Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reader Request For Shidduch Help

UPDATE 4/24/11 - We've definitely found the right guy. Thanks for your help!

I'm not entirely sure why I qualify for this type of request, but I can't deny the fact that I did receive this email last week. I sort of forgot about it in the pre-Shabbos rush, but rediscovered it last night as I was going through my inbox.

The email reads (copy and pasted it from Gmail):

"Ok this is going to be a strange message but maybe you can help since you are involved in Shidduchim. On the plane on the way to La for Succos I met a really nice guy that I would love to track down for my sister. Problem is I don't know his name or how to reach him. Maybe his name is David.
This is his description: He went to YU and graduated in marketing and works for five years in washington Heights. He lives there as well. His parents live in Israel but he grew up here. He went to Hasc several years ago. In general he was a nice, good looking guy, who helped me with my stuff and didn't mind when my baby was bothering him. Sounds far fetched for an idea for my sister? I don't think so. I did not ask him about the idea on the plane and I messed up. I think it could be a good shot. Please email me if you think you may know who this is. You can also post this on your blog if you want. Thank you so much!"

I will certainly try to find out who this mystery gentleman is, but if anyone can possibly figure it out and/or knows this fellow, please shoot me an email at Shadesofgreyjblog (at) gmail (dot) com and hopefully we can help out.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Must See: "Falling" By Judablue

I saw a friend post this as their Facebook status last night. It's a new music video by the Jewish rock group called Judablue. I'd really enjoyed Judablue's EP "Forty Days," which they released in 2009, so I was eager to check out their new material.

In short: it's simply fantastic.

I can't describe how amazing this song and its video are. The cinematography and composition are wonderful. To think that these guys recorded a few songs during their senior year in high school, and now have produced such an incredible music video, and their fame is just beginning.

There is so much to enjoy about the video itself, so many layers of meaning and so much depth. I particularly love the shot at 3:55, though the flipping, intro bit, newspaper covered room, field, and subtle Pro-Israel elements (such as the Free Gilad on "David's" shirt) are also quite clever and very well done.

My one small critique, if it can even be called that, is that the "Shema Yisrael" section is somewhat reminiscent, though not exactly similar, to Shlock Rock's use of "Shema Yisrael" as part of their song "David and Goliath" (to the tune of "Devil Went Down to Georgia"). It may just be me with my vast database of Jewish Music songs in my head (and on my iPod), since I presume most people won't even know what in the world I'm talking about.

Bonus Factoid: The lead singer of Judablue, Shlomo Gaisen, is the younger brother of Jeremy Gaisen - who recently released the excellent "Umordechai Yatsah" song/video from Purim. Jeremy also appears as a backup vocalist on "Im Lo Aleh" from their EP.

At any rate, I am inspired by Judablue's creative genius. Their songs, and now their videos, are stunning examples of what can be accomplished by being original, creating music that has soul and deep meaning. I hope they continue to produce songs and albums for many years to come.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This Just In: The Maccabeats Are Fakes!

In what can only be described as the biggest fraud in music history since the exposure of Milli-Vanili, reporters have confirmed that the Yeshiva University’s singing sensation known as The Maccabeats are nothing more than a well choreographed lip-syncing scam. Aside from their now infamous Youtube videos, the fourteen 20-something YU undergrads and alumni have fooled hundreds of concert goers with expertly timed lip coordination and expensive audio equipment.

The unexpected turn of events has broken the hearts of tens of thousands of Jewish girls across the world. Each depressed girl once hoped to end up marrying a Maccabeat in order to enjoy the soul-stirring beauty of his voice during weekly Shabbat Zemirot. Now, those dreams have all been dashed.

Rumors began to circulate about the group’s lack of authenticity around Chanukah time when the Maccabeats’ hit video “Candlelight,” was generating millions of views on Youtube while attracting media attention from around the world, both Jewish and secular. After several weeks of television news interviews and appearances, including several on major broadcast networks, those responsible for performing the vocal tracks associated with the Maccabeats decided it was time to stop hiding and step into the light.

As it turns out, the true voices behind the handsome faces and skillfully choreographed lip-syncing are a dozen older men who once belonged to the original Miami Boys Choir, founded in 1977 by Yerachmiel Begun in Miami, Florida.

“I was initially contacted by Chanina [Abramowitz], who is a fellow MBC alum,” Chezky Goldberger, one of the “Real Maccabeats,” said. “He told me they were looking for some guys with great voices who weren’t young enough to attract the maidelach anymore, but wanted to get their voices out there on the market again.” Chezky and his fellow “Maccabeats,” now in their mid-40’s, with beer bellies, receding hairlines and children in high school, were perfect for the part. “So I called up a few friends from my Miami days, and we began recording in the private studio in my basement. The rest, as they say, is history.”

“It’s definitely a strange thing,” remarked Yaakov Brickman, another one of the men behind the A Cappella phenomenon. “I wasn’t really sure we could pull it off, but Julian [Horowitz, the Maccabeat’s director] is extremely talented in coaching the art of vocal miming,” Brickman told Shades of Grey. “I still find it odd that I have girls my daughter’s age who swoon when they hear me singing the solo in ‘Aleinu’ or ‘Go the Distance.’ It’s really strange, yet fulfilling at the same time.”

