Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Way To A Woman's Heart: A Response

Reading coralcap's recent post "The Way to a Man's Heart" really got me thinking. I figure it is worthwhile write a complementary post and thereby address some of the guys' issues that have emerged from overly ambitious or unrealistic male expectations from dating/first dates. I have read lots of blogs about the jerk-ified behavior of many guys out there, so my intent is to put them in their place (to be blunt), or at least open their eyes to their foibles that give guys in general a bad name. So for all the good guys out there that don't act out in these repugnant fashions, read the post anyway to you can further remove the possibility of behaving in a way that shames yourself and your fellow men.

1) Put yourself in the right frame of mind. Just because the the fact remains that shidduchim are a market unfairly balanced in favor of guys does not mean that you're G-d's gift to women and can act in such a fashion or treat them in any way that suggests you're doing your date a favor by taking her out. You're not as amazing as your ego says you are, and it's time to develop a proper sense of humility. You've been given a chance to go out with a woman who might be your wife, treat her with the respect she deserves and lose the cocksure attitude, it's unattractive at best, repulsive at worst.

2) Speak to her in warm, friendly tone. She's your date, not your chevrusa or football buddy. The fact that she's female should mean that you switch to an entirely different way of expressing yourself, which includes being polite, respectful, using proper grammar, and similar to #1 not make her feel like you're giving her tzedaka by going on a date with her. You want to be friends with your wife, so you better try to cultivate an atmosphere of friendliness and connection. Your tone of voice is a good starting point. Haughtiness is a big no-no, and I would be most surprised if any serious, intelligent woman out there thinks anyone who sits there spouting lines and stories that clearly demonstrate he's full of himself will want a second or third date.

3) Be courteous. This means holding the door for your date, making sure that she is comfortable at your dating location, and periodically checking on how calling the girl is doing (if you're having an activity date, see if she's hungry, thirsty, or would like to use the restroom). Also, never be late or don't call her if you get delayed or something comes up that makes your arrival later than expected. Acting as a proper gentleman and dutifully caring for your date, regardless of where the shidduch ends up, is proper protocol. None of this "well, if she sees me as the typical guy that I am and can stand that, she must be a keeper." Real men act like gentlemen, not brutes who only think of themselves.

4) Knock it off with the boastful tales of your antics. Seriously, dudes. Your buddies may appreciate your vainglory tales of doing "guy things" and causing unwanted mischief, but girls quite probably don't. If anything, such immature revelations about yourself will make her think you're not quite grown up enough to be a functional husband and father. One or two stories from your youth (IE 13 or younger) can be cute, because that's what little boys do. Talking about childish accomplishments, pranks, etc that you have devised and carried out when you're anywhere near the age of dating does not cast a positive light on your ability to be a serious and loving partner and head of a household. That doesn't mean you shouldn't been humorous or tell jokes (in fact girls like it when you can make them smile and laugh), but having a sense of humor and laughing uncontrollably at your own stories that involve scatological references are apples and oranges, my friend.

5) Show interest. It doesn't matter if you don't think the shidduch isn't going to go anywhere. There is no reason why you need to emotionally and psychologically disengage from the conversation and interaction with your date. Leave the brooding and decision making until after you get home. Your date put in a lot of effort, probably a lot more than you did for this outing, and she deserves some positive expression of emotion that you're happy to be there. Don't mislead her by being overly enthusiastic when you're not feeling that way, but you should not give off a negative vibe while on a date.

6) Make eye contact. Guys' eyes have a tendency to wander around to places women don't want them staring at. She is a human being and deserves your full attention on her face. You can learn a lot from the way she emotes, and there is a lot more depth to those expressions than can be gathered just from hearing the words coming out of her mouth as your stare at her chest (or elsewhere) and wonder about dress sizes and other insignificant things. Even if you aren't engaging in perverted thoughts, your date rightfully deserves your full attention to demonstrate that you are properly following the conversation and find her a worthwhile companion for this date. Even if you think she's not attractive, worry about that later and don't let on that you don't think she's hot or whatever.

7) Body language is important. Don't slouch. Don't sit there with your legs spread out like you were hanging out with the guys drinking a beer and watching the game. Be relaxed, not uptight, but don't get overly comfortable that it indicates you really don't care about the date. How you arrange your posture shouldn't give the impression that the comfy-ness of your sitting position is more important than properly interacting with your date by making eye contact, etc. You need to physically demonstrate attentiveness aside from looking in her general direction.

8) Be thankful. Your date isn't "doing you a favor" by going out with you, and you certainly don't deserve any particular girl's attention or affection. Showing off an attitude that expresses your thoughts that you have a list of other girls you could have gone out with, so this girl isn't so important, is very, very insensitive and wrong. Even if you actually have such a list of candidates, your focus and gratitude needs to be on the here and now: She is the only woman in the world that matters. Make your judgment call about continuing the date after it's over and you've dropped her off at her house/apartment. No matter what happens, thank her for the opportunity to go out with her, it can never hurt.

9) Reciprocate Feelings. Some guys tend to be dunderheads and unaware of subtle (or not so subtle) female emotional expressions. In turn, they might revel in the fact that a girl likes them, or be scared out of their wits at the prospect of someone liking who they are. In either situation, be more observant of hints and respond accordingly. There is no reason to go overboard, nor should guys clam up like a box turtle and pretend nothing is going on. Being at ease and responding measure-for-measure is a surefire way to allow a relationship to progress where both the guy and girl are developing feelings on the same page without one having to "keep up" with the other. Having feelings for a person of the opposite gender can be intimidating, but you shouldn't let them be. Relax, turn off any preconceived notions or that macho male autopilot mode (where emotional expression is wimpy, or downright unmanly), and respond to your date, especially as you continue going out.

I tried to stay as close to coralcap's original format as I could, modifying where I thought necessary. So what do the guy's for whom this was an eye-opening experience think? Do my fellow "nice guys" agree and have anything to add? What about the gals - am I on target?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Money In Yeshivish Shidduchim + 100 Posts!

Rabbi Harry Mayles over at Emes Ve'Emunah posted about "The Best Boy in Lakewood" based on an article written by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum called "Avoiding Corruption in Shidduchim," which is a critique of people buying and selling boys who want to learn in kollel within shidduchim.

I don't have much to add to their quite brilliant observations and comments other than this is one of my own problems with the yeshivish/chareidi world and why I prefer to remain safely in my own Grey Area. This whole unfortunate business is definitely not helping the ongoing "shidduch crisis," and people need to "wake up and smell the coffee" already.

Incidentally, my last post was my 100th! Huzza! (to borrow Chana's exclamation) Thanks to all the visitors and keep reading folks!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Do I Have Something On My Teeth? Uh... Yes? I Mean, No...

Welcome to our second installment of "Awkward Daring Moments."

