Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Bring Or Not To Bring

ASoG and I were arguing about, or should I say, passionately discussing, a particular issue recently. I want to see what the readers think – not for the purpose of proving who’s right or wrong, but just because I am very interested in seeing what other people do in this situation.

Here’s the scenario: You invite guests over for a Shabbos meal. They graciously accept your invitation, and in turn offer to bring something, such as a kugel, salad or dessert. Do you accept their offer or not?

What I said: The soon-to-be guests are trying to be courteous. They are sincere in their intention, and are not just offering as a platitude (of course this would be different where it’s obvious they don’t really care and are just mouthing off to appear sincere). They are grateful for your invitation, particularly since this means less effort to prepare a meal for Shabbos, and as such they want to contribute one little something to help with all the work and money you are expending and spending.

As such, I felt that it’s perfectly fine to accept their offer. Receiving their gift is part of a mutual, reciprocal relationship of being nice, expressing chesed, and people grow from acts of giving, even somewhat minor ones such as this.

I contended that we shouldn’t don’t turn away and refuse their chesed because it does good for them to give. They want to give, so let them be fulfilled through helping. There is the additional benefit that they are indeed making the host’s work easier by not having to make one more dish, even if it’s just as minor as a salad. Even easier is buying and bringing wine or challah (or dessert), which is a bit less involved, but still saves from the often expensive venture of hosting a large amount of guests.

ASoG said: We should not accept the offer. First, perhaps they feel compelled to offer. Second, even if they are genuine, it’s a tircha for them to make and bring anything, since they were expecting a care-free preparation-less Shabbos meal, and now you’re forcing them to spend time making stuff. Thus, it is Better to exert more of your own energy, even if it might be an inconvenience, than to force them to contribute when they probably are too busy and aren’t able to.

The basis of our discussion seems to have stemmed from our personal experiences growing up and more recently. In the city where ASoG is from, no one ever offers or brings anything when they go to someone else for a Shabbos meal (even though I’ve seen her mother do differently, just for the record). Where I’m from, having guests bring food they’ve prepared can be tricky sometimes because not everyone is so knowledgeable about kashrus, but people do have a common practice of bringing a bottle of wine.

In the several years I’ve lived in the Washington Heights-YU-Mt. Sinai Jewish community (I can’t really comment on Breur’s), I’ve seen that the general practice is for people to offer to bring something to their hosts, for the hosts to accept, and the guests actually prepare and bring the food item. I’ve seen people bring wine (I’ve done that) or store-bought dessert such as a melt-a-way (I’ve done this too), and I’ve seen women and married couples bring salads and kugels. It would then seem to me that this is the minhag hamakom so-to-speak.

ASoG hasn’t really lived in the Heights like I have, so she has no continuous exposure to this practice, hence I can’t fault her for relying on her personal experience and how she was raised. This is all part and parcel of how having an argument in marriage works, as I’ve heard from Rabbi Maybruch, that perspectives in these sorts of discussions are often colored by personal experience. Rabbi Maybruch suggested that I should be considerate of the fact that it could also be part of ASoG’s perspective that she saw experientially that the hostess was the one who took care of everything as part of her role of hosting guests.

What do you guys think? What has been your experience? Is it based on local custom? Is there a standard? I really want to hear other perspectives, so PLEASE comment away!

PS - In the end, things sort of resolved themselves when both guests refused to take 'no' for an answer and politely, but firmly gave us a selection of what each could bring. ASoG and I also decided jointly that in the future, we will hopefully always welcome guests' offers with open minds and a lot of appreciation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Canary In The Mine - What Would You Do?

Grey Area Alert!

Life is full of surprises, some good, some not-so-good, perhaps even bad. People face difficult choices throughout their lifetimes, and in some, perhaps many instances people will make mistakes. Hopefully these people will then learn from their actions, and therefore be more cautious when something similar inevitably comes up and they must confront that situation again.

Granted, experience, along with failure, are often the best teachers one can have. The simplest and most commonly cited example is the little kid who doesn't listen to mommy telling him that the stove top is hot, so he goes ahead and touches it, thus burning his cute, little finger and learning a lesson that will hopefully stay with him for the rest of his life.

Sometimes we need to fail in order to learn something about ourselves, about life, about how we can be better and therefore do better. Success is nice and certainly feels good, but someone who simply achieves everything they attempt without really trying, using minimal effort, and still somehow managing to succeed, isn't really learning anything.

But that's not really what I want to talk about in this post.

There is another means through which we can gain insight into life and how things work, and that is through another's example. Take an extreme case: Someone's friend gets killed (Rachmana Latzlan) in an automobile accident because he was texting while driving and thus not paying attention. For all the other youths the same age and especially the friends of the victim, a very harsh lesson should (I say should because not everyone is so sensible) be learned; that one does not text while driving, because you really put yourself at potential mortal risk and could die because of your inattention.

A less intense example could include seeing your friend run himself ragged studying for a test, staying up really late studying, throwing back caffeinated/energy drinks, and watching them go crazy, get no sleep, then fail the test the next day because of a lack of preparation. I don't think this is something that you'd really be willing to try afterward. Granted, you may need to test your own limits a bit, but to not take a step back and think, "Gee, maybe I shouldn't stay up so late before a final. Getting sleep is more important and better for me than running on chemicals to keep my exhausted body awake," would be a lost potential step toward self-improvement.

Then there's dating and marriage.

Everyone makes mistakes in dating. Even the guy who marries the first girl he ever goes out with. For the rest of us, who didn't or won't marry the first person we ever dated, learn from our experiences. Additionally, we go to/listen to shiurim, read books and blogs, talk to our friends, meet with our dating mentors/rabbeim/teachers, attend seminars, and basically do just about everything we can, to learn as much as we can, to supplement our first-hand experiential dating ventures.

There's often a lot to be said by people who have legitimately "been there before" in specific scenarios, and whose advice is worth hearing, and potentially taking into consideration. This does not mean that you need to take everything a particular individual, book, or rabbi says as absolute truth without critically evaluating their imparted wisdom to decide if it merits implementation in your quest for a spouse. Yes, there are also people out there who like to think they know everything, radiate arrogance and false expertise, and try to recruit you as one of their "chassidim" - but I would like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they can think for themselves and filter out these kinds of people.

Yet, what if someone you know isn't doing that? Or seeming can't do that?

What is your responsibility if a friend is doing something that you know is unhealthy for them, in one of a myriad ways, whether emotionally, psychologically, religiously, socially - or whatever? If you know, based on your own experience, or from seeing another person crash and burn by doing what your friend is doing, what is your obligation to intervene on some level? To try and offer advice, though you know they may very well intentionally ignore your helpful intentions, and that the whole attempt could backfire and just make the matter worse.

What do you do if you see someone you know not being themselves, that the happiness they are expressing if forced and marred by tension, to the point where they seem to be playing a part to please someone else, simply because that other person has strong feelings of “liking” them. It’s a psychologically supported notion that a person will respond positively toward another person (particularly in this area) when they know that the other person likes them. As such, it can be very easy to get sucked into an ongoing relationship with the altered mindset that your intentions are completely for the purpose of pleasing the other person, since their admiration feels so good emotionally – even at the cost of ignoring your own needs and wants.

True, in marriage, one is supposed to put the needs and wants of their spouses in a higher tier of consideration than their own. In a healthy spousal relationship, where there is reciprocal giving of this sort, then both husband and wife can focus on the other and still have their personal needs met. You don’t have to be selfishly concerned about getting what you want because you know that the other person loves you and wants to satisfy and fulfill you just as much as you want to do that for him/her.

But, in an unhealthy balance, one person can cling to the other, in essence losing him/herself as they allow their identity to be eclipsed and absorbed by their significant other. This process is usually quite fast, and the strong effects that accompany such an imbalance will firmly take root before one can realize what is transpiring. They lose the ability to take a step back, remove the rosy colored glasses that are blinding them, and consider the situation with a rational perspective.

Though this often happens in abusive relationships, where one person is intentionally trying to manipulate the other – and certainly this is a very unhealthy connection that must be severed – similar one-sidedness can occur where both parties are essentially good people without any abusive tendencies. I have heard from others, and witnessed it myself with a few friends, that this can be a primary cause for a broken engagement or early divorce. The reason for this stems from the enormous reality check that kicks them in the head saying, “What in the world is going on? What am I doing to myself?” after the amount of dependence on the other person becomes too much. Everyone’s threshold for this breaking point is different, and some “wake ups” can occur sooner than others.

