Sunday, December 31, 2006

Merry Chrismuka

"Jingle Bells, Santa Smells," the yeshivish people sing to parody the popular christmas song.

"It's so annoying, everywhere I go I hear this stupid Kratzmich music," they complain. Others lament of 106.7's decision to play Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Nobody likes seeing the Christmas themed CVS and Duane Reade decor, and the Coke bottles. There are some Rebeim who have told their students that don't buy coke with Santa on the label. But there are many Jews who drive around specific neighborhoods to admire the handiwork on the decorated houses.

All that's okay and all, but I find that in today's agnostic culture, especially in NY, Christmas is not a celebration of Jesus' birth. It's a warm, loving, but stressful time to get together with family (that you may or may not like) and give and receive presents. And pig out.

Admit it, doesn't Christmas kinda look appealing? I think people still think of this as some religious ceremony, which it no longer is to many Americans. I think frum people denying that are like saying that KFC doesn't look good. Or whatever treif food appeals to them. Obviously KFC looks good, and probably tastes good, and perhaps isn't good for us, but don't we all secretly wish we could just taste it?



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bittul Torah?

I met a woman in charge of a Res-hab program, and she openly discussed one challenge she faces constantly, "There are soo many girls willing to do this, but when it comes to boys, it's so hard to find just one." She told me, asking if I knew any young men or boys willing to help her out. Unfortunately, I don't.

Another woman told me of a family who's going through a hard time, and the parents spend a lot of time in the hospital. The boys' grades are slipping, and they need someone to go there and help them Mishnayos and that sort of stuff. She said she has girls by the dozen who are willing to help the one daughter, but there seems to be a lack of boys willing to spend time there, even to give them some male companionship. My father suggested that she call a local yeshiva, and I wonder if that will be successful.

From what I see, boys are taught that everything that isn't learning is considered Bittul Torah. Maybe that 'helping' is the girls' job. Or that Chesed is for the bums who can't do anything better. That's bad on many levels, but not something to get into now.

From what I've seen of the counselors at local Bais Ezra houses and things of that sort, they are not "yeshivish" or "learners" but they are warm guys with a big heart and lots of patience.

Why can't there be "learners" who do things like this? It's often the kids that yeshivas were worried about who end up doing outstanding work there.

Why must these guys choose to either be helpful, but "bummy", or not give their time for a very worthy cause, and be "frum"? And not every "bummy" kid is helping out, some are just on the street smoking weed. What I mean to say is, of all the counselors I've seen at these homes, none of them are of Yeshivish ilk.

I don't either mean to say that the only chesed a boy can do is in Bais Ezra, or other such programs. I know that not everyone is cut out for that. But there are many other chessed jobs that guys are capable of. (That could even produce better husbands down the line)

Why would Yeshivas never dream of saying, "instead of Mishmar three nights a week until 9 pm, we'll have mishmar twice a week (which is still shoving it down the boys' throats) and one night a week, each boy, or in pairs will be sent to a house to help out and do chesed."?

They can teach them the importance of Torah AND Chesed, because aren't we supposed to be learning Chesed from the Torah??


Monday, December 18, 2006

What May I Say?

The most recent issue of the Jewish Observer has a feature about Shidduchim. It's almost as juicy as TomKat's wedding. Sells magazines.

Anyway, the article told tales of people's inadequate judgement in telling or not telling information about the families involved in the shidduchim.

There was a story about one girl whose brother in law (sister's husband) served prison time for a conviction he received despite his innocence. It involved a car accident, and the prosecution maintained that his headlights were off, and basically, he ended up in jail for 2 years. The boy "found out" soon before they planned to get engaged, and ended the relationship. Was this someone's responsibility to reveal?

That did not affect that young woman directly.

But what about a broken engagement? Is someone else obligated to tell that?

In Seminary, a girl posed a question. A boy she knew was engaged to a girl who had experienced a public nervous breakdown, but he had no idea. Was it her responsibility to tell him that? THe answer was complicated and involved whether she was on medication, and other factors.

Obviously, one shouldn't say, "I don't see it," although I am so tempted to sometimes. Because I don't want them to come back to me and say, "That date was horrible, why didn't you TELL me??"

But I think if there are creepy things lurking in a family's history, it could affect the couple. But then only people with similar situations can get together?

Someone once asked me if a girl I know had an eating disorder. He asked if she had ever had one. Yes, she had. But I knew if I said so, he'd never consider it. So I said, "not that I know of," that way, I didn't say no, or yes. But had it gone through, I'd have felt terribly guilty for not warning this family of what might come back around.

A man asked me if the girl got along with her parents. I was privy to information that she had NOT gotten along with them. But it was NOT my job to tell him her family history.

But does he have a right to know?
Do any of us have a right to know this important yet personal and delicate information?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gedolim v. Celebrities (LEHAVDIL!!!)

I wrote this draft almost two years ago, (Jan 16, 2005)and was afraid to post it. But today, I decided to read if over, and I find it funny how my opinions have changed since then. Because of that, I chose to keep the original draft and fill in my updates in red. Interesting what a year without Seminary can do for you.