The burgeoning scandal has rocked the entire YU world, most notably University President, Richard Joel. “I honestly had no idea the Maccabeats were phonies!” He declared, throwing his hands in the air with shock. “Had I only known I would be the only one really singing on their first album [From The Heights], I would never have agreed to sponsor the project with University funds or participate in it. I’ve been taken for a fool,” the forlorn President sighed in anguish. When asked about his son Nachum’s membership in the now-disgraced group, President Joel replied, “Nachum? I have no son by that name,” before slamming the door to his office. The interviewer reported hearing loud, exasperated sobbing and angry fist pounding coming from within shortly thereafter.

The former Maccabeats have withdrawn from public society since the scandal broke, though there are reports that there may be a pending lawsuit refuting the charges against them and suing for defamation of character. Their silence in the face of numerous interview requests is, unfortunately, a form of self-condemnation at best.

Goldberger and Brickman, along with their fellow “Real Maccabeats” have not yet announced any future albums or tour dates, but they briefly spoke about working on an upcoming video with Maccabeats video director, Uri Westrich.

“Uri is a very talented guy,” Goldberger said. “Knowing how great of a job he did vaulting those youngsters to stardom, we have high hopes he can pull off some sort of inventive camera angle or something that will let us look just as good on screen.”

“We can only hope that one day,” Brickman added with a smile and wink, “we can receive the recognition we deserve for all our hard work. In the meantime, I’m happy with all the re-directed fan mail, though the dozens of marriage proposals are beginning to drive my wife a little crazy.”

Purim Fun!

First of all, Mazal Tov to King Ahaseurus and Queen-to-be Esther! A huge yasher-koach to whoever submitted this. I love the section that is supposed to say where the kallah is from, which instead reads: "She wont tell."

Second, I heard about this from a friend of mine of Shabbos: it seems that the campy "Mishenichnas Adar" tune, as seen here, is actually derived from an old slave cotton picking song called "Pick a Bale of Cotton." I'm really interested in finding out how this niggun borrowing evolved.

Lastly, you MUST check out this new song/video by up-and-coming Jewish Music singer/composer Jeremy Gaisen. It's by far the best original Purim song I've heard in years (sorry Maccabeats). The video is quite silly, but the song is fantastic. It's called "Umordechai Yatsah." I happen to know all the guys in the video - great job guys.

Freilechen Purim to all!

P.S. Stay safe and don't drink too much. There is no mitzvah to get drunk to the point of getting hurt or putting others at harm - nor is there any chiyuv whatsoever to upchuck your seudah.

As a friend once put it: "Nichnas yayin yatza sod; and not the contents of your stomach."

Things I've Learned Since I Got Married #5 - Look, Ma! I Can Fix Things

I’ve always been somewhat handy at fixing things that have stopped working (mostly electronics), but not really in the man-around-the-house plumbing, carpenter sort of fashion, which was always Dad’s job. I think this is a role that men tend to start wading into if/when they live on their own in an apartment or dorm, but only fully embrace the part once they are the Mr. Fix-It following the their wedding.

While our apartment here in Washington Heights is quite nice, nothing is ever perfect and various things have broken down or given us some trouble from time to time. No longer do I have my father’s expertise in handling these sorts of situations, and instead have learned to rely on my own ingenuity, strength, and manual dexterity to come up with solutions. I’ll give a one example here and save a few others that have cropped up in the short time ASoG and I have been sharing our abode for another post.

One fine Friday evening, a brief span of time after I left for shul, ASoG was busy going about her last minute Shabbos preparations when she heard a strange pop. Suddenly, the lights in half the apartment went out – including the Shabbos light in the bedroom, the bathroom fixture, and all the lights in our living room, leaving just the kitchen light and hotplate running.

ASoG had already lit her candles frantically tried to figure out what she could do, which included trying to go find the super, go get me, or contact our Rav here to figure something out. In the end, she realized that not much could be done, given the circumstances, and joined me at davening. After Ma'ariv, she explained the situation to me in order to prepare me for our darkened apartment.

When we returned home, we ended up sharing a romantic candle-lit Shabbos dinner together, which was rather nice. Shabbos day wasn't a big deal, and we made it through Shalosh Seudos, but come Motzei Shabbos we had to deal with the fact that we had barely any functioning lights or working electrical outlets for things like our cell phone chargers.

After havdallah, I called our super and asked him if he could drop by and help us. Unfortunately, he replied, he was away in Brooklyn and wouldn’t be back until Sunday afternoon. He did mention that it sounded like we blew a fuse and suggested I go ahead see if one needed replacing. Sure enough, one of the little circular tube things in the panel on our wall was blackened.

Thankfully, the previous residents of our apartment kept a few odds and ends in what has now become our “junk drawer,” which included a brand new replacement circuit. Having been saved from a trip to the almost certainly closed hardware store, I carefully removed the dead circuit and screwed in the replacement, and our lights came back on. Having never performed this task before, I was excited at my success.

ASoG had been quite worried that I’d electrocute myself, but thankfully I approached the task with caution and am still here to tell the tale.

Stay tuned for more stories of stuff once broken, now fixed and my MacGuyver-like handyman skills.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Purim Related Date Ponderings

In the past, we’ve discussed various views regarding guys showing up to dates with scruff, stubble, and beards during sefirah and by extension, the 3 weeks.

