Monday, December 19, 2011


Leah stood outside the restaurant, arms crossed tightly against her chest in an effort to stay warm. Her date was overdue. She hazarded a peek at her watch, hoping the maître d' hadn’t already given away their table to one of the other couples that passed her by in the last fifteen minutes. Tired of seeing her breath puffing into ephemeral life and fading into the cold air, she decided to head inside and wait by the sushi bar.

Yoel Dovid hurriedly bobbed and weaved through the stream of pedestrians on the sidewalk. He didn’t need to check the time; he knew he was quite late. He hoped his date would understand that his hectic school schedule sometimes inconvenienced him and often frustrated his shidduch opportunities. Thankfully, he had found a spare block of time to get away and focus on his search for a wife, now entering its sixth year. Turning the corner, he saw the restaurant’s sign glowing in the fading light of the evening. He quickly checked right and left then dashed across the street, flung open the door and waded inside.

The head waiter looked up from his smart phone and offered his most polished smile.

“Do you have a reservation, sir?”

Yoel Dovid pulled his scarf away from his chin and cleared his throat. “Yes, Sandler, table for two.”

“Ah,” the other man skimmed the list on the computer screen in front of him. “You’re late.”

“I know, I’m sorry. Do you still have an open table?”

“Why of course,” the waiter smirked. “Is your entire party here?”

Yoel Dovid searched the restaurant, hoping that his date hadn’t gotten fed up with him and left already. “Yes, I think that’s her right over there,” he gestured toward a tall woman with shoulder-length auburn hair standing by the sushi bar with her back to them.

“Do fetch her then, and follow me,” he replied in a haughty tone.

Yoel Dovid practically ran over to the lone woman. “Hello! I’m terribly sorry,” he greeted her in his most congenial, yet apologetic voice. “I should’ve texted you, but there wasn’t service in the tunnel on the way from school, and I-”

“It’s about time, Yoel Dov-” She whirled around and froze midsentence.

“Leah?” he inquired, lifting an eyebrow in confusion.

“Joel?” Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Is that you, Joel Sandler?”

“I go by Yoel Dovid now,” he briefly looked at his feet. “But, yes, it’s me.”

“I can’t believe it!” Leah fought to keep her surprised ire under control.

“Me either. I never would have thought in a million years I’d find you here.”

“Yeah, I never thought in a million years I’d ever set foot in this place with you again,” she snapped.

“If anyone should be upset, it’s me, not you,” he retorted, narrowing his gaze.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Leah demanded with a terse whisper.

“As if you could forget! After all, you were the one-” Yoel Dovid felt a firm, annoyed tap on his shoulder.

“This way, please,” the maître d' curled a long finger in the air, beckoning the couple forward.

“R-right,” Yoel Dovid stammered.

“Sure, thank you,” Leah added as they quickly followed behind the server.

Upon reaching their destination, Leah and Yoel Dovid both stopped short and furtively glanced at one another.

“Here is your table,” the head waiter gestured with a flourish.

“Is there any chance you have another one available?” Yoel Dovid requested anxiously.

“No,” came the curt reply. “Please sit.” He thrust two menus in their direction and stormed off. The next few moments passed in silence as they sat down and intensely poured over the potential selections. The tension built to a crescendo and both Leah and Yoel Dovid simultaneously peeked over their respective menus. Noticing the other’s stare, they quickly jerked the menus back to their protective place.

Leah released a pent in breath, folded her menu and placed it flat on the table.

“This has got to be some kind of cosmic joke.”

Yoel Dovid dropped his menu with a clunk. “What do you mean by that, exactly?”

“This,” she gestured around them with a circular motion. “Us,” she continued, alternatively pointing toward Yoel Dovid and herself. Yoel Dovid sighed softly, biting back a potentially insulting remark.

Leah wasn’t relenting. “I just don’t understand how this could have possibly happened,” she paused for a moment to think, eyes falling toward her lap. “Ok, I can see how I messed up, since you’re using your Hebrew name now, and I’ve gotten so jaded with dating that I don’t really call references anymore,” she looked up and glared across the table. “But how in the world didn’t you know it was me?”

“Well,” Yoel Dovid began, calmly linking his fingers in front of him. “It’s been a while since we last went out, if you’ll recall. I did happen to go out with another Leah Schwartz around six months ago, so I made sure when the name came up that she wasn’t the girl being suggested.”

Leah opened her mouth to speak, but Yoel Dovid held up a hand to silence her. “And if you’re wondering, as I know you were about to mention, why I didn’t think about you when I saw the name ‘Leah Schwartz,’ it’s because I’ve worked hard to forget about you,” he exhaled slowly, letting the point sink in. “Thinking about us is not something I tend to reminisce about.”

Leah swallowed hard, and Yoel Dovid could tell he’d bruised her ego.

“Perhaps you can now understand just a little what it felt like to be me all those years ago.”


Joel was bouncing with excitement. Tonight was the night. He’d reserved a table at their favorite restaurant and informed the staff about his special plans. As soon as their waiter saw the predetermined signal – Joel returning from the restroom with his hand in his right pocket – the staff would get ready for the big moment.

Leah looked gorgeous. She even wore that dress of hers that he liked so much. Joel had made sure to wear his contacts, since Leah thought he looked more handsome that way.

“I can’t believe we’ve been going out for nine months,” Leah gushed. “Time really flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?” She grinned.

Joel smiled back. “Especially when you’re with someone you care about.” He glanced over her shoulder and noticed their waiter walking to a nearby table with a tray of food. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”

“Sure, no problem. See you soon.”

