Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Local Dating Scene

Back in a prior post, BlogBlond offered to set me up with another blogger/commenter, Photochick. Yes, I actually took it seriously, but I have yet to tell the story- until now. Due to contractual obligations, I was unable to follow through with my intent of a play-by-play of the whole process. However, at this point I can bring you up to date.

PC and I spoke on the phone three times. We had nice, long conversations, but due to the geographical gap, have decided not to actively pursue anything at this time. Perhaps if in the future either of us finds ourselves travelling through the other's city, we will meet up. Even though there wasn't anything incompatible between us, there wasn't necessarily anything strong enough to justify long distance travel. And since I could just flirt ad infinitum without advancing a relationship, it wouldn't be worthwhile to make anyone travel to get in a situation that basically never got past Step 1. It's not that I expect love from a first conversation, but when it comes specifically to long distance dating, I think you need to start with some level of eagerness so that you can get past the hurdles of a relationship where you may only see each other every few weeks, at best.

On a separate but related note, I've written before about the trials of dating somebody out of town. But I never discussed the tribulations of dating somebody in the same city. And for good reason - I never have. I have never dated another Chicagoan.

This past week Chicago announced that it will offer $2,000 to any Shadchan who successfully sets up a Chicago girl, a program patterned after a similar one instituted in Baltimore last year. When I heard this, I couldn't help but wonder- if I've been in Chicago and never been set up with another Chicagoan, the system must be broke!

I was talking with another, older single girl in Chicago, and when I mentioned that I regularly flew to New York to date, and had never dated locally, she was shocked. Actually, that isn't strong enough. She was upset, even angry, at me. How could I overlook the local girls, who have a small enough dating pool as it is?

Of course, my attention grabbing self latched onto this argument. I mean, who am I to deprive the young women of Chicago from having the opportunity to date me? That's cruel and unusual punishment, withholding such a prize specimen from such eager and unknowing fans. So I've decided to get more active, and put my name out there.

Once I hit the market, I'm pretty sure they'll see the error of this $2,000 prize. They've created a monster.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Caption Contest - Name the Simcha... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

For the Love of Torah

I studied at Yeshiva University, a Modern Orthodox institution alternatively called too left-wing or too right-wing, depending on where you stand. It doesn't feature the focus and commitment of the entire student body for those used to a more typical yeshiva environment, and it doesn't force its students to engage the world at large for those more comfortable in a traditional university environment.

When I read Ben's blog, I am reminded of many of my critiques of YU. I was in YU when Yeshivat Chovevei Torah first opened. I was also in YU when current President Richard Joel was hired. My reaction to both events was a bitterness towards a knee-jerk embrace of modernity without tradition as its starting point. But as my disdain and caution remain for these bastions of liberality, my jealousy and envy grow as I watch their accomplishments.

Reading about Chovevei's trip to New Orleans, or even some of Richard Joel's more open minded gestures, such as formal YU participation in the pluralistic Federation General Assembly reminds me of all the opportunities that traditional Jewish sources have neglected.

One of the larger and more Modern Orthodox synagogues in my neighborhood has been interviewing for an Assistant Rabbi widely seen as a successor to the long time senior Rabbi. YCT and YU have both sent graduates of their respective programs, and the one reaction I see to the YU Rabbis is that, no matter how talented they may be, they stick out like a sore thumb.

It's not a matter of Hashkafa. The strengths of YCT and even Edah that I've seen have nothing to do with where they fall in the religious spectrum. But they have an energy and creativity in bringing their Rabbis into the community at-large. To be fair, YU is a large, bureaucratic organization, and its Rabbinical school is a forgotten vestige. YCT is the nimble youth, able to quickly seize opportunities.

The New York Modern Orthodox community is every bit as much "ghettoized" as its Chareidi counterpart. But to be relevant outside the Tri-State area, you have to be familiar and ready to lead people who live outside a Jewish box. I just hope that Torah doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Little Princess

Chanukah is a time that we really celebrate Jewish identity more than any other holiday. It is a festival dedicated, not "for the rest of us," but specifically towards the ability of the Jewish people to stick together for so many years. In the face of Greek assimilation, the Maccabees retained enough pride to bring the Jewish nation back to prominence. It is in this spirit that one of the Rabbi's at the Skokie Community Kollel, Rabbi Yakov Kreisman, spoke of the inherent contradiction in any attempts to bridge the gap between Chanukah and other holidays that fall out around the same time of year.

But I'm not about to start off on yet another Chrismukkah rant. Aside from having been extensively covered this holiday season, it isn't the most pressing "assimilation" issue that I've seen recently. It's easy to look at a holiday and say, "That's their holiday, this is our holiday." Preserving your heritage is easy when you look at overtly religious distinctions. It is cultural nuances and societal mores, however, that can be more subtle, and one-hundred times more pervasive. In reality, it is the phenomenon of raising "Princesses" that has increasingly attracted my ire.

I don't know where the notion came from that every little girl should be treated with cotton gloves, primped and spoiled to produce only the finest, delicate and worthless human being imaginable. I have nothing against beauty and refinement, but I certainly don't see them as ends unto themselves. But yet American girls seem to be raised that if only they can be gorgeous caricatures of fairytale princesses, they will have validated their existence. That makes me sick. Women have plenty more to contribute to this world than their looks, and never challenging them to use their abilities certainly stunts their character growth.

