Thursday, December 30, 2010

Invasion of The Cradle Snatchers

Suri was beside herself with grief. She threw her cell phone across her bedroom, where it crashed into the wall. The back compartment popped off and the battery skittered somewhere under her bed. Yet another shadchan had told her the dreaded line she had grown to expect and hate at the same time:

“I’m so sorry dear. You’re just too old for what the boys are interested in these days.”

Merely thinking about that stuck up, know-it-all, tone of voice echoing in her head made Suri ball her hand into a fist and punch her pillow. She wished she could just gather up all these inconsiderate old ladies wearing ill-fitting black dresses, outrageously expensive, badly styled sheitels, topped off with enough makeup to make a clown envious, and wring all their necks one-by-one.

Who were they to tell her that she was “too old?” What right did they have to determine what the age limit was for eligibility, declaring, seemingly at random, that certain girls were “over-the-hill” and no longer acceptable for shidduchim? Why did they get to make the rules that decide when girls were “out of the game?”

A squeal emanating from the hallway interrupted Suri’s outraged ruminations. Chaya, Suri’s younger sister, abruptly poked her head into Suri’s room, smiling ear to ear.

“Guess what!?” Chaya asked, her eyes wide with excitement. Suri simply scowled in return, since she already knew what Chaya was going to say.

“Pray tell.”

Chaya’s face contorted in confusion, “What does that mean?”

Suri sighed in frustration, rolled her eyes, and replied “What?”

“I just got a call from Mrs. Frumkelshtein! I have a date with that cute Mandelbaum boy from down the block.”

Suri’s eyes bulged out in shock, while an angry vein rose to the surface of her skin and began to pulsate on her forehead. “She gave you the Mandelbaum boy!? ARGH!” She exclaimed in frustration, as the remaining shreds of her dan lekaf zechus thoughts evaporated into thin air.

“Um, did I say something wrong?” Chaya clutched the door frame tightly, her voice apprehensive.

“No, no. Run along now,” Suri replied through gritted teeth and waved her off.

“‘Kay!” Chaya spun on her heel and skipped down the hallway.

This was unforgiveable. How in the world could that witch turn Suri down in favor of her own little sister? Where was the sensitivity, the decency? Especially considering the fact that she practically hung up on Suri and dialed Chaya’s number seconds later! Did that conceited old lady not realize what kind of abuse she was piling on top of the heartache she already caused? Suri wrung a pillow between her hands, so furious that she almost felt the steam jetting out her ears.

A soft knock announced a more welcome visitor. Looking up, Suri saw her mother hovering in the hall, barely allowing her face to appear in the space left by the door Chaya had left ajar.

“Hi, Ema.”

“How are you, Suri?” She smiled slightly, raising her eyebrows as a request to enter. Suri nodded her head, and her mother gently closed the door behind her. “I’m sorry about Chaya’s impoliteness. You know she’s very young and still doesn’t quite understand how to handle delicate emotional situations.”

“Then why is she dating, Ema? Don’t you think going out to get married requires more than a little maturity?” Suri emphasized her point by holding up a hand and pretending to grasp a small object between her index finger and thumb.

“Well, we couldn’t really wait any longer, sweetheart. It was time for her to start.”

“Uh huh, right. That’s what doesn’t make any sense to me, why would Mrs. Frumkelshtein say I’m too old to cut it, then turn right around and call Chaya?”

Ema sat down on the edge of the bed, “That’s just the way boys are and always have been. They want the youngest, most attractive girls out there.”

“Ema, Chaya is a child!” Suri pouted. “She hasn’t even gone off to a seminary in Israel yet!”

“But that’s the new thing these days, you know,” Ema said. “Girls get married and kill two birds with one stone by having a double ‘shana aleph.’” She rested her jaw on an outstretched hand. “I think it’s kind of cute, actually.”

“Okay, that might make some sense.” To someone who’s utterly whacked out, Suri added silently. “But Chaya isn’t even close to that. She still plays Pok√©mon on her Gameboy and collects Beanie Babies!”

“Look, everyone is allowed to have a hobby or two. For example, you make sculptures and play the viola.”

“You’re mixing apples and oranges, Ema. My hobbies are entirely grown up and age-appropriate. They represent my artistic expression and serve as a means of personal and spiritual inspiration. Y’know, just the sort of thing a person of marriageable age should bring to the table,” Suri puffed out her chest a little, willing to let her ego have its way for a moment.

“But guys are also looking for the youthful, vivacious type – someone who can get out there and be competitive at the arcade or relate to a sports memorabilia obsession –which Chaya definitely personifies.”

Suri sighed. “Ema, you’re missing the point. There is no reason why a well put together, attractive young woman such as myself can’t get a decent suggestion, let alone one that would go out with me. I’m not a person that believes in the whole “size matters” shtick, but I honestly am slim and fit. What does Chaya have that I don’t!?”

“Well, honey, Chaya is four years younger than you, after all.”

“Ema! She’s fifteen!” Suri all-but-shouted.

“That’s right,” Ema nodded in agreement. “And she’s going to get her learner’s permit next month. She is a big girl now.”

“Ema, really?” Suri threw an incredulous look at her mother. “Come on-”

“My baby’s all grown up now,” Suri’s mother clasped her hands together next to her cheek. “Soon she’ll be a married woman and mother,” she sniffed back a tear.

“Yeah, yeah,” Suri sighed.

Ema suddenly bolted upright. “Wait-a-minute! If Chaya is going to be a mother, then that makes me a grandmother.” She looked like a deer caught in a truck’s headlights. “But I’m too young to be a grandmother! We’re still part of the younger couple’s minyan at shul!” She began to hyperventilate.

“Ema, really, I don’t think you have anything to worry about just yet,” Suri offered in a conciliatory tone.

Gripped by terror, Ema ignored Suri completely. “What are the kids going to call me? Grandma? Bubbe? Savta? Savti?” She paused just long enough to suck in a few gulps of air. “I-I never gave this any significant thought…!” She shook her head in an attempt to ward off her nerves. “Abba and I must discuss this right away!”