Now (meaning Adar-time), I have a simple, though related, question for the female readers:

What would you do if a guy asked you during a first phone call if you minded he didn’t shave for your very first date because he needs the facial hair for his Purim costume?
On the one hand, this is a first date, and it has significance for setting a tone in the potential relationship. To some degree, the girl has a right to expect the guy to show up looking his best, which includes hygiene upkeep, nice clothing, and a shaven face (if that’s what he does normally anyway).

On the other hand, it IS just one date. Plus, he’s probably been planning this costume for a while now, and to have a Wolverine (for example) without his trademark muttonchops facial hair would make the costuming effort a bit lacking.

Or perhaps:
Anyway, a friend of mine actually got away with this once, but that’s the only time I’ve heard of it happening.

I know that with my penchant for elaborate Purim costuming, I would probably have asked for such a dispensation – though I’ve never worn a costume that required having facial hair.

Another Purim dating question: Would you (male reader) ever try to set up a date ON Purim? Would you (female reader) agree to go on a date ON Purim? Or perhaps the date could be the night after Purim (ie, the evening following the seudah).

I’ve heard that every girl should somehow see her gentleman caller on Purim at some point before she agrees to marry the fellow; it’s definitely a good thing to see what he decides to do (to himself and others) on a day when he’s drinking some substantial amount of alcohol. What does he drink, how much, how far does he go, and what does he do when he’s under the influence?

I’m not suggesting that the date necessarily has anything to do with going out drinking together, or the girl watching the guy drink – that’d be a little too much. But what about going out bichlal, or perhaps to add some fun to it, in costume? If the timing works and the guy can properly have a seudah and recover with ample hours to spare, would anyone ever consider this?

Recently, I had a conversation with a guy who said he’d actually want to go on a date on Purim, thinking it would be quite fun (though he wasn’t the heavy drinker type). A girl I spoke to, who was trying to arrange a date amid her busy midterm schedule, almost relied on having to go out on Purim instead of waiting a week after both parties agreed to go out, but thankfully another solution presented itself.

So, what do you guys think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Purim Readings

I always try to do some learning/reading to prepare for an upcoming chag. This year I've been reading these two fantastic books on Purim:

Inside Purim by Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff - which features an amazing collection of vortlach from many different sources on all aspects of Purim, including the mitzvos of the day, the Purim story, the miracle of Purim. Find out how Hamentaschen got their name, or why their called Oznei Haman in Hebrew. Did Vashti really grow a tail (surprisingly, many sources say she didn't). What exactly is the nature of the obligation to drink on Purim (also surprisingly that a lot of sources are anti-over drinking).

Purim and the Persian Empire - A Historical and Archaeological Perspective - This amazing coffee-table-ish book goes through Megillas Esther alongside archaeological and historical evidence showing that how the events in the Megillah could have (and most likely did) occur just as the Megillah records. It's so fun to see all the cool pictures and hear from a religious perspective how archaeology can actually strengthen our religious beliefs, rather than detract from them.

Of course, there is also the gigantic YUTorah Purim-To-Go 5771 packet. These Holiday-To-Go collections of Divrei Torah are always intriguing and well worth reading.

Well, while there isn't so much time left until Purim, it's still worth giving these sources a look. There is a whole Shabbos to spend some time reading up and prepare ourselves spiritually and intellectually for the chag.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Post Wedding Report - Part 6

I know it's been a while since part 5 (and several months since our wedding), but I will finish up this series! Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Don't forget parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5!

While the band began playing and my friends rushed the chuppah, everyone was hugging each other and wishing “mazal tov” over and over. After a few minutes, ASoG and I descended the little steps hand in hand. As we danced toward the yichud room, all my friends were lined up, arms around each other’s shoulders, dancing, singing, and jumping up and down. There were one or two times where someone grabbed my free hand and started dancing with me, or rather, half of me, since I refused to release my new wife’s hand. Flashes were bursting all around us as every single young woman in attendance, and a number of guys as well, took the time to capture the moment.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get to the yichud room. I’ve been to several weddings where the hall’s yichud room is located quite some distance away from the chuppah area, which required a long backward march for all the cheering friends, down several hallways, and a handful of turns before reaching the proper destination. One on such occasion, we danced the newlywed couple to what we thought was the yichud room, but turned out to be a broom closet once someone opened the door. Luckily, we found the right room down a nearby corridor.

When we reached the yichud room all the guys went crazy, in the usual “we don’t want to let you go just yet” fashion. Sporadic circle dancing broke out, much to the chagrin of the wedding hall planner, who tried several times, unsuccessfully, to get the guys to back off and let us proceed. After a few minutes, I was getting a little tired, not to mention that I was hungry, thirsty, and really wanted to spend some quiet time with ASoG (don’t try to read too much into the order of that list), so I stepped out of the circle and into the doorway. I totally forgot who I had wanted to be the Eidei Yichud and didn’t want to bother looking for someone who had my kibbudim list, so I grabbed two of my nearest friends and appointed them to their new job. With a few waves of our hands, ASoG and I entered the room and the door was shut behind us.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not going to go into any mushy details of what happened there for the sake of tzniyus, but I will report some of the other odd and exciting happenings.

