Friday, July 28, 2006

A Man's Man

A funny thing happened the other day at Shul. As they do a couple of times a month, a pair of Meshulachim (Schnorrers; wandering charity collectors) made the rounds at my shul. In theory, I support the Agudah's green card program, but in practice I hesitate to give money to any collectors. Aside from the fact that I think that supporting charitable institutions is a more effective and efficient way to serve the needs of the community, I also get full corporate matching of gifts at work to 501(c)3 groups. But that is neither here nor there.

Back to the story. Two guys collecting at my shul. At some point in davening, I glance over at the women's section (you know, just to check the clock), and I notice one of the Meshulachim approaching each of the half dozen women who came for morning prayers. As if the sight of a man in gray beard and long black coat on the wrong side of the dividing partition between the sexes wasn't out of place enough, one of the more liberal women in shul (but whom I respect as very frum and genuine) was yelling at him to get out of the women's section. Trying to "close a deal," the guy was hesitating, but this women can be quite intimidating when she starts swinging her Siddur. He left, even as the women's blood pressure rose.

I couldn't help but smile at the irony. Chassidic guy irks liberal woman by violating boundary between the sexes. Now, I understand that Halacha is on his side, as far as I know. Men need to be separated from women during prayer, and not vice versa. But in our society, the ultra-Orthodox world has adopted numerous stringencies beyond the law, specifically in the realm of separation of the sexes. Most avoid conversation, and all co-ed environments. In my neighborhood, he could get away with just a scowl or two, but in his own neighborhood, he'd be fried!

While it might be nice cross exposure for some of these Meshulachim to interact with Jews around the world of all types of backgrounds, it made me wonder just how unproductive this charity collection system may be. Aside from the probable better use of each collector's time, what kind of environment does it put them in? If they are raising money to be able to live in their bubble (and I'm not criticizing that choice), then are they really better served by spending weeks at a time on their own roving throughout the free world? If a man from a community that has separate kiddushes suddenly feels comfortable interupting the women's section for individual appeals, what affect is this having on his spirituality according to his own Hashkafa? And if he's willing to break such public taboos, what of the more private taboos that he has the opportunity to break from when he's so far from the watchful eyes of his community?

And why are there no female Meshulachot?

Monday, July 17, 2006


No, I haven't "poofed." But between moving, working on a new video, and a revised learning schedule, my free time has eroded. There is a lot going on in my head, but precious little time to put it down on paper. Even less to commit it to blog-infamy. But just to keep you along for the ride, a little bit more of why Josh can't be left alone:

Because if we're sitting around talking to a Chassan, I might randomly ask about his "cute married sister."

Because I might go up to somebody with a LiveStrong wristband, and ask when that Lance Armstrong guy will finally lose his battle with cancer. Sorry about your grandparents.

Because I might leave a car that I borrowed parked with the doors unlocked and the keys in the glove compartment for the weekend.

Sheesh. Nobody's perfect.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I hate when the Rabbi speaks during davening on Shabbos. I also hate when they say Tehillim during davening. Usually, I avoid both. But this Shabbos, I made the mistake of staying for the Rabbi's speech, and he spoke about saying Tehillim during davening.

My general feeling is that there is no need to add extra Tehillim to our prayers. The three standard prayer services accomplish the same thing as these extraneous supplications, and if we don't have Kavana (devotion) to our required services, what is accomplished by creating more rote recitations? Unless there was some unfolding tragedy, I couldn't see the reason for this seemingly ever more popular practice.

But then my Rabbi made sense of it. It was kind of obvious, once I heard it. The time to turn to Gd isn't during tragedy. It's to turn to Him every day and pray that things should stay as well as they are. It's not to wait until it's too late. I suppose we could have that in mind with all our prayers, but certainly if I can see the value in reciting extra Psalms during tough times, I must admit to the importance of reaching out to Gd and recognizing and appreciating His hand in keeping us shielded from disaster.

And that carried me to today, when I found out that another Rabbi was burying his mother this morning. I haven't been to a funeral in years. In high school, I remember going to daven in Shiva houses every day. It wasn't that I was living amongst any crazy amount of tragedy, but there was an opportunity to do the Mitzva of comforting mourners, and I seized it. After learning the words of Solomon, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting," it became my motto that these Shiva trips were part of my character building, framing my outlook on the seriousness of life.

Back then, my daily mussar was asking how I would be eulogized when my time came. What bothered me this morning is that I now ask myself, will my Chassana be as Leibidik? Even if I may have a Mitzvadik approach to simchas, instead of looking at the mortality of life and realizing the importance of every minute, recently I have only been living for the moment. Thank Gd that so many people around me are celebrating, but at what point did I start to frequent the house of feasting more than the house of mourning?

I had a dream last night, that I saw a girl I hadn't seen in awhile, and we casually hugged. It's not something I've done in real life. But my subconscious revealed to me that I'm not at the point I was in high school, I'm not at the place I want to be at. And that's why today I went to the funeral, instead of all the other things I had planned.

It's about time I put my life back in order, and started to think more about how I will be remembered after 120 than for the next 94.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Missed Flights, Missed Simchas, Missed Opportunities

I'm a pretty easy going kind of guy. I don't get upset when things don't go as planned. I'm adaptable, and I can put things in perspective. But somehow, I'm just left unsettled by my scorecard from this past weekend. One missed flight, three missed weddings. I can't do it all, and I accept that. So it must be Gd's plan that I made the events I did and missed others.

But why doesn't it sit right? Why am I upset that I wasn't there? I don't miss the Shmorgs, the music, or the dancing. I don't even think it's the opportunity to see my friends. I'm pretty sure it's the fairly pure motivation of bringing Simcha to the Chassan and Kallah. I mean, it's a slight possibility that I just want to meet the bridesmaids (but I am NOT a stalker!), but I really think it's pretty Lishma. I know that while everybody else is gorging their stomaches, I can help keeping the energy level up on the dance floor.

I know, how modest. But it can make a difference - how many weddings have you been at where the Bride's and Groom's enjoyment seemed of lesser import than the guests' own? How many people leave the wedding early to catch up on chores? How many people shy off the dance floor when the song isn't their favorite? But how many people are willing to make a fool of themselves to make a party fly?

So if for whatever reason I don't make it to a wedding, I feel like I missed an opportunity to make a difference.

But I don't think my main concern is that the wedding wouldn't happen without me. I think the bigger issue is that I feel like I'm letting down my friends by being absent on their big day. People take their big day very seriously, and I've noticed that brides and grooms take their attendance list just as seriously. Those that don't make it create what seems to be an unspoken rift in their relationship. Sent back the response card "no?" Don't bother calling again. And I don't want to injure any of my friendships, because I value how important this day is to them.

So when everyone sings "Mazel Tov!" and I'm left far away, I feel like quite the Shlamazel. And that is a big part of why I'm moving. Of course, it looks like I'll have two weddings coming up in Chicago. What a shlamazel!

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