Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hashkafically Wrong?

I know a couple, that if you were to place them on the modern orthodox-yeshivish spectrum, one would be to the middle left and the other would be all the way to the right. No one, in their right minds, would say that they were for each other. To be clear: no one would say that they were right for each other.

They are also one of the most perfectly matched couples I've ever met. When I say perfect I mean, I can't imagine them being married to anyone else I know- which is thankfully a lot of people- but each other.

It's the oddest match. As I said, no one could have foreseen it. The shadchan did, but even she admitted it didn't make much sense to her. Same neighborhood and being bright are the only two things they have in common.

The more I think about it, the more unfathomable it becomes. They really make no sense for each other. From a resume perspective, I, who would never have been suitable for her, would have been a much more sensible match.

Their siblings, their parents, their relatives and their friends can make no sense of how they're such a perfect match.

The only explanation, is that there is no explanation.

And that leads me to the title of this post. Is there really such a thing as "hashkafically wrong"?

That question requires a bit more to it, so bear with me. A recent post of mine, Is Halacha Everything? spawned this post because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a lot of halacha is perception of what halacha is.

I broke up with someone because of "hashkafa." When I think about it more, in retrospect, I realize that it was a hashkafic bias of what halacha is. I took the more stringent views, whereas she took the more lenient views.

Hashkafically, ironically, we worked. It was the halachic biases, based on our "mother hashkafos" that had us in disagreement.

The reason, I believe, this couple works, is because they have the same standard of halacha. At that point, it doesn't matter what one's hashkafos are.

As an example, having a television in one's house. That isn't a hashkafic issue really, but a perception of halacha. How do they each view bitul zman, how careful are they in guarding their eyes, etc.

There are very few purely hashkafic issues. The state of Israel, perhaps, is one. Clothing attire (dress pants and white shirt vs. jeans and a t-shirt), a second. Even this latter example has a halachic rationale to it. For those wondering, it's what the view is on the halacha of separating ourselves from gentiles. The former, maybe, is a perception of what ikvisa d'm'shica, "the birth pains of Messiah" means. But that's not really halacha.

What, I believe, we're really saying when we ask for a person's hashkafa is, do they place the same value on halacha as I do?

And if that's the case, we should stop asking about hashkafa. I have modern orthodox friends who are more stringent in their keeping of halacha than the yeshivish friends I have.

I have yet to meet a girl, who, knowing how I view halacha, has cared about how I dress. Nor have they cared about how I view the state of Israel. All hashkafic issues are thrown to the wayside once our respective views on halacha have been clarified for each other.

In summation, stop asking about hashkafa. While that may give an indication on what their stance is regarding halacha, it's not absolute. Rarely is it even accurate.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tasteful Tunes Tuesday

As I skimmed through my music, trying to find obscure songs, or famous songs sung by obscure artists, I realized that I have a lot more music with female singers than male. This is disconcerting as it really opened my eyes to just how much music I plan on giving up one day. I hadn't thought I'd be able to swear off all secular music at once, and intended in doing it in two steps: kol isha, and then the rest. That doesn't look like a realistic option any more.

In the meantime, I still haven't gotten to the stage where I'm willing to share kol isha on this blog. I hope I don't get there, but if I do, I'd appreciate it if all you filled up my inbox with scathing criticism and a demand to never do it again :)

Today's medley is a series of songs that you undoubtedly all know. But I suspect you've never heard the arrangement I'm going to share with you.

Music without words has always had a special place in my heart because I can listen to it guilt free. Secular music with words, even by male artists, still gives me a bit of grief. In the deepest recesses of my heart, I know I shouldn't be listening to it. Not so with music without words, even if it's a cover of a secular song.

This medley takes me back to simpler times. Not better, but simpler.

Enough talking. On to the music!


Sunday, May 26, 2013

You Look Good

I know I'm breaking blogging etiquette by posting twice in one day, but I felt that I should jot down these thoughts before they escape me and before I can look back and tell myself it's too cheesy to post. (If you haven't read or commented on the first one yet, here it is.)

I walked into shul before maariv tonight and was just standing around by my seat waiting for maariv to begin. A prestigious member of the shul, and someone who I've spoken to occasionally in the past, saw me and said, "You look good." I knew he wasn't referring to the way I was dressed. I had just come from outside and was wearing an old gray sweatshirt that helps keep me warm on these quasi-cold spring nights. It's not an attractive sweatshirt.

But something about my appearance led him to compliment me in the simplest of ways. And it really had an effect on me. My davening was so much better tonight because of what he said to me.