“What about me!?” Suri called after her, as Ema sprang from the bed and flew down the hall. The rapid pounding of her feet on the carpet faded into silence, and Suri was left alone yet again. “What about me?” She repeated mournfully to no one in particular.

“What about you, sweetums?” A manly voiced intoned from the doorway.

Suri’s head jerked up in surprise. “Oh! Abba, you can come in. I’m just sitting here all by my lonesome, stewing in my personal misery.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Abba sauntered in and gingerly closed the door. “What’s bothering you, Suri?”

“That insufferable shadchan called Chaya and gave her the boy that I was going to go out with. Can you believe it!?”

“My, she really is a nasty piece of work, that Mrs. Frumkelshtein,” Abba crossed his arms over his chest and leaned on the wall nearest the bed. “She hasn’t changed in decades, let me tell you.”

Suri lifted an eyebrow cautiously, “What, you mean to tell me she used to redt shidduchim for you and your friends?”

“Yup. The woman is ancient. I heard she once tried to redt a shidduch to Lincoln,” he chuckled.

Suri laughed along. “Abba, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t Jewish!”

“Oh I know, darling. It was the first name that got her. That woman is utterly ridiculous and always has been.”

“I’m glad to know I have someone on my side about this,” Suri smiled. “By the way, Ema was looking for you a moment ago.”

“Oh, I heard her dashing around in one of her freaked out moods again, so I hid in the linen closet until she went down the stairs. I can detect those coming a mile away by now,” he tapped his temple, reveling in his daughter’s giggles. “You’ll learn all about little incongruities like that when you’ve been married for twenty years.”

Suri’s mood took a downturn, “If I ever get married.”

“Aw, come on. Don’t worry about that just yet. You’ve got plenty of time before you get to join that old spinsters’ Mah Jong club at the shul.”

“They really have those things?”

“I just read about it in the weekly Jewish newspaper. However, I did notice they keep dropping the minimum age for admission.”

Suri hesitated for a moment before asking, “What is at now?”

“In the past month they’ve lowered it to twenty five,” he replied in a matter-of-fact voice.

Suri’s eyes widened in disbelief, “That means I have only six more years until I’m a spinster! This is a nightmare! I’ll never get married!” Suri wiped the first few tears streaming down her face with her palm. “At this rate, I may as well ask them if I can just join now and get it over with!” She began sobbing.

Sensing his gaff, Abba quickly plunked down next to his overwrought daughter and put an arm around her shoulder. Suri buried her face in his sweater and began soaking it tears. Swallowing hard, Abba wracked his brain for a moment.

“Ah, that’s what it was,” he jabbed a finger in the air emphatically.

“‘That’s what’ what was?” Suri asked, her voice muffled by argyle.

“I remembered the reason I came here to talk to you in the first place. There is a boy that wants to go out with you.”

Suri froze mid-sniffle. “Hold the phone, there’s a boy asking to go out with me?!”

“Yup,” Abba noticed the twinkle of hope in his eldest daughter’s eyes and smiled warmly. Suri pulled back from her father’s embrace and sat up straight, briefly rubbing her sleeve across her nose.

After composing herself, Suri asked, “So nu? Tell me some details!”

Her father raised a fist and coughed into it awkwardly. “Okay, but let me finish before you say anything.”

“Well, that sounds great already,” Suri interjected.

Abba held up both opened hands in front of defensively, “Please, just hear me out, and then comment.”

“Sure. Please go ahead.”

“Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Gold called this morning saying that her son really wanted to go out with you. She thinks it’s a good idea and wants to try and arrange the shidduch.”

Confused, Suri gave a thumbs up and flipped it over a few times to see if she could talk yet, and Abba nodded his permission. “You mean Dov, my friend Shira’s really handsome older brother?” She inquired expectantly.

“Not quite, he got engaged a week ago. It’s Izzy.”

Suri pursed her lips tightly, trying to find her train of thought. “Izzy. As in Shira’s little brother?”

Abba sensed her apprehension “…that’d be the one.” He too obviously began to glance around the room and started to whistle.

“Izzy, the one who’s only sixteen? Who’s only a grade above Chaya and always wears that kippa with the puffy paint Mets logo on it?”

“That would be him.”

“The same Izzy who just won the state science fair for his project on the ecology of compost heaps?”

“Now, that was really impressive, you’ve got to admit.”

Little Izzy Gold, who scraped his knee on our driveway when he was learning to ride his bicycle?”

“Now sweetie, that wasn’t his fault. You know those bushes on our semi-circle driveway can be a bit misleading on that initial curve-”

“I’m having a bit of a hard time grasping this, if you can’t tell,” Suri declared. She closed her eyes, and after a calming breath looked at her father. “Did he have the usual list of obnoxiously invasive questions that I have to answer every single time, revealing each and every last secret about me?”

“Actually, that was the refreshing part, he only asked one.”

“Really, what was it?”

The door abruptly swung open with such force that it bounced off the wall, leaving a small dent. “Where’s your father!?” Ema demanded hysterically.

“Ah! Ema, he was just-” Suri felt a tug on her ankle and allowed her gaze to dip downward. Abba huddled beneath her bed, holding a finger to his lips. “Going to go grocery shopping, that’s right,” she concluded. She firmed her voice and added, “He said he’d be back in about an hour.”

“Well, at least he’s out doing something useful. The minute he gets back we have to have a serious talk about where we want Chaya’s children to go to high school.”

“Sure thing, Ema. I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to it,” Suri flashed a very unconvincing grin. Ema whirled around while shutting the door in the same coordinated motion. Abba crept out from under the bed, stood up, and stretched his back.

“That was a close one. Good cover, by the way,” he bent over and touched his toes a few times.

“Thanks. I don’t envy you that upcoming conversation, though.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I’ll worry about it in an hour,” he glanced at his watch.

“Back on topic… so what’s the question that Izzy asked about me?”

Abba reached up and loosened his collar a bit. “Well…”

“Did he want to know if I wore sneakers when I work out?”


“If Ema uses a plastic table cover on Shabbos?”


Suri tried again, “What my dress size was?”