Additionally, the healthy reciprocal giving I mentioned above is more primarily suited to marriage. In dating, nothing is certain until the ring is on the girl's finger and even then, real certainty doesn't set in (initially) until that second ring is on her finger after the chupah. Until that point where you've dated long enough, become comfortable enough, know the person well enough to be who you are in their presence, warts and all, and are still received with acceptance, affection and admiration, you can't be absolutely certain that marriage is the proper path for any particular relationship.

So if you see someone mired in this situation, and they cannot step back and meta-analyze their life, what are you supposed to do about it? What can you do when you see someone moving too fast, not thinking clearly enough, making rash decisions that affect the present and future, disrupt well thought out plans for the sake of momentary thrills of being with another person? When their happiness seems more like intoxication rather than the genuine joy you've seen them expressed throughout their life in other areas? When that other person seems to thoroughly brainwashed to a certain perspective, that it feels like your own efforts to get them to think for themselves will have no meaningful impression on them whatsoever?

I am not in any way suggesting that your own perspective on such an issue is the be-all to end all. In Judaism we don’t believe that anyone is infallible, as Rabbi Haim Angel says in shiur. We have no pope, and no one has the authority to tell us what is without having their statements evaluated.

In particular, I fondly recall a source Rabbi Angel always cites during his shiur that introduces his methodology of studying Tanach from Rav Avaham ben HaRambam (this is not an exact translation, but a quotation from in-class notes):

“You have to know that anyone who wishes to hold a certain opinion because of who says it without any critical evaluation at all – this is not emunat chachamim, this is terrible and assur min haTorah – and is also illogical. Uncritical thinking is not good and it’s not intellectually honest. Why is it assur min haTorah? – Because we believe that Torah is Truth because G-d revealed it, so therefore one who blinds himself to intellectual honesty is being dishonest in the pursuit of Truth.”

If this is true when it comes to the pursuit of Torah study, the truest pursuit of the truest wisdom, I think that we can certainly apply this to our everyday lives as well – especially when dating. Yes, one may have a particular rebbe or seminary teacher from their experience in Israel (or at YU, or wherever) that had tremendous impact on you, but why should that respect lead to the exclusion of any other source of potential advice of guidance? And even so, no matter how much you admire someone and what they taught you, they too are not infallible, and even what they say must be examined in a critical fashion to ascertain the truth of their words. If someone is truly genuine, then they will very often check out as worth listening to, and their credibility becomes established – but that doesn’t mean they are any more perfect than the next person out there.

Pirkei Avos 2:8 presents a long list of if-then pairings said by Hillel. Among them is “Marbeh eitzah – marbeh tevuna,” or “The more counsel, the more understanding.” It would stand to reason that while this is useful for every area in life, it is particularly useful for dating and making the decision of who one should marry. Many, many dating/marriage books that I’ve read, as well as shiurim I’ve heard, recommend that a person should introduce a potential significant other to people they respect, such as parents, teachers, rabbeim, family and friends and subsequently get their opinion of the person you’re dating and of the two of you as a couple. The more perspectives you hear, especially those who are unbiased and truly want the best for you, the greater the likelihood that the truth of how well things fit and the potential appropriateness of a relationship will be revealed.

Again, this is not to say that one’s own opinion does not matter. Ultimately, you should be the one choosing who you marry, and not because something looks good on paper and someone you know and trust is pushing you toward the chupah. That’s patently wrong, and people need to be far more aware of when this happens to them – especially post-seminary/yeshiva, when some young men and women never take what they've learned and practically applied it to their real world life.

If well meaning people reach out to you because they are concerned that you’re not doing these sorts of things, it is appropriate to give them the time of day. People can get very taken while dating, and start planning, strategizing, and making up absurd future goals – often at a very rapid pace – without realizing what they’re getting themselves into. The rosy colored glasses go on and are applied with superglue, which means it will probably hurt when those shades come off.

Marriage, even for the most prepared men and women, is a rude awakening to the stark nature of reality. All the fluffy clouds and rainbows that envelop a person’s conscious thoughts (and sub/unconscious thoughts as well) vanish as soon as the responsibilities and trials of marriage kick in. This isn’t to say that marriage is bad or not worthwhile, just that it requires a lot of work, is often stressful, and that the previously unknown can play a large role in the development of the marriage bond. It behooves everyone out there thinking about dating for marriage to seriously contemplate what marriage really is, by talking to as many people as you can, both before you begin, while you are going out, and certainly as you move toward engagement and the wedding itself.

Without proper, multi-faceted, and varied guidance, a person can stumble into the arrogance of either believing they know everything, or that one or two people know everything and that they must abide by their suggestions to the letter if they want to achieve happiness.

Everyone must know him/herself inside and out, in order to truly understand what marriage and responsible adult life (meaning supporting a family, having children, contributing to a community, etc) really means to them. No one wants to wake up one morning to a baby crying and think, “Oh my G-d, what have I done?” We should all do our best to avoid such a tragic circumstance.

In the end, the main thing is to think. To think for oneself, taking into consideration what others tell you because they want to help you not make the same mistakes they have, or that they have seen others make. This includes mentors, siblings, and above all parents, who, if they have a healthy relationship with their children, intrinsically have a deep understanding of what is good for their offspring. Even if there is a hashkafic difference between how you were raised and what you’ve grown into, the people who have known you the longest truly have one of the best understanding of who you are and what you’re about, religious observances aside.

Back to my central point: If you see someone you know and care about not doing this sort of thorough, rational, self-respectful/introspective thinking, what can you do to help them? Can you help them? Should you help them? Or is it better to sit back and let them make their own mistakes, regardless of what the consequences might be?

Monday, May 23, 2011

YU Don’t Connect #3 – Remind Me, How Does This Telephone Thing Work?

Welcome back to our ongoing feature of how to improve your YUConnects and Saw You at Sinai dating experience, which I have titled:

Y U Don't Connect - OR - How Not To Be Seen At Sinai.

Please be sure to check out the first and second posts.

Today’s post covers two aspects of an issue that plagues both shadchanim and daters: Lack of courtesy in establishing/maintaining contact by phone.

Part 1:

On occasion, ASoG and I have been fortunate enough to achieve a mutual match, wherein both the guy and girl have checked out the other party’s profile and decided to accept the suggestion. Once the second person clicks the accept button, YUConnects/Saw You at Sinai sends out an automated email containing both numbers, along with the message that the guy should make contact within a short period of time.

It seems simply right? Wrong.

ASoG and I simply don’t understand why guys tend to drag their heels like crazy when it comes to making that first call. Granted, a first phone call is nerve-wracking, but it really shouldn’t be more than a “Hello, how are you? When are you available to go out? I have a few ideas of what we could do, please let me know what you’d prefer.” Scheduling the first phone call can be practically annoying as well, because it is rather silly to call the girl up and ask, “Hello, when will you be free to talk about our first date?” Or the cringe-worthy opener, “Hello, this is so-and-so, is now a good time?"

A much less complicated approach, which I used when I was dating, is to just text the girl and say “Hi, it’s Ploni Almoni from YUConnects. Could you please let me know when/what time would be good to call you to discuss the first date?”

For some reason however, this doesn’t get done so readily. We get calls or emails from girls asking what’s going on, it’s been several days to a week since the phone numbers were sent out and they haven’t heard a peep from Mr. Phone-a-phobe. In our effort to be as helpful as possible, we contact the guy and ask him what the deal is. Every single time we’ve received some lame excuse that in no way vindicates his lack of courtesy in leaving the girl hanging.

By the time we’ve basically yelled at the guy (not quite, though we are quite firm in giving him a bit of mussar), the girl has begun to lose interest because the guy is clearly not quite the mentsch-type if he can’t think about the girl’s feelings while he goes about his business ignoring her. While most times the guy will call right after we hang up, apologize profusely, and things go forward from there, there have been instances where he continued to dilly-dally and the girl got a better offer and dropped him, much to his (self inflicted) disappointment.

Lesson #1 – Guys should ALWAYS call/text the girl ASAP after a mutual match is approved. It really doesn’t take much effort to send a text inquiring her availability for a phone call. Without this first step, no one’s going to connect to anybody since they’ve forced an awkward non-starter.

Point 2:

As soon as we find out that we have a soon-to-be dating couple, we make sure to reach out to each party and let them know we’re there to help in any way we can, including being their go-between for the first few dates, or fielding any questions and responding to issues that may arise as dating goes on.

Many times, no one even responds to this friendly email, so the couple goes out some random number of times and ends the shidduch without telling us anything. We end up emailing them to find out what the deal was, or we try contacting them while they are dating to check up on them and still get no response.