Girls take significant time and expend a lot of effort to make themselves look good for dates. Makeup is always a significant component (or almost always, from my experience) of their pre-date preparation, because they understandably want to appear attractive for their suitor. However, not everything always goes as planned.

Case in point: one thing I have not really figured out in 2+ years of dating is what I should do if my date has lipstick smudged on her teeth. I know it's rude to point it out blatantly, but I also know that she must feel awful after coming back from a night on the town, looking in a mirror, and discovering to her personal horror that her upper incisors were pink the entire evening.

I've even had one date who called me out on not saying anything to her and was fairly indignant about it. Mind you, we had been going out for a few months, so I guess there was already a pre-established level of comfort that made her feel fine telling me not to let such a gaff slide by again.

Another date was clearly aware of the lipstick conundrum, and attempted to clean her teeth without me noticing on more than one occasion (including when I used the restroom), and only succeeded in changing spread and pattern of the mis-located makeup.

Recent interviews I conducted with several female relatives yielded two answers, depending on the length of time the couple has been seeing one another.

1) If this makeup mishap occurs on a first date or one of the early dates, the guy should neither say nor do anything to indicate that there is anything amiss. It's much worse to critique or point out the girl's colored smile than to not say anything at all.

As an added caveat, I was told that if the guy notices that the girl is aware of her problem and attempting to correct it, he should gracefully excuse himself to the restroom so that she can discreetly wipe her teeth clean in his absence.

2) If the couple have been going out for some extended period of time, it is seemingly the guy's obligation to carefully inform his date of her colored teeth and let her resolve the issue.

I've still yet to directly address such an occurrence while on a date. Even after hearing my relatives' advice, I still don't think I feel so comfortable shining a spotlight on my date's unintentional makeup blunder. It just seems like it's not worth embarrassing her on the spot with me, the guy she's trying to impress, right in front of her. On the flip side, If I don't say anything at all, perhaps she'll think that I never even noticed. Or she might think that being the dumb male that I am, I don't really know the difference in the first place (I imagine this could be true for some guys).

The only parallel example from the male direction that I can think of (that is exclusively male, since anyone can have stuff stuck in their teeth) is the pants zipper caught in "down mode." I would say that more than 90% of the time nothing beyond the interior lip of the zipper area is visible, which is the same color as the pants anyway. It's only the mere fact that the zipper is "disengaged" that can be irksome, I guess, since thankfully there is no real exposure worth being embarrassed about.

For the record, I do think the two are really apples and oranges. If a guy doesn't notice his date's lipstick smeared teeth, then perhaps he hasn't been looking her in the face as he should have while on the date. In contrast, I can't think of any logical explanation to the benefit of the doubt for women-folk who notice that their suitor's "barn door" is open...

Thoughts, ladies and gentlemen?

Friday, June 25, 2010

HaShem: The Ultimate Cabbie

SternGrad's recent post about the 3 things she wishes she knew before she starting dating made me recall a mashul that a married friend of mine once told me.

I think my friend best summed in up in a mashul she heard from a rebbe once. She related it to me in the midst of trying to set up a shidduch I was very interested in, but ended up not working out.

Basically, dating and getting married is like getting into a taxi cab. There are two ways to go about getting to your destination. 1) Be a backseat driver, and try to tell the cabbie what to do every step of the trip - exactly where to turn, when to stop, etc. You will probably get to where you're going, but it will be a very frustrating experience. 2) You can tell the driver your end destination, and let him pick the route - in short, you trust his expertise to get you where you're going. In the end, you'll make it, and with far less stress on your nerves than trying to constantly direct him.

So too with shidduchim. You can try to arrange every situation to your advantage, getting the "right" shadchan, pursuing the one "right" suggestion ad nauseum, getting the "right" look, etc. Or you can be who you truly are, do you what you need to do, but don't commandeer the situation at every opportunity. In the end, G-d, the ultimate "taxi driver" gets you where you need to go, and who you need to be with.

And as always, don't forget to tip the Driver...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yes, Doctor... Er, Dear?

This post is based on conversations I had with premed friends of mine, who went through the medical school application and interview process this year. Not only did the connection occur in my own mind during our discussions, but one specific friend even remarked that a particular campus guide actually made an explicit, lengthy reference to the similarities between dating and applying to medical school! The following is a composite of his personal story and bits and pieces I’ve picked up from mealtime table talk I participated in over the last 6-7 months.

In applying to medical school, you must have a formal resume which is submitted to each school you apply to. This part of the official AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) application details your education, extracurricular activities, and specific involvement in job positions, organizations and ideological causes/groups that indicate how suited you are as a candidate for medical school (sound familiar?). Do you volunteer (chesed?), how serious have you pursued your premed studies (learner?), have you participated in clubs relevant to medicine, like a medical ethics society? Every significant point from your personal history that is somehow relevant and worthwhile in terms of characterizing you as suitable aspiring medical student. You also write a “personal statement” (I guess this is kind of akin to the “about me/looking for” part of a profile/resume) that explains why you think you’re fit to become a doctor and what about medicine is so interesting to you.

So after you’ve completed your application/resume and get yourself together, you shift into doing research on the various medical schools out there. You seek to identify which schools would best fit your particular personality and vision for your life as a doctor. You check out their educational philosophy, the lifestyle their students enjoy, the extracurricular activities available (do the students like to work out, play in intramural sports leagues, go to movies?), where the students go on for their residency, internships and how they structure their practices. Does the environment provide for students getting married and having children (appropriate housing, support, babysitting)? Where is the school located: is it in a warm climate, in the cold north? Where do you want to live: is the school located in a large city, or a smaller, quieter town?

Does any of this sound familiar?

Once you’ve figured out your list of schools that might just work, you send off your resume/application (along with a fee) to each school. If they happen to like your resume and personal statement, the schools will send you their secondary application (just to make sure you’re serious) which includes more essays specific to their university. The content of the questions they ask (and what they want to hear) basically include the admission committee wanting to know how much you like them and why you, specifically, are good fit for their school.

Once you submit the secondary (with yet another fee – maybe this is kind of pay-as-you-go shadchanus, or paying for the dating websites?), the school will determine if you’re worth an interview (ie: date). They’ll check into your background, see if you have any criminal record, and call the references for the positions/groups/activities you were involved with to see if you were the real-deal, or just checking off a “requirement” for your resume. They’ll speak to your mentors, former teachers, bosses, etc. Thankfully, they do not call people you've dated ;)

If the medical school likes you enough, you’ll get a call, email, or letter that lets you know they want to meet you face-to-face. Of course, you have to travel to their hometown, and you might have a choice regarding the date and timing of the interview, but the options are usually limited. Other times you’ll just be told to be at the admissions office on a specific day of certain month in the near future. To me, this sounds a lot like what female bloggers have lamented regarding their lack of say in what the guys dictate their dating activities will include...

Of course depending on where you applied, this could end up being an in-town affair, or you’ll have to schlep out somewhere, potentially to a far away destination in another state, which may even include the need for a plane ticket.