Gentling tucking his chair under the table, Joel scurried off to the men’s bathroom.  Inside, he turned on the water and splashed a handful on his face. He checked his cell phone and found it to be almost fully charged. Joel knew they’d soon be making a lot of phone calls and sending out rounds of text messages, and he didn’t want to end up like his recently engaged friend whose phone died on him at that most inconvenient moment.

Joel closed his eyes and attempted to calm himself down by taking a few deep breaths. Why should he be nervous? He knew things were going really well, and Leah’s best friend told him that lately Leah had been chatting her up about her own engagement, seemingly indicating that Leah was ready. He bought the ring with his savings, along with some help from his parents, who adored Leah. It was the exact design and size Leah had always dreamed of, or so her sister informed him. Joel had already met with her parents and asked Leah’s father for permission to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Schwartzes also liked Joel a lot, and wished their future son-in-law hatzlacha, telling him that they looked forward to planning the engagement party.

This was it… It was finally going to happen. He’d met the girl of his dreams and he was finally going to propose. Nothing could be better at that very moment. Steeling his nerves, Joel left the restroom, his hand firmly clenching the small velvet covered box in his right pocket.

Nearby, he caught their waiter’s eye and offered a confirmatory nod. The waiter discreetly flashed a double thumbs up sign and went to the kitchen to prepare for his role. Joel sat down at their table and steadied his bouncing knee with his free hand.

“Did I miss anything interesting while I was gone?” He asked casually.

“Other than me eagerly awaiting your return, nope.”

Well, it was now or never. Joel inhaled deeply and steadied himself.

“Leah,” he began, fixing his eyes on Leah’s own. “These past nine months have been wonderful. I always felt unsure if I’d ever meet someone like you, someone who complements and completes me so perfectly. You’re caring, considerate,and loving…” Joel waited briefly to gather his thoughts.

“You have a tremendous love and respect for Torah, mitzvos observance and chesed, and I believe with all my heart that I could find no one better to be my partner in life,” Joel let the words linger so he could catch his breath. He quietly got up from his chair and kneeled in front of Leah.

Fumbling slightly, he retrieved the velvet box from his pocket, opened the lid, and held it out for her to behold the sparkling contents within.

“Leah Schwartz, will you marry-”

“Joel,” Leah interrupted, an uncomfortable look on her face. “I don’t think-”

“Ah, I apologize,” Joel interjected, and quickly returned to his seat. “It didn’t occur to me that you might be embarrassed to be proposed to in such a public place-”

“That’s not it,” she shook her head rapidly. “It’s just that-”

“Congratulations!” Beamed their waiter, and presented Leah with a bouquet of bright red roses cradled in the crook of his arm.

“Th-thank you, that’ll be all,” Joel said tersely as he snatched the flowers and slipped the man a five dollar bill.

“Oh, but what about-“ The waiter turned to indicate the other servers who were rapidly approaching with a bottle of champagne, two long necked champagne flutes, a fancy cake that said “Mazal Tov” in icing on the top, along with Joel’s camera. Leah looked mortified.

“Not now,” Joel insisted, holding out a hand, fingers splayed. “Please give us a moment.”

“But of course!” The waiter chirped. “I’ll let you enjoy some privacy first.” He spun on his heel and shooed away his fellow employees.

Joel stuffed the flowers beneath the tablecloth and let them fall onto his shoes. He sat up stiffly, licked his lips, mouth suddenly dry and managed to ask, “What’s wrong?”
She refused to meet his eyes, her brow was furrowed with worry.


“Joel… we can’t do this. I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean?” He leaned forward, his voice faint.

“This isn’t going to work,” Leah slowly shook her head. “I know we’ve had a great time together, but I don’t see this going anywhere in the long run.”

“Well, this is a bit sudden, isn’t it?” Joel raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“It really isn’t,” her jaw tensed and she looked up. “We’ve talked about this before.”

“Talked about what, exactly?”

“Where we’re going in life. I know what my plan is, and I’ve been accepted to grad school-”

“And I’m going to go to medical school! You know that. And if you’re suddenly going to say you can’t handle marrying a future doctor, I know you’ve considered that already since your father is a doctor, and-”

“That’s not it, Joel,” Leah bit her bottom lip. “You’ve been saying that you want to go to med school since we started dating, but you’ve barely made an effort to start studying for the MCAT, and I know all about that bad chemistry grade that might foul up your application chances.”

“I have every intention to ace that test. I even bought a study guide last week. And that grade won’t mean a thing once they see my overall GPA, the research and my impressive MCAT score.”

“Joel, you don’t even have an MCAT score. You graduated college almost a year ago and you’ve just been working as a lab tech. To me, that doesn’t show serious commitment or the ability to support a wife and family.”

Joel winced. “But-”

“No buts, Joel. We have talked about this before, and you definitely should know I’ve been worried about you,” Leah pursed her lips. “But I can’t keep being your cheerleader as I progress in life and I don’t see any effort on your part to make good on your promises.”

“Leah,” Joel briefly closed his eyes. “You’re right, I did say I was going to start studying three months ago, but then things got busy at work, and we’ve been going out a lot, so I-”

“Joel, please stop with the excuses. I really like you and I can tell you like me. But, it takes a lot more serious commitment to make a marriage work, from both the practical and emotional standpoints.” Leah stopped, seemingly unsure what came next.

“Well, this is a fine way to break up with me,” Joel barked sarcastically. “In our favorite restaurant, on our anniversary, no less.”

Leah recoiled as though she had been struck. “Look, you were the one shoving a diamond ring in my face without ever bringing up the subject of getting engaged,” she fired back, her voice wavering with exasperation. “You can’t just assume that since we’ve been dating for close to a year that we’re going to get married!”