This sort of situation has also led to some awkward and hastily concluded matches because one of the two parties suddenly gets antsy after the first, second, or third date, wants to end the shidduch, but can’t bring him/herself to do so.

Now, I firmly believe this is why the shadchanim are there and why they should be involved in the first few dates. Once a relationship has been established, at say 4-5 dates, then the couple should be comfortable enough to discuss things amongst themselves (following the State of the Union Address), and using an intermediary to decide if there is a next date (or not) is entirely unnecessary. The problem is that people think that this method is archaic, too “frum,” stupid, or whatever, and overestimate their abilities to give a face-to-face or over-the-phone direct rejection.

In this case, the culprits are almost equally divided between male and female. A concerned dater emails/calls to update us on how things are going, and he/she usually say something along the lines of, “I had a great date (or two) with X, there was good conversation, the attraction’s there, and I’m excited for our next date. But, he/she hasn’t been responding to my calls/texts and I’ve already left several voicemails that were unanswered.”

The attention required here from our end is usually more direct, so we (usually me) call the MIA dater and politely ask how things are going. The usual response is that things have been pretty good, but he/she has decided that the other person really isn’t for him/her. We’ll often have a bit of a chat about what bothers them and if their decision is definite, which it almost always is, and then I question why they haven’t been in contact with the other person. Then I hear him/her waffling on the other side of the line, only to come up with some lame excuse that they were sick, had phone trouble, out of town, or busy with work/school.

Were they honestly so busy that they couldn’t send a text or make a brief call to update the other person? And if they honestly didn’t want to continue, why let the other person sit there for days (or weeks) thinking that things were going well, only to decide to drop the bomb on them later? Of course, that job is one that we usually have to do because they’ve suddenly lost their nerve.

I’m a big advocate for using the shadchanim/connectors as go betweens for the first few dates. ASoG and I can’t force anyone to work with us as intermediaries, which is why we offer but don’t demand to be involved. However, if you as a dater decide you don’t need us, be consistent in your bevahior and courteous enough to let the other person know if you have decided to end the relationship. DO NOT drop off the face of the Earth because you’ve suddenly become a super hero by the name of Captain Awkward and need to spend your time avoiding your date. It isn’t right, it isn’t nice, and it certainly won’t help you develop any people skills as you become a more experienced dater.

Lesson #2: Once a shidduch has begun, guys AND girls should never leave the other person in the dark without contact for any extended period of time. Send that text, make that call, or better yet, use your shadchanim from the start like you’re supposed to.

Communication is key. If you can’t learn to effectively communicate now, then you’re in for some real trouble after the chuppah. If all the singles out there would simply learn to be a little more respectful and courteous of their fellow daters, the shidduch world would be a better place.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Maccabeats At The White House

Wow, two Maccabeats posts in a row, I must be crazy, right?

Anyway, I'm definitely not the first person to post the news about this. Heck, even though I had heard about the performance at the White House, I didn't even know when the Maccabeats performing, so I totally missed it because I was on my way to and then davening Mincha (a good excuse, I suppose).

For those (like me) who missed the actual streaming video, here are some recorded versions from Youtube, though I am not sure the exact order of performance other than the last one:

UPDATE: YU has posted the concert in its entirety here:

If you still want to see individual songs, I'll keep the old videos:


"The Purim Song"

"Lecha Dodi"

"Wavin' Flag" and "One Day"

I have to say that I'm immensely proud of these guys. It's hard to put into words the immense nachas I get from seeing how popular and world-reknown the Maccabeats have become.

Howeber, my interest and continued support has only a little to do with their incredible talent and the music they produce (and I do enjoy their music immensely). In reality, I am truly amazed by their accomplishments as representatives of Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodox Judaism, and Jews as a whole. The Maccabeats aren't just some kitschy college a capella group that made it big because of a one-hit youtube video. One personal and group levels, they exemplify what it means to be bnei Torah and provide concrete, positive examples of what Torah observant Jews can and should be.

In a world where Judaism is getting dragged downward with assimilation and apathy, where other "denominations" that try to "update" or "fix" our faith by making changes they feel are necessary to make Judaism fit modern society, where Israel is constantly berated in the public news sphere for ridiculous things - The Maccabeats are a pristine example of the application of Torah Umadda philosophy at its best.

These young men attend or graduated from Yeshiva University, an institution that strives to produce graduates, both men and women, who will go out an engage the world, making it a better place, while at the same time upholding the halacha and mesora Jews have received and practiced f0r millenia. Being an "influential" Jew does not mean you wield political power, have tons of money to buy your way in business, or gain immense popularity because you seek to attract the attention the masses to inflate your ego.

To truly be a meaningfuly influential Jew, you have to be firmly invested in the Truth of our Torah, and live your life with meaning, being an example to others of how it's possible to be upright, honest, and moral, yet still engaging in the world. The world isn't a bad place by nature, although our modern societies have sunk pretty low in many ways. That doesn't mean we need to retreat into segregated enclaves and wait for the world to die as we maintain a private life of personal "sanctity" at the cost of losing everyone else around us.

The Maccabeats didn't set out to become this famous, but as things tend to, and should happen, people notice the things that are real, convincing, and meaningful and search out for that greater connection to spirituality and G-d that they lack in their lives. It doesn't matter what circumstances have lead someone to the more physical, ephemeral lifestyle in which they find themselves, truly genuine people will take note of people, events, and other things that ring true then grab onto them, holding on for dear life. There is such a vacuum of meaningful, educated spirituality in the world today, and the Maccabeats have tapped into that latent desire for more than the fleeting pleasures that most people occupy themselves with every day of their lives.

Yes, I have voiced my support for the Maccabeats twice before, and I will continue to do so. The fact that the President of the United States (regardless of your personal opinion of him) welcomed them to the White House to perform as part of a ceremony commemorating Jewish American Heritage Month - speaks volumes about what they've accomplished, and G-d willing, will continue to accomplish for the public image and acceptance of American (and world) Jewry.

Here's a short story involving another president that emphasizes my point about The Maccabeats' impact:

A friend told me a story that his rabbi told him, which occured at a wedding the rabbi attended earlier this year. The chosson and rabbi were from out of town, and it just so happens that the rabbi sat next to Yeshiva University President Richard Joel during the chupa. While they were waiting for the ceremony to start, people kept coming over and talking to President Joel, referring to him as "Mr. President."

After a while, the rabbi, who has no affiliation with YU whatsoever, got curious and asked why they keep calling the man next to him "Mr. President." The rabbi had assumed that he must have been a president of a big shul or something, so he was a bit shocked when President Joel replied that he was president of Yeshiva University.

The rabbi was hashkafically yeshivish, and his thus only real connection to YU (aside from the chosson) was of course, The Maccabeats. He told President Joel that he really liked their music and also enjoyed their videos. President Joel thanked him and remarked, "You know what the best part about them is? Each one of them is a ben Torah." The rabbi was very impressed by the response and has subsequently thought more highly of YU and The Maccabeats because of it.

The Maccabeats truly represent the values espoused by Yeshiva University, and I am quite proud of everything they have achieved thus far, and I hope they will further influence and inspire Jews (and gentiles) accross The United States and the world for many years to come.

Keep up the good work, guys!

P.S. Don't forget to check out my speculation about the in-the-works second Maccabeats album.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Speculation: Maccabeat's Second Album

Update 1/26/12 - The Maccabeats have hinted on their Facebook status that their 2nd album is almost done!

As many people know, the production of the second Maccabeats album was derailed by the success of "Candlelight." We also know that their second professionally released collection (to the exclusion of the mp3 only "Candelight" and "Purim Song" was indeed in production. We now find ourselves in the midst of Sefiras HaOmer, otherwise known as the season for Jewish A Cappella.

We do have a few new releases, including Six13's fourth album "Zmanim" and "A Kumzitz in the Rain." What I would like to examine now is the hypothetical contents of the Maccabeats as of yet incomplete and unreleased follow-up to their very successful "Voices From The Heights."

Since "Voices From The Heights" came out last year right before Pesach, The Maccabeats have expanded their repertoire with a number of new songs. Some seem like the perfect fit to be included on their new album in-the-making, while others might not make the cut. I honestly have no clue what's really going to be there on that CD when you buy it sometime in the future, but let's take a look at the possibilities.

Caveat: this entire post is PURE SPECULATION. Take all of this with a huge grain of salt.

We'll start with the obvious choices, such as Shwekey's "Rau Banim:"

The Maccabeats sang this with Shwekey in concert, and it's a popular song in it's own right. No one else has recorded it as an A Cappellla version, so I would be shocked if it wasn't included.