Now, once you’ve successfully managed to be approved for an interview and have physically travelled to the predetermined location (which is entirely their choice, and is usually on their campus). You have to “sell” yourself to the medical school by trying to convince them why you are their #1 choice and why they would benefit from having you as a student. You have to dress nicely, most typically in business attire, which requires a suit, a tie (for men), business heels (for women) and a well arranged hairstyle.

As an interviewee, you need to put on your best impression, which means no slouching, speaking clearly (no mumbling or machine gun staccato), and trying to “wow” your interviewer with a handful of notable/remarkable things about you that he/she wouldn’t necessarily have known from your profile and resume. You need to let them see a fuller picture of who you are, what your philosophic perspectives on life and medicine are, and just what drives you in your decision to become a doctor. They want to see how your mind works, how you react to challenging, surprising, or even controversial questions and subjects, and you’ll need to be on your toes, think quickly, and give just the right response at almost every exchange.

In turn, the interviewer will give you an opportunity to ask him/her a few questions to further the conversation and better inform you regarding the experience of attending this particular school. You’ll also get a tour of the campus, which could take place before or after the interview (this is kind of like how the driver may take the scenic route to show off the locale).

After the whole interview “date” is over, you go back home and quickly write a thank you note to follow up, telling your interviewer that you had a good time and how much you enjoyed seeing the school and speaking with him/her about the topics you discussed (specific references are necessary).

Now the wait begins. Will you hear back from them in the not-too-distant future, or will you have to wait on pins and needles for weeks, even months? The school could decide they like you enough to accept you, declare that they see you have potential and wait-list you (which starts a whole additional period of waiting), or simply reject you if they don’t see you fitting in as a student (or perhaps you lacked a certain something in your application or failed to act/respond properly during the interview).

This is a bit different from dating, since it would be almost as though your date decides to marry you after just one meeting. Though perhaps it could be compared to the more Chassidic method, which requires very extensive research into the other person, after which one or two meetings are held and a final decision is made regarding the potentiality of making this a match worthy of spending your life together.

One friend told me that he learned a lot from his dating experiences that greatly helped him prepare for these med school interviews – especially in terms of thinking concisely on his feet, being respectful even in the face of oddball or offensive behavior, and in general expressing himself clearly and effectively.

Maybe we should all apply to med school to get some more experience? :p

Monday, June 21, 2010

"I Don't Have The Patience For This!"

Toward the end of shacharis this morning, a man sitting one row in front of me was angrily taking off his tefillin. Yes, angrily. I don't know what rubbed him the wrong way when he woke up, or which side of the bed he happened to find himself on when he opened his eyes, (evidently the wrong one) but he was very perturbed.

He kept repeating to himself "I don't have the patience for this!" over and over, as though it were a meditative mantra or a chorus to a song playing in his mind.

Granted, he probably had something to be legitimately upset about, or so I hope, but the way he expressed himself was extremely negative and made it look like he was fed up with davening and/or wearing tefillin, which I hope wasn't the case.

Regardless of what was going on, I think it would behoove us all to stop and do a bit of inner contemplation about what this guy was doing - at least this is what was running through my mind as he very hastily stripped off his tefillin, repeating his mantra again and again.

The old adage says that "patience is a virtue," and from my own life experience, I think this is very true. No matter what situation in life in which you may find yourself, possessing a strong patient attitude will serve you well. Whether that applies to sitting in traffic, or waiting to find your bashert. Being patient, trusting that things will work out, and having emuna that HaShem knows what He's doing will only make the process of life - and dating/shidduchim - that much more bearable, and even pleasant.

Rav Simon at YU has said on numerous occasions that people today have cultivated a mindet of wanting to accomplish things instantly, and never properly develop their sense of patience. Part of this incorrect perspective is that people who are always rushing to the next thing (be that a daf of Gemara or their next shidduch) very often don't take the time to contemplate their experiences in life and absorb the lessons they've learned to then apply them to better their lives.

I've seen a lot of shidduchim bloggers that have expressed frustration and jadedness over the lengthy and frustrating process of finding their mate (and I include myself here). Some, who have been "in the parsha" for a number of years probably are justified in being a little bit perturbed be their continued unproductive efforts in successfully locating their husband/wife. Those who have been dating for a much shorter period of time (I would say a year or less) and feel that their patience has run out, definitely have a lot to work on. Granted, a person's patience isn't inexhaustable, but everyone should strive to work on him/herself to embetter this particular trait. It will serve them well during the trials of dating, the stresses of the engagement period, and certainly benefit them greatly during the ups and downs of being married until 120, G-d willing.

No one is perfect, and no one will be able to absolutely perfect their own sense of patience. Despite our human limitations, we should all strive to work on ourselves in this area - it certainly can't hurt - and we can only hope to benefit from our introspection and implimentation of a proper patient perspective in life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

20,000 Hits!

Wow.

20,000 hits!

Thanks to everyone for reading thus far, and I hope y'all continue reading and enjoying Shades of Grey in the future!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Guys Wearing Engagement Rings?!?!

Strange but true, it seems.

In the beginning of chapter ten (p.53) of their book, Under the Wedding Canopy Love and Marriage in Judaism, authors David C. and Esther R. Gross write about "changing customs."
The first one they mention, and the one for which the chapter is titled is about MEN wearing engagment rings:

"Oddly, the engagement ring that brides-to-be proudly flash around was worn by the groom-to-be in Jewish communities during the Middle Ages."

Wait, it gets better:

"And even more oddly, the ring was presented to him by his future father-in-law."

WOW. Think about how this would work (or not) in today's wacky shidduch system. But don't give up hope for your alta-alta-alta-alta-alta-alta-alta bubbies, ladies:

"Nevertheless, on the morning of the wedding day, the bride received a golden engagement ring from her future husband."

Overall, quite interesting. I wish they quoted their sources for this, though - there aren't any footnotes or endnotes of any sort... which kind of delegitimizes the novelty of this historical report.

Anyone have any credible sources?

EDIT 10:42 PM - Bad4 totally beat me to the punch in her post from December (see the last bit of the post)...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Techeiles I Understand, But Mezuzah?

After ruminating on the Dvar Torah/Sichas Mussar that Rav Cohen (a rosh yeshiva at YU) gave last night during shalosh seudos in the caf (it was the June zman shabbaton), a question developed in my mind. The famous Midrash (quoted by Rashi) expounds the argument that Korach made against Moshe, trying to insinuate that some of the "less sensical" mitzvos were devised by Moshe, not by HaShem, and proved Moshe was unfit to be leader/choose who got to be Kohen Gadol, etc.

The Midrash Tanchumah at the beginning of the parsha says that Korach brough two major questions against Moshe:

1) If an entire four-cornered garment is colored blue with techeiles dye, does it need an additional thread of techeiles on the tzitzis? (Korach also apparently clothed himself and his followers in such attire as another form of protest)

2) If a room is full of seforim (IE Torah scrolls) does it need to have a mezuzah on the door?