Joel moved an elbow onto the table. “If you’ve been thinking about ending things, then why have you been all cheery and smiling tonight? Have you been faking it, waiting for the right moment to break my heart?”

Leah’s upper lip trembled. “How could you say that Joel? I had no negative intentions coming into this date. I wanted to have a good time and celebrate our anniversary,” she wiped back a tear. “And now you spring this whole surprise proposal on me, almost making a scene in the restaurant, and accuse me of breaking your heart?”

“That sure seems like what’s happening from this side of the table.”

Leah sniffed and dabbed at her eye with her napkin.

“And if you were so darn sure that I would never change, why are you still going out with me?”

Leah inhaled deeply, trying to compose herself. “Because there is a part of me that really believes in you, cares about you… even loves you,” the tears trickled down freely. “I couldn’t bring myself to do anything decisive, I was scared. We had spent all this time together, seemed to get along so well, but this major red flag wasn’t going away, no matter how hard I tried to encourage you and believe that things would change.”

“Leah,” Joel began, his tone softening.                                                 

“No, Joel… it’s over. I knew that deep down this couldn’t work without me believing in you, or the possibility of our future – a secure future – with all of my heart. I’m not going to sit around waiting for you to make the right move and prove yourself, I’ve done that enough already.”

“Leah,” he repeated weakly.

“I… I have to go. Goodnight.” Leah pushed her chair back, swung her coat around her shoulders and hurriedly went out the door.

“Leah…” Joel murmured aloud to no one.

“Oh, has the future missus gone to the restroom to adjust her makeup?” The waiter inquired, suddenly reappearing with the cake on a tray and Joel’s camera dangling from his wrist.

“No. She left,” Joel said, not even bothering to look up at the man.

“Ah,” he pulled at his collar uncomfortably. “I’ll just wrap this up then and bring you your check.”

Under the table, Joel's foot stomped the bouquet of roses.


Leah and Yoel Dovid sat in silence.

“I never would have thought you’d actually be in med school,” Leah remarked casually.

“I never thought you’d still be single,” Yoel Dovid countered, his voice even. “I would’ve bet you’d be married by now with a few kids.”

“So did I,” Leah replied meekly.

The quietness engulfed them again.

Unexpectedly, Yoel Dovid chuckled to himself.

“What’s so funny?” For some strange reason, Leah’s own mouth puckered into a slight smile.

“This,” he waved around the room. “Us,” he pointed alternately at himself and Leah.

“What do you mean by that?” She stifled the unexpected giggle building in her throat.

“What are the odds that we’d meet back here, five years later, just a few weeks short of what would have been the night we got engaged?”

Suddenly, Leah’s mind was reeling. Had it really been five years?

“And at this very table, no less,” she said, looking down. When she raised her head, she was actually smiling. “I thought you said you don’t reminisce about us from back then?”

“I don’t,” he licked his dry lips furtively.  “But that doesn’t mean I forgot you completely,” Yoel Dovid gazed deeply into Leah’s eyes. “No matter how hard I tried to.”

“Well, I still remember how romantic you used to be,” she grinned. “I guess you haven’t lost your touch over the years.”

“So,” Yoel Dovid twiddled his thumbs.

“So… what?” Leah noticed his awkwardly busy hands and laughed to herself.

“What have you been up to since the last time I saw you?”

Leah felt barriers she had built up inside her crumble and come crashing down. Walls she had erected to keep out certain feelings and lock others away turned to dust and vanished in a puff. She felt freer and more at peace than she had in a long time. Judging by the way Yoel Dovid was playfully smirking, she thought he might have experienced a similar cathartic release.

Taking a deep breath, Leah launched into her recent life story, full of its own ups and downs, woes and joys. Yoel Dovid listened intently, throwing in the occasional comment or joke, and in turn recapped his own history from the past five years. Leah was absorbed with his exposition, and began to feel as though they were the only two people in the entire restaurant.

Before they knew it, they were laughing and smiling together like old times.

“Do you remember that time Avi tried to get you to set him up with your friend Ally?” Yoel Dovid asked in between mouthfuls of pasta.

“Man, what a disaster that was!” Leah put her fork down, trying not to choke as she cracked up from just thinking about Avi pining after Ally.

“Ahem!” A loud voice declared, almost causing both of them to jump from their seats. They whirled around to face the maître d’, who stood next to them with a ramrod straight posture holding an index finger to his wristwatch. He tapped it three times with great annoyance.

“We are closing in ten minutes,” he indicated the otherwise empty room. He reached into the pocket of his apron and flung a leather bound folder onto the table. Yoel Dovid quickly snatched it up, extracted a credit card from his wallet, and returned both to the waiter. “Thank you, sir. I’ll return shortly,” he quipped, spinning on a heel and retreating to the register.

“Well…” Yoel Dovid grinned ever-so-slightly as a wild thought popped into his head. “Want to go see if the old ring still fits?”

Leah was flabbergasted. “What do you mean…?! You still have it?”

“It’s funny, actually...” He leaned back in his chair and stared absently at the ceiling.

“W-what’re you talking about?”

“It’s been sitting in my glove compartment for five years.”

Leah’s jaw dropped. “You’ve been driving around with that expensive thing right there, ready to be stolen all this time?”

“I threw it in there that last night we went out and never wanted to see it again. I guess I forgot about it and kept piling other things on top of it,” he lowered his gaze to Leah’s face. “Like I was trying to bury the past.”

“And you randomly thought of it just now? That seems like a little too coincidental for me,” Leah crossed her arms over her chest.

“The truth is, I finally started cleaning out my car this week after my last date complained how messy it was. It just happened to be that today’s cleanup project was the glove compartment.”