Waiting for us was a decent sized banquet of food, which I had requested per the advice of a long-married friend of mine that there needs to be real food in the yichud room, and not just cake. The caterer had prepared servings of sushi, mini hot dogs in buns, kasha varnishkas, salad, and deli-roll (which was the appetizer served at the seudah). We washed and began to eat. I realized that the caterer had only provided us with various sodas to drink, which is really the last thing I wanted after being deprived of liquids all day. What I really needed was plain ol’ water. We poked our heads out the door to find the wedding hall coordinator standing nearby, told him what we wanted, and he quickly brought us back a pitcher of water. I thanked him profusely, and we went back to our meal.

From the Department of How to Lose Your Recently Performed Segulah for Marriage: Losing the Kallah’s jewelry that you were entrusted with.

A kallah, and the groom as well, for that matter, is not allowed to wear any jewelry under the chuppah, as a symbol that the chosson’s reasons for marrying her have nothing to do with wealth or her personal possessions. As such, the kallah normally wears her jewelry during the initial photography sessions and at the badeken, but removes them in her ready-room prior to marching down the aisle. She hands out her jewelry (necklace, earrings, bracelet, engagement ring, etc) to some close friends for safeguarding. They eagerly who clutch the jewelry during the ceremony, while hopefully davening as well, in an effort to obtain a segulah to also stand under their own chuppah in the near future.

ASoG put her best friend and shomeret in charge of distributing and collecting the jewelry before and after the chuppah, with explicit instructions to return the valuable items to the yichud room prior to our arrival. Shortly after we washed, ASoG went over to the safe and opened it up, only to discover to her horror that her jewelry wasn’t there! Frantically, she grabbed her cell phone and called her shomeret to ask where she had put it. The friend insisted that the jewelry was right there in the room, just like ASoG had instructed. After quickly tearing through the room, both ASoG and her shomeret were understandably upset about this development, though I have to admit I was busier enjoying the food, confident that something would work out. In the end, it turned out that ASoG’s shomeret had mistakenly put the jewelry in the safe located in the room next door, which she discovered and brought over to us. With that crisis concluded, we closed the door again and went back to our eating and drinking.

I’m not sure how much time we were accorded, but the photographer knocked what seemed like shortly thereafter to summon us to do another round of family pictures and all those cutesy touching pictures. We immediately dismissed him, since we wanted more time to relax and eat. I think this happened 2 or 3 times before we finally gave in and went back to the chuppah room.

The family pictures we had to take were primarily mine, since a number of my relatives characteristically came late to the hall and totally missed the first set of pictures. Some had simply forgotten they were needed at the hall early, while one actually flew in trans-Atlantic from a business conference and barely made it in time for the chuppah. However, while the previously absent relatives made sure to be there, several other formerly photographed family members couldn’t be located, having dispersed to who-knows-where. As such, we have several almost identical Grey family pictures with a few people switched around, and some relatives standing in place for others.

Once we finished those dozen or so pictures, everyone was kicked out of the room except for ASoG and I. The photographer suggested it was a good idea, because the “hold her waist and cutely kiss her forehead” pictures are awkward in the first place, and even more so when a little pre-pubescent sibling is standing there saying “ew” and making faces. However, we did get a nice couple of pictures from this set, which makes me very happy.

After the last posed picture was taken, ASoG and I went dashing back to the yichud room to change shoes. Yes, you read right, I also changed my shoes for dancing, replacing my oh-so-shiny black dress shoes with some very comfortable, slip-on, not-quite-as-shiny, black semi-athletic shoes.

Why did I do this, you may ask? First, the shoes I wore during the ceremony were brand new, and as I have learned from experience, wearing new shoes to dance at a wedding is a recipe for blisters and trouble walking for days afterward. Second, as I have also learned, shoes worn to dance at an Orthodox Jewish wedding inevitably get scuffed up, scratched, and beaten up in the extreme. Why waste the money spent on my pristine wedding shoes and ruin only to them in a few hours raucous footwork? For this reason, I have a specific pair of nice-ish shoes that I wear to weddings which are already a bit worn – though the shoes I donned then were not that particular pair.

After the quickie footwear change, we snuck back through the connecting corridor area, past a few people milling about or heading to the restroom, and into the chuppah/picture room. There was a divider connecting it to the ballroom, which the wedding hall coordinator had slid open partially so we could peek in and see all our friends eagerly waiting our arrival. The band cued up the special entrance theme I made from a particularly popular movie score (I say made, because I spent about a hour the night before cutting it down and speeding it up). The fervor of the people inside reached a crescendo along with the pumping orchestral music.

ASoG and I held hands, looked into each other’s eyes, took a deep breath and ran in as we were introduced for the first time as Rebbe and Rebbetzin* Shades of Grey!

Look for Part 7 soonish!

*Yes, the singer did announce that, funnily enough.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Criticism Of The Maccabeats And "The Purim Song"

In case you arrived at this post looking for me to critique the heck out of the video, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Rather, I'm going to address something else: the new form of revolting critical comments that people are posting on Jewish blogs (such as mine and Sterngrad's) as well as on Youtube regarding the Maccabeats and their new music video.

This is rant, so be prepared.