Moshe answered both with an affirmative - and Korach went on his merry way, further denigrating Moshe and trying to convince the people to support him.

My question is thus: Korach's question regarding techeiles makes a lot of sense, especially since it was the end of the previous parsha, Shelach. This is further supported by the recognized continuity/running theme among the parshiyos of the past few weeks of picking up idea/concepts where the previous one left off: Miriam saying loshon hara about Moshe -> the spies not learning their lesson and saying loshon hara about Eretz Yisrael -> Korach rebelling because of the pronouncement that the whole generation was going to die in the desert - which was because of the sin of the spies.

However, the challenge regarding mezuzah doesn't quite fit, particularly since mezuzah isn't mentioned until later in Devarim in 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. So is Korach "jumping the gun" here?

True, my question could easily be answered by saying that the entire Torah was given/taught at/from Sinai, but that just side steps the issue without giving it any real thought.

So, after Ma'ariv tonight, I went and asked Rav Cohen himself (I had seen him approached by another student for a similar parsha based question last week, so I figured it was worth a try). Of course, Rav Cohen did not disappoint in the least in answering my inquiry.

Basically, we know that Devarim is a "refresher" of sorts for the Torah in general, which explains the different narrative form, and Moshe recapitulating a lot of stories and mitzvos. But, we also see that there are "new" mitzvos that don't appear elsewhere - like mezuzah. So, what's the deal?

All the mitzvos were in fact given before Devarim. However, Moshe chose to properly teach these mitzvos, or more directly, to (re)emphasize them, at a time when they were intrinsically more relevant. Bnai Yisrael in the desert had no need for mezuzos - no one had any halachic doorways! (This is presuming they lived in tents, or perhaps sukkos). But right before they were to go into Eretz Yisrael, which is when Devarim was "said" by Moshe - on the very day he died - the notion of having a permanent house with a doorway, doorposts, etc. was actually relevant.

In contrast, The mitzvah of techeiles was immediately relevant, because the Jews wore clothing in the desert, so before they had the mitzvah, no four cornered garments had tzitzis or techeiles - after it was given, they put them on.

Rav Cohen compared this to learning the halachos of a specific mitzvah/yom tov at the appropriate time of the year. You don't learn about lulav and esrog before Pesach, you learn about matza and marror! The same concept applies to the placement of mezuzah and other mitzvos first explicitly written about in Devarim.

So Korach wasn't quite "jumping the gun."

It is interesting to note that he chose a practical mitzvah (techeiles) and a theoretical, as-of-yet-unrealized mitzvah (mezuzah) to undermine Moshe's authority. It was sort of an attack on two fronts, kind of like saying: "you're making us do ridiculous stuff now, and you have even more ridiculous stuff saved for us for later!"

Anyway, I thought this was a neat little idea worth sharing.

Niggun Neshama - I Love It, But STOP Using It During Davening!

Niggun Neshama. Everyone's heard it, probably at a wedding or live in concert. In my unqualified opinion, it's one of R' Shlomo Carlebach's finest compositions that remained professionally unreleased during his lifetime. A personal recording or two has surfaced, though.

Shlomo Katz' bonus track from V'Hakohanim is a live recording from the first time Shlomo ever played the niggun - at a R' Shlomo yartzeit concert in Yerushalayim. This is always amazing to listen to.

Shlomo Katz is the artist responsible for making Niggun Neshama as popular as it is be really introducing it to the Jewish music world. I was privileged enough to be learning in Israel when he began his one-man campaign to get the Jewish world singing and dancing with this lively niggun, and let me tell you, hearing it that first year of its popularity was magical. We ran from concert to concert of Shlomo's to be able to hear the niggun just one more time.

Mind you, this was before it was played to death at every single wedding in America, Israel, and everywhere else across the globe. I was once at a wedding where they played it no less than three separate times. Whenever the dancing began to lull, they started up Niggun Neshama and everyone was back on the dance floor. Cheap trick, but it worked...

I once asked Shlomo why he never recorded the song in the studio for his album, and he replied that you simply can't capture that same power and energy found when the song is performed live. He was right, and while there are nice versions of Niggun Neshama that have been recorded (see below), they do lack that magic spark of the live concert performance.

Eitan Katz' acoustic version from Unplugged is quite nice, perhaps the finest overall studio recording of the niggun. There is just a sense of quiet energy that pervades throughout.

Yehuda Green's rendition from Land of Your Soul is probably the best studio recorded fast version. It definitely makes you want to get up and dance, but it's not the same as hearing it live...

Begin Rant

Yehuda! (click "Niggun Neshomele") took the song, jazzed it up, and made it lose all its natural appeal, IMHO. He even changed the vocalization to "Hai-dee-dee-yo-oh" - who knew that changing the "words" to a niggun would affect it so adversely!? Every other artist out there that tried to make their own spin fared similarly, ignoring the inherent greatness that is already there while trying to "improve" it - I'm looking at you, Ohad and the Kinderlach.

Worse yet is the chazanim who, in an attempt to be "with it" (this remark is particularly directed to the older gentlemen midde aged and above) who think it's hip to throw in this niggun while leading the davening in shul. It just doesn't work - not for Lecha Dodi, not for Kedusha, not for Anim Zemiros, nor any other time in davening.

First, you can't just sing Niggun Neshama without a guitar and expect to pull it off. It ends up being too fast, too high, or too repetitive. Niggun Neshama only works fully when it's in the hands of a master devotee of R' Shlomo's music, such as the first three artists I mentioned above.

Second, there are too many syllables in Niggun Neshama to put words to it. This is a problem similarly found with Shlomo's Niggun Nevo. The first part just doesn't fit, though the second does, believe me, I've unsuccessfully tried it out for Lecha Dodi. Anyway, the chazan attempts to cram the nai-nai-nais into words and ends up splicing syllables and vowels as he shoves the proverbial circle peg into the square hole. Now, not only is everything ill-fitting, but now the chazan isn't even saying the proper words of the tefillah, and that is a big no-no.

Although the heyday of Niggun Neshama's meteoric rise to popularity are long over, and it has rightfully established it's place as a long-time favorite, I still see chazanim mistakenly try to utilize it to this very day. Enough already! Enjoy Niggun Neshama for what its truly worth, but don't spit on it anymore with failed attempts to spice up davening!

End Rant

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Exodus: A Pesach Story - Part Two

NOTE: I apologize for taking so long to finish this story, which started out on a creative whim during Pesach - see part one here. Due to the length of the story, I've divided the final section into two chapters. The final part will be posted sometime in the (hopefully) not too distant future. Enjoy!