The waiter reappeared with the check and set it down with a belligerent harrumph. Yoel Dovid quickly calculated the tip and signed it before turning back to his date.

“I figured that while I was in the city I’d take the ring to a pawn shop and get rid of it after my date was over.”

“I really can’t believe that, you know,” Leah winked slyly.

“That’s exactly what happened!” he exclaimed defensively. The outburst faded into silence, and neither one could manage the courage to look at the other. Swallowing hard, Yoel Dovid’s eyes lifted and focused on Leah’s.

“What do you say?” He asked, an edge of excitement creeping into his voice.

Leah hesitated and bit down on her lower lip. The fire in Yoel Dovid’s eyes began to fade.

“Yes. I’d like that.”

Yoel Dovid’s face lit up in the biggest grin Leah had ever seen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jewish Music Fridays: Songs at a Table

This week's Jewish Music Fridays is featuring an A Capella album that truly deserves recognition, in more ways that one.

I was introduced to The Niggun Project: Songs at a Table by a friend of a friend who is related to the people who coordinated and produced the album. Since encountering it, I have been quite enamored with its quality of niggun selections as well as the atmospheric feel of the tracks.

"Songs at a Table" is a collection of beautiful niggunim (though a few have words as well), recorded in a fashion unseen of in the Jewish music world. Instead of cramming into a professional studio and crafting tracks that can at times sound artificial - even if they are quite pleasant - "Songs at a Table" is literally that: a group of guys gathered together to sing some great, moving, inspiring, and invigorating niggunim around a dinner table.

Check out this Youtube video for proof of the concept:

Check out previews of all the songs on the album here.

"Songs at a Table" includes niggunim from a variety of sources such as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Chassidic niggunim from Breslav, Lubavitch, Mobov, Moditz, Stolin, as well as favorites like "Shabbos Koidesh" and "Mareh Kohen." Lastly, there is an original niggun by the project coordinator, Dr. Josh Milner named after his youngest daughter Batya, which I personally feel is worthy of being included as one of the many niggunim popularly sung during a kumzitz.

The appeal of this album for me is how immersive the listening experience is. As soon as I pop the CD in (or start paying the MP3s), I feel like I'm sitting there at a lively kumzitz, and feel encouraged to join in and sing along with the vocalists. Many albums out there that either have niggunim on them or are solely collections of niggunim are often produced in such a way that there is a clear difference between the recorded version and what I'd expect to encounter when I would get together with some friends on Friday night for some spiritual inspiration. "Songs at a Table" captures this essence, and anytime I feel like I need an uplifting spiritual escape I can start listening to these niggunim and be transported to a different dimension.

On top of all the wonderful things about this CD, all profits made from its sale go to benefit Leket Israel, the National Food Bank for the State of Israel. So purchasing this album is a win-win situation - you get to listen to some really great niggunim, and you'll give tzedakah at the same time!

With Chanukah coming up, I think this would make a great present for anyone you know who enjoys Jewish Music. Or, save it until the Sefira A Capella season post Pesach or during the 3-Weeks. Either way, check out and buy this unique and uplifting album!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Matisyahu To Join Maccabeats, Enroll At YU

While Jewlicious was the first to break the exciting news, Shades of Grey is proud to present an exclusive interview with the Jewish musical performer formerly known as Matisyahu, Mathew Miller, that tells the whole story behind his recent public transformation.

After the shocking revelation of the Twitter pics and accompanying note that brought the frum (religious Orthodox) world to its collective knees, many Jewish fans of Matisyahu can breath a sigh of relief.
Before: Matisyahu. After: Mathew Miller.
Image Source: AV Club.

No, Matisyahu, now Mathew Miller once again, has not gone "off the derech" (or OTD for short).

Nor did he, as Vos Iz Neias? incorrectly reported, use a razor blade to shave his beard - the usage of a straight razor for shaving is forbidden by Jewish law.

"I went out and bought a suitable electric shaver, just like every other observant Jewish man who shaves. I figured it was time for a change. It's clear to me now that my time in the spotlight as a Chassidic reggae/rapper is long past."

Miller attributes partial inspiration to the release of the Maccabeats' latest video, a cover of his marginally popular song/video from last year, "Miracle."

"The response they've generated vastly exceeds everything I had hoped for in my own version of 'Miracle,' especially with the charitable cause they are promoting. Some might want to say it's the unfortunate coincidence that I made the video at the same time 'Candlelight' dropped, but after some healthy self-introspection, I was able to step back and realize that everything is from the yad HaShem (hand of G-d)."

"It's clear as daylight that this has all been hashgacha pratis (divine influence) to guide me toward my new path in life."

Miller, who always dreamed of reaching out to disenfranchised and irreligious Jews in the hopes of bringing them closer to their heritage, claims that he has now realized how he can continue that goal, while remaining a public music figure and continuing to inspire the masses.

"You know, I'd just heard so much about the 'big tent' that [Yeshiva University] President Joel always talks about in his speeches. I began to realize that this was something I'd always yearned for, something that was always at the core of my musical message."

While many listeners initially found Miller's Matisyahu persona, complete with full beard, large velvet yarmulka, peyot (sidelocks) and tzitzit (ritual fringes) inspiring, Miller now thinks that some of these aspects have become a hindrance for attracting the attention of those potentially interested in exploring their Judaism.

"Not every Jew had a beard, and certainly not every Jew wears a velvet yarmulka. In some ways, these have become part of a uniform for a subculture within Judaism that I simply don't want to represent anymore. For a while, I was mislead into thinking that there was only 'one right way' to be Jewish. I now know that this is the farthest possible thing from the truth," Miller remarked poignantly as he adjusted the new knit yarmulka on his head.