There is nothing inherently wrong in the way that Sterngrad wrote that there are elements in "The Purim Song" which don't quite live up to "Candlelight," such as the song choice, repeated imagery, etc. That's having a keen eye and writing honestly about what parts of the content shown in the video didn't quite work for her as a viewer. I can respect a difference of opinions like this post.

Then there are guys who like to mouth off unintelligibly, like "The Prof" and "Burnt Dreadlocks" who remark that the video or the Maccabeats are "gay," then elaborate on their opinions. Another commenter on Youtube "Lothiras" goes on long diatribes defending why he is justified in derogatorily referring to the video and the members of the Maccabeats as "gay."

None of them are in any way doing anything other than shoving both feet further and further down their own throats.

Burnt Dreadlocks wrote in defense of his claim that the Elvis curl worn by Buri Rosenberg in the video is gay by writing "Still, only a certain type of person can mutilate themselves in such a way." "Mutilate?" Someone who decides to split their tongue, insert pieces of metal under the layers of their facial skin, or otherwise surgically and irreparably remove or alter a portion of their anatomy - now that is "mutilation." Clearly, "as a native californian" he is simply overtly homophobic, reads into things, and can't keep his comments to himself.

"The Prof" who also clamored on about Buri's Elvis curl saying "Little things like that drive me nuts!" and then after I wrote that it fits the costume, "I just find the whole thing quite gay. The fountainheads did a much better job." Lastly, when I asked for clarification if he was using "gay" as a slur or literally, he replied "I mean it quite literally. I know that they obviously arent, its just the way they are singing. " Um, why?

Aside from the fact that these two commenters write things that make me suspicious they are one person, the whole discussion is ridiculous and offensive to anyone, homosexual or heterosexual - basically, anyone with a brain who can think.

What about the video seems "gay?" I don't see anything stereotypical, or anything not stereotypically homosexual about what is shown in the video whatsoever. You can say that you liked the Fountainhead version better, that's totally your opinion. But to go on and on about the fact that the Maccabeats are somehow "gay" with no legitimate cause (or at all for that matter) is beyond stupid.

The fact that the members of the Maccabeats have appealing physical features and good voices - that makes them gay? The fact that they sing as a group somewhat reminiscent of boy bands from the late 90's like N' Sync or the Backstreet Boys makes them gay? The fact that they generally depict only men (with the exception of a few little girls in this video) make them gay? Does hanging around at a Purim Seudah with little kids make them gay - is that insinuating that they molest small children?

Or are you upset because the Maccabeats are trying to be as far reaching as possible in their video's appeal to all sectors of observant Judaism and don't depict women dancing or singing? Not to critique the religious observance of The Fountainheads or their video, but are you more interested in their version because it shows women who sing, dance, and wear pants? I don't believe they had an irreligious agenda with their video - they did it for fun just as the Maccabeats have and geared their video toward a different crowd. But because the Maccabeats don't appeal to your heterosexual drive by not featuring attractive women doing things that might make you excited, you decide they're "gay?"

Utterly ridiculous.

It's particularly troublesome to see that at least some of the people making these comments are seemingly learned, religious people and yet, don't "get it." Just because the larger portion of Maccabeat fans are girls because they admittedly find them handsome and enjoy their voices, and that doesn't appeal to you - you decide to pull out your unsurprisingly limited supply of derogatory and insulting comments?

True, there were plenty of comments coming from both men and women - all irreligious or gentile (most infamously Gaby Dunn)- when Candlelight was released that suggested the Maccabeats "spice" up their videos with "hot" women or by making the Maccabeats themselves appear "sexier" to the female perspective. I can't blame those people for making these comments - they enjoyed the video for what it was, but also have a standard in their mind for what defines successful musical artists and their music videos: sex appeal.

The Maccabeats clearly have no desire to be just another group in the pritzus-filled society that surrounds and envelopes us everywhere in the world nowadays. To that, I say kol hakavod! Who needs seductive images that stimulate the sex drive when you have catchy vocal performances, beautifully cinematic visuals, and doses of engaging humor thrown in for good measure? The success of the Maccabeats has nothing to do with these baser elements that the vast majority of secular artists out there (I won't say all, since I'm no expert in current pop-music) use to achieve their fame and make their money?

The Maccabeats aren't out there for fame and fortune. As they say on their website and repeated in various forms during the multitude of interviews they gave during "Candlelight's" rise to fame, their motivation is to entertain and educate, spreading positive messages about Judaism because they are "Strongly committed to the philosophy of Torah u-Madda, the integration of traditional and secular wisdom..."

I am so very proud of what my fellow YU students and alumni have accomplished. As I wrote about in my post summing up my thoughts on the success of "Candlelight," I think all the publicity is deserved and wonderful. This is the type of news and media attention that Orthodox Jews need, and we are all truly blessed by the beautiful response by so many people out there who watch these videos, Jew and gentile alike.

My message to all the guys - and they are almost all guys - who remark how "gay" the Maccabeats and "The Purim Song" is, start thinking with your brains and not some other part of your anatomy.

Enjoy the music for what it is, listen to the overt positive messages the Maccabeats and Uri Westrich are trying to convey, and if you have nothing nice or constructive to say, please shut up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things I've Learned Since I Got Married #4

One of the strangest, yet seemingly most evident things that I've learned since ASoG and I got married is the stark reality of what it means to be married and living in your own domicile (in our case, an apartment in Washington Heights).