I guess, we really have no idea what a small compliment can do for a person. He has no idea what effect his words had on me. I said thank you, smiled and that was the end of it (maariv began). But it had a real, tangible effect that brought me closer to Hashem and made me feel really good about myself, even without understanding the why or how behind it.

One thing I've learned over the years is to never be spare with compliments. While I may not always accept compliments given, I give as many as I can, over the smallest things. Oftentimes, when I get a compliment over a "small" thing, I appreciate them a lot more over the big things. It's understood that doing something big is deserving of a compliment. Small things, though, are often overlooked. When someone takes the time to recognize it, acknowledge it and act on it, that means a lot.

To me anyway.

What Would YOU Do?

Situation: A guy is dating a girl. This guy has a very close friend. This close friend once dated this girl. This girl really doesn't like this close friend that she once dated.

Problem: The girl informs the guy that unless he cuts off all contact with his close friend, their relationship is over.

Possible Options:

1) Guy ignores close friend's all overtures at remaining in touch and eventually the close friend figures out that he is no longer close friends, or friends at all for that matter, with the guy. Reasoning: Why bother informing his friend that he can no longer be in touch with him? Nothing to gain, only pain to be handed out. The close friend knows that the guy is dating this girl he once dated and what her opinion is of him. He'll figure it out.

2) Call close friend and let him know the situation, but ignore all attempts at being persuaded from breaking up with her. Reasoning: The close friend deserves to hear it from the guy himself, and not be left hanging, wondering what happened to the close friendship they once shared. Although he'll probably figure it out, it's
still the right thing to do.

3) Break up with the girl. Reasoning: A girl that holds such a grudge that she'll force the guy she's dating to end a friendship of years, is not a good girl to date.

It's a lose-lose situation for the guy no matter how you look at it. He really likes the girl, but really doesn't want to throw away a friendship that he's had for years. What to do?

This is happening now. I know both guys personally and I know who the girl is. It's a mess. The close friend is not a bad person and not a bad influence. He made mistakes while dating her and acknowledges that he was at fault for the relationship failing and understands why she is so very upset at him.

This situation can, obviously, go the other way around too. A girl who dated a guy who had a bad experience with her close friend. The guy wants the girl he's dating to end her friendship with her close friend.

I have no idea what I would do because I've never been in this situation. If I were to hazard a guess, it would be the third option. Making huge demands before they're even engaged is bad news for what could be coming once they're married. Or, it could be a one-time shot. It's impossible to know.

Based on what I've told you, what would YOU do?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Amazing People

Over this Shavuos, I met some pretty special people. I'm a bit of a people watcher, so I get the opportunity to see some amazing people, but not always do I get to see them in action. This Shavuos, without speaking to the first person I'll write about, I got to see something that really affected the rest of my davening in a positive way.

It was 6:00 am or so on Shavuos morning. 85% of the people davening in the shul were falling asleep on their faces. I wasn't one of them, but I was definitely on the exhausted end of the spectrum with my knees complaining about how much I had used them. Come kedushah of shacharis. The chazzan, insanely, decided to sing a slow and mournful tune that had us holding each other back from rushing the bimah to drag him off and throwing up someone else to rush through the rest of it. This shul has some pretty remarkable people- people who would never complain about the length of davening. They weren't particularly pleased either with these turn of events.

So, the chazzan is singing away, the rest of us are mournfully, in more ways than one, singing along. I glanced behind me and see a middle-aged man dancing on the spot, enjoying every single moment of the singing. I looked forward, not believing what I had seen and then glanced back again. My mouth dropped and my eyes went fish-like as, in disbelief, my tired eyes proved they were still working. The guy was enjoying the singing. Enjoying the singing. Enjoying. The. Singing.

I thought it was pretty special that a guy, exhausted to pieces, managed to wake himself up enough that he could dance on the balls of his feet because of kedusha. Wow.

The second person, a girl who I shared a meal with, was special in a very different way. Firstly, she invented a word that is actually being used around the college she attends. That's pretty impressive in its own right. It's an obvious spin-off of the word bourgeois, but it's quite impressive that she actually managed to come up with a word and actually get it into people's daily use. The word: Bougie. It means fancy. I was introduced to the word by way of being called the word. I am, apparently, bougie. "You're bougie. Ya know, the kind of person who lives in the Upper West Side of New York." I have no idea what kind of people live in the Upper West Side of New York, but it seems she meant it as a compliment. In which case, I'll take it.