“Sort of…” Abba trailed off.

“What do you mean ‘sort of?’”

Clearly embarrassed, Abba dithered, linked his fingers together and stared at the ceiling. “Hmmm, it seems I need to change one of the light bulbs in your chandelier, I better get on that right away.”

“Abba. Please stop stalling. What did he ask?”

“He wanted to know your, um, cup size,” Abba recoiled as though preparing to be struck.

WHAT?!” Suri thundered.

Abba started speaking a mile a minute. “That was the only question. He basically knows everything about you and us from your friendship with Shira and the dozens of shabbos meals we’ve spent at each other’s homes. He’s seen you in a natural setting, with friends and family, even when things went wrong like that time you spilled the whole chulent dish on your lap and that other time when it rained and your hair looked like a drowned terrier. That was the one thing he simply didn’t have a clue about, and I figured; ‘What’s the harm in asking?’ Especially since it’s such a simple, mostly innocuous inquiry in the first place, right? And-”

“I can’t believe that little twerp had the guts to ask that! His mind is so completely submerged in the gutter, just like every other hormone-driven, full-of-himself, egotistical, skirt-chasing guy out there! Why in the world would I even consider going out with someone as depraved as that!?”

“Honestly, Suri, I think you’re missing something here.”

“And just what is that Abba?”

“The boy is only sixteen. What else does he think about?”

Suri stopped mid-rant. “You actually have a point.”

“And besides that one semi-objectionable question – which I might add parenthetically, is a question that every guy has on his mind in the first place, even if he doesn’t actually ask it – you both have a lot in common,” Abba began counting on his fingers. “He plays the cello, makes Jewish-themed mosaics, is a serious straight A student, and wants to go into bio-research.” Abba put the last finger back down, “Well, I don’t know if you can include that one just yet, since he doesn’t have his high school diploma.”

Suri felt her indignation give way to an unusual burst of whimsy welling up within her. “What the heck, why not?”

“Really?” Abba flinched, clearly expecting a flat-out rejection. “I can call Mrs. Gold back and let her know it’s on?” He asked excitedly.

“Sure. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn out to be that magical, special someone,” Suri remarked half-sarcastically.

“I’ll get on it right away!” Abba jumped up and closed the door on his way out.

“This is going to be an interesting experience,” Suri thought aloud.

A moment later, Abba poked his head back in. “You know, my Aunt Gertrude is three years older than Uncle Shloime, and just look how happy they are!”

“Abba, I said ‘yes’ already!” Suri replied in exasperation.

“Okey-dokie, smokey-rokie!” Abba quipped as he disappeared from view.

Suri allowed herself a little smile at the humor of the entire situation, wondering if she had any idea what she had just agreed to. But then again, who knows what might happen, good or bad? It was worth a shot.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Inyanei D'Yoma: Exodus

Since we just started reading Sefer Shemos, and the first few parshiyos deal with the actual exodus from Mitzrayim as well as the ten plagues, I figure now is as good a time as ever to bring everyone's attention to my unfinished "Exodus: A Pesach Story."

Please read - and comment on J - parts one and two, which I posted last Pesach and later in June. Going though shnayim mikrah v'echad targum last week got me re-inspired to dig up the incomplete third and final chapter, which I hope to finish and post soon (before these particular parshiyos are over).

Part 1

Part 2

Enjoy (and comment)!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Re: Objectification of Me

I wrote this as a response to Bad4's latest post about providing pictures for shidduchim, and figured it was long enough to be an actual post of its own:

It is very true, as many have noted, that physical attraction is not only necessary for the relationship, but significant enough in many cases to determine whether someone may find the suggested candidate attractive enough to date.

One of the biggest issues is that shadchanim/wanna-be-match-makers are not honest, or not totally honest, in describing a person's physical features. Due to this liability, pictures are requested. Often, as others have noted here, the pictures themselves are not reliable due to the staged nature (extra make up, professional picture, etc) or the flawed aspects of the photograph make the person seem less attractive than they actually are.

As a side point, particularly since this happened to me several times when I was dating: why in the world would ANYONE want to have an unattractive picture of him/herself available for the purpose of evaluation regarding shidduchim? I saw dozens of YUConnects profiles with girls who haphazardly slapped up some cropped, unflattering Facebook picture. I was surprised on more than one occasion that the girl was more attractive than her photo depicted. If you want a date, don't pass around a bad picture of you! Get multiple opinions from people you know and trust to approve the worthiness of a particular picture before it gets out there for general evaluation.

Back on topic: So we're basically stuck with a double sense of falsehood. Descriptions are incomplete or wrong, so we ask for a picture, but asking for a picture is insulting and also often misleading. The option to go in "blind" will often lead to numerous disappointments, as some guys have noted. If the looks are a no-go, then the entire venture is a non-starter. That applies to both guys and girls, and girls need to learn to accept that, especially since they don't necessarily focus on looks from the get go as much as a guys often do.

I think there is a clear difference when someone asks for a picture "stam" versus asking for a picture because you can tell they're stuck up, utterly full of him/herself and looking for a supermodel for a spouse. Nobody should have an exact "look" that they absolutely require, because that's simply impossible. Everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes when it comes to appearances, but often these preferences can be lumped into more general categories that paint a fuzzy picture of what is acceptable, thus letting the details remain more open for the actual dating experience.

As I've said many times before on my own blog and comments here [IE Bad for Shidduchim], everyone needs to have a standard of what they find attractive, per those general guidelines I just mentioned, which can include height, facial features, body shape, etc. The only thing a picture should do, and hopefully do accurately is determine if he/she meets that cut-off line in your mind. A short examination of a picture can accomplish that. The same thing is done on a date as well, but the stakes are higher and a greater degree of scrutiny is absolutely necessary, especially if you are determining if you can accept certain imperfections or unique characteristics (this is part of the more specific aspect I mentioned above). For a picture, if the person is "too fat," "too skinny," too this or that, per your personal tastes then you know right off the bat and don't have to go further.

