Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School

About a year and a half ago, I came across 3eanuts, a site that removes the fourth panel from Peanuts comic strips and reveals the depth of the Peanuts kids right before the punch line. As the tagline of the site states, “Charles Schulz's Peanuts comics often conceal the existential despair of their world with a closing joke at the characters' expense. With the last panel omitted, despair pervades all.”
While we, as adults, generally consider children to be young and innocent, this site reminds us of the deep thoughts kids can have. And even if we don't quite understand how something so small can have such a large effect on a child, Schultz can remind us that it does.
I emailed myself the site so that one day down the road, I would be able to write about it. This weekend, the events in Sandy Hook Elementary School brought me back to this website.
20 children, along with six faculty members and one mother were killed on Friday. It is easy for us to count the numbers. It may be easy for us to remember that each one of these children have a family, and an entire community that knew and loved them. What often gets overlooked is that each and every one of these children had something to offer the world. To them, we were all just grownups talking like a trumpet while they went through their lives. They had profound thoughts that neither I nor you would ever think of. And now, the world will never know them.

The most humbling thing is that despite being only six and seven years old, they had just as much power to prevent this situation as adults did. Schulz reminds us just how hopeless the world can get. Perhaps Linus was right. Maybe the only way to go through life is to hold onto a nice, warm blanket.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Street Study: Ocean Parkway

For all those people from Brooklyn who claim that Queens roads are so confusing because the numbers don’t make sense, it’s time someone pointed out the truth behind the “easy-to-understand grid” that make up the streets of Brooklyn. All I’ve been hearing about Queens my entire life are statements like “take 68th Road to 68th Avenue to 68th Street,” and “how come there is no 74th Avenue?” While all of these are fair points, it’s high time we get to rebut Brooklyn about their equally, if not MORE confusing streets.

Ever drive down Ocean Parkway? It’s simple, right? Exit the Belt parkway and you start at Avenue Z, and working backwards, you get all the way to the end of Ocean Parkway at Avenue A. And what’s nice about it is that you know that the Avenues go in alphabetical order, and in a case where there is a name of a street, it simply replaces that letter. So for instance, Avenue Q becomes Quentin. Right? Not only that, but the Streets go in numerical order, only to be interrupted by a main road such as Coney Island or Bedford Avenues.


Oh, Brooklyn, how funny you are! If only it was true that Brooklyn was a simple grid. Here is a short list of “convenient features” the streets of Brooklyn has to offer to give the outsider every possible way to get around in your borough. WARNING! You may want to follow this blog post with Google Maps.

Kings Highway is not a replacement for Avenue K. It cuts diagonally across Brooklyn, intersecting any Avenue it so chooses. And at one point, it even completely takes over Avenue R!

If one were to drive past Avenue J and would like to turn off of Ocean Parkway and head east, well forget about trying to cut through Avenue I, H, or Glenwood Road. There is an above-ground subway line that cuts the road off.

Okay, so now I’m passing Foster Ave, which must be instead of Avenue F, and Newkirk Avenue, which comes between Foster and Ditmas Avenues. No sign of Avenue E. What happened to E? So I drive down to Ocean Avenue to see if they have an E, but all I find is…Farragut Road. So wait, is Farragut or Foster the F?

Back on Ocean Parkway, amid all of the alphabetical streets is 18th Avenue, which makes perfect sense because it turns into Ditmas at Coney Island Avenue, so all is cool. If you turn left at Coney Island, the next street you hit is…Ditmas. Makes perfect sense.

Back again on Ocean Parkway, things start getting clearer Cortelyou Road comes next (which much be the replacement for C), which is followed by Avenue C. Wait, what? Then Beverly Road and finally…Church.

I know this may have been difficult for some of you to follow, especially those of you who did not take my waring about Google Maps (told ya so). And you know why? Because Brooklyn is confusing! And this was just off one section of Brooklyn.

Having studied the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, I now have the question if the name of the borough was actually supposed to be Brooklyn. Maybe they were trying to spell something else, but thought the alphabet was in a different order, and those symbols made different sounds. I could only guess that the name was supposed to be Ckooklye. No worries. I can start calling it that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Now, this is kinda what I'm talking about.

Watch "Yaakov Shwekey - Lo Yaavod | יעקב שוואקי - לא יעבוד" on YouTube

Yaakov Shwekey makes a good point with his latest song. There is even a brief instance where Conservative Judaism makes an appearance. I would have liked to see more non-religious Jews in there, but what can you do?

This message needs to be brought on in a much greater scale, but for now, when the premier voice in Orthodox Jewish music can put something like this out, it's a step in the right direction.

Side note: This may be the first main-stream Jewish music video with a legitimate, non-humorous point to make. And I love the introduction of a symbol that will now be identifiable with the song (kinda like Bon Jovi's crooked smile that is synonymous with "Have a Nice Day").

