Sunday, July 31, 2005

Emotional High?

I was at shul tonight, and the Rabbi wasn't there to give his 30 second Dvar Torah. Usually, we just say Tehillim to make up the gap between Mincha and Maariv, but tonight even after saying that, we still had extra time before sunset. Just as everybody was settling into their shmooze mode to kill time, one of the Rabbi's from the Lakewood Kollel next store got up at the Bima and just started giving a 30 second Dvar Torah. I was touched. The Dvar Torah wasn't especially deep, but I was really enthralled. I don't know if it was the fact that he was so concerned that the congregation should sit around doing nothing for 30 seconds when it could be learning, or if it was that he was so easily able to pull a Dvar Torah out of nowhere with no advance notice, but I literally was starting to choke up with emotion as he was talking. I think I just feel like a failure for not being able to do what he did myself.

Either way, I have to get off the estrogen pills.

The Beard

In an addendum to the last post (as well as an earlier one), I will add my beard into that same category. V'HaMeiven Yaven.

Guys in Girls Apartments

While I never hide my fundamentalist ideology, I don't think I've shared one of my actual made up religious rules. When I say made up, I don't mean the rule has absolutely nothing to do with religion or that it is some type of Baal Tosif, forbidden addition to a commandment's requirements. It is actually well grounded in the common sense necessary, not for those living in the ghettos, but for those Jews who consider themselves modern. It has to do with the separation of the sexes.

There is a tendency in more Modern Orthodox Jewish circles to have more contact between the sexes than in some of the more monolithic communities. And that can be fine. It provides a lot of healthy opportunities, not just to meet a potential spouse, but to learn how to interact with the opposite sex, which regardless of which side you sit on, are probably viewed as a foreign species.

But this permissiveness is flawed in that it has no bounds. In embracing modernity without setting any limits, the modern community fails to define how it can coexist within the secular world. While the more fundamentalist community may close themselves off of certain options in order to retain insularity, the modern community does not have a right to ignore Jewish Law. For example, the immoral content that is shown on TV causes the more right wing community to shun the technology all together. On the other hand, the modern community has accepted the TV with no limits. In mocking the right wing community for being so backwards and rigid, the left wing community sits around watching Sex in the City and Will and Grace without giving a second thought as to the permissibility of the programming. (While the definition of "acceptable standards," as well as which shows meet those standards, could be debated, the sad truth remains that those lines remain undefined in the modern Jewish world, at a communal or personal level.)

With that all being established, I can throw out my crazy rule with little explanation. I don't believe that any religious person belongs in the apartment (not just bedroom) of anyone of the opposite sex. This has nothing to do with the laws of Yichud, of being alone with the opposite sex. I don't care how many people are there. For me, it is just setting a clear line of where you do and don't belong. I don't take the extreme approach of forbidding all contact. But nor am I naive enough to say people can trust themselves to behave appropriately. So I set a line of where behavior can go from casual to sexual.

I have no problem with meeting in third party spaces, whether in a park or in a married family's apartment. But once you arrive in an unchaperoned place, unchaperoned behavior can ensue. I'm not dumb enough to believe that it will happen in any circumstance. I just think that laying down a firm line prevents a slippery slope later on. For example, I don't think stopping by the girl's apartment next door to change a light bulb is going to lead to a sexual encounter. But if you start dating her, then when does it go from a casual visit to something more? You need to have a firm line in place, where consistent behavior can be expected.

It may be a paradox, but it is exactly the meaning of being Modern Orthodox that you have to bring together both the stringencies of the religious world with the possibilities of the secular world if you want to be able to meld the two into something spiritual. Going completely either way may lose you.

Lost in Translation

The latest news from Brooklyn (reported by a correspondent):

Someone said Shavua tov to my rav's youngest son. He had no idea what it meant, so someone explained it was the same thing as gut voch but in hebrew.

So he asked, "then why not just say it in Yiddish?"


My response when I heard the story:
"HA! If only you had a blog..."