It is NOT fair to jump on someone's back and say they're being too prejudiced against someone because of a decent picture. True, finer elements of a person's features will only be apparent while seeing them in person, but if someone hands me a picture of a girl who was 400 pounds, and I don't find that attractive, no matter how great the quality of the photo, I would say no because that's not what I want. The same thing goes for ANYTHING (not to stereotype against the obese) that a particular person finds unattractive. I had a professor who told us that he couldn't stand red heads when he was dating - and as such, he didn't marry a red head. True, the possibility exists that he could compromise for a particular person, but that would entail further examination. But telling him he's absolutely wrong for having such a strong gut-reaction (based on who knows what) isn't right. In fact, that particular professor even told us about a red head cousin of his who married a guy from Lakewood, and now she wears a dark sheital, because her husband hates red hair (the professor didn't ask what she did around the house/when her hair was uncovered).

At any rate, everyone needs to be honest and up front about looks and pictures. Why can't we just standardize picture usage (like YUConnects does), with EVERYONE providing decent pictures that accurately portray their looks? If someone turns you down that means A) You aren't their physical type, for whatever reason, so deal with it or B) He/she is a shallow jerk who didn't like how your right nostril looked and you're better off not going out with him/her anyway because he/she is stupid.

May everyone find the person who looks the way they would like their spouse to look - and more importantly - find the person who represents all the good qualities required to be a good spouse.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wedding Pictures Part 2: Making Your Album

Ranting aside, just how the heck do you pick which pictures are considered important enough to make it into your wedding album? If you have 600+ photographs and need to cut it down to some far more miniscule number, say 50 (or if you’re lucky and/or willing to spend the money another 10 or 20).

So what do you do, dear newlywed chosson and kallah?

The first thing we did was go through all the pictures once and take out all the bad pictures or pictures we intrinsically knew were not album worthy like empty guest tables, shmorg food, or flower center pieces. That easily cut out close to a third of all the pictures, as I mentioned in the last post.

Next, we divided the remaining pictures into categories. Keep in mind that the pictures had already gone through the hands of both ASoG’s parents and mine, so they were no longer in any sort of pristine order, having undergone the examination and selection process twice by the time we got them.

So basically, we split the pictures into these categories, roughly chronological: Family pictures, pictures of us (which isn’t strictly chronological, since it included the post yichud room cutesy touching pictures), the chosson’s tisch, the badeken, my side walking down, her side walking down, the chuppah, women side dancing, men's side dancing, and pictures of us at the seuda like washing each other’s hands, cutting the cake, and sheva brachos.

Then, as we went through each stack of pictures, we decided which shots were crucial and which ones were not. For crucial pictures, we selected the best one from the multiples that existed. We made sure that we had all the “required pictures,” including a picture of us with each set of parents, each person/couple who walked down the aisle, important moments such as me veiling ASoG at the badeken, reading the tana’aim at the tisch, reading the kesuba under the chuppah, one of us with our Mesader Kiddushin, etc.

But then things get a little tricky. The problem arises when going through the non-critical pictures, such as the multitude of pictures of just us, or all the dancing/shtick pictures, and concessions need to be made regarding what is and isn’t "album worthy."

Many of the pictures of ASoG and I feature similar poses, only perhaps from the right or left side, black and white versus color, and we had to decide which ones we thought were the best and thus album worthy. While I really liked several of the few artsy shots we have, I had to give in to make room for other pictures that were of more significance. As it turned out, we did choose a good handful of pictures of us, but not quite as many as I would have liked.

Some shtick pictures aren’t so great in terms of quality, angle etc, but feature a very unique shtick or person you are close with. Those pictures made it through the first or second round of cuts, but when it came down to the last haul to take out pictures to get our target number, those also went.

But that doesn't mean that certain cuts still don't sting a bit. Two pictures that didn’t make it which still makes me a little upset were the pictures ASoG and I took with our shomer/shomeret. They are great pictures, and for me (and ASoG too) particularly meaningful because of my close relationship with my friend who was my shomer. I fought tooth and nail (respectfully) until the last cut to keep them in, but we needed to take out two pictures, and those were the only ones that were considered expendable at that point, when all the other pictures were of the more critical variety.

So there we were, seemingly finished making all the painful decisions of who would and wouldn’t appear in our wedding album. We breathed a sigh of relief and were ready to put the pictures away and stop thinking about the whole thing when we noticed that that we were missing one of ASoG’s siblings in the set of walk-down pictures. Of course, this caused a slight panic, since that meant, to our horror, that we hadn’t finished cutting pictures.

In the end, that last, unexpected cut which had to be made was my decision. There were two pictures I had to choose from: one of ASoG and I at the Seudah posing with some shtick gifts and the other, which was a less professional shot, but featuring my parents blessing me in our ready-room just before the chuppah. I really liked both pictures, and had a hard time deciding.

Then I stopped and asked myself, “Which of these pictures am I going to care about more in 50 years?” ASoG immediately answered with the very same words I was about to say that the pictures of my parents and I, though less professional in quality, was vastly more meaningful. There were a few other pictures of ASoG and I at the meal, as I mentioned, like washing each others’ hands and cutting our cake which we did keep, so I could do without the cute picture of us.

I think that was the absolute correct decision - and that really is the bottom line.

Granted, you might think one particular picture of shtick is fantastic, or you might want umpteen pictures of you and your spouse, but what really matters are the pictures that have lasting meaning. That friend who juggled flaming torches may have been exciting in the moment and worth talking about for a few months or years afterward when recalling the dancing that took place at your wedding, but you might lose touch with him and never speak to him for 20 years.

However, that one picture of my parents blessing me, a sort of an equivalent of everyone blessing ASoG at the badeken, will always have infinite worth to me, especially one day when I show my grandchildren my wedding album when their great-grandparents might no longer be around – may my parents have long and healthy lives until 120 (at least). That picture certainly fulfills the stereotypical

So there you have it, the Shades of Grey method for wedding album selection. May everyone who has to deal with sorting through hundreds of pictures be able to figure things out in a calm and ordered fashion – and to everyone who isn’t yet engaged – may you have this to deal with “problem” soon! J

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wedding Pictures Part 1: Photographer Woes

Warning: This post is a bit of a rant, but I think people should read this as a "caveat emptor" of sorts for their own experience.