And unfortunately, this has seeped into the Frum community. While the JAP isn't native to the religious world, the Orthodox have certainly adopted her as their queen. Girls from the Modern Orthodox to the Chassidiche communities are brought up to be married off. They are sent to polishing schools, and are expected to excel in those same superficial measures as the non-Jewish world. Unfortunately, the independent young woman with much real ability to offer the world is usually shoved to the periphery of the Shidduch market, seen as too risky a catch for the best guys.

Feh. Of all the things to assimilate. Merry Chanukah.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam walk into a bar...

...The bartender looks up and says, "Is this some kind of joke?"

I love humor, and I hate political correctness. But I'm not sure what my stance is on ethnic jokes. When you think about it, the underlying stereotypes are the building blocks of sectarian discrimination. But on the other hand, they're dang funny!

Humor can be a very therapeutic process. In this vein, ethnic jokes should have their positive aspects. After all, various cultures often have very real, very distinct personalities to them. While not necessarily applicable to every last member of a specific tribe, on the whole such observations may be valid.

And if a joke is based on scientifically noted differences between sociological groups, doesn't poking fun at the differences help bring them to the fore of our consciousness and serve as a vehicle of questioning long-established quirks? If Jewish men are submissive, can't a punch line wake us up? If lawyers are seen as slimy, shouldn't a one-liner keep them on the up-and-up?

But who is the audience? Between two members of the culture, the self-depreciative humor can be uncomfortable, but possibly constructive as we analyze whether we fall into this same pitfall. Between one member of the culture and outsiders, this humor can be awkward, as regardless of the tribesman's own character, the jokester's motivations can be hard to ascertain, and defensiveness can overwhelm the conscience. And within a group of outsiders making light of another culture, the joke seems simply offensive.

As I began writing this, I didn't think I could come to a conclusion on whether ethnic jokes have their place or not. But as I continued, I slowly saw the fine line unravel between the positive and negative outcomes. It is similar to Tochecha- rebuke in Jewish law. When trying to point out flaws in another's actions, there is a fine line between constructive and destructive words. Seemingly the same statement could have both effects, and we are enjoined to be careful in our words and use our own judgement as to whether a productive influence could be had by our interjection.

If there is any positive benefit to ethnic jokes, isn't it self-improvement? This then would be the limiting factor in when a joke is a joke, and when it's Lashon Hora - slander. There is no fixed rule. It's up to your subjective judgement. But keep in mind that telling that great Polish joke is no different than telling some embarrassing story about your friend.

But I'm still not fully sure. What do you think defines good taste? Am I reading too much into things? When does laughter stop and sensitivity start?

I'm not equating ethnic jokes with Lashon Hora, just comparing them. There are still plenty of ways to be humorous without indicting any specific group of people. There's always Chelm...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Torah? From Me?!?

I went to a Tisch for High School boys Friday night. Good times on an early Shabbos. Silly kids...they asked me to speak. So here is a reworked version of the Dvar Torah I gave.

There is a famous joke, "Why did the Jews wander in the desert for 40 years? Because somebody dropped a quarter."

It seems that this stereotype is based in this week's Torah portion. The Torah mentions that after Yaakov crossed over the river with his family in order to face his brother Eisav, he remained alone for the night. The Midrash asks, if he crossed the river with his family, how could he have been left alone? The Midrash concludes that Yaakov returned to the first bank of the river in order to retrieve "Pachim K'tanim - small vessels," and remained there alone for the night. Was Yaakov really so cheap, the forefather of the generalization of Jewish cheapness? What was the value of such small vessels on the eve of such a pivotal moment in Jewish History in general, and Yaakov's life in particular?

Even more troubling is that the traditional commentaries applaud Yaakov's decision and hold it up as an example for future generations. Is cheapness then a Jewish ethos?

I read this week in The Tzedakah Treasury a comparison between King David's plans for the first temple in Jerusalem, and the rededication of the second temple by the Chashmonaim at the time of Chanuka. King David gathered gold and silver from around his kingdom and set it aside for use in the temple that he hoped to build. He reserved the finest treasures of his empire for the sole purpose of glorifying Gd's name. There was one problem, however. During his reign, the land of Israel suffered from a terrible drought. Starvation was rampant. Despite the extreme poverty, King David held onto his wealth for use in the temple. The Midrash learns that it was this mistaken priority that served as one of the reasons that King David was never able to see the glory and splendor of the temple in his lifetime.

The temple of the Chashmonaim was different, however. Most notably, at the time of the Maccabee's rededication of the temple, a wooden Menorah was used. As times improved, the Menorah was slowly upgraded, until a solid gold Menorah was again used. But the question was asked, why didn't they start with a gold Menorah? As the conquering power, surely they had enough resources to properly build the temple! The answer is that although they could have afforded it, the Chashmonaim recognized that the daily needs of the Jewish people take precedence over ceremonial objects. They first channeled the nations wealth towards alleviating poverty, and only later directed the excess towards the temple accoutrements.