Like a jew, my friend responded:
"I'm willing to sell the rights"

I offered to quote the correspondent, "B'shem Omro:"

He replied:
"well the kid's name is Yoeli X, so there you go"

I admitted,
"I was thinking more of quoting you"

He followed through with the punchline,
"I know. But the story is funnier if you use his name... a chaddish kid named Yoeli asked...."

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Shabbos Talk

I don't remember all the details, but I had some fascinating conversations Shabbos afternoon focusing on two ideas - Government and privacy, and Nationalism and Trade.

I am an anti-privacy advocate. I believe that the government can be entrusted with monitoring abilities without impacting my freedoms. In fact, I'll enjoy the added freedom of not having to worry about all the unknown criminals running around thanks to the anonymity provided courtesy of the privacy advocates.

I am also a big believer in free trade. I really don't care about unemployment in this country. I care that as a planet we are increasing opportunities to the most people. Most people blind themselves, both on the left and on the right, and don't realize that a free market means a free market.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Loved It!

A friend showed me this website. I almost died laughing. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Baal Teshaktzu

This might be an unusual post. I was just thinking of the Halacha, Jewish Law, of Baal Teshaktzu, which basically says that it is "Disgusting," hence Teshaktzu, to Gd for a person to have to relieve themselves and not to do so. "Holding it in" is therefore against Jewish Law. (I don't intend to delineate Jewish Law exactly, just discuss the concepts. Consult with somebody more knowledgable than I if you are looking for practical advice.) One application of this Halacha is that by prayer, if one has the need to relieve, then their prayers do not count. "Need" is defined as will have to relieve within 72 minutes, I believe. The reason is basically that when approaching Gd in prayer, we should not do so in a way that He has already labelled as disgusting.

That is the background. What I find fascinating is the number of people who pray, only to run quickly to the washroom right after praying. Now, I'm assuming that most are just ignorant of this law. But it stands to reason that most people, whether they are aware of it or not, are reversing the Gd's logic. They feel that Gd wants them to pray, especially with a Minyan, or quorom. In order to accomplish this, they don't want to relieve themselves and miss out on the group's prayer service; they hold it in, and wait until after praying to leave. So while trying to do what Gd wants, they end up doing exactly what He doesn't want. If the President of the United States invited you over, but asked you not to wear flip-flops, would you? So if Gd says, take care of your own physical need before speaking to me, do you think He'd mind if you showed up a few minutes late?

I don't know why this topic struck me, but it seemed that it actually provides a nice insight into how we view our relationship to Gd. I don't view Gd as some angry type who would be furious at me for every little failure. Nor do I view Him as some hippyish guy wou doesn't really care what decisions I make. He's like a father, expecting the most from His children. Sure, He's disappointed when we let Him down, but He's rooting for us to want to come close to Him.

Just sharing a thought.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Used Car Update

So I gave up on that '93 Nissan I was gushing about the other day. Ho-Hum. Short attention span. Actually, I went to the guy's friend's house to check out the car. What a dump. The car, not the house. It had huge dents, scrapes, a smashed bumper, and just felt like a burned out car waiting to happen. The radio was stolen and the back doors were rusted shut. The coolest part was the seatbelt pads. You know, the kind race cars have so that the seat belt doesn't crush you when you're doing supersonic speeds, in your Nissan Maxima. It was kind of hot that the body was lowered, it had the engine juiced, and had MAXIMA written in huge letters on the wide spoiler. In crumbling letters. It was one of those cars that some aspiring street thug had put a lot of time and money into- about ten years ago. But it was not worth actual money.