Every newlywed couple loves selecting the pictures for their album. Going through hundreds and hundreds of photographs, comparing, contrasting, and critiquing, it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Sarcasm aside, in reality, preparing your album is almost as excruciating as the picture taking process itself (which I detailed in my 2nd Post Wedding Report. Don't worry, the final parts are being worked on and will be posted).

From the department of helpful advice from someone who has been there before: To anyone engaged, soon-to-be-engaged, wish-you-were-engaged, etc – don’t pick a photographer just because they have a well known name and have advertisements plastered all over the place. Instead, check out the younger, less publicly famous photographers that are out there. Some let you keep the proofs instead of charging you a ridiculous amount of money for a single picture that you liked, but not enough to put in the album. Some photographers/videographers even give you the raw footage of your wedding instead of handing back a music video of your special day.

If you want those cool, artsy pictures with the funky angles that simply scream, “OMG that’s gorgeous!” DON’T PICK A BIG NAMED PHOTOGRAPHER just because they have a big name. Talk to your friends, see who they choose and what pictures they ended up with, go visit multiple photographers and have them show you their work. Also, TELL THEM what you want, so they know what sort of pictures you envision in your wedding album.

We made the mistake, or I should really say I made the mistake (since picking the photog was my job) of going with a famous named photographer. Granted, we got a large number of the traditional, typical pictures that every wedding album has, but none of the cool angles, etc that I had envisioned. Going through the pictures, of a total of around 600 pictures at 219 were garbage; either because they were out of focus, at a bad angle, had some object or person blocking ASoG or I, was a 3rd or 4th duplicate of the same picture, featured something stupid like the buffet, someone’s bentscher during sheva brachos, random background people during dancing, ill-timed attempts to capture creative shtick, had one or more people making unintentionally horrible facial expressions, or had bad lighting – including a circular shadow from the flashbulb or whatever hovering over our faces.

Even the good ones that we chose from sometimes were 4 or 5 of the identical picture from almost the same angle, with the people in the shot in an ever so slightly different position, forcing us to closely examine the pictures to determine if everyone was smiling properly, looking in the right direction, etc.

When we initially called our photographer after the wedding to discuss when we would receive the pictures, the photographer’s representative (the guy in charge never speaks to us) told us that they screen everything, do touch ups, etc to ensure that the pictures we would get to see and choose from were the absolute best. Well, it turns out that someone must have dropped the ball somewhere, because ASoG and I honestly wonder why in the world they’d even want us to see some of these, which were inherently bad pictures of one of us, or displayed a lack of talent on their part. We didn’t really miss any critical moment of the chuppah, badeken, or chosson’s tisch, and the family pictures were taken and retaken until good photos were produced, but some of the most creative, humorous, and memorable shtick is hardly or badly documented – for example, someone lit a hat on fire and proceded to dance, but there are 4 pictures of him wearing the hat, none of which show it on fire - which really upsets me.

On top of all that, while going through the rest of the pictures, ASoG and I made a startling discovery as we began comparing similar shots (for example, multiple variations of us with my parents) to see which one we liked best. Namely, for at least two dozen or so pictures, the photographer simply took the previous picture, enlarged and cropped it ever so slightly, so you basically have the same photograph TWICE with a little more zoom and a little less bordering material (be that people’s legs or flowers) in the image. Now THAT is lazy. Honestly, why not take an actual zoomed in picture so see if you could get a change of expression or better shot?

As mentioned previously, while some photographers are gracious enough to let you keep the proofs - ours will not. Instead, they are charging an arm and a leg for a single 4 x 6 picture. A recently married relative was given all their proofs on a CD, which allowed them to make duplicates at a local pharmacy, whereas it is illegal to do so with the actual prints that we own, so we’re kind of stuck (our parents are trying to negotiate a deal so we don’t go broke getting more of the pictures we want, so there is still some hope for my guilty feelings).

UPDATE 1/6/11 - It turns out we DO get to keep all of the proofs after the albums are made.

We haven’t seen their video yet, but they insist on “editing it” without giving us the raw footage, which I want. I have no clue what they are and aren’t going to cut. Even if they insist they only remove extraneous video of their crew waiting for something to happen, I think I might be able to do a better job myself. I definitely don’t want a music video of the wedding, but the best video documentation possible. Anyway, that’s a battle for another day…

So, lesson learned – and I hope others can benefit from our experience and not miss out on capturing the various moments of one of the most important days of their lives.

Check back on Wednesday for some advice on the actual process of creating a wedding album.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Update: Why Did Rashi Kill Yaakov's Twin Daughters?!

Since the commenter named Stuart never got back to me about Rabbi Reisman's shiur (Corection: I just got it after this post went up), I did further investigation on my own to satisfy my curiosity.

Please note: all translations are mine, since the sources I saw were in Hebrew. Thus, any inaccuracies are also mine.

I checked the Toras Chaim edition of Bereishis (actually, the 2nd volume of Bereishis) and found that the Chizkuni writes:

Umilvad Neshei Bnei Yaakov: This comes to exclude the twins, that they were not included in the count, behold you have sixty-six.

Then I went to the big Mikra'os Gedolos HaMefoar and found that the Sifsei Chaim quotes the Maharshal in order to explain the words in Rashi "shemeisu lifnei yeridasan l'mitztraim - that they died before they went down to Egypt:"

Since if you don't say that, why are they not counted with the other children? And therefore [Rashi] says that they died and these wives were nochriyos [foreigners] that are not included in those that came from the thigh of Yaakov, and the verse is explained from its own reason.

Finally, I saw the Ramban that Rav Moshe Feinstein referenced in the Darash Moshe:

Rabbeinu Shlomo wrote, "and according to the one who says twins were born with the shevatim, we need to say that they died before they went down to Egypt since they are not counted here."