In an effort to reconnect to the broader world of Torah-observant Judaism, Miller and his family have moved to Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan Neighborhood that houses Yeshiva University's Wilf Campus, where the male student body as well as the Rabbi Isaac Elachanan Theological Seminary is located.

In addition, Miller has enrolled at Yeshiva University's Philip and Sarah Belz School of Music, hoping to broaden his own appreciation and knowledge of the breadth of traditional Jewish music. He intends to split his time between learning in the new Glueck Beit Midrash, attending a variety of classes at the Belz School of Music, and working on what may be the most exciting development since his recent announcement: singing with the Maccabeats.

Miller, wearing his new Maccabeats outfit, sent Shades of Grey this exclusive photo.

"The Maccabeats have been very gracious to me in giving me the chance to become a part of their mission. I strongly believe in their efforts to spread the message of Torah Umadda (Torah and secular wisdom) to the world, engaging in both Torah study as well as the world at large. It's kind of funny that I was never really able to succinctly describe my 'weltanschauung' as the Rav (Soloveitchick) used to say, but since becoming closer to the guys in the group, I think I've found a new home."

The process of joining Yeshiva University's world famous Modern Orthodox A Capella group led Miller to decide to shave his beard and sidelocks.

"I don't want anyone to think that the Maccabeats have some sort of rigid dress code that required me to shave," Miller said. "Well, besides their white shirts and skinny black ties," he chuckled.

"At first, they told me I was fine just the way I was, without needing to alter my physical appearance one bit. It was entirely my decision to shed the outward expression of my former Chassidic persona."

Miller was very impressed with the Maccabeats' version of his own hit song, "One Day," which was their first music video venture back in 2010. With complete humility, Miller willingly agrees that their video for "Miracle" surpasses his original version.

The Maccabeats' take on "Miracle," which Miller says is better than his original.

"I was always a bit worried about how some people might view the scenes portrayed in 'Miracle.' And honestly, I think it turned out a little wacky in the end. The Maccabeats, along with their amazingly talented friend, Uri Westrich, have certainly elevated the stature of the song by pairing it with a video that is both engaging and meaningful, instead of all the strange X-mas imagery my director forced on me."

Having followed their career with great interest since the release of their "One Day," Miller was very moved by their High-Holidays themed "Book of Good Life." He claims that the message presented in the video moved him to perform a serious soul-searching that led him to where he finds himself today.

"I don't want to be remembered as that rabbi-guy brawling with Santa Claus in an ice-skating rink. I would much rather my legacy be more clean-cut, palatable, and appealing for a wider audience. I still have plenty of ideas and musical dreams, and now I will, G-d willing, be able to achieve them in the right environment and with the right musical group."

The original "Miracle" music video, which Miller now partially regrets.

When asked further about his plans at Yeshiva University, Miller is reluctant to plan too far ahead. He is not currently sure which morning shiur (lecture) he will join, but he is looking forward to becoming involved with the student body, including Rabbi Hershel Reichman's monthly Rosh Chodesh (new Jewish month) get-together, participating in the annual Chanukah Chagigah (celebration), and occasionally serving as prayer-leader at the Friday night Carlebach Minyan (prayer group).

"There are so many opportunities for me to positively influence the lives of students who may be struggling with their connection to Judaism as I have been these past few years. I hope to use my talents and music to inspire and increase the level of spirituality on campus."

There is, however, one thing that Miller already has had to contend with, even though he just relocated to Washington Heights a few days ago.

"President Joel won't stop calling, texting, and emailing me. We met before at last year's Chanukah concert, but now that I'm officially part of the YU community, he keeps asking me to include his trademark 'ennoble and enable' catchphrase in one of my forthcoming songs."

"I keep telling him 'one day,' if he's lucky," he concluded with a smile.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mayim Bialik Talks About Her Maccabeats Cameo

I wasn't so surprised when I noticed Jewish actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik appear in the latest Maccabeats video, "Miracle." I had been following her online cheer-leader-ing and remarks about her favorite (in a kind of obsessive way) Jewish music group.

Mayim was the first celebrity - way before Obama - to take a real interest in the guys and their positive Torah Umadda message. She even gave them a shout out at Tribefest this past March (this clip is worth watching for the other meaningful things she says aside from the name-drop).

Now she has posted her side of the story in "Mayim's Miracle Maccabeats Debut," sharing with all of us out there in internet-land her experience of how she came to make a cameo in their follow-up video to "Candlight."

I'm glad Mayim is out there in the notoriously liberal Hollywood promoting real Jewish values, as well as publicly supporting our now-famous A Capella group. She's a breath of fresh air in a sometimes very anti-Jewish or self-derogatory (self-hating can be a bit much) world out there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

THE GROGGERS - Anonymous Girl (Acoustic)

The whole controversy that has been sweeping the YU world and beyond deserves some serious critical thinking, which I may write about in a future post. If readers are interested in getting a general sense of my perspective, please read Chana's posts on the matter (one and two) and my replies there.

On a less serious note...

This is an amazing piece of satire, that's what this is.

If you haven't checked out The Groggers yet, please do.

How About The Other Chanukah Music Videos Of 2011?

Ever since the Maccabeats catapulted to fame last year with their smash-hit "Candlelight" every time a Jewish holiday draws near, it seems we are inundated with new Jewish-themed music videos. From professionally recorded, expertly choreographed productions by name-brand organizations to a group of friends getting together to show their enthusiasm for the festival, everyone seems to be looking for the chance to replicate the popularity and success that Yeshiva University's A Capella group achieved.

Now that we're almost at Chanukah once again (has it really been a year already?), the Maccabeats have released their Chanukah follow up cover of Matisyahu's "Miracle." But what about all the other musical artists out there?

