Tuesday, February 28, 2006

UWS - Sketchy, Shady, or Both?

Returning from a trip to New York usually leaves me with plenty of things I want to write about and not enough time to write them. With my apologies, I'll just fill you in on the trip now and save the deeper thoughts for later. The wedding was great, and I saw a bunch of random people I hadn't seen in awhile. I stopped by the SOY Seforim Sale and grabbed some of the latest releases. I spent a Shabbos on the UWS (not my speed), but was with some really great people. I went to a bar for the first time in my life, and wasn't successful in putting any faces to blogger friends. I may have to restart dating more actively (three calls the day I got back), and I'll be busy with a few projects over the next few weeks, so I may be sporadic online. Hopefully, I'll get my pictures up too. I did want to share with you my Google Video creation, available here.

Speaking of Google Video, a friend from Yeshiva asked me to post the following unpaid advertisement, which I wouldn't normally do except for the fact that his email was funny. I can definitely appreciate a little PR...




1 MAN...










"...A film not to be missed..."
-Mati Schayer

"...a beautiful depiciton of post-war Jerusalem..."
-Rabbi Zvi Ron

"...Da Bomb..."
-Corey Adler

"...This film will rock you..."
-The Netziv

B E T H E R E O R D O N ' T . . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No Steps Forward?

I've accomplished a lot this week. Everything on my "To Do" list in fact. That's awesome, right? Somehow, it still leaves me feeling unaccomplished, and I think I know why. I have a tendency to shoot for very high dreams. But I have a tendency to be too busy to pursue them. And what am I so busy with? Well, I posted my pictures on my blog, had my car emissions tested, cleaned my room. In short, all the little nit-picky things that I guess have to be done. But get you no closer to your goals.

I've never liked working out for that same purpose. No matter how many weights you lift, you're only flexing those muscles so that you can lift more weights tomorrow. If you're a desk jockey like me, that workout won't get you closer to your goals.

You can spend an infinite amount of time on maintenance, but it only masks the wasted opportunity for growth. This is why successful people pay others to mow their lawns, clean their houses, cook their food. Not (necessarily) because they're spoiled and have nothing better to do with their money. They're doing more with their time. Instead of some charismatic guy trimming his hedges once a month just to keep them from overgrowing, he is off organizing a charity event, while some immigrant earns his keep.

And this is what I know I need to be. And why I'll never be satisfied crossing everything off my "To Do" list.

Monday, February 20, 2006

From the Mouths of Babes

I used to be such a nice boy. I was polite and kind. My speech was always respectful and deferential. Now, I'm obnoxious. I'm loud and attention grabbing. My humor is biting and condescending. What happened to me?

I was raised well by my parents. They taught me how to be helpful, not to resort to name calling. By high school, this was the centerpiece of my identity. In my yearbook, one classmate listed me as Most Admired Person, while two others noted that I'd make a great husband someday.

Of course, they both have since married other guys. Guys who weren't reserved and waiting to be addressed. And I realize that one of the reasons I've adapted my personality is that nice people don't have friends. Or as the saying goes, nice guys finish last.

I'm not truly a jerk. I still don't mean to hurt a fly. But with sarcasm in and politeness out, I've learned that people might recognize pure behavior, but they don't want to be friends with it. They want the edge, they want the attitude. And so I've adapted. You wouldn't even recognize my personality if you knew me from high school.

I still only want to help others, but experience has taught me that gruff tactics are the only way to get close enough to help. I suppose people find a certail realistic approachability to the frank humorist which they don't identify with the pure angelic type.

I just don't know if the lesson I've learned is the way it should be, or if the world would be warmer if people turned down the character roasting.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Crazy Shtick

Hope everyone enjoyed the photos. I know I put more of myself online than most people, but I hope to keep it up. I took a little heat for being so revealing, but truth be told, I think I only revealed my true self, so I don't really see any reason to hide that!

Putting up all those wedding photos reminded me of all of the craziness that surrounds (frum) weddings. In all the preparations, outfits, bands, food and other accessories, the actual simcha of starting a Jewish home often gets lost. I'm not just talking about the interfamily strife, the difficulty in getting all the details put together, or the overbearing expense of keeping up with even a modest affair.