But we don't need this, because it says in Bereishis Rabba 4:21, "Rabbi Yehuda said the shevatim married their sisters," and behold these twins were the wives of the sons, and the posuk says in reference to them, "except for the wives of the sons of Yaakov." And according to Rabbi Yehuda from this the verse says as it does, because what's the reason to say "except for the wives of the sons of Yaakov" who were Canaanites, since it already said "that came from his thigh?" It's only because these wives of his sons were also from those "that came from his thigh" that it says this. But, [the verse] didn't publicize them here, just as they were not mentioned at the time of their births with the shevatim.

And further, it only mentions those that had children and multiplied in Egypt, to inform us of the big miracle that happened with the great multiplying that happened in Egypt, and those [involved] in this are seventy souls, and their wives were not counted because a man and his wife are one.

So there you have it - boruch shekivanti! While I am at peace with the likelihood that these twin daughters were alive and well, I still wonder why Rashi thought of his understanding instead of the Ramban's, which just seems a bit more in alignment with the psukim...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Did Rashi Kill Yaakov’s Daughter’s!?

As I was listening to layning this week in shul, a question popped up in my mind related to a Rashi I had learned during my weekly Shnaim Mikrah v’Echad Targum.

In the end of the 5th aliyah the posuk (47:26) says “All the souls belonging to Jacob that came into Egypt, that came out of his loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were sixty and six.” Then the Torah adds on Yosef and his sons, creating a total of 70, which Rashi explains in his commentary on that posuk that Yocheved was born between the walls entering Egypt, increasing the total from 69 to 70.

However, Rashi makes another comment that bothered me. He remarks that according to the view which holds that a twin girl was born with each of his sons, we are forced to say that they all must have died before the trip to Egypt, hence they aren’t counted here as part of Yaakov’s offspring.

When I reread this along with the ba’al koreh in shul, the thought occurred to me that Rashi doesn’t fit the pshat of the posuk. Why do these twin daughters, who are also said to have married the brothers (not the one they were born with, and presumably, brothers not from the same mother, but that’s just my conjecture) have to be dead at this point in time? The posuk explicitly says that the familial headcount here is “besides Jacob’s sons’ wives[!]” Namely, they weren’t going to be counted anyway. Therfore, they really could be alive and well, but the mere fact that they married to the Yaakov’s sons negates their inclusion in the counting.

Further, the posuk in 46:7 says “his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, and all his seed he brought with him into Egypt.” Note that it says “his daughters” in plural. The “his sons’ daughters” includes Serach bas Asher (who is named) and Yocheved bas Levi (who is midrashically included as previously mentioned). However, the only daughter of Yaakov explicitly mentioned is Dina. So if she was the only living daughter, with the twin daughters having mysteriously died off, why does the posuk overtly make reference to multiple daughters?

One thing that kind of messes up my question on Rashi is Rashi’s understanding of who “Shaul ben HaCanaanis” is from 46:10. Rashi comments there that this is Dina’s child from Shechem when he raped and impregnated her. After the daring rescue undertaken by Shimon and Levi, she refused to leave until Shimon agreed to marry her. Not to say that I really understand the psychology behind that (and Artscroll’s commentary jumps through hoops saying that although the Avos and Shevatim kept the Torah, they made special exceptions such as in this case where Dina needed extra sensitivity). So Dina would be a daughter who married a son, yet is still counted. However Ramban infers from the pashut pshat that this means (at least) Shimon had a Canaanite wife (and perhaps the other brothers as well), and Dina didn’t really marry him, but simply lived under his protection in his household – though that could be mixing apples and oranges, since my question is on Rashi.

At any rate, I was without an answer for this until I happened pick up a copy of the English Darash Moshe at ASoG’s great uncle and aunt’s house at lunch on Shabbos and saw that Rav Moshe Feinstein asks the same question! On page 75 (I think), Rav Moshe wonders why Rashi says all the twin daughters were dead and gives two reasons for his question. First because the posuk explicitly says that the count didn’t include the wives of the shevatim (exactly what was bothering me, baruch shekivanti). Second, he finds it hard to believe that Yaakov could suffer the unimaginable grief of losing 12 daughters without the Torah mentioning such a tragedy.

Therefore, Rav Moshe wants to postulate that the twin daughters actually were alive, healthy, and still married to the shevatim. He explains that though these daughters were indeed spiritually worthy women (they did marry the shevatim after all), they were not on the same high level of spirituality as more significant women mentioned in Tanach, such as Miriam. Serach and Yocheved were also of great spiritual status and also merited mention by name here and later on in Chumash because of their individual greatness. The twin sisters, by contrast, received their greater spiritual level because they were married to the shevatim. Since their higher spiritual identity was intrinsically tied to their husbands and not their own, they didn’t merit direct mention or counting here.

While I am happy that I am not the only one bothered by this conundrum, and with all due respect to Rav Moshe, I’m not entirely satisfied with the answer, which is less source based in nature. Though it was interesting that the Darash Moshe didn’t try to say Rashi really meant something else, even if I can’t be totally trusting of the translation vs. the original (sounds like I need to make a trip to the YU library and do some research).

So before anyone pulls a R’ Natan Slifkin on me because I’m respectfully disagreeing with the gadol hador of the previous generation and the greatest commentator ever known, has anyone else heard other ideas to explain this?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jewish Dance-Dance Revolution

This is hilarious:

I honestly am puzzled why no one ever thought of this before (I've talked about utilizing the normal DDR on a date) I wonder if it will ever make it to dating/shidduchim venues, perhaps a Jewish Dave and Buster's- Dovid and Benjy's?

Hat Tip:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Macca-Pirsumei Nisa

Wow! A lot can happen in a week in a half. Start off with one well-made Youtube video and with several millions of hits later, you can end up on national television, such as the CBS Early Show:

Now that The Maccabeats have become world reknown (kudos to them for braving the freezing weather, not just for CBS but for CNN as well), I kind of miss their usual dorm performances at candle-lighting. Granted, I'm not in the dorms anymore (thanks ASoG J) but there was always something special added to the already incredible feeling of lighting in the dorms when they made their appearance and sang a medley of Chanukah songs.