Let's check out the latest non-Maccabeats Chanukah-themed music videos out there.

Aish continues their trend of musical parodies after their very popular and original video from Rosh Hashana. The Lion of Zion dancers are back, and this video is called "Chanukah Jewish Rock of Ages," which features 8 songs, some classic and some modern, that tell the story of Chanukah.

Some of the lyrics are a bit corny, but they all fit really well. I can't get enough of the shot of two guys on the motorcycle in front of the motion-screen.

"A New Chanukah Medley" - a A Capella parody medley that really "gets into the spirit of the season," with each song sharing a certain theme...

It's kind of cute. I have heard of prankster yeshiva bochurim using jingle bells or other holiday tunes for Lecha Dodi during this time of year, so I guess this has been done before, to a degree.

The Yeshiva Boys' Choir has thrown their hat into the ring with a high-quality video for an original comedy song called "Those Were the Nights (of Chanukah."

While it's pretty obvious they're playing the safe game by featuring boys dressed as women and no real female participants whatsoever, which once caused the Maccabeats to be critiqued, I can't help but be a little weirded out by some of the cross-dressing going on here.

If you're in the mood for a bunch of bubbes and zaides have a fun time singing/celebrating Chanukah, check out the rather funny video by The LA Jewish Home called "Happy Chanukah From the Jewish Home!"

Not quite the Maccabeats, but another male A Capella group for Temple Adat Shalom:

Here's a Jewish rap/R&B video called "Hanukkah 2012 - All of the Lights"

We'll continue with another Jewish rap video, by Matt Rissien called "All I do is spin" a parody of "All I do is win," originally by DJ Khaled.

The Shlomones are back again with "The Rocky Hora Chanukah Song."

I have to say I'd never thought I'd see a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" Jewish parody song...

In my opinion, the funniest, most original video thus far comes from veteran A Capella group Six13, called "Chanukah Rights:"

UPDATE (12/12/11): I'm not sure how I missed The Fountainheads, but here is their contribution called "Light Up the Night." Just to forewarn, this contains women singing/dancing.

And here's a new A Capella group, with a pun-tastic name: Pella! Their debut video "Holiday Party -Tonight Tonight" is quite fun, and I happen to know a few of the guys in the group...

This might be my favorite video. They picked a great, catchy, upbeat song, have great production values/editing, include a number of pretty funny jokes, and pretty much covered almost all the chagim out there. I'm also a big fan of their energy, dance moves and green screen use (all the clones, etc). However, since they go through all the holidays, does this mean they're not going to make another video when Purim rolls around?

UPDATE 12/14/11: Here is a FANTASTIC song by The Avoda called "Spread the Light," which has an amazing, pounding beat. The lyrics are great too. The video itself doesn't compare the the shtickyness of all the others out there, but the most important thing is the music, right? This song gets my vote for the best original song of the Chanukah season this year.

UPDATE 12/16/11: The B-Boyz are back again with another Chanukah-themed take-off of a popular secular song. This time it's called "Menorah Hearts" and is based on "Stereo Hearts" by Adam Levine & Gym Class Heroes. These are the guys who happened to pick "Dynamite" last year and tried to cash in on the Maccabeats' fame, with very little success. I wrote a bit about them here. presents a Bible Raps song for Chanukah 2011 called "Light is in the Air."

UPDATE 1-3-12 Though a little late, here is "Maoz Tzur" Except Saturday:

The Moshav Band has their new song, "Light The Way."

If anyone finds other Chanukah related music videos, please share in the comments, and I'll add them to the list.

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Maccabeats Chanukah Video! Miracle By Matisyahu

After hinting at a new video release for Chanukah on their Facebook page, The Maccabeats have released their version of "Miracle" by Matisyahu, which oddly enough, was the Chanukah song/video that The Maccabeats outshone last year with "Candlelight." Whereas "Miracle" has only garnered a little over 750,000 views, "Candlelight" has exceeded 6,000,000.

Check out The Macceabeats version of "Miracle:"

The Maccabeats are also fundraising for The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation via The Judy Greenberg z'l Miracle Match Campaign. The Gift of Life is famous for their cheek-swabbing events at YU (and elsewhere) in which they try to match potential bone marrow donors to patients suffering from leukemia. Their goal is to raise $80,000 - $10,000 for each night of Chanukah.

Check out this video explaining this charitable cause, featuring Jewish actress, star of The Big Bang Theory and major Maccabeat fan Mayim Bialik:

And click here to donate.

So what do you think? Does it compare to "Candlelight?"

P.S. This post in in-lieu of this week's Jewish Music Fridays feature. Although I attempted to post it earlier, I don't want a wonderful album to be overshadowed by The Maccabeats. So tune in next week!

Monday, December 5, 2011

One Way NOT To Propose

Take note guys: Do NOT hide the ring in an item of food that could be easily consumed.

Not every girl will be as lucky as this one and find the engagement ring inside her tortilla as planned:

Hopefully, the guy won't purchase the ring at Wal-Mart either.

The image below demonstrates what can go wrong with this idea.

This is a real X-ray from a Huffington Post article about strange items found in X-rays, and it demonstrates why I was very reluctant to act on any of the suggestions given to me for engagement ideas that involved hiding the ring in a food item or drink. Thanks anyway, Mom ;)

The last thing you want to happen is for the girl to mistakenly gulp down the ring without noticing the precious object nestled in that piece of cake or resting at the bottom of that flute of champagne.

On top of all that, what girl wants her ring to get dirtied with icing, pasta sauce, sorbet, salad dressing or whatever, and have to go clean it up before she can show it off and pose for the obligatory Only Simchas pictures?