At first, it all seemed like we were kind of playing house together, albeit in a fashion quite a bit different than your standard childhood endeavor. Things need to get done around the apartment, errands have to be run, and responsibilities that didn't exist a few days before suddenly come to the forefront of reality.

The one thing, or perhaps the biggest eye-opener, was the notion of how "real" life was when I was saying birkas hamazon one afternoon following lunch.

I reached the section following the lengthy list of horachamans wherein you offer a blessing for your host and/or others present. After mindlessly speeding through this section for many years, either mentioning (as appropriate) my parents, my hosts, and those around me, I'd never had the realization that now I'd have to change my standard bentsching phraseology.

Instead of say "Horachaman hu yevoreich es ba'al habayis/avi moi v'imi morasi," it dawned on me that I needed to say "osi, v'es ishti, v'es besi, v'es kol asher li." I now ask G-d to bless me, my wife, my home and all that is mine.

The experience was mind-blowing.

I was no longer some kid in college, unattached and off on my own, but I had a home with a wife! Life (and bentsching) would never be the same again - in a good way.

Even with this epiphany, I still mess up almost every time I open the bentscher after a meal, starting off with "es" before realizing it needs to be "osi." It's hard to change such a well-ingrained pactice, I guess. It also goes to show that I need to work on being more attentive to the words I'm saying, actually reading each and every one of them from the bentscher itself instead of mostly saying it by heart and using the bentscher to make sure I don't lose my place, etc. After all, the Gemara in Brachos tells us we aren't supposed to simply toss blessings from our mouths, but instead focus and concentrate on what we're saying.

So while new wording in bentsching isn't the biggest deal in the world, it does represent the biggest thing in the world for me - my new life with ASoG.

May everyone not yet stumbling over their personal horachaman in bentsching get the opportunity to start doing so soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Here - New MACCABEATS Video For Purim!

Finally, the rumored (though basically expected) Maccabeats Purim song/video is here:

Update: Without any overt explanation, The Maccabeats were "beaten to the punch" by a group in Israel called "The Fountainheads," who released their own video called "Raise Your Mask" (caution: Kol Isha and women dancing in pants) also based on the secular song by Pink which is called "Raise Your Glass."

This happened coincidentally last time with "Candlelight" as well. While that was seemingly mere chance, this time it would seem something else is going on. As a high school friend once told me, "Always suspect the conspiracy!" The question is, who tipped off/leaked to who? Is there a Macca-mole?

Regardless, I still think the Maccabeats version is definitely of a higher quality in music, sound and video quality, and overall cuteness. It sounds far catchier, but that might be just me. The Fountainheads have a 15,000+ hit lead over the Maccabeats (between two posted versions of their video). How long will it take for the Maccabeats to catch up and surpass them?

My guess: not long.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Starbucks: Not The Best First Date Place Anymore

UPDATE: Chaviva has more info from the OU that makes this not so simple.

I'd heard about this issue from ASoG's uncle a week ago when he apparently received the cRc's statement earlier than it was anticipated, but he cautioned us not to necessarily act on the information at the time. But now it seems that the rumors were true.

Check out Chana's post and the official statement from the cRc regarding the kashrus of beverages at Starbucks.

Scary stuff.

Aside from all those first dates I took to Starbucks - including ASoG, and my own problematic consumption of hot beverages during those dates, this means we've lost (at least for now) one of the most, if not the most prevalent first/early date locations.

I knew I should have stuck with the Naked Juice.

Perhaps all is not lost. There may be a way we can still use Starbucks as a date location: Maybe Naked Juice or those fancy Artesian waters will become the new alternative beverage of choice. The price difference between a bottle of one of those versus a standard Star Bucks hot beverage is pretty negligible anyway.

What do you guys think?

Things I've Learned Since I Got Married #3 - Flowers

I finally get it. I can truly say that I finally get it. I have reached some understanding of one of the greatest enigmas that has baffled men since the dawn of time: Why women love flowers so much.

Guys typically say that flowers are a waste of money. They are often expensive - very nice ones, such as roses, which women love, are a primary source of blame for this. The price doesn't seem to be justified in male minds, since the flowers look and smell nice for such a short period of time, which is usually no longer than a few days and then they're thrown in the trash.

Men think, what's the point? Why should I spend the money on something that lasts longer, has a functional rather than aesthetic use. A piece of jewelry makes more sense, it looks nice, it's pretty when worn by our wife, and it'll be there for her to don for years to come. Thus, flowers often seem as though we're just throwing our hard-earned money into the garbage.

Yet, after starting the practice of buying flowers for ASoG each week for Shabbos (and on other special occasions as they crop up), I've seen the light.

I've begun to appreciate the atmosphere the bouquet of roses I buy adds to our apartment, not just for Shabbos, but for the days that follow afterward. The lifespan of flowers greatly depends on care given to them, and regular water changes with stem trimming really helps them to keep going. We've had flowers that have lasted anywhere from 3 days to a full week after being purchased before they all finally droop over or dry out.