But Monday I saw a post for another car at work. It's a '94 Toyota Corolla for $1,500. Now we're in my price range. We emailed a few times at work. Today we connected, and bottom line, I took her car on a test drive around the neighboorhod (OK, so I went about 20 miles). The car is very nice, very clean, with just enough dents and scratches to make it feel worn in, but not worn out. It is a very nice car. So I told her I want to take it to a mechanic, which I should be able to do during lunch at work tomorrow. This fellow employee thing works really well for me. I can just grab her car whenever I want, and if it's a lemon...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hit Counter

Some of you (OK, probably none of you. Not that there are any of you out there.) may have noticed that I've caved in and added a hit counter. Not that I expect to break any records. But as a side research project, I'm going to keep an eye on it. Thanks to Menachem Butler's link at AJHistory, I've actually gotten some traffic. And now I'll know just how many idle gapers are out there admiring the roadkill that is my blog.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Deutch

I think Chassidim should be like the Amish. That sounds like an old joke, but if you study the Amish, there are a lot of similarities, besides for the obvious.

I've recently heard a lot about Orthodox youth from places like Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey, and Lakewood- the American Ghettoes, who've been turned off by the absolute restrictivisim of their communities. This isn't a new issue, just one I happen to have been confronting recently. Every situation is unique, but in most cases, it seems that some people exposed to the permissiveness of American culture but confined to the mores of a repressive sub-culture find a need to escape and experience some of that which they perceive they are missing. But their community will cut them off if they dare to go exploring. So these individuals are faced with the decision of bottling up their interests, turning their backs on their roots, or leading a double life. None of these are psychologically healthy.

These Chassidish and Yeshivish communities leave little room for discovering oneself. That is done on purpose. These communities have determined that being insular is the best way to preserve their ethical way of life. For 95% of the people (we can debate the percentage), this works great. But the other 5% are absolutely lost. In a more modern Jewish community, only 50% (again, I propose) may remain strongly religious. But the other 50% will remain only slightly less affiliated. They aren't lost. The lesson being that the tighter you circle your wagons, the more likely you are to squeeze out those that don't fit.

The trick to remember, however, is that the Chassidish and Yeshivish norms of these societies are hardly base standards in Judaism. This point can definitely be debated, but these lifestyles are Lifnim M'shuras Hadin - Above and beyond the religious requirement. It is a lifestyle designed to forment righteousness. But one of the byproducts is dissent. If those that feel disenfranchised by the lifestyle saw that they had a choice of lifestyle that was valid - albeit not on the same level, but perfectly acceptable nontheless, they might be able to find themselves within a more permissive, but equally religious commmunity.

And this is where the Amish come in. They are similar in the insularity and restrictiveness of their community to the Chassidim (besides for the dress). But one thing most people don't know is that in most Amish communities, joining is not an assumption of birth. Each member must choose at the age of 20 to join the community. They are free to explore before that age, and determined what is right for them. Those that choose to live as religious people in the modern world are not scorned. But those that choose to return are expected to maintain the high levels of the community. Since each indvidual has explored their options, and made their own decision, there is a certain level of psychological health.

And that is the approach that is needed in the Orthodox Jewish world. A realization that our sheltered communities are a great lifestyle for coming close to Gd. They may be the best way for those who fear external influences to live out a religous lifestyle, but an integrated lifestyle is equally valid for those not striving to reach the same lofty spiritual heights. In the end, I think all segments of our community would benefit. Those living in the ghettoes would be surrounded by those that have personally committed to isolating themselves, and those souls not willing to be cloistered would have the opportunity to chase their interests within a more open, albeit riskier, environment. Either way it would be a breath of fresh air.

Terror Alert

You know it's not a good sign when you get to synagogue and there is a huge rugged looking African-American male asking for the Rabbi. At my shul, that is a little out of the ordinary. But when there are two police cars parked on the sidewalk outside of the front door, you really have to wonder.

Just staying alert during the Code Orange.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


There is a whole world out there of Jewish bloggers, writing about all different sorts of crises facing the Jewish community. While many of the issues are critically important, and as an opionated person, I do have feelings on the matters, I haven't been able to justify filling my blog with those subjects. Many of the topics are too extensive to do justice in a blog, and others are just too petty.

But that doesn't mean there isn't anything to explore. Maybe eventually I'll cave and share my mind on the strengths and weaknesses of various religious communities, and the implications for the successes and failures of the individuals within the community. That seems to be the synopsis of the loud voices in the Jewish Blogosphere.