The same goes for "Yavo" by the Miami Boys Choir:

And "Come Back" originally performed by the Moshav Band:

As I mentioned in my recent post about YU's Yom Hashoah program, the Maccabeats performed two amazing songs, "Habet," originally by Aish on their first album and "Last Night," which I can't seem to find the origins for. Neither is on Youtube at the moment, though I imagine videos exists and will get uploaded at some point and I'll make sure to add them when I see them. Both were fantastic, especially the spine-tingly rendition of "Habet," which has always been such an awesomely powerful song.

Update (5/19/11 1:30 PM) - A reader sent me a link to the YU Yom Hashoa program, so there ARE videos of "Habet" and "Last Night." Or watch the video below and skip to 18:05 and 37:06:

There are other Jewish cover songs the Maccabeats have sang on occasion, such as another song from the Miami Boys Choir, "Ani Ma'amin:"

There's also Maccabeats' version of Six13's Al Hanissim:

I discovered a recent video of The Maccabeats singing "V'hi She'amda" from their Pesach concert in Miami:

So that puts us up to 8 potential songs. "Voices From The Heights" had 12 songs, 9 of which were Jewish (I'm including "Arim Roshi," "Ma Avarech," and "Hatikva" here), 1 of which was a medley and 1 was an "original" application of a semi-secular tune to Jewish words, namely "Lecha Dodi." There were then 3 secular cover songs, though I wouldn't really read anything into the fact that one was a Disney song and "One Day" could be viewed as quasi-Jewish because it was originally performed by Matisyahu.

This leaves us with 4-ish remaining slots to fill, depending if more than 12 songs are included. I've seen some Jewish Music albums with as high as 14 songs, so it is possible...

I am unaware of any particular medley that The Maccabeats might have in the works. They DO have an old Chanukah medley which might work.

This would allow them to include Al Hanissim and perhaps a touch of Candlelight (see more on that song later).

There are several new secular song covers that the Maccabeats have added to their repertoire since the first album. There are 4 in particular that stand out in my mind.

Starting off, there's Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," which I think is particularly neat-sounding, in terms of the arrangments and vocal percussion:

The 2nd of the 4 songs seems like a shoo-in "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, which is an extremely popular song because of the TV show "Glee," and it generally very, very popular among The Maccabeats' biggest fan base, high school girls:

However, I think it might not make it is because the lyrics don't necessarily jive well with a typical Sameach Music release. This point may apply to "Viva la Viva" as well.

Thirdly, we have "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan (interesting name I must say), which The Maccabeats have paired up with "One Day" at their live performances:

I think it's certainly a nice "One Day" type song which would fit nicely on their 2nd album.

Lastly, there is "When You Believe," from "The Prince of Egypt." It has a nice Disney-ish quality to it.

Of the 4 new secular songs, I think "Wavin' Flag" is the most likely to appear on the album.

So if we include those 4 secular covers, we're have more than enough potential songs. Where does that leave us?

What about "Candlelight" and "The Purim Song?" Yes, it would be a very easy thing to include them, and Six13 actually did that on their recently released 4th album, though one could make a distinction between "I Light It" and "P-A-S-S-O-V-E-R" since the later was released as a youtube video to promote the upcoming album.

However, does it make any sense to do that? To a degree, since the songs are already finished, ready-to-go, and are guaranteed popular. But, might consumers be a little tired of them by now? Most people probably have purchased the "Candlelight" mp3 single, and I imagine a large number of Jewish Music consumers also bought "The Purim Song." Including it on the CD is kind of like a bit of a slap, since you've already paid for it once. I certainly felt that way when other artists have done that, such as Shasheles 3 including the single "Dreaming," which was originally sold as a single on a CD to raise money for tzedaka. Granted, I don't regret giving money to a worthy cause and benefitting from the song while doing so, but including it on the album took away a lot of the specialness of the single CD.

On the other hand, it is smart because it will still expose more people to "The Purim Song" since not as many people saw the video on youtube compared to "Candlelight." The same goes for the few people who've been living in a cave since early November and have no clue what "Candlelight" is. Or, for those who haven't played the song in months (or by the time the album comes out, perhaps well over a year), it'll be a nice revival of sorts, kind of like when you set your iPod to shuffle and encounter an old favorite you haven't heard in a long while.

There are also some songs out there that I think are less likely to make the album for several reasons, some comically so.

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" dates back to the Maccabeats earlier days when they were just another nerdy college A Capella group:

Yeah, I wouldn't bet on this one, as fun as it is live.

Anyway, as I mentioned at the start of this post, the likelihood of any particular song I've listed above being included on the album is totally speculative. Some of the Jewish songs are more than likely not really album worthy, so the list of selected songs is probably far from complete. I hope the Maccabeats can find time in their busy schedules to work on getting their next CD released, though it probably won't happen until next sefira.

Until then, enjoy watching/listening to these videos and imagine the possibilities.

P.S. I am totally aware that the Maccabeats performed at the White House on Tuesday. I will be writing a separate post about that shortly, I've just had this one in the works for a while and it took time to gather all the Youtube videos.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is The World Really Crazy?

I know, I know - I really should expect no better from the world media with their Anti-Israel bias, especially with how readily they lap up all the drivel being spewed about the Arab Nakhba and how horrible the occupying Israelis are and have always been. But I feel like ranting, so there.

Yesterday, the NY Times decided to publish an op-ed piece by none other than Mahmoud Abbas, "the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority." You can read this garbage here. In it, good ol' Mahmoud utterly ignores recorded history, like how Arab nations decided to wipe out Israel the day it was declared a state by the UN, in favor of dishing out a superbly fictionalized account of how Palestinians have been victimized ignored, and never given a chance to have their own land (how could he forget Clinton's deal which would have given the Palestinians 95% of the territory they wanted, which Arafat rejected because of his own hatred and stupidity?).

For all this talk about Palestinians returning to their homeland, what about the "nakhba" of the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from their home countries?

Why doesn't this little gem about a 92 year old Arab woman fondly remembering the killing spree in Chevron make news? Or why doesn't anyone care to remember the fact that Arabs massacring Jews has been a favorite past time since before the State of Israel was ever founded?

What about all the garbage about claiming the Temple Mount has always been a Muslim site, and that Jews are trying to create a false history there, when in fact Palestinians have been doing the exact thing they're crying foul about for years?

Better yet, please read this. It's an historically accurate article detailing the exact nature of what Jews seem to have known all along, which th rest of the world ignores: the entire Palestinian plight is an invention created and continually carried out by the Arab nations as a means to destroy Israel.

I'm not in any way denying that there are Palestinian "refugees" who are suffering in the West Bank and elsewhere. Human suffering is unacceptable, no matter what - we Jews more than anyone else know what it's like to be mistreated, beaten, and enslaved. But, the fact of the matter remains - those truly responsible for all this mess are not the ones who get the fingers pointed at them. It's not Israel's fault, it's not the Jews fault.

I know that this post and the time I took to write it is basically for naught, but it's time that the world really recognizes the well-executed conspiracy that has been plaguing Jews and Israel for the last 63 years, and even before that.

I personally don't agree whatsoever with the opinions out there in the Jewish world that say Israel shouldn't exist and that we should support our enemies on the matter. But I do wonder if the small kernal of truth in their words has manifested in the nations of the world's bias against Israel - to the point of lying to themselves and even believing those lies.

May Moshiach come soon so that the light of Emes can shine, Bnei Yisrael will live rightfully in its G-d given homeland, and the world will stop living a life full of lies and fiction.

Update (5/19/11) - two "truthful" revisions of Abbas' NYT article can be found at Elder of Zion and American Thinker. Yashar Koach for speaking for reality, and brightening my mood a bit about all this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Single? Who, Me?

I received a phone call this afternoon from a woman I did not know. She spoke very quickly, firing off several sentences that I failed to understand because of her rapid speech pattern. I did, however, manage to hear the words "shadchan," "Saw You At Sinai," and something about a shidduch suggestion.

I politely asked her to repeat herself, since I figured she was calling me as a fellow SYAS/YUConnects matchmaker to ask about one of the guys or girls that ASoG and I work with. However, when she began to re-say what she had told me, it turned out to be an entirely different story.

She reintroduced herself as a shadchan for SYAS, and that she had recently met with a friend who was also a shadchan and got my name from her little black book. She had a shidduch idea for me and wanted to know if I was available to hear more in order to gauge my interest.

I quickly covered the phone's input and laughed out loud, giving ASoG an incredulous look (she had no clue what was going on, but I told her after I hung up). I told the woman that I was very flattered, but I that I was already married. She was a bit taken aback, clearly confused that her information had been out of date. She asked me when we got married, and I told her it was X months ago (not yesterday or last week, mind you) - and I could almost see her embarrassed expression as she fumbled over her words to figure out how to gracefully end the conversation.