A montage of video clips flashed across the TV screens of Egyptian TVs tuned in for the evening news. A small smiling child pets a camel’s head, palm fronds sway in the breeze, and a fisherman shows off his latest catch from the Nile. Lastly, a close up of the royal pyramids zooms out and the image transforms into a well-known silhouette logo. Three hieroglyphs flash onto the screen, accompanied by a deep, booming voice that declared “This is E-N-N. The Egyptian News Network.”

The lights in the studio brightened, revealing Tut-hak-bur and Qeela sitting at their broadcast desk. Both had a clothespin firmly clamped over their nose.

“Good evening, Egyptian Empire!” Qeela’s voice was noticeably more nasal than usual. “Our top story tonight continues our ongoing coverage of the mysterious plague of frogs that has afflicted the nation,” she reached over her shoulder and scratched at her back. “Court herpetologists announced today that they have identified the unknown disease that killed the millions of amphibians as a rare kind of fungus.”

Tut-hak-bur continued. “In an effort to contain exposure to potential disease, sanitation workers equipped with haz-mat suits began the cleanup process by gathering the noxious corpses into piles on street corners.”

“You don’t need to tell me, Tut,” Qeela smiled, shifting to a more playful tone. “I can smell them from here!” They shared a hearty chuckle. “And if anyone has developed a taste for frog legs, public health officials strongly advise against cooking and ingesting the little critters. Geriatric citizens residing in “Sphinx Tower,” Egypt’s premiere retirement facility, displayed vicious symptoms acute gastroenteritis after partaking of a “special lunch” organized by Sphinx Tower administration.”

“Ow, Qeela, that sounds painful!” Tut-hak-bur rubbed his stomach in an exaggerated comic fashion and stuck out his tongue.

“You’ve got that right, Tut!” She giggled politely. Suddenly, Qeela stopped laughing, producing a halting snort sound. Her hand quickly shot up to her earpiece, and Tut-hak-bur followed suit.

After a moment, Tut-ha-bur looked up into the camera, his expression very serious. “It seems like we have a developing situation in the streets of Memphis. We now go like to our good friend and trusty remote reporter, Geg-kon-fil.” Tut-hak-bur rubbed the back of his scalp absentmindedly.

The newscast shifted to a shot of Geg-kon-fil wearing a gas mask, standing in front of a large flaming pyre. “Well, Tut and Qeela, have I got a story for you!”

“Tell us more, Fil!” Qeela implored.

“I’m standing here in downtown Memphis where protesters from the Hebrew Manual Labor Coalition have doused several dozen piles of dead frogs with crude petroleum and then ignited them with torches,” he gestured to the burning mound behind him and coughed several times. “I have to tell you, Qeela and Tut, if you thought nothing smelled worse than decomposing frogs, I can testify that the stench of frog flambĂ© is far more repulsive.”

“I’ve been saying this a lot lately, as you well know, Tut, but I’m glad you’re down there and we’re back up here, Fil.”

“Why, thank you, Qeela,” Geg-kon-fil replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He cleared his throat into the microphone through his mask. “Rumors are circulating that the fiery demonstrations were encouraged by Moses and his rabble rousers. The fact that the Hebrew messianic cult has seen a recent surge in membership adds credence to the scuttlebutt on the street.”

“Well, thank you for the report Fil,” Tut-hak-bur said. “Try not to breath in too much of that burnt frog smoke, it could be bad for your health.”

“Oh, I never inhale, Tut,” Geg-kon-fil winked as his production team switched off his video feed. Tut-hak-bur yanked at his collar in an exaggerated fashion, mouthing “hoo boy,” and Qeela shook her head slightly.

“In other news,” Qeela shifted her papyrus note cards then vigorously stroked her forearm. “Earlier this week, the Egyptian public school system was rocked with the worst case of lice ever recorded.”

Tut-hak-bur squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. “An effort to quarantine the student body of the original infested school proved to be ineffective,” he slipped a hand down his back. “Parents were soon affected after prolonged exposure to their children kept at home. Shortly thereafter, the plague spread from house to house until nearly all of Egypt is now scratching madly without rest. A multitude of remedies, both homemade, such as mayonnaise-based shampoo, and those created by the Pharaoh’s medical staff, including costly herbal body sprays, have failed to curb the severity of the people’s suffering.

Qeela gingerly rubbed her cheek trying not to smear her makeup. “The Hebrews, largely confined to the Goshen sector, remain unaffected. Even those Hebrews who freely circulated in the Egyptian neighborhoods seemed to have an immunity that health officials described as “miraculous” and “the finger of G-d.”

“Gah! I can’t take it anymore!” Tut-hak-bur cried out, flinging his note cards in all directions, and vigorously scratched himself with both hands, alternating between his scalp and his torso. He fell off his chair convulsing, while continuing to swipe at the unseen creatures biting his skin.

Qeela suddenly started digging her fingers into her wig, which wobbled back and forth on her head. “W-we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors!”

~~~

Just as things began to quiet down after the lice infestation mysteriously vanished, news offices received scattered sightings of wild beasts that did not belong in residential areas. In one instance, a housewife answered her front door expecting the mailman, and was instead greeted by an eight-foot-tall polar bear standing on its hind legs. The bear wore a slightly chewed mailman’s hat and a carrier satchel full of papyrus scrolls hanging from its shoulder. The alarmed woman managed to slam the door before the mail-bear entered her home and promptly phoned her husband at his office. When the scene was investigated, scat, foot prints, and torn pieces of a delivery uniform were found, but no actual bear.

Although the initial series of calls were waved off as heat stroke hallucinations caused by a rise in temperatures, eyewitness reports continued to pour into local law enforcement and animal control offices.

An official statement from Ramses II’s public spokesman claimed that a travelling zoo was attacked by bandits and the attractions were set free by the marauders after the cash box was looted. However, when people began showing up in hospitals in increasing numbers with injuries consistent with animal bites and puncture wounds that appeared to be caused by animals claws, the cover story lost its veneer of truth. Animal control officers were ordered to roam the streets in riot gear, announcing that all citizens must remain indoors. Thankfully, after the Egyptian people complied and barricaded themselves in their homes, the number of casualties dropped.

Until the giant octopi arrived, that is.

Thatched roofs and mud huts didn’t stand a chance against two-hundred-foot-long extremely prehensile tentacles with suckers the size of dinner plates. Displaying a surprising resilience to the arid desert conditions, the gargantuan mollusks travelled by crawling across the tops of buildings, deliberately removing roofing as they went (and snacking on the occasional pet). As a result, the more agile critters - mostly monkeys and apes, but a few wild cats as well - scaled the walls and terrorized the previously secure inhabitants.

After days of fighting off emus, monitor lizards, and wolverines, the people were beside themselves with anxiety and exhaustion. Just as Ramses was about to give into Moses’ demands, all the animals stopped mid-rampage and wandered off in different directions. The Pharaoh announced that he had finally exerted enough spirit power to commandeer the minds of the creatures from the Hebrew magic.

In response, the Hebrew Manual Labor Coalition protests continued and increased in fervor.