Moving On

I got rejected from Grad School. And I couldn't really be more relieved. I was very anxious about losing any flexibility for the next 5 years. So now hopefully I'll take advantage of my options. The clock is ticking. My entrepreneurial side has definitely been bulging at the seams recently; all I need is for something to take root.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Major Purchase?

I saw a posting for a used car at work. It is a '93 Nissan Maxima. 133k miles. What a beauty. Asking $2,500. Sounds like a deal. So I'm going to take a look at it. This would be a major step for me. No more borrowing my mom's car. No more making her walk to work. This could be big.

Next thing you know, I'll be shopping for cell phones.

Monday, July 18, 2005


I spent Shabbos at a friends house. Good times. It was really like a class reunion. There were five of us from our high school class (Go Aces!). It was interesting. I was staying about five miles from my house, but I felt like a complete stranger. I might as well have been in Seattle. I hadn't stayed in this neighborhood for the weekend since high school, and other than my friend, I really don't know many people in the neighborhood. So it really was a very difference experience, especially since this neigborhood has a much more Jewish "feel" to it. It was nice to get away though, and have some different cooking. Plus I got to play with a lot of babies. Finally, somebody on my maturity level. There aren't enough people like babies that you can just have good ol' fun with. [Insert favorite baby joke here.]

I did have a nice heart to heart with my friend and his wife. We spoke about dating, in general and in more specific parameters. It was very interesting. There are still so many aspects that I don't understand. And I thought I knew everything. Fortunately, there are always others willing to pick up the slack.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cubs Game

I went to the Cubs game this past Sunday. Not so eventful. I went with a friend. And my parents. What else would you expect?

I just want to show that I have a life.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Keymaster

Love the movie reference in the title...

My mother tells me last night that the cleaning lady will be coming over (yes, that cleaning lady) this morning, and that I should leave the door unlocked for her. Fast forward to this morning. I go to Shul, come back and the door is locked. I knock, nobody answers, so I go around and come in through the garage. On my way out to shul again, I notice that the door was unlocked. I'm used to the door physically being left open for me, so I had assumed the door had been locked when I found it closed. I never actually tried the handle. Thinking that my mom must've unlocked the door instead of leaving it open, since she was afraid to do so with nobody home, I figured that this was meant to let me in. So I locked it on my way out. I come home from Shul, come in, and there is my cleaning lady. Scolding me for locking her out. I suddenly remembered being warned last night. Somehow that didn't ring a bell until now. That's so me.

Monday, July 11, 2005

GSB Application

Well, I've completed the whole Grad school application thing. Interview, Essays, Recommendations, and Transcripts. All those little wonders that are a pain to get together. But then you don't have to do it again. The application was due Friday, July 15th. I got it all together by 3 PM, and then called the school to see if they needed it in their hands by the end of the day. Apparently not. So rather than shlep all the way downtown to put in their hands personally, or spending obscene amounts overnighting it, I just dropped it in standard mail. My fate is now out of my hands.

Now to discuss my fate. Going to grad school represents a real commitment. Not just to homework and tests, but to a life as well. If I enroll in a 2 and a half year program at the University of Chicago, I'm essentially committing to staying put for that long. Weekend jaunts to New York aside, relocation won't loom in the eminent horizon. And that speaks nothing of the two year committment I have to stay at work to make up for their tuition reimbursements (although I could transfer to a New York office to satisfy these post grad years). So rather than an alterntive life plan of finding another work path to follow in the near future, I'd have more of the same in the near term. But I could almost write my own story thereafter.

The alternative would be for me to stay put for about six months, and complete a full year in my first ever full time job. At that time, I could start to look for alternative positions that would meet one of my two short term goals - to enjoy work or enjoy my friends. Enjoying my work could involve simply finding another job that may have more challenging aspects, although that can be hard at the entry level. Possibly a smaller firm would offer me better access to the decision making levels. Or I'm highly attracted to something entrepreneurial, especially since at my age and responsibility level, I have very few aversions. Or I could go to anything in New York, which if not more exciting, would at least enable me to have an enjoyable life outside of work. Again, that could be an internal transfer, or just look for random openings out there.