For those readers who didn't go to YU in the past few years, here are two of these performances:

From two years ago:

Last year:

I am really floored with the national and international reaction to "Candlelight." Aside from all the general media attention because the song and video are clever, cute, hip, etc, etc, it has been wonderful to see the reaction from the viewers. So many Jews, otherwise unaffiliated or uninvolved with Chanukah, are reconnecting to the holiday. The video isn't just a gimmick, it is, as Immanuel Shalev (Maccabeats Associate Director) commented this NY Times article, an amazing example of pirsumei nisa.

I don't think there is a better example in the history of the observance of Chanukah has there been such an overt example of publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. This is how the world media, the internet, Youtube, etc can be used to spread a positive image for Judaism and create an immense kiddush HaShem.

Previous popular Chanukah songs/videos, such as the Adam Sandler variety, which merely are out there to be pop culture savvy and basically make no mention of the momentous, divine victory over our enemies or the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash remainign lit for 8 days. Yes, those productions are cute, even if they often toe or cross the lines of innappropriateness (South Park anyone? What about Sandler's drug reference at the end of an otherwise innocuous perfomance?), The Maccabeats have created a pure and fun, video that spreads the message of what Chanukah is really about. They do it in a way that is palatable to the masses, which is ever-so-important with the vast numbers of our brethren so assimilated into the general society and alienated - whether intentionally or merely as a by-product of being considered under the label of Tinok Shenishba.

Begin Rant.

Unknown to many, there is another "Dynamite" Chanukah video out there starring three young brothers (which was coincidentally posted 2 weeks before The Maccabeats). It's another in a series of "cutesy" redubs of popular hip hop/rap songs that have partially rewritten lyrics which toss in a few Jewish terms here and there. While I can't lay any blame on them (they are just kids after all - though the aunt that appears is a bit much), seeing this video makes me almost cry because of how far they are from traditional Torah observance.

Pop culture is their identity. Their videos are not like The Maccabeats or Shlock Rock who have taken a secular niggun and elevated it with meaningful words. It's just shtick, plain and simple, taking the rap/gangster/whatever persona and adding bits of Jewish culture to it, but the ikkar and the tafel are quite clear. Whereas The Maccabeats sing of a "great return to Torah learning" and depict two young men learning b'chevrusa, the "B-Boyz" sing "For generations to come, I'm going to dance and hold a Torah" while mimicking rap star poses.

Um, "hold a Torah?" Why not, uphold the Torah. I'm not arguing that the lyrics could have been better, I simply bemoan the fact that these young boys identify with everything else out there but Judaism as their core identity. It's sad. Really sad. Each of these kids is definitely a Tinok Shenishba. I hope they can take to heart the message of "Candlelight" and Judaism becomes more meaningful in their lives. Perhaps then it will be more than "okay" to be Jewish.

End Rant.

I've never been prouder of having attended YU than I am right now (including the recent Saturday Night Live Dreidelpalooza reference). Forget all those terrible stories of chillel HaShem that have been in the news for the last few years. This is the kind of media attention YU and Jews as a whole needs: meaningful, positive, and total Kiddush HaShem.

Thank you Maccabeats and Uri Westrich for making this Chanukah so much more meaningful for so many people!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Divrei Torah For Batya Shira Bas Chasida - In Need Of Your Prayers NOW

As many may know, Rav Reichman's daughter, Batya Shira bas Chasida gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday, but is actively suffering from a some sort of infection and malady in her brain. Thank G-d, she is doing much better after surgery, but is very much in need of our tefillos. Rav Reichman said to particularly focus on Perek 103 and the first 5 psukim there.

For the full story (and updates) see Chana's post, as well as this tehillim Facebook page.

In my own way of contributing, I will post some divrei Torah I heard from Rav Schachter and Rav Reichman the Shabbos of Chana and Heshy's Shabbos Sheva Brachos which ASoG and I had the pleasure of attending.

May the merit of these Divrei Torah, as well as all the other zechuyos being performed on Batya Shira bas Chasida's behalf bring her a reufah shelayma bimheira.

(Note: Rav Shachter's dvar Torah was from a parsha shiur given on Shabbos morning, while Rav Reichman's was spoken at the Sheva Brachos itself).

Rav Hershel Shachter on Parshas Shelach:

Yaakov Avinu asked for all the idols his family had in their possession and decided to bury them. Chazal (I think) ask why, especially if he had already had a non-Jew deconsecrate them, thereby making benefit from the statues and whatnot permissible. Rav Shachter explained (from I forget who) that Yaakov was being machmir. Why was he being machmir? Because he was out and involved in the real world, having interactions with people like Lavan – whenever you are out in the world and being part of society where harmful influences exist, that’s when you need more gedarim and to take on chumros to protect yourself.

The guys sitting in kollel and learning all day, surrounded entirely by an atmosphere of kedusha should be the most maykil ones, what do they need to be worried about? Today’s society is entirely backward, with the full-time learners trying to our-frum each other with unnecessary chumros, while many people out in business try to do the most minimum to get by halachically. Definitely something to think about.

Rav Reichman's Dvar Torah at Chana and Heshy's Sheva Brachos:

I, along with ASoG, had the distinct pleasure of attending the Shabbos night sheva brachos of Heshy and Chana (of Curious Jew fame). The entire celebration was absolutely wonderful, with Chana retelling the dvar Torah she gave at the wedding dinner, and everyone going around the table and offering words of Torah and bracha to the chosson and kallah. I particularly want to share the dvar Torah / bracha that Rav Reichman shared with us.

Rav Reichman noted, as had most everyone else, that the merger of the Bobov Chassidic Heshy and Modern Orthodox Chana is quite unique. Rav Reichman himself, as he explained is also a distinct Rosh Yeshiva at YU since he also embodies a distinct mixture of Chassidus and Modern Orthodoxy, which he indicated by pointing to the pictures of gedolim from both worlds (and then some) on his wall: A painting of the Shem Mi’Shmuel next to Rav Soloveitchik, The Lubavitcher Rebbe near Rav Kook, Rav Moshe Feinstein and others.