But that isn't why I found her to be special. She seemed to me to be the kind of person who is always happy, a rare commodity in a person these days. Everything she said, and everything that was said to her, was said and received with a smile. Even when we had a disagreement, she was smiling throughout. She has another set of phrases that end with "at life." Good at life, great at life, awesome at life, amazing at life, etc. etc. The family we were eating at, her and I  agreed, are amazing at life.

There are some people who you want to stick in a bottle and walk around with. It isn't specific to them, but the words, smiles and encouragement that seems to be a permanent fixture of theirs is a wonderful thing to have with you. I don't necessarily want her in my life, but I want the frame of mind she has to be in my life. I want to bottle that love of life she has and walk around with it so I can look at it and model myself after it.

Shavuos was beautiful, and I had a wonderful experience, but aside from my learning, it's the special people that I met that will remain with me for the next little while.

Judaism has the idea that we can learn something from every person we come across. Those lessons, often, require some thought to reveal. When that's the case, we can miss them. It's a blessing that God granted me to come across these two people who shone with the lesson for me to learn from them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tasteful Tunes Tuesday

Here we go. Round 1.5 of Tasteful Tunes Tuesday.

This week's song is amazing for numerous reasons. I could go on and on about all of the reasons, but two aspects of the video and song really stuck with me. One of them is obvious to everyone who listens to it, and the other needs some background information.

The obvious one is the guitar intro. I'm obsessed with it. It's perfect. 

The other amazing part of the video is that the explosions were filmed live with the band all there, on set. If you look closely, and time your pause perfectly, you can actually see the band members jump in surprise after the first explosion. I think they realized this and in the following sequences, specifically had them jumping around so it wouldn't be noticeable.

The lyrics happen to also be very nice. The music video takes scenes from the movie Act of Valor, and the song was written especially for the movie. The music video, or at least the song, plays during the closing credits for the movie. I guess Keith Urban saw a pre-screening of it (which makes sense because it took 

Urban has a great voice and in this song it's particularly awesome.


PS The movie was amazing. I highly recommend it. It was so realistic that the US Navy held final-editing privileges due to security concerns1.

PPS Don't watch movies.

Monday, May 20, 2013

I Write Speeches

Over the past few years, friends and family have learned of the enjoyment I get from writing. Further, they've seen snippets here and there of my writing skills and have expressed their enjoyment at the content of what I write, as well as how I write.

The first time I was asked to write a speech, I was surprised. It's one thing to write a speech for myself, how I would speak, but to place myself into the mind of someone else and write for them? I couldn't understand what was being asked of me. I know that people do it- ghostwriting is the technical term- but I don't get how they do it. Every individual has their own style with which they talk, and unless they're willing to make it patently obvious that they weren't the one who wrote the speech, it doesn't make much sense.

The person insisted. He couldn't, couldn't, write his own speech. He can speak off the cuff, but the forum where he was speaking didn't allow for that. He needed a speech that he could read from. That's where I came in.

Somehow, I pulled it off. The speech was a great success, I was told, and he was very happy with what I had done for him. Meanwhile, I was grumbling that I had received no credit and no recompense. The things we do for friends. The grumbling, of course, was to myself and only temporary. I'm genuinely happy to have helped him and to have made his speaking engagement a successful one.

Since then, I've written several partial speeches, some full speeches and edited quite a few more.  Each time, I try my hardest to cater it to the person I'm writing it for, as well as the venue. Bar Mitzvah speech? Cutesy, no big words, and assume that the art of speaking has yet to be learned. Sheva Brachos? Short, sweet, a joke or two, some endearing thoughts and creative brachos.

The other day, I was asked to edit a speech for content and grammar for an event that I had never written for and had no idea how to write for. When I explained this to the person requesting it from me, he brushed me off and said that he trusts me. Misplaced confidence, perchance?

Yes and no. I was present for the speech. He's not a speaker, which surprised me, because he gave me no indication that he wasn't. What I mean by that is, I was writing a speech that needed the emphasis to be placed on certain words; carefully timed pauses before jokes, or an emphatic point; and all sorts of other nuances of speech that we always incorporate when we speak. For a speech that was supposed to be read word for word, straight from the paper, it was very technically advanced. There were colons, semi-colons, commas, question marks, ellipses, exclamation marks, bold lettering and other such indicators on how the speech should have been spoken. We even went through the speech, more than once, and I walked him through how he should be saying virtually every word. Only once did he mention that he wasn't sure if he could pull off a specific sentence.

Needless to say, without going into it, the speech did not go how I had envisioned. While everyone else was enjoying the speech, I was sitting there cringing at each and every perceived mistake of his. In my mind, it was a disaster.