So basically, what I'm saying is that my entire life decision will be made by some admission committee at the University of Chicago.

Grad Student?

I took the GMAT today. That's the standarized test for admission into MBA (Business) Grad Schools. I never thought I'd go back to school. And since most MBA programs require at least 2 years work experience, I really hadn't given it any thought yet. But the University of Chicago started a new program this year that specifically targets people in the workforce less than two years. It is by nomination only; about two weeks ago, my boss nominated me. So within two weeks, I've been putting together a whole game plan. I'm only applying to Chicago now; I figure if I can't get in to a top program, the degree's utility for opening doors is significantly diminished. So I took the test today, have an interview on Thursday, and have until Friday to get recommendations and write four essays. Nothing like crunch time.

So I ran to the test this morning, after signing up last Thursday. I didn't do any preparation. I had no clue about the format of the test, let alone the content. I definitely didn't study in any manner. I really don't have the patience for that, and from experience, I've seen that it never improves my score. I know what I know, and I test how I test, and I'll be just fine with that.

I barely got to the test center on time after getting lost driving there. But I made it. The test was on computer, very cool. It felt like a computer game. I sped through the first section, the essays. Then came the quantitative section, that nailed me. I can't handle all those trick questions. And I can't focus on X's and Y's and other variables. So I was dying to get out of there by the end of that section, which I finished with 7 seconds left. I had skipped the break before that section, but I bolted after completing that messy math. I had actually used scratch paper! The injustice, the insanity! But I made my way through to the final reading comprehension section, which was challenging, but also interesting. Plus I finished that with 30 minutes to go.

They give you your score when you leave. Yeah, it's pretty automated, although they somehow grade the written section later, so I'm not sure how that affects the score they give you. I got a 640. I wasn't really sure what that was out of, or what is a good score. Although, somebody showed me that that falls within the median range for Chicago, so I guess I was ok.

Either way, it was $250 and half a vacation day that I would've loved to spend otherwise (in NY?)...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Art Fair

My grandfather makes jewelry, and had it on display at a nearby art fair. I helped him clean up and brought all the equipment back to his house to be put away. All that I could think about when I was in the house was how we used to have so many family get togethers there. Now we don't have any. and I realized it's all been since my grandmother passed away 7 years ago. She was the one that led our family, and kept us together. Now we're much more dispersed. And I realize how much I miss my grandmother. I can't explain it. But I totally felt the pain of loss today as if it was fresh. I started crying in the car ride home. Well, not actual tears. But I was all choked up. That's pretty much as far as I can usually go. Never tears running down the cheek. I wanted to come home and tell my mom how much I miss her mother. But by the time I got home, I couldn't. I just went straight to my room. I wish I could understand how emotions work.


As another serious post in a series, I thought I'd take a moment to diverge into the topic of making Aliyah, a Jew moving to Israel.

Most Jews would hold this up as an ideal, regardless of the specific stream of affiliation. The source, however, is the first line of demarcation between different practical ramifications of how they would actually carry out this ideal. For simplicity's sake, I will deal here with only my own ideology. This is not to discount any other opinions, just merely a way of saving space.

The only premise I start with is that Gd prefers to have the Jewish people live in the historic land of Israel. Whether this is a commandment nowadays is irrelevant, as we should all strive for the ideal anways. Where the complication comes in is the modern State of Israel. In my opinion, it has no religious basis. There are two problems. One, whether there is such a thing as a religious, non-messianic Jewish kingdom (I'm not going into any detail there). Two, whether the current State of Israel is Jewish. My answer there is a clear no. While they may accomodate religion in certain ways (and many of them are very generous), they don't even pretend to be grounded in Jewish law.