Rav Reichman said that in years past, the communities of Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Misnagdim, Yekkes, Chassidim, Bucharian, etc all lived in very separate communities and had nothing to do with one another. He recalled remarks he heard from Rav Soloveitchik about non-Chassidim’s view of Chassidim. The Rav said that the Jews in Lithuania were not big fans of the Chassidim and would not speak so fondly of them, but when he went to Germany, the then Hirschian Modern Orthodox German Jews said they felt they had more in common with the German gentiles than with Polish Chassidim!

Many people think that Yeshivish people have more in common with Chassidim than Modern Orthodox do. Both Yeshivish and Chassidim wear primarily black, whereas you see Modern Orthodox wear white (and other colots). In actuality, Rav Reichman said, Modern Orthodoxy has far more in common with Chassidim.

The roots of Chassidus, as founded by the Baal Shem Tov, is to go out into the world and find the sparks of holiness in everything that surrounds us. In other words, the intention is to elevate the mundane into the service of the holy. Modern Orthodoxy also believes that Jews should go out into the world, utilizing the secular/mundane and changing the world for the better, essentially doing the same thing. Those with hardcore Yeshivish beliefs are of the opinion that it is better to simply sit in the beis medrish and learn, ignoring the world at large.

Rav Reichman said we are zoche to live in an amazing generation. Since the churban of World War II, HaShem has very masterfully arranged two “chulent pots” of Jews; one in Israel and the other in America. In these two places, quite unlike what occurred in the past, all these different kinds of Jews from all sorts of different backgrounds live in close proximity – close enough to learn from one another. And that’s how it should be! Heshy and Chana’s union is a beautiful example of this. They are two people with very different backgrounds, upbringing, and experiences who have come together to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Light It - NCSY Chanukah Musical Remix 2010 - Music by Six13

While the Maccabeats' smash hit "Candlelight" keeps going on and on and on (sorry, couldn't resist, but hey, they have over 850,000 views now) - there is another Chanukah video, produced by Chana from Curious Jew for NCSY that is also worth watching.

Aside from the cute video itself, which depicts New Yorkers dancing and wearing NCSY-produced Chanukah T-shirts, Six13 - who is perhaps the best professional Jewish a cappella group - makes an appearance and performs the background music.

Check it out:

Incidentally, both "Candlelight" and "I Light It" can be purchased on iTunes for just 99 cents each.

Have a great Shabbos and a continued Lichtegen, Freilechen Chanukah!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Latkes And Applesauce: What's The Deal!?

Ah, latkes, the favorite fried potato treat eaten by Jews all over during the holiday of Chanukah, which we now find ourselves celebrating. Though hashed browns - a latke equivalent typically served at breakfast/brunch - are available to consume all year, Jewish people make the extra effort to grate and fry (or just reheat frozen premade) latkes and serve them during Chanukah meals.

One thing that has always bothered me about how Jews eat latkes is what we have chosen as a condiment - the tafel to the ikkar of the potato pancake: sour cream and applesauce. I've never been a big fan of sour cream, but I can understand its association with potatoes, since many people regularly put sour cream on their baked potato throughout the year. Applesauce, on the other hand, just leaves me scratching my head. Does anyone honestly put applesauce on their baked potato or any other potato related dish (mashed potatoes + applesauce?) at any other time of the year?

Why do we do this!?
I was contemplating this dilemma and came up with a Hebrew vocab related connection that sort of makes sense (at least to me). Perhaps there is something of significance in the linguistic similarity of "Tapuach" = "Tapuach Adama" (or in English "Apple = Potato"). Let me paint a little historical vignette that better explains my theory:

Maybe one year just before Chanukah some local shop keeper in Europe placed his annual order for potatoes to his dry goods provider, which he wrote as "Tapuach Adama." Somehow, that particular item on his list was inadvertently partially erased, and now just read "Tapuach," with the word "Adama" no longer legible. The dry goods supplier read the order and scratched his head, wondering why the shop keeper didn't want potatoes for Chanukah. But, due to the limits of communication back in those days, he couldn't check with him in time, and instead went ahead and filled it out as it was now written, sending a bushel of apples.

Boy, the look on the store keeper's face when he got that crate of apples instead of potatoes must have been fantastically funny. Imagine further the shopkeeper trying to get rid of his surplus stock of apples in the place of the expected potato influx that year - all those creative advertisements and announcements he came up with to grab people's attention and convince potential buyers that this was the thing to buy/eat/make for Chanukah.

Somehow he was able to "sell" his idea to the townspeople, who then made applesauce or whatever instead of latkes. The idea was slow to catch on, but by the end of the chag, everyone was raving about the apples and apple dishes. In the end, everyone had a happy, though ever-so-slightly-different Chanukah seudah experience that fateful year.

I figure that the evolution of the comestible custom continued the following year when the people really enjoyed their apple-based Chanukah treats. They implored the storekeeper to order apples along with the more traditional potatoes, having decided to preserve their new-found minhag along with the established practice of potato latkes. Thus, a strange, yet tasty new Jewish dish was born: latkes with applesauce.

I know, I'm probably totally off my rocker for even contemplating this sort of thing (let alone to the degree which I've fleshed out the fictional historical incident here), but has anyone else ever thought about this?

Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Potatoes, which are indigenous to South America, were not introduced to Europe (via the Spanish) until the 1500's. Apples, in stark contrast, are actually native to to the region the world near/including Israel (IE Turkey), which predates that by close to 2,000 years.
The culinary minhag for Chanukah generally dictates making some dish using (olive) oil as a reminder of the miracle of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash remaining lit for 8 days. This explains the custom of Sephardic, Israeli, and Polish (huh?) Jews making fried dough creations with jelly in them (aka sufganiyot), since fried dough and stuffed food items are mentioned in the Gemara.

Latkes, by contrast, would have been a much later development, and seem to be more exclusively associated with Ashkenazi Jews, who possibly got the whole potato frying thing from neighboring gentiles as potatoes and potato recipes began to spread through Europe thanks to the Spanish.

So my crazy theory might be just that: entirely ludicrous. At any rate, enjoy your various oil-fried festive Chanukah foods!

Have a lichtegen, freilechen Chanukah!*

*an illuminated and happy Chanukah