Seeing the flowers reminds me of the restful pleasures of Shabbos during the following week. They also remind me of how happy ASoG was when I gave them, and it's always a great thing to be able to put a smile on your wife's face.

I admit to being a bit of an admirer of nature, and that's probably part of the reason why I really appreciate the beauty that our vase of flowers adds to our mundane living room. Colorful, well formed, symmetrical flowers are an exquisite creation that G-d has given to us. The flowers I buy for ASoG become an epicenter of natural loveliness that brightens our lives whenever we see them so prominently displayed on our dining room table.

I've heard so many single/engaged guys complain about flowers - and married guys even moreso. I think it would do well for all of us of the male species to reassess our perspective on buying flowers for our significant others. It'll definitely make our wives happier, and hopefully us too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

No More Booty In The Bible?

I've always had some interest in how the Christian translation of the Torah, which composes their "Old Testament" deliberately changes certain words to better fit their agenda of demonstrating the "origin" or "hints" toward their sequel.

One of the most significant is the verse from Yishaya 7:14, which is their source for an "explicit" reference to a virginal birth of some sort, which they claim is their messiah.

Of course, this is, and always has been, entirely wrong for two reasons. 1) Context and 2) Mistranslation.

1) In the story taking place in the Navi, HaShem tells Yishaya to go to Achaz king of Yehuda and tell him not to worry about the recently announced alliance betwen Ephraim and Aram (who were conspiring against him) since they'll have their deserved downfall. So Yishaya is instructed to tell Achaz to ask HaShem for a sign as a proof that He is with Achaz. Even though Achaz refuses to ask of/test G-d, and Yishaya goes on to tell him about a child who will be born to a young woman (I think Rabbi Angel told us some meforshim think this refers to Yishaya's own wife), who will have special characteristics - and that will be the sign confirming the prophecy.

2) The word used in the posuk is "almah," which as any person who has a decent familiarity with Biblical Hebrew knows it means, "young woman," and not "virgin," which would be "besulah."

Christian theologians have taken this verse out of context for centuries, claiming it refers to the birth of a special child to a "virgin" who would later become their savior. Of course, none of that makes any sense whatsoever, since they got the translation wrong (perhaps deliberately) and why in the world would the birth of a special child hundreds of years later - this was during Bayis Rishon, and Jesus is believed to have lived during Bayis Sheini - serve as any sort of comfort to Achaz in his predicament?

Anyway, I recently read a very interesting article talking about the new "American Bible" that will be available next week. A large team of scholars have been working on updating the English translation of the Christian bible for a number of years now, and they've made a bunch of linguistic changes, one of which relates to this verse, and the specific mistranslation I mentioned above.

In a change in a passage in Isaiah 7:14 that foretells the coming of Jesus and his birth to a virgin mother, the 1970 edition's reference to "the virgin" will become "the young woman," to better translate the Hebrew word "almah."

So they finally decided to do the right thing and stop pretending "almah" is the same thing as "besula." Of course, since this actually undermines one of their principle sources for their doctrine of the virgin birth, they have to remark:

"The bishops and the Bible are not signaling any sort of change in the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus. None whatsoever," Sperry added.

Ha. Ha. Despite the fact that they are indeed pulling the proverbial rug out from underneath the doctrine - leaving it only to rely upon its pagan origins (think Hercules and other demi-gods born from a pagan deity and a human woman). At any rate, I think the change is rather fascinating. Of the many things I learned during Prof. Chaviva Levin's Medieval Jewish History course last year, medieval Christians worked pretty darn hard to show the "links" in the "Old Testament" that serve as a foundation or tie-in to the "New Testament." Given that context, it's a little strange to see modern Christians so willingly alter one of their important "sources."

P.S. For those wondering where the title of this post comes from - I came up with is based on another amusing word-choice change:

"Booty," which has come to have a sexual connotation, was changed to "spoils of war;"

I couldn't help but laugh...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Y U Don't Connect - Part 2

Tip #2 – Write clearly, intelligently, and with grammatical correctness.

The YU Connects/Saw You at Sinai profile requests that each user fill out a few written sections, describing their family background, who they are, and what they’re looking for - the later only seen by connectors and not potential matches.

It would stand to reason that since these are the portions of the profile that more directly represent who you are – what your hashakafos, beliefs, religious level, and personality traits are – instead of selecting from multiple pre-written terms like the rest of the profile, you’d want to make sure that what you write is an accurate, detailed presentation of what you want a potential spouse to know and consider.

Yet, in the short time that ASoG and I have been serving as connectors, we’ve seen some profiles that are woefully ill-prepared. Here are a few pointers for writing a good profile.

1) Do NOT leave sections blank - It seems simple enough, right? Choosing to leave one of these sections empty creates a gap of knowledge both for the potential match AND the connectors who will know be clueless regarding key elements about you.

People want to know what your family is like, because they envision some sort of in-law relationship based on their personal experience and needs. People need to know about you, because anyone can simply click a bunch of multiple choice options, whereas writing details shows (to a greater degree) what you’re about. Lastly, the section of what you are looking for, if left blank, really inhibits the connectors’ ability to learn more about you and make more accurate matches aside from the computerized categorical comparisons (like religious level, age and height preference, etc).

