the ceramic cup across the studio where it shattered into pieces on a nearby wall. The plucky amphibian leaped free just in time, landed on a pile of papers, and splattered lukewarm coffee in an arc across the desk. Qeela threw her hands in the air and fled off stage, screaming at the top of her lungs.

“What’s the matter? It’s just one little frog,” Tut-hak-bur leaned over and examined the green interloper. The frog waddled around to face the camera and chirped an almost musical sequence of croaks with varying pitches. Tut-hak-bur raised an eyebrow. A second frog fell from the rafters onto his expertly groomed wig, while a third landed on his shoulder. Two more hopped into view from both sides of the table and met in the middle with the original intruder. Another handful suddenly reached up from behind his seat and clambered onto the desktop. With Qeela still screeching from somewhere backstage and the cacophony of croaking growing louder and louder, Tut-hak-bur gave the “kill-feed” signal, and millions of TVs across the Egyptian Empire simultaneously went blank.