~~~

Kuj-vi sat up in bed just as the rooster began to crow, like he did every day. A long, drawn-out yawn passed his lips, and he stretched both arms upward. His wife Bellim rolled over, still sound asleep. He smiled at her in the dimness of their room; the sunlight was just beginning to filter in through their window. Kuj-vi hitched up his cotton overalls and slid into his muck boots. Plodding over to the screen door, he reached for his fancy-weave imported straw hat, which hung on a nail poking out of the wall. It was the one indulgence he granted himself, especially since the hat was the least likely thing to get splattered with manure, animal saliva, or cattle fodder.

Stepping outside into the cool morning air, Kuj-vi rubbed his eyes to help shake off the sleepiness that clung to him like a wet blanket. He moseyed on over to the feed-shed behind his humble abode and filled a pair of buckets with bran in preparation to fill up the breakfast troughs. Although Kuj-vi lived a simple life as Pharaoh’s head cattle-rancher, he took pride in his hard work. Every day, he made sure all the oxen and other royal herds were well fed, took them out to pasture to get exercise, and then rounded up the thousands of animals for the return trip back to the heavily guarded corral.

The last week or so had been a humdinger. Kuj-vi had to call in extra guards and even a couple of archer squads to keep the carnivorous critters from stealing and eating his charges. When all the commotion finally ended, Kuj-vi was quite grateful to have the peaceful hum drum of his daily routine restored.

The steady buzz of flies in Kuj-vi’s ears caused him to perk up. He sauntered back around his house and headed toward the grand entrance to the cattle pens. He sat one of the buckets on the ground and fished around in his belt pouch for the key to the padlock. After a minute noisy jangling, he removed the right one, inserted it into the lock and twisted it until he heard the distinctive click. Replacing the key, he picked up the bucket and flung open the gate with a kick. Kuj-vi took two steps before he nearly ran into a pair of hooves jutting straight up in the air, stopping at just about eye-level.

“Daaag-nabbit! Those gosh-darn teenagers done been drinking an’ gone cow-tippin’ again!” Kuj-vi spat in the dust, simmering with frustration.

“I keep tellin’ their folks to git them chil-run away from the liquor pantry, but nooooo, they’s never listenin’ to ol’ Kuj-vi,” he yammered on to no one in particular. Dropping both buckets with a sigh, he crouched down next to the cow’s head and gently slapped the prominent jaw. “Come on Betsy, git ‘er up now.”

But the beast didn’t budge. Kuj-vi raised his eyebrows and bent closer to look at the cow’s eye, which had rolled backward, leaving just the white exposed.

“Come on now, this ain’t time for games, girl,” he nudged the snout with his palm. The fat tongue, normally a bright pink, lolled outside of its mouth, revealing a speckled purple color. “Uh, oh.” Kuj-vi sprang to his feet and ran further into the cattle pen to check on the rest of the livestock. He quickly stopped short and let a curse escape his mouth.

“Well fry mah hide…”

The bewildered rancher slowly walked around in a circle, surveying the carnage that surrounded him. Everywhere he looked, cattle lie flat on their backs with all four legs pointing ram-rod straight at the sky like they were angrily gesturing with their hooves at some unseen enemy. Kuj-vi whistled mournfully.