Only after the speech was over, when the audience burst into applause, did I realize that I had been all wrong. He may not have spoken the words correctly or said  over the jokes in the best way possible, but the words he spoke accomplished what they were intended to accomplish.

He reached the hearts of more than 150 people, inspired them, encouraged them, and made them believe that they could achieve tremendous things. Had I said the speech, none of that would have happened. Not because I'm a poor speaker but because I'm not him.

For the first time since I've started writing for others, I was completely happy that I did not receive public acknowledgment for my work. It would have taken away so much from the speech that, on the contrary, I would have been upset had I been mentioned.

No one there, except for the speaker, his wife and one other knew that I had had anything to do with the speech. I told no one, and there were many moments where I had the opportunity to say something and held back. True to this blog, I'm Learning to say Nothing. It was a remarkable evening and it holds many memories that I'll cherish for years to come.

PS Naming these sort of posts "LtsN" didn't seem to garner much in the way of interest, so while they'll still be a staple of this blog, the names will be slightly more creative.

PPS Oh, and if you want me to write a speech for you, my email's on my Blogger profile :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is Halacha Everything?

During a conversation I had when talking about some of the characteristics in girls I like to date, a question was posed to me that completely stunned me. "Why do you value halacha as everything? That is, if she doesn't have halacha as a priority, you wouldn't be willing to date her?"

Where to begin. Having come from a more right-wing background, halacha really is everything. There's very little focus on the spiritual aspects of Judaism, and that side is supposed to be found internally, on one's own. I disagree with that, but that's what it is.

Questioning my belief in the importance of halacha shocked me. I mean, what is more important to focus on? The spiritual side of Judaism is incredibly important, but how can you have a spiritual connection if you're breaking all manners of halacha on a regular basis? I'm not saying you can't, I just don't get what that spiritual side is. What does a person mean when they say they have a spiritual connection to God?

There are those who say "God understands" when they blatantly break halacha. I break halacha. It pains me when I do. But I don't say that God understands, but 'unfortunately, this is where I'm holding.' It sounds like semantics, but there's a big difference. The way I phrase it acknowledges that I have work to do on myself and that I'm not happy with where I am. The way they say it, it sounds like they have a buddy-buddy relationship with God and He's cool with their decision to pick and choose what they want to follow. I acknowledge that I have to change, so I can change. Of course, knowing that I have to change doesn't mean I will. But without that understanding, what can cause a person to person to change?

I'm honestly puzzled as to how people happily live their lives as frum Jews without the ever-present thought that they have to grow. God forbid, I do not judge them. I don't know where they came from, what they experienced, what they’re going through presently or what will be. I just don't get what they view their religion as. Is it a religion they were born into and are stuck with? A religion they're happy to be a part of but don't see the need to adapt their own lifestyles to? Or are they perfectly happy with how they live their lives and pick and choose what they find easy to follow and shuck the rest of it?

It's baffling. How do they view their religion? And if halacha isn't everything, or not the most important thing, what is?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How Embarrassing

Um, so, people, ya know how I posted yesterday, Tasteful Tunes Thursday and got a whole bunch of really great comments that I'll reply to one of these days? Well, awkward moment. Yesterday, um, wasn't Thursday.

This, amazingly, dawned on me at 7:30 pm today. I work. I worked yesterday. I had a meeting yesterday. I planned additional meetings and phone calls yesterday. I had college yesterday.

Somehow, someway, I managed to redo an entire day of the week twice. I woke up this morning, wondering if it was Friday and then said to myself, no no, today is Thursday. This, after just having had a Thursday.

The best part is that it seems that no one noticed! The Beckster, who commented minutes ago, thought it was Tuesday, which is great because I've decided to change it to Tuesday. Alliteration-wise, it sounds much better too, so it works out nicely.

I'm not sure if no one noticed or if everyone noticed and decided, out of the kindness of their hearts, not to say anything.

Who would've thought...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tasteful Tunes Thursday

I decided that with the frequency of my posting, or lack thereof more accurately, I should set a day, or two, where I post on a specific topic. So, welcome to my first installment of Tasteful Tunes Thursday. I intend on posting a song every Thursday that I come across that I find interesting or really really good. Hope you enjoy.

I haven't decided if I'm going to post songs with kol isha. While I do listen to kol isha at this point in my life, I'm not sure if I want to be 1) condoning my listening by posting it and 2) putting other guys in a position to listen to it. For now, until I find across a song to share that is so unbelievable I can't stop myself from sharing it, I'm going to try and stay away from them. For now....