I was at a wedding where two guests left because they weren't having a good time. This was an out of town wedding that they came in for, mind you. How many times have you heard people complain about the band? Or the lack of a sushi or another specialty table at the Shmorg?

Who do they think they are?

Even if they are joking, they definitely are feeding off the notion that the event is about them, not about the Chosson and Kallah. Why do you come home and critique the family's choice of colors, or who was honored at each Sheva Beracha?

Truthfully, the problem starts from those who praise these same aspects of the wedding. That's right, come home talking about how good the Viennese table was or how beautiful the bentchers were, and you too are feeding the frenzy. For you too have fallen into the trap that a wedding is just about that, the trappings. You may have liked it, but if you didn't?

At the next wedding, enjoy the endless energy of the dancing, the unforgettable smile on the groom's face, or the camaraderie of friends who have come together from near and far to share in something special. The most beautiful accoutrements money can buy can accent the most beautiful wedding, but once you strip a wedding of its meaning, there is no way to dress up the emptiness.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


An important lesson in Judaism is to take the time to stop and recognize significant life-cycle events. I therefore have Hakaros Hatov to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for registering the 10,000th hit on my blog sometime before Shabbos. This also wouldn't be possible without my faithful public, so, Mom, when you read this, thanks for reading so often!

I took the time today to finally put together a place on my blog for the photos I've taken with my new digital camera. You can find the photo albums here.

To cap off my weekend, I'm making a triumphant return to Ebay. Now this is classic Why Josh Can't be Left Alone. Feel free to bid!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Renaissance Man

I am not special. But I am a member of such a small club that's it's ridiculous. I'm not just talking about the Jewish people. This group is much more minute - the very fortunate group of knowledgeable, practicing, striving Jews. That's a tiny fraction of the world, and the Jewish people. And that's sad.

But sometimes we spend so much time analyzing this miniscule piece of humanity under a microscope that we lose an appreciation of how small the tip of the pyramid really is.

I look around at the friends I've gone to school with, and even among those, I'd still rank in the top percent. Again, I'm not inflating my own self worth. I merely look around in wonderment at where the people around me have ended up. Of my high school class, I'd say that less than half still keep Shabbos. I would be surprised if more than 20% of the guys I went to college with still daven with a minyan 3 times a day. Of the guys I learned in Israel, I'd say only 5% continue to learn at least an hour a day.

I hear that there aren't enough "frum" guys out there to support the frum female population. Is that the case? Based on what I've said above, that could be a true assertion. But what drives this phenomenon, this imbalance in the male/female frumkeit ratio? Why is it so skewed? I propose that this, not any social norm, is the real root of the "Shidduch Crisis."

How do we define "frum?" (And I'm not talking about superficial definitions.)

What is a "frum" guy? Not only must he look Jewish, with a Kippa and Tzitzis, which isn't easy in the working world, he must wake up early to pray, set aside time from work to pray, and push off exhaustion at the end of the day to pray. And he must shlep, if at all possible, to a Minyan. And whenever he is not working, or assisting with family duties, he must be studying Torah, with a chavrusa, a Rabbi, whomever. Even if we allow him the benefit of some personal time, he is expected to only value his Torah time. In addition to having enough knowledge to serve as a home-based halachic authority, these are the minimum requirements just to be considered frum, before even discussing other Mitzvos and the harder to measure things like Hashkafa, Bitachon, and Middos.

What is a frum girl? She should crack open a siddur at some point in the day, and should look good in a skirt. And be a good cook.

Now, I realize I'm being unfair. And am making generalizations. But how far off am I? I'm not saying that girls aren't frum or don't expend a lot of energy on their Avodas Hashem. I'm just pointing out that the measurements and expectations aren't as demanding.

What do girls want in a guy? They want either a guy who will learn all day, or a guy who will work and learn the rest of the day. In my mind, unfortunately, girls don't really understand what it means to be financially independent. They want a guy to learn full time, but they think that means they can keep up an ostentatious lifestyle. Or they assume that because their guy works, that Pesach in Miami grows on trees. The seminaries don’t help, telling you to look for something in a boy as if you can just pick one off the rack and head to the checkout. Yeah, it's good to want a frum guy to be a good influence in your home. But don't be fooled into thinking that just because you were told that a black hat and a certain Yeshiva were things to look for, that your world will be complete when you find that simple solution. Not that you don't deserve it, but there numerically aren’t that many of “those” guys out there, and “those” intense guys expect more for their money.