So she decided to ask who my wife was, I told her, and she didn't have a clue. It was a nice try, but she failed in the Jewish Geography department. She wished us much bracha and mazal tov and hung up as fast as she could.

Now, I will admit that I've made a similar mistake before by approaching an acquaintance here at YU and asking if he was available for a shidduch suggestion, only to discover that he recently became engaged. Though I was also a bit embarrased, I honestly didn't know the guy well enough that I'd be on his "must call" list to announce the news. Nor am I someone who regularly visits Only Simchas to find out the latest news on who got engaged and who got married.

However, not knowing someone has been engaged, married, and had their YUConnects account deactivated is a little much. I wonder who the other shadchan was that was the source of my contact info.

Anyway, one friend of mine actually made this same mistake with a guy he sort of knew who was also learning in Lakewood. He approached him one morning after Shacharis and told him that his wife had a friend in mind that might be worth looking into. The guy replied to my friend with a wink and said he'd have to ask his wife first. My friend immediately apologized and slunk away, embarrassed.

Has this happened to any of the engaged/married folks out there? If so, please share your own story of someone discovering your already taken status.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chag Sameach... Today? Tomorrow?

Chag Sameach... sort of!

Yes, while today is the 5th of Iyar, the true calendarical date of the declaration of the creation of the modern State of Israel, the commemoration, starting with Yom HaZikaron, were pushed on a day, in consideration of preventing chilul Shabbos in preparation for any Yom HaZikaron events taking place on Motzei Shabbos.

Last year I was unaware of the day-shifting and accidentally said tachanun on the 5th of Iyar. I'm am happy to report that I didn't make the same mistake again this morning, since my chevrusa thankfully reminded me of pushing-off last night. Further, the gabbai of the minyan where I davened Shacharis knocked on the bima and continued from chazaras hashatz to the layning, skipping over tachanun. There was no hallel said, though it was announced they would say hallel without a bracha tomorrow, the celebrated day of Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

I wrote at length about my views on Yom Ha'atzma'ut last year - please check it out if you have a chance. I don't have too much to add, but I wanted to point out a few things.

First off, everyone should read Rabbi Maryle's post on Emes Ve-Emunah on the subject of hakaras hatov on Yom Ha'atzma'ut, which I think is a great, very well written piece.

Second, Aish.com has created a great lip-sync video for K'naan's song "Wavin' Flag," which is fantastic (the video contains music):

Back to my own additional chiddush for this year. Related to an idea I that dawned on me during my Yom Hashoah-inspired meditations in my Ma'ariv Shemonah Esrei (see the bottom), I had a bit of a revelation during Shacharis this morning.

I was looking for some personal insight to make my davening more meaningful instead of being another wrote repetition of prayers I had said many times before - this is a particular point I've been working on more since that greatly influential Ma'ariv Shemonah Esrei. While reciting the bracha of Teka B'Shofar Gadol it hit me.

In this particular bracha, we ask for HaShem to have the great shofar sounded, the one which will herald the arrival of Moshiach and the beginning of the Messianic Age of world peace along with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. Though we have yet to hear this great and powerful shofar blast heralding Moshiach's imminent revelation, I do think that the rest of the bracha has (at least) begun to materialize in the last 63 years.

We ask HaShem to raise the neis (banner/flag) that will be the sign to gather in our exiled brethren. We request that HaShem will then gather all of these dispersed Jews from the four corners of the Earth, and conclude with bracha that declares HaShem's role as the One who gathers the dispersed ones of His nation Yisrael.

Pausing to think about the words composed by Chazal centuries ago, I couldn't help but envision the Israeli flag as a fulfillment of this longed for prayer:

(Picture courtesy of Wikimedia)

We have literally seen Jews from all over the world return to their homeland. On this point, I don't care whether it was motivated by religious conviction, secular philosophy, government invervention (IE for Russian and Ethiopian Jews), getting kicked out by Arabs from their homes, or any other reason anyone has had to go home. It is abundantly clear to me that the Yad HaShem has been at work, and we are finally seeing movements at work which will lead to the Messianic era when all Jews will live in their homeland and world peace will reign supreme.

Yes, Israel isn't perfect. We can all understand that, even the most ardent Zionists out there. There is no reason any Jew living today should not commemorate the founding of the state in some fashion - to each his/her own in terms of level of celebration and expression.

May we celebrate many more commemorations of Yom Ha'atzma'ut, may those celebrations be eclipsed by the celebrations that will take place when the final geulah will be complete, and we can all join together as one nation saying Hallel in the Beis Hamikdash for the great wonders HaShem has done for us.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On A Lighter Note

Having a wife who wears sheitals can be both fun and difficult.

It's amusing how girls often think that once they get married and get their sheitals, they never have to worry about doing their hair ever again, since they can simply just don their fancy new "hair" and look great in under a minute. Of course, as ASoG has mentioned to me on numerous occasions - keeping sheitals looking good takes a lot of work, as much, if not more work than her own hair's upkeep when we were dating. She discovered this little fact to her abject horror shortly after we got married. It's a wonder that she believed the lie for so long and that none of her married friends told her beforehand.

So I guess all you guys out there with wives who exclusively wear bandanas, mitpachot, hats or whatever have one less thing to worry about - or to hear complaints about :-O (just kidding, ASoG).

But sheitals can be hilarious as well.

ASoG just had hers washed and "done" for the second (I think?) time since we got married after they became somewhat frazzled from residing in shoeboxes during a long road trip over the Pesach break. I held both sheital-covered styrofoam heads (with their scary long necks) riding back from the sheital washer/stylist lady while ASoG drove (as an out-of-towner, I'm honestly a bit frightened, and certainly not aggressive enough to drive these dangerous streets in New York). I proceeded to puppeteer the sheital heads into a funny and absurd conversation between themselves and us, along with appropriately bad high-pitched female voices. I don't think I've ever seen ASoG laugh so hard. Thankfully, she was able to maintain her composure behind the wheel.

Anyway, we arrived at our building and I hopped out to put the sheitals back in our apartment before we went to park. I made sure to go slowly and with great caution so as not to mishandle or harm the newly "done" sheitals. Of course, this meant the trip up and down would be atle longer than if I was merely running without anything in my hands. I took the opportunity to be a little creative and pull a prank.

I know some women like to doodle on their sheital heads, adding eyes, scars and facial hair, or so ASoG tells me, but my wife has chosen to keep hers as pristine as possible. An ingenious idea dawned on me - if I can't directly add a mustache to the sheital heads, I may as well attach something that is removable, though appears permanent, and will have the same comedic effect.

Pay close attention, husbands and future husbands, you might want to try this one day.

I quickly ran over to our pile of sticky-note pads, grabbed a black Sharpie and colored over the sticky section at the top of two pages. I then trimmed the black strips into mustache shapes and affixed them to ASoG's sheital heads. The result of my 2-minute arts and craft project was this:

Voila!(Sorry for the picture quality - it's from my cell phone).

Upon my return, ASoG asked what took so long - and I joked about having dropped the sheitals and needing to rearrange them.

That has actually happened before during one particularly rushed Friday afternoon when I was bringing all of our packed Shabbos belongings, including her sheital head, by myself to meet our ride who subsequently picked up ASoG at a different location.

Back on topic, ASoG could tell I was joking, but she had no clue what to expect when we got back to our apartment. Granted, her discovery of the mustachioed sheital heads was funnier for me than her, but it was totally worth the time and effort (at least in my view).

So there you have it, a fun sheital joke/arts and craft project that could be done by any husband out there. Has anyone else messed around with their wife's sheital head? If anyone decides to try this out, please let me know the results in a comment.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some Thoughts For Yom Hashoah 5771

Update (5/19/11):
Rebbetzin Jungreis' website, Hineni has
posted an excerpt from this piece.

Also, Yeshiva University has posted the entire program on youtube.

Be forewarned, this is a long, very heartfelt post.

I’ve never had any real connection to the Holocaust. Thank G-d, my great grandparents on both sides of my family came to America after World War I and before the insanity of World War II began. Both sets of my grandparents were born in my hometown, and even my extended relatives who themselves had accents or were originally from the “old country” safely reached American shores before the flames engulfed Europe.