This makes it very difficult for me then to identify with the State of Israel. More troublesome, however, is that they do pass themselves off as the "Jewish State." This poses many problems, from misleading Jews into believing that support for a secular state is supporting Gd, and misleading the world at large that the actions of the secular state are somehow based in the ethereal teachings of the Jewish tradition. I am of course oversimplifying everything for the sake of keeping this post somewhat readable.

So with that in place, I find it hard to take up the Israeli (government) cause. Unlike in most countries, one cannot simply move to the State of Israel and focus on whatever satisfaction one came to obtain. Among other things, the Israeli government has an automatic military draft. Without having first enlisted in some manner, the govenment will not grant a work permit. So as opposed to America where any immigrant need only obtain a work visa, which while challenging requires no ideological output (perhaps worshipping the great satan, but that's another matter.), in Israel, one must essentially fight for the government's cause before being allowed full entre to the country (if one desires to be employed). In my case, I find supporting the government's cause not only foreign, but irresponsible. As a Jew grounded only in the ideology of fullfilling Gd's word, becoming entwined in a "false Messiah" is particularly misleading. As a State purporting to speak for the Jews, my fighting on its behalf implies an unstated participation and acqueisance to its authority. To the non-religious and non-Jewish eye this results in the impression that my soldiering is one and the same as a religious backing to the government's stature. And in the case of theology, the distinction between truth and falsehood must be absolutely clear.

Are there ways to move to Israel without volunteering in the army? Sure. You could move after you're too old to fight. But you'll put your children in the same quandry, and lose out on the merit of living in the Land in the meantime. You could of course, move to Southern Lebanon, a full part of Biblical Israel. Of course, you're life may be quite at risk. You could work for an American firm in Israel, which allows you to retain your foreign citizenship and work with a foreign visa. However, these opportunities are few and far between. You can work in America and commute. Great work if you can get it, and quite draining. Similarly, you can go the entrepreneurial route, and take your earnings with you, whether your business investments are in America or Israel. Of course, if it were so easy to make millions and be an absentee landlord, I think Israel would be full to the brim. And that lifestyle can be a difficult temptation to leave even partially behind.

So the resulting question is, if I agree that it is the ultimate ideal to move to Israel, why then would I let my obviously much weaker drawbacks prevent me from obtaining my goal? The question hinges on how you react to threats in the claim of defining Torah Judaism. Some quietly go with the flow, some ignore the threat, and other's fight back. I won't say only one is right. Perhaps we are best served by all reactions, so we can each appreciate the values and concerns of the other approaches, and not be too myopic in our reaction.

There is a famous ruling related to reform Jews. If one has to hear the Shofar blown on Rosh Hashana, but the only place where he can hear it is a reform temple, what should he do? Should he take part in the reform service to fulfill the direct, Torah commandment of hearing the blowing of the horn on this day? Or should he forgo this commandment in order to preserve the integrity of the identity of the Jewish people, although that is not a Mitzvah per se? I don't want to quote a Rabbi's name, because although I do think I know the name of the Rabbi, I'm not sure enough to put it out in the public domain with his name, but the answer was given that the Jew should stay home rather than compromise on this issue, even though his only intention was to fulfill a commandment for the sake of Gd. Likewise you could learn this as a backdrop for serving in the army. While it would enable the performance of a mitzvah (ie, living in the land of Israel), it would require confusing the boundary and mantle of Torah Judaism.

I have obviously given quite an incomplete summary of some of the issues related to moving to Israel. I have obviously shortchanged the discussion considerably. I will try my best to respond to questions left in the comments, whether directly related to what I've written, or on any issue related to Zionism. Of course, you could ask me what 2+2 is. I'd respond to that as well.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Turbulent Souls

I just finished reading "Turbulent Souls" by Stephen J. Dubner. Quite an interesting book; the author does a very intriguing job of discovering the source of religious inspiration by examining his own family's history. While I think he is a little dishonest in the examinations of the motives beyond his personal spiritual journey, he does do a fabulous job of recognizing the complexities behind his family's religiuos trek from Orthodox Jews in Europe to Catholics in America. While the reader must be cautious that the book is full of theories that are no more than presumptions of the author passed off as forgone conclusions, the complicated family scenarios are real, and while the roots of the disparate attitudes can not be fully uncovered the actual paths taken can be traced. And what is learned is an appreciation for human complexity and personal decision making.