And if she fails to notice the ring in that her guy so lovingly hid in the special dessert or whatever... well, the clean up won't be much fun either once the ring is retrieved.

For those readers who are suspicious about the above X-ray and can't believe that this has ever happened, please feel free to watch this segment on the nationally broadcast NBC Today Show which features an actual incident of accidental engagement ring consumption.

To be honest, I think having pictures on Only Simchas that featured the guy and girl smiling and talking on their cell phones while holding the X-ray of the ring's location between them would be pretty darn hilarious.

Just imagine that for a moment...

Triple bonus points to the couple who pulls that off as a prank when they get engaged.

Has anyone heard of this ever happening in the Jewish dating world?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jewish Music Fridays: Shirei Halevi'im

Welcome back to Jewish Music Fridays! This week we're featuring an album that came out a few years ago, but is one of the most unique and beautiful releases I've ever heard.

It's called "Shirei HaLevi'im" and it's by Rabbi Benjy Epstein. Rabbi Epstein is a former sgan mashgiach at YU, and was once the lead singer for a band called Aspaklaria, which was formed during the time he and his friends were undergrads at YU.

This album was another random seforim sale find for me, and I didn't even discover it until the 2010 sale, despite the fact that the album was released in 2009.

The overall structure of the album is as the title implies: the daily perek of tehillim we recite after Shacharis, the very same songs that the Levi'im sang in the Beis Hamikdash. There are a few other perakim thrown in as well, plus an amazing bonus track that is hidden after a gap at the end of "Borchi Nafshi" which features Rabbi Epstein singing R' Shlomo Carlebach's "Ana Bekoach" A Capella - and it's simply gorgeous.

The overall feel of the album is a relaxed, soothing, soul-stirring journey that really speaks to the listener's inner essence. I'm sure that every consumer will be struck by different aspects of the music, but the combination of Rabbi Epstein's soft voice and the masterfully composed accompanying music puts me in a very meditative, positive state of mind/being.

It just so happens that I gave this CD to ASoG while we were dating, and we'd often listen to it on repeat during our car ride back to Washington Heights while there was construction being done on the George Washington Bridge. Traffic can be annoying, especially late night traffic, but with "Shirei HaLevi'im" coming out of the car's speakers, I really didn't mind at all.

Unfortunately, there aren't any real Youtube videos of songs from "Shirei Halevi'im" other than this very short clip from an appearance at the Seforim Sale:

I've never gotten tired of this CD as I have with other albums, but I think it does require a certain mood to listen to it, or a desire to be transported to another realm of spiritual tranquility. There are a few slightly faster songs here, but don't expect anything you could really dance to, which I don't think is a fault whatsoever.

According the Shirei HaLevi'im's Facebook page, there might be new material in the works as of this past September. I really hope Rabbi Epstein and crew will be able to produce and release a second album!

In short, Shirei HaLevi'im is a must-buy, and probably will be one of the most, if not the most unique album in your Jewish Music collection. It's an amazing week-long (and then some) listening experience that will elevate your soul.

Please check it out and support Rabbi Epstein's music!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Is Disgusting - Sikrikim Victory Over Manny's

I can't believe that it's come to this.

Manny's, a wonderful seforim/Judaica store in Mea She'arim, has finally given in to the ridiculous demands of the unintelligent, chilul-HaShem-ridden vagrants known as the Sikrikim.

Now, the store will have a "machgiach" who will decide what seforim (Hebrew only, thankfully) can be sold in the store and a sign requiring modesty will be placed in their window display.

This is sick.

I remember going to Manny's frequently during my time in Israel. It's a great store, and I managed to buy a few titles that were out of print. I also ran into many old friends I hadn't seen in a long time or fallen out of touch and were attending different yeshivos/seminaries. There are also very few good, large bookstores that sell English seforim for decent prices (the Feldheim stores are okay, but limited for obvious reasons). The staff there are also quite friendly and very helpful if you can't find something or want some directions around their multitude of shelves.

While I don't think Manny's has quite the pull of the YU Seforim Sale, I'm sure a number of people met nice members of the opposite gender while they were browsing. I wouldn't necessarily bet money on it, but I imagine potential shidduchim could have come about through this sort of casual kosher socializing. Maybe that's what these hooligans are so violently protesting against. If true, that's another reason this foolishness needs to stop.

Just to remind readers, these are the very same ruffians who have been causing a ruckus over the religious Dati girls school in Bet Shemesh.

In short, they are perverts for staring at modestly dressed little girls, and gangsters who vandalize property with human excrement.

Certainly the Rabbonim should vehemently speak out against them, if that will even have any effect at all. On top of that, the Israeli police need to round them up and forcibly end their reign of terror. There is no question their tactics are entirely illegal. Perhaps the government is reluctant to get involved because they figure this is an intracommunal problem and let the chareidim handle it themselves - which we've seen by now with persistent, damaging issues like child abuse - is nigh impossible.

This sort of false zealotry is the real machalah plaguing Torah Observant Judaism these days, and contributes to many other factors that have been detrimental to the world's view of us, not to mention the perspective of the secular Israelis within Israel, and has harmed the cause of achdus in Klal Yisrael.

Enough is enough. If they only understand force, then the government should respond in kind, enforce the law, and put them in their place.

UPDATE: Hat tip to Emes Ve-Emunah, who linked an Arutz Sheva article that reports the police are beginning to crack down on these guys. Baruch HaShem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Any Bilha's And Zilpa's Out There?

In this week's parsha, Yaakov marries not only Leah and Rachel, but also their maid-servants Zilpah and Bilhah (who may or may not have been their half-sisters).