What do guys want? Even the "best" guys want surprising things. I can't tell you how many great learning and/or earning guys simply want a girl who is frum and "with it." They don't ask about her Middos, her Avodas Hashem. They want a girl who is pretty and funny. I'll admit, the desire to have an attractive girl is a blinding influence when you're dating, one I fear myself. But how many guys are looking for, and live up to the level of the Frum girls? Guys can't keep up with all the expectations that have been burdened on them by their schools, girls can. Then the girls come looking, and we're gone. Some girls drop down to the guys' level, whether out of despair or opportunity. The rest? Girls can only date older, so their choices are limited.

And this is where we have to look at the opening assumptions we bring into dating in order to address the "crisis." Frum people are looking for superficial things. As much as we bash the secular world, they tend to be far less superficial when choosing a spouse (yes, I'm not naive as to why). Not that we need emulate them, but we can learn from the basics. It shouldn't sound novel, but they marry because of love, common values, and personalities that "click." How often are these simple connections ignored in our community, even when we're not superficial? Sometimes we are so practical, so check list oriented on objective criteria, on whether it's "shayich," that we never give it a shot.

And this is my personal solution to the "Shidduch Crisis." There may be an imbalance between the frum guys and frum girls. But that doesn't mean, C"VSH, that you have to alternatively despair or "drop down a notch." You just have to look around and find that there are more frum people out there, if only you look at them differently. They may not meet the definitions you were taught, but they are ready to struggle. They just need your help, your dedication, your frumkeit, to push them the next step.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Finally, a Vacation

Today was my first Sunday at home in five weeks. That's a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side, I got a lot done. I cleaned my room (after unpacking and repacking for a trip every week, there was a lot of stuff that just never got put away), and even sorted through my (paper) files to get everything organized. Just like the Jews were rewarded for tearing down the houses they found when they entered Eretz Yisroel by finding treasures hidden in the walls, I was likewise rewarded for doing the dirty work. As I was shredding old pay stubs, I found a check still attached!

On the minus side, I was worried that a full weekend would leave me with a time vacuum that would have me busying myself online. Fortunately, the cleaning kept me pretty occupied, so while I did spend some time online, and found some Google Videos of note (keyword: Purim), I didn't go off the derech.

I didn't do everything I wanted today. I am trying to post all my pictures and videos from my last two trips online. I am still trying to find a non-bulky way to accomplish this. The trick is I want to be able to share them with all of you, so I don't want a service like Snapfish where I need to grant permission to people to view them. Right now, I'm looking at posting to the blog and Google Video, but this will take some time. Any ideas?

I also wanted to write some more posts, and finally start commenting on other blogs again, but alas, I didn't get that far. I guess this'll keep me busy for another week. I also have a few other items to take care of, response cards to fill out, checks to deposit. Just little errands. I should be able to take care of those during the week. So, all in all, a good weekend.

A few observations, once I'm writing. I have a fear of public bathrooms (toilet talk ahead for the rest of the paragraph - consider yourself warned). But not like that. It doesn't matter how much mold is growing from the ceiling, toilet paper stuck to the floor, bugs crawling up the pipes, or smell of rot coming from the walls. I'm afraid of people. Like somebody else coming in. If it's a a multi-person bathroom, I'll wait until I have privacy. If it's a one-person bathroom, I'm still afraid- I'll keep one foot on against the door, just in case the lock doesn't work. And if the bathroom is too big for that - forget it, I'll never relax. Yes, I do get stage fright. I guess I just follow Rashi in Mishlei - I learn Tznius (modesty) from the cat.