“Ramses gonna keeeeell me.”

~~~

“Why, Qeela, is that a pimple on your nose?” Tut-hak-bur pointed at his co-anchor’s face.

“You’re joking right? I just had my makeup done in wardrobe,” Qeela reached for her purse, sat it in front of her and pulled out a compact mirror.

“And it’s a big one, too!” Tut-hak-bur chortled.

Qeela sighed, flipped open the mirror and stared at the large red bump standing in stark contrast to her uniformly colored skin. “By Aton’s shining beard! I’m going to have Kim-zad’s head on a pike for this!” Seething with rage, she stood up, removed her earpiece and stomped off stage.

“We-ell…” Tut-hak-bur nervously pursed his lips and tried to muster up a witty ad-lib. “If any of our viewers out there have experience as a professional makeup artist, please send your resumes to ENN Studios, P.O. Box-” Qeela’s startled cry stopped Tut-hak-bur mid-sentence.

“Get away from me! You did this to me!”

“I, uh… Qeela?” Tut-hak-bur leaned back in his chair and glanced to his left.

“No! No-no-no-no!” Qeela continued shrieking. “This can’t be happening! Not my beautiful face!”

Tut-hak-bur rested his elbow on the desk. “Really, Qeela. I think you’re giving a bad name to Egyptian women everywhere, it’s only a little pimple for Pharaoh’s sake!”

“No, don’t touch me! You’re getting them all over me!”

“…them?” Tut-hak-bur’s eyebrows formed a frown on his forehead. Behind the camera, the producer released a pent in sigh of frustration and signaled for an intern to go find out what the fuss was about. The young woman eagerly snapped to attention and darted off to the dressing rooms.

A moment later, Qeela’s voice could be heard angrily arguing with the intern. “I am not going back out there like this. No! Over my dead body!”

“Tell her if she wants to keep her job, she better get back on camera,” the producer announced through his handheld amplification cone. The intern reappeared, dragging a furiously struggling Qeela by the wrist.

“Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” She declared, shielding her face with hands and forearms covered in small red welts.

“What happened to you?” Tuk-hak-bur was taken aback at his co-host’s sudden dermatological dilemma. A sharp, panicked yelp sounded from nearby, and the camera swung over into a different part of the studio. The intern’s exposed skin was also now covered in red bumps. The camera quickly jerked back to the news desk, where Qeela cowered behind her chair and Tut-hak-bur had a quizzical look on his face.

“Um, do you think this might be contagious?” He tapped the desk with a pencil as he asked the producer. Qeela irritably punched his shoulder. “Ow! Now, Qeela, was that really necessary?” Tut-hak-bur paused poignantly. “Wait, why does my arm feel all tingly?” He held his hand up in front of him, and little red pustules appeared on his wrist followed by more on his fingers. “This can’t be good.” The cameraman zoomed in on his face, as the red welts travelled up from his shirt collar and spread across his face, each making a little poink sound as it emerged. The crew stared in disbelief.

“This some kinda crazy prank or something?” Uk-yip the cameraman’s deep voice inquired.

The producer hesitated for a moment, looking around nervously. “I want this set in lockdown! Get me out of here before I get it, too!” He shouted, leaping from his folding chair and bounding out the studio exit.

“I have to admit, these things kind of hurt,” Tut-hak-bur remarked after poking one of the red, inflamed bulges on his cheek.

“Just cut to commercial already!” Qeela screamed from her hiding place.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Shabbos Of Many Firsts

This past Shabbos was one of many firsts. It was my first Shabbos spent on the YU campus since the school year ended, as well as my first Shabbos spent on campus any summer since I started my academic career at YU. It’s really kind of lonely with so many people gone, leaving a number of married couples that live here and a handful of June zman guys who decided to rough it out and not go home (although there was a KBY Shabbaton this week, which probably encouraged some guys to stay).

Without caf meals to rely upon, I had to figure out what I was going to do for food. A friend of mine living on the other side of the Heights really came through and helped me find a night meal after I successfully received an invite for lunch. Both meals were enjoyable, but of totally opposite character.

The Friday night meal was on the other side of the Heights, and was my first singles-only Shabbos meal. I also davened at Mount Sinai shul, a supposed hotbed of singles activity, for the first time ever. Sure, I had been there once or twice before to attend concerts (notably, Shlomo Katz concerts), but I’ve never had a reason, nor desire to daven there before. I found that the stereotypes are largely true. Throughout davening, there were young men and women congregating in the empty social hall, located right next to the sanctuary (the men have to walk through it to get to their seats) as well as in the adjacent hallway schmoozing it up with one another, and that was just the beginning…

The davening itself was a bit lackluster. The chazzan (I doubt he’s necessarily to blame) started off Lechu Neranena in the Carlebach style, but then didn’t sing much else until Lecha Dodi. He used a few Carlebach endings, oddly enough, while singing mostly by himself. On the whole, I was very underwhelmed by the overall lack of congregational interest in singing/davening together. I must commend them for singing Vayechulu together though, which I don’t see so often. It’s kind of funny, because you’re supposed to say it together with other people, to the point where if you daven Shemonah Esrei too long and miss the congregation’s recitation, that you should grab someone else and have him say it with you. Yet, in most shuls when the chazzan gets to Vayechulu, everyone just starts off belting it out or mumbling it on their own, almost like a race.

It is also true that the men and women basically face one another, with two sections for each along the northern and southern walls, women behind the men with a mechitza made of interlocking metal bars that are somewhat easily seen through. I kept my hat pulled low over my eyes when sitting in my seat, or did my best to direct my gaze strictly forward when standing and facing east. I was basically successful in my attempt to avoid visual distractions during davening, though I imagine many find such an arrangement entertaining or interesting.

Anyway, after Adon Olam, the real ‘fun’ began. I had seen my friend earlier, but quickly lost sight of him as soon as the crowd started flowing into the large, open social hall for the prerequisite post-davening socializing/get-together. A few hundred (I’m bad at guesstimation) young men and women were milling about in small groups chit-chatting with one another. Truth be told, I really couldn’t handle the “scene,” I was definitely overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. I saw old classmates from YU, guys who went to Israel with me, a few married guys I knew, a girl or two I went out with – though I observed most of them from afar, only choosing to actually catch up with a few of the guys I knew. I’m not entirely against social interaction with girls, and if people are utilizing the opportunity to really meet members of the opposite gender, more power to them. It just wasn’t my thing.

I must mention that this started at around 9:40 PM and was going quite strong by the time my friend and I left with our hostess well after 10 PM. I don’t know about all those other young guys and gals, but I was hungry by that point. I guess the desire for social interaction trumps food sometimes (though they often go together).

We proceeded to head over to our hostess’ apartment where I sat down to my first singles’ meal, about twelve men and women in total, split evenly give or take.

Surprisingly, or should I say thankfully, the whole meal wasn’t awkward at all. It was quite fascinating to watch the male-female dynamics of the conversation. The hostess and her apartment-mates did most of the cooking, and guests brought things like the wine, challah, and the dessert (I had offered to bring something, but it was all taken care of by the time I was invited). We reminisced about 90’s TV shows, did an ice breaker or two, and generally talked about all sorts of random stuff.

I also had my first glimpse into this ‘other world’ of singles, which I had never experienced before. While I’m sure that sort of life works for some/many frum singles out there, it’s not something I ever want to be a part of. The whole existence affects the people there, and I could see it in both the guys and girls I ate Shabbos dinner with. I don’t necessarily think it’s a pgam per se, since for many, living in such a community is a necessity for finding a spouse (or so many claim), but it definitely changes a person. I’ve gone out with girls who live over there, and each time the shidduch was very short lived, for reasons I might understand better now.

I think there is a marked difference between the YU side and the Mount Sinai side of the Heights. The YU side, understandably, exists in an atmosphere that is permeated by the yeshiva. The main beis medrish is the center of the community (especially in its new location), and included with that edifice are the many great roshei yeshiva we have. It’s vastly different from having a shul with just one rabbi (as great as Rabbi Schwartz, a YU musmach, is). I honestly feel a greater sense of community around YU than I did at Mount Sinai. Even though you might have singles on both sides (though more women there than here), everything on the Mount Sinai side seemed so disconnected, akin to the social butterflies flitting back and forth during the “scene” following Ma’ariv. Whereas at YU, even those not married still orbit around the yeshiva, with a firm tether that keeps them grounded in a Torah reality. I don’t mean to belittle the men and women at Mount Sinai at all, but their primary focus seemed to be each other and not the davening/shul.

Now that I’ve probably offended any single readers who live over there (and feel free to express your opinions/rants in comment form), I’ll talk about my other “first” experience, which was my lunch meal.

Bad For Shidduchim, Frum' N Flipping, A Blob of Something Different, and other bloggers (mostly of the female variety, to the best of my recollection) have all written posts about their friends moving on, getting married, and already having kids, thus making them feel all the more left out. While I have had a large number of friends who have already gotten married, and a few here and there who have begun having children, I never really encountered the phenomenon in person - until now. For the most part, as many have already observed and discussed to death, married people tend to form their own little social circles, to the exclusion of their still-single friends. I can now report firsthand that being around such friends can be a bit alienating.