A few years ago, I visited another school with my friend. The lights were off throughout the building. They were there for play rehearsals or something. As we arrived at the 3rd floor, we were greeted by a group of Gedolim pictures. She decided to test herself, identifying them in the dark. I respected her, and was kinda jealous, too. Heck, I wish I could identify them in the light.

On the flip side, every week, when my Us Weekly arrives, I test my knowledge on the pages where the names are in small letters on the bottom. I usually do pretty well. Fortunately, I can say I have never seen a TV show or movie with most of these people, but I know them just from being around. I have never seen Scarlett Johanssen in a movie, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hilary Swank, Russel Crowe, Colin Farrell...yet I can pick them out in a crowd in a second. Although when Sarah Jessica Parker was filming at Brooklyn College, I walked right past her and had no idea it was her.

In high school, a teacher once told us something that stuck with me, "With a celebrity, the more you get to know them, the less you like them, and the less greatness you see in them. Lehavdil, with a Gadol, the more you see of them, the more greatness you see, and the more you admire them. Not like I believe all the terrible things circulating about various Gedolim now, but I do feel slighted by the education I received designed to convince me that anyone meant to become someone knows Shas by heart at the age of 4, and all that. Hence the banning of "Making of a Gadol," which could have taught and encouraged many. But our society is afraid of us knowing reality.

Put it this way. After watching a few hours of Newlyweds, how many people can actually respect Jessica Simpson? Lehavdil, after reading a biography of a Gadol, you are more in awe of this superhuman being. He possesses a greatness that is above our concept of reality! Because these biograpies portray them as perfect. Which they are not (and I feel tremendous guilt typing that) but, nobody, but Hashem is perfect.

For example. I love Will & Grace. My favorite character is Karen, who is played by Megan Mullally. When I heard she was going to be on some late night show, I don't even remember which one, I struggled to stay awake to see her in action. When her segment finally arrived, I was bored. Then I was disappointed. Then I remembered. Most of these people are empty. They have nothing to them, except for the character that's written to them. Now she has her own talk show, and has proven to have some personality.

When it comes down to it, celebrities' lives are glamorized, and the more Us Weekly I read, the more I realize that they're just a bunch of rich, bored, miserable people for the most part.

Gedolim, on the other hand, are called so for a reason, but perhaps have nisyonot that we can learn from, if only we'd know about them. It's important for people to be portrayed in somewhat of a normal light.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"But He Wears A Knitted Yarmulke!"

Funny how many things in our culture could be so simple if we wanted them to be.
Especially headcoverings.

Woman choose between a sheitel, a hatfall, bandana, a hat, a hat on Shabbos, or nothing. (Whole other story)

A woman was telling me about her son's interview at a local Yeshiva. Never met her in my life.
To stress how "not yeshivish" she considered the place, she mentioned that on the interview with her second son, she "even wore a hatfall!"

A woman I know for a many years approached me at a Bar Mitzvah saying she felt weird that she was the only one in a hat in the place. Everyone else was wearing a sheitel...

Apparently, a woman's chosen form of head-covering says a lot about her. Well, for the record, when I get married G-d willing, it's bandanas for me, as long as they're in style, and bandfalls pretty much.

It seems that what a woman wears on her head (if anything at all) and what a man chooses to wear on his, tells the world his and her level of religiosity.

"That knitted yarmulke bum? Probably didn't learn a word today!"

When I was young, I always took pride in my father's suede yarmulke--especially among the velvets in my school. I thought modern was cool, and suede was modern. Well, little did I know (until my dad switched) that knitted is even cooler. So here I am, with my dad and three older brothers in black knitted yarmulkes, and so proud of it that it's nerdy. Why, you ask?

Maybe it's the rebel in me. It could also be that it's honest. It's saying, "I'm not trying to be something I'm not." Which is what I do in my own little ways all the time.

It seems that here in Flatbush, no matter what you do, as long as you wear a velvet Yarmulke, you're an okay guy.

My dad told me even in his time, his Yeshiva gave him a hard time about wearing a knitted yarmulke. If my little brother would show up in his Yeshiva with something other than a velvet--or a bobby pin to ensure it stays on his head--HELP US ALL.

Because wearing anything other than a velvet yarmulke means you're a rebel. You're a bum. You talk to girls. You hang out. But if your wear a velvet--Tzaddik Gamur.

Anyway, the title comes from a shidduch experience in which someone "redding" me a shidduch found it important enough to mention that the guy wears a knitted yarmulke. In case that would "bother me." No, but a velvet one does.

P.S. I just posted this story in the comments, and it slipped my mind when I wrote the post: I was watching Good Day New York last year, and Mike Woods(or someone) was ioutside on some location exchanging unwanted gifts for some promo item. Sure enough, a frum guy showed up with an engagement gift he didn't like. He wore a knitted yarmulke. I was proud to see my "brother" on TV, and behave like a mensch--he wasn't loud or obnoxious, or, "look at me, I'm on TV"ish, just plain, "I got this for an engagement gift and I don't like it." I thought it was cool. The guy wasn't trying to make believe he was someone he wasn't. I was impressed. Then I thought, would I have thought the same way had the guy been wearing a velvet yarmulke?