What separated the Chashmonaim from King David? What knowledge did they have above that of the Psalmist? The Chashmonaim recognized the value of everything. They realized that money isn't a means of displaying accomplishment, but a method of achieving it. The secret of the Maccabees was that they knew that a little money goes a long way when used correctly.

We see this in one of the central miracles of Chanukah. After regaining independence for the Jewish people, the Chashmonaim find only one "Pach Shemen - vessel of oil" left to light the Menorah. Just like Yaakov in this weeks Parsha, the Chashmonaim knew the power of even the smallest amount of material wealth. That same small "Pach" wasn't disregarded, viewed as unnecessary. And when even the small things are valued, they go a long way. The same spirit that saw that gold should be invested in people, not tributes, didn't overlook a dusty, forgotten container in the temple courtyard.

And now we can see why Yaakov was lauded for returning for such immaterial items. Far from being cheap, he simply realized the value of even the smallest possession that Gd had blessed him with. The Commentaries meant to instill this value, not cheapness, as one of the highest ethics of the Jewish fabric.

If one "Pach" of oil can last eight days, how much was accomplished with the "Pach" that Yaakov might otherwise have left behind? And how many "Pachim K'tanim - small vessels" are there in our lives that go unappreciated? We should not only be thankful for the smallest blessings, but realize that like the miracle of Chanuka, we have the potential to turn them into limitless gifts for others.

Editorial Update: I checked back on The Tzedakah Treasury quote, and it was way off. The story unfolded very differently, although the moral lesson was the same. I encourage you to open the book to learn the actual occurence of events.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Love Money

It seems like a politically incorrect statement, as if I'm just materialistic or self-centered or something. But is there really something wrong with loving money?

For some people they are gathering money because they want to blow it on the world's biggest yacht, or go vacation in five-star resorts. There is nothing money could buy that I want.

Others are in a race to outdo their neighbors, prove themselves, or control others. I couldn't care about what anybody else has relative to myself.

But I still want to amass a fortune of money in my lifetime. I want to make money hand-over-fist, and I don't want to stop until the day I die.


What is money? When one person does something of value to another person, he receives payment for his action in cash, based on the relative value of the benefit. If I give my neighbor a haircut, he gives me $5 in recognition of the benefit I've done for him. If I do his taxes, he'll give me $100, since I've really given him a good deal. And everyone that does something for me, such as gives me a hot hamburger, will be rewarded for helping me out.

So you get dollars for doing, producing, acting on behalf of others, and you pay money when you rely on other's to provide for you. So the more you produce in excess of what you consume, the more dollars you will have. Meaning that the more you do for others over and above what they do for you, the more you will have in your bank account, but also you have a measurable sum of how much of an impact you have had on those around you.

No wonder I hate receiving gifts. You'd think everyone loves getting something for nothing. But the way I see it, it just means you're going into debt. You're being taken care of by others instead of taking care of them.

Not that you need to benefit others for the reward, to count how much they need you. But if those piles of money mean I've spent my life toiling so that other's could enjoy life, then I'll take pride in what I've gathered.

If the pursuit of money is irrational, then it will never bring joy. Money is the representative of an orderly world, and those that chase it as if it alone will solve their problems will never find happiness. But if you understand what money is, and what it does, then it is one of the best gifts you can ever attain.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bobbing for Apples

I haven't turned my back on the dating world. My last post gave some readers the impression that either dating is not a priority for me, or that I have otherwise given up the whole enterprise as a failure. Not so. Well, not totally. I mean, I definitely haven't been successful. And I definitely don't put it at the top of my To Do list. But it is certainly not a forgotten endeavor.

There is a certain factor at the root of my predicament, namely that I am in Chicago. Skipping too much background, there is a basic issue of long-range dating that gets in the way. Yes, I've done it before. But I have found traveling for dates to be wholly ineffective. And quite possibly a bad idea as well. Sure, it gives me an opportunity to at least keep my skills fresh. And I hate to disappoint the ladies by not providing equal opportunity to young women around the country to get to go out with me ('cause I'm that good...). But it just doesn't work.

Maybe I'm just too immature, but I find that the time pressures of traveling are simply not conducive to making life-long decisions. Knowing I have three days to determine if one woman (OK, I'll admit it, up to three) would be a suitable companion and mother of my children is just not realistic. Couple that pressure with the logistical arrangements and other social obligations, and I just can't do it all in one weekend. Inevitably, knowing my limitations, I simply make a call based on my first impression (I mean first minute, not first date), and then treat the rest of the weekend as a wasted trip.

I don't want anyone to walk away from this thinking that I don't take dating seriously, or that the people I've gone out with weren't great people. But the amount of energy I had to get to know them just wasn't there. Maybe it would take two weeks to find out that somebody has the qualities I'm looking for, but they are just deeper below the surface. But in my haste, I cut them off and never give them that chance.

Again, maybe it's just me, and I'm not mature enough. Or perhaps the scenario is intrinsically unconquerable. But for the meantime, I don't have any plans to continue traveling for dates. I've learned my lesson. I'd rather stay single than treat some girl unfairly.

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