I used to not be bothered by the fact that most of our liturgy and other Torah-related writings have much of any reference to the maid-servant foremothers, but a particularly feisty tour guide in the Old City of Yerushalayim started railing about it one day.

She wondered why no one seems to care where Bilhah and Zilpah are buried. We know where Rachel and Leah are - in a roadside grave/memorial and Ma'aras Hamachpelah respectively. What about the other half of Yaakov's wives, who produced 1/3rd of the shevatim, Klal Yisrael's ancestors?

One could venture to say that nowadays, since the exile of the 10 "Lost Tribes," Bnei Yisrael consists of members from the tribes of Levi and Yehuda who were born to Leah along with Binyamin who was born to Rachel. As such, we don't really have any connection to Yaakov's 3rd and 4th wives.

However, we also know that, to a degree, many of the members of the "Lost Tribes" may have been found and returned through the various groups from far away locations that have proudly identified themselves and begun the process of moving to the State of Israel. Of note is Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognizing the Bnei Menashe of India as one of the 10 lost tribes back in 2005.

On a less recent note, I recall hearing/learning that a number of our exiled brethren did indeed join up with the remaining community either in Israel or in Babylonia before the time of the 2nd Commonwealth and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. I think the same source remarked that not every last member of these 10 tribes actually left when the vast majority of the Northern Tribes were exiled, which means we never totally misplaced them in the first place.

I'm not going to discuss the Talmudic references here, since that's not really the point of this post.

Back to our near-forgotten foremothers.

Thinking to myself, I didn't think I had ever met anyone named after Bilhah and Zilpah, nor had I seen a memorial/dedication plaque of any sort that listed such a name. Then one day, ASoG mentioned the name of a family friend's mother who was ill and needed tefillos said on her behalf, and lo and behold her mother's first name was Bilhah! Sufficed to say, I was a bit flabbergasted, but in a good way.

Before completing this post, I decided to Google "Bilhah" and "Zilpah" to see what I could find.

First, it seems I was mechaven to a 2004 post by A Simple Jew who also wondered "Whatever happened to Bilhah and Zilpah?"

I also found an "Ask the Rabbi" question on which discusses why we don't mention Bilhah and Zilpah as matriarchs like Rochel and Leah.

Lastly, a comment on A Simple Jew's blog led me to check Wikipedia, which informed me that Bilhah and Zilpah are buried at the "Tomb of the Matriarchs" in Tiberias, which would seem to indicate that we indeed treat them as full-fledged Imahos. I had not heard about this particular grave site before, and find the list of women who are buried there to be a fascinating collection of important Biblical figures.

Do you know anyone named Bilhah or Zilpah?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Imahos Didn't Cover Their Hair?!

Two thoughts that occurred to me during Shnaim Mikra v'Echad Targum this week:

Why do we need to say when Rivkah "inquired of HaShem" as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabba says: that she went and talked to Shem to hear from HaShem? Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, all say this. Even the Ba'al HaTurim, with his renowned penchant for gematria adds "Lidrosh - it's gematria = min Shem ben Noach (from Shem the son of Noach)."

Upon reading the psukim, the pshat would seem to me that Rivkah simply went and asked HaShem herself. Sarah was a prophetess, and was even greater in this are than Avraham. HaShem had conversations with the Avos, so why not the Imahos also? We can certainly extrapolate that if Sarah was a greater prophetess than Avraham was, she must have had some "off-screen" dialogue with G-d.

To substantiate this point: Later on in the parsha, Rivkah is told about Esav's declaration to take revenge on Yaakov, which the meforshim say means she was told this information prophetically - from HaShem Himself, I presume. Shem certainly isn't there in this instance, and there are no other people around who could have served as an intermediary to deliver the message - it certainly wasn't Yitzchak or Yaakov.

While looking into the commentaries on this verse to see if anyone far more reputable than I also had thought similarly about this issue, I discovered - Baruch Shekivanti - that the Ramban says the same thing, in direct contrast with Rashi. "I only found the language of 'drisha' regarding praying to HaShem" and he cites Tehillim 34:5"Derashti es HaShem va'aneni" - "I inquired of the L-rd, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears," Amos 5:4 "For thus saith the L-rd unto the house of Israel: inquire of Me, and live;" and Yechezkel 20:3 "'Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them: Thus saith the L-rd G-d: Are ye come to inquire of Me? As I live, saith the L-rd G-d, I will not be inquired of by you."

So there you have it, a less midrashically-inclined understanding that Rivkah did have conservation with HaShem herself.

Now, onto the title of this blog post.

We see in this week's parsha, along with two separate incidences with Avraham and Sarah, that where our forefather disguises his relationship with his wife by claiming that they are brother and sister, in the hopes that he will not be killed so that a foreign ruler can marry her.

Upon reading the psukim describing this incident, a question struck me.

How did the whole she's my sister thing work?

Somehow, both Sarah and Rivkah had to be visibly similar to an unmarried woman, otherwise the whole ruse wouldn't work. I considered a few different possibilities:

1) Women at that time, married or not, did not wear hair coverings at all. Hence, looking at Rivkah's hair for a cover wouldn't confirm anything about their relationship.

2) All women wore hair coverings, but married women's hair coverings were not distinguishable from those of single women.

In either case, there must have been no specific garment/item of dress that indicated she was married, otherwise it'd be pretty silly to tell Avimelech that Rivkah was Yitzchak's sister when she wore their equivalent of a wedding band and diamond ring.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps married women back then wore nose rings! Eliezer gives Rivkah one in anticipation of her forthcoming marriage to Yitzchak. Perhaps she simply took it off, and then you'd have the modern equivalent of removing a wedding ring, which is by no means immodest.

Has anyone out there heard/learned anything to shed more light on these topics?