It had been a while since the last time I shared a Shabbos meal with this particular friend and his wife, but that was back when they were newlyweds. Now, around a year and a half later, they have a cute baby daughter. The other guests included another married couple, along with their own baby son, and another friend, whose wife is expecting. Conversation centered around the babies on hand, general tips and tricks for raising children, including feeding and nap habits, as well as fun topics such as morning sickness. As the only single person at the meal, I was left utterly without a word to contribute to the discussion half of the time. Despite the fact that I was sitting right there at the same table, eating the same delicious food, it almost seemed like I wasn’t in the room. I can’t blame any of them for unintentionally excluding me, and in the end I did learn some things from simply sitting quietly and listening to all the back-and-forth dialogue.

I was also a slightly overwhelmed by the enormity of what it means to be married, take care of a home, and have/raise kids. I don’t think that many people honestly take these things into consideration so much while dating. As much as I believe I’ve basically reached the limit to my functionality as a single man, I have quite a lot to learn about being a husband and father. True, most of that education is collected from “on-the-job” experience, but I know I could prepare myself more. I have been reading dating books for a long time now (since Shana Bet, in fact), and now the thought occurred to me that maybe I should move onto reading marriage and child-raising books… As I once heard in a shiur, the time to read and absorb dating/marriage books is NOT when you’re already engaged, because it’s too late at that point to effect any major change in any traits you might be lacking. Hence, the right time to head to the bookstore is during the time you’re single or even before you really start dating. I now think the same goes for marriage and child rearing. Though I imagine those books aren’t quite as exciting as ones about dating/how to find your bashert. I may just switch to the marriage books and hold off and the child-rearing titles for now.

Both meal experiences were like glimpses into potential futures. One, wherein I have graduated YU unmarried and still need to find my wife, the other, a bit further along in time, after I’ve gotten married and started my family. While the whole married with kids thing is a definite aspect of my future (please G-d), I’m really not too keen on being one of those social singles hanging out on the other side of the Heights. It really felt like a way station for people who have become “stuck” in life, unable to transition from singlehood to marriage, for whatever reason. I think I can better empathize with those who are unfortunately enduring that existence (some of whom have been there for many years).

One solution to this “crisis,” which I’ve mentioned before, is that people should set others up with those they’ve gone out with before. If your ex-shidduch was an all around decent person, and just didn’t match up with you, why not recommend him/her to a friend who you think would be more appropriate? If we all consciously networked together, I think we could avoid the haphazard socializing that I saw Friday night after shul.

May we all skip (or quickly move beyond) that frustrated, still-single stage in life!

I’ll end with a quote I once heard from Rabbi Orlian, one of the sganei mashgiach here at YU, when he asked me if I was busy and I replied in the affirmative:

“If it’s the right one, may it be quick. If not, may it be quicker!”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Engagement Entanglement

Caveat: This has nothing to do with me or my current personal affairs, but has been bothering me for some time, and the recent engagement of a friend and his methods are the direct inspiration for this post. So all speculation is baseless :)

Having gotten that out of the way...

How does one get engaged?

Two issues come to mind. 1) The ring and 2) The surprise aspect. Both are very interconnected with one another.

Before I shift to the Jewish Orthodox take on things, I'll sum up a standard, secular take on how the actual engagement process works.

The couple have usually been going out for some time, often enough well over a year (sometimes 2-3 years), each having some sense that this could be the one, and then the guy saves up, secretly buys a diamond ring, and plans an elaborate/romantic means to propose. After he springs his carefully plotted and unexpected spectacle, he drops to one knee holds out the box containing the ring and asks his girlfriend to marry him.

Hopefully (and presumably) the girl says yes, unlike this poor guy. For the record, I don't think sports and engagements go well together, unless the girl is as big as, or bigger, fanatic than the guy is.

In the Orthodox Jewish world, things are different. The dating time frame is usually shorter, typical "YU procedure" is around 6 months dating before engagement, but that amount of time varies per individual case. The engagement itself is usually known in advance (to one degree or another), so often there are no major surprises. Sometimes wedding plans have already begun before any official announcement is made.

Which gets me back to the ring. Seemingly, the guy has to secretly find out the girl's ring size, as well as preferences and then pick the ring that fits his budget. However, how can he guarantee that the girl is going to like it - this is something she will hopefully wear for the rest of her life. I would be horribly nervous to get a ring that the girl ended up not liking, which would create a conundrum. Either a) she sucks it up and keeps the ring because of its sentimental value, though I wonder if this could become a point of contention later (I hope women aren't so petty) or b) she actually exchanges the ring for something she likes, which totally ruins the whole emotional impact of the ring itself.

The easy solution is to have her pick out the ring beforehand via Blue Nile or wherever. But if she knows what ring she's getting, doesn't that also let her on to the fact that a proposal is coming in the near future? Even if the guy then delays the proposal for some time, the girl will certainly have her curiosity aroused any time he does something suspicious.

One way around this conundrum, which makes a lot of sense to me, but requires more money, is to get her a bracelet first as the proposal item, then go pick out the ring together. I would hope that the particular bracelet he chooses (hopefully with female help) isn't so horrible that she might exchange it for another (though I did recently hear about a story where the girl did just that - with her fiance's permission). Then, she also gets to pick the ring that she likes and will cherish until 120. Though I could foresee some issues arising with regard to her liking a particular ring/diamond and his finances only going so far...

Anyway, back to the proposal itself. I've heard of/seen good ideas as well as some not-so-great and even bad ideas. The good ideas usually have something to do with a meaningful venue or other "thing" that has been a part of the relationship. I think that this is an example of a very well done, almost perfect in every way proposal. Chana's recent engagement is also a very picturesque story. Other examples I've encountered include:

A banner seen while sky diving, holding a banner/flowers while waiting at the airport, popping the question on a plane and having the pilot announce that they will not land until she says yes, the ring placed in a glass of champagne, an Old City of Jerusalem rooftop overlooking the Kotel plaza, spelling out the question using Bananagrams (saw this on two different occasions, actually), asking during a romantic dinner, and even just asking casually (anyone seen the famous Rocky II scene?).

One friend told me he had this shtick where he would always ask the girl he was going out with to get something from the glove compartment of his car, starting with the first date and periodically throughout their shidduch. This lured her into a false sense of security that retrieving things from the glove compartment was a totally normal thing to do. Thus, when he popped the question, she had no clue - and it worked for him.

The recent engagement I referenced above in the caveat involves a staged arrest with local law enforcement. I've seen pictures, but I heard more details from a first-hand source who was there taking pictures. While my friend and his soon-to-be fiancee were sitting in his parked car, a cop drives up and asks him to step out of his car. The policeman asks him a bunch of questions, physically searches him, and basically prepares to slap on the handcuffs and haul my friend off to jail. The girl, in the meantime, is crying and understandably freaking out. The officer asks my friend if he has any last thing to say, and he pulls out the ring and proposes.

Granted, she said yes, but I really don't think this sort of thing is a good idea. His original plan had something to do with planting a security risk item inside her carry-on at the airport and pulling a similar stunt using airport security. The other friend who related the proposal story told me he quickly nixed that when my engaged friend suggested it - and I think that was the proper course of action.

Anything that involves scaring the girl to tears is not worth it, in my opinion. Certainly, figuring out something clever and poignant (with personal in-jokes perhaps) is the goal, not to frighten her to death and then scream out "gotcha!"

A close friend who is part of the Lakewood crowd recently got engaged and I asked him about all the details. He simply proposed in a park, without any jewelry on hand. But a short while later when they got back to the car, he had 3 bracelets prepared for her, and let her pick the one she wanted - apparently in Lakewood there are these really heimishe jewelry stores that let you borrow a few items of jewelry, then you let the girl pick the one she likes, pay for it, and return the other ones. I think that's a pretty neat idea! Though it would definitely require a very specific kind of store to let you do that

As a side point, he also told me that there is a car rental service in Lakewood that guys use for dates that gives you a free upgrade every 10 dates. In addition, if you actually get engaged to a girl while using their car, they take your name and add if to their list of satisfied customers, haha.

Any married readers want to weigh in on this? Unmarried readers are welcome to share what they envision happening as well.