Sure, we always had a Holocaust memorial program at the local JCC. My day school participated in a literature/art contest sponsored by the JCC, with prizes going to the top paintings, drawings, poems and short stories written by local students. I even won first place in the poetry division when I was in 5th grade. I remember being so bone-rattling nervous when I had to ascend the stage in the large auditorium and read my poem from the lectern. I wish I had a copy of the poem accessible, because I would love to take a glimpse into what my little 10-11 year old mine grasped of the horrific magnitude of the European churban.

Though I forget the title, I do remember it was written from the perspective of a little boy (such as I was at that time), reciting a list of his many relatives, probably ten or twelve, and how they met their death at the hands of the wicked Nazis; from the ghetto to the train to the concentration camps themselves and everywhere along the way during the fateful and fatal process. However, I distinctly remember the conclusion, which spoke of the boy’s need to remember all their names and stories, since he was the last remaining member of his family. The ending depicted the determined little boy pledging to live to carry on the memories of those he lost, because if he did not survive: “Who would remember… for me?”

Last night, ASoG and I attended Yeshiva University’s Yom Hashoah 5571 program, which featured Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis as the keynote speaker. The event was held in Lamport Auditorium (the same venue that houses the Chanukah concert and Yom HaZikaron/Yom Ha’atzma’ut ceremony). As I expected, every seat in the room was filled. I don’t think I attended any of the other Yom Hashoah programs from the past years that I’ve attended YU, which have primarily been on a smaller scale, but I am truly glad and grateful that I was able to attend this one.

In short, it was perhaps the most inspiring hour and forty five minutes of my life.

It takes a lot to say such cliché things, and most people tend to over-emphasize a number of relatively unimportant moments they’ve experienced, or rack up a list of such moments, each replacing the last as the superficiality of the previous event becomes apparent in light of the more recent, seemingly more meaningful one, which will also be replaced in time.

I spent two years in yeshiva in Israel, davened at the kotel more times than I can remember, davened vasikin at the graves of our forefathers and mothers at Ma’aras Hamachpela, and heard divrei Torah from many of our gedolim. I unfortunately did not attend my yeshiva’s trip to Poland, in shana aleph because ym parents didn’t let me, and in shana bet because I wanted to focus on my learning, a decision I greatly regret now. Even with all the inspirational experiences I did have, I really have to say that last night meant more to me, and put so much of my life into perspective and more meaning to my personal struggles in the past and present than any of those previous significant experiences. One could argue that it may very well be circumstantial, since I am now far more learned, experienced, and understand more of Judaism, Torah, and my relationship with HaShem because of those moments, each of which built upon the other. Only at this moment, having advanced so far in my journey within the realm of Judaism, beginning from my involved traditional background until now where I have been learning in yeshiva in some form for the past 7 years of my life, could I absorb the words, music, and lessons I heard last night.

Or, one could say that my benefit from last night’s event was not at all circumstantial, but part of a deliberate process that has prepared me for the moment that I sat down in my seat, which lead me to wish the program wouldn’t end, and concluded with the most inspired Ma’ariv I’ve ever davened in my life.

As I mentioned before, I’ve attended numerous Yom Hashoah programs in the past, but they have not have been as impactful as last night. Perhaps this can be attributed to the atmosphere that pervaded Lamport Auditorium. Once the first speaker took the podium and announced the American National Anthem, right on through the following presentations, readings, Maccabeats performances, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis’ soul-stirring words, the unified togetherness of singing “Ani Ma’amin” with an entire room full of hundreds of people of all ages, to the very last verse of Hatikva at the end – the entire room was focused, respectful, and aware of the significance of the moment. I personally didn’t hear any talking among the audience, it was as though every single person truly understand what it meant to be there, and no one allowed his/her attention to stray. Or maybe it was just my own personal feelings of inspiration that blocked out the world.

At any rate, what permeated this particular Yom Hashoah program was the centrality of Torah, how we have survived because of our adherence to Mitzvah observance and that we must increase our dedication to serving G-d in order to perpetuate the memory of those who gave their lives al kiddush HaShem. Every other Yom Hashoah program, while it may have featured an opening and closing convocation from a local rabbi (Orthodox and otherwise), did not embody the Torah perspective and how being Torah observant is synonymous with being Jewish. I always felt a distinct sense of emptiness when attending those events, and now I know exactly why. It is certainly nice, and appropriate for non-observant Jews to do their part to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust, but to not put it into the proper context leaves something very much lacking.

At the start of the program, the Maccabeats’ rendition of the American National Anthem put our current lives into perspective, as the student introducing them reminded us how appropriate it was for us to sing it at this time. I initially thought he was referring to the death of Osama bin Laden (a topic which probably deserves its own post), but I suddenly realized he was referring to where we were, as Jews, in a nation that has unprecedented levels of tolerance and acceptance for Jews, where we have made ourselves at home and been allowed to freely practice our religion, flourish as a religiously observant, and sadly, to assimilate without retributive persecution – all quite unlike the 6 million of our brothers and sisters we were there to remember.

Rabbi Blau’s recitation of Yizkor, a prayer that I admit I am quite unfamiliar with – though I am pretty sure it was modified to include all the references to the victims of the Holocaust instead of containing the mention of deceased relatives as the standard version said on Yom Tov has. The magnitude of our loss really hit me when I heard Rabbi Blau recite several different numeric terms that eventually added up to six million (I forget the exact terminology), which made me realize that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t even have a word for “million.” It was almost a literal expression of our loss of words for the enormity of loss of life we suffered at the hands of the wicked Nazis. This was in distinction to Rabbi Reiss’ recitation of Kel Maleh Rachamim toward the end of the program, wherein he used the term “million’a” as well as other more modern Hebrew words, which I thought was a nice transition into the singing of Hatikvah – a song that stirs within us gratitude for our homeland and the potential it brings us.

The video presentation was, for me, almost a seder-like experience of reliving the suffering of our European brethren. It started off talking about the wonderful life the Jews had before the rise of the Nazi regime, how they were well integrated, accepted, wealthy, happy, content, and hopeful for a better future (in contrast to the violent past such as the inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, etc that plagued us). Yet, that all came crashing down in a nightmare of unparalleled proportions with a death machine unmatched by anything the world has seen before or since. It also made me realize how much of a joke it is to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi concentration camps. When was the last time Arabs living in the West Bank were forced to wear crescents of Islam on their shirts to be identified on the streets, crowded like animals into cattle cars for weeklong journeys without food and water, or sent up in smoke after being gassed like vermin? It makes me sick thinking about the liberal self-hating Jews who betray their own people by adding to the ridiculous propaganda out there spread by other ignoramuses in the international media. But, I digress.

Watching and hearing the Maccabeats perform “Habet” chilled me to the core. They silently lined up on stage for each song, sang their hearts out to a hushed audience, and then returned to their seats without a single clap. Granted, it was probably very inappropriate to do so at that time, but the fact that everyone complied with that unspoken sentiment was moving. Music truly is the language of the soul, and mine was soaring each time they granted us the opportunity to appreciate the solemnity of the occasion through their beautiful vocal arrangements. I’ve always found the song “Habet,” particularly the version the Maccabeats sang, which is from Aish, to truly represent the core of that particular tefillah which we say during tachanun. We remind HaShem to pay attention to how we are slaughtered like sheep, how we endure indescribable suffering and death, because of our belief in Him – and yet, we do not forget Him and His Holy Name. We beg Him, in turn, not to forget us. It’s one of the most powerful prayers ever composed, in my very humble and unimportant opinion.

“Habet,” along with “Last Night,” “Hatikvah” and the prayers said by Rabbi Blau and Rabbi Reiss struck a chord with me. Often with Jewish music, I sometimes pay more attention to the music itself, unintentionally ignoring the words and their meaning. By allowing myself to become absorbed in the music while remaining very aware of the translation of the Hebrew words in my head, I understood a huge difference between our prayers and those of our enemies, such as the ones we see quoted in the papers all the time as absurd sound bites from radical, militaristic, Islamist terrorists. They always talk of needing to kill others, take bloody revenge against devils, and of course the fulfillment of their boasts leads to the loss of innocent life. They praise murderers, create mythic stories about sordid individuals who committed suicide or died in a gun battle after slaughtering innocents, including children – sometimes hundreds or thousands of people who had no reason to deserve such horrible ways to end their lives.

On the total opposite end of the spectrum, l’havdil eleph alphei havdalos, are our prayers. We turn to G-d with our raw pain for the loss of innocent life, true martyrs whose only reason they died was because of their unwavering faith, or often in spite of what faith they may claim not to have, but merely because they are identified as coming from His people, Am Yisrael. We ask that their memory not be forgotten, and that G-d Himself, the True Arbiter of justice, the only One who can dispense reward and punishment with the utmost sense of righteousness, strike the wicked down, removing such cancers from our world. We don’t vow revenge and take innocent life in senseless acts of hatred – because we are better than that, because our tradition tells us so, and our G-d is indescribably just. I’ll elaborate a further on this point a little later.