That of course, led me to think, what are my other fears? I do have recurring dreams about my teeth falling out. I probably wouldn't even think of that as a fear, had I not dated a girl that told me that she had similar dreams and this was her worst fear. I also am afraid of choking. I eat fish so slowly that it's easier just not to eat. I'm not really that afraid of that much. Oh yeah, there's also a fear of failure. That's a big one. That's why I'm always on the move. So I can feel like I can accomplish something, but usually whatever I'm doing doesn't have that much risk, unless somebody is pushing me. If there was one thing about me that I could work on, it would be this fear of failure. I know, everybody is afraid of failing to some degree. But it's my biggest handicap.

Finally, (I know I'm throwing a lot of topics into one- I'm cheating, trying to make it seem like I'm not posting too often, so nobody feels left out), would it make sense for me to shave my beard for a wedding? The way I see it, there is a definite importance of a Jew not shaving, ever. But this isn't the basic Mitzvah, just an extension. I don't think the average Yeshiva Bachur has an excuse to shave, but there are many good reasons to, such as getting a job. (I trimmed mine when I interviewed for my current job. But I walked in the first day and saw my boss had a longer beard then me. I haven't trimmed since.) But entertaining a bride and groom is a very important Mitzvah, greater than the idea of not shaving. So my logic tells me that if a bride and groom would get immense joy from me shaving, which in this case I think I would, then I should do it for them. Does my logic hold? I was thinking I should ask my Rabbi, but A) I think my logic is pretty true, and B) I think he would just laugh at me.

(As a side note, I don't think dating is an excuse to shave. I think that a Jewish girl should have an appreciation of the value of a man not shaving. I understand that she wants her husband to look good, but I see it like a kippah. It may not look good, but it's part of the uniform, so a frum guy shouldn't be judged by GQ standards. It's more complex than that, but I just want to put this out there for discussion.)

Hehe, you thought you were just getting an "How I spent my weekend" post. Sucker.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Just How Super?

I hate sports. Not just dislike. At the last Cub's game I attended, I actually just wanted to get out of the stadium. I was once a fan (although I was never able to spit out miles of obscure trivia or statistics), but now I think that no matter who wins, we're all losers.

What's wrong with America's pastime? I once read an article, I believe in the Chicago Jewish News, about the historical criteria of Harvard University's admissions committee. From its founding, Harvard placed a premium on leadership attributes. Having gone through the whole college applications process once myself, I knew what this meant - clubs joined, student council positions held, work on newspaper, etc. It wasn't until the mid 20th century though that Harvard actually changed its direction, and started prioritizing students with superior intellectual abilities.

What? You didn't need a brain to get into Harvard? You could be a famous leader without a brain? I had always seen people like Albert Einstein as a hero; I wasn't aware that the world of the WASP had an entirely different notion until reading this article. (Yes, now I understand George Bush.)

But this is the same world that deifies sports. It is the leadership skills demonstrated in team sports that embody this leadership-framed ideal. But it is this utterly uncreative energy that turns me off to the world of sports. A home run in the bottom of the ninth? A last second touchdown? Are more people eating in Nigeria? Have any more kids learned to read? Why should I be impressed?

Sports is a fantasy world, a place for people to display their real talents - without accomplishing anything. To change the world is a proposition overwhelmingly filled with failure, so instead our culture runs to the stadium to see the microcosm of good vs. evil played out on grass. This simplified world is much easier to grasp, much easier to feel a winner.

But everyone is a loser. A world which places an athlete or rock star over a scientist is one without forward momentum.

This is my objection to frum people, whether they consider themselves modern or Yeshivish, whose lives revolve around sport schedules, tv shows, or People magazine. It's not assur, true. But the celebrities that are celebrated in that world aren't the models of growth that is central to every Jew's purpose. Why should we try and fill our day with empty victories and vain laughter when we have such a deep well of creative purpose to draw from?

I'm not saying that the only way to be frum is to learn torah all day. But to be frum means to submit to an ideal of growing closer to Gd every day. That inspiration can come from many sources, Jewish and non-Jewish. Are you finishing your prime-time TV with a better understanding of your spiritual connection to bring with you to davening or do you finish your davening to get back to your prime time TV? Wiling your time away with frivolous entertainment is the ultimate non-frum thing to do. You can be mekadesh (sanctify) Gd in many ways, including music and movies, but only if that is your goal - don't poison your mind deifying celebrity "accomplishments" instead of building your own.

Are you escaping or approaching?

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