Most intriguing, in my mind, was a thread that the author left fully unexplored. There is a very clear pattern from generation to generation, character traits that are repeated, although expressed in opposite formats. This fueled my personal theories that family situation will share certain consistencies from generation to generation, regardless of liberty and opportunity in society at large, or to class mobility. The true traits that have the greatest impact on our destiny, come from our family, whether through nature or nuture, and are not easily shaken.

Of course, the only true lesson I gained from this book is not to let the fact that you're no longer dating a girl get in the way of a good book recommendation.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wedding Shtick

My friends and I are quite weird. But you didn't need me to tell you that. So for the last wedding I went to, we held a conclave to determine appropriate shtick. Well, actually, we first determined inappropriate shtick, and then slowly whittled it away to usable items. We ended up going with a meat theme in honor of our portly, red-blooded friend. The routine we set was as follows: Some guys would come out jump roping. I'd come in and wave off their shtick as cliche. I would then do a tease as I slowly extract a 25 foot link of genuine Romanian hot dogs from a grocery bag. I would then hand one end of the links to each of my friends, and proceed with the most manly jumprope known to mankind. Then, we would be interupted by another friend, who would come in juggling softballs. Once again, I'd interupt his routine as old-school, and throw him three medium sized Romanian salamis to wow the audience instead. After he finished juggling those, I'd do a quick assessment of the groom's tastes. First, I'd tempt him with a small salami. This would be followed by a medium and then a large salami. Knowing this still wouldn't satiate him, we would have two of our biggest friends come out with a custom made 3 and a half foot salami hanging from a pole. After a quick "salami-Tantz," we would allow the wedding to return to the normal realm.

Unfortunately, I was running late and goofed, forgetting the hotdogs in the fridge in the apartment. But the rest went off pretty nearly as planned, inspiring all the guests with the Chicago boys' singular focus on meat.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Fireworks in the Streets

When most people think of the Fourth of July, they probably think of taking their family to large professional fireworks, with some dense mob of people gathering in some scenic public spot to watch a million dollar performance. Or they think of small family get togethers in secluded spots where they set off small, but intense, shows. But not in the slums of New York City. Oh, no. In Washington Heights they outdo all expectations. On every street corner, locals gathered to display their own shows. I mean, why not blow up explosives in the middle of a residential neighborhood late at night? Walking through the streets felt like the front lines of Baghdad. Chaos and fire all around. Crossing every interesection was a maze of avoiding lit fuses. And I don't know how the automobile traffic was able to avoid the mischeivous folk who lit mortars specifically in the way of oncoming traffic. I woke up at 4 in the morning, and they were still going strong. Now what could possibly go wrong with a bunch of pyrotechnics mixing with a lot of alcohol in a residential neighborhood?

Crum Heights

Last shabbos, I spent the weekend in Washington Heights. And for pretty much the first time, I crossed from the YU side to the Breuers side. I stayed in an apartment on the "other" side of the Heights and had my two meals there. I arrived in the apartment I was staying in, to be introduced to a girl watching tv in the bedroom of the friend I was staying with. I davened Friday night at Mt. Sinai, the main synagogue on the "other" side. It was my first and last time there. There are about a hundred guys davening there, mostly single. And a hundred girls. Who ever heard of so many single girls going to davening? After davening, everyone stood around socializing. I guess that answers my previous question. Something is just wrong when shul just becomes a place to meet people. And the way the mechitzah is built, you don't really have to wait until after davening to start making your selection. Now, I'm generally ok with public co-ed locales, and certainly it is better to meet in a house of Gd than a house of idleness, but turning the house of Gd into the house of idleness- not so cool.