The student speaker, Josh Abramson, shared stories from his own experience visiting concentration camps with his yeshiva, Torat Shraga, and moving interactions he’s had with survivors. For example, the man who survived the war and chose to continue to live in Poland, who Josh met while davening in his shul. The man worked in the kitchen at the concentration camp he was interred at, and risked his life to steal extra food to give to his friends. Josh recalled that his fellow students asked the man two questions 1) Why did he risk his life with these heroic acts to feed others, to which he replied that it was the simply the right thing to do. 2) Why does he remain in Poland, after all that’s happened – and he answered that just like when you hurt the tip of your finger, you don’t say “well, the rest of my body feel s fine, so I can ignore it,” so too you can’t ignore the few Jews who could not leave Poland after the war – it was important enough to remain in hostile Poland to take care of those unfortunate individuals. Josh concluded by remembering from his journal he kept during the trip, that although he felt it difficult to daven Ma’ariv in the Auschwitz camp, that night davening behind the old man, watching his utter concentration, was by contrast, sweet.

Josh also recalled meeting a survivor when he was learning aloud by himself in a shul in Hartford, Connecticut. The man, with sleeves rolled up to reveal the number tattooed on his arm, asked what tractate he was studying, and Josh told him Bava Basra. The man said he remembered studying that one when he was even younger than Josh, and recalled it was difficult. He then sighed, saying he could no longer learn because his eyesight was weak and he couldn’t think so well anymore. But, he added with a bit of cheer in his voice, that it was wonderful to see a young man like Josh learning. He asked if Josh knew Yiddish, which he said he did not, so the man told him a phrase and translated it into English for Josh. I forget the exact Yiddish wording, but it meant “Learning is light, silence is darkness.” For Josh, this helped inspire him to new levels of dedication to his Torah studies.

These stories certainly put my own struggles with learning and davening into perspective, and I hope I can approach both with renewed vigor and dedication.

Before last night, I had never heard Rebbetzin Jungreis speak before. I read her book on marriage and noticed a relative watching her on cable TV once or twice. When I read her biography in the program, and saw that she was born in 1930, it made me realize the sheer spiritual power this small 81-year-old woman has. She mentioned how so many of her fellow survivors are either gone or have become weak, and reminded us that it will be within our generation that the remaining survivors will breath their last – placing upon us an extremely heavy burden to pass on their stories and memories into the future, for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I always remember seeing the handful of older men and women march down the center aisle in our local JCC auditorium to light the candles of remembrance at the front dais to begin the Yom Hashoah program. I also remember how each year that group grew smaller, and the list of survivors who lived in our community but had passed on grew longer each year. I remember a particular older man who used to daven as the chazen in our shul when he had yartzeit (for which of his relatives, I never knew) and the purity and beauty of his accented Hebrew pronunciation. I also remember presiding over the minyan at his house when his wife and daughter were sitting shiva for him. They weren’t particularly religious folks, but I personally organized the nightly mincha/ma’ariv minyan there – where my father or another man said kaddish for the recently deceased, and I led the learning of mishnayos from Mikvaos. Years later, the man’s daughter approached me when she visited my hometown and thanked me – though I honestly didn’t think much of my actions at the time, just that it was something that needed to be done.

It will be a truly tragic day when the last survivor leaves this world – may that day be many years from now – but it is a great responsibility I honestly had never thought about in earnest. It makes me want to truly get to know ASoG’s paternal grandparents, my new Bubbe and Zaide, as well as her maternal great uncle and aunt (may they all live and be well) so that I may be a part of their legacy and have the opportunity to teach my own future children and grandchildren when they will no longer be around to do so themselves.

Rebbetzin Jungreis stood the entire time she spoke leaning lightly on a nearby table, her accented English pulling hard on my heartstrings as her frail yet strong presence filled center stage and radiated outward to every member of the audience. She is such an incredible woman. She told us about her story, growing up the as part of a great rabbinic dynasty, and now living as the sole granddaughter of her illustrious grandfather. She told us about her father, who was the rabbi of Szeged, Hungary, the city she was born in, where he came to do kiruv with the largely unaffiliated and acculturated Jewish populace. She told us how he risked his life to smuggle a pair of tefillin with him when they were evicted from their home by the Nazis, and how hundreds of Jewish men in turn risked their own lives to be able to say the brachos and don the tefillin themselves.

She told us how her father saved up to illegally obtain a shofar for Rosh Hashana, which they somehow managed to blow without being caught and killed. The Hungarian camp where they were kept prisoner was next to the Polish camp, and the Polish Jews ran to the barbed wire to hear the sound of the shofar to be able to make the bracha, in spite of the beatings they received shortly thereafter. Rebbetzin Jungreis then recounted how she told that story while in Israel many years later. A woman came over to her and informed the Rebbetzin that her father’s shofar was somehow later smuggled into the Polish camp in a garbage can where her own father, the rabbi of the Polish camp, managed to blow the shofar for the Polish prisoners. She then excitedly said that she actually had the shofar in her home a few streets away, which she ran to get. Hearing Rebbetzin Jungreis describe how seeing that shofar sent them back to the time they were little girls, children of the ashes and fire, clutching that shofar used in Bergen-Belsen.

She recounted another story of an American Rabbi who was an army chaplain that helped liberate a concentration camp, and approached a prisoner, greeting him in Yiddish and telling him he was a rabbi. The man replied he wasn’t interested, and the chaplain inquired why. The man, clearly outraged, explained that there was a particular fellow in the camp who had smuggled in a siddur, and charged others their piece of bread to use it to pray. The chaplain asked if, indeed, other men actually gave up their bread, perhaps their last piece, necessary to sustain their very lives, to use the prayer book. The man responded yes. The rabbi was amazed, marveling how far the Jewish prisoners went, to give away the very food that should be in their mouths, to instead fill their mouths will praises for G-d.

Perhaps the most striking story Rebbetzin Jungreis told us was how her father would utilize his ration of bread. He would say hamotzi and consume a very small portion, and bentsch anyway, in spite of the fact that it was not nearly enough to truly satisfy him, as the posuk commands us. For him, it was satisfying enough to praise his Creator. Additionally, Rabbi Jungreis would save pieces of bread for Shabbos. He would gather his children together and tell them to close their eyes, then tell them they were in their beautiful Shabbos home. He told them that their mother had baked delicious challah for them, and then pass out the stale, almost inedible bread to each of his children and they would sing Shalom Aleichem together. Rebbetzin Jungreis’ younger brother once asked very innocently where the Shabbos malachim were, since he didn’t see any in the camp. Rabbi Jungreis replied, with tears in his eyes, that they, his children, were the Shabbos angels. Rebbetzin Jungreis recalled how the Nazis once lined them up for an inspection, calling them “Jewish pigs.” She replied that they were, in fact “Shabbos malachim.”

I’ll never forget Rebbetzin Jungreis’ parting message, in which she described how fortunate we are to have Israel, and how we can look forward to the final redemption with the arrival of the moshiach (may he come speedily within our days). She grasped one of the unlit memorial candles and gestured with it for emphasis. Those candles were merely symbolic, but the true flame of remembrance is inside each of us – and we must pass on our Jewish legacy to keep those candles burning.

The very last words she spoke, which I think say it all in a way that nothing else can were “Am Yisrael Chai.”

The lighting of the six memorial candles was also moving. The first was lit by an elderly gentleman who was a survivor. The second by was kindled by Rav Reichman, who read a quotation from a Jewish man in a concentration camp that spoke about how he joined a small group next to a barrack to daven Kabbalas Shabbos one Friday evening – and how it literally transformed him, allowing him to leave behind the suffering he had experience and find inner peace in welcoming the Shabbos queen. I hope I can always value my own Kabbalas Shabbos experiences at a level similar to that. We are obligated to enter Shabbos forgetting the work from the week we have yet to finish, but this man was able to cast aside his burden of pain and misery and welcome the Shabbos with joy – a truly inspiring sentiment. The other candles were lit by students and YU alumni who also read passages from various Holocaust writings.

Ending the program with "Hatikvah" really underscored how significant our revived homeland is, and how Rebbetzin Jungreis told us that it is absolutely no coincidence that this week of Yom Hashoah we are going to enter the month Iyar, which contains Yom Ha’atzma’ut and Yom Yerushlayim – signs that HaShem is keeping His promises to bring us back and restore us to our proper place in our homeland.