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What's Wrong with Orthodox Judaism Today

This post has been inspired by a number of recent incidents in the orthodox world, a post by Ezzie and a conversation with Erachet. The title of this post should really be “What’s wrong with the World Today” because the same issues apply to everyone, but I decided to focus on Orthodox Judaism for the sake of space.

From my estimation, the problems all stem from (no surprise here) a lack of communication. There are very few who can honestly claim to understand the hashkafas and other thought processes of someone different than they are. If you are Chasidish, you likely cannot comprehend the understanding of a Modern-Orthodox person. If you associate yourself with YU, you probably are not familiar with the hashkafa of Chaim Berlin. I’m not saying that this is true for everyone; it’s certainly not. However, from my experiences, most people are not familiar with customs, ideals and thought processes outside of their own.

Here’s the problem: people make assumptions. People tend to believe that they know and understand the ideals of others without having done the research. So, if someone or some group were to do something against one of those ideals, of course there will be questions.

Take for example the whole concept of protecting child molesters. **DISCLAMER: What I am about to say in no way defends the actions of anyone involved with child abuse – whether it be the actual transgressors
 or those who cover it up.** I want to start off by making it clear that I hope nobody thinks that there are any logical people who believe that a child molester is in the right. Nobody applauds them for their actions. From conversations that I have had with people, I can tell that they have already made up their mind as to why someone would try to cover these actions up, pay for an attorney, etc. Almost every time this is brought up, someone will say that the reason for all the secrecy is that chas v’shalom someone should think that this goes on in our community.

I will admit that if this is the reasoning, then I would have questions about it as well:
How can you idiots be so blind?
Don’t you see what you are doing to our children?
Can’t you understand that this is destroying the community?

However, this is merely assuming that this is the reasoning. I would like to offer another possibility. It wasn’t too long ago that turning a Jew over to authorities meant that person’s life. This happened throughout Europe and Russia, and I kind of understand the hesitation to turn these people over to the law. They might believe that it would be more beneficial to keep them in the community and deal with the perpetrators in their own way (whether or not we agree with that way), instead of sending them to prison. (I don't want this to be confused with m'sirah - that's not what this is. M'sirah does not apply in a case where a person was completely in the wrong according to the ruling government).

This brings me to point number 2. The assumption is that these people are let loose on society with no repercussions. I don’t think this is true either, and here’s why: I hear about two or three instances of abuse in the orthodox community a year. Nobody can tell me that this is anywhere near the actual total. There are many, many more actual cases of abuse that exist. I have to believe that within a close-knit community such as the ones that under scrutiny in this case, that people know who the threats are and keep their own children away from them as such. Additionally, even though they don’t “talk” about it, this knowledge gets around. I maintain that although we don’t see it, counseling for these people is going on behind closed doors.

Before you get all upset about me being so naive about what actually goes on in one of these communities, I would like you to think about how YOU know what happens. Are you part of one of these communities? Are you a leader of one of these communities? Are you one of the people trying to cover these stories up? Are you basing your issues off of facts? If the answer to two or more of these questions are no, then all I ask is that you begin to be dan l’kav z’chus. This inyan seems to have been completely cast aside here. Hardly anyone does it anymore because there are a few times when you don’t have to be. Judging people for defending someone else is NOT one of them. Again, I am not saying that what I am saying is what happens across the board, but what I am saying is that the possibility for this exists.

Once you have spoken to people about these issues, and have finally fully understood the entire reasoning behind the defense of such people, then, and only then, will you have a right to judge. But that is the main issue at hand: the lack of communication. People need to open their minds to explore other ideals. Why does "open-mindedness" only have to be met by the more conservative? Why do the more liberal not need to be open minded towards others as well?

There are plenty of other examples of how, as a Jewish community there is a lack of communication between sects. We fight because we don’t understand each other, not because we disagree with each other. The way certain people dress, the amount of time spent learning, the stringency of Kashrus – all of these issues we have with each other stem from a lack of understanding. And don’t even get me started on the “Charedim Crisis” in Eretz Yisrael.

I keep saying things like communication between the sects will never happen. We are so caught up in our own lives and values that we have no time to listen to others’. But as Erachet has pointed out, if we keep saying that it will never happen, it never will. Why can’t a counsel with Rabbanim and community leaders be set up? One that will include spiritual leaders and community leaders of all areas of Judaism (even Reform and conservative if possible)! It can happen and the more I think about it, the more it is clear that it has to happen. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue in a downward spiral for a long time.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