Then comes the meals. I'm used to eating in somebody's house. Or in a cafeteria. But Friday night we went to a friends apartment, a whole bunch of Chicago guys, and what's there? Two girls. Why it's normal for them to eat over with a bunch of guys in a single's apartment is beyond me. But of course, that paled with lunch, when 15 guys and 15 girls were all eating in a single girl's apartment. I think meeting over a shabbos meal is great. But only if it's chaperoned. And under no circumstance do singles belong in apartments belonging to the opposite sex. There are plenty of public and supervised settings to meet. There is no excuse for this one.

Shabbos afternoon, a group of guys and girls went to a nearby park to hang out. This was at least appropriate. Everyone was dressed, it was a limited group of relgious kids with something in common, and even the people not part of our group weren't inappropriately dressed. So this is a casual environment where people can get to know each other. You don't have to go straight to moving into somebody's apartment.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Score - Life 1, Me 0

So I'm off to a good start. I'm spending a long weekend in NY, but it looks like I'll be roughing it. After an hour and a half delay, my flight finally took off. After waiting an hour after landing, my luggage still hadn't. So while the upside was that I had an excuse to initiate conversation with the frumie girl next to me whose luggage also had gone AWOL, it also meant that I was leaving the airport shorthanded. It was nice that I didn't have to shlep so much personally, but it also meant I had no Tefillin. Or clothes. Now somehow magically, of the two bags I checked, the one I brought with items for other people made it fully intact. But the bag with all my vitals was taking a vacation of its own. No biggie. Nothing material is too crucial that I can't live without it for 24 hours. Unfortunately, however, it looks like it may be a little longer. When I reported the claim, I didn't know the address of the building I was staying in. So they couldn't send it out until after 10 the next morning when I was finally able to get through to the airlines. But I'm staying in an apartment building with no doorman. It seems they came by sometime Friday and nobody was around. So they couldn't deliver it. So I'm spending Shabbos with more clothes than I wore to work on Thursday. But it's about 90 degrees outside, and my clothes had gotten pretty disgusting. So I decided to take partial advantage of the airline policy that allows for some reimbursement for replacement items. I bought a new white shirt, and some other essentials, hopefully to be offset by a payment from the airlines. But I didn't scam anyone. The only thing I took advantage of was the raw jungle that is Washington Heights, where everything and anything can be bought and sold off of rusty folding tables in the streets. For only $10.23 I was able to by an entire disposable wardrobe. No word however, on whether the unmentionables are recycled.

There's No Security in TSA

The Transportation Security Administration, the newest member of the wasteful federal beauracracy proved its worth on my latest travel experience. Of course, all of the items I elected to carry on the flight happened to have been food. I had with me a dozen Dunkin Donuts. And a three foot salami in a FedEx tube. As I enter the area lining up to the xray machines, which is restricted to passengers, the lady who checks everyone's tickets stuck her hand out. I put out my ticket, but she didn't take it. After about 20 seconds of me fumbling around trying to see what she needed, I finally figured it out. She wanted the donuts. Every TSA officer from that point on made a comment about my donuts. They all joked that it was some fresh delivery for them. Actually, I think if I were a terrorist, I'd just by a fresh dozen sprinkled, and just dance on through with whatever intent (and dangerous weapons) I carried. The security officers would be easily pacified.

But it isn't just sugary objects that glaze over their eyes. As my three foot salami is passing through the detection machine, the officer stops the machine, and is focusing on the screen intently. Finally, he turns to me and asks what I have in the tube. I say simply, a salami. He nods in true understanding, and says profoundly, "That's what I thought." I'm glad these guys are trained to identify something with those machines. But at least I'll probably make his dinner table discussion as the most obscene item smuggled on-board. The better reaction came from his co-worker, a twenty-something blonde girl. She comes over to me as I'm gathering up my belongings, and confides in me, "You know I'm Polish, and my father used to make salami. But he never made one that long." Like an instant bond. I knew that I had this blonde under my spell. We hit it off with a discussion about good salami. She obviously knew how to focus on connecting with passengers, and not how to focus on her job.

And who says food doesn't travel well?

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