This first song, isn't really in tune with Tasteful, but it's so good, I have to share it. It's a "Punk goes Pop" song which means that it's a cover of a pop song, done in a punk way. I'm not really sure how they define punk because this song is what would be called "Screamo." Screamo, for those who don't speak English so well, has screaming in it. Not shrieky screaming, but screaming. I've never liked a Screamo song until this one. The amount of screaming is minimal relative to other songs I've heard and the lead vocal's voice is amazing. Be advised, there is some cursing, another aspect that makes it less tasteful, but the original song does too so it's less so.

Anyway enough of me talking. Enjoy the music and the accompanying video which is also done really well.

Next week's will not be happening I just realized because of Shavuos, but the next installment will most definitely be more tasteful.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

You will Fail

The following question, quoted verbatim, I heard on a TedxTalk.

"Do you really, do you really, want to use your family, do you really ever want to look at your spouse and at your kid, and see your jailers?"

The name of the TedxTalk is "Why you will fail to have a great career: Larry Smith at TEDxUW" I've embedded it below.

I felt a kinship with the Talk before I watched it. I had a suspicion of what he was going to discuss, and while I wasn't exactly right, I was close.

He talks about how fear holds people back from chasing after their dreams and dream jobs.

For me, it's not fear. I suspect Mr. Smith would beg to differ, and perhaps he's right to some extent. But practically, the professions I would most prefer to go into do not make enough money to support a Jewish, Orthodox family.

That's life. That's fact. Speaking to my mentors and my rebbi, they have all told me, look at the jobs that will provide your family with a comfortable income, and then choose the one that you'll enjoy the most. Hm.

I still hope to have a "great" career, but I don't think I'll have maximized the enjoyment of my career. In that sense, I'll fail.

To watch this amazing talk, here it is below:

Thursday, May 2, 2013


My poems always rhyme
I know no other way
Cadence, rhythm, meter?
I learned none of that
I wish to know how, I suppose
Why not?
More ways to write!

"Rhyming is a childish form"
One friend informed me
"When it's serious and rhymes,
Behold, irony!"
Ya, whatever, dude

I see other poems
Written fast and furious it seems
Are they?
My "ironic" poems are
This poem, is not

What's a poem anyway?
Are "Poetry Slams" full of poetry?
Is there rhyme? Is there reason?
Is there cadence? Is there logic?
Or are these poems, not "poems"?
The history of Free Verse Poetry?

You criticize my style
I HAVE a style!
That's a rhetorical question
Poetry Slams exist to question
The perceived rules of poetry
That's cool
I'm all for it
Style though? No.

Using your style to criticize mine
Is irony
My poetry isn't ironic
It's poetry

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Betraying Myself

When I started this blog, I decided from the outset not to let a soul know who I am. The topics I intended on writing about were, and are, of the more personal nature, and while the information imparted wouldn't be identifying, I didn't want people's impressions of me to be affected. Cowardly perhaps, but the way I felt and feel.

But, I collapsed. Not once, but three times. In less than a week. One I'm happy about, the other two, not so much. I'm unhappy that I revealed myself to the two that I've been friends with for a few years. The haven I created is no longer a haven. It's my fault and I accept what I did. I don't blame them as it was of my own volition that I informed them.

Nevertheless, the place that I had wanted to vent in, it seemed, was gone. Until I realized that I really didn't care anymore. I am who I am and am going to write that way. What their perceptions of me now are an unknown quantity so if it changes, and I still don't know, no harm, no foul. Therefore, I will continue to write as I please. I'm threadbare enough with details as it is, that even knowing who I am tells them nothing, and I mean nothing, about who I'm writing about or who I have already written about. That won't be changing.

With that said, not only will I continue writing, nothing about this blog is going to be change. I will continue to write the content I wish to, and if those readers who know who I am learn something about me, so be it. Be it good, bad or neither, I will not be dissuaded from my writing what's on my mind. 

To repeat myself: There will never be identifying information about a person I write about. You may think you know I'm talking about, but you won't. That I can guarantee. 

To those readers who know I am: Please, when you comment, if you comment, please do so in a way that gives no indication that you know who I am or any other information that a reader could use to learn anything about me. If I choose to reveal myself to a reader, it will NOT be on a public forum. Please respect my wishes and allow for ME to be in control of what identifying information is revealed. 

This was a post I was hoping I didn't have to write, not because of the content, but because of the mood of it. I hope there won't be any other like it.