After the event was over, I quickly ran to join the Ma’ariv minyan held in the old main Beis Midrash. I don’t think I’ve ever davened a more meaningful Ma’ariv in my life. I read every single word from my siddur, focusing on the translation of each word, pausing to give reflection to what was issuing from my mouth. I didn’t say anything by heart or at a quickened pace. I was able to keep up with the chazan during the Shema and its accompanying brachos, but my Shemonah Esrai, along with my Sefiras Ha’Omer and Aleinu extended long enough until I was the last one in the room.

I read each tefilla, especially each bracha of the Shemonah Esrei, from the perspective of what a Holocaust Survivor might see when he or she davens.

In Avos I saw why they believed in G-d in the first place, because of our forefathers. They were the living legacy of what began all those centuries ago, and it was worth suffering and perhaps even dying for the sake of protecting and preserving that history and mission. G-d created all, remembers His promises to our forefathers, and brings redemption with love, but in the meantime He will still be the personal shield of the children of the Avos, never abandoning them.

In the Mechaye Meisim I saw how they firmly believed that G-d would bring their holy martyred loved ones back, and keep the faith to those in the dust, not only the dead who are buried there, but the survivors who dwelled their while in the camps. How HaShem is the one who heals the sick and supports the fallen, and releases the imprisoned an existence that they recognized every day of their lives and a hope they longed for. Who is truly comparable to G-d? He is the One and only who has power over life and death - and resurrection - not the arrogant humans who slaughter their fellow man with impugnity.

I saw in Atah Kadosh that they recognized the inherent holiness of G-d, and in of themselves as they continued to praise him every day in spite of their difficulties.

I saw in Atah Chonen L’Adam Da’as how they struggled to understand what was happening to them, but trusted in G-d’s wisdom, even though man’s limited intellect can never know everything.

I saw in Hashiveinu the outpourings of their hearts to be drawn toward Torah and Mitzvos, in spite of the blows to their emunah from their personal suffering. Though they may have had to forego certain observances, or in fact most or all of the mitzvos because of their inability to do so, they yearned for the opportunity to freely perform them again.

I saw in S'lach Lanu an outcry for forgiveness for whatever transgressions were done that could have possibly lead to this horrible punishment, and even though they continue to suffer for reasons beyond their understanding, they knew, deep down, that HaShem would always forgive them and welcome them back with His abundant patient and forgiveness.

I saw in Re’eh V’anyenu their pleases for redemption from their servitude and for G-d to recognize the torments they endured for Him. Their groans and cries of pain should come to an end through the geulah brought in the way only HaShem can.

I saw in Refa’enu how they knew G-d could and would heal them of their ailments that they suffered because of neglect at the hands of the Nazis. When the vile doctors in the camps betrayed their responsibility to heal, they turned to the One who is the Healer of all and can indeed cure any illness.

I saw in Barech Aleinu their hopes that despite the fact that they’ve been in ghettos or camps for several years, that this year should have blessing and goodness for them. They yearned to find the bracha in their everyday lives, even in the hellish conditions in which they lived.

Teka B’Shofar Gadol was a plea for their ears to hear the sweet sound of that final, world-wide shofar blast, which will herald the arrival of the Moshiach and their salvation. All the dispersed Jews, especially those not physically distanced from one another, but collected together in the camps, should be collected from the four corners of the Earth and be able to proudly raise the banner of their redemption.

I saw in Hashiva Shofteinu a desire to re-establish our batei dinim, to ensure the proper carrying out of justice, not only in our community, but in the whole world – that righteous judgment will prevail over twisted dictatorships and persecution. G-d is the True King, who is utterly rightous and loves justice. They trusted He would condemn those who deserved harsh judgement, and exonerate His chosen people.

I saw in V’lamalshinim a plea that that all wickedness be removed from the earth, and that any Jews who are willing sinners not be destroyed as the Gemara in Brachos says, but that they have their sinful natures destroyed so that they may be whole again in serving HaShem.

I saw in Al Hatzadikim a heartful prayer on behalf of the rabbis and other spiritual leaders and holy ones who dedicated themselves to serving G-d above all while teaching and inspiring their fellow Jews around them, and that their righteous deeds not go unnoticed amidst the horrifying environment they found themselves in. They asked to have their portion placed with these righteous individuals - who were often the poster stereotypes of insults found in Nazi propaganda - and instead of being embarrassed as our enemies desired, they were profoundly proud of their rabbis and leaders and desired to be like them.

I saw in V’liyerushalayim a great yearning for G-d’s capital to be rebuilt, and for us to return to the homeland we so desperately miss and long for, a true fulfillment of Zionist dreams. They didn't believe in this because of potentially misleading man-made, philosophies because He Himself said told us.

In Es Tzemach Dovid I felt their anticipation that they would hear the sound of a lone man’s footsteps as he arrived to bring geulah instead of the thumping of soldiers’ boots to take them away from their homes and family. They longed for true salvation to sprout, and I'm quite certain the phrase "For we hope for Your salvation all the day" applied more literally to the prisoners of the camps than perhaps anyone else in our history.

Shema Koleinu was a summation of their heartfelt cries – a call to HaShem to please hear us, and don’t leave us empty handed for all we have endured for You. They were His loyal servants, and the benevolent, merciful King always extends Himself in an expression of His Essence to his people.

Ritzei asked for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, ushering in an era when we can truly serve HaShem completely, as His Torah commands us – and also that in the meantime HaShem accept the multitudes of korbanos forcibly offered each day as His children are burned on hideously perverted “altars” with corrupt priests who do not serve Him.

In Modim, I saw them giving their thanks for all the things G-d gave them every day, for their very lives which they entrust entirely to G-d’s Hands, their souls held ever so dearly in His embrace. Each and every wonder and good they saw and experienced, evening, morning, and afternoon – often at times when they didn’t know if they would live to see the next morning, afternoon, or night – and still they had thanks and praise to offer to Him. We don’t often see the miracles and wonders G-d does for us every day, but I’m absolutely certain they understood this sentiment far more acutely than we ever will. They knew G-d's mercy is unending, and that is why they would forever hope to Him - there was simply no reason their torturers could muster that would force the Jews to give up hope.

Shalom Rav begged HaShem for true peace to be placed upon His people – now and forevermore, because in spite of all the war, suffering, torture, and death – they knew that only He was the King and Lord of all Peace – who can bless his people with an everlasting peace at each and every moment. As a summary to the personal amida, we end with the heartfelt cry for peace, not vengeance, and as the concluding Yehi Ratzon mentions – that G-d establish renew us as in times of old.

Elokai Netzor asked that they be allowed to humble themselves metaphorically like the dust, and not become literally dust in the crematoriums. In spite of everything they most desired for G-d to open their hearts - perhaps even forcibly, if necessary - to His Torah so that their souls may be free to perform His precious mitzvos. As for the plans of their enemies - they should be nullified and forgotten, because their adversaries could not, and would not endure as Am Yisrael has always endured and will always endure. They begged HaShem to act, not for their own sake, but for His own and for His Torah, because that's what's truly important - the eternity of G-d's presence and His Torah in this world, not out of concern for their own selves. The real reason they would merit salvation would be to continue in their lifelong purpose of perpetuating the wisdom of G-d, dutifully serving Him, and becoming a light unto the nations of the world who seem to have forgotten these most important things.

I recognized and experienced similar revelations with Sefiras Ha’Omer and Aleinu as well – I thought thoughts of thanks for being able to say the bracha and perform the mitzvah unburdened by the horrors the survivors suffered. I sang Anah B’Koach to myself, hoping that the Knower of all secrets would not turn aside our supplications. I said Aleinu slowly and carefully, realizing that Judaism is distinct from the other monotheistic religions in that we want the entire world to truly knew G-d without us having to force anyone to become Jewish. The nations of the world will realize, when the time is right, who the Master of the Universe is, and willingly acknowledge what we have done for them throughout history, and how they’ve mistreated us. All mankind will live as one peaceful society, without any murderous barbarians taking innocent lives in the name of their bloodthirsty beliefs. Then, we will know peace, and the world will know G-d.

I hope I can keep these feelings and lessons in my mind and heart for the rest of my life so that I always benefit from what I have learned and that I may pass it on to others, especially future generations.

For those of you who have read this long post to the very end, I salute your endurance and thank you. I hope that you will benefit from reading this and perhaps re-reading it, as I hope that I will.

May we learn the lessons of the Holocaust, never forget, and may that day of eternal peace and a world full of the recognition and knowledge of G-d be one day soon. Amein, kein yehi ratzon.

Am Yisrael Chai - Od Avinu Chai.