If a potential match has no clue what you’re about, why would they accept the match? If the connector doesn’t have the foggiest idea who you are and what you’re looking for, how are we supposed to make a thoughtful suggestion? Not writing anything, or not writing enough (see more below) forces us to send you fairly randomized selections chosen by the computer match-up. A lot of people complain that matches sent to them are seemingly without sufficient thought or to “just fill a quota” – connectors are supposed to spend 6 hours a week making matches after all. While the criticism may be true of some/many people who aren’t being serious about their responsibilities as shadchanim, there are others who really do care and want to do a good job (I’m not just referring to ASoG and I – we personally know many very dedicated connectors). We can’t help you if you don’t help us get to know you.

2) Write more than 2 sentences – But you don’t need a whole megillah either. Two succinct, accurate sentences (which they rarely ever are) are better than nothing written at all, but why shouldn’t you be more thorough? The more you write the better, because the reader gets a greater sense of how you think, what you want, what you envision for your future, etc. Some people may feel intimidated or threatened by writing extremely long description of yourself, but others truly appreciate the fact that you wrote a detailed account of who you are and what you’re about. Expanding on what you selected in the earlier sections of the profile – like your learning schedule, views on TV/movies/pop culture, how close you are to your family – can only serve to either convince someone that indeed you are an appropriate match, or demonstrate that you are a great person, but not what they are looking for, and thus no one wastes their time.

From the connector’s standpoint, more is always better – especially in the “what you’re looking for” section. We appreciate someone who is thorough, but fair – NOT someone who writes such an extremely limited set of characteristics, such as “Must be 5’ 5-7”, blond hair, super-model skinny, and with a face pretty enough to launch a thousand ships, because I simply can’t love anyone else.” Aside from the fact that odds are, your choice of turning down every single girl who doesn’t meet this criterion prevents you from going out with great girls, it also means you’re going to get very few suggestions from us, or that we’re going to get tired when you decline every profile we send you because you cite “Physical Appearance.”

3) PLEASE utilize proper grammar, spelling, capitalization, etc. In other words – don’t be “cute” or write as though this were an instant/text message or email to your buddies. Let your date see how “cute” you are in person, where it really counts. As Bad4 mentioned in a comment on my first post in this series – women don’t find it attractive if you write “i lik 2 go on walkz, tlk 2 pretty gurls, n learn tons of torah.” Even if you actually list things that are reputable and describe yourself accurately, not taking the time to write in a professional manner reflects very poorly of your education and your attitudes toward being mature and serious about life. If you are a fun person, write that while providing concrete examples like any properly educated adult would, instead of producing something that looks like it was composed by a middle schooler.

Generally, I would assume that most people would have very little difficulty writing something coherent and readable, though I know that some people legitimately have trouble when writing things like essays for English class. Just like in that scenario, if you want to get that A – get help. Ask someone you trust to read over what you’ve written and give helpful suggestions about phraseology, word choice, etc. If it comes down to it and you have no one who to turn to, ask your connector! We’re here to help you.

ASoG and I once saw a profile that said something to the effect of “I try to view the world and people I meet as positively and openly as I can, that’s why I’m such a pessimistic person.” We were pretty sure that they meant “optimistic” – but who knows. Either way, the mistaken word choice looks bad, and if the person is legitimately pessimistic – who wants to go out with that kind of person anyway?

We’ve also had a few conversations where the person suggested the shidduch wants to know more information because what is written in the profile, though seemingly accurate is vague. The person may mention they’re learning in yeshiva or attending a specific college – why not give some more details about that yeshiva or what course of study you are pursuing, including how far along you are in your educational career? It shouldn’t be the job of the connector to wheedle the information out of you. Related to that point…

4) Keep your profile updated ! If you graduate college, switch yeshivos, decide to drop pre-med and became a lawyer, I think any potential match needs to know these things. Leaving up outdated information is basically akin to someone calling you up and telling you about this great guy you knew back in high school, but have no clue what he’s up to nowadays – how does that help anyone? Please, if something changes in your life, add/correct that in your profile.

If during the course of your dating career you have a gradual evolution of sorts in your hashkafos, religious level, or your preferences for the type of person you are looking for – you NEED to alter your profile to reflect that. I’m not talking about changing your profile once a week to suit a new guy you decided you’re interested in. But every few months, take some time to reread what you’ve written and see if you’ve legitimately shifted perspectives a bit.

Taking a step back – make sure you do some critical thinking before you write the profile in the first place. Meditate on who you are, what you’re looking for, and where you want to go in life. Presenting that information as accurately as you can is the goal of the profile. You want that potential someone to read the things you’ve written, consider them, and make a decision that you are worth going out with, or that it’s not shayach. This whole system is designed to make things easier for everyone involved, singles and shadchanim alike.

If you don’t sit down, take this seriously and put some thought into writing about who you are and what you want in a spouse, how can we (connectors and potential matches) honestly trust any of the other categories that you simply clicked – perhaps without even an actual thought being processed in your brain? Anyone can absent-minded click their mouse a few dozen times, heck, everyone does that at some point for an online survey to try and win a gift certificate to Amazon.com or whatever. But this is NOT a situation where you can let your brain operate on auto-pilot!

Stay tuned for part 3!

P.S. For those of you who need a reason to date someone who can spell worth a darn, check out this 911 call (courtesy of Bad4):