It is getting progressively more and more annoying to lead a mezuman. How many people do I need to mention when I b’r’shus? When I was a kid, all was simple: Maranan V’rabanan V’rabosai. That was it. There was no need to ask permission from anyone else. That was probably because I only led the mezuman in school.  When I was in high school, I began adding my father into it when I was at home. Shortly after that, following a few meals at friends’ houses I began to include the head of household. But then it got way, WAY out of hand.
People began to get upset when the m’zamen left out the wife of the person whose house it is. And then, when you start to add in the wife, be sure not to do it everywhere you go, because some people think you’re one of “those” people. You know who you are. After that, it seemed like every single person at the table got added in. “Ishti” is common; “Achi” and “Achoti” have been added, too. And just in case there is anyone still insulted, the end is “Kol ham’subin kan,” even when the one leading has already added in every single person at the table (I’ve experienced this more than once).
As a Kohen, I often get to lead, but G-d forbid someone else does it and doesn’t use “b’r’shus haKohen,”  he is lambasted by the rest of the table for forgetting me. How dare he forget to honor me! What is he thinking? Doesn’t he know how to do this? Once, while I was engaged, I went out to lunch with two friends. One was also engaged. The single guy led the mezuman and said “b’r’shus chasanim d’nanim. New level. And on and on it goes. People keep trying to outdo each other by thinking up newer and newer people to ask permission from in order to bentch.
And I am not immune to this either. I once said “b’r’shus ba’al haSuccah hazeh” on Succos. What’s next? Will someone say b’r’shus ba’al hamarpeset hazeh” at a bar-b-que, or b’r’shus ba’al hasimcha hazeh at a sheva b’rachos in a restaurant? (Actually, it would be ba’alei hasmcha hazeh” lest we leave out the wife.)
The point is that it’s far too much. I’m just going to resort back to what’s in the bentcher. No frills. Just "b'r'shus maranan v'rabanan v'rabosai," like the Lord intended.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to be a Productive Member of the Community without Losing Your Shirt

Have you ever been in charge of a sheva b’rachos? Have you put together a sports team? Have you ever needed to lay out money for an event and need to chase down people months (or even years) later? Frustrating, right? For some reason, people get lax about paying back money when they power a friend.

Throughout the past few months, I have been a part of/helped organize/ran various events that involved many different people and somewhat significant amounts of money. Unfortunately, the organizer (s) of such events often lose(s) money. I, myself, have come out as the loser. I used to lose between $50-100 each time. I chalked it up to the “well, that’s the price you pay for being in charge,” or “being a nice guy,” or my personal favorite “well, that’s my gift to them.”

“No more,” I said. (Literally, I said that out loud.) I decided that just because I am in charge doesn’t mean I have to lose money. And if you have fallen victim to the same issues when organizing an event, here are some helpful tips for you to follow so that it doesn’t happen again. All of these rules are obviously for situations in which it’s clear that the costs will be split equally amongst those invited.

1) Lay the Groundwork Early
Have two separate dates. The first is to reserve a spot, and the second is to receive the money. If either one of these terms aren’t met by an individual, he/she cannot be guaranteed to be involved.

2) No Guarantees
Make sure you use the term “can’t be guaranteed.” You don’t want a situation where a person didn’t meet one of the requirements and you told them that they wouldn’t be allowed to come, and then change your mind. That does not do well for the future. Leave yourself some wiggle room in case his/her accommodations can be met. (Good rule to live by: don’t make false threats.)

3) Over Charge
The major mistake everyone makes is that they forget to take something into consideration when setting the final price. When it comes to a sheva b’rachos, you may get a deal for $20 per person from a takeout place, but that doesn’t include drinks or utensils. If it’s in a restaurant, you might forget tax and tip. If it’s an order for supplies such as t-shirts or prizes, people often forget tax and shipping. If you over charge, you avoid these problems and, if you find out that you have left over money, you can split it amongst the participants (everyone loves that), or in a case of a party, give to the newly married couple/birthday celebrator, or save it in your slush fund for the next party.

4) Don't Lay Out Money
I know this is going to be the hard one, but the only way make sure people actually pay is if they do it before the event. If you have a sports team, make sure you have all required fees before the season. If it’s a party, have the money before you go shopping. Companies won’t let you owe them money, and you aren’t there to pay for someone else’s fee. If you are organizing something that you won’t find out the cost of until it’s over (such as a road trip), see Number 3.

5) 80% Rule*
If your event includes catering (not in a restaurant), a great way to keep costs down is to UNDER-ORDER!!! If you’ve ever ordered for 20 people from a restaurant for a 20-person affair, you know that by the end of the meal, you will have a TON of leftovers. That’s where the 80% rule comes in. Order enough food for 80% of the guests. If you are having a party of 20, order for 16. You will still have leftovers!

*NOTE: If the party is more than 80% guys, it becomes a 90% Rule.

6) Don't Work Alone
I know it’s tempting to do everything yourself (if you want something done right), but if you have someone who can help you with anything –online ordering, food shopping, money collecting –it makes your job so much easier. Every group usually has the one guy/girl who is eager to help. He/she always wants to be part of it. But he/she lacks the capacity to deal with the whole thing. Give this person one job. If it’s satisfactorily completed, give another job. The less work you have to do, the easier it becomes.

I have followed these steps for the last three sheva b’rachos, two baseball teams and one road trip, and in one of those situations I was even able to return money to people. Nobody backed out because of the price and I didn’t lose